Also Known As: Jim Caccamo, Ph.D.

by Diane Holliday

Summer 2021

James Caccamo illustration

Jim Caccamo, Ph.D., associate professor and associate dean for students and experiential learning for the College of Arts and Sciences

Jim Caccamo, Ph.D., is framed by a wall of books as we sit down for our Zoom interview. It’s the home office backdrop you might expect for an associate professor of theology of more than 10 years. But take a closer look, and you’ll notice The Beatles anthology nestled among book titles like “Reason Informed by Faith” and “Connected Toward Communion.” He turns his camera to reveal three bass guitars hanging neatly against an orange-striped wall.

“When I was in grad school, my wife used to say that our apartment looked like a library, and now she would say it's turned into a music store,” he laughs. “We have a lot of instruments.”

Caccamo’s love of music began when he was a kid. The associate dean for students and experiential learning recalls the stack of 45s on his parents’ record player growing up. Saturday morning chores, he says, were set to the soundtrack of Bobby Darin, Dion, and Ike and Tina Turner.

For Caccamo, music is about connection — from the lyrics that emotionally connect listeners, to the beat that physically moves them. It makes sense why he asked his parents to take bass lessons in junior high (despite his mother’s insistence that “no one sits around a campfire and sings songs with a bass”). The bass is the instrument that sets the harmonic framework and creates the foundation for the other instruments, he explains. It’s the connector.

“My job as a bassist is to support and bridge all the different pieces, you know, be the person who's connecting the guitarist to the drums to bridge all these different players and bring them together to make a coherent whole,” he says.

Caccamo has played guitar and bass since he was 12, most recently in the classic rock band American Eon and in the ’80s cover band A New Wave. Raised in Kansas City in the decades that followed the liturgical movement in the U.S., he was also immersed in contemporary Catholic music, including the songs of liturgical folk music group the St. Louis Jesuits. It was a unique combination that would later influence his trajectory as a theologian and musician.

Regardless of genre, it’s the ability to express oneself through music that resonates with Caccamo.

“Whether you’re expressing to God, to other people, to yourself — because some music is about telling yourself something — you’re joining other people in that experience,” he says. “It’s an instantaneous, really powerful and almost fleeting community that you can create in a moment.”

Academia has given Caccamo the avenue to explore music on a deeper level. Part of his research looks at how people become who they are and what role music and communication practices and religion play in their moral formation. He also teaches a number of unique courses, including Christianity and Media, a class that explores how Christianity uses media to accomplish its goals, and how popular media presents Christianity.

“I’ve been able to figure out a really good way to connect to the things that I love in a useful way. That is, to be able to bring something new to our students and bring something new to myself. I feel like I've been very fortunate to be able to do that,” he says. 

Diane Holliday is content director at Saint Joseph's. Illustration by Ryan Starr.