Danny Loss completed his PhD in the Brown University History Department in 2013,  specializing in the history Modern Britain and its empire. His dissertation, “The Afterlife of Christian England, 1944-1994”, examined the changing place of religion in English society following the second World War. His research for the project has been supported by the Religious Research Association and the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church. Dr. Loss was also one of the first Brown doctoral candidates to teach at Wheaton College, after being selected as a Brown-Wheaton Faculty Fellow in History in 2013. He currently teaches in the History and Literature program at Harvard. 

Dr. Loss graciously agreed to answer some questions about his current research and teaching, and his work in developing his dissertation into a book.

Your dissertation demonstrated the persistence of Christianity in England since the Second World War.  Could you say more about how that project came about?

It's very common these days to hear about "secular Europe" juxtaposed with "religious America".  There's some truth to that contrast (especially when you look at things like church attendance), but the idea that Britain in the twenty-first century is a "secular" society didn't make sense to me.  The Church of England remains the state church, with twenty-six bishops sitting (and voting) in the House of Lords.  Most people in England continue to describe themselves as Christian (71% in the 2001 census), even if they rarely go to church and don't really believe in God.  So I took that divergence between the idea that Britain has become a secular country and the survival of Christianity as both an institutional and cultural phenomenon as a puzzle to work out.  My book project, The Afterlife of Christian England, 1944 to the Present, offers an answer as to how that happened.

Where does the project stand now, and how has it developed since you finished your PhD at Brown?

I'm planning to approach potential publishers for the book this summer.  In addition to revising the chapters from the dissertation, I'm also writing two new chapters for the book, one on popular reactions to liturgical reform and the second on how multiculturalism ended up, counterintuitively, buttressing the position of the Church of England as the established church.  These new chapters underline one of the key methodological points I'm making in the book: we can't assess the place of religion in society solely based on statistics related to religious practice or belief.

Probably the biggest shift that's happened in the transition from dissertation to book is that I've made far greater use of published material, both primary and secondary sources.  I think there's a tendency among graduate students to fetishize the archive (I was certainly guilty of this) and feel a compulsion to write the dissertation using the archival material you've found to the exclusion of almost anything else.  Given the fact that my main archives are an ocean away, it's just not possible to rely exclusively on previously-mined archival material, especially for the new chapters I'm writing.  That shift towards published materials has also meant a greater willingness on my part to lean on other scholars' findings to a greater extent.  It's been important for me to realize that I don't need to re-invent the wheel on every page of the book.

What are some of the other projects you have been working on since leaving Brown?

In addition to revising my book manuscript, I've also been working on a small spin-off project examining secularization theory in the 1960s.  As I was writing my dissertation, I thought of sociologists of religion in the 1960s primarily as people to argue against - they confidently predicted that modernization inevitably brought religious decline, I was arguing that Christianity did not disappear.  But after completing my dissertation, I realized that I could be looking at these sociologists as historical actors, as participants in the very history that I was telling.  I gave a paper on two of these sociologists at last year's North American Conference on British Studies and am in the process of working that paper up into an article.

 I've also begun thinking about my next major project.  I'm planning to write a book, tentatively entitled "After the Axe: Railroads and Social Democracy in Britain since the Second World War," that takes the nationalization, rationalization, and ultimately privatization of Britain's railways between the 1940s and the 1990s as emblematic of shifting ideas about what constituted the public good in postwar Britain.  The titular axe refers to the "Beeching Axe" of the early 1960s that led to the closure of hundreds of railway stations across Britain.

You currently teach in Harvard's History & Literature program.  Can you talk about what it's like to teach in an interdisciplinary program?

History & Literature is a wonderful place to teach.  H&L is an undergrad-only program characterized by close relationships between faculty and students.  My teaching in H&L has included co-teaching a sophomore tutorial on religion in modern Europe with a literary critic and the supervision of senior theses on topics ranging from the influence of Japanese aesthetics on Virginia Woolf to soldier-composers during the First World War to spy novels in twentieth-century Britain.  The interdisciplinary nature of the program and the commitment to meeting students' interests means that teaching in H&L often represents a stretch, both in terms of the specific content matter and the disciplinary skills necessary.  So I've found myself reading more poetry than I had since high school and also thinking much more deeply about literary texts as historical sources.  I'm lucky to have a great group of colleagues in H&L - after the intense disciplinary mindset inculcated in graduate school, I've really enjoyed the chance to get to know literary critics and learn how they approach texts.  Moving forward, I'm planning to incorporate literary sources into my teaching to a much greater degree than I would have anticipated when I completed my PhD

Do you have any advice for near/recent PhDs who are making the transition into the next stages of their careers?

My first piece of advice for freshly-minted PhDs is the same advice I give to my graduating seniors: take a break!  After my dissertation defense I was full of ideas about changes I wanted to make for the book, but when I actually sat down to start revisions soon after, I realized that I was too burnt out to make effective changes.  So - take (at least!) a few weeks away from the project completely.  Read fiction, read scholarship from outside your field, spend time outside - just don't look at your dissertation.  You'll come back to it with fresh eyes and more able to discern what changes need to be made.  William Germano's From Dissertation to Bookwill help you start thinking about what the revision process should look like.

If you haven't already been doing so, start going to (and presenting at) the conferences in your field.  As a graduate student, conferences can be terrifying awkward as you try to figure out the Q&A etiquette and twiddle your thumbs between sessions because you don't see anyone you recognize.  But as you get to know more people, conferences will become something you look forward to - a chance to hear about what people are working on, to catch up with friends, and to stock up on more books than you can really afford but justify buying by pointing to the marginal discounts on offer.  Conferences are also great for getting your name out there - I was contacted by an acquisitions editor interested in my book based on the title of my paper in a conference program

It's very common these days to hear about "secular Europe" juxtaposed with "religious America".  There's some truth to that contrast (especially when you look at things like church attendance), but the idea that Britain in the twenty-first century is a "secular" society didn't make sense to me.  The Church of England remains the state church, with twenty-six bishops sitting (and voting) in the House of Lords.  Most people in England continue to describe themselves as Christian (71% in the 2001 census), even if they rarely go to church and don't really believe in God.  So I took that divergence between the idea that Britain has become a secular country and the survival of Christianity as both an institutional and cultural phenomenon as a puzzle to work out.  My book project, The Afterlife of Christian England, 1944 to the Present, offers an answer as to how that happened.

Where does the project stand now, and how has it developed since you finished your PhD at Brown?

I'm planning to approach potential publishers for the book this summer.  In addition to revising the chapters from the dissertation, I'm also writing two new chapters for the book, one on popular reactions to liturgical reform and the second on how multiculturalism ended up, counterintuitively, buttressing the position of the Church of England as the established church.  These new chapters underline one of the key methodological points I'm making in the book: we can't assess the place of religion in society solely based on statistics related to religious practice or belief.

Probably the biggest shift that's happened in the transition from dissertation to book is that I've made far greater use of published material, both primary and secondary sources.  I think there's a tendency among graduate students to fetishize the archive (I was certainly guilty of this) and feel a compulsion to write the dissertation using the archival material you've found to the exclusion of almost anything else.  Given the fact that my main archives are an ocean away, it's just not possible to rely exclusively on previously-mined archival material, especially for the new chapters I'm writing.  That shift towards published materials has also meant a greater willingness on my part to lean on other scholars' findings to a greater extent.  It's been important for me to realize that I don't need to re-invent the wheel on every page of the book.

What are some of the other projects you have been working on since leaving Brown?

In addition to revising my book manuscript, I've also been working on a small spin-off project examining secularization theory in the 1960s.  As I was writing my dissertation, I thought of sociologists of religion in the 1960s primarily as people to argue against - they confidently predicted that modernization inevitably brought religious decline, I was arguing that Christianity did not disappear.  But after completing my dissertation, I realized that I could be looking at these sociologists as historical actors, as participants in the very history that I was telling.  I gave a paper on two of these sociologists at last year's North American Conference on British Studies and am in the process of working that paper up into an article.

I've also begun thinking about my next major project.  I'm planning to write a book, tentatively entitled After the Axe: Railroads and Social Democracy in Britain since the Second World War, that takes the nationalization, rationalization, and ultimately privatization of Britain's railways between the 1940s and the 1990s as emblematic of shifting ideas about what constituted the public good in postwar Britain.  The titular axe refers to the "Beeching Axe" of the early 1960s that led to the closure of hundreds of railway stations across Britain.

You currently teach in Harvard's History & Literature program.  Can you talk about what it's like to teach in an interdisciplinary program? 

History & Literature is a wonderful place to teach.  H&L is an undergrad-only program characterized by close relationships between faculty and students.  My teaching in H&L has included co-teaching a sophomore tutorial on religion in modern Europe with a literary critic and the supervision of senior theses on topics ranging from the influence of Japanese aesthetics on Virginia Woolf to soldier-composers during the First World War to spy novels in twentieth-century Britain.  The interdisciplinary nature of the program and the commitment to meeting students' interests means that teaching in H&L often represents a stretch, both in terms of the specific content matter and the disciplinary skills necessary.  So I've found myself reading more poetry than I had since high school and also thinking much more deeply about literary texts as historical sources.  I'm lucky to have a great group of colleagues in H&L - after the intense disciplinary mindset inculcated in graduate school, I've really enjoyed the chance to get to know literary critics and learn how they approach texts.  Moving forward, I'm planning to incorporate literary sources into my teaching to a much greater degree than I would have anticipated when I completed my PhD

Any advice for near/recent PhDs who are making the transition into the next stages of their careers?

My first piece of advice for freshly-minted PhDs is the same advice I give to my graduating seniors: take a break!  After my dissertation defense I was full of ideas about changes I wanted to make for the book, but when I actually sat down to start revisions soon after, I realized that I was too burnt out to make effective changes.  So - take (at least!) a few weeks away from the project completely.  Read fiction, read scholarship from outside your field, spend time outside - just don't look at your dissertation.  You'll come back to it with fresh eyes and more able to discern what changes need to be made.  William Germano's From Dissertation to Book will help you start thinking about what the revision process should look like.

If you haven't already been doing so, start going to (and presenting at) the conferences in your field.  As a graduate student, conferences can be terrifying awkward as you try to figure out the Q&A etiquette and twiddle your thumbs between sessions because you don't see anyone you recognize.  But as you get to know more people, conferences will become something you look forward to - a chance to hear about what people are working on, to catch up with friends, and to stock up on more books than you can really afford but justify buying by pointing to the marginal discounts on offer.  Conferences are also great for getting your name out there - I was contacted by an acquisitions editor interested in my book based on the title of my paper in a conference program.

Danny Loss