Are You Talking to Me? A Reflection on the Field

Charles 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"

[This month's Cushwa post is devoted to a book review by recent research travel grant recipient Jason Sprague, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa. (You can see a brief interview with Jason about his dissertation, “‘The Shadow of a Cross’: Odawa Catholicism in Waganakisi, 1765–1825," here.) Speaking of our research travel grants, please start making your plans to apply for one now! The Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism gives annual grants for travel to the University of Notre Dame to use its archives and library. The application deadline is December 31; you can find out more about both the grant criteria and application procedures here.]

by Jason Sprague

Not Your Father's CFH

Elesha Coffman

Sixteen years ago, when I was the editor of Christian History magazine and just barely beginning to think about grad school, I attended a Conference on Faith and History biennial meeting out in San Diego. As I recall, I was one of a handful of women (literally, I think I could count them on the fingers of one hand) and a hardly larger contingent of attendees under age 40. I enjoyed the conference, but it didn't strike me as an event to prioritize in the future.

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.

Mars Hill, Fight Club, and the New Mark Driscoll

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.

The founding of Mars Hill was conducted "in the Spirit of Fight Club," William Wallace II (a.k.a. Mark Driscoll) wrote in the winter of 2000. Clearly enamored by the recent release of Fight Club, Driscoll labeled his emergent church mission "Operation Backlash." By then, he had gathered his space monkeys and established an administration, purchased a location, and drafted the church rules. The Operation's purpose was singular: to remedy the "pussified nation" that we all live in, comprised of men "raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee." Indeed, Mars Hill/Fight Club was a much needed solution to the sit-style peeing pandemic of the late-90s.

Driscoll and his followers sought to cultivate their "inner Fight Club" as revolutionary counterpoint to the Dawson's-Creek watching, emotion-talking, crying "homo Promise Keepers" that pervaded American culture. Titillated by the thought of a forthcoming 21st century crusade, Mars Hill members rallied. For the lost, a "Rev. Tyler Durden" zealously theologized, "the most graceful thing we can do for them is tell them they are pussified and we will continue to beat their ass until they stop." A Carlisle of a different sort. Beat the man, save the soul. Driscoll puffed:
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. 

American Religious Freedom: Always Already Vexing

Sarah E. Dees

Finbarr Curtis’s The Production of American Religious Freedom doesn’t offer a comprehensive introduction to the conception and importance of religious freedom in U.S. history. It doesn’t outline a straightforward historical genealogy of the concept of American religious freedom. Curtis doesn’t propose suggestions for how we might best define “American” or “religious” or “freedom.” The case studies that he presents—nodes in a complex web that transcend time, space, points of view, and specific social concerns—are themselves impossible to neatly tie together. Yet the book does offer a compelling contribution to the conversation about religious freedom in America, a contribution that uniquely highlights economic structures and concerns, notions of personhood, aesthetic and affective works and workings, and ideas about private property and public good. Furthermore, The Production of American Religious Freedom—with its analysis of data at the micro and macro levels and its focus on how particular beliefs structure actors’ engagements with others—exemplifies the unique type of interdisciplinary research that is possible within the field of religious studies.

As Curtis notes, religious freedom has long been a popular topic in academic and public discourse, and numerous scholars have recently turned a critical eye to this topic. Curtis’s book complements recent scholarship that challenges the unreflective valorization of religious freedom, including Winnifred Fallers Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (2005), Tisa Wenger’s We Have a Religion (2009), David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom (2010), and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s Beyond Religious Freedom (2015). Curtis would agree with these scholars in that he does not think it is possible to articulate one form of religious freedom, and he demonstrates that different actors have drawn on or deployed ideas about religious freedom to support divergent goals. Yet Curtis complicates the notion of religious freedom in a distinct way by focusing on social economies that produce religious freedom. While the texts above are largely concerned with political and legal approaches to defining religious freedom, Curtis seeks to expand this discussion to other, wider spheres of cultural production and power.

7 Questions with Robert Elder: The Sacred Mirror


 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.

William and Mary Quarterly "Doubles"

Jonathan Den Hartog

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."

5 Questions with Theresa Keeley

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.
Q1. Can you tell us a little about your current book project?
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.

4 Questions with Tom Kselman

[This month's Cushwa post is dedicated to a short interview with Thomas Kselman, Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, who is retiring at the end of the year. While Kselman is a distinguished Europeanist, he has also written on Marian piety in American Catholicism, and is one of my favorite conversation partners on 19th and 20th century Marian iconography, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the past and future of religious history-writing--his own and others'. It's still a bit far away, but you can also mark your calendars: on March 9, 2017, Kselman's former graduate students will gather for a symposium and dinner in his honor.]

ASCH/AHA Annual Meeting Registration Tips

Elesha Coffman

This is just a quick note to remind ASCH members of the Annual Meeting registration procedures, which have changed in recent years.

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!

Invitation to a Digital Dugnad

Hilde Løvdal Stephens

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:
A big cheer for all the hard working archivists out there who have made all this available!

A Dialogue with Heath Carter on "Union Made"

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.

Dear Janine,

Thank you for this very thoughtful review, which puts my book into conversation with Ed O'Donnell's specifically around the question of whether the Social Gospel proved, at the end of the day, empowering for workers.  I should say up front that I am very excited to see how your much-anticipated book will add to this important conversation.

You argue that there is a tension in the stories O'Donnell and I tell insofar as it seems that, in NYC, the leveling movement that coalesced around Henry George was soon thwarted, whereas I contend that in early-twentieth century Chicago a working-class gospel was ascendant.  You go on to tie these differences of outcome and interpretation to the fact that a) we're writing about different cities and b) we're focused on different populations within the broader working class.  I think those are key factors: so key in fact, that I think if we follow them all the way through, we'll see that the stories O'Donnell and I tell are actually mutually reinforcing rather than conflictual.

Allow me to explain what I mean.  While you write that I see "the Social Gospel as a generative, empowering, working class movement in early twentieth century Chicago," I would actually put it somewhat differently.  Part of what I do in the book is recover the competing working-class Christianities that flourished in Gilded Age Chicago.  In the early chapters I discuss the moderate, reforming brand propounded by the likes of Andrew Cameron, as well as more radical strands articulated by some believing Knights of Labor, not to mention anarchists such as Albert Parsons, who was not a professing Christian but who was nevertheless deeply interested in the figure of Jesus (for reasons Dave Burns has masterfully recovered).  But in addition to describing a variety of working-class dissenting theologies, I'm also trying to underscore the pivotal role some working people played in a key historical development: namely, the rise of pro-labor gospels within churchly institutions in the early 20th century.  On this latter front, the activism of the AFL's "labor aristocrats" proved especially momentous, mainly because these respectable craftsmen represented the segment of the working classes that was most acceptable to Protestant and Catholic church leaders, who throughout those years were gripped by a crisis of working-class attrition. For these AFL leaders, the Social Gospel as it came to be realized in the churches would seem "generative" and "empowering."  But for Protestant radicals and even for less-skilled Catholic workers - who were so often protesting in the streets of late-19th century Chicago but whose theological perspectives are so difficult to recover - this same Social Gospel might have seemed still, on the whole, oppressive.

This is what I mean when I write, in the introduction to Union Made, "The middle-class Social Gospel was, in this and every sense, a real but distinctly moderate accommodation of working-class religious dissent."  And this is why I think that, at the end of the day, perhaps, my book and O'Donnell's may actually line up on the same side of the crucial question you've raised.

I fully agree with Heath that the two books are not conflicting at their very core. In fact, this is exactly what I find most striking about the contrast between the books. This movement which was at once empowering to Protestant AFL labor aristocrats also aimed to supppress socialists, Catholics, labor radicals, and others. My point in the essay was not to critique the analytical framework of either book. Rather, my point was that the way we describe the relationship between "The Social Gospel" and "the working classes" needs to be tempered by the detail that both Carter and O'Donnell provide us. To the extent that they refer to two different working classes, we ought to be wary of the fact that there are a number of different groups calling themselves "working classes" in the Gilded Age. I sought to observe that the collapsing of the categories of skilled and unskilled workers was--perhaps--a rhetorical tool used by American Federation of Labor and other conservative trade unionists to further their political aims. We need to be wary of why our subjects choose to identify themselves by the terms they use, and we need to be ready to critique those categories where necessary.

Carter describes the Social Gospel forged by trade union aristocrats as "a distinctly moderate accomodation of working class dissent." In his narrative, the pro-labor gospel of white, skilled laborers was heard by ministers and used within their campaign for "Social Christianity." I find this description accurate but its emphasis a bit misleading. While the rise of Social Christianity surely accomodated some aspects of working class dissent, it also solidly rejected a much larger--and much louder--element of working class dissent. Moreover, where Carter sees conservative trade unionists inspiring their ministers, I see ministers and their upwardly mobile flock of Anglo Protestants together building nativist and white supremacist ideologies of labor in order to stand apart from the radical labor movement. We might describe this as a "moderate accomodation." But, the Marxist in me can't help but point out that appears to be a classic example of bourgeois ideology fragmenting and suppressing the working classes. I will always support historians' efforts to acknowledge workers' agency, but I wonder to what extent craftsmen in this instance exercised their agency more through supporting bourgeois ideas than coming up with any of their own.

Carter's research is impeccable beyond question. My questions here are not regarding what he finds but whether we might read more into the conclusions that he reaches. Surely, ministers and Anglo-Protestant craftsmen collaborated a good deal in the Gilded Age. Yet, what happens when we read these relationships from the other end, and emphasize the fact that Protestant miniters in the Gilded Age were bathed in Josiah Strong, Teddy Roosevelt, and other white supremacist boosters? 

I'll take two illustrative examples. 

First, what should we take from Carter's observation that a pro-labor gospel arose at Chicago Methodist church amidst a rise in worker radicalism and fears that this might overtake the city. Carter writes, "The applause at Ada Street Methodist betokened hope that the city's Anglo-Protestant peoples might hang together, even as mounting class conflict threatened to pull them apart" (71). Carter emphasizes the ways that craftsmen and ministers come together through this experience, and that relationships like this one fostered the "moderate accomodation of working class dissent" which he describes. However, why doesn't Carter read this hardening of Anglo-Protestant alliances in the face of increased racial and ethnic diversity as evidence of working class nativism? Why doesn't he read this hardening of conservative, Anglo-Protestant theologies in the midst of radical socialists, including Christian Socialists, as evidence of working class conservatism? Why don't we conclude from this story that the Social Gospel was born of racism, nativism, and an effort of skilled, white craftsmen to distance themselves theologically from the Christianities of the poor? 

Second, how ought we interpret widespread Gilded Age denunciations of churches as havens of mammon, alongside commentary on how Jesus would hardly recognize them as legitimate houses of worship? Carter sees these critiques as the earliest evidence of a working class movement for Social Christianity. For, he sees the real possiblity of a "rapprochement" between Protestant elites and the Central Labor Union within Chicago (101-102). However, Dave Burns reads very similar evidence of church critique as part and parcel of a widespread rebellion of skilled as well as unskilled workers against all the denominational Protestant and Catholic churches in the United States. As Burns illustrates, radicals, agnostics, atheists, and many others with heterodox religious beliefs defected Protestant churches in large numbers during the Gilded Age. As others have emphasized, the Gilded Age was an era of great religious invention, especially by poor and working classes. By virtue of this massive rebellion, the Protestant craftsmen that were left in Chicago denominational churches during the Gilded Age were a select few of relatively conservative Anglo-Protestants. We are probably right to still identify these folks like Andrew Cameron as working class. After all, many of them (excepting perhaps Cameron himself) worked primarily with their hands. But, are these craftsmen representative of the Chicago working classes? I'm not sure that they are. Surely, many were union members. But, they also distanced themselves from members of other types of (radical) unions. They worked closely with the same Protestant minsters who, as Carter shows, were not very popular with the public because of their nativism. Should we really conclude that the Social Gospel was "union made"? 

In my last essay, and again here, I simply seek to underscore Carter's observations of whom the Social Gospel marginalizes. Historians of white Protestantism don't usually emphasize the Social Gospel as an effort to marginalize major portions of the working classes. But---why don't we? Why do we try so hard to salvage the Social Gospel as a highlight in the history of American Protestantism? Was it really a highlight?

After reading Carter's book, it is hard not to conclude that while the Social Gospel was a "distinctly moderate accomodation of working class dissent," it was also an effort to solidify white Protestant power over the masses of unskilled laborers. Trade union aristocrats may have identified themselves as working classes in order to distinguish themselves from the doctors, lawyers, engineers, clerks, and businessmen that populated Protestant denominational churches of the Gilded Age. But, their political and theological agenda clearly sought to crush radical Christianities within the Knights of Labor and the Socialist Party  (and later, the Industrial Workers of the World). While these highly skilled, white laborers probably did see themselves as moderate, they were moderate only on a spectrum of Gilded Age, Anglo Protestant churchgoers. Some Anglo Protestant churchgoers were socialist radicals. Some believed in the Gospel of Wealth. Carter's working class authors of Social Christianity saw themselves purveyors of nineteenth century producerist ideology--the same ideology that was used to defend farmers against farm hands and sharecroppers. These artistans may have been trade unionists, but they seem to me much better described as Anglo-Protestant conservatives. 

CFP: Religions Texas: Mapping Diversity A Consultation

Call for Proposals:
Religions Texas: Mapping Diversity
A Consultation

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:
  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3.  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?
  4. 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?
Each presenter will give a ten-minute or less presentation and then engage in a dynamic, productive moderator-led conversation. Proposals should be 250-500 hundred words. Send submissions to both Tiffany Puett: and Chad E. Seales: by November 15, 2016. Please identify your topic and include a brief biographical statement.

Editor's Note: RiAH readers are encouraged to send CFPs and other professional announcements directly to Blogmeister Cara Burnidge, 

Finding Religion in the American Revolution

Jonathan Den Hartog

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!

Is Religious Freedom Just Not That Into You?

This is the first of three responses to Finbarr Curtis's  The Production of American Religious Freedom (NYU, 2016). Hot off the presses, this book has much to say to scholars of American religion. Look for responses from Sarah Dees and Andy McKee later this month.

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.

"He who sings prays twice"

Today's guest post comes from Jennifer Callaghan, a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies at Northwestern University. Her dissertation, Mass Effect: The fall and rise of Latin in the long U.S. Catholic liturgical movement, tracks the various ways that English and Latin figured in articulations of American Catholic identity before and after the Second Vatican Council.

Jennifer Callaghan 

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.

CFA: 2017 American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Archives Fellowship Program

Lauren Turek

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Archives recently announced that it is accepting applications for its 2017 fellowship program, which may be of interest to those who study American Jewish history or American religious history more broadly. This year, the JDC Archives will award five or six fellowships to deserving scholars engaged in graduate level, post-doctoral, or independent study to conduct research in the JDC Archives, either in New York or Jerusalem. Research topics in the fields of twentieth century Jewish history, general history, and humanitarian assistance will be considered, as well as other areas of academic research covered in the JDC archival collections. The fellowship awards range from $2,500-$5,000.

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.

Secularism, Religious Freedom, and Global Politics: a CFP

Charles 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.”

The 30th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History

Mark Edwards

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 Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia

Plenary Speakers

Kate Bowler (Duke Divinity School)

Thomas S. Kidd (Baylor University)

Verónica Gutiérrez (Azusa Pacific University)

Jay Green (Covenant College)

Hesburgh Research Travel Grants & Five Questions with Edward Hahnenberg

[Last year, Cushwa began offering a new series of research travel grants for work in the papers of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C. Since Hesburgh was involved in so many areas of 20th century intellectual, political, social, educational, and religious life, we are excited to see his papers made accessible to scholars of American history and politics as well as of Catholicism. The grants will be awarded on a twice-yearly schedule, with deadlines on October 1 and April 1, and we encourage submissions from scholars in any discipline for this fall's cycle (see the website for details.)

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.]

What's New? What's Next?

Elesha Coffman

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?"

In addition to reminding me to mark my calendar for a conference that's always lively and interdisciplinary in the best way, this question made me think about trends in the study of American religion--a topic that is extra important for me now that I'm at an institution (Baylor) that trains graduate students. What's new in our field, broadly conceived? And, although historians wisely shy away from predicting the future, what might be next?

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?

New Books in American Religious History: 2016 Year in Preview, Part Three (September-December)

Paul Putz

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)

Evaluating the Social Gospel Movement

Janine Giordano Drake

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.

Boxing and the YMCA War Dogs


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.


An Interview with Susan Trollinger and Bill Trollinger: Righting America at the Creation Museum


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?

Digital History and Houses of Worship

Jonathan Den Hartog

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.

Introducing America's Public Bible (Beta)


by Lincoln Mullen

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.

The trends in how three verses (John 15:13; Proverbs 14:34; and Luke 18:16) were used over time. Notice the very different temporal patterns of usage.
The trends in how three verses (John 15:13; Proverbs 14:34; and Luke 18:16) were used over time. Notice the very different temporal patterns of usage.

Front Porch Strategy: Sacred Space and Demonic Grounds

Today's guest post comes from Laura McTighe, a doctoral candidate in North American Religions at Columbia University and a Charlotte Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow. She comes to her doctoral studies through nearly twenty years of grassroots work to end criminalization and advance community-led healing. You can find more of her writing online here.

Laura McTighe

"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.

Ben Sasse, Donald Trump, and the Beginning and End of the Religious Right: (Mostly) A Repost

Charles 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.

Sportianity at Forty: Rereading Frank Deford's Series on Religion in Sport

Paul Putz

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.
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