Taking Classes to the Archives


Emily Suzanne Clark

Readers of the blog might remember that I like to post about teaching. A big part of my teaching is primary sources and that increasingly includes archives. I first blogged about taking a class into the Jesuit archives back in November 2015, shortly after having my American Christianities class work in the archives. That was my first time taking my class on an archival field trip, and since then I've taken four more classes back. I'm hooked, and it seems they are too. Many have told me that they hope the assignment remains on the syllabus for future classes.

Two students digitizing photos,
from spring 2016 Native American Religions.
Back when I took my first class into the archives, I blogged and raved about Anthony Grafton and James Grossman's piece in The American Scholar about how student experiences in archives help them develop "habits of mind" and begin to form their scholarly selves. Now, when I take my class into the archives we're not doing full-blown research projects, but we might be getting there. Since that initial foray into archives and pedagogy, I've taken my spring 2016 Native American Religions class into the Jesuit archives, along with a first-year seminar called Race in America (fall 2016 and spring 2017), and my American Christianities class again (spring 2017). With the exception of Native American Religions each class spent one week on an archival project; Native American Religions spent about four weeks. Each class I've learned more about how to effectively teach with archives, and each time, I have loved it.

Five Questions with Eladio Bobadilla on Immigration and Catholic History

Catherine R. Osborne (for the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame)

Eladio Bobadilla
Eladio Bobadilla is a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. History at Duke University. His dissertation is entitled "'One People Without Borders': The Chicano Roots of the Immigrants Rights Movement, 1954-1994," and explores how Mexican-Americans, long ambivalent and even opposed to undocumented immigration, came to see themselves and the undocumented as "one people." He was awarded a 2016 Theodore M. Hesburgh Travel Grant to consult Fr. Hesburgh's papers related to his work on the Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy. (The next grant applications will be due October 1, so start thinking of topics now!)

CO: What got you interested in this topic?

EB: My interest in this topic is largely autobiographical. Immigration is part of my story and has shaped me and my worldview since I was a child. My father was, at various points in his life, a bracero, an undocumented immigrant, a permanent resident, and a U.S. citizen. I, too, was undocumented until the age of 19. So questions about immigration—and about shifting and unstable identities—were always part of my experience. Similarly, growing up in Delano, CA, home of the farm labor movement, inspired me to ask questions about the relationship(s) between labor, immigration, capitalism, and social movements.

Fun with Polygamy, or, "A House Full of Females" & the Benefits of Teaching Mormon History

Andrea L. Turpin

I love Mormon history. I have found a way to work it into literally all the courses I have ever taught. I am neither a Mormon nor a historian of Mormonism, but I've discovered that teaching the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brings to life so many aspects of nineteenth-century American history in a way that students always find gripping. Specifically, recounting the development of the LDS church during this era provides a fresh way to present topics as diverse as racial prejudice, Western expansion, revivalism and the larger significance of Protestant theological debates, changing gender roles, anti-Catholic prejudice, the utopian impulse, the expansion and contraction of the franchise, and debates over religious freedom, among others.

I teach in a history department, so an additional asset of Mormon history for me is that the church's formative years run from the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 through the renouncing of polygamy by LDS church president Wilford Woodruff in 1890. In other words, early Mormon history can be used in both halves of the US Survey course, whether you divide it at the end of the Civil War in 1865 or the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

I also teach at an institution (Baylor) where many students identify as Christians, so discussing Mormon history allows for class reflection about how historians treat faiths that believe that God has broken into human history in miraculous ways. Many students affirm that God raised Jesus from the dead on a specific date in history but dismiss Joseph Smith's assertion that the Book of Mormon is the result of digging up and translating golden plates whose location was revealed to him by the angel Moroni. Teasing out the similarities and differences between these historical claims makes for fruitful discussion.

Of course, a big part of why my classes are so interested in nineteenth-century Mormons is their practice of polygamy, or "plural marriage" as it was known. When I first started teaching in 2009 and asked undergraduates for their associations with Mormonism, the number one answer was Big Love--now it's Sister Wives. (Honorable mention in different years has gone to Mitt Romney, the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, and "those guys in black suits.") Students' association of Mormons with polygamy makes LDS history especially useful for teaching women's history.

Crossing Parish Boundaries: An Interview with Tim Neary

Karen Johnson

Tim Neary's recent book Crossing Parish Boundaries: Race, Sports, and Catholic Youth in Chicago, 1914-1954 traces the decades of interracial contact between Chicago's youth in Bishop Bernard Sheil's Catholic Youth Organization (CYO).  Tim complicates the argument that working-class white ethnics were some the most anti-black people in the urban north at mid-century, situates black Catholics' experiences squarely in the Black Metropolis, illuminates how black Catholics created their own places, and speaks to the civil rights movement historiography, as it merges urban and religious history wonderfully.  Recently I interviewed Tim, and I have posted our conversation below.  You can also see a recording of Tim's recent talk the Cushwa Center here.

KJ: I’m fascinated by your arguments that Sheil and black Catholics assumed that social change would come by working “within the system,” rather than challenging it.  Could you speak to this dynamic in and beyond your book's time frame?

TN: When I first started doing research in the late 1990s on African American Catholics in Chicago, I began noticing that disproportionate numbers of Chicago’s African American political and business leaders during the twentieth century were black Catholics—or at least educated in Catholic schools. While only a small percentage of African Americans were Catholic, they seemed to pop up everywhere in the historical record as civic leaders. The first African American elected to citywide office in 1971—City Treasurer Joseph Bertrand—for example, was a Catholic who attended Corpus Christi grade school and St. Elizabeth’s high school in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side before attending the University of Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship. And there were many others like him, including the first African American president of the Cook County Board, John Stroger, a black Catholic who grew up in Arkansas and moved to Chicago in 1953 after graduating from the nation’s only African American Catholic university—Xavier in New Orleans. Ralph Metcalfe, a Chicago native, was another example. Metcalfe attended Marquette University in Milwaukee on a track scholarship, starred in the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics, and rose through the political ranks to become a U.S. Congressman representing the Illinois First Congressional District during the 1970s.

In addition to sharing the same race and religion, each man was a product of Chicago’s Irish Catholic Democratic Party political machine.

"Evangelical Gotham" Roundtable: An Audience Comment

Jonathan Den Hartog

I very much appreciated the just-concluded roundtable on Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham.

I found myself taking in the roundtable just as I was finishing reading the book. 

So, in the spirit of an "audience comment," let me add one additional point that particularly struck me.

I was much impressed by the way Roberts' focus on religion in New York City opened up consideration of the meaning of New York City on other levels--the national and the international. The book works as a fine-grained study of one particular place (Manhattan), expressed with even more particular details of congregations and individuals. Yet, by choosing New York, the book has situated its local story in a city where developments in local religious life could produce effects beyond its borders.

One direction the City faced was westward, to the American continent. New York grew in economic and cultural significance throughout the nineteenth century, and its impact was energized by the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. New York print culture came to shape, if not the nation, at least a much larger region of the North. Thus, it mattered what was printed and that much of the printed materials were Bibles or Christian tracts or religious magazines. 

Further, New York City became the headquarters for national organizations such as the American Bible Society and the American Tract Society. These organizations had a national reach and a national impact, but their activities were coordinated by individuals living and working in New York. So, the religious life of Gotham shaped the practice of faith throughout the nation. This linking of the local and the national was evident in the annual celebrations that these national organizations put on simultaneously in New York's public spaces, with events such as addresses and parades.

At the same time, the City continued to face the Atlantic. Roberts begins with the Atlantic orientation, as travelers of all kinds came to relocate in the city. But it's worth remembering that New York remained a significant port throughout the period covered in the book. It was a node in the web of exchange that was the Atlantic World. Local events and figures influenced the people and ideas which circulated throughout the Atlantic.

I suspect that international ideal motivated the evangelism to sailors that Roberts documents. Not only were sailors resident in New York, but their journeys would take them to many other ports, making them potential evangelists themselves. At the same time, as a port, New York was ideally situated as an embarkation point for American missionaries heading abroad.

As a receiving port, New York could also hear of new developments in the broader, transatlantic evangelical culture. So, the American Bible Society grew under the inspiration of the British and Foreign Bible Society, just as missionary endeavors were motivated by the example of the London Missionary Society.

Thus the story of Evangelical Gotham was not just about itself, but its influence was felt nationally and internationally. I'm appreciative for Roberts' illustration of how historical particularity, when studied deeply, can open up into broader stories and significances. So, in agreement with the roundtable contributors, let me encourage people to give the book some careful consideration.

Walking the City

We conclude our roundtable review on Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham with a reflection from the author himself. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the conversation, and please do chime in below to continue the dialogue.

What a genuine pleasure it has been this week to have four thoughtful scholars of American religion share their journeys through Evangelical Gotham. I can’t think of better traveling companions. I have admired their scholarship and benefited from their conversation over the past decade. As with the best walks through a city, they have allowed me to point out the sites that most interest and excite me and, in return, have shared my enthusiasm, asked for clarification, and drawn my attention to things that I have missed.

This book began as an excuse to get off the Amtrak at Penn Station during my regular commute in graduate school between Boston and Philadelphia. The books that intrigued me the most at that time (and which helped me while away the six-hour train ride) were the new histories of evangelicalism that sought to understand not only what evangelicals did, but why they did it. What would make an enslaved woman join the Moravian Church? How did a slaveholder reconcile his need for independence with the conversion of his wife and slaves? How could a “crazy” itinerant melt hearts?  With notable exceptions, these new histories were often stories of camp meetings in the rural hinterland, of circuit preachers riding to an early grave. What happened to evangelicals when they went to the city? 

On Maps, Faiths, and Works

This next post in our ongoing roundtable review of Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham comes to us from Christine Croxall. A scholar of the religious histories of the Mississippi River Valley at the dawn of the nineteenth century, Crozall is a postdoctoral research associate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Her post is also the last in this series. Kyle Roberts' response will come tomorrow.

by Christine Croxall

Old St. Peter's Catholic Church
Huzzah for visuals! In Evangelical Gotham Kyle Roberts not only gives us woodcuts, drawings, and paintings of the meetings houses that dotted early Manhattan, but he also provides seven maps plotting New York houses of worship for the years 1790, 1810, 1823, 1828, 1834, 1845, and 1856. These maps and the series of congregation and membership tables in the appendix, I suspect, will become definitive data for early New York religion.

 The final chapter of Evangelical Gotham is, in my mind, the key to the entire project. The question it considers is not so much why did the stakeholders of a dwindling Methodist congregation come to fisticuffs in the street in 1856? but instead, what does the church's history tell us about evangelicalism's role in the expansion of New York City? Roberts traces how the members of John Street Methodist Episcopal Church rebuilt their meetinghouse in lower Manhattan, not once, but twice in the early 1800s, and then opted—after their public tussle—to stay rooted there rather than moving uptown with their Presbyterian and Baptist neighbors. In Roberts's telling, the John Street church is an exception that illumines a broader trend. By mapping congregations' proliferation and dispersal and contextualizing New York's church growth in relation to the city's economic and demographic expansion, Roberts offers a generative interpretation of religious developments in early New York.

Mapping the Women of "Evangelical Gotham"

We continue our series on Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham with a post from friend of the blog and assistant professor of history at Colgate University Monica Mercado. Where prior posts honed in on the how cities and spaces fit into Robert's analysis, Mercado highlights the ways in which these concepts both mask and reveal gender.

by Monica L. Mercado

During the first weeks of my lecture course “Women in the City,” I introduce my undergraduate students to the complex geographies of lower Manhattan, or what the historian Kyle Roberts calls Evangelical Gotham. Sitting in a classroom in upstate New York, our windows facing the hills and valleys that made up the nineteenth century’s infamous “Burned-Over District,” we scrutinize early engravings of Five Points and other images of men and women navigating urban space in antebellum America.

The Five Points
With Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860, Roberts reminds his readers that late eighteenth and nineteenth-century evangelical Protestantism -- so often understood as the rural camp meeting, a world away from the imagined depravity of the crowded, congested, “godless” city – was actually an urban phenomenon, deeply rooted in changing ideas of space and place. “Evangelicals,” he writes in the book’s Introduction, “positioned themselves well for the spiritual marketplace by rethinking what made space sacred and experimenting with new kinds of religious places.” Those places often lacked a steeple or set of pews -- recognizable markers of religious architecture in the expanding city grid. Instead, Roberts argues, his actors understood the sacred “to come not from the physical space itself but from the actions of believers.” Storefront churches, publishing houses, hospitals and orphanages could be, in Roberts’ words, reclaimed and reformed by men and women with evangelical agendas. (8)

The Places of "Evangelical Gotham"

Today we continue our roundtable review of Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham with a post from longtime RiAH blogger Lincoln Mullen. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here. 

by Lincoln Mullen

New York's churches 1845
from Roberts, Evangelical Gotham
 In his elegantly written account, Kyle Roberts takes his readers on a tour of Evangelical Gotham. The book has a strong chronological through line, explaining how evangelicals went through three distinct periods in bringing their message of conversion and reform to New York City (10--11). While the spatial organization of the book is less obvious from its table of contents, Evangelical Gotham is a book that is fundamentally organized around place. This may seem like an obvious point to make about a book that focuses on a single city, but my aim is to show how Roberts uses spatial concepts.
Evangelical Gotham is explicit in its debt to the concept of "crossing and dwelling" articulated by Thomas Tweed. Roberts makes this clear in his first chapter, where he writes about spiritual autobiographies at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. He takes a fresh approach to this topic by giving conversion narratives a meaning both in geographic and spiritual space. Evangelicals crossed religious boundaries by converting, but many of them did so at the same time that they were crossing the ocean or moving to the city. And once they arrived in New York, these newly converted evangelicals had to dwell not just in the city but also had to find a church or "community of faith" (27).

Geographic and spiritual space were thus experienced in mutually constitutive ways. This conjunction becomes a key to understanding much of the book, as does the emphasis on conversion. Conversion and other themes such as benevolence or reform recur throughout the book because they were perennial evangelical concerns. A real contribution of the book is the way that Roberts sets those concerns in relation to other questions such as denominational affiliation and worship practice. A key sentence comes in the conclusion, where he writes, "As denominational and sectarian choices proliferated, evangelicalism's appeal lay in the ease with which its small core of common principles could be incorporated into the matrix of beliefs and practices provided by them" (254). As any number of studies have told us, evangelicalism is a transdenominational movement focusing on conversion. Evangelical Gotham shows how people who held those evangelical convictions had to live them out in different churches competing within a single city. If most studies of evangelicalism are weighted towards crossing, then this book gives due emphasis to dwelling.

A Roundtable on Roberts, "Evangelical Gotham"

Cities have long haunted this history of American evangelicalism. They are sites evangelicals either fear or feel the need to control. But in Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860 (University of Chicago Press, 2016), Kyle Roberts highlights the ways in which evangelicalism was uniquely suited to urban forms of expression. Roberts, an associate professor of history and new media at Loyola University in Chicago, has long been a friend of the blog. He's written at length about his digital project on the development of America's Jesuit university libraries. So for this week, we're turning RiAH over to a roundtable reflecting upon Roberts' new book.

Our first post comes from Catherine O'Donnell, an associate professor of history at Arizona State University. In her post, O'Donnell lays out what's at stake in writing an urban history of evangelicalism. Future posts throughout this week will hone in on other matters. And on Friday, Roberts himself will respond.

by Catherine O'Donnell

Lewis Tappan
 What a marvelous idea it was to explore evangelicals, a big and messy group, in New York City, a literal and bounded space. Drawing on a range of sources across a number of decades,  Kyle Roberts shows us buildings rising, filling with worshippers, and falling into disuse; pamphlets being printed, read, and set aside; and congregations forming and coming apart.  Like time-lapse photography, Gotham offers a view of historical change that feels both intimate and grand.

Roberts starts, as historians love to do, by telling us we’ve got something all wrong. New York City was not a godless place, he explains, nor was evangelicalism a rural phenomenon. Instead, evangelical congregations, benevolent societies, and printing enterprises flourished in New York City and helped to create its physical and cultural landscapes. Roberts may understate the extent to which historians such as Anne M. Boylan have, by exploring women’s benevolent work, already helped us to see evangelicalism in an urban context. Nonetheless, his work is invaluable. Gotham provides  a careful accounting of the growth of evangelicalism in absolute and relative terms, Roberts’ precision offering a welcome reminder of scholars’ need to count as well as read. Yet  -- mirabile dictu! -- Roberts reads brilliantly, too, both texts and architectural blueprints; he wants not only to demonstrate that evangelicalism flourished in Gotham, but to explain why it did. He attends to instrumental uses of religion – it creates community services – and its intangible ones.  “Unsure of their place in the world and no longer able to rely on the security of their place in tight-knit communities,” he argues, evangelicals needed “a faith not of adherence but of active piety” (18).  Roberts also contends that New Yorkers valued evangelicalism because of “the premium it placed on personal discovery of an individuated experience” (19). His analyses of individual evangelicals such as Elizabeth Palmer movingly demonstrate the way faith spurred anxiety and achievement, creating and unsettling relationships and institutions as it did.

Police and American Religions

Charles McCrary

How can scholars of American religion incorporate police and policing into our narratives? I have been kicking around this question for a while, and I have a few very preliminary ideas and suggestions. In recent years the field of American religious studies has continued to expand the purview of what counts as data. So, I doubt many readers would say that police and policing do not fit within our narratives. But the question remains—as it does with so many other topics—how to bridge these questions and data sets with our existing frameworks and narratives. What follows are some disorganized thoughts about what a sustained conversation about police and religion might look like.

Scholars often study the police within the context of surveillance studies. Foucault’s ideas about policing have of course been influential here. I recommend Andrew Johnson’s piece on Foucault, the police, and neoliberalism. Johnson shows how Foucault moved from understanding the police as a state institution “isomorphic with the prison, both employing disciplinary techniques to control a free population and part of a carceral continuum” (5) in Discipline and Punish to, in the Security, Territory, Population lectures, “a ‘secret history of the police’ where greater attention is paid to public health, social welfare and regulating the marketplace than investigating and arresting criminals” (6). We can see how this tracks with the shift toward governmentality. This is one of a number of ways we can uncover the pervasive power of policing, though I wonder if an overly expansive definition of “police,” while probably advancing fruitful lines of analysis, might also distract from efforts to incorporate new characters into our narratives.

Many scholars of American religion have turned their attention recently to surveillance and related topics like intelligence and security. Sylvester Johnson and Steven Weitzman’s new edited collection The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security before and after 9/11 offers various perspectives and case studies related to the FBI, and a number of scholars (some of whom are included in the volume) are at work on forthcoming projects related to the FBI and other agencies of domestic surveillance and intelligence. For a long time, scholars of new religious movements have studied the FBI, ATF, and other agencies, particularly in light of their violent encounters with NRMs. Also, scholars have studied American Muslims after 9/11 and, more recently, in light of targeted bans and rising Islamophobia (including anti-sharia legislation, for example). I’m particularly interested in how more attention to “religio-racial identity” might help us study the role of religion in the surveillance of racialized bodies (I have in mind here Simone Browne’s Dark Matters, especially the chapter on the TSA). Surveillance and intelligence gathering are of course not only domestic security practices, but that the United States and other imperial states have often used religion as a category of (colonial) governance, as a way to understand, control, and influence populations. With these questions in mind, scholars like Mike Graziano have turned our attention to the OSS and CIA and their uses for “religion” (and academically produced discourse on “world religions”). All of this is great work, and it certainly contributes to whatever nascent discussion we might organize around “religion and police.” The line between police and military is becoming ever hazier, but, still, what about local police and sheriff departments?

Call for Submissions for new Book Series Religion in American History

The following comes from Chris Beneke and Christopher Grenda, editor of a new book series for Lexington Books. -- PH

Lexington Books invites submissions for Religion in American History, a new book series that focuses on colonial and U.S. religious history, especially the history of religious tolerance, religious intolerance, and church-state relations. Monographs and edited volumes relating to all aspects of American religious history are welcome, provided they are written in an accessible and engaging style. Those that examine episodes of conflict, patterns of cooperation, and the evolving relationship between religion, state, and society will receive particular consideration.

Series Editor(s): 
Chris Beneke (Bentley University, cbeneke@bentley.edu)
Christopher S. Grenda (CUNY, Bronx Community College, csgmd1@aol.com)

Series Editorial Contact: 
Brian Hill, Lexington Books (bhill@rowman.com) 

Christian Nationalism in American History: A New Series

Mark Edwards

Just a quick word to check out a recently completed series on Christian nationalism at Religions.  The eight marvelous essays cover topics ranging from the Native American preacher William Appess, Federalists, and West Point, to Richard Mouw, Donald Trump, the ecumenical movement, evangelical internationalism, and religious pluralism.  I'd like to thank all the contributors and reviewers for this collection.  We're also grateful for the wonderful support from the Religions editorial staff.  Happy reading, everyone!

The Catholic News Archive

Catherine R. Osborne

While admittedly sometimes the very last thing I want is more sources -- there are so many sources, I lament as I trim redundant quotes out of my current manuscript -- I also can't help but be excited by how many digitization projects are out there. One with incredible potential, I think, is the Catholic News Archive, a project of the Catholic Research Resources Alliance.

Compassionate Conservatism, We Hardly Knew Ye

Elesha Coffman

The recent Christianity Today story "Evangelical Leaders Challenge Trump's 'America First' Budget" immediately made me think of three things.

One, so much for "compassionate conservatism," a phrase popularized by President George W. Bush. This old talking points sheet unpacks some of what he meant by it:

"It is compassionate to actively help our citizens in need."

"We do not believe in a sink-or-swim society. The policies of our government must heed the universal call of all faiths to love our neighbors as we would want to be loved ourselves."

"Compassionate conservatism places great hope and confidence in public education."

"It is compassionate to increase our international aid."

That was 2002, folks. Even the recent past is a foreign country.

Two, the roster of signatories to the letter opposing Trump's budget provides an interesting look at what constitutes "leadership" in American evangelicalism. This is a big question when you're talking about a movement that tends to eschew denominational structures, looks askance at cultural elites, and engages in a constant internal battle about its own boundaries. ("So what is an evangelical, for the love of God, and why does it even matter?" asked Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic a couple of years ago.) This list of folks that the "evangelical flagship" magazine Christianity Today dubs "evangelical leaders" includes a bunch of Catholics, heads of several parachurch organizations, pastors, a smattering of academics, denominational figures from a pretty wide range of traditions, and several musicians, notably (to this child of the 1980s) Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Overall, the list strikes me as a useful window into the institutions and various forms of cultural capital that pertain in the evangelical world--unless these folks aren't actually "leaders" in the sense of having followers.

Who gets a seat at the table?: New entrees to historiography

The blog is pleased to welcome this post from guest contributor Dr. Michael Skaggs. Michael Skaggs recently defended his dissertation, "Reform in the Queen City: Religion and Race in Cincinnati in the Era of Vatican II," in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame. He vastly prefers Glier’s goetta over Queen City and Skyline over Gold Star. He hopes you’ll reach him at skaggsmichaela@gmail.com or on Twitter @maskaggs.

I've had occasion to read more broadly since defending my dissertation in December. I've also been grateful for the opportunity to reflect on my research interests and where they might fit into broader conversations moving forward.

In the roundtable on food history published in the December 2016 Journal of American History, Mark Padoongpatt's observations on the pertinence of "the debate over whether food is valuable because it serves as an 'entrée' into more important themes in American history or if it is inherently valuable" intrigued me. The roundtable interested me not because of my own research but because of what I've previously thought to be an outside interest: what food means and what our eating of it means to us. Yet as I made my way though Padoongpatt's generous article - his contribution to the roundtable is the most evenhanded in its evaluation of academics' and more popular food writers' contributions to the field - I realized that it would not be difficult to substitute "religion" for "food" throughout the series and still have a coherent, thought-provoking set of essays.

Consider these further sentences from Padoongpatt, this time with the substitution: "How is the story of [religion] and immigrant identity formation different from histories of immigrant identity formation through music or sports? Why does American history even need [religion] as a framework? Does it allow us to interpret and understand significant turning points and historical change in original ways? Are we merely covering old ground, only entering through a different door? Paying more attention to and integrating the intrinsic elements of [religion]...can expand historical narratives while highlighting the validity of [religion] as a way to interpret the American past."

CFP Roundup: American Religion and Global Affairs

Lauren Turek
Presbyterian Conference, Chicago, 1871
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

I have come across several CFPs recently for conferences on topics pertaining to U.S. foreign
relations or international affairs that include specific requests for papers on religion or aspects of American religious history. I have included the full descriptions and CFPs for these opportunities that may be of interest to readers of this blog, with particularly relevant potential topic areas in bold, after the break.

How to Teach the Capstone

Emily Suzanne Clark

Calling all American religion scholars! Calling all friends of the blog! Calling all Humanities professors! I request the teaching expertise of our readers. 

The beloved Boom's Taxonomy
(image from Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching)
Starting next academic year I will be the Director of Undergraduate Majors for the Religious Studies department at Gonzaga University. (Is there a patron saint of college curricula? If so, pray for me.) We've also been having conversations about redesigning our major and minor in Religious Studies, in part because the core curriculum of the University has changed and because it's good to revisit these things regularly. Part of our conversation has centered on how to cap the major; in other words, what should the senior seminar or capstone class look like? We currently do a senior thesis and are trying to better scaffold it into the program. We recently introduced a junior seminar for majors to prepare them for that senior thesis but that course may be cut by the registrar's office due to low enrollment. This prompts me to wonder, should we try something different? If so, what? If a student is not going to graduate school for religious studies, should they write a senior thesis or would something else serve them better?

"Enduring Trends and New Directions: A Conference on the History of American Christianity in Honor of Mark Noll"

[Good morning! This month the Cushwa Center has invited James Strasburg and Jonathan Riddle to post a preview of the upcoming conference "Enduring Trends and New Directions: A Conference on the History of American Christianity In Honor of Mark Noll." Strasburg and Riddle are the co-chairs of Mark Noll's retirement conference and are also PhD candidates at the University of Notre Dame working under Noll's direction. Below the jump, their post includes information about the (free!) conference, as well as a brief interview with Noll himself. Hope to see you there!]

James Strasburg and Jonathan Riddle (with special interview guest Mark Noll)

"It Isn't Entirely Unfortunate Rhetoric"

Elesha Coffman

As part of my research on Margaret Mead, I've been reading a stunning book with the totally 1971 title A Rap on Race. The book is the transcript of a series of conversations between Mead and James Baldwin, touching on race, religion, politics, culture, and more. In honor of the new movie I Am Not Your Negro, the audio has been posted on YouTube. The blog "Brain Pickings" features several sets of quotations, including this one on religion. I'm finding it equally thrilling and disturbing how current the conversation sounds, with its warnings about urban violence, the collapse of a sense of community, the perils of unchecked consumption, and persistent tensions surrounding immigration. Here's a portion that reminded me of Ross Douthat's Feb. 4 New York Times column, in which Douthat wondered how those who praise the Great White Men of U.S. history and those who seek to bury them might ever share a vision of America.

Mead: Well we still think ... have the sort of notion, as expressed in Felicia Hemans' poem, "Ay, call it holy ground,  The soil where first they trod! They have left unstained what there they found--Freedom to worship God."

Baldwin: That is very unfortunate rhetoric.

Mead: It isn't entirely unfortunate rhetoric. When Kruschev came to this country, somebody thought up a radio program of books we would like to send him so he could understand the United States. I picked this poem to show how people in the United States associate religion with freedom. That's what they associate it with; that's what they talk about all through middle America: "Right to go to my church and nobody is going to stop me!" The Russians associate religion totally with oppression. It is a very different picture and it got pickled in these early days when there were so many religious refugees of one sort or another. So this is part of our image of what is American, yours and mine, because our ancestors came here together. We share a notion of a kind of people that formed the ideals of this country and the ideals against which we have always been measuring the country and finding it faulty. But the ideals were here. I mean, Jefferson did postulate ideas of democracy that one could follow.

Baldwin: Yes, but he also owned slaves.

Place and Scholars' Roles


Karen Johnson
As readers of my posts may discern, I am very interested in questions concerning where people live out their lives, how they live in those places, and the consequences of both.  Housing segregation plays a prominent role in my book project on Catholic civil rights activism (hopefully to be in print in about 18 months!).  In the past year and a half, I've had the opportunity to read widely and think further about the connections between places, religion, and race.  I'd like to share some of my thoughts, and welcome your feedback, as I explore not only Catholicism, place and race, but evangelicalism, place, and race as well.
American society is one in which places have been replaced by space, which has led to a culture of homelessness.*  Homelessness is often conceived as a problem plaguing the poor and marginalized who stay in shelters or live on the streets.  Yet homelessness also includes the affluent who have few ties to a particular place, who do not have a place that can orient them to the world.  According to the writer Wendell Berry, "our present leaders – people who have wealth and power – do not know what it means to take place seriously: to think it worthy, for its own sake, of love and careful work.  They cannot take any place seriously because they must be ready at any moment, by the terms of power and wealth in the modern world, to destroy any place."**  This destruction could be literal, or the severing of ties because one moves to indulge career aspirations.

Saint Valentine's Pleasures

Adam Park 

The season of romance is upon us. Or, at least, a day of romance. And by some accounts, Christians romance best.

So, what's their secret? Well, it can be found in their rich material culture. Since the early 2000s, Christian marital aid and lingerie websites have been providing the adventurous faithful a wide range of romantic accessories. From nipple clamps, sex swings, and penis rings to edible underwear, prostate massagers, and beads (that you don't wear around your neck), these online marital aid ministries offer many earthly delights for holy matrimony. A most fleshly doxa, indeed.

The raison d'être for online Christian marital aid ministries, however, is not merely to aid in the enhancement of romance. Such ministries exist to provide, in the words of one website, "a safe, non-pornographic place to shop for all your Christian sex toy and romance needs, while keeping Christ at the center of your marriage." When it comes to Christian marriage, pleasure is the solution. But when it comes to shopping for pleasure-inducing goods, pornography is the problem. Packaging, product imagery, foul descriptions and vulgar toy names, and seductively-posed lingerie models have besmirched the market. The overly-sensuous agora is simply too titillating. Understanding marriage as between a husband and a wife, such ministries hold that any sexual stimuli that occurs outside of that closed relationship is misplaced and ill-gotten. To channel Douglas, pornography is erotica out of place. Christian marital aid ministries therefore whitewash. And here's how.

Reexamining the Original Patriots

Jonathan Den Hartog

I had hoped to find a way to connect a blog post this morning to football events over the week-end. The connections this year were not as clear as in previous years. So, the best I can do is--"If you're thinking about the New England Patriots for good or ill, think about about the Original Patriots!" And, I won't even limit that to the New England variety.

Rather than digging into a full review today, I want to offer a notice of a book I'm working through. This past month I've enjoyed reading Daniel Dreisbach's Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers.

Although other books already exist on the subject, it's an effective measure of how significant the Bible was in public debate during the founding era that yet another interpretation is justified.

Dreisbach is humble enough to delineate what he is not claiming while still making broad claims for the Biblical text influencing the discussion around the American Revolution and the new nation. In this claim, Dreisbach puts a lot of emphasis on the concept of "discourse," with biblical themes pervading discussions, often on multiple sides of an issue (as for example the debate between Patriots and Loyalists). In this, the author places much stress on the publicly Protestant nature of the colonies. Because Protestantism emphasized the Scriptures, it is no surprise that the cadences and phrases of Scripture worked their way into public speech and writing--often without attribution. In this story, Dreisbach offers an "interdisciplinary study" that ties together "history, religion, biblical literature, law, and political thought" (9).

One positive contribution Dreisbach makes early on is to distinguish between the array of uses to which Americans put the Scriptures. He creates a typology of uses, starting with Scriptural quotations to enrich a common language and vocabulary and to enhance the power of rhetoric through connection with an authoritative text. More substantively, he finds the founding generation using the Scriptures to define normative standards for evaluating public life, illuminating the role of Providence among nations, and gaining insights into the character and designs of God's interaction with humans. This framework can be helpful to anyone encountering Revolutionary rhetoric.

Rather than being comprehensive in the treatment of the Bible, Dreisbach spends significant time with a few passages that were used often and that illustrate significant themes. These passages include calls for liberty from Great Britain (Galatians 5:1), pictures of robust American liberty (Micah 4:4), and calls for righteous behavior for both the people (Micah 6:8, Proverbs 14:34) and the rulers (Proverbs 29:2).

American Catholic Historical Association Annual Meeting: Recap

[Thanks to Pete Cajka for this recap of the ACHA Annual Meeting.]

Peter Cajka

This blog post highlights the salient themes of the 2017 meeting of the ACHA and offers readers of RiAH an in-depth look at few panels of potential interest. The 2017 ACHA – a conference of impressive geographical and chronological reach – addressed the job market, archives, digital humanities, and publishing, in addition to its usual run of topics related to Catholic history.

 ACHA 2017 featured a bevy of biographical investigations. On the program one will find the usual suspects: Gregory the Great, Francis Spellman, William Bourke Cockran, Pius IX, Charles Peguy, Roncalli, Borromeo, JFK, Teresa of Avila, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Luther, Dante, Cardinal Newman, and Hecker. Our normal biographical subjects are often men of the cloth, but even here, presenters at the ACHA managed to offer new perspectives. John Timmon, a missionary who traversed the Mississippi River, served as the Prefect Apostolic the Republic of Texas, and later became the first bishop of Buffalo, New York, was the focus of an entire panel. John E. Rybolt of Depaul University looked at Timmon’s years as a Vincentian; independent scholar Patrick Foley investigated Timmon’s work as a Mississippi River missionary; and Paul Lubienecki from the Steel Plant Museum gave a paper on Timmon’s time in the Lone Star State.

Presenters at the ACHA 2017 also introduced audiences to a number of relatively new names. This included papers on Albert Foley SJ, Archbishop Humberto Medeiros, Benedict Bradley O.S.B., Ray Wilkins, Gordon Zahn, Francis Sampson, and Walter Ciszek SJ. Conferences like these help to bring persons of significance, some of whom have been relegated to the deep past or our memories, onto historians’ collective radar. Marian J. Barber of the Catholic Archives of Texas placed Catholic writer Phyllis McGinley in the context of 1950s and 1960s suburbanization. The pastoral environment of American suburbia directly inspired McGinley’s poetry and books, which, Barber noted, earned McGinley a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and a spot on the cover of Time Magazine in 1965. McGinley is an important literary figure and deserves a mention among the era’s most important female writers. 

The Mormon Path to be All-American: Good for One, Maybe Not for the Other

Today's guest post comes from Stephanie Griswold. Stephanie is a grad student in history at San Diego State University interested in researching new religious movements. She's writing her thesis on the history of the FLDS, their family structure, and leadership changes since the mid 1970s. You can find Stephanie on Twitter @_SGriz_.

Stephanie Griswold

A lot is changing in society in regard to transgender acceptance. Both the military and now the Boy Scouts have officially accepted the open participation of trans people.

With this fascinating step I am reminded of another time when military service and scouting were viable steps towards the acceptance of a marginalized group: Mormons, and in particular, Mormon men. The United States was hostile to the new and American-born religious movement for almost the entirety of its first 100 years. Entire books, such as Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color, have been written about how early Mormons struggled to not only legitimize themselves as a faith, but in nationality, gender, and race. Nativist sentiments lashed out against white, American-born people who followed Joseph Smith Jr. after his establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1930, affiliating their new brand of Christianity as heretical, un-American, and non-white. Mormons, as exhibited in Reeve’s book, were associated with every marginalized group of the time: Asian, Muslim, African American, Native American, and even immigrant.

New York’s Puck magazine, 1884
The main issue provoking such a hostile reaction was the early Mormon principal of plural marriage. Polygamy offended every white Christian sensitivity of the nativist movement, making it much easier to malign Mormons as hedonistic, immoral, and in many ways similar to the stereotyped depictions of African American and Arabs. Mormon men particularly were thought to be white slavers, enslaving white women in their harems. This was so engrained in the perception of Mormons that the Republican Party of the mid 1800s vowed to fight the “Twin Relics of Barbarism” slavery and polygamy. This, among many other pseudoscientific notions of the time, allowed for the othering of the Mormons as a totally mongrel race who merely appeared white, perhaps even making them more dangerous.

Judge magazine, 1882
Polygamy, however, was one of the main tenets of Mormon masculinity. In 1890, after years of state and federal legislation, persecution, and prosecution of polygamists, LDS church president Wilford Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto disavowing the principle of plural marriage, not only granting Utah statehood but kowtowing to societal pressures of other white, Christian Americans. This drastically changed accepted constructs of Mormon manhood within the religion.

Mormons worked hard to gain acceptance into the American mainstream and Mormon men were at the forefront of this attempt to gain racial and gender citizenship. The 20th century brought the opportunity for them to gain both racial and gender acceptance while bringing their families and religion with them. In changing the definition of a righteous Mormon man to monogamous and heterosexual, who did not partake in tobacco or alcohol, and was seen active in the community through mission projects they became ideal candidates for acceptance.

Religion, Attire, and Adornment in North America

Today's guest post comes from Dave Krueger, an independent scholar of American religious history. He is the author of Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America and is currently working on an article about the history of Muslims in Philadelphia. Connect with him via his website or on Twitter at davidkrueger01.

David Krueger

Philadelphia is a great place to people watch, particularly for scholars like me with an interest in material expressions of religion. Whenever I take a walk down 52nd Street in my West Philly neighborhood, I’m intrigued by the fashion choices that people make. At the edge of the University City district, I will occasionally see white hipsters in tight jeans riding fixie bikes, but on this street, it is more typical to see African Americans donning apparel that is typically recognized as “Islamic.”

Some women wear colorful hijabs (headscarves) covering their hair, while others wear black niqabs that cover the face and abayas that cover all but the hands. Some men wear kufis (skull caps) on their heads and beards of varying lengths – sometimes dyed with a reddish tint. Some men wear kifayas (scarves) and thobs (long, ankle-length shirts) that are common in the Middle East, and others don vest coats and izzars (skirts) that are typical in South Asia. At times, a stroll down 52nd Street can feel like a visit to Lahore or to Riyadh. However, the nearly ubiquitous inclusion of Timberland boots reminds me that that I’m walking down the streets of an American city.

What can a study of these eclectic assemblages of apparel and adornment teach us about Muslim life in the U.S.? In the Middle East, a kifaya is used to shelter oneself from the sun, but what utility does it have on a cold winter day in West Philly? Does the wearer use it differentiate himself from his Christian and non-religious neighbors? Does it signify that he is a certain kind of Muslim, perhaps one who embraces a stricter, and perhaps, more “authentic” expression of Islam? Is the donning of a kifaya a way to protest American racism by identifying with a post-colonial aesthetic? What role do the Timberland boots play? Are they worn simply for comfort, or does the wearer use them to project a distinctly Islamic masculinity?

Vote With Your Informed Conscience: Catholics and the Election of 2016

Peter Cajka 

Catholics did not necessarily tell fellow Catholics which candidate to vote for in this election season. Nor did Catholics tell their co-religionists which political party God supports. Instead, Catholics advised one another to “inform their consciences” before casting a ballot. 

A brief analysis of a document renewed by the bishops in 2015,  Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (FCFC), can demonstrate why Catholics often advise one another to form their consciences on voting (and other matters). The Church will not, indeed, it cannot, it is said, tell Catholics exactly how to vote. Political life is too messy and the Christian message cannot be realized in a single party’s platform. “Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of power interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype,” FCFC explains. Therefore, it concludes, “The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being.” When the dint of democratic politics renders The Good unclear, and The Truth is obscured, the Catholic Church provides moral resources so the individual can form his or her own conscience. According to this notion, the Catholic Church does not explicitly command, rather, it sets a moral context in which individual Catholics can form his or her own conscience. It is then is up to the individual to improve the subjective dimension of moral life (conscience) by forming the conscience with a variety of objective Church teachings. “The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well formed conscience,” the document explains, adding that “The formation of conscience includes several elements.” These elements include prayer, reading the Catechism, diving into Scripture, and studying the particular political situation. 

The notion of the informed conscience has a long history in American Catholic life but it has come recently to occupy an important place in political theology, particularly as it pertains to the concrete act of voting. During the summer and fall of 2016, advice to vote with an informed conscience echoed across the United States. The advice appeared in popular Catholic media. Jesuit James Martin advised Catholics in a YouTube video posted on November 6 to follow informed consciences when punching their tickets. “The Church forms consciences, it doesn’t dictate them,” Martin assured.  Thus, the Catholic Church had a duty  to help Catholics form their consciences. Homilies and pastoral letters hailed from priests and bishops in Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, and North Dakota, entreating the voting faithful to form and follow conscience on November 8. 

The Steve Bannon School of American History


Michael Graziano

Recent news reports indicate that Steve Bannon, formerly the Executive Chair of Breitbart News and currently Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump, will join the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. There’s a lot to be said about Bannon and his relationship to Jews, Muslims, women, and other racial and religious minorities. But there is also a surprising lack of information about Bannon given his new prominence. That may be in part because, as Bloomberg’s Joshua Green notes in a fascinating long-read, Bannon’s life has been “a succession of Gatsbyish reinventions.” (Side note: I encourage you to read Green’s piecewritten when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were still the presidential frontrunnersand remind yourself that its subject now has a permanent seat at one of the most select meetings in DC alongside the Secretaries of State and Defense.)

A permanent seat on the NSC’s Principals Committee is a striking promotion, even by Gatsby’s standards. Though it’s been overshadowed by the roll-out of new policies targeting Muslims and refugees, Bannon’s new role is worth reflecting upon. Bannon has had Trump’s ear for a while now, too. Understanding the administration might mean understanding Bannon.

Most news coverage portrays Bannon as a strange fit for the NSC. He is viewed as an outlier because he has not been employed by traditional foreign policy institutions: the Department of State, the CIA, NGOs, etc. Even so, for many critics it is less his résumé than his ideas that are cause for concern. Yet I think it is a mistake to view Bannon as entirely alien to the national security complex. Bannon’s ideas about the relationship between race, religion, and national security make him an important public intellectual for this new moment in American national security policy.

Anti-Bannon signs during the Women's march
The NSCand American national security policyhas always been political. Decisions about what constitutes a threat to US security, and appropriate responses to it, are inescapably political questions. Shortly after its creation under President Truman, National Security Council Report 68 [1950] (often abbreviated to NSC-68) called for a spiritual “counter-force” to challenge the “fanatic faith” of the Soviet Union. Like the Cold Warriors of years past, Bannon has a remarkably well-defined worldview through which he perceives specific threats to, and values of, the United States. National security policy in the United States has long been in conversation with (and, at least since the Cold War, dependent upon) such a narrative. Given Bannon’s prominence, it’s worth considering how he sees the world, and how these narratives might influence how he thinks about national security.

Sikh Captain America

Cara Burnidge

One of my favorite topics to discuss in both my world religions and religion in America classrooms is Sikhs. There are a few ways that I bring this topic into the classroom: as a matter of classification ("What/Who is a "world religion"/"American religion"?); as an example of minority/majority religions (Sikhs live as a religious minority wherever they are in the world); and, most often, as a poignant example of how the "map is not territory": the Pew Research Center's demographics reflect the social, political, and cultural context of the world/America. There are around 24 million Sikhs in the world (by the numbers alone, the fifth largest religion in the world); yet most Americans are unaware of Sikhs.

In addition to these avenues for bringing Sikhs into the conversation about who and what is "American" or "religious" in American religion, another way to introduce Sikhs to our classrooms is through Sikh Captain America. Far more than a comedic stunt, Sikh Captain America provides an important moment of reflection on American identity in the 21st century.  

Religion and the CIA: A Trove of Declassified Intelligence Documents in CREST

Lauren Turek

On January 17, the Central Intelligence Agency posted some 930,000 text-searchable declassified documents on its FOIA reading room web page. The New York Times detailed some of the interesting materials this release made available to the public, noting that "technically, you could have gained access to the files before, but only if you drove to the National Archives building in College Park, Md., where there were four computers you could use to sift through the C.I.A. Records Search Tool, known as Crest." Now these materials are readily available to the public online.

These documents hold obvious value for those of us who work on national security topics, but the NYT article makes clear that there are also many documents of potential interest to scholars and students of American religious history. Indeed, one of the first documents mentioned in the article is a CIA report on "spiritualist healers in New Mexico."

This public and text-searchable access to the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) may prove useful not only for scholarly research in American religious history, but also in the classroom. By virtue of the fact that they contain information that policymakers once considered sensitive or top secret, declassified documents have a way of enlivening discussions about primary sources. Additionally, the CREST database is a tremendous resource for students working on major research papers—students can search for any keyword or combination of keywords pertaining to their topic and find a wealth of interesting documents, all of which are available as PDFs, and all of which researchers can download and read through.

To illustrate the possibilities of this exciting new resource, I have performed a few searches in CREST and turned up the following examples of documents that pertain in some way to religion in American history, foreign policy, or national security. Click on the Document Number to visit the CIA catalog page and access the full PDF of each document.

These samples just scratch the surface of the material now accessible through this database. I look forward to bringing some of these documents in to my U.S. foreign relations course this semester and hope others find them helpful as well.

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