David Walker

Associate Professor
J. F. Rowny Chair in Religion and Society

Ph.D., Yale University
Traditions of the Americas
HSSB 3086
Office Hours:
Wednesday 12-1 and by appointment
Time Period: Spring 2024
Curriculum Vitae:


My work focuses on intersections of religion, settlement policy, technology, and popular culture in the long nineteenth century (c. 1780-1920). I use case studies from the contested U.S. frontier, and from various new religious movements, to explore how people in those contexts debated and defined each key term in “American religious history”: American, religious, and history. My ongoing research projects concern theories of religion, citizenship, and historical progress formed through Gilded Age bureaucracies, land grant disputes, P. T. Barnum’s circuses, and Harry Houdini’s magic shows. I am also working on a cultural history of Mormon professional wrestling. Recent publications treat ritual innovations in spiritualism and stage magic; and railroad companies’ influence on popular understandings of Mormonism. Forthcoming publications analyze tourism and the public performance of doubt during the Shaker “Era of Manifestations” (for a volume on Shaker history); the relationship between religion and banking during the Antebellum Era (for a handbook on religion and American culture); and performances and classifications of religion at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (for a volume on religion and empire).


Railroading Religion: Mormons, Tourists, and the Corporate Spirit of the West (University of North Carolina Press, 2019)

  • Winner of the Mormon History Association’s Best Book Award (2020)


  • “Mormon Melodrama and the Syndication of Satire, from Brigham Young (1940) to South Park (2003),” Journal of American Culture 40, no. 3 (September 2017): 259-275.
  • “Railroading Independence: Pulpit Rock and the Work of Mormon Imagination,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 37, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2017): 29-50
  • “Transporting Mormonism: Railroads and Religious Sensation in the American West,” in Sensational Religion: Sensory Cultures in Material Practice, ed. Sally M. Promey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014)
  •  “The Humbug in American Religion: Ritual Theories of Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism,” Religion and American Culture 23, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 30-74.

Courses Taught:

  • Introduction to the Study of American Religions
  • Religion in American History to 1865
  • Religion in American History since 1865
  • Religion in the American West
  • Religion and Tourism
  • Incorporating Religion
  • Religion in the Gilded Age
  • Theory in Magic
  • Historiography of the 19th Century
  • Critical Theory in Religious Studies
  • Problems in the Study of Religion
  • Religion and Popular Culture