Misunderstood Puritans, John Cotton, and Scandal in 17th-Century New England: An Interview with Sheila McIntyre and Len Travers

Randall Stephens

John Cotton was one of the most ambitious and bedeviled Puritan ministers of late-17th century New England. He was pastor of the Wethersfield, Conn., church in his early twenties. He lost the pulpit as the result of a sex scandal and subsequently worked as an Indian missionary on Martha’s Vineyard. He regained some prominence as pastor of the Plymouth church, but was again brought low by scandal. He finished out his career as a minister in Charlestown, SC, dying in that outpost from yellow fever in 1699.

Lucky for historians, Cotton was an impressive letter writer who hungered for news from Boston and abroad. His missives and those he received tell us much about the religion of the era, wars, relations with Native Americans, Puritan family life, and much more.

Sheila McIntyre
(SUNY Potsdam) and Len Travers (UMass Dartmouth) have edited The Correspondence of John Cotton Junior (Colonial Society of Massachusetts and the University of Virginia Press), which contains roughly 400 letters written by Cotton or sent to him from 1662 to 1699. It’s a fascinating read, though the free-form spelling and abbreviations of the age take some getting used to. McIntyre and Travers provide a wonderful intro. All in all, the volume will help us rethink who the Puritans were.

I spoke to McIntyre and Travers in late January about the insights they gained and their view of John Cotton and his era.

Randall Stephens: John Cotton was a prodigious letter writer. In this regard, how unique was he among his contemporaries?

Sheila McIntyre: I discovered John Cotton's letters while working on a dissertation on letter-writing habits in early New England, so I can put his correspondence into pretty clear context. Most New Englanders of his education and class wrote letters regularly. (Lots of NEers who didn't have formal schooling or money did, too, just not as often.) However, aside from elite merchants, government officials (the Governor, for example) and some other prodigious correspondents (such as Cotton Mather or Samuel Sewall), Cotton's letter collection is incredible—both in size, and in the kinds of things he wrote about. His relative isolation in Plymouth combined with prestigious family connections give his letters power—he used his considerable network to help his rural community stay informed, and he shared news broadly (both by mouth & pen) even when he shouldn't have always been so candid. His letters reflect on every aspect of his professional, pastoral, and personal life—and the lives of many of his friends, neighbors, & enemies. Among the more than 400 17th-century correspondents I have read, he is my favorite—gossipy, authentic, candid, and smart.

RS: What picture of 17th-century New England do Cotton's letters give us?

SM: The best part of this letter collection is that it invites readers into the 17th century—a period of American history that is hobbled by stereotype more than most. If modern Americans remember anything about the Puritans, it's that they ate turkey with Indians and burned witches. John Cotton forces us to flesh them out—to let them be real people, not as unlike us as we might think. The 17th century is a wonderfully liminal world between medieval and modern: their "world of wonders" (to use religious historian David Hall's phrase) includes both science and magic. Cotton's world is small and huge at the same time: he writes about his neighbors' marital troubles AND the Glorious Revolution, often in the same letter. He is a passionate missionary, fluent in native languages and devoted to the native nations, but at the same time, he seemed not to flinch when Metacomet's son was sold into slavery to pay for the sins of his father. I'd like to think he disagreed with that cruel punishment, but he did not share any doubt in the letter.

Most importantly, Cotton was a loving husband and devoted father—he offers a powerful corrective to the image we have of loveless marriages & stern Puritan parents. Despite the apparent adultery (the only Puritan minister in NE I have found who was so convicted) Joanna & John were clearly and demonstrably in love. New England law would have allowed her to divorce him after the sexual scandal, but she chose to remain with him.

As parents, John & Joanna will surprise any reader who is stuck in the "breaking the will" paradigm, which I think is misplaced. For example, on November 30, 1696, two young students at Harvard College, William Maxwell & John Eyre, drowned while skating on Fresh Pond in Cambridge. John was actually in Cambridge when it happened, and remained for the funeral: which was lavish, and heart-breaking. While John focused his letters on the details of the event, and that he was with the boys just a few hours before it happened, Joanna’s letter about their drowning, centers on her fear for her own children: “O the poor Lads from perfect Health into Eternity in a few minutes, that thought no more of it than you. Never, never, never let this Providence be forgotten by you. I can hardly bear to think how I should have born the affliction if it had been you. The Lord pity the poor Parents.” She is NOT chastising herself for loving them too much; she admits that she wouldn't be able to bear losing them (even to God's loving hands).

Cotton was a loving softie of a father, who sounds much like any modern diaper-changing dad of our own day. He worries about their health, their education, their happiness, and how he is going to pay their college tuition bills. He wrote a particularly heart-wrenching letter to Joanna in August 1694. She was at another son’s house ready to help with an imminent birth, when John visited their youngest, twelve-year-old Theophilus, who was boarding with a schoolmaster in Duxbury. Theophilus hates school. “I went in the afternoone on purpose to see Theoph: who is well, but cryed most bitterly to me for a licence to come home this day, I told him.. if he would stay till next Saturday I should be come from Bos: & perhaps you, but I left him poore lamb, with his back turned & he heavily bemoaning his condition & begging he might come home to day, My parentall bowels yearned, but I gave him noe hopes only of Sar’s visiting him one day; He sayes they carry it well to him, all amisse I could get from him was, that the boys laught at him, there are 3 or 4 Duxb: boyes & he is alone & it may be they all set themselves to afflict him & his tender, proud spirit cannot beare it.”

Sounds to me like John is the one who cannot bear it!

RS: How did ministers like Cotton interpret King Philip's War and natural disaster? What does that tell us about Puritan religion in this era?

SM: What strikes me is that different people interpreted catastrophes differently, and often not as we might expect. Some of Cotton's correspondents referred to the Providential interpretation (God is punishing wayward NE), but Cotton himself rarely does. His innate "journalist" orientation leads him to focus on gathering details, and sharing those details. In his letters about KPW or the later Northern Wars of the 1680s & 1690s, he is most concerned with getting the names, dates & numbers straight, so he can reassure local families (his devotion to pastoral care trumps pretty much everything). He is less concerned with the typology of what it all means. His nephew, Cotton Mather, for example, described the devastating earthquake in Jamaica in 1692 as punishment for Port Royal's "sodom of wickedness." Cotton didn't echo that in his retelling. He certainly praises God's mercy when he shares good news about someone's health or a returned captive from the native wars, but he doesn't seem to focus on God's smiting hand.

Perhaps it is his own sinfulness that moderated his words, but I see forgiveness as the most powerful theme of his life—even after the second adultery scandal, his congregation voted to keep him on as pastor. After his death, most of the comment was on his redemption, not his sinfulness.

I think that Puritanism has been miscast as harsh & unforgiving—perhaps because scholars sometimes focus on the prescriptive literature (sermons & tracts) rather than on descriptive evidence (like Cotton's letters). Cotton's life exemplifies the welcoming embrace of early Congregationalism—apparently God and Cotton's congregation forgave him, it was the Boston ministers who couldn't.

RS: John Cotton suffered from political and personal scandals that shaped his ministry. How much can we know about the personal lives of ministers like Cotton from the evidence that has survived?

SM: As pieces of evidence, personal letters simply have a power unlike any other documents from that period—the early New Englanders breathe, cry, worry, rejoice, betray confidences, scheme, suffer, and fall in love in these letters. They become people, rather than the cardboard black hats American schoolchildren make in November.

While Cotton is certainly only one man, his letters include information about many, many other ministers, and his dedication to mentoring younger clergy (particularly in SE Massachusetts) is impressive. It was hard to be a minister in 17th cent NE - the pay was poor, the expectations high, and the job security pretty low. Many found themselves alone & overwhelmed on the frontier—they had a long way to fall after the heady intellectual days at Harvard together, part of a vibrant scholarly community. After graduation, many then found themselves out in rural parishes, hoping the Congregation remembers to deliver firewood. Better than any other kind of evidence, letters let us in to their lives—the lived experience of the Puritan faith

Len Travers: Sheila and I go round and round on this one—what was Cotton supposed to have done; was he really guilty, etc.—but I have always felt there is more to this case than meets the eye. You won’t find this all in the book, so this is an exclusive of sorts, but consider the following. First, it appears that Cotton’s first pulpit may have been a poisoned one from the start. Wethersfield, CT was already a troubled town by the time Cotton arrived there in 1659. This was the period of the so-called “half-way” church membership controversies that bedeviled many New England communities. Only months before Cotton’s Wethersfield ministry, some townsmen, disgusted with the church’s changing baptism policies, quit Wethersfield entirely and, along with Hartford dissidents, formed the Connecticut River town of Hadley, in Massachusetts. Not all of the dissenters had gone, however, and Cotton was bound to end up in the crosshairs of one faction or another. One of those complaining against Cotton in 1662 actually told the investigating committee there was a lingering “Judgment or Curse of god” on the town, that now “Would not Remove frome Wetherfield whilst mr Cott aboad ther.”

Second, and significantly, members of the Welles family also feature prominently in the complaint against Cotton. Thomas Welles, the governor of the colony, had named the new pastor, Cotton, the administrator of his will, also in late 1659. When Welles died a few months later, his estate was valued at £1,070—a sum well worth fighting over.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Welles divided almost everything between his widow and his favored grandson, leaving his own children specifically in the lurch as to anything more from his estate. The widow was his second wife, and had children of her own from a previous marriage—you can guess where her share would ultimately go. Cotton, all of 20 years old, was responsible for carrying out the terms of the will, and in fact brought one of Welles’s sons to court to force him to comply therewith.

Things only went downhill from there; only three months before the scandal that starts off our book, Welles’s children had in turn brought Cotton to court to complain of his handling of the estate. So there were already hard feelings between the Welles family and Cotton—what effect did these have on their willingness to lodge complaints of a sexual nature against Cotton shortly afterward?

As the correspondence reveals, the Connecticut investigators cleared everyone of sexual misconduct (Cotton was not the only one), or at least had no verifiable evidence of such, but somehow, two years later, the Boston church saw fit to excommunicate Cotton for alleged “lascivious uncleane practices with three women.” Three women? How did that happen? And who were these unnamed women?

And lastly, I have to ask myself how Cotton’s mentor, Samuel Stone, could have permitted him to set foot in the minefield of that Connecticut town in the first place. Granted Cotton did not help matters, flinging reckless counter-accusations, but the inexperienced young preacher was clearly out of his depth. There is just too much we don’t know about this pivotal moment in Cotton’s life, but I suspect that sex may have had much less to do with it than initially appears.

Just sayin' . . .

Why is the South So Religious?

Randall Stephens

The editors of the Science & Religion Today blog asked me to answer that question. One could come at that from any number of angles. So, here's my stab at it . . .

Flannery O’Connor wrote about the Christ-haunted South. The buckle of the Bible Belt. The heart of the heart of God’s country. She could not throw her pen in the air in Dixie without it landing on some wild, fascinating tale of Jesus maniacs, tortured believers, crippled visionaries, or teeth-gnashing atheists: “Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.” It also helped that her town of Milledgeville, Georgia, was home to the state insane asylum and a smattering of hot-Protestant sectarians.

O’Connor wrote beautifully about something that was so obvious as to be nearly mundane: The South is the most religious region in the United Sates. The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest denomination, claims roughly 16 million adherents. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports that “more than eight in ten people in Mississippi (82 percent) say religion is very important in their lives, making the Magnolia State the most religious according to this measure.” Fewer than four in ten of those polled in Vermont, harvesting their organic crops or brewing their organic-certified beer, claimed religion was important in their lives. read on >>>

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

by John G. Turner

The world notices the passing of very few historians, but Howard Zinn's death yesterday made the headlines for obvious reasons. It's hard for me to think of an historian of Zinn's generation who exerted more influence on the way that Americans view their past.

For several years, I've been using a "dueling banjos" approach in my survey class (explicitly borrowed from Lendor Calder). I assign Zinn's People's History and a diametrically opposed text. Students identify and has out the differences. [I've tried Paul Johnson's History of the American People and Schweikart and Allen's Patriot's History. If anyone has a suggestion of something else to pair with Zinn, I'm all eyes].

The shortcomings of Zinn's book are obvious to me and to many students. For starters, there is hardly any sense of change over time, no recognition of the tremendous material gains for all classes of Americans over the past hundred years. If one cares about American religious history, it's a bit painful to give students a text that only touches on religion in a sympathetic manner by way of the Berrigan brothers. At the same time, I've never assigned a "textbook" that students so readily engage, whether they like Zinn's arguments or not. I am grateful to Howard Zinn for getting so many of my students to take an interest in U.S. History.

The Associated Press had this to say about Zinn on a more personal level:

Professor Zinn himself was an impressive-looking man, tall and rugged with wavy hair. An experienced public speaker, he was modest and engaging in person, more interested in persuasion than in confrontation.

I can attest to the latter. Several years ago, one of my classes noticed a rather obvious factual error in People's History. Zinn was trying too hard to make the case that many Americans opposed the Second World War.

Thus, we fired off an email to Zinn:

My undergraduate survey classes have been profitably reading your People's History this semester. We're learning to read all sources critically and have a question about a detail in your book. Can you help us resolve the following?

On p. 418 (2003 edition) you write, "Our of 10 million drafted for the armed forces during World War II, only 43,000 refused to fight. But this was three times the proportion of C.O.'s in World War I."

On p. 371 (WWI): "About 65,000 men declared themselves conscientious objectors and asked for noncombatant service."

How could 43,000 in WWII be a larger proportion than 65,000 in WWI? Our understanding is that more individuals were drafted during the Second World War. Can you help?

The then 84-year-old Zinn promptly wrote back:

Thank you for calling that to my attention. A gross error! I think my absolute figures are right, but what I say about "proportion" is wrong. I don't remember where I got that information but I'll look into it. You can use this as a lesson for your students on how historians can get things wrong!

Best wishes,
Howard Zinn

For a man who received sacks of both positive and negative mail about his work, I found the response extraordinarily gracious and a testimony to a kind and gentle spirit. May we respond similarly to our critics!

The Scripture of Nature, Part 2

by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Last fall, Paul offered an insightful post (and others chimed in with equally thoughtful comments) on the ways that religion intersected with the first episode of Ken Burns' latest documentary on national parks.

For those who missed it the first time around (like me), or for those without an extra $100 to purchase the series (like me), the series begins (re)airing tonight.

Did anyone incorporate the first episode into religion or history classes last fall? This spring? I have not done so yet, but did use a short clip about the relationship between John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt.

The Coming Rebirth of the Religious Right

When someone leading Barack Obama in a hypothetical if absurdly premature 2012 matchup comes to town, it's worth investigating.

Mike Huckabee spoke at an ecumenical Christian music and arts celebration at a Baptist megachurch in Mobile, Alabama, last night. The sanctuary was about two-thirds full. In fact, with Tim Tebow in town for the NFL's Senior Bowl, Huckabee was only the second-most famous evangelical visitor to the city. (In the Southeast, Tebow would surely crush Obama in a head-to-head matchup of messianic figures).

So $15 for a Huckabee speech, and -- to paraphrase Paul -- here the blog is. I asked Huck if he wanted to do an interview for Religion in American History Television, but he demurred.
Just a few years removed from liberal fears of a rising theocracy, the Religious Right seemed almost irrelevant during the 2008 election cycle. Don't worry, those who think this blog can't live without the infusion of Sarah Palin-based traffic, it'll be back. The Religious Right is the zombie of American politics.

Last time around, the most viable Republican candidates early on seemed to be Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Rudy Giuliani. Between Romney's Mormon faith, McCain's repeated expressions of loathing for the Religious Right, and Giuliani's shabby treatment of his second wife and support for abortion rights, evangelical powerbrokers didn't see a good-looking horse in the race.

Eventually, James Dobson and a few others threw their support behind Huckabee in Iowa, but that support came too late for Huckabee to build a national movement.

Next time around, things will be different. It is easy to imagine potential candidates like Huckabee, Sarah Palin, John Thune (Biola College B.A. and impeccable pro-life credentials), and Tim Pawlenty vigorously competing for evangelical votes. Look for pundits to note the renewed strength of the Christian Right. Heck, members of the Christian Reformed Church can win statewide races in Massachusetts.

I have a soft spot for Mike Huckabee because he attended Campus Crusade's Explo '72 evangelistic youth fest in Dallas nearly thirty years ago. Since that event ended with a "Jesus Music Festival," it seemed appropriate that last night Huckabee appeared after the best contemporary Christian music Mobile has to offer. Huck then played bass on a rousing rendition of "Sweet Home Alabama."

Huckabee is a busy guy, hosting a conservative variety show on FoxNews, leading trips to the Holy Land with Tim LaHaye, and publishing apolitical fare on the true meaning of Christmas. He's more of a brand than a politician. The brand is Christian, amiable, optimistic, up-to-date, and mostly non-confrontational (the brand de jour of contemporary American evangelicalism).
That brand was on display at tonight's event. Huckabee's speech wasn't especially political, though he mentioned his support for a revised No Child Left Behind law and spoke at some length about his opposition to abortion.

Mostly, Huckabee emphasized the need for Christians to see the creative love of God at work in every individual. "Look at each other through the eyes of God's grace and see what they could be," he suggested, "rather than look through the eyes of human judgment." He emphasized, very authentically to my ears, the significance of music and arts education ("weapons of mass instruction") and chided Christians who could not see beauty in "secular" forms of entertainment. Huckabee is one of those few evangelicals who do not instantly scare the bejeezus out of non-evangelicals.

Huckabee has obvious political gifts (and I can see how he was a great preacher), but I don't think the Huckabee brand is presidential material. I couldn't imagine the man playing the bass guitar at Cottage Hill Baptist Church sitting behind the Oval Office desk. Huckabee oozes everyman populism, but he doesn't exactly scream gravitas.

The wealth of potential evangelical options in the 2012 GOP field is good news for those of us who study and write about contemporary (or near-contemporary) evangelicalism. After 2008, I thought Mitt Romney had no chance to win over enough evangelical voters to ever get the Republican nomination. But that was partly because Huckabee was the only serious evangelical contender in the field -- he sucked up all the evangelical oxygen in Iowa and in southern primaries. If Huckabee, Palin, and others split the evangelical vote, perhaps Romney will have more of a fighting chance. Good news for those of us trying to write about Mormonism. In any event, these potential candidates should give us plenty of good material and keep the folks over at Religion Dispatches squirming.

Florida State University Graduate Symposium

The program schedule for the 9th Annual Florida State University Graduate Symposium is now available. Thirty-nine graduate students from sixteen different institutions will meet February 19-21 in Tallahassee, Florida, where they will discuss matters related to the symposium’s theme, “Sects and Sexuality: Issues of Division and Diversity.” The list of respondents includes some of American religious history’s most notable scholars: Amanda Porterfield, John Corrigan, Amy Koehlinger, and Kathryn Lofton. Bernadette Brooten, the Kraft-Hiatt Professor of Christian Studies at Brandeis University, will provide the keynote address on Friday evening, followed by the announcement of the Leo Sandon Best Paper Award. On Saturday, Professors Brooten, Corrigan, Lofton, and Nicole Kelley will conduct a roundtable discussion on the incorporation of gender in scholarship. Later, symposium participants will be invited to screen the documentary, “Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman,” which recounts the rise and fall of Larry Norman, the father of Christian rock music.

Biased sidenote: To all the student readers of this blog, you would be hard-pressed to find a more professional and enjoyable graduate conference in the United States. Its strength as a place for conversation about American religion is obvious. What the program doesn’t say is that you will eat and drink, almost always for FREE, until your stomach is beyond content. If you missed this year, take heart in the fact that there’s always next year. If you’re already going… Well, I’m jealous. Go ReligioNoles!

Blogging and the (Non-) Democratization of American Religious History

Paul Harvey

At the 2010 American Historical Association, my co-editor Randall Stephens organized a session "American Religious Historians Online," featuring presentations by the likes of Randall himself, Kathryn Lofton (Yale), Gary Laderman (Emory, and editor of Religion Dispatches), Rebecca Goetz (who started blogging at Historianess back in the Stone Ages), and myself. I was not present at the session itself, but Randall read my presentation for me. I'm going to post it here for anyone interested, and will put Randall's up as well soon, and perhaps one or two others. The session was put into the dreaded AHA "death zone" of early Sunday morning, just as everyone is leaving, so attendance was about on par with one of my classes right before spring break, but we have the blog to broadcast parts of the session for those unfortunate enough to miss it. My contribution reflects on the origins and impact (or lack thereof) of this blog, and on broader themes of the relationship between self-selected and regulated scholarly communities and the unregulated blogging community. Your responses are welcome! Not you, though, evil spammers; your responses will be deleted as usual.


Blogging and the Democratization (or not) of American Religious History

Is there a there there for bloggers in academic fields? And who are we supposed to be talking to, anyway? Is this like some kind of online version of a graduate seminar, a la Immanent Frame? Is this an online journal in which the tools of academic thought are applied to contemporary issues and controversies, a la Religion Dispatches? Is this a place where very particular historical issues get argued about and resolved to the satisfaction of the fifteen people who actually care about the topic? Is this a place for a mixture of academic and personal ventilation, a la Religion in American History (sometimes)? Is this a place to promote your favorite books/articles/moves, a la lots of blogs? What’s the point? Is there one? And if a blog goes out of existence and no one notices, did it really exist in the first place? (My therapist told me to talk about my fears, so there you go).

Since beginning Religion in American History, mostly on a whim in June 2007, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to think through such questions, and more, but I’ve not yet come to any answers in particular. Or perhaps the answer is whatever works for today. If I’ve got a book I want to say something about, there the blog is. If my co-editor Randall Stephens has a personal you-tube style interview with a top scholar, there the blog is. If I’m feeling depressed and lonely and want to write about some significant and emotionally moving event (often a musical concert of some sort) in my past mostly to make myself feel better, or if Ed Blum wants to write about the religious significance of Death Cab for Cutie, there the blog is. If I read something that leaves me simultaneously amused and pissed off, such as all the publicity about David Barton and Peter Marshall’s undue influence on the Texas state history standards last year, there the blog is. If I’ve written something for a conference and figure other people might be interested in reading it, there the blog is. If I just re-read an old review of mine and think it’s actually pretty decent and want to share it with others, there the blog is. If I want to share a review/takedown of which I'm proud, there the blog is -- and there the blog is to let the author blast right back at me (or, more happily, reviews of books and author interviews of works that I loved but also wanted to engage critically).

The list could go on. What I was hoping for in this session was some more collective thought on the relationship between our field and the public. I’ve been trying to sort through how much a blog like Religion in American History is a professional venue, kind of a fancy listserv oriented towards specialists; and how much RiAH is a public forum, more generally open for anyone to read and follow, and perhaps even “friend” on our facebook page. I had started it as a professional blog modeled after Mary Dudziak’s Legal History Blog -- a compendium of links, resources, citations, book reviews, conference and professional announcements, and the like, with not much in the way of personally reflective content such as would be found on other blogs. I was thinking of it as an experimental professional service, especially for graduate students and younger scholars in the field. But then I immediately violated that rule by posting more personally reflective stuff early on, and then all manner of things began finding their way onto the blog. So then I thought, this could be a blog that performs a professional service but finds a wider public, and educates them a bit on some higher-level thinking about religion in American history. After all, my sitemeter.com stats and google analytics show that people visit the blog from all manner of locations, and from all manner of google referrals. I didn’t think that figures such as Michael Jackson and Sarah Palin would be big attractions to come to my blog, but actually they are -- in fact, Palin more than Jackson. And once there, maybe they’ll read about some other stuff as well.

But then I faced an immediate limitation. I’m not really running much of a public blog in the manner of Religion Dispatches or Killing the Buddha or other online journals. I don’t have the time, the funding, or the resources to do any such thing. Instead, I’m just another one of millions of plain ol’ blogs running off free programs and servers; since I use blogspot (which is the only one I had ever heard of when I started this), I am but a servant to Master Google.

Thus, periodically people contact me with lots of great ideas about turning the blog into a serious online journal, more like Salon than blogspot, with more professionally prepared longer substantive entries. All well and good, I think, but the thing is, I have a job. And I’m late on a book, wait, make that late on two books. And I’m teaching a new class on a subject of which I’m almost entirely ignorant. And on and on. So if it doesn’t fit into the 30 minute time slot for the day that I have for blogging, then it’s not going to happen.

Then there’s the conflicted question of talking to scholars versus talking to the public. This is a basic dilemma of blogging that relates to a conflict I’ve felt elsewhere and have never really resolved in my mind. To what degree should scholars speak to “the public.” On the one hand, of course we should, and the fact that we don’t do so very well as historians is partly why people are so ignorant of history, and why our discussions of current issues are so historically impoverished. Beyond that, I teach at a public university, where standards for admissions are not exactly shockingly stringent, so I’m talking to the public everyday whether I like it or not. And as a public university professor I get asked to talk to the public all the time anyway. So what’s the difference between talking to the Rotary Club and posting something on my blog. No difference at all when I post my talk to the Rotary Club ON the blog.

On the other hand, my professional commitment is to advance the field of American religious history, and that involves doing a lot of stuff which interests “the public” not at all. And why should it? Other fields have legions of folks who do specialized work, and then a few who translate the cutting edge of that work into something comprehensible for the rest of us. So if I want to know about something in physics, I’ll read something by Stephen Weinberg in the New York Review of Books, or Steven Pinker in psychology, or Peter Brown in the history of Late Antiquity. I expect them to take esoteric findings and communicate them to me in a way I can understand. And why should historians not operate along those lines. I doubt very many people in the public will read Michael O’Brien’s two volume over one-thousand page study of intellectuals in the Old South, or last year’s Bancroft-prize winning book from Yale on the Comanche Empire. But I expect these cutting-edge findings eventually will find their way into works that will be disseminated more to a public, and I see no reason why we should place some expectation that scholarly books must always necessarily find a huge public and express disappointment when they don’t. I doubt very many people in "the public" ever read Perry Miller's New England Mind, all glorious 2 volumes of it, but so what? Fields advance when esoteric discussions occur between specialists who really have devoted years of research to a subject, and can establish a paradigm that can then get translated into a work meant more for a general public. History is a big tent; there is plenty of room for the esoteric works, and the people who tell us what all those esoteric works actually mean once all their findings have been digested.

The blog is where these two scholarly/public lives of ours intersect, for in the interests of communicating about and possibly advancing a “field,” we also naturally intersect with an almost randomly selected public who stumble on us by googling queries such as “was paul Harvey a Christian,” or just googling “Paul Harvey” and voila! finding me. And then they find the comments section of the blog and leave commentary ranging from the highly insightful to the mundane to the harassing stalker notes. But mostly we don’t have a lot of comments as compared to other blogs, and that tends to make me think that on the whole this remains something primarily of interest to students/scholars in the fields with a few others hanging about possibly. And so after a few years I think the blog usually fulfills its initial very modest purpose, and that other blogs and online journals will reach audiences and do things that Religion in American History is not meant to do very well. So in answer to my question posed in the title: do blogs democratize American religious history? My answer would be that perhaps some will do that, but mine won’t, and I’m ok with that. Let the church roll on.

Some Great New Work in American Religious History

By John Fea

Cross-posted at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

I recently returned from the Winter meeting of the Louisville Institute where I had a chance to meet younger scholars who are doing some amazing work in American religious history. There are some great new projects out there which, if all goes well (and I have no reason to believe it will not) should be showing up in monographs somewhere in the next five to ten years. Here are three of the projects that I had the privilege of engaging over the course of the last day or two:

Alison Greene, Yale University: "'No Depression in Heaven: Religion in Memphis and the Delta, 1929-1941."

Alison described the Great Depression as a "watershed moment in American religious history." She focuses on the black and white residents of Memphis and the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta "tracing the Depression-era theological reorientation among laypeople and clergy, the corresponding changes in the relationship between belief and social action, and the shifts in power among American religious bodies." Religious leaders in the Delta responded to the economic crisis in several ways. Some stressed evangelism. Others "blended evangelism with social services." And a small group, driven by the thinking of Reinhold Niebuhr and others, critiqued capitalism and its "particular abuses in the South." In my opinion, the genius behind Alison's work is the way it is situated and grounded in a particular place--the Mississippi Delta. She has visited over twenty archives in her research and thus probably knows more about the twentieth-century religious history of this region than anyone else alive. Her finished work is going to make a major contribution to American religious history and southern history.

In honor of Alison's work, here is the Carter family:

Christopher Cantwell, Cornell University: "The Adult Bible Class Movement and the Transformation of Evangelical America."
Chris studies American evangelicalism and fundamentalism at the turn of the 20th century through the work of an organization known as the Adult Bible Class Movement." It should be stated up front that this is NOT an institutional history. The Adult Bible Class Movement, led by a charismatic leader named Frank Wood, claimed over five million members in the 1920s. Chris has found a wonderful window into evangelicalism and fundamentalism during this period. Not only does the Adult Bible Class Movement allow us to see fundamentalism from the perspective of the laity (men and women), but it provides much insight into the way fundamentalists organized for labor reform, prohibition, and other progressive causes. Chris's project has the potential to challenge a dominant narrative of American fundamentalism that is mostly concerned with clergy and ideas.

Brendan Pietsch, Duke University: "Dispensational Modernism."
Pietsch's work connects the dispensational movement within American fundamentalism (C.I. Scofield plays a prominent role in the dissertation) to what he calls "popular beliefs about the power of quantification, classification, and scientific analysis." He connects all those great dispensationalist charts dealing withthe "end times" to what he calls "classificatory desire" in popular culture. He is not as much concerned with the minutiae of dispensational theology as he is the way in which new styles of organization and management and architectural drawing may have influenced the movement. As he puts it: "dispensationalists labored to chart anew the spiritual world through own scientific methods."

I look forward to reading these books down the road.

The Devil is in the Details: Hulsether on Robertson

Kelly Baker

In the wake of Pat Robertson's comments on Haiti, Mark Hulsether explores the top five ways that Robertson is dangerous, which often are overshadowed by Robertson's bombastic rhetoric. Over at Religion Dispatches, Hulsether explores the prevalence of Robertson's ignorant comments and notes that the focus on outrageousness of Robertson's claims often obscures his commonality with "mainline" conservatives. The media frenzy that surrounds Robertson also means that the more pressing dangers of the minister's career go unmentioned or ignored. (For a clip of Robertson's comments, check Paul's post here.)

Here's a preview:
Is this worth acknowledging? Comments by Robertson that are racist, sexist, arrogant, complacent, misleading, and/or embarrassing are like a bus: if you miss one today, there will be another tomorrow. Those who stir the pot by writing “can you believe he said that!” do not always seem to grasp that Robertson makes such comments continually. The question is when and why a larger public tunes in and makes an issue of it—and who benefits if they do.

Often it is Robertson who benefits, and a ritual of liberals mocking him actually strengthens his subculture. Susan Harding’s Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics (Princeton U. Press, 2001) shows how leaders of the New Christian Right (NCR) purposefully hone a rhetoric that creates “gaps” of credibility for listeners. Such gaps continually challenge people who are tempted by NCR rhetoric to reaffirm loyalty to their leaders—and by extension to burn bridges that could change them from believers to skeptical outsiders. The more outrageous the gaps, the more that reaffirming loyalty in the face of them allows conservatives to maintain their self-image as misunderstood and persecuted. Thus they can discount Robertson’s flaws within frames like “the sincere leader with feet of clay” (who, like King David, models repentance and rehabilitation) or the “truth-teller quoted out of context” (who, like Christ, will triumph in the end.)

Meanwhile, beyond an NCR subculture, sensational images of Robertson as a fringe figure—an extreme loose cannon—underplay continuities between him and mainstream conservatives, making allies with roughly similar ideas seem like lesser evils. (To see Mark's top five, click here.)

Islam in America: An Interview with Jane Smith


Paul Harvey

As many of you know, Columbia University Press has an excellent series of books on religious denominations/traditions in America -- the Columbia Contemporary Traditions in America series. There are 12 volumes in the series to date, including Thomas Hamm's Quakerism in America, Sarah Pike's New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, Richard Seager's Buddhism in America, Bill Leonard Baptists in America, and several others.

Jane I. Smith's Islam in America, originally published several years ago, has been released now in a second edition; and of course the subject could hardly be more timely. Another good resource, linked to the photo above, is a Speaking of Faith program from 2006, "Hearing Muslim Voices Since 9/11."

The new edition of Smith's text adds a focus on events affecting Islam in America since 9/11. Here's a brief description:

This richly textured, critically acclaimed portrait of American Muslims introduces the basic tenets of the Muslim faith, surveys the history of Islam in North America, and profiles the lifestyles, religious practices, and worldviews of Muslims in the United States. The volume focuses specifically on the difficulty of living faithfully and adhering to tradition while adapting to an American way of life and addresses the role of women in Muslim culture, the raising and education of children, appropriate dress and behavior, and incidences of prejudice and unfair treatment. The second edition of Islam in America features a new chapter on post-9/11 realities, which covers infringements on civil rights and profiling, participation in politics, transformations in Islamic law, pluralism and identity issues, foreign influences, anti-Islamic sentiment, intra-Islamic tensions, and the quest for a moderate Islam.

I'm very pleased today to feature an interview with the author of this work, Jane I. Smith, who is Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs at Harvard Divinity School. My thanks to Professor Smith for her excellent work and for her participation in this blog-interview.

PH: How originally did you come to write the first edition of Islam in America?

JS: To be frank, a friend was offered the task by Columbia. She was overloaded, so asked if I would consider it. Since I had already taught much of the material that could be included in such a book it seemed to be not too daunting a task. As it turned out, of course, it did in fact take a lot of time. But I felt it was time very well spent, and in succeeding years I have drawn from the material in the book to illustrate points I wanted to make in other classes.

What has changed from the first to the second edition?

JS: The most striking change came with the events of 9/11, the effects of that tragedy on American views of Islam, and the many ways in which Muslims have moved from the private to the public arena in America as they have tried to show that Islam is not a religion of violence. In the book I have highlighted the huge difference that that single morning has made for Muslims in America. Along with the aftershock of the horror and the ensuing increase in anti-Muslim prejudice have come some very good things as Muslims find ways to affirm Islam as a religion that they claim with great pride. While the American public has registered increasing concern about Islam, it is also true that a number of striking attempts have been made by non-Muslims to support their Muslim friends and bring them into open discussion of the commonalities that religious people in America share.

PH: What are the most important one or two things you think readers should know about Islam in

The single most important fact, in my opinion, is that never at any place in the history of the world have there been so many different kinds of Muslims represented – racial/ethnically, nationally, culturally and in terms of sectarian affiliation. At the same time there is something that binds them together as Muslims. To define what constitutes that something is a continuing project for the different Muslim communities in America.

How do you understand the association of Islam in America with recent acts of violence and to what decree do you think the media has influenced public response to Islam through its coverage of “spectacular” events such as the shooting at Fort Hood?

JS: Since 9/11 Muslims have been vehement in their denial that the Qur’an sanctions unfettered violence and have insisted on the essential peaceful nature of the scripture and the religion. Nonetheless, violent acts happen (and some are successfully thwarted) in the name of Islam with some regularity. One of the most helpful ways in which Muslims are addressing this issue is to return to the task of re-interpreting the Qur’an. Many are dissociating themselves with the exclusivist and punitive understandings of certain Qur’anic texts that have characterized medieval writings and continue to be influential today. Most Muslims insist that Americans must understand that radicalism represents only a tiny minority of Muslims, especially in this country. Nonetheless, since the first edition of Islam in America it seems that America itself has become a breeding ground for certain kinds of violent expressions of Islam, a development that should not be ignored. It is not the media and their presentations that I worry about as much as the thoughtless talking and blogging on the part of ill-informed people as well as the anti-Islamic literature being generated by some members of the Christian right.

To what degree do you think Islam will change/adapt/evolve, if at all, to the competitive and pluralistic American environment?

JS: Muslims would argue, with some validity, that Islam itself never changes. They will be the first to admit, however, that Muslims do change and that Muslim communities have always found ways in which to adapt to new environments. The fact that many Muslims, especially women, have assumed roles of public responsibility and are both speaking and acting in ways that demonstrate what being Muslims means to them is a remarkable change. Muslims are participating in the political system of America, are finding new ways in which to conduct their financial business in light of Islamic legal restrictions, are constructing new schools and challenging the system of public education, and in many other ways are acting differently than they might have in the cultures in which they or their families originated. Some are even thinking not only of what it means to be Muslim in America, but what it means to be religious (together with Christians, Jews and others) in a society that defines itself as secular.

PH: Should Black Muslims be seen as one variant within the broader “family” of Islam, or as something different?

JS: First, I would recommend strongly that the term “Black Muslims” not be used as it connotes different things to different people. Initially it referred to the Nation of Islam. Then when in 1975 Elijah Muhammad’s son Wallace, later to be known as Warith Deen Mohammed, moved most of the members of the Nation into mainstream Sunni Islam the Nation remained as a very small group. Black Muslims was used by some to mean all African Americans who are Muslim, and by others to that small remnant of Nation members. Today the Nation of Islam is the group that until very recently was headed by Louis Farrakhan, and other African American Muslims have different kinds of identification. African American Muslims are Sunnis, Shi’ites, Sufis, orthodox, heterodox and most everything else. Therefore I would simply say that they are part of what makes up the totality of Islam in all of its racial-ethnic and cultural varieties.

What are your thoughts about the future of Islam in America?

Most indicators are that Islam will continue to grow in American soil, though not at the rate sometimes projected. Factors such as immigration, revitalization of urban communities, and conversion will certainly play a role. Demonization of Islam most probably will continue as a result of many different factors, including the politics of fear. But I don’t see that fear-mongering will threaten the continued existence, and growth, of the religion here. Efforts currently being put forth by many American Muslims to demonstrate their commitment to being full members of American society, with pride in their country, are paying off in terms of greater understanding and acceptance of the faith despite isolated threats. Americans in general struggle with what it means to be a multi-faith society, and Muslims struggle to define what a distinctive American Islam might really look like. But it seems clear that Islam is here to stay, and that “Blessed Ramadan” will probably come to sound as familiar as “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.”

PH: What are some of the most important points that you, Yvonne Haddad, and Kathleen Moore made in your 2006 Muslim Women in America (Oxford)?

JS: In this book we tried to show the many ways in which Muslim women in America are contributing to the definition of American Islam, not only in their roles as wives and mothers but in the public realm. We looked at why some women choose to convert to Islam, the roles of women in the practice of the faith, how women participate in the public space in a great variety of roles, and Muslim women activists in academia and a variety of other professions. The main point of the book is that women are not the passive creatures often portrayed as being at the mercy of their husbands, but are full participants in Muslim religious life and in American society in general.

Lapham's Quarterly on Religion

Randall Stephens

Mark Twain was fond of the sharp barb, the straight shot, the cutting colloquial witticism, the carefully turned phrase. He liked to contrast trim American prose with the tangle of Teutonic verbiage. Whoever invented German, he quipped in "The Awful German Language" (1880), "seems to have taken pleasure in complicating it in every way he could think of."

Twain also had strong opinions about God and organized religion. (Had his wife died earlier he might have made his views more public.) He confided to his notebook in 1904: "God, so atrocious in the Old Testament, so attractive in the New—the Jekyl and Hyde of sacred romance."

Lewis Lapham seems to follow Twain’s lead in the intro to the new Lapham’s Quarterly. The issue he says, "doesn’t trade in divine revelation, engage in theological dispute, or doubt the existence of God." True to form—besides Lapham’s own opinions laid bare in the intro—this LQ culls bits and pieces from the world’s leading religions, along with the words of saints, martyrs, remote observers, apostates, and what have you.

Brought up in a secular home, Lapham "missed the explanation as to why the stories about Moses and Jesus were to be taken as true while those about Apollo and Rumpelstiltskin were not." He brought a similar critical eye (or is it heart?) to New Haven as an undergrad in the 1950s. So while William Buckley fretted over "whether Yale fortifies or shatters the average student's respect for Christianity," Lapham wanted the grizzly details of God’s autopsy report. How and when did the deity expire? "[D]isemboweled by Machiavelli in sixteenth-century Florence, assassinated in eighteenth-century Paris by agents of the French Enlightenment, lost at sea in 1835 while on a voyage with Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands, garroted by Friedrich Nietzsche on a Swiss Alp in the autumn of 1882, disappeared into the nuclear cloud ascending from Hiroshima on August 6, 1945."

News of God’s demise turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Even observers in Manhattan, Cambridge, and New Haven couldn’t deny the surge in religious zeal, from Jesus People to Jihadists. Notes Lapham: "Together with the rising of militant religious fervor in the United States during the last thirty years, devout and literal-minded readings of the Qur’an have brought forth war in Iraq and Afghanistan, massacre in Africa and the Balkans, suicide bombing in Israel, Pakistan, India, and Palestine, heavy security encircling the presence of President Barack Obama, elected to the White House in his persona as a Messiah come not to govern the country but to redeem it." (Curious. I don’t quite get why Lapham broadly paints religion as a Dionysian freak show or a shell game huckstering. Snake handlers and Elmer Gantrys all.)

Purple prose of the editorial aside, this issue of LQ is tremendous. Beautiful full-color photos and paintings appear alongside selections from all manner of writers, prophets, poets, skeptics, luminaries, and lunatics. For example: Émile Zola Observes an Exorcism: c. 1870 / Brittany; Among Scorpions: 1520 / Wittenberg; The Gospel According to Jorge Luis Borges: 1928 / Argentina; Flannery O'Connor Presents a Prophet: 1949 / Tennessee; Marilynne Robinson Raises an Objection: 1997 / Iowa City; Fire and Smoke: c. 1100 / Constantinople; Church and State: 1779 / Monticello; Deification: 332 BC / Egypt; John Updike Hears a Point of Confession: 1960 / Mt. Judge. The scope well fits Lapham’s sprawling vision of arts and letters. Or, like some wag said of Greil Marcus, "everything reminds him of everything."

I can easily see how this handsome volume could be used as a text in a religion survey. There’s much of value here. The final three sections are most rewarding. The first features essays by contemporary authors on a variety of topics—original sin, church and state, and secularism. The penultimate bit, titled "Conversations," is brilliant: Søren Kierkegaard & Bertrand Russell: Define "Faith"; John Milton & Reinhold Neibuhr: In His Image; Ralph Waldo Emerson & G. K. Chesteron: What Would Jesus Do? The volume is rounded out by Terry Eagleton’s essay on Dostoevsky’s "The Grand Inquisitor."

Secret Bible Codes on the “Spiritually Transformed Firearms of Jesus Christ”

Seth Dowland

ABC News reported this week that military contractor Trijicon, recently awarded a $660 million contract to provide rifle sights to the Marine Corps, has been placing “secret Bible codes” at the end of the serial numbers on its rifle sights. The serial numbers end with references to Bible passages such as JN8:12 (John 8:12) or 2COR4:6 (2 Corinthians 4:6). Apparently Trijicon has been placing Bible references on its rifle sights for years, though the U.S. military learned about the practice only recently. Religion Clause blogged about this story already, as there are obvious First Amendment questions raised by the placing of New Testament references on military equipment. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is protesting Trijicon’s practice and asking the military to remove the offending sights from its arsenal. (Somehow I don’t think the MRFF will be satisfied with the defense of the rifle sights offered by one Trijicon supporter in the ABC News report: “For those of you who aren’t Christians, well, you know, get over it.”)

Leaving aside the theological issues associated with putting New Testament verses on lethal weapons, the historical connections between conservative evangelicals and the military make this story almost wholly unsurprising. (In fact, a friend pointed out that Trijicon’s practice reminded him of the movie Saving Private Ryan, which portrayed sharpshooter Daniel Jackson reciting Psalms as he sighted his German targets.) Anne Loveland’s book American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military traces the growing influence of conservative evangelicals on the military throughout the post-WWII era. More recently, I talked with Matt Sutton about his current research, which reveals the influence certain generals wielded among evangelicals in the 1950s and 1960s. My own research examines how the Christian right trumpeted missile defense and the stockpiling of nuclear arms as a way of ensuring “peace through strength” in the early 1980s. And proselytizing at the Air Force Academy in recent years led to a lawsuit (later dismissed) and task force recommendations for officers and cadets to foster religious pluralism. Whatever the outcome of the Trijicon case, the historical connections between evangelicals and the military will remain strong.

I suppose another friend with whom I shared this story had the best response. If Trijicon knows its Bible so well, the company ought at least to use more appropriate passages on their weapons. How about: Psalm 58:6 ("Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; tear out, O LORD, the fangs of the lions!”) or Psalm 21:12 (“For you will make them turn their backs when you aim at them with drawn bow.”)?

Millennialism and Providentialism in the Era of the American Civil War -- CFP


Call for Papers

Millennialism and Providentialism in the Era of the American Civil War

October 1-2, 2010

Rice University

Houston, Texas

The Department of History at Rice University invites proposals for a special conference focusing on millennialism and providentialism in the era of the American Civil War and Reconstruction to be held on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas on October 1-2, 2010. An opening address will be given by Robert Abzug of the University of Texas at Austin on the theme of antebellum millennialism and providentialism in the coming of the American Civil War. Edward J. Blum, Associate Professor at San Diego State University will likewise offer a concluding address on the postbellum era.

Millennial energies imbued antebellum American culture with both apocalyptic eschatology and zeal for reform rooted in an optimistic belief in social improvement. In addition to forming the basis of eschatology, millennialism and providentialism set the limits of human and divine agency, explained causation in the past, and defined the possibilities of the future. Recent studies have emphasized the importance of the Civil War in recasting the millennial spirit and providential expectations that coursed through antebellum culture. Yet recent historiography leaves pressing questions unanswered as to the fate of these energies after the War. It is to this end that the history department at Rice University seeks to initiate a critical reconsideration of millennialism, the Civil War era, and American culture.

Successful proposals may consider a variety of topics relating to millennialism, providentialism, and/or expectations for the future during the nineteenth century. Proposals should include an abstract of approximately 300 words and a single page CV. Submissions from graduate students and junior scholars are encouraged, as are those that draw on interdisciplinary methods that challenge the traditional boundaries of historical study. Presented papers will also be considered for publication in an anthology on the same topic. A limited amount of funding for travel may be available to students and scholars who are unable to obtain funding from their own institution. Proposals must be received by April 1, 2010 and should be sent by email to bgw1 AT rice DOT edu, or by post to 2010 History Conference; c/o Ben Wright; Rice University History Department; 6100 Main Street, MS—42; Houston, Texas 77054.

King Speech Found After Half Century: Proud to be Maladjusted

Randall Stephens

This morning NPR reported on a fascinating find in Kansas. On a January day in 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the small Kansas Mennonite school, Bethel College. In a recent search for a recording, school officials turned up nothing. So, like all diligent researchers they sent out an email to alumni and interested parties, hoping a tape would surface. It did.

Officials at Bethel College in Newton, Kan., on Monday will play a recording of a speech by Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. that hasn't been heard in half a century.

It's the only recording of the speech that exists, and until recently, school officials thought it was lost for good. . . .

"He kept repeating that we need to be maladjusted to our society; we can't accept the status quo," Friesen says. "And he repeated that over and over again. I said I remember that, being a nonconformist. He had vigor about him, energy. He carried himself with a dignity, a sense of composure."

In the speech, King tells the audience: "I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry."

(See the 1967 Youtube clip here of King sounding a similar theme.)

King was back in Kansas almost exactly eight years later to deliver a speech to 7,000 at K-State. The K-State library recounts the event:

On January 19, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd of over 7,000 in Ahearn Field House on the campus of Kansas State University; the title of his speech was "The Future of Integration." He was invited to present an "all University Convocation . . ."

King's address concerned the issue of whether any real progress had been made in the area of race relations. He summarized the history of slavery and segregation in the U.S. pointing out how far integration had come; however, in truth, he told the audience that there was still so much that needed to be done in terms of racial equality. He said to ignore this truth would leave those in attendance "...the victims of an illusion wrapped in superficiality, and we would all go away the victims of a dangerous optimism." He went on the summarize the discriminatory conditions the "Negro" faced around the country in a multitude of areas: violence (shootings, lynchings, and arson), housing, employment, education, and "psychological murder," to name a few >>> read on

Seminars, Young Scholars, and Conference Proceedings at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture

Paul Harvey

One report and two upcoming seminars/opportunities at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI for you to be aware of.

First, as noted here before, the next (and, for now, final) round of the Young Scholars in American Religion Program is upcoming, and applications to participate are due by February 15. Here is information on the program and how to apply; you can click also on the "young scholars program" label on the right of this blog to see all of our various entries about this in the past.

Next, the Center is hosting a NEH Summer Institute for teachers, July 12-30 2010, on "The Many and the One: Religion, Pluralism, and American History." Click on the link for full information, the schedule, and information on how to apply (applications due March 2, 2010); here is a brief description:

Thank you for taking an interest in
The Many and the One: Religion, Pluralism, and American History, a Summer Institute for School Teachers to be held at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) from July 12 to July 30, 2010. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, this three-week institute for teachers focuses on religion in American history and culture. Our Institute is part of the NEH’s “We the People” initiative, a program designed to encourage and enhance the teaching, study, and understanding of American history, culture, and democratic principles.

This institute will support the studies of twenty-five talented teachers from across the nation as they join with nationally renowned scholars to explore how religion has shaped, and been shaped by, the American experience. The Institute directors, Philip Goff, Arthur Farnsley, and Rachel Wheeler, are all noted scholars in their field, whose work encompasses a wide range of subject matter and methodologies.

Finally, a posting of great interest: last summer the Center ran the 1st Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture; our contributor Linford Fisher attended and blogged about it here, and so did our contributor Seth Dowland, whose thoughts are here. The proceedings from the conference have now been published and can be accessed (as a pdf file) here. Comments and presentations comes from many of the stars of the field, including Jon Butler, Amanda Porterfield, Robert Orsi, Daniel Walker Howe, and many others. I plan to blog about this further once I have a chance to read over more of these contributions carefully.

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