New professor links religion to anthropology in course lectures

Laura Cox

James Murphy plans to use undergraduate field experience to add religious perspective.

James Murphy became interested in religious studies just before beginning his undergraduate study in the early 1990s when end-of-time and apocalyptic movements reached a fever pitch.

Murphy joined SDSU as a new faculty member this fall in the philosophy and religion department, teaching on topics he first acquired a passion for after graduating high school.

“How these kinds of beliefs play out, including extremes, fascinated me,” Murphy said.

During this time, the government watched movements closely to minimize loss of life, Murphy said, referencing the 1993 Waco, Texas crisis that resulted in dozens of deaths after a 50-day standoff, headed by  cult leader David Koresh.

Murphy’s interest did not just lie in the actions of extremists. He followed the distancing strategies of different groups, including that of his own religious background.

After deciding to major in social science at Evangel University in  Springfield, Mo., Murphy picked up a minor in anthropology. Coursework in anthropology and archaeology affected how Murphy thought about religions and how he now teaches them.

During 1996 and 1999, Murphy traveled to northern Israel as an undergrad working on archaeological excavations. He brings those experiences with him into the classroom by talking about the impact archaeology has on religion.

Murphy began his teaching career while getting his master’s degree in religious studies from Missouri State University, spending two years working as a teaching assistant. His dissertation focused on religious beliefs, specifically the relationship between family values and politics. He studied how religious beliefs are used to achieve political ends through association.

The following four years, Murphy taught history at Evangel before deciding to pursue a doctorate in religious studies with a focus on biblical interpretation from the University of Denver. While acquiring his degree, Murphy taught part-time for the adult studies program at Colorado Christian University in Denver.

After graduating with his Ph.D., Murphy found his way to SDSU because he was interested in teaching full-time again and he liked the types of courses he would be teaching. He sees himself helping to stir interest in religious studies and grow the department in the coming years.

This semester, Murphy is teaching World Religions, Old Testament and three sections of Intro to Religion. In the spring, he will teach the New Testament, Women in Religion and another three sections of Intro to Religion.

Following the birth of his first daughter, Murphy began to consider her future and women’s issues.  He is looking foward to exploring women’s issues in relation to religion next semester

Murphy’s wife Cynthia currently stays home with their 18-month-old daughter, Laura Claire. Cynthia is a licensed elementary education teacher. Their other daughter, Hannah, is 8 years old and in the third grade.

“Brookings seems nice, friendly, helpful and more laid back than Denver,” Murphy said after admitting he and his family have lived here less than two weeks. He is nervous for the snow, though, he said.

“Winters on campus – snow that sticks around for weeks and weeks. Honestly, that is probably the biggest challenge for me,” Murphy said.

He said in Missouri they worried about tornadoes and ice storms, and the snowfall always melted off quickly in Denver.