Posted by Charlie McCrary
Certain hackles were raised last month by an article on the website of the evangelical organization The Gospel Coalition. The article, “Top Biography Recommendations from 12 Christian Historians,” featured twelve white Protestant men suggesting, for the most part, biographies of white Protestant men written by, well, you can probably guess. Of the twelve historians, many were prominent members of what scholars of American religion might consider “our field.” Thus, many scholars on social media were upset by the list as a bad representation of our field. However, as Mike Altman asked on Twitter, “Why should scholars of religion think that TGC reflects our field at all?”
We and a few other scholars had an interesting exchange about this, and it raised a few important questions. In this post I want think very broadly (but, I hope, also clearly) in order to address “our field.” What is it? How is it defined? What do we study? Which scholars are included? My argument is that our field—which I prefer to call “American religious studies”—addresses a public or number of publics that exist in discursive spaces often defined by institutions.
Book Review: "To Come to a Better Understanding: Medicine Men & Clergy Meetings on the Rosebud Reservation, 1973—1978"
Posted by Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism
by Jason Sprague
Posted by Elesha
As we all know, history is the narrative of change over time, and the CFH has definitely changed. This year's conference theme, "Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity," attracted an especially diverse roster of presenters and presentations. Not all diversity is evident just from looking at a list of names and institutions, but a glance at the program shows lots of women, grad students, and early career scholars, as well as a promising increase racial and ethnic diversity. The percentage of scholars hailing from the CFH's traditional base in evangelical colleges, meanwhile, has dropped. This is not the trajectory I thought the organization was on back in 2000, and I'm really, really glad to see it.
Because the conference starts tomorrow, it's probably too late for any of you who weren't already planning to attend to stop by. But, if CFH hasn't been on your radar, I encourage you to look at the program and reconsider for 2018. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Posted by Adam Park
Fighting has deeply human roots, think some. Instinct, competition, aggression, evolution, and all that. And, think some, those roots have been divinely planted. In our DNA, God bequeathed us bellicose proclivities. The teleology of a closed fist. For the faithful, so goes the logic, fighting reveals our Created-ness. A long-time voice in the wilderness crying out said logic is Mark Driscoll. Much more than words, however, Driscoll loved a good scrap. Here's a brief rundown of his past bouts, and his present fighting condition.
I love to fight. It's good to fight. Fighting is what we used to do before we all became pussified. Fighting is a lost art form. Fighting is cheaper than medication and more effective than counseling. Fighting always wins over compromise.
Posted by Sarah E. Dees
Robert Elder is an assistant professor of history at Valparaiso University. His research focuses on the cultural and religious history of the South in the 19th century. I interviewed him about his recently released book, The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Identity, and Honor in the American South, published with the University of North Carolina Press (2016). He is now working on a book about John C. Calhoun. Next year he will serve as the University Research Professor at Valparaiso as he works on his new project!
PC: The narrative of the rise of evangelicalism in the South before the Civil War is usually told as one of opposition to culture, accommodation to culture, and then dominance over culture. It’s also part of a larger narrative about the role of evangelicalism in the rise of modern individualism. The Sacred Mirror introduces the argument that evangelicalism in fact rose out of important harmonies with Southern culture, particularly honor culture, and always had a considerable communal bent. Why is it important to make this shift?
RE: Several really great histories of southern evangelicalism over the last couple decades have contained this narrative of a pristine early southern evangelicalism that challenged slavery and honor culture only to accommodate and eventually defend them in the antebellum period. Most of the radical potential that historians have seen in early evangelicalism stems from the more individualistic and autonomous ways of constructing the self that evangelicalism represented (this was the connection between its challenge to slavery and its challenge to patriarchy). It’s a powerful narrative arc, but I think this narrative has obscured the ways that early southern evangelicals were deeply rooted in the cultural assumptions of their world, and consequently it has obscured the much more complex ways that honor and evangelicalism interacted in the South throughout this period. I originally studied honor, and instead of how evangelicalism sold out to southern culture I was interested how the language, structure, and assumptions of evangelicalism might have resonated with southerners from the very beginning. In the earliest stages of the project I was influenced by the old Marxist critic Raymond Williams, who described what he called “oppositional” and “alternative” movements within a dominant culture. According to Williams, oppositional describes “someone who finds a different way to live and wants to change society in its light,” while alternative forms of culture describe movements that cause real disagreement but do not “in practice go beyond the limits of the central effective and dominant definitions.” My argument would be that, culturally speaking, southern evangelicalism was always more the latter than the former.
Posted by Jonathan
With the baseball post-season upon us, I think there's still time to work in a line to lead off--readers may enjoy the religious history "double" in the July issue of the William and Mary Quarterly (paywalled, but abstracts here). Although this might seemed delayed analysis, it's still worth taking stock of.
Keeping up the theme from last month of finding religion in the era of the American Revolution, the WMQ had two very interesting, religious history articles that deserve notice. Further, applause is deserved for WMQ publishing two fine pieces of scholarship.
The first article comes from Michael Breidenbach (Ave Maria University) and is entitled "Conciliarism and the American Founding." Breidenbach reexamines Catholic political thought in America in the era of the American Revolution. This is useful for consideration, since many American patriots nourished a Protestant-inspired anti-Catholicism that viewed Catholicism as hostile to liberty. Yet, alongside that rhetorical reality, actual Catholic leaders like John and Charles Carroll of Maryland functioned quite well, supported the Revolution, and were accepted as full American patriots. How might this occur?
Breidenbach's answer is to recover the conciliarist theory as undergirding the Carrolls' efforts. Breidenbach reaches back into early modern European theological debates to trace Catholic voices that questioned papal infallibility and denied the popes had any temporal power outside of Rome. In the later 18th century, these positions were defended by English Jesuits and people like Rev. Joseph Berington at the Jesuit college in Liege. When the Carrolls advocated for these ideas, they took a transatlantic journey to root themselves in revolutionary America. By advocating against the temporal power of the pope, American conciliarists defused the chief suspicion held by many republicans.
In telling this story, Breidenbach sheds light on American Catholicism in the revolutionary era. He demonstrates a path for American Catholics to make their way in an independent, Protestant-dominated America. To further that, the Carrolls also came to advocate full religious liberty in Maryland, the better to guarantee the full exercise of their faith. Breidenbach sees those two points as related: that conciliarist principles fully supported full religious liberty.
Finally, Breidenbach helpfully brings in yet another stream of thought informing the American Revolution. In contrast to reductionistic accounts of the Revolution that privilege one viewpoint over all others (say, Lockean liberalism), Breidenbach is right to point out how revolutionaries drew on multiple intellectual and even religious streams to pull for independence. And that, it seems to me, is a helpful reminder for our general understanding of the Revolution.
As if that weren't enough, turning one more page gives us yet another religious history article, this time by Kirsten Fischer (University of Minnesota). Fischer's article is on "Vitalism in America: Elihu Palmer's Radical Religion in the Early Republic." Fischer makes an interesting investigation into Palmer, who was regarded as one of the chief free-thinkers ("infidels") in the early republic--he was occasionally named as their "high priest." Palmer was thus, from one perspective, in the same camp as Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and other Deists and Skeptics. Yet, Fischer wants to suggest that Palmer was more radical still for his advocacy of "Vitalism."
Posted by Lauren Turek
Theresa Keeley is Assistant Professor of U.S. and the World in the University of Louisville history department. She earned her Ph.D. in history from Northwestern and also has a background in human rights activism and law. An expert in the history of U.S. foreign relations, religion, and gender, she is currently revising a manuscript, Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: Catholicism and U.S.-Central America Relations, based on her doctoral dissertation. In June 2016, Keeley published an excellent article entitled “Reagan’s Real Catholics vs. Tip O’Neill’s Maryknoll Nuns: Gender, Intra-Catholic Conflict, and the Contras” in Diplomatic History. The following is a brief conversation we had about her research, which straddles several fields and promises to provide the basis for an exciting, important book.
|President Reagan with Tip O'Neill in the Oval Office, 1985. |
Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
I’m in the midst of revising my manuscript, Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: Intra-Catholic Conflict and U.S.-Central America Relations. The book’s pivotal event is the rape and murder of three U.S. nuns and a lay missionary by members of El Salvador’s National Guard in December 1980. I argue that the women’s murders brought to the fore long-simmering debates among Catholics over the Church’s direction. Liberal Catholics described the women, who worked to combat structural inequality, as human rights advocates living out the spirit of the Gospel. They were martyrs whose deaths symbolized an immoral U.S. foreign policy that trained and armed the Salvadoran security forces. But to conservative Catholics who supported U.S. Cold War foreign policy, these women were agents of class conflict who furthered the Gospel according to Karl Marx. As I contend, this intra-Catholic debate intensified as conservative, anticommunist Catholics played instrumental roles in crafting Ronald Reagan’s policy to fund the Salvadoran government and the Nicaraguan contras. At the same time, liberal Catholics protested against this U.S. policy. At their heart, these intra-Catholic debates were about who could fight the Cold War, who could shape U.S. foreign policy, and who could define what it meant to be Catholic.
Posted by Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism
Posted by Elesha
ASCH no longer manages Annual Meeting registration or housing. Instead, you need to register at the AHA. If you are presenting at an ASCH session, you must be an ASCH member, but you do not need to be an AHA member. You may register at the "Speaker Nonmember" rate, which is the same as the AHA member rate ($167.00). You will also need to pay an additional fee ($70.00) for the ASCH sessions. No, that doesn't make a lot of sense, and yes, the ASCH council is still working on it. Suffice to say, at this point, without the extra fee, the ASCH would lose a lot of money on the meeting.
To present at an ASCH session, you do need to be an ASCH member for the year in which the meeting is held. Membership fees are changing in 2017 to reflect the different income levels of the society's members. Graduate students joining the society for the first time can get their first two years of membership free. (For reference, I wrote about the cost of both conferences and membership back in March.) It is now also possible to renew your membership for multiple years, saving $5 on a 2-year membership or $10 on a 3-year membership, or to set up a recurring payment, which prevents the hassle of remembering to renew each year. All of these moves reflect the council's attempts to keep overall costs down, shift those costs to the members most able to bear them, and keep enough money flowing to sustain the society.
I hope to see many of you in Denver!
Posted by Randall
If you’re like me, money for research is tight and any digitized archival material that is easily accessible online is priceless. So, I invite you to be part of a digital dugnad in an effort to gather a list of online primary sources on American religion.
So what's a dugnad? A Norwegian term, dugnad is something like voluntary, unpaid community work.
But it’s so much more. It’s about connections and about being useful. A dugnad is a collective effort. Any kind of association—churches, sports clubs, scouting groups, and neighborhood organizations—rely on the dugnad to raise money and to keep the day-to-day things up and running.
And then, of course, there’s usually coffee and cake. (Home-made cake, that is. A store-bought cake is, well, frowned upon.)
Sans coffee and cake, let's start the digital dugnad. Let’s dig up our favorite primary sources that can be useful for both research and teaching. Give us your online gems in the comment section.
Michael Altman listed some useful collections here. There's also some useful material in the comments.
Anyway, here's my contribution:
Free will Baptists
|From the Free Will Baptist Contact, 1953.|
Assemblies of God
International Bulletin of Mission Research
Southern Baptist Convention
Billy Graham Center Archives
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association
The Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches
Adventist Ministry Magazine
Religion in film, popular culture
Posted by Janine Giordano Drake
Last month, I reflected on some similarities and differences between two recent books on the Social Gospel: Heath Carter's Union Made and Ed O'Donnell's Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality. You can find that essay here.
In my essay, I suggested that Carter and O'Donnell saw the Social Gospel acting differently within and upon working class communities. I saw Carter emphasizing the ways that the Social Gospel empowered workers, and O'Donnell emphasizing the ways the Social Gospel worked against some of their interests.
I invited Carter to respond to my reflections. Thank you, Heath! (Heath and I known each other a while and he has always been a very gracious and thoughtful colleague.) His response below illustrates this yet again, with my reflections following.
Posted by Cara Burnidge
Religions Texas: Mapping Diversity
Maps are useful tools for giving meaning and coherence to space. They identify patterns that illuminate the relationship between space and place and create a picture of a landscape. They can illustrate proximity and introduce a reader to her or his neighbors. They play a role in imagining communities. Yet, a map is not territory. And far from neutral, the process of map-making, or representation, reflects the interests and biases of the mapmaker, the scholar. In mapping religions, this often means that points on the map may reflect dominant, majority groups deemed significant and privilege groups that can be easily identified and counted. However, in the field of religious studies, current scholarship is moving away from simplistic definitions and representations of religion and towards more nuanced approaches to religion. Approaching mapping digitally offers resources for confronting these challenges. Digital maps allow for far more layers than the traditional print map, such as representations of change over time and the inclusion of narratives and multimedia data.
The University of Texas Department of Religious Studies and the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life are planning an extensible public humanities project to digitally map and document the religious diversity of Texas, a fast-growing, new immigrant destination with evolving dynamics of diversity. To kick off this initiative, we are convening a consultation on January 26-27, 2017 to bring together scholars of religion and culture to generate a broad conversation about documenting and mapping religions and develop the conceptual foundation for a publicly accessible, engaging, and sustainable digital resource on religious diversity in Texas.
We invite proposals for one of four roundtables that address the following or related questions:
- Mapping and Delineating Religious Diversity
What are some best approaches for documenting and mapping religions and diversity? What are the theoretical challenges? What normative assumptions are implied in our methodological choices? How do we draw boundaries and define traditions, communities or groups?
- Documenting Religion and Digital Humanities
What are resources and models for best practices in digitally documenting religion or culture? How can digital tools facilitate gathering cultural information? What is the relationship between the data and the digital tools? How does this affect the collection and interpretation of data?
- Taking a Regional Approach to the Study of Religions in Texas and Beyond
What new insights come to light when studying religion regionally? What can the study of religion in Texas tell us about this geographic, social, and cultural place? How do religious and cultural identities shape the place that is Texas and the subsequent civic identities associated with it?
- Public Humanities and Religious Literacy
What are the civic benefits and pedagogical outcomes of mapping religious diversity in terms of public education and professional development? What role can digital humanities play in the public understanding of religion in the United States? What are best practices for creating engaging and accessible public humanities projects?
Editor's Note: RiAH readers are encouraged to send CFPs and other professional announcements directly to Blogmeister Cara Burnidge, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Jonathan
With the new semester starting, I get to return to my "American Revolution and Early Republic Class." Apart from the drama of the era, it's a great class for integrating religious topics.
I was really impressed with Kate Carte Engel's guest post in May on her Digital History project on religion in the Revolution. In response, let me report on some ways we'll be "Finding" religion in the American Revolution.
We have already started by demonstrating the religious situation before the Revolution, laying the groundwork with an understanding of colonial religion. We brought up the Great Awakening and tossed around the question of whether and how it was important for the Revolution.
We'll definitely be revisiting those great questions about Christianity's role in the Revolution. Here, though, it's important to me to demonstrate the religious debates of the period. Although there was a patriot religious argument, it wasn't the only one. There was a strong Loyalist one, as well. Further, the conflict looked very different to equally-evangelical believers on either side of the Atlantic. So, this story has to be a transatlantic story.
I look forward to seeing what students do with the primary sources we'll be reading. I wonder what they'll make of Edmund Burke's claim that American religion demonstrated "the dissidence of [religious] dissent," which suggested conciliatory measures. I'm looking forward to the day we simultaneously read John Witherspoon's "Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men" and John Wesley's "Calm Address". These two voices by themselves mark contrasting evangelical opinion. I'm also confident Romans 13 will come up.
We'll also have a lot of secondary material to work through. One of my knowing students has already mentioned John Fea's arguments. Without a doubt, Mark Noll's scholarship--both older and more recent will make a strong appearance. We'll work through Thomas Kidd's claims about links between evangelical Protestants and the liberty desired by the revolutionaries. It will also be important to bring in Loyalist voices. I look forward to introducing Glenn Moots's take on covenantalism.
Then, we'll dig into how religious faith played out during the war. We'll consider soldiers on both sides of the conflict, both officers and foot soldiers. We'll consider where someone like Joseph Plumb Martin is coming from, as well as the devout and not-so-devout in the Continental army. I have no doubt Alexander Hamilton's religion--and Hamilton's musical--will be open for discussion.
It's also important for me to place he Revolution as itself a transforming event for American religion. It caused its own "restructuring of American religion" (with apologies to Bob Wuthnow). States had to consider the structural place of religion, and many (eventually all) opted for disestablishment. Religious liberty, the freedom of conscience, and the right to private judgment drove many Protestant dissenters to favor disestablishment over even the opportunity to participate in an establishment. This development moved religious expression in a decidedly voluntarist direction. Over time, Americans found themselves energetically devoting energy both to their denominations and to newly formed voluntary societies.
Our religious story will have to cross color lines. We'll consider Sylvia Frey's discussion of religion and African-American impulses for liberty. I'm extremely eager to introduce figures like Richard Allen for his role in American Methodism and Lemuel Haynes for his role in Congregationalism.
And yes, there's a gendered dynamic here, as well. We'll have to connect classic studies by Linda Kerber and Rosemarie Zagarri with women like Sarah Osborn, Phillis Wheatley, and others.
Restructured American religion also continued to have political implications in the new nation. One version energized Democratic-Republicans, while other visions motivated Federalists. Concerns about doubt and infidelity percolated through the political culture, as debates over religious nationalism roiled the frontier. At the same time, faith helped motivate a nascent anti-slavery movement and a pro-slavery argument.
In short, religious themes can be run throughout the course. This story thus integrates into the broader narrative of the upheaval of the Revolution and points to significant structural questions about the American republic that grew out of it.
If readers have found sources from the revolutionary period that teach particularly well or ways of posing issues to students, please share them in the comments section!
Posted by Michael Graziano
In The Production of American Religious Freedom, Finbarr Curtis gathers a collection of case studies—as varied as Louisa May Alcott, Malcolm X, and Hobby Lobby—to see how “an economy of religious freedom addresses institutional forces that define, produce, and distribute contested social resources in American life” (3). In other words, Curtis wants to see how religious freedom gets assembled and understood in ways that have come to affect ministers, authors, politicians, corporations, and embryos.
Posted by Matthew Cressler
U.S. religious communities have frequently adapted popular technologies to their own projects. They've done so in ways that pushed forward those technologies as much as their own group aims. Yet this cooperation can seem counter-intuitive. In an Introduction to Religion course this summer, several of my students expressed surprise that religious groups made apps - that Muslims received notifications about the call to prayer on mobile phones, or Catholics used their phones to guide them through the examination of conscience that precedes Confession. Religions are traditional, my students said; they don't like modern technology or culture.
Of course they do, though. From Tona J. Hangen's work on evangelical Christians and the radio, to Fred Nadis' study of spiritualists and the "technological sublime," historians of American religion have shown how productively religions engage with the methods and media of modernity. By the mid-1960s, albums were hardly a new media; Lerone A. Martin's Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Shaping of Modern African American Religion demonstrates the use African American preachers and congregations had made of records for decades already. Still, the intersection of religion and the record album created interesting possibilities for the U.S. Catholic Church in the 1960s.
American Catholics encountered the 60s as the overlap of two significant social revolutions. Their American society broke and then reconfigured the shared set of political and cultural norms, both of which were reflected in popular music. The Second Vatican Council, a meeting of their global Church in the early 1960s, sparked developments in theology, ritual, and religious culture. These changes, too, had musical effects, especially on the Mass. New liturgies needed new musical settings, and the Council's call for opening the Church to local cultures meant those settings bore the influence of a variety of musical styles.
Posted by Lauren Turek
The JDC Archives documents the relief, rescue and rehabilitation activities of the organization, from its inception in 1914 to the present. The repository houses one of the most significant collections in the world for the study of modern Jewish history. Comprising the organizational records of JDC, the overseas rescue, relief, and rehabilitation arm of the American Jewish community, the archives includes over 3 miles of text documents, 100,000 photographs, 1100 audio recordings, 1300 video recordings, 95 oral histories, and 157 recorded historic speeches and broadcasts.
Posted by Charlie McCrary
The Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR), the southeastern region of the AAR, recently released its call for papers (due October 1). I bring this to your attention for multiple reasons, all of which are meant to encourage you to submit a paper. SECSOR is in Raleigh, NC, March 3-5, 2017. Scholars from anywhere, even if your home institution is outside the region, are able to attend and participate. SECSOR is always a good time, a small conference that’s not too small, with good papers and conversation. Also, my birthday is often during SECSOR, and next year is no exception; so, you can come to my birthday party. And there are lots of great sections—some of which are chaired by RiAH bloggers, including Mike Graziano, Andy McKee, Molly Reed, and blogmeister Cara Burnidge, as well as many friends of the blog. But the most specific reason I’m writing is to tell you about a new section (er, technically, “consultation”)! That section, which zealously covets your submissions, is titled Secularism, Religious Freedom, and Global Politics.
Here is the call for papers:
“Proposals from any disciplinary or methodological perspective on topics related to secularism, religious freedom, and global politics are welcome. We are especially interested in proposals related to (1) the roles of religious freedom in international relations and foreign policy; (2) critical accounts of ‘freedom’ or ‘religious’ in the production of ‘religious freedom;’ (3) conceptualizations and consequences of the public and private; (4) discourses of religious freedom in historical or contemporary debates about refugees.”
Just a quick note to say that the early registration deadline for the next Conference on Faith and History meeting at Regent University is fast approaching. Once again, organizers have assembled an impressive list of panels, presentations, and keynote speakers. You can find the conference program here.
Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity
The 30th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History
October 20-22, 2016 at
in Virginia Beach, Virginia
) Duke Divinity School
) Baylor University
Jay Green (
) Covenant College
Posted by Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism
The first five recipients were named in April, and several have already begun work. Today's blog post features a conversation with one of them, Edward Hahnenberg of John Carroll University. Hahnenberg, a systematic theologian, knew Fr. Hesburgh personally and became interested in his life and thought while a student at Notre Dame.]
Posted by Elesha
Many readers of this blog likely received an email recently from the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, which is starting to plan its 2017 Biennial Conference. Among other questions, the message asked, "Given what you know about our field and about our conference, what areas require our focused attention?"
Paul Putz's most recent preview of forthcoming books (found here) suggests some trends. Attention to economics--some of which might go under the heading of the "business turn" in American religious history, some of which might not--runs through four September titles: Julie L. Holcomb, Moral Commerce: Quakers and the Transatlantic Boycott of the Slave Labor Economy; Harvey Cox, The Market as God; Matthew Pehl, The Making of Working-Class Religion; and Marcia Walker-McWilliams, Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality. The topic of sports makes a run a bit later in the year, with books by Timothy B. Neary (Crossing Parish Boundaries: Race, Sports, and Catholic Youth in Chicago, 1914-1954), William J. Baker (Of Gods and Games: Religious Faith and Modern Sports), and Steven Fink (Dribbling for Dawah: Sports among Muslim Americans) in October and November. Foreign policy, missions, liberal religious expressions, print culture, and environmentalism all appear on the list multiple times, and there seem to be especially strong crops of books on Mormonism and Judaism.
What strikes me most, though, is the amount and variety of work on race, especially though not exclusively on African American concerns. The titles are too numerous to recount here. Members of our guild are making valuable contributions to national conversations on racial ethics and aesthetics, Reconstruction and lynching, civil rights and social justice, with scopes of vision ranging from small towns to the transatlantic world. There is so much to learn and teach here.
What else is new or emerging in our field? What would you like to hear about at RAC, or ASCH, or in the seminars you're taking or teaching? What are we, as a guild, doing well, and what can we do better?
It's time for part three of the 2016 book preview list. This one will cover books published in September through December. If you missed the first two lists, here is part one and here is part two.
The usual preface: I've listed the books in roughly chronological order based on the month of their tentative release date. Although I've tried to include as many relevant and interesting titles as I could find, I'm sure that I left out some deserving books. Sometimes this is because publishers don't have updated information on their websites, and sometimes it's because I just missed it. Please feel free to use the comments to add to this list and I can update the post as needed.
As for how I define what is "American" in American religion (to say nothing of what is "religion" in American religion), for the purposes of these lists I mostly follow Kathryn Gin Lum's response in this IUPUI RAAC forum. There, she articulated an understanding of "America" as the region that eventually became known as the United States. That definition does have problems, of course, which is why your contributions to this list -- contributions which envision "America" differently -- are more than welcome.
Now, on to the books! (after this collage to add some color to any social media links)
Historians are currently debating an important question: To what extent was the Social Gospel movement empowering for working people? To what extent was it defeating? I expect the debate to run for a while.
First, Heath Carter's 2015 Union Made firmly argues that it was editors of working class newspapers, union leaders, and their rank-and-file colleagues who "made" the Social Gospel movement. That is, they advanced a version of Christian producerism and demanded that they were in fact deserving of a greater share of the blessings of economic productivity. Carter locates this producerist tradition in the nineteenth century, so he identifies Anglo-Protestant artisans and working class intellectuals like Andrew Cameron as representative examples of this Gilded Age, working class Christian tradition. Carter sees the roots of the Social Gospel in the conservative, Anglo-Protestant trade-union movement of the nineteenth century. He thus identifies the Social Gospel as a generative, empowering, working class movement in early twentieth century Chicago.
A second new book on the subject also explores Christian producerist protest within the Gilded Age. It, too, seeks to contextualize the protests and pleas of Christian artisans and workers as they became marginalized within a quickly-industrializing city. But, rather than illustrating the creation of the Social Gospel as a triumph for workers, the second is a story of the defeat of a working class social gospel. It shows how the Christian producerist movement in New York City got destroyed by big business, the Catholic Church, and political machines.
Perhaps it is significant that the second book is about New York, rather than Chicago. It focuses on Catholics, rather than Protestants, and it follows the Knights of Labor more closely than it follows the American Federation of Labor.
Nonetheless, Edward O'Donnell's Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality illustrates the extent to which working class people were thwarted in their efforts to advance a very similar "social gospel" (which Carter describes).* Put another way, the social gospel advanced by Henry Geroge was destroyed by the 1890s. It did not advance the cause of American workers in the long run, and certainly did not neatly dovetail with the Social Gospel movement of clerics and reformers in the Progressive Era.
One key difference between the books is in the ways the two authors, looking at two different cities, view the "working class" differently. To Carter, highly-skilled, trades-union men in Chicago are (at least one key component of) the working classes. To O'Donnell, working class Christian producerism coheres much more closely around the Irish-American Knights of Labor and the tenant, frequently immigrant, classes. O'Donnell illustrates a Central Labor Union in New York profoundly aware of the differences in class among its members. Carter illustrates a trades union assembly in Chicago that rejects radicalism as an "ism" rather than a set of poorer, non-Protestant, and less empowered compatriots. O'Donnell's working classes are seeking a remedy to the growing urban inequality between Gilded Age rich and poor. Carter's working classes feel disempowered economically and socially, but they are not really interested in broad social levelling. In fact, they are on their way toward substantive cooperation with the Anglo-Protestant elites of the city within the coming, Progressive Era.
Posted by Adam Park
As a long-time champion of physical health and moral goodness, the YMCA easily found national purpose in the First Great War. It was all but destined. A newly tasked "arm of the Federal Service" by "executive order of the President," the Y became "militarized." Apropos, the Y forged deadly assassins in its religious furnace. Charged with the vital task of keeping the American Expeditionary Forces in shape, the Y not only sought to build character, but to train efficient and effective killers. Here's a brief tale of how they did it.
Posted by Pete Cajka
I spoke recently with Susan Trollinger and Bill Trollinger about their new book, Righting America at the Creation Museum.
Susan L. Trollinger is Associate Professor of English at the University of Dayton. Her research interests include visual rhetoric, classical rhetoric, and the study of Protestant fundamentalism and Young Earth Creationism in American culture. William Vance Trollinger Jr. is Professor of History in the History and Religious Studies Departments at the University of Dayton, as well as Director of UD's Core Integrated Studies Program. His research interests include American evangelicalism and fundamentalism, Protestant print culture, creationism, and the Ku Klux Klan
PC: In the introduction you talk about the need, when studying the Creation Museum, to “slow it all down” – could you talk about what you mean by that?
ST: We borrow that reading strategy from people like Sut Jhally, who bring together semiotics and content analysis to enable us to see patterns in texts that otherwise might elude us. Jhally, for instance, uses this strategy for his work on music videos. Music videos can seem to say a lot of different things when it comes to male and female sexuality. But by slowing music videos down and looking at them carefully, by de-contextaualizing them in this way, he shows us that music videos in fact say the same thing about male and female sexuality again and again. And, by the way, what they say is not good for men or women. We were borrowing that methodology. When you go into the Creation Museum there is so much going on: you have dioramas—both life-size and miniature, lots of signage and placards, videos, films, objects displayed in glass cases, an ever-present sound track. All kinds of things are going on, and we just wanted to slow it all down, take it apart, and look very carefully at it. What exactly are the arguments being made? How are they being made? What kind of evidence is being offered in support of their claims? Does the reasoning make sense? How is the visitor positioned in relationship to the dioramas? In our book, we try to take the visitor out of what can be an overwhelming experience in the museum, and slow it all down so they can see what is underway—so that they can see, for instance, that as they move through the museum they are on a narrative path. That is walking along that path, they are inhabiting a certain story and a certain argument. We try to help our reader get a clearer understanding of that story, that argument, and how it is constructed?
Posted by Jonathan
The definite highlight of my summer has been participating in a NEH-sponsored Summer Seminar on "Doing Digital History." It was co-led by Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan, and RiAH's own Lincoln Mullen came in as a guest lecturer for several days. And, because of the program's commitment to openness, the resources from the seminar are all available.
The program had a number of benefits for me, including learning about many available digital tools and reflecting on the ways I could use them in both my teaching and research. Also, I could potentially show up at a ThatCamp and participate. And, I came to appreciate much more the points Lincoln Mullen was making in his posts from earlier this year (here and here).
The Seminar also exposed me to many types of digital history projects that have been done, as examples of possibilities opened up by digital tools.
To that end, I wanted to point RiAH readers to the "Houses of Worship" project housed at the University of Minnesota and headed by Jeanne H. Kilde. The project seeks to document religious sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul between 1849 and 1924. For that period, they have identified 250 congregations and 500 sites of religious and ethnic activity, including clubs, hospitals, settlement houses, and schools.
The project does several interesting things. First, it documents the congregations and organizations, providing short descriptions of each item. In this, they make good use of records, including WPA documentation housed at the Minnesota Historical Society. Second, the visual resources are beneficial, as they connect the descriptions of many sites to images of of those sites or of their surroundings. Finally--and what I was most taken by--was the mapping of the locations to show where they were and where they stood in relation to other sites. This mapping grew even more useful as it is connected to a time-slider to demonstrate how locations changed over time.
This project strikes me as of more than just local interest. It is true that the data appealed to me, living in the Twin Cities and driving past some of these locations. But, this project should be of interest to many more people than just Minnesotans. The project helps remind us of the spatial component of lived religion (hence the need for maps!). Obviously, the interior spaces are of most importance to believers, and what counts is the spiritual matters engaged in. Yet, exterior space also matters, as buildings communicate and even bear witness to outsiders. Thus, how buildings exist in community space is an important factor, as well as how those buildings are positioned in relationship to one another.
Further, this project could inspire others to do local histories of congregations in cities and locales and to understand the relationships of congregations and groups to each other.
It’s the start of August, and I don’t want to presume on the good graces of this blog’s readers. So in the spirit of late summer, I’m finally getting around to briefly describing of one of my summer projects in the hope that you find it fun, leaving a fuller accounting of the why and wherefore of the project for another time.
America’s Public Bible is a website which looks for all of the biblical quotations in Chronicling America. Chronicling America is a collection of digitized newspapers from the Library of Congress as part of the NEH’s National Digital Newspaper Program. ChronAm currently has some eleven million newspaper pages, spanning the years 1836 to 1922. Using the text that ChronAm provides, I have looked for which Bible verses (just from the KJV for now) are quoted or alluded to on every page. If you want an explanation of why I think this is an interesting scholarly question, there is an introductory essay at the site.
The project offers you two ways of exploring how the Bible was used in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century newspapers. First, you can use an interactive chart, which lets you put in the reference to any of the 1,700 or so most quoted Bible verses and see the changing patterns in their usage. For example, you might find that “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34) peaked in 1865, that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) grew in popularity during World War I, or that “Suffer little children to come unto me” (and its variations) was the most popular verse in this collection of newspapers. You can also see the trends for collections of verses arranged in topics that I’ve chosen from you, if your knowledge of biblical references is rusty.
Posted by Matthew Cressler
"We believe in the revolutionary things that happen on a southern front porch."
It was mid-December, but that affirmation hung in the air like humidity in July. Three and a half-years prior, on May 29, 2012, Women With A Vision (WWAV) had been made home-less, after still-unknown arsonists firebombed and destroyed their New Orleans offices. On October 19, 2015, this quarter-century-old black feminist collective walked into their first home since the fire, complete with a sprawling front porch that emptied into Broad Street's foot traffic. We christened that front porch with a conversation about the word "resilience," that dubious slogan of the city's official Hurricane Katrina 10th anniversary celebrations. What exactly did resilience mean when 99,650 black New Orleanians were still displaced, and thousands more were living in prison cells as a result of intensified policing? "Oh, right..."
As the rush hour traffic crawled by, we reflected on the vital work that WWAV was doing to hold the experiences black women--especially those born and raised in New Orleans--as relevant and important. We imagined how bring these stories to the forefront could help to expose the battle for space and history actively underway in the new New Orleans. When we took this picture, WWAV's Executive Director, Deon Haywood, had just claimed the front porch as a site where this organizing could take place and have a place--where revolutionary things happen. That affirmation prompted the recollection of another in WWAV's history. Twenty-five years ago, WWAV was just an idea, thought up by eight black women on a front porch in Central City.
|Sitting on WWAV's new front porch in New Orleans, Louisiana. (L to R: Shaquita Borden, Mwende Katwiwa, Deon Haywood, Nakita Shavers, Laura McTighe, Nia Weeks; Photo by: Desiree Evans)|
I have been a partner to the WWAV family for nearly a decade now. As a doctoral student at Columbia University, I've spent the last four years designing, researching and (now) writing a collaborative ethnography of activist persistence alongside my WWAV colleagues. Together, through an amalgamation of oral history, collective storytelling, and archival tracing, we've been working to document the ethics of survival, struggle, and renewal that guided WWAV's work from their founding in the early years of the AIDS epidemic through to their present in the post-Katrina new New Orleans. What's mattered most? Space. Specifically, front porch space.
As a scholar of religion in America, space has long been a critical analytical category for understanding how something we might call "religion" is produced through and productive of embodied and emplaced encounters, contests, and practices.
Posted by Charlie McCrary
Last week at the Republican National Convention Donald Trump officially became the Republicans’ nominee for president. There is much to say about what Trump—and, probably more importantly, Trumpism—means, what effects his candidacy has had, and so on. We have a number of theoretical tools and historical examples from which to draw some conclusions. In recent months there have been lots of bad pieces about Trump and some good ones. (I’ve especially appreciated the analyses from Kerry Mitchell, Elijah Siegler, and Finbarr Curtis.) Trump’s place in American religious history is unclear to me, other than as a reaffirmation that white nationalism must remain a key part of our narratives.
A number of commentators noticed the RNC’s lack of social conservatism and talk of the “family values” of the Religious Right, including reproductive issues. Maybe the culture wars—or, as Peter Thiel put it during his RNC speech, the distracting “fake culture wars”—are over. Maybe the Religious Right has lost so much power, by ceding it so totally to one party, that their influence is basically nil. I admit that this conclusion does seem plausible. But we’ve heard premature pronouncements of the Religious Right’s death before. Many times. Now, here I could say something about how “the evangelicals” don’t exist, or we could parse “social conservatism.” Instead I’ll just say that it’s probably true that most people don’t care what James Dobson has to say anymore, but it’s also very unlikely that social conservatism is dead, even as it probably cannot be the primary calling card of a successful national politician. Recently, “religious liberty” has become, in popular discourse and in legislation, social conservatives’ chosen method of opposing cultural and legal changes regarding sex and gender. It is noteworthy, I think, that the most effective opposition to civil rights advances for minority groups (LGBT people) is to reframe the matter as an impingement upon the rights of a different “minority” group (evangelicals or social conservatives.) At any rate, though, these issues probably aren’t going away any time soon, and to whatever extent the “Religious Right” survives, it likely will be as a self-consciously oppositional, reactionary force.
Which leads me to today’s repost. Jesus wasn’t the only important Republican missing from the RNC last week. Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a key leader in the #NeverTrump movement, opted to skip the convention and instead “take his kids to watch some dumpster fires.” I wrote about Sasse on this blog a couple years ago, before he had won his Senate seat and before anyone thought Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee. I’ve reposted that piece here. I think it worth revisiting because Sasse locates the origins of the Religious Right in a self-consciously oppositional politics, a movement that defined itself against its opponents. When I wrote the piece, I was thinking about the Tea Party and the obstructionist strategies of the Republicans in Congress, who seemed to lack a coherent ideology or program other than opposition to President Obama. But now, two years later, we might have other things in mind. Throughout the RNC, speaker after speaker told us very little about Donald Trump and very much about his opponent and her faults. In his speech Trump advanced almost no policy ideas or plans for the future, but he did say a lot about what he opposes, what we should fear, and the dangers from which only he can save us.
OK, without further undercooked ado, here is the piece. I’ve left it unedited, save for a few typo corrections.
In 1976 Frank Deford wrote a three-part series for Sports Illustrated on "Religion in Sport." Deford focused special attention on what he called "Sportianity." This world of sports-specific evangelical ministries included the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes In Action, Baseball Chapel, and Pro Athletes Outreach, and was represented in Deford's piece by coaches and athletes (Roger Staubach, Alvin Dark, Tom Landry), sports chaplains (Billy Zeoli, Tom Skinner), and organizational leaders (Arlis Priest, Dave Hannah).
Although Deford also discussed Catholics, Muslims, and Jews, his digressions into non-evangelical groups were usually meant to serve as a contrast to the deficiencies of the Sportianity style. In Deford's view, the leaders of Sportianity were so obsessed with the "competition for dotted-line converts" that they ended up captive to the world of big-time sports. They were, Deford concluded, "more devoted to exploiting sport than to serving it."
Mainstream media, including the New York Times, had taken note of the prominence of evangelicals in athletics before Deford, but no major journalist had so thoroughly dissected the phenomenon. The series caused a stir, especially among those associated with evangelical sports ministries. NFL linebacker-turned-evangelist Bill Glass, for example, opined that Deford's series was "the biggest pile of garbage that has ever been perpetrated on the American public." Others took a more sympathetic view. Gary Warner, editor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' monthly periodical, thought that Deford may have been unfair in some of his characterizations, but that many of his critiques hit the mark.
I was talking about Deford's series recently with Art Remillard (hey, did you know Art is writing a "religious history of sports in America" and is also blogging about it?). Art pointed out that this year is the fortieth anniversary of Deford's essays. So, in the spirit of arbitrarily commemorating things in ten-year increments, I decided to go back and reread the Sports Illustrated series. Here are four things that caught my attention.