Phillip Maciak’s scholarly research begins at the places where literature, religion, and visual media meet in nineteenth-century America, and his public writing focuses on the idiosyncratic role of television in our lives today.
Maciak’s work explores the convergence between literature, visual media, and religious popular culture, particularly in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the U.S. His first book, The Disappearing Christ: Secularism in the Silent Era (Columbia University Press) focuses on the emergence of cinema—alongside the literary and visual cultures that anticipated and contextualized it—and its outsize impact on the way Americans were able to conceptualize the blurry line between sacred and secular at the turn of the twentieth century. Exploring works by Herman Melville, Lew Wallace, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, F. Holland Day, and W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as rarely-seen early Passion Play Films, The Disappearing Christ assembles a diverse set of witnesses to life in a secular age. His essays and reviews have been published in J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists, PMLA, Adaptation, Film Quarterly, and the American Literature in Transition series at Cambridge University Press. He’s currently at work on a second project about American creation myths at the turn of the twentieth century tentatively entitled, Eureka: U.S. Culture and the Creation of the World.
Maciak is also a cultural critic and co-editor (with Lili Loofbourow) of the PMLA special section, “The Semipublic Intellectual: Academia, Criticism, and the Internet Age” (2015). His essays on television and film have appeared in Slate, The New Republic, and other national venues, and he is the TV editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books where he regularly contributes to the “Dear Television” column.
In the English department, he has taught courses on “The Great American Novel,” “Literature and Photography,” and “Literature and Celebrity,” as well as the pre-requisite course, “Modern Texts and Contexts.” He also holds an appointment in American Culture Studies, where he is a major advisor and a member of the Visual and Material Culture Seminar. In AMCS, he’s taught “The Visible and the Invisible: Introduction to American Visual Culture Studies” and “Hot Takes: Cultural Criticism in the Digital Age.”