1994. PhD. University of California, Los Angeles. Political Science.
1988. M.A. University of California, Los Angeles. Political Science.
1987. B.A. Marquette University. Political Science & History.
2008. Professor of Political Science. University of Washington.
2000. Associate Professor of Political Science. University of Washington.
1994. Assistant Professor of Political Science. University of Washington.
I also worked at Camp Long Lake, Marty's Pizza, Wells Fargo, a food warehouse, and for a marketing research firm in Southern California.
Distinguished Senior Scholar. Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion.
Faculty Fellow. Public Choice & Public Policy Project. AIER.
Associated Scholar. Mises Institute.
Member. Mont Pelerin Society.
Member. Public Choice Society.
Member. Heterodox Academy.
Member. Valley House Brewing Co. Old People's Cribbage Group.
From an extraordinarily average background, arose a fellow who has achieved a moderate degree of competence in the academic profession and a virtually unseen level of prominence among his peers. (This is why I'm creating a website - to put a bit of neon shine on that invisibility.)
Born into a typical working class family, there were few expectations placed on me from the get go. Finish school. Don't get arrested. Get a decent job at one of the local blue-collar industries. There was some possibility that college would be on the horizon, and me and two other cousins became the first in the extended family to follow the typical high school to college to white-collar career path. Overall, though, I was raised in an average family very representative of the American population in the mid-to-late 20th century. Not poor (although my family did have a stretch of unemployment), but average. We were, in that day, the sort of family that academics generally did not (and still don't) study because we were boring.
Initially, there was nothing that distinguished me from anybody else in elementary school. In fact, I was the last kid in kindergarten to complete the list of "life skill" tasks because I had a hard time tying my shoes. Seriously. I was that kid; the teacher probably thought I was a bit slow.
I was also one of the kids (but not the only one) who would eat paste in art class. It tasted of mint and industrial toxins, which was great. Better living through chemistry, baby! Again, this probably affirmed that I was destined to work at the tractor factory like my grandfathers.
But then came the standardized tests: those things from Iowa or somewhere. (Iowa, for reasons beyond me, specialized in corn and standardized tests back in the day.) Surprisingly, I did well when it came to filling out the bubbles with No. 2 pencils. Really well. So well in fact that the principal informed my parents that I was "gifted." He also mentioned that I had a tendency to eat school supplies and that needed to stop; paste eaters don't go on to do great things. When my folks told me I was "gifted," I thought it meant that I was going to get some more Hot Wheels for Christmas. As it turned out this just led to more standardized tests and being put in a special class (and not the special class that my kindergarten teacher thought I would end up in).
Expectations rose, though not immensely. There was an attempt by my folks to get me out of the public school system and into an academic-oriented high school. I intentionally tanked that test as I didn't want to go to a new school and leave my friends. Nonetheless, the possibility of college was now on the table. I continued to have a typical high school life - playing a little bit of football (poorly), dropping out of band because I hated marching (and made no effort to read music), and forming a comedy group with some friends. The Comedy Duo of Flater, Flater, & Gill was pretty darn good (see "Fun Facts" below). We played for drink coupons and sometimes a few bucks. I also was active in Boy Scouts and developed a love of being outdoors. Scouts provided me with some of my best friendships while working at a summer camp for six years, hiking Philmont, and participating in Order of the Arrow. (I never made it to Eagle as I was having too much fun.)
Getting into college required that I take a bunch of standardized tests once again - pre-SATs, SATs, ACTs, and (probably) post-SATs. (I don't think there really was a post-SAT, but it was all a blur of Scantron sheets and No. 2 pencils.) My initial goal was to attend a mid-tier state university (e.g., UW-Stevens Point), study forestry and become a forest ranger. That would have fit the family blue-collar heritage. However, it turned out that I was too smart for that. Through a series of negotiations with the family, I ended up in the honors program at Marquette University getting some scholarship money to ease the burden. (This is not to say that forest rangers are dumb; it was just that my "intellectual skill set" prompted me to work more with my brain than my hands. People undoubtedly say today that I work more with my mouth than my brain and hands.)
Attending Marquette allowed me to live at home and work while in college. With that income and some money that my folks saved, I was able to get through college without debt. As a freshman, I worked a third-shift job on a receiving dock unloading semis, which I hated. I then jumped sectors and became part of the Pizza Industrial Complex (or Big Pepperoni), making and delivering pies to hungry folks. I worked for a small, local chain that had three stores. To this day, that was one of my favorite jobs and I developed an appreciation for the custom of tipping. Gratuities allowed me to build up a fairly large album and cassette tape collection.
As an undergraduate in a school without a forestry program, I chose political science and history in order to avoid math. (I tested out of my math requirements and was happy to leave that subject in the dust.) Thoughts of becoming a lawyer entered my head. However, after joining the campus pre-law society and seeing all the kids dressed in Izod polo shirts, I realized that was not my career path. Plus, they didn't seem to like farting jokes. Like any good college junior, I had no idea where I was heading. While volunteering as a tutor for inner-city youth (teaching math... ha!... to middle school kids), the Jesuit professor who ran the program noticed I was doing a really good job of connecting with kids. One of the lads I helped out never thought math could be so funny. That professor (and the same guy who taught a class on Hegel that I miraculously aced without understanding a single thing) suggested I consider a career in teaching.
"High school?" I asked.
He said, "Yes, you would excel at that."
I replied, "But I was a high school student, and I would never want to teach somebody like me."
"Well, then how about college? You should apply to graduate school."
And so it was. More standardized testing. And standardized testing that again I excelled in, with all scores above the 95th percentile (and two at 99th and 98th level). #HumbleBrag.
Having grown up in an environment where college was not an expectation, I had no clue what graduate school was. I thought it was a place where they taught gray-haired people how to teach 20-somethings, and if you became a professor you got to wear tweed jackets with elbow patches and sit in high-back leather chairs in a library parlor while sipping cognac. Finally, I could become a white-collar professional. This was intriguing as I enjoy dressing above my station in life. Sign me up.
I decided that I wanted to Go West, Young Man! A family vacation to Wyoming when I was 7 years old left an indelible impression on me. I love mountains, forests, canyons, volcanoes, and wide-open spaces. All my graduate school applications were west of the Mississippi River. Turned down by Berkeley and Stanford (their loss), I chose UCLA as they offered a pretty decent financial package. Plus, the lights of Los Angeles were hard to turn away from in the 1980s. My relatives were all impressed by UCLA because it was the team that always beat Big 10 teams in basketball and football in the 1970s and '80s. I was going to a "jock school" and I was okay with that.
Our incoming graduate cohort was pretty intimidating for me as it had a lot of high-end folks, including the offspring of astronauts, World Bank executives, and a set of folks who were brought in and given fancy offices and secretaries at the RAND Corporation to be Sovietologists. (Little did they know of what was to come in 1989 and '91. Ha!) I felt completely out of my element and was pretty sure I would wash out in no time flat.
We were the first grad cohort at UCLA to have a methodology requirement imposed on them, which was a bit of a surprise to the incoming students and caused a minor uprising. And so, this guy who wanted to leave math in the dust, had to take a statistics course that started right in with regression analysis and then bounced back to probability theory. (It was an odd sequencing looking back.) As it turned out, I ended up being an informal tutor to a number of my fellow students who were struggling a bit. Because of my tutoring assistance, I earned the nickname "Dr. T," which I warmly embraced and still use to this day. I also decided to pursue the methodology track (which included statistics, research design, formal theory, and public choice) as one of my two major fields, with comparative (world) politics being the other. I completely enjoy when local townsfolk to tell me to shut up about scientific issues because I don't understand science. Most of them folks don't even think I have a college degree because I don't talk like their university professors. I mean, how many intellectuals walk around with a puppet, wear a cowboy hat, and swear like a drunken sailor?
Long story short, I struggled a bit in grad school when it came to developing a dissertation topic and left the program for a year and a half to work in a marketing research firm where I met my future wife. Family details are sparse here as they wish to remain private; I'm the Vaudeville showman of the Gill clan. It is at this point when I started to think there was a lot of "providence" (small "p") in my life and that all of this wasn't merely random. My own spirituality began to increase at this time. Religion started to become a thing I grew interested in understanding from a social scientific perspective.
While on this grad school "sabbatical," I earned some cash and decided to finish grad school and at least get the initials that came with all the coursework, blood, sweat, and tears. I developed an idea for a dissertation that I thought would be an "easy finish" - compare why some Catholic episcopacies opposed authoritarian regimes in Latin America while others didn't. That idea allowed me to write my first published article (initially desk-rejected by APSR because "they don't do religion" -- see this article by Daniel Philpott) that landed in the American Journal of Political Science. That article and dissertation, which became my first book, allowed me to gain the attention of employers as few graduate students in the early 1990s had published articles, let alone in a top-tier journal. Small-p "providence" again at work. My thesis introduced the idea that religious pluralism (or competition) affected political strategies of church leaders, an idea that was later tested by two separate scholars studying Mexico, one of whom has received much credit for introducing the idea of religious competition as an important factor in political mobilization (despite me writing about it 14 years earlier).
Throughout this whole process, I was blessed to have Barbara Geddes as my principal advisor who had more confidence in my skills than I did, and who gave me a long leash to pursue research interests that were not typical of a political scientist (the application of economic thinking to religion and politics). Thomas Schwarz, who I studied public choice under and TA'd for on several occasions, also influenced the way I think about the world and the way I teach today. Fun fact: Of the 38 students that started in our UCLA cohort, only 9 of us finished with a PhD. I think I was the first of them to get the advisors' signatures on the front page of the dissertation. And I didn't even have a personal secretary assigned to me by the RAND Corporation.
And so I made it to that elusive destination of white-collar professional. In 1994, I was hired by the University of Washington, the plum job on the market at the time and one that I am eternally grateful for having. Stay West, Young Man! I received great mentoring from the likes of Margaret Levi, David Olson, Don Matthews, and Michael McCann. This allowed me to move up the academic food chain, obtaining tenure in 2000 and then a full professorship in 2008. A Distinguished Teaching Award came along in 1999 (alongside current UW President Ana Marie Cauce who was an associate professor at the time). I bought season football tickets in 1995 and have allied myself with the purple and gold since (although we have chosen to opt out of season tickets in 2022 forward given the inability of the Pac-12 to provide any reasonable consistency in game scheduling). All told, life has been good.
It hasn't been all rose petals and free IHOP breakfasts along the path though. Being one of the very first political scientists to apply "rational choice" modeling to religion and politics, I attracted a great deal of skepticism and criticism. There was even a time as an assistant professor when someone came up to me after a conference presentation and told me that her advisor and herself hated me for my approach. That was encouraging.
The subfield of religion and politics has tended to be dominated by two groups. First you had the Harvard-Princeton-Notre Dame axis that studied religion through an ideational (or cultural) framework, emphasizing the role that ideas and theologies play in determining political behavior by religious actors. They were (and are) the Big Thinkers; grand ideologies guide the world and they have their pulse on them. The other school of thought revolved around Wisconsin and Ohio State, favoring behavioral studies using attitudinal surveys. Not many folks took an economic/institutionalist perspective seriously then.
I found a home with a group of "misfit" scholars that included some great sociologists (Rodney Stark, Roger Finke) and economists (Larry Iannaccone, Brooks Hull). Carolyn Warner, a political scientist, was also among this group. All those folks are my academic heroes and friends to this day. It was Iannaccone and Finke, who along with the encouragement of Stark, that did the heavy institutional lifting to make the "economics of religion" an actual thing that three decades later is a serious sub-discipline in economics, sociology, and (to a lesser extent) political science. (Admittedly, I never pulled my institutional weight in this group, although I was an ambassador for the approach in my discipline. I'm not sure if it was my laziness that got me ostracized from the next generation of scholars who adopted this approach, or if it was the puppet and swearing. Probably both.) It took a long time for my fellow colleagues, particularly those in political science, to consider my approach to religion to be valid. Many still don't. They must have smelled that art paste on my breath. Kids like me were not supposed to rise to the scholarly class.
In addition to being somewhat of an intellectual misfit, I now realize - looking back - that my personality is also a misfit for my profession. While excited finally to be a white-collar professional, I was surprised to find most folks in my profession dressing as if they were in the working class. Hey, I didn't come all this way to wear denim to work again! But on the flipside, I never really adjusted to the elite culture that academics are supposed to swim in. Once the end-of-shift whistle blows, it is blue jeans and t-shirts for me as I head out to the local dive bar for cheap domestic beer and whiskey. I would much rather have breakfast at Waffle House and dinner at a roadside diner than any four-star restaurant.
Indications of this "misfittiness" came early. After my first quarter in grad school, our cohort went out to a local Westwood bar to celebrate the end of statistics class. I suggested that we go to the Irish pub on Wilshire Blvd, to which a number of my cohort had a good laugh at how I pronounced Wilshire. (By the way, we didn't go to that Irish pub.) They also teased me for ordering Miller Lite, a beer made in a brewery where some of my relatives back in the Midwest worked. They were all drinking Heineken (which was the fancy foreign beer before the craft beer revolution). I think I knew then that I didn't quite fit the profile. It was a very vivid memory. To this day, I will not drink Heineken (even though I know the ribbing was in good fun) and more often than not I will favor a Coors Light over the trendy craft brew. You don't like that? Piss off. I'll take the tub of art paste for myself.
While I did the "fine wine and dining" dance for much of grad school and my first decade as a professor, it was finally time to recognize that I'm a low-end beer and Jack Daniels drinking guy. The cowboy hat came in 2003, something I had always wanted to wear since I was 7, and I settled in to hanging out at taverns where I've made a lot of great friends who chat about football, play cribbage, and go fishing. As Mark Twain once wrote, "you can't get above your raisin'." I'm comfortable with that. And I'm comfortable enough now that I can do academia on my terms - trying to have outrageous fun with poster art and puppets and enjoy the short time remaining. I understand the downsides of this approach: folks won't take my scholarly production seriously, I won't be put on distinguished boards, and the invitations for talks and roundtables will be pretty limited. Nonetheless, there are a few folks who "get me" and probably are okay with the fact that it still takes me a while to tie my shoes (which is why I wear cowboy boots). That doesn't mean I still don't get irritated when I don't think I am getting my proper respect as an esteemed scholar; I play with a big chip on my shoulder. Buy me a Coors or have a laugh with me, you get my friendship and loyalty; steal my ideas or tell me or any of my buddies we are irrelevant in advancing our knowledge of society and you got another thing coming. And don't ever play the pedigree card on me.* Fair warning.
There you have it. The story of a blue-collar scholar who wears three-piece suits. A professional who has given invited talks at Harvard, Princeton, and Chicago and who has dined with Nobel Laureates, and yet still drives a scratched and dented pickup truck. A could-have-been comedian or forester who has published in the Wall Street Journal. And now I have my own website. Would you look at that!
I've had a few.
But then again, too few to mention.
And I may be going to hell in a bucket, but at least I'm enjoying the ride.
*If you are a "CHYMP" - i.e., somebody who graduated or works at Chicago, Columbia, Cal, Harvard, Yale, Michigan, or Princeton - it is best that you keep that to yourself.
Beyond my academic credentials, I have done a bunch of other stuff in my life that my parents think is rather impressive. In addition to raising a family (which remains private by request), here are some other cool things that one might not expect: