R. Scott Hanson is the Senior Scholar in Urban History and Material Culture in the Department of History and Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships at Drexel University. He holds a Ph.D. in History of Culture from the University of Chicago and specializes in American urban history, immigration and ethnic history, religion, political rhetoric, civil rights, social justice movements, oral history, ethnography, folklore (including the history of music and foodways), and public history more generally. In addition to teaching, he also works with the team of the Lenfest Center in the Atwater Kent Collection of the former Philadelphia History Museum.
Previously, Dr. Hanson was a Lecturer in the Department of History and Director of the Social Justice Research Academy at the University of Pennsylvania, and an Adjunct Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Temple University. He was also a Curatorial Research Associate at the American Philosophical Society where he helped curate exhibits on Thomas Jefferson’s years in Philadelphia, and in New York City he helped curate exhibits at Museum of the City of New York, the Queens Museum of Art, and Flushing Town Hall. He also serves as an Advisor for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and as a Mentor in Drexel’s Liberty Scholars Program.
He received his B.A. in 1992 from the Plan II Liberal Arts Honors Program at the University of Texas at Austin, where he doubled majored in English Honors and concentrated in American literature, critical theory and creative writing. He then moved to New York City to begin an M.A. in Religion at Columbia University, where he started to focus on the intersection of American religious history and immigration. He began work as a researcher in New York City for Diana Eck’s Pluralism Project at Harvard University in 1994 after completing his M.A. He did much of the fieldwork in New York for the multimedia CD-ROM On Common Ground: World Religions in America, covering the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Tibetan, Sri Lankan, Thai Buddhist, and some Muslim communities. He now serves as an Advisor to the Pluralism Project. His research in Queens ultimately led to a focus on the history and extreme case of religious pluralism in modern Flushing that he explored more fully as a doctoral student in the Committee on the History of Culture at the University of Chicago.
His first book, City of Gods: Religious Freedom, Immigration, and Pluralism in Flushing, Queens, was published in July 2016 by Fordham University Press and their Empire State Editions imprint. A second printing was released in May 2017. City of Gods received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly, which said it is an “[an] intimate portrait of lived religion… inspiring… deserves a place alongside Robert Orsi’s The Madonna of 115th Street.” It was also featured in a full-page story in the Sunday Book Review of The New York Times, which called it a “minutely detailed… case study of the promises and drawbacks of pluralism.” America: The Jesuit Review said it is “a timely book because it provides a framework for understanding current controversies over immigration.” A review in the journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies called it “outstanding,” the Journal of American Ethnic History said it is “exhaustively researched and compellingly written,” and the Journal of Urban History called it “a hopeful narrative… [and] rich community study.” His M.A. thesis at Columbia explored religious language in presidential inaugural addresses—a topic he has revisited in several news columns.
After receiving his Ph.D. from Chicago, Dr. Hanson worked as a postdoctoral research associate at Brown University, and he taught at Philadelphia University, Binghamton University-SUNY, Delaware Valley College, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania before coming to Drexel. A noted expert on pluralism in America, he has been interviewed for several newspapers, radio programs and on TV, he contributes occasional columns for newspapers and magazines, and he has also worked as a consultant for public schools seeking to create high school social justice courses modeled on the Social Justice Research Academy at Penn.
While much of his work focuses on urban life, he has also been working on a screenplay adaptation of Thoreau’s Walden during the solitude of lockdown and the pandemic, and outside of academia he has turned his nostalgia for Austin into a thriving side gig as owner of North By Texas (NXTX) to bring Tex-Mex BBQ to Philadelphia (follow @northbytexas on Instagram and Facebook).