Musical Monday: Larry Norman and Repurposing the Gospel Aura

Paul Harvey

A couple of musical posts to liven up your Monday. First, blog friend David Stowe, author of the very-soon-to-forthcome No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (which we blogged about a few weeks ago), has a guest post at the UNC Press blog based on a conversation in 2007 with Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman, shortly before he (Norman, that is) passed. The stories, full of musical celebrities, are fun. And he continues:

Were all these stories credible? Who knows. He told me he’d chatted in an airport lounge with a woman in a beautiful jacket who claimed that her husband was Bob Dylan. Andraé Crouch, who happened to be there with Norman, confirmed the woman’s story. Norman confirmed something that my ears had told me: that Dylan’s Grammy-winning single “Gotta Serve Somebody” was closely modeled on Norman’s song “Righteous Rocker,” released several years earlier.

This is a fun read, highly recommended.

As is Douglas Harrison, Repurposing the Gospel Aura, in today's Religion Dispatches, which takes the use of a gospel choir as a backdrop to Eminem's much-commented-upon Chrysler/Detroit commercial as a way of reflecting on how and why this music invites audiences "to imagine themselves as part of a colorblind fellowship of humanity bound together by the soulful sound of a black gospel choir." Harrison reflects on what is gained, and what is lost/missing, in that process. Black gospel is a "universal language of inspiration and transcendence that cuts across race, class, and history," but in the process, "the very real racial tension surrounding the struggle for equality of opportunity in America isn’t so much resolved or reconciled or even recognized. It is simply ignored in these digestible little pageants of musical and psychosocial harmony."

Thinking of this post at Religion Dispatches, it's a good time to congratulate our blog contributor Gerardo Marti, who has just finished his book manuscript, for Oxford, on a very similar theme: Worship Across the Racial Divide: Notions of Race and Religious Practice in Multiracial Churches, coming out with Oxford next year. Gerardo talks about how African American music comes to stand for authenticity in the churches he studies. And he talks about much else besides -- maybe we can entice him to do a little post here in celebration of mailing off the manuscript, telling us about his work a bit more? Let's hear it, ya'll.

Tues, March 1 Symposium on Religion and Politics in DC

Religion in American Politics and Society: A Model for Other Countries?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 9:00 AM, Copley Formal Lounge, Georgetown University, Lunch will be served.

Keynote address by Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver

Featured panelists include Imam Feisal Rauf, Rabbi David Saperstein, Jim Wallis, and John Witte

These and other panelists will discuss the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian perspective in three sessions.

Is the dominant American approach to religion, society, and the state worthy of emulation in other countries? The question is not only academic, but it has policy implications both for the American future and for U.S. efforts to promote religious freedom and democracy worldwide. It intersects with global controversies about international norms, national self-determination, proselytism, and the rights of religious communities. On March 1, 2011, Georgetown University will bring together leading scholars and practitioners to discuss these issues. Three panels will examine these questions from the perspective of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, respectively. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver will deliver a lunchtime keynote address. The symposium is sponsored by Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, and is made possible through the generous support of the Henry Luce Foundation.

For additional information including the day-long agenda, please see the event website.

Reassessing John Brooke's The Refiner's Fire


Christopher Jones

In 1994, Cambridge University Press published John L. Brooke's The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844. As indicated by the subtitle, Brooke's work aimed for a wholly unique and provocative re-interpretation of Mormonism's origins. While it was generally met with praise in the academy and won the Bancroft Prize in 1995, the book was almost universally panned by historians who specialized in Mormon history, and received its harshest (and most polemic) critiques from believing Latter-day Saint scholars (and especially from pseudo-scholarly apologists, some of whom seemed intent on making the most out of the publicity that might come with reviewing an award-winning book).

In the almost two decades since Brooke's work appeared, the sometimes hostile and always intentionally-unique world of Mormon studies has undergone significant changes (though the ever-earnest apologists remain). So have the disciplines of history and religious studies. All of these changes have led a younger generation of Mormon historians to reconsider Brooke's argument and approach. When I recently re-read The Refiner's Fire while preparing for comps, I was surprised at what I'd missed last time through and at how much I liked much of what he was trying to do (and indeed, did). Over at the Juvenile Instructor, Matt Bowman has posted his own brief thoughts on The Refiner's Fire, together with those of Steve Fleming, whose currently in-progress dissertation aims to expand on and revise some of Brooke's central ideas, and Mark Ashurst-McGee, editor of the Joseph Smith Papers project, whose research focuses on Joseph Smith and folk magic and Joseph Smith's social and political thought.

Matt explains by way of introduction his own take on the book and its importance:

It’s my opinion that the further we get from the publication of John Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire, a wildly inventive examination of Mormon origins through the lens of various esoteric European -isms (including occultism, the quest for hidden and often mysterical knowledge; hermeticism, a particular brand of the occult supposedly derived from ancient Egypt and for Brooke basically a restorationist concept that sought to regain Adam’s access to God, and the non -ism alchemy, or the transformation of the mundane into the exalted) the more interesting a book it seems. Its flaws - most revolving around the difficulty of transplanting such quirky early modern concepts as these to frontier America, though Brooke gives it a go with the vehicle of Masonry – have been well documented; its strengths have been less well recognized by LDS historians, who have tended to find the book, frankly, weird. Thus, too many of the doorways Brooke opened have remained unused.
The whole entry is really quite interesting and well worth the read.

Yes, Researchers Do Know Something About Teaching

Art Remillard

On the final day of FSU’s Graduate Symposium, I had the pleasure of joining Kelly Baker, Betsy Barre, Howell Williams, and Joseph Williams to talk about, "Life after Graduate School." A recurring theme was the difference between teaching and research schools. We outlined strategies for interviewing at such schools, and gave insights on what daily life is like as a teacher or researcher. We also emphasized that, despite outward appearances, folks at teaching schools take research seriously, and folks at research schools take teaching seriously. This point--that researchers strive to excel in the classroom--could use some publicity. Many of the best professors I've known are also productive scholars. They have an infectious enthusiasm about their subject, and give as much thought to their course designs as they do to any article or book. They are also creative, always looking for something new to enliven the classroom. Take our own Paul Harvey, for example. UCCS's Teaching and Learning Center featured Paul and his use of blogs in undergraduate courses. He also elaborated on his jazz-inspired teaching philosophy. No "teacher-centered" or "student-centered" approach for the good Professor Harvey.
I focus on a theme-and-improvisation model, that allows for the discipline and intellectual rigor of a theme while also encouraging soloing and improvisation. I find this model best fits the notion of learning as an active and dynamic process, that occurs for different students on varying levels. I have also found it works to make students feel they have a voice and that their participation is valued and drawn upon in course preparation, even while assuring them that discipline and intellectual rigor have not been sacrificed.

Blogging, jazz, intellectual rigor--very nice. How about some one-upmanship from Mike Pasquier, who has been collaborating with LSU’s Coastal Sustainability Studio to have his students conduct oral histories in Bayou Lafourche. Take a minute and listen to this podcast where Mike and his students discuss the project. The description:

Today’s show is an interview with one of the Center’s partners, Dr. Mike Pasquier, a professor here at LSU in the Religious Studies Department. Dr. Pasquier is working with the Center to establish the Bayou Lafourche Oral History Project. He and his students collected oral histories to gain a better understanding of the role of religion in everyday life among Bayou Lafourche residents. He’s also partnering with the Coastal Sustainability Studio here at LSU, and is using this material to garner a better understanding of how south Louisiana culture is being affected by wetland loss. He teaches courses in U.S. religious history, Christianity, and world religions and his research focuses on the history of Roman Catholicism in the American South, Catholic devotional culture, and religion in colonial Louisiana.

In this episode, the director will speak with him about his ongoing project in Bayou Lafourche, how he uses oral history in the college classroom, and how this research will be useful to a larger, interdisciplinary study assessing the impact of land loss on residents of the area. We’ll get to hear some clips from interviews recorded by some of his students with Bayou Lafourche residents. So join us today as we hear about men murmuring the rosary during Hurricane Betsy, about school children being punished for speaking French on state property, and about how the land and waters where people fish, work, and live is disappearing before our eyes.

Religion and Labor Protest in Wisconsin

By Heath Carter

For those who have been following the labor situation in Wisconsin, there's an interesting report in today's Guardian entitled, "Finding Faith with Wisconsin's Pro-Worker Protesters." The author, Becky Garrison, cites a number of key religious leaders who have come out in vocal support of public-sector unions and goes on to cite a Reuter's report that the Tea Party contingent in the streets pales in comparison to the pro-labor forces. She concludes, "the visible lack of support for the Freedom Rally held on Saturday, 19 February in support of Walker sent a strong signal that the Tea Party may indeed be all sound and fury. But in the end, they signify nothing."

There is certainly some evidence to support Garrison's view. The Archbishop of Milwaukee, Jerome E Listecki, has issued a statement of opposition to the pending legislation. And so have a broad spectrum of other religious leaders in Madison, including for example the Church Council at First United Methodist, the Senior Minister at First Congregational UCC in Madison, and the Rabbi at Temple Beth El.

The diverse array of religious leaders that have mobilized against Governor Scott Walker's attempt to end public-sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin bespeaks a sea change in the relationship between religion and labor since the era that I spend much of my time in, 1865-1914. My research on this earlier period suggests that, to the extent there has been attitudinal transformation, we can attribute it in part to the agitation of Gilded Age and Progressive Era workers. Their movement was political in the broadest sense - encompassing not only fights for just wages and hours but also campaigns to reform religious authorities and institutions that allied themselves with capital.

All this being said, I think Garrison's Guardian piece far too sunny. She cites but too quickly moves on from Julie Ingersoll's sobering post over at Religion Dispatches. Moreover, in so breezily downplaying the Tea Party's reach Garrison seems to forget that, just three months ago, the state of Wisconsin elected Scott Walker to be its governor.

To have a fuller sense of the relationship between religion and labor in present-day Wisconsin one would need to pay close attention to the rhetoric that everyday people are using on both sides of the debate - who is marshaling religious language and arguments to support their view, and to what effect? (It would be interesting, for example, to study the language on signs that demonstrators on both sides are carrying). In addition, one would need to know more about what happens this weekend, in synagogues and churches around the state: will rabbis, priests, and ministers broach the labor dispute, and if so, what notes will they strike? Most interesting to me - and most difficult to recover - are the conversations that will happen over meals following those religious services: in the restaurants and kitchens where ordinary people will debate the meaning of religion for economic life. It is in those places and amongst those people that lasting change begins.

What the Foucault (Do We Know)?: FSU's Grad Symposium Redux


Kelly J. Baker

As I am still recovering from a whirlwind weekend at Florida State University's Tenth Annual Graduate Symposium, I wanted to note how much I enjoyed my time this weekend and what a boon this conference is to religious studies graduate students. What you all should know from the outset is that I am not a neutral observer. I love this conference, and Mike Pasquier and I even organized it long, long ago. (Hat tip to our own contributor Emily Clark was the organizational guru this year).

Now, I did not attend every panel nor did I attempt to, so I encourage readers and participants who attended other panels to send their reflections along. What I was able to do was to talk to graduate students of alma mater and other institutions about their own work and mine as well. The paper presenters swung for the fences, and I enjoyed their energy, evidence, and historiographical strategies. Grads in American religious history presented on papers ranging from Emily Post to Christian manhood to the Holy Land Experience to body studies to Burning Man to border saints to the problems of "lived religion" to beards and shaving. The brilliance of this symposium is that it allows a welcoming and encouraging environment for grads to present their work with feedback from the likes of John Corrigan, Amy Koehlinger, Amanda Porterfield, Kathryn Lofton, and Sylvester Johnson to name only the Americanists. (Any graduate student in religious studies writ large should plan to go next year.)

The keynote with the best title ever was "What the Foucault Do We Do Now?" with Matthew Day, Sylvester Johnson, Matthew Kapstein and Katie Lofton interrogated the place of power in the study of religion, the institution of the academy, and the genealogy of religious studies. The panel paired scholars of ranging interests from methods and theory to Buddhism to American religious history and posed the question of how power (read Foucault) functions both for our subjects of study but also for our positions as scholars. For the interest of RIAH readers, Day, Johnson and Lofton proved to engage exactly what is at stake in religious studies from very different positions. Johnson prodded the strange bifurcation between the academy and the "real" world, and he argued compellingly that just because the origins of religious studies are bound to colonial endeavor does not mean we (religious studies scholars) should burden ourselves solely with origins. Instead, our knowledge and expertise applies to the "real" world because the academy, despite various attempts, is still bound to our contemporary moments. We are experts, we have power, and we should use it.

Lofton employed IBM advertisements to discuss the merger of power and subjectivity. She suggested that these particular ads did not uplift individuals but rather created a powerless collective at the whim of power grids, bad traffic, and other mundane problems of contemporary life. Each of us faces the similar hum drum, and the ads questioned our agency even in how companies market products not to me or you, but some amorphous us. From ads to religion, Lofton noted that perhaps religion is best understood as repository in which things, ideas, and brands collect. My sense was that religion was archive, hodge podge, even bricolage in this analogy. To understand religion is to understand the pile-up.

In my assessment, Day's contribution offered the opposite of Lofton--religion as empty. Day was troubled by the category of religion, the discipline of religious studies. Building upon Bruce Lincoln and Russell McCutcheon, Day argued that religious studies scholars don't problematize religion, so that as a category religion is valueless because of its infinitude. He asked can it be art or sports? Moreover, he wants religious studies scholars to question the reliance upon "experience" as a measure of religion. What does it mean? Or more importantly, what is at stake when we gesture to experience? Day's critique suggested a need for a critical edge about what is religion and what we study when we assert religion as our subject matter. Moreover, does the gesture to experience limit our subject matter?

During Q&A, I asked Lofton and Day to compare their stances about religion as repository or as empty. What is at stake in empty or full? Their answers are theirs, but I couldn't help but wonder what my own assessment of this was. Part of me wants to claim the middle path of "can't it be both?", but that is terribly unsatisfying. The power of religion as a category is what is at stake in their assertions, and I wonder how often religious studies scholars interrogate what exactly religion is in our own work. Is it empty or full? Is it value-free or value-filled? Do we craft our own categories of religion as experience, belief, practice, etc? Do we use the categories of those we study? In my own work, I confront the strange yet different assumptions about "good religion"(read helpful and therapeutic) versus "bad religion" (read harmful or malicious) because I work on the "bad." The commentary usually moves something like "bad religion" is not religion at all. What is religion becomes, then, essential to how to approach the Klan, the hate movement, or even my newer fascination with apocalypticism. How I make the case that this is actually religious becomes significant. I point to the pile-up: theology, ritual, practice, and belief that all show the Protestant nature of the Klan. Yet, I could also point to the emptiness (malleability) of Protestant as a label, of religion as a construct, yet I don't. I could though. Empty or full?

Graduate students, if these kinds of questions are interesting to you, plan on attending next year's symposium at FSU. If they aren't, plan on attending or presenting anyway because you can't beat the encouraging environment, the weather, or the chance to ask, "What the Foucault do we do now?"

2nd Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture

Paul Harvey

The following conference announcement comes to us from Phil Goff, Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture in Indianapolis. The first Biennial Conference was hosted in Indianapolis in the summer of 2009; click here for our contributor Linford Fisher's report from that conference, and click here for the full conference proceedings from 2009. Full schedule and registration/hotel information for this conference in the first weekend of June is below. I'm looking forward to it already.

Second Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture
Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture
Indianapolis, Indiana
June 2-5, 2011

We are pleased to announce the Second Biennial Conference on Religion and
American Culture, to be held at the new J.W. Marriott in downtown
Indianapolis, June 2 through June 5. The theme for this meeting is "change,"
focusing both on changes in religion in North America over time and changes
in how we understand the topic. Scholars from multiple perspectives will
serve on multidisciplinary panels. The conference schedule is given below.

Like the conference in 2009, the room will be set up in a circle with
audience members on risers around the central round table. This set-up
promotes more participation from the audience and deeper conversation among
the panelists and those surrounding them. The hotel is again conveniently
located in downtown Indianapolis among restaurants, museums, and public
parks - all very conducive to continuing conversations begun in sessions.

Thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment, we have reserved a block of rooms at
the J.W. Marriott at the special rate of $74.50 per night. Once those rooms
have sold out, rooms will be $149, so please be sure to reserve your room
right away. Early registration rates are available until May 5. To reserve
your room, register for the conference, or print a copy of the schedule,
please go to<>. (Note: the
special hotel rate of $74.50 will not appear on the screen but will be
billed correctly.)


Thursday, June 2

Arrival and Registration
Opening Reception

Friday, June 3

"What are our academic assumptions about religion?"
Panelists: Penny Edgell (Sociology, University of Minnesota)
Robert Orsi (Religious Studies, Northwestern University)
Ann Taves (Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara)

"Revisiting the secularity/secularization question"
Panelists: Tracy Fessenden (Religious Studies, Arizona State University)
Paul Froese (Sociology, Baylor University)
Rhys Williams (Sociology, Loyola University Chicago)


"Religion's role in political identity"
Panelists: Edward Curtis (Religious Studies, Indiana University -
Purdue University Indianapolis)
Paul Djupe (Political Science, Denison University)
Clyde Wilcox (Government, Georgetown University)

"Religion's role in immigration and globalization"
Panelists: Gerardo Marti (Sociology, Davidson College)
Timothy Matovina (Theology, University of Notre Dame)
Fenggang Yang (Sociology, Purdue University)

Saturday, June 4

"Religion's role in personal identity"
Panelists: Sylvester Johnson (Religious Studies, Indiana
Sally Gallagher (Sociology, Oregon State University)
Laurie Maffly-Kipp (Religious Studies, University of North

"Market models for understanding religion"
Panelists: Roger Finke (Sociology, Pennsylvania State University)
James Hudnut-Beumler (Vanderbilt Divinity School)
Kathryn Lofton (American Studies and Religious Studies,
Yale University)

"Changes in the understanding and uses of scripture"
Panelists: Charles Cohen (History and Religious Studies, University of
Kathleen Flake (Vanderbilt Divinity School)
Charles Hambrick-Stowe (First Congregational Church, Ridgefield,

"The future of religion in America"
Panelists: David Daniels (Church History, McCormick Theological Seminary)
Mark Silk (Religion, Trinity College)
Julie Byrne (Religion, Hofstra University)

Concluding reception

What Does This Map Tell Us?

Randall Stephens

The other day in my Religion and American Culture class we were covering mid-19th century America. I've found that asking questions about maps and looking at the demographics of the religious landscape can be a helpful in-class exercise. This map of Major Communal Experiments before 1860 comes from the old Mapcentral site, Bedford/St. Martin's. (Click to enlarge.)

(Students should not get the idea that every American sold his/her possessions, took up with the Shakers, and renounced sex. But still there certainly was quite a bit of communal/utopian action.) After we look at the above in class we ask: What accounts for the heavy presence in the North and the absence in the South? Why did utopian experiments thrive in this age? How did these influence society?

Some selected quotes might provide interesting context to the map and give the students something to ponder. (The two I cite here are not exactly representative, but could get the conversation rolling.) See, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who famously rhapsodized to his friend Thomas Carlyle in 1840:

We are all a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform. Not a reading man but has a draft of a new Community in his waistcoat pocket. I am gently mad myself, and am resolved to live cleanly. George Ripley is talking up a colony of agriculturists and scholars, with whom he threatens to take the field and the book.1 One man renounces the use of animal food; and another of coin; and another of domestic hired service; and another of the State; and on the whole we have a commendable share of reason and hope.

From the southern end, have a look at James Henley Thornwell, or George Fitzhugh, who wrote this in Cannibals All! or Slaves without Masters (1857):

Mormonism had its birth in Western New York, that land fertile of isms--where also arose Spiritual Rappings and Oneida Perfectionism--where Shakers, and Millenarians, and Millerites abound, and all heresies do most flourish . . . . Abolition swallows up little isms, and Socialism swallows up Abolition.

Bedford/St. Martin's Make History site provides some of the best map and visual resources for free.

Creolization and Kreolization

Emily Clark

Academic talk of Native American-European cultural hybridity and cultural conflict immediately take my mind to the Caribbean world and major port cities like New Orleans or Santo Domingo. When authors write about “creolization,” I think of cultural intersections between French, Spanish, Native American, and African traditions in the American South. I don’t immediately think of Alaska. However, a new book I recently reviewed for Itinerario: International Journal on the History of European Expansion and Global Interaction has widened the geographic spread I associate with creolization, or rather kreolization.

In the 1980s and 1990s, theorizing of the Atlantic World by historians such as Bernard Bailyn and later David Armitage placed the colonial Americas within a more nuanced, engaging, and dynamic framework. The Pacific World and its impact on the colonial Americas has yet to be as thoroughly explored as the Atlantic, but works such as historian Gwenn A. Miller’s Kodiak Kreol: Communities of Empire in Early Russian America demonstrate the importance of expanding the view of colonial American encounters. With the first permanent Russian settlement in Alaska in 1784, the Russian empire continued its eastward movement setting up its own business-oriented, colonial enterprise in the “new world.”

Together, the missionary work of the Russian Orthodox Church and the education imparted by the fur-trading Russian-American Company offered government and trade officials a method to “civilize” the Alutiiq population and thus extend Russia’s imperial border. Miller’s micro-history of interactions between indigenous Alaskans, Russian fur traders, and missionaries on Kodiak Island elucidates how “a distinct Kreol colonial society” developed that “was neither wholly Russian nor wholly Alutiiq. In a world of mutual dependence, intimate encounters between Russian fur traders and Alutiiq women led to a new Kreol generation of colonial subjects to be defined, controlled, and integrated into the imperial Russian enterprise. In their attempts to convert, Christianize, and “civilize” the Alutiiq people, the Russian missionaries demonstrate how interactions between Native Americans and their colonizers were fraught with complications on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. The British praying towns, the French Canadian seaways, and the American southwest were not alone. Though the situation in Alaska was less physically violent, it wasn’t necessary less culturally complex.

For a long-time, the gaze of American historians was that of the covered-wagon pioneers - westward. Miller is certainly not the first or only scholar to change the frame of reference. In her contribution to Thomas Tweed’s 1997 Retelling US Religious History, Laurie Maffly-Kipp elucidates how a narrative based in the Pacific Rim further illuminates typical historical account. Daniel Richter’s often cited Facing East From Indian Country: A Native History of Early America encourages historians to think about their narratives from the shoes – or moccasins – of “the other.” Miller’s book offers a colonial narrative far from the cities of Boston, New York, or Charleston that is both similar and different from the stereotypical westward European expansion model. For those of us interested in syncretism, cultural mixing, hybridity, colonial intersections, creolization, or whatever you want to call it, Kodiak Kreol provides another vantage point from which to theorize.

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