Jim Laine led me into his office, and promptly took a seat in his La-Z Boy recliner, stretching out and making himself comfortable. With a grin on his face, he asked, “What can I do for you?” Laine is an Arnold H. Lowe Professor of Religious Studies and also the department chair. Upon first entering, his office seemed to be hundreds of books, little trinkets and office supplies. However, every object was distinct and attention-grabbing, from the Darth Vader helmet precariously perched on the top shelf to the Jesus bobblehead filed away on a lower one.
Many of the objects that scatter Laine’s shelves are indicative of what he refers to as a “religious museum” of sorts. “Over the years, students would bring back things from their study away, various objects and things that I began to collect on these shelves,” Laine explained as he looked at the wall full of academic books intermixed with numerous Jesus figurines fondly. Even his office acted as inspiration for former students, Laine recalled, “I remember my student, Peter Harley… He said that [my office] was part of the reason he got inspired to go into material culture and folklore.” On a more personal level, Laine admitted his wife was more of a minimalist and that his office space didn’t reflect her desired aesthetic. “This gives me a chance to be my messy self” Laine said with a small chuckle.
Despite the assorted objects that cover nearly every open space, be it the shelves, table or desks, Laine was able to pick out his favorite object. On a shelf overlooking his desks, hang two disembodied hands with bangles on them. “I was on a pilgrimage in India, and it was a very rural setting. I was familiar with all the objects of devotions, but I had never seen these… So I thought those were pretty awesome” Laine said. Later during the interview, he made sure that a picture had been captured of his prized hands. Rumor has it if you ask kindly enough, Laine will let students touch the hands in situations when they are in need of the Goddesses’ blessing.
During the interview, Laine remained comfortably seated in his La-Z Boy recliner, proclaiming it as his favorite spot in the room. “Late in my career, I need my La-Z Boy recliner,” Laine joked as he affectionately patted the armrests. However, the beloved seat is not the most conducive to getting work done. “I tend to do a lot of naps,” Laine admitted with a loud laugh quickly followed with a side comment, assuring that he, of course, reads in it too.
The objects that span the expanse of Laine’s office come from many locations, so many that it was nearly impossible for Laine to pick just one. As Laine’s eyes scanned around the room, they were unable to land on just one, “It’s hard to say the most interesting,” Laine admitted. Almost like giving a world tour, Laine pointed to various objects, “I have those Goddesses’ hands over there from India, I have those ink drawing from Japan, and I brought back dirt from Chimayo.” For Laine, the sheer scope of his objects was an aspect that gave his office more character and reflected his vast academic endeavors.
Although Laine’s office appeared to be very representative of him as a person, it truly only covers one facet of the professor. For Laine, the space represents more of his academic side and how it has developed over the years. “Over the thirty years or so that I’ve been teaching at Macalester, the study of religion has shifted strongly towards having to do with aspects of popular religion and material religion and things that got away from text” Laine commented. He also cited it as a reason for his own personal shift in academic interests. Originally trained in text, Laine’s focus changed in more recent times to lived-religion. However, both the past and present academic objects remained in his office.
As the interview concluded, Laine was more than willing to walk around the room and proudly display his objects. He walked from corner to corner, at one time, happily pointing to what he called his “Texan Corner” a small area devoted to pictures and figures of cowboys. He attentively made sure that each one of his beloved objects received attention. Once all was said and done, Laine smiled warmly, stuck out his hand and said, “Come visit me again!” Like his office, Laine is both creative and offers a wealth of information.