Fundamentalism, Feminism, and Other Curse Words: Teaching Controversy with Civility

Andrea L. Turpin

Every semester I tell my history students the same bad joke: fundamentalism and feminism are actually a lot alike—they are both f-words that we hurl at our political enemies depending on which side of the spectrum we’re on. Which is to say that for the average American these words function not according to some dictionary definition but rather as a catch-all insult for someone too far to the right or the left, respectively.

In fact, my informal polls of students, friends, and random people who will answer my questions indicate that there is no widely agreed upon definition of either word in common parlance. I am one of those relatively rare Americans who runs in both blue and red circles, so while my polls aren’t scientific, they do actually capture a bit of the breadth of perspectives on these concepts. So I’ve learned that when teaching my feminist-leaning students about fundamentalism or my fundamentalist-leaning students about feminism, I first have to cut through a great deal of highly charged emotion. A few different approaches have proved fruitful.

First is simply helping students become aware of the functional definitions of these words that they are carrying around in their heads. For example, I will ask my classes for their associations with the word “feminism.” I get a lot of answers similar to the ones Kristin Kobes Du Mez enumerated in a recent blog post on common misconceptions about feminism. Most associations are negative, with “man-hating” leading the pack.

I then share with students some of the reforms that have been advocated by women and men who have identified as feminists and that I suspect students would all support—things like women’s suffrage and equal pay for equal work. (Most are shocked to learn that employers have only been required to pay men and women the same for the same work since 1963!) We talk about the fact that feminism itself is a wide spectrum encompassing many different viewpoints and attitudes. As Du Mez points out, there is as much variation among those who own the word “feminist” as among those who own the word “Christian.”

5 Questions on Catholics and Suburanization with Stephen Koeth

Shane Ulbrich

Stephen Koeth, C.S.C.
[This month's Cushwa post features an interview by Shane Ulbrich with Research Travel Grant recipient Stephen Koeth, C.S.C., about his work on the postwar suburbanization of American Catholics. Stephen, a Holy Cross priest, is a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University. His writing has appeared in The Journal of Church and State and U.S. Catholic Historian.]

SU: Tell us about how your project developed. 

 SK: My dissertation explores the postwar suburbanization of American Catholicism by examining the creation and expansion of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in suburban Long Island, which throughout the 1960s was one of the fastest growing Catholic communities in the country. It describes how Catholic pastoral leaders grappled with the rapid exodus of the faithful from urban ethnic neighborhoods to newly built suburbs, and how Catholic sociologists and intellectuals assessed the effects of suburbanization in reshaping definitions of family, parish, and community. I also hope to trace how changing experiences of family and community, the economics of suburban life, and efforts to build and maintain suburban Catholic schools altered lay Catholics’ view of the state and their voting habits, thus transforming Catholicism’s role in American politics from the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution. This topic first began to take shape when I read Tom Sugrue’s contribution to Catholics in the American Century, one of the most recent volumes in the Cushwa Center Studies of Catholicism in Twentieth-Century America series. Sugrue pointed out that “the history of Catholic suburbanization … and its implications for Catholic politics remain mostly unexamined.” And yet, Sugrue argued, suburban Catholics contributed to a “growing grassroots rebellion against taxation,” to “the erosion of support for the state,” and to “the challenge to liberalism” that reconfigured American politics through the 1960s and 70s. [1] I read Sugrue’s observation as a challenge and opportunity to bring together my long-standing interest in how Catholics have shaped their American identity with coursework in urban history I undertook as a doctoral student at Columbia University with the great historian of suburbanization, Kenneth Jackson.

The Recurrent Reinhold Niebuhr

Elesha Coffman

Apologies for the repost, but I thought that a pair of articles at Christianity Today might be of interest to readers of this blog as well. In the main piece, Steven Weitzman describes "The Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict." In a companion sidebar, I offer five reasons why Reinhold Niebuhr continues to make headlines nearly 50 years after his death. Both articles feature links to other resources that take their ideas to a greater depth. Read up, and be the hit of your weekend barbecue!

Of "Of Gods And Games"

Paul Putz

There is only one rule when reviewing sport history books in a forum that is not focused primarily on sports: you must use a sports metaphor or allusion at some point. Allow me to check that box right off the bat (and no, that last phrase doesn't count): William J. Baker's Of Gods And Games: Religious Faith and Modern Sports (University of Georgia Press, 2017) is kind of like an end-of-the-season sports highlight show. Clocking in at about seventy-five pages, it provides a primer on a few of the key themes that scholars of sports and religion have explored, while at the same time offering a couple intriguing hints at what might be on the horizon next season.

There. The painful part is done. No more forced sports comparisons, I promise.

For historians doing the sport and religion thing, Baker is impossible to ignore. His 2007 book Playing With God: Religion and Modern Sport (Harvard University Press) stands as the single best volume on the history of sport and religion in the United States. It stands out in part because of Baker's historical methodology and narrative presentation, a marked contrast from much of the published scholarship on religion and sports that focuses on questions like "Is sport a religion?" or (when written by Christian insiders, as it often is) "Does sport corrupt 'true' or 'good' Christian theology?"

Teaching _The First Thanksgiving_

Jonathan Den Hartog

The semester is winding down--there's just a stack of blue books in front of me, along with a few random essays and an independent study project. I almost begin to believe there is a summer break within reach.

At this time of the semester, then, further reflection on recent teaching experience seems appropriate.

Several years ago, I pointed to R. Tracy McKenzie's book The First Thanksgiving. At the time, I voiced appreciation for the book--it's excellent--but I wondered how I could work it into my teaching.

This semester, I gave it a try.

In the Spring Semester, I teach our History Methods class for majors and minors--usually freshmen and sophomores but an occasional upperclassman slips in, too.

After spending the class talking about the issues of historical thinking, sources, and historiography, I deployed The First Thanksgiving as a way of "wrapping up" the course. For me, the book tied together all those themes.

The value of the book for teaching comes from the fact that it is explicit in its methods. It not only provides a narrative about the First Thanksgiving, it is clear in describing for non-specialists how and why the ideas are put together. Separate chapters emphasize evidence, historical context, taking the Pilgrims on their own terms, the foreignness of the past vs. contemporary uses of the past, and changing interpretations. McKenzie has done a great job in demonstrating historical thinking applied to an easily-recognized event.

One additional topic that could prove worth discussing in many classes would be McKenzie's writing from a confessional perspective. McKenzie is up-front in his identity as an evangelical Protestant, and in fact he consciously shapes the entire book out of those presuppositions. Additionally, a burden from the book is to address McKenzie's own faith community and how it handles "saints" from the past.

To handle the book, I blocked out several class periods. I guided the discussion and found that the best way to organize student reflection was to un-weave three strands in the book. So, we built our discussion around what the book helps us learn about the Pilgrims themselves, the methods McKenzie uses and discusses, and the pieces of contemporary moral and religious reflection he offers.

Students reflected on all three, although I was a bit surprised at how invested they were in the narrative. This is perhaps a credit to McKenzie's writing style. Getting to method and moral concerns took more prodding. Still, the conversation was valuable.

Before I use the book again, I'll have to address two issues. First, I will have to reexamine class pacing. Student comments indicated they felt handling the book was rushed. I will have to see if I can clear more space in the syllabus to let student understanding percolate. Second, I'm still not sure if it makes sense to use the book as a "wrap up" or to deploy it throughout the course on each of the issues we touch on. My one worry is that students would get sick of the Pilgrims by Week 8 and miss the larger points McKenzie is trying to make and which he traces across chapters.

So, I hope to use the book again, but I will need to refine my approach. Fortunately, that's one more use for the summer.

I'll close with questions: what other books have readers found work well for teaching a Methods class or making methodology clear? And, if you've used McKenzie's book, what has been your experience?

The Reformation as a Psychological Event: Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation with Erich Fromm


Peter Cajka

The new release tables at Hodges Figgis – a three-story bookstore in downtown Dublin – greet frequent shoppers like me with a spate of fresh books on Luther, Reformation historiography, Calvin, and the Counter Reformation. As we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it may be useful to consider how the event gets interpreted by thinkers unconstrained by the rules of academic history. Modern thinkers, for or against, Protestant or Catholic, have never shied away from discerning the Reformation’s deeper meanings. A guest at a dinner party I attended a few months ago (we wondered briefly into a conversation on religion) called the Reformation “the first human rights movement in history.”

Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst with ties to the Frankfurt School, pursues a much bleaker interpretation of the Reformation in Escape from Freedom, a book he published in 1941. The Renaissance and the rise of the market economy broke down the medieval world, began his argument, liberating men and women from social ties. “The individual was left alone and isolated,” Fromm wrote, “he was free.” Freshly aware of their individuality, Fromm argued that Luther and Calvin offered millions of people (in the middle and lower classes) an escape from this freedom. Calvin and Luther, consciously and unconsciously, encouraged followers to relinquish the self to a completely sovereign God. “Protestantism was the answer to the human needs of the frightened, uprooted, and isolated individual who had to orient and to relate himself to a new world,” Fromm grimly concludes.

New Books in American Religious History: 2017 Year in Preview, Part Two (May-August)

Paul Putz

It's time for part two of the 2017 book preview list! This one will cover books published from May through August. (If you missed part one check it out here). Shout out to Hunter Hampton, who culled through the university press catalogs to help me put this list together.

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)

CFP: Religion and Politics in Early America & A Recent H-Diplo Roundtable of Interest

Lauren Turek

This past month, I have come across two pieces of information that may be of interest to the readers of this blog. The first is a call for papers from the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, which is holding a conference next year on Religion and Politics in Early America. The details are as follows:

Call For Papers – Religion and Politics in Early America (Beginnings to 1820)
St. Louis, March 1-4, 2018

Conference Website:

Sponsored by:
The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics
The Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy
The Society of Early Americanists
St. Louis University
Washington University in St. Louis

Seeking Panel and Paper Proposals
We seek proposals for panels and individual papers for the special topics conference on Religion and Politics in Early America, March 1-4, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri. Individual papers are welcome, but preference will be given to completed panel submissions.

This conference will explore the intersections between religion and politics in early America from pre-contact through the early republic. All topics related to the way religion shapes politics or politics shapes religion—how the two conflict, collaborate, or otherwise configure each other—will be welcomed. We define the terms “religion” and “politics” broadly, including (for example) studies of secularity and doubt. This conference will have a broad temporal, geographic, and topical expanse. We intend to create a space for interdisciplinary conversation, though this does not mean that all panels will need be composed of multiple disciplines; we welcome both mixed panels and panels composed entirely of scholars from a single discipline.

Panels can take a traditional form (3-4 papers, with or without a respondent), roundtable form (5 or more brief statements with discussion), or other forms.

Panel submissions must have the following:

1. An organizer for contact information

2. Names and titles for each paper in the panel.

3. A brief abstract (no more than 250 words) for the panel.

4. A briefer abstract (no more than 100 words) for each paper.

5. Brief CV’s for each participant (no more than two pages each).

Individual paper submissions must include the following:

1. Name and contact information

2. Title

3. Abstract (no more than 150 words)

4. A brief CV (no more than two pages)

Please send your proposals to by Friday, May 26, 2017.

If you have any questions, please email Abram Van Engen at

The second recent item of interest is a roundtable review that H-Diplo published earlier this month. Samuel Moyn (Harvard University), Stephen Hopgood (SOAS, University of London), James Loeffler (University of Virginia), and Janice Gross Stein (University of Toronto) reviewed Michael N. Barnett's book The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews, which Princeton University Press published in 2016.

The roundtable, with author response, is very robust and provides an excellent overview of the book, which is on an understudied topic in the field of American foreign relations and religion. To access the review, follow this link:

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,
Christopher S. Grenda (CUNY, Bronx Community College,

Series Editorial Contact: 
Brian Hill, Lexington Books ( 

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 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.

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