The Fan Who Knew Too Much

Paul Harvey

The Fan Who Knew Too Much: Aretha Franklin, the Rise of the Soap Opera, Children of the Gospel Church, and Other MeditationsDouglas Harrison, author of the outstanding new text Then Sings My Soul: The Culture of Southern Gospel Music (fuller review/discussion to come here later), interviews the eminence grise of black gospel music writing, Anthony Heilbut, today in Religion Dispatches. Anyone who studies black gospel music will rely on Heilbut's long experience as a scholar, producer, and writer on the subject. And for white southern gospel, there's no better discussant presently than Douglas Harrison, whose blog on the subject you can follow here.

Harrison interviews Heilbut on Anthony's new book The Fan Who Knew Too Much: Aretha Franklin, the Rise of the Soap Opera, Children of the Gospel Church, and Other Meditations. There's much great stuff in the conversation, which addresses at length the long history of gay men in black gospel music, both as performers and fans. In one part of their conversation, they get a little bit into the erotics of the gospel and the body of Jesus, in a way Ed Blum and I cover a bit in The Color of Christ. A little excerpt, but most definitely read the rest here.

Considering the Historicity of the Book of Mormon and the Miraculous in Mormon Studies

Christopher Jones

Over at the Juvenile Instructor, two of the brightest and most thoughtful young scholars studying Mormon history---Max Mueller and Amanda Hendrix-Komoto---dialogue with one another about the importance of questions concerning the Book of Mormon's historicity and how they each, as scholars from outside the Mormon tradition, approach the miraculous in Mormon studies. The whole conversation is well worth the read, and not just for scholars and students of Mormonism. The questions raised here get at how all religious historians treat the miraculous, how all historians approach the subjects they study, and ultimately, the purpose of historical scholarship altogether. Here is a preview to whet your appetite.
Amanda:  So, I don’t really use the Book of Mormon in my own scholarship.  Instead, I spend most of my time reading women’s diaries and their letters to their husbands.  The Book of Mormon seems quite peripheral to their lives.  Because I don’t have a lot of experience using the Book of Mormon in my own scholarship, I wonder if you could help me out by providing an example of what you do.  How do you use it in particular to understand the early Saints better?

Max:  I study race.  In my work, I argue Book of Mormon has a very complex understanding of race.  Sometimes it seems to parallel what we would see as fairly progressive, even “modern” views of race as a social/cultural construction.  Other times, it seems to parallel the (stereo)typical nineteenth century views of Amerindians and other non-white people. I see these Book of Mormon ideas popping up all over in discussions of early Saints’ relationships with modern “Lamanites” as well as African Americans. So to  understand how the early Saints attempted to create their latter-day Jerusalem, which on their best days they hoped would be made up of, as Nephi (I) declared, “every nation, kindred, tongue and people,” one needs to look at the text itself.

Paul Harvey enters New Demographic

To our dear leader Paul Harvey. 65 never looked better. Hoping the next 65 is just as glorious. Happy Birthday!

Evangelical Catholicism: Finding Commitment beyond Belief


By Mark Edwards

The recent informative posts on early American Catholic history got me thinking about the long history of Protestant and Catholic interrelations in this country.  True, a lot of it we’d like to forget.  The numerous stories of burrowing and borrowing between the two traditions still needs to be remembered, however.  That is notably the case with the twentieth century, when Protestant-Catholic engagement became the most self-conscious and sincere.  On the Protestant side, ironically enough, attraction to high-church forms became greatest in what many have assumed to be a premier expression of liberal (i. e., non-nativist) anti-Catholicism, the ecumenical movement.
                From a planetary perspective, it looks at present as though the twentieth century was not kind to ecumenical Protestants.  Forget the religious right for just a minute.  Consider that, during the past century into today, the Christianization of the Global South has largely been carried out by Catholics, Anglicans, and the Orthodox churches—the “high” traditions.  Where does that leave the “low” Protestants—the Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, and so on—in groups like the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches?  Viewing ecumenism as a defensive posturing against a perceived global Catholic takeover is not without warrant.  Certainly, leading American ecumenists like Charles Clayton Morrison and Henry Van Dusen were also outspoken liberal anti-Catholics.  But, wait a minute, Anglicans and Episcopalians (and some Anglo-Catholics) were often crucial supporters of Protestant ecumenism nationally and globally.  What difference did their presence in the movement make?  Actually, a lot: They were the vehicles by which traditionally Catholic forms, ideas, and identities entered liberal and moderate mainline institutions.

Was Jesus Lily White?

by Kevin M. Schultz

While driving through the wilds of Texas a few months ago, I got into a conversation about why some conservatives hate Obama so much.  I mentioned that the government was shedding jobs faster than the Bachelorette was dropping suitors.  I said that taxes were the lowest they've been than throughout most of the twentieth century.  I mentioned that Obamacare was initially the Republican counter to Hilary-care, a proposal that emerged from right-wing think takes.  I even mentioned that Obama spoke about God more than any of his predecessors.  What gives?

My conversant said, simply enough, it was his race.  At the root of it all, she said, many conservatives--at least the ones she knew in Texas--had never come to grips with the reality of having a black president (or at least as black as the son of a white Kansas woman can be--gotta love the one-drop rule America!).

I'm not sure she's right (and I'm not sure she's wrong), but I'm also surprised by how little this gets talked about.  Therefore, I was glad to see our very own Ed Blum featured in The Daily Beast talking about the conceptions of Jesus that underlie the current presidential race--and how those conceptions of Jesus subtly reinforce ideas of what is sacred (eg. white skin versus black).

Blum, pulling from his (and Paul's) soon-to-be-released Color of Christ, astutely brings up Obama's ecumenism, and his likely disavowal of any claim that, say, Jesus was black.  But despite all Obama's remarks, there is something pernicious lying in the continued reminders about Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  As I write, I just saw a Pew report claiming that more Americans than ever think Obama is a Muslim.  Willful blindness is potent stuff.

On the other side is the interesting phenomenon of the Jesus of Mormonism, a faith that has traditionally imagined Jesus as a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty, much like most of the Mormons I see walking the streets of Salt Lake City and Provo.  It's an interesting fact that, right smack in the middle of the civil rights movement, the LDS Church erected an 11-foot statue of white Jesus right in the middle of Salt Lake.  Mormon history has changed, most tellingly with the 1978 revelation that African Americans can serve in the priesthood.  Today, when you take a tour of Temple's visitor center in Salt Lake City, the tour guides are still overwhelmingly nubile folks in their late teens and early twenties, but they are from all over the world.  Still, the traditional Mormon Jesus has got those steely blue eyes.

Both sides have histories to their understanding, which is what Blum goes after in the article.

Despite all this, my guess is that the candidates will stay as far away from this discussion as they have gun control.  Rationality escapes the masses on both sides, and these guys are smart enough to let sleeping dogs lie.  I'm just glad we've got a historical take to give us some perspective.

Why I Like Larry Flynt Better than Hugh Hefner

By Matt Sutton

I have a new text coming out entitled Jerry Falwell and the Rise of the Religious Right: A Brief History with Documents as part of the Bedford Series in History and Culture. This was a fun book to write—essentially I got to put together a greatest hits list of players and ideas that formed the modern Religious Right. I also had help. Bedford takes their books seriously, which is reassuring as more and more presses seem to be cutting corners. They subjected the book to nine—NINE—peer reviews. Reviewers included blogmeister Paul Harvey (Paul’s review was not positive enough to merit a cover blurb but he did cost me $250 insisting that the Falwell waterslide image be included—thanks Paul, for nothing); fellow RiAH bloggers Steven Miller and John Turner, and friends of the blog David Sehat and Dan Williams all offered helpful suggestions among other great scholars.

Miller, however, led me astray by encouraging me to use an absolutely amazing 1977 Playboy interview with Anita Bryant. Getting it was a challenge—it turns out that here at WSU Playboy microfilm is hidden behind the counter (it takes some work to find it since it is not filed where it is supposed to be) and in order to check out a roll of film you have to leave some collateral with the staff to make sure you don’t steal it. For some reason they do not have the same requirements for checking out Christianity Today.

Unfortunately, we could not get permission to use it. Apparently Hefner plans to reprint the interview himself sometime soon, and since we share such a large audience—Playboy readers and history students—he was afraid of a little competition from me.

Choosing a Pastor-President


Today's post comes from Barton Price, assistant professor of history at Grand Valley State University and one of the many terrific PhDs from Florida State University. He has an article coming out  in Methodist History titled "The.Cental Christian Advocate and the Quest for a Heartland Identity in American Methodism, 1852-1900."

Choosing a Pastor-President to Care for the Soul and Souls of the Nation

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, both President Barack Obama and Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney suspended their presidential campaigns for a few days. In that time, President Obama visited with surviving victims and the families of the deceased. I suggest that this action offers a different timbre to the presidential race of 2012, one that adds a religious dimension to the election. What the action represents is the nation’s selection of a president-pastor.

President Obama’s visitation with survivors is not an unwelcomed action. It shows his compassion for these families and for his constituents. As he stated, he came not as the President but as “a father and as a husband.” This illustrates Obama’s populism. But it is, on one level, an act akin to the pastoral offices of many American clergy. Following the visitation, Obama offered biblical verses as consoling axioms to heal the nation’s wounds. His speech was a sermon of sorts. What intrigues me about Obama’s activities in response to the Aurora shooting is that they are peripheral to his presidential duties, but they have become integral to the extra-constitutional job description for the President of the United States of America. These duties often involve activities that mirror those of a pastor. If these duties are now part of the unwritten role of the President, then they prompt us to ask who is the better president-pastor.

"Adam and Eve" not "Adam and Steve": Sex, Race, and the Body of Christ

Protesters holding picture of Jesus Christ, cross, rosaries, and sign: "God not Created Adam and Steve nor Gays and Aids."
William Gedney is perhaps my favorite photographer. He captured the African American boy as Sunday School king that makes for the cover of The Color of Christ. He also created this photograph in 1983 of protesters in New York City. The sign reads "God Not Created Adam and Steve Nor Gays and Aids." In the background is a Sacred Heart Jesus. It shows how even the body of Jesus has been linked to readings of Genesis to be brought into discussions and debates about sexuality (points Paul and I tried to make in Color of Christ and will have a video from San Diego Pride to discuss Jesus, race, and sexuality up next week). I've tried to track, via the use of "not Adam and Steve" and it appears to come from the 1970s. Two wonderful books that get into the knotty issues of religion and sexuality are Fay Botham's Almighty God Created the Races and Tanya Erzen's Straight to Jesus.

Black Catholics and American Sisters

Paul Harvey

Time for me to go on a little blog-cation, while I celebrate my 29th birthday next weekend by falling even further into summer lassitude/dissipation/neurasthenia than usual. So glad that the odometer hasn't turned over to the dreaded 30-- level yet, and I still retain my youthful spring and vigor and my mind still works like a well-oiled machine. See you all a week from Monday or thereabouts.

First, though, we want to finish up our little mini-series on recent books on American Catholicism, and its relationship with Protestantism, in the colonial and antebellum eras. Just as a quick epilogue to that series, links to a couple of posts that address absolutely central issues of Catholic history, African American history, and women's history. (Incidentally, I know there are so many other fine recent works out there just out in American Catholic history, so if you want to post about one of your favorites, please let me know.)

First is Matthew Cressler's post "Beyond the Black Church: African American Religious Studies, the Next Generation," at the American Society of Church History blog -- a rare academic religious history blog post that had a few moments where it was trending on Twitter! The second is Amy Koelinger's "American Sisters Haven't Strayed. The Vatican Has," from Religion and Politics. More on both after the jump.

Masterless Mistresses: Reprise of an RiAH Classic

Paul Harvey

One more day to go for our little mini-series featuring some notable new and recent works in Catholicism in earlier American history. Today I want to reprise one of our blog classics: a review by Tracy Fessenden of Emily Clark's important work Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834 (University of North Carolina Press, 2007), which we originally ran a few years go (which in blog years might well have been the medieval era).

Alongside this, I would point you again to Mike Pasquier's wonderfully entertaining accompanying post "A Free Tour of Colonial New Orleans," where he wrote, Unfortunately, Clark’s masterful Masterless Mistresses is one of only a handful of other books that conceives of colonial Louisiana as something other than a peripheral sideshow to “the normative culture of British North America that prevailed in the young Republic.” Might New Orleans be more central to early American religious history than the historiography would suggest? Might the Mississippi River be just as important as, say, the Chesapeake Bay in delivering European and African peoples to a New World already populated by native peoples? Might we learn from Walker Percy—a Catholic convert who came of age in Greenville, Mississippi, and who became a National Book Award winner for his 1961 novel The Moviegoer—when he says that “To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.

That is a question Mike and a host of scholars take up in a forthcoming essay collection Gods of the Mississippi -- too early to blog about that one yet, as it's coming out in Feb. 2013, but can't wait to see it. Have been waiting years for it -- YEARS, people. 

Without further adieu, Tracy's review of Masterless Mistresses, and tomorrow we'll finish up this mini-series with a couple of notes on recent posts on more recent issues in Catholic, African American, and women's history. After that, I'll be taking a little blog-cation for a week. Tracy's review is after the jump.

The Bible, the School, and the Constitution, Redux

Paul Harvey

The Bible, the School, and the Constitution: The Clash That Shaped Modern Church-State Doctrine CoverContinuing on with this little series on Catholicism and its interaction with Protestantism from the colonial era to the mid/late 19th century, another review below. Several times already we've covered Steven Green's very thorough and well-researched book The Bible, the School, and the Constitution, but if you've missed those, below is a nice short review that captures some of the main points. You can also read Steven's guest post on our blog here, and David Sehat's quick appreciation (and critique) of another work by Professor Green here, and a review from the New Republic here. And hey, an excellent review from our own Chris Beneke here.

Green, Steven K. The Bible, the school, and the Constitution: the clash that shaped modern church-state doctrine. Oxford, 2012. 294p index afp; ISBN 9780199827909, $29.95; ISBN 9780199827916 e-book, contact publisher for price. Reviewed in 2012aug CHOICE.
Although the Supreme Court only recently struck down school prayer in Engle v. Vitale (1962) and mandatory Bible readings in Abington v. Schempp (1963), legal scholar Green (Willamette Univ.) argues that the origins of these legal battles are grounded in earlier 19th-century educational battles regarding Bible reading in public schools and government funding of parochial schools. Catholics challenged nonsectarian Bible reading as Protestant oriented, and Protestants countered with no-funding legislation to sever government funding from parochial schools. Green disputes the argument that nonsectarian and no-funding policies were simple anti-Catholic posturing, contending that they drew from more principled constitutional and philosophical arguments over church and state policy that grew in sophistication throughout the century. Increasing educational secularizing trends culminated in the Blaine Amendments, which sought to amend the Constitution to prohibit states from funding public education. Although it failed to pass, several states adopted its core principles and divorced public funds from religious education. In summary, Green reminds readers that modern Supreme Court rulings were not products of sudden secularizing trends in the 20th century, but rather were grounded in a more than century-long debate over the separation of church and state. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries. -- M. S. Hill, Gordon College

Papist Patriots and the Making of 18th- and 19th-Century Catholic Identity

Paul Harvey

Continuing on with our series on new/newish works in early American Catholicism and its relationship to broader themes of American religion and politics, today I'm featuring a book Mike Pasquier blogged about before: Maura Farrelly, Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity. I'm pairing it up with a work whose appearance comes with renewed sadness and grief: Jon Gjerde's Catholicism and the Shaping of Nineteenth-Century America. Jon Gjerde (1953-2008) arrived at Berkeley while I was a graduate student. Although I was never his student, I knew him as a warm, kind person, a tremendous historian who bore his learning lightly, and as eager to talk about his family or his analysis of the Minnesota Timberwolves as to explain his techniques of analyzing demographic data from the nineteenth century. He died of a heart attack in 2008. 

After the jump, more on both books.

The Spice of Popery

Paul Harvey

The Spice of Popery: Converging Christianities on an Early American FrontierThis is the first of what will be several short posts over a few days covering new works especially on Catholicism and its relationship to Protestantism from about 1750-1880s, including (later) the posthumuously published book by the late and very lamented scholar Jon Gjerde, a wonderful man and historian at UC Berkeley who suddenly and tragically died a few years ago.

But first, a review from Choice of a new work which I wasn't familiar with before (and I know absolutely nothing about the topic, and barely even know where Maine is, so looking forward to learning), and should be of interest to many, and comes with an endorsement/blurb from our friend Historiann. After the jump below, more about the book from its website.

Chmielewski, Laura M. The spice of popery: converging Christianities on an early American frontier. Notre Dame, 2012. 366p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780268023072 pbk, $38.00. Reviewed in 2012aug CHOICE.
With this clearly written, deeply researched book on the Maine frontier from 1690 to 1730, historian Chmielewski (Purchase College, SUNY) makes a notable contribution to the burgeoning and fascinating literature on the North American colonial borderlands. Recent works on colonial frontiers from New Mexico to Nova Scotia depict convoluted, conflicted zones of cultural as well as military and economic contacts among various Native American, African, and European peoples. Tales of suffering, opportunity, and personal and social transformations abound. Besides adding another region to the emergent interpretation, the author develops an oft-neglected theme noted in the subtitle: "converging Christianities." Chmielewski's nuanced understanding of the relevant varieties of Catholicism and Protestantism, their commonalties as well as oppositions, should inspire other scholars of colonial America. The author's grasp of the social and political consequences and contexts of these religious expressions, including material culture, is also exemplary. The central focus on the varied experiences and decisions of New England captives in French Canada gives the analysis lively immediacy as well as abundant illustration of the author's main points. A remarkable book deserving wide readership. Summing Up: Essential. All academic levels/libraries. -- R. P. Gildrie, emeritus, Austin Peay State University

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Parable Meets Reality

Paul Harvey

Your must-read for Wednesday: Mike Pasquier's piece on the film "Beasts of the Southern Wild," just up at Religion Dispatches. Here's a case where the right subject has met the right author. A brief excerpt:

But Beasts of the Southern Wild is not a scientific study of the problems facing coastal Louisiana. Nor is it a documentary meant to portray environmental injustices and the plight of drowning villages—at least not overtly. Rather, according to Zeitlin:
[Beasts is] about the emotional facts. What is the feeling of going through this loss of a place or of a parent or of a culture? How does that feel, and how do you respond emotionally to survive that?
In an interview in The Atlantic, Zeitlin addresses these questions by imagining the Bathtub as “a society where all the things that divide people have been removed. So there’s no religion, no politics, no money, no one sees race, there’s no rich and poor because there is no currency” (a vision for which some critics have blasted him). Zeitlin then blankets enormous moral and existential dilemmas over the Bathtub and its inhabitants. . . .
Zeitlin is no scholar of religion, but he is an artist and a storyteller who finds beauty and meaning in suffering and disaster. He is not so much a folklorist (unlike his parents, who actually are) as he is a creator of folklore, which, by his definition, seems akin to making religion and encouraging religious experience. 
But Mike warns of the possible problems of parables detached from grim environmental realities:
My fear, however, is that those who watch Beasts of the Southern Wild will get lost in the wonder and magic and spirit of the Bathtub; that they will rest in the film’s beauty instead of being jolted by the reality that, as Hushpuppy says, “Sometimes you can break something so bad, that it can’t get put back together.”
Isle de Jean Charles—the isolated island hamlet that inspired Zeitlin in the first place—is the Bathtub, and so are the communities of Lafitte, Estelle, Paradis, Des Allemands, Golden Meadow, Cocodrie, Dulac, and Leeville. Based on land loss projections and in spite ofLouisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, these and other places in coastal Louisiana might not exist in 100 years. It is a fact, it is too late, and it is a disaster.F
For more on the film, check out this great interview with the "stars" of the film, including Quvenzhané Wallis. Speaking of interviews, the link takes to you the young Ms. Wallis telling off the always-awful Jay Leno.
Mike Pasquier: future governor of Louisiana?! We can only hope.   

From the AAR North American Religions Section Steering Committee

Here's an update from AAR North American Religions Section Steering Committee chairs Julie Byrne and David Watt:

The AAR Annual Meeting in Chicago is months away, but the Program Book is now online.  Here is a snapshot of the NAR line-up--with thanks to all of you who brainstormed for the call and submitted proposals.  As usual there were way too many great ideas to use everything, and wrenching decisions.  But we did try our best to shape a program and really look forward to hearing the varied contributions.

Thanks as well to co-chairs of all co-sponsoring and cluster-sponsoring program units--seven in total!

A17-105 Saturday 9:00-11:30am
(cluster-sponsored with Religion & Migration; North American Hinduism; ANARCS; Hinduism; and Space, Place & Religious Meaning)
Paper Session: E Pluribus Pluribus: Transnational Hinduism in North America

A17-304 Saturday 4:00-6:30pm
Panel Session: Author Meets Critics: Tracy Fessenden's _Culture and Redemption_
(followed by NAR business meeting)

A18-254 Sunday 3:00-4:30pm
Paper Session: Religious Exchanges and Transactions in North America

A18-309 Sunday 5:00-6:30pm
(co-sponsored with Religions, Social Conflict & Peace)
Paper Session: Immanent Critiques of Imperial Logic: Rhetoric, Violence and American Minority Religions

A19-213 Monday 1:00-3:30pm
Panel Session: Questioning Liberalism

A19-313 Monday 4:00-6:30pm
(co-sponsored with Contemporary Islam)
Paper Session: Islamic Traditions and Lived Religion in America

A20-106 Tuesday 9:00-11:30am
Paper Session: Beautiful Babies, Hidden Mothers and Plasticized Prisoners: The Display of Bodies and Theories of American Religion

In addition, we call your attention to a session of particular NAR interest, hosted by the Cultural History of the Study of Religion and Religion, Media & Culture:

Monday 9:00-11:30
Panel Session: A Fabulous Rumor: Critical Interpretations of John Lardas Modern’s _Secularism in Antebellum America_

In other business--

The NAR business meeting is Saturday after the "Author Meets Critics" session on Tracy Fessenden's book, and we hope you can all attend.  The Steering Committee has formulated a (very short and simple) "policies and procedures" document, and we'll talk about it there.

Please do feel free to get in touch with me, David, or anyone on the Steering Committee for any reason, including if you know others who might like to be added to this low-volume list.

I'll write again closer to November!

All best,

Julie and David


Wendy Cadge
Chip Callahan
Sylvester Johnson
Amy Koehlinger
Sharon Suh

CFP: Religion and Romance


“Love is my religion,” Ziggy Marley testifies in a hit from 2006.  From reggae to Rumi (the bestselling poet in the United States across the 1990s), Bollywood to South Park, global popular fiction, film, poetry, music, and other media have extolled romantic love in sacred terms—and, in the process, they have sometimes raised provocative, complex relationships about the relationships between religion and romance. 

Some popular romance texts remain securely inside the boundaries of orthodox belief, bringing theologies of love to accessible, affective life.  Others blur the lines between sacred and secular love, or between different national, cultural, and theological traditions, threatening those distinctions and, sometimes, drawing sharp condemnation in the process.

To explore the vast terrain of love and religion in global popular culture, the Journal of Popular Romance Studies calls for essays, interviews, and pedagogical materials for a special forum guest-edited by Lynn S. Neal (author of Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction).  The deadline for submissions is December 1, 2012, and the forum is slated for publication in September, 2013.
Texts from all traditions, media, and periods are welcome.  Topics of particular interest include:

  • Sacred love stories retold in popular culture
  • Hymns, love songs, and the porous boundary between them
  • Romantic love as a surrogate or secular religion, and debates over this
  • Crossover texts and figures:  Rumi, the Song of Songs, etc.
  • Representations of interfaith romance
  • Love and religion in popular culture from before the 20th century, and from indigenous and other non-hegemonic religious traditions (Candomblé, Wicca, etc.)

Published by the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR), the peer-reviewed Journal of Popular Romance Studies is the first academic journal to focus exclusively on representations of romantic love across national and disciplinary boundaries.  Our editorial board includes representatives from English, Comparative Literature, Ethnomusicology, History, Religious Studies, African Diaspora Studies, and other fields.  JPRS is available without subscription at

Please submit scholarly papers of no more than 10,000 words by December 1, 2012, to An Goris, Managing Editor Longer manuscripts of particular interest will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Submissions should be Microsoft Word documents, with citations in MLA format.  Please remove all identifying material (i.e., running heads with the author’s name) so that submissions can easily be sent out for anonymous peer review.  Suggestions for appropriate peer reviewers are welcome.

Tri-Faith America, Uni-Year Later

by Edward J. Blum

Blogs like this one let us know about books that are about to come out and those that have just been published. But with time, it is scholarly reviews which help us know what books we should definitely read. And, after one year available in print, it seems pretty clear to me that Kevin Schultz's Tri-Faith America is one of those books. Here's some praise I found from pretty notable reviewers:

  • Mark Noll: "Kevin Schultz’s diligent mining of the NCCJ records, combined with his skillful integration of the Conference’s actions alongside other important developments, convincingly describes the significant cultural movement away from Protestant hegemony toward general religious tolerance."
  • Mark Noll again: "Schultz’s story becomes even more interesting as he charts the complexities and unintended consequences that attended the triumph of the Tri-Faith ideal."
  • Noll in sum: "unusually fine book"
  • Philip Gleason: "The broadly interpretive claims Schulz makes in part 2 are definitely provocative, but also plausible and well worth further investigation."
  • Philip Gleason in sum: "valuable book"
  • David Sehat: "Schultz has written a very good book. By tracing the genealogy and consequences of this important concept, he offers a work filled with contradiction, irony, and unintended consequence. It exemplifies good intellectual history."
  • Jason Stevens in JAH: "He has written a compelling, often trenchant, book that enriches our understanding of the abiding promise of religious pluralism and the failures to agree on what it would resemble in practice." 
  • David Reimers: "In sum, Schultz has explored an important topic and in doing so has suggested areas for future research."
  • Rachel Gordon: "For scholars of twentieth-century American Jewish history, this book is a must-read." 
  • Hilary Kaele: "Tri-Faith America incorporates significant archival material, touches on important issues, and moves effortlessly from elite perspectives to popular culture. Kevin Schultz does it all without producing a text that feels ponderous or over-written. Scholars will certainly profit from this book, but I would not hesitate to recommend it more widely or to assign sections to an undergraduate class."
  • Jeanne Halgren Kilde: "Timely...This important book opens up a promising new framework for reevaluating the American religious and political landscapes of the twentieth century." Carol Poll: "The reader who relishes a nuanced view of the forces that have shaped American history and the American Jewish experience will find this book a delight. "
  • Ed Blum: Religion Dispatches:  "I was David Barton once."

CFP: Religious Affections

Society of Early Americanists Biannual Conference, Savannah, GA 2/28-3/2 2013

"A Roundtable concerning Religious Affections"

Theories of sympathy and affection have revolutionized studies of early America.  Sensibility was a key tactic in nation formation, and foundational texts and events like the U.S. Constitution, as Sarah Knott argues in Sensibility in the American Revolution (2008), evince a “sentimental project.”  Yet republican deftness with the tactic of sensibility may have been acquired (and countered) through experience with other affective projects, and the religious cultures of colonial America evince a long history of using religious affections to imagine communal constructions.  This interdisciplinary roundtable seeks to extend scholarly conversations about early American affect and affections through attentiveness to religious and spiritual practices.  The ideal roundtable would include a diverse group of scholars at various points in their careers and incorporate a range of methodologies and primary materials.  We especially seek panelists whose approaches are non-literary, though we welcome all submissions.

Organizer: Caroline Wigginton, American Studies, Rutgers University
Facilitator: Ivy Schweitzer, English, Dartmouth College

Please send 250-word abstracts to Caroline Wigginton at by Friday, September 7, 2012.

In Hell, We Shall Be Free: On "Breaking Bad" (and Anti-Heroes on Television)

Paul Harvey

A long time ago I blogged about "The Parables Will be Televised," exploring a little bit, and quiet simplistically, about how "religion" (whatever that means) comes through in the long-form television dramas that the Wall Street Journal recently featured in a funny but seriously interesting article on "binge" viewing. Having recently "binge" viewed four seasons of "Breaking Bad" (apparently the single most binge viewed series of any), I could relate.

My earlier post was just an introductory foray into the subject; now it's time to get serious. Thanks to Sara Mayeux, a historian I follow on Twitter, I came across this amazing essay, which I think might be the single best theological analysis of a television drama (and one of the best for movies and television) I've ever read: " 'In Hell, We Shall be Free': On Breaking Bad." It's from the Los Angeles Review of Books. More after the jump.

Religion, Religions, Religious: Pickup Basketball as Ritual and Communitas

Paul Harvey

Indulge me, please, it's a hot and stressful summer here in Colorado, my housing renovation is going . .. oh, never mind, not even going to go there right now, and I have just become Department Chair and realize that, as a result, my life is basically over. Been nice knowing ya'll.

But like some people will always have Paris, I'll always (knees willing) have basketball, here an especially pleasant experience in beautiful Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs, a great landmark bequeathed to us by our town founder General William Palmer. Although a highly successful capitalist, visionary, educator (he helped to found Colorado College, the oldest liberal arts college west of the Mississippi, and a place that gave me my first academic employment in 1991), and builder, he understood the value of free communal open space. That was when "conservatives" were environmentalists since they believed in "conserving" stuff, like they are supposed to believe. Those were the days, my friend.

Anyway, after a vigorous outing yesterday (Thursday), I avidly read a wonderful set of reflections, courtesy of the New York Times, on pick-up outdoor basketball, which I will here translate into the terms of religious studies -- full of rituals and ritual bonding, struggle, forgiveness, angst, tenderness, implied violence, overt commerce, inclusionary communitas and exclusionary boundary-drawing, crossing (the passing lanes) and dwelling (in the paint), more than a few hustlers and narcissists, trash talking against the enemy, and, at its best points, kairos moments of a community. (If you can't get the link for the New York Times piece, send me an email and I'll send it.)

It's full of embodied rituals which express a relationship both to materiality (no blood, no foul) and to immaterial power ("the zone," "he's on fire," and so on),
to paraphrase the talented  Ms. Lofton, the newly named Sarai Ribicoff Chair at Yale!  (click on the link for more; and my warmest congratulations to the esteemed Prof. Lofton).

More on the article and spontaneous community after the jump.

Roger Williams, the First American? Some Thoughts on John Barry’s Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul

by Linford D. Fisher

 On the campus of the University of Geneva in Switzerland is a monument consisting of a series of statues—a Calvinist shrine, really—paying homage to some important leaders of the sixteenth century Protestant reformations, particularly from the reformed tradition. “Post Tenebras Lux,” the wall behind the statues boasts; after darkness, light. Erected in 1909 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, the ten figures are a combination of the predictable (John Calvin) and the more obscure (Stephen Bocskay), but mostly related to the development of Calvinism or the Reformation as a whole. It is the third statue from the right that seems out of place at first: Roger Williams, in his distinctive (if not caricatured) pilgrim hat. Roger Williams? What could he have possibly contributed to this era of seismic upheaval and change?

John M. Barry has an answer. Religious liberty. Freedom of conscience. Separation of church and state. In essence, the very foundations—or the soul, to use Barry’s metaphor—of the western world as we know it. Not that this is a daring interpretation: Williams' statue is holding a book titled "Soul Liberty." But Barry has a ready audience for such answers. 

I've got a picture of Jesus

Christopher Jones

Each evening for the last couple of weeks, I've been slowly making my way through Ed Blum's and Paul Harvey's forthcoming The Color of Christ. I'll have a fuller review in an online journal forthcoming at a future date, but wanted to take a minute to add my voice to the well-deserved chorus of praise sung by Publisher's Weekly and Matt Sutton. The Color of Christ is a tour de force of the history of both religion and race in U.S. history, brilliantly conceived and beautifully written, at times humorous and at other times moving. More than anything else, though, reading the book has caused me to reflect on the ubiquitous presence of Jesus imagery all around me, from my childhood home and memories to the artistic portrayals of Christ hanging in the hallways of my local chapel to the lyrics of music---both sacred and secular---I listen to day in and day out.

It is perhaps not surprising then, that as I read about the expansive "transatlantic exchange of Jesus imagery" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries last night, I was reminded of this gem from Ben Harper's 2004 collaborative album with The Blind Boys of Alabama.

"Picture of Jesus" touches on so many of the themes Blum and Harvey highlight in their book. There is no explicit mention of race in the song's lyrics, but in it Harper and co. sing about well-worn pictures of Christ's crucifixion kept in one's wallet and of Jesus appearing as "a man in our time" whose "words shone like the sun" but who "tried to lift the masses / and was crucified by gun" (Martin Luther King, Jr?). And what of the musicians' race and religiosity? Harper is the son of an African American father and a Jewish mother, and he often speaks of his rather eclectic spirituality that incorporates not only traditional Christianity but also Rasta and nature religion. Is his "picture of Jesus," I wonder, the same as that of his collaborators, the (literally) Blind Boys of Alabama, a Christian gospel group whose career has spanned 73 years, survived Jim Crow, and witnessed the Civil Rights Movement and the dramatic shifts in America's racial and religious composition? 

Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era: The Catonsville Nine

Paul Harvey

Here's a new book  doubtless of interest to many here: Shawn Francis Peters, The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and REsistance in the Vietnam Era. For those not familiar with the story, here's a little rundown from the book's website at Oxford, as well as more information on the book:

On May 17th, 1968, a group of Catholic antiwar activists burst into a draft board in suburban Baltimore, stole hundreds of Selective Service records (which they called "death certificates"), and burned the documents in a fire fueled by homemade napalm. The bold actions of the ''Catonsville Nine'' quickly became international news and captured headlines throughout the summer and fall of 1968 when the activists, defended by radical attorney William Kunstler, were tried in federal court.

Hot Summer Reading

by Matt Sutton

Publisher's Weekly just ran the first review of Ed Blum and Paul Harvey’s Color of Christ. It reads,

"In this powerful and groundbreaking book, historians Blum (Reforging the White Republic) and Harvey (Freedom’s Coming) examine how images of Jesus reflect the intersection of race and religion in America. Blending historical analysis, lucid prose, and captivating primary sources, Blum and Harvey trace the remaking of Jesus from Puritan America to antebellum slave cabins, from Joseph Smith’s revelations to Obama’s presidency. The authors compellingly argue that Christ’s body matters, that it signifies power, reflects national fears and evolving conceptions of whiteness, and perpetuates racial hierarchies by continuously reifying the idea that whiteness is sacred. Blum and Harvey deconstruct the axioms that racial groups simply depict God in their own image, that the white Jesus of America is a mere replication of European art, and that Jesus has been depicted as white since America’s colonization. The authors devote significant time to exploring how marginalized groups, especially African-Americans and Native Americans, have reacted to and reimagined representations of Jesus. They masterfully probe how a sacred icon can be a tool at once of racial oppression and liberation. A must-read for those interested in American religious history, this book will forever change the way you look at images of Jesus. (Sept. 21)"

If I had not read the book I would assume that the review was written by one of the authors’ mothers. But I have read it—UNC, despite its reputation for scholarly excellence, asked me to serve as a peer-reviewer. And indeed, the book is as good as PW claims.

Second, I just finished Andrew Preston’s Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith. This book is incredibly good. It represents 600+ pages of smart analysis, incredible research, and engaging prose. It was so good that despite its weight, I dragged it down to the beach where it was drenched in kids’ 50-SPF sunscreen, sand from exploding castles, and splashes of salt water. But it was also read and enjoyed. I do have one concern though. Preston will almost certainly snag some OAH/AHA awards for this book in 2013, following in Dochuk’s 2012 footsteps. What is the significance of two Canadians cleaning up the US history awards? The next thing we know Steve Nash is going to be playing basketball for the Lakers. Crap. When will the Canadian invasion end?

Finally, our humble blog administrator, excellent teacher, lousy basketball player, and fantasy football basket case has managed to get an article to the top of the RD hit list without using the words “Romney” or “Reconstruction.” He published a great article available here on the relationship between conservative politics and Colorado wildfires in his backyard. Check it out.

The Study of American Religions: Critical Reflections on a Specialization

Paul Harvey

What better way to spend a sleepy summer day reading a shot across the bow aimed at one's own ship of scholarship? And from some of the most creative thinkers in said area of scholarship? 

I'll not try to continue the lame nautical war metaphor, but instead point you to a new issue of the journal Religion, which has a very extensive forum on "The Study of American Religions: Critical Reflections on a Specialization." Contributors include John Lardas Modern, Kathryn Lofton, Jason Bivins, Finbarr Curtis, Chip Callahan, Tracy Fessenden, and Rosemary Hicks. Yes, a lineup that makes the Miami Heat look like the Charlotte Bobcats.

The link takes you to the complete table of contents; depending on your library's access (or lack thereof), you may or may not be able to get the full text of the articles, but it's well worth the effort. Tracy's article is, I believe, publicly available here

One starting point/object for target practice for three of the pieces (maybe more, I haven't gone through all yet) is a historiographical piece by Kevin Schultz and myself, "Everywhere and Nowhere: American Religious History and Historiography," published in the 2010 Journal of the American Academy of Religion. That target on which these essays take aim may also be the genre of scholarly study (and deliberate boosterism, for which I do not apologize as it is part of our raison d'etre) encouraged by this blog.

More after the jump.

Finding the Many in the One


We’re pleased to announce that today’s post comes from our newest contributing editor, Chris Cantwell. Chris has long haunted the blog as an occasional contributor and self-promoter, so we’re happy to have him aboard in an official capacity. Chris is currently the Assistant Director of the Dr. William M. Scholl Center forAmerican History and Culture at the Newberry Library in Chicago. His research focuses on American evangelicals, and he’s currently revising a manuscript that uses the life of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century Bible class teacher who simultaneously self-identified as a fundamentalist and ran for political office as a Socialist as a window through which to reinterpret the movement’s origins. Here, he reflects on teaching American religious history based on his current work at the Newberry.

Backyard Buddhism at the Chua Truc Lam Temple
Every weekday morning I ride my bike down Chicago’s scenic Lake Shore Trail to the top of the Magnificent Mile where the Newberry resides. But before I can hit the trail, I have to navigate a busy urban thoroughfare among motorists who think bike paths are really tiny passing lanes. Though hairy, my ride down this street is short—just over two miles. But in this short span Chicago’s religious diversity, indeed, America’s religious diversity, is amazingly unveiled. In just over twenty blocks I pass by a classic Catholic parish, a fundamentalist Presbyterian church, two socially conservative Lutheran churches, two leftist evangelical communes, an affirming Episcopal church, a festive Vietnamese Buddhist temple, an American Indian Center, a Christian Science reading room, a Taoist society, a yoga center, a black Baptist church, and a Methodist congregation of African émigrés. It’s a bit of a comfort to know that if I were to meet my demise on Wilson Avenue, at least one doorway to the divine is only a step away.

And as goes the city, so goes the nation. Regardless of where one situates its “origins,” America has been a crucible of religious contact and collision from the beginning. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, myriad Native American communities, and a plethora of Protestant sects who looked upon everyone with varying degrees of suspicion and disdain called the continent home long before the Constitution’s ratification. I’ve noticed, however, that we often teach and write about this history less from the standpoint of America’s religious plurality and more from the standpoint of American religious hegemony. “Great Awakenings,” “Benevolent Empires,” or “Evangelical Centuries” are often the themes of our textbooks and curricular units. And rightly so. These tectonic religious movements have, without question, shaped the contours of American life. But they were never without their alternatives, and recent demographic data suggests we are approaching a moment that could reframe American history as the rise of religious diversity rather than the end of Protestant hegemony. If this is the case, how will we teach this new narrative?

Red State Religion

Paul Harvey

Robert Wuthnow's new book Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland already is getting a lot of attention, and what could be a more American topic for July 4th? Below is a quick review of the book from Choice, and then below the fold links to a long and informative interview with Wuthnow at Religion and Politics. First the review:

bookjacketWuthnow, Robert.  Red state religion: faith and politics in America's heartland.  Princeton, 2012.  484p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780691150550, $35.00; ISBN 9781400839759 e-book, $35.00. Reviewed in 2012jul CHOICE.

  For political pundits and historians alike, Kansas state politics has long been a mystery in that a largely working-class state is the most consistently Republican and conservative state in the nation. Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? (2004) blamed the unholy alliance between religious conservatives and politicians as the core issue. Sociologist Wuthnow (Univ. of Kansas) digs further into the archival history of the state and argues that while religion and politics influenced each other from the start, Kansas politics was never monolithic. Kansas Democrats often achieved electoral success, and conservative and Republican candidates were often divided over public policy. Although Methodists and Catholics dominated the state, they frequently splintered over abolition, Prohibition, the New Deal, abortion, and education policy. Wuthnow argues that what most defines Kansas politics is its belief that civic life is best governed by local churches, families, schools, and community associations, rather than federal government engineering. . . . Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries. -- M. S. Hill, Gordon College

After the break, an excerpt from an excellent conversation with Wuthnow from Religion and Politics:

The Mormon Lens on American History

Paul Harvey

The Mormon moment srikes again! Jennifer Schuessler, "The Mormon Lens on American History," just posted online in the New York Times and published in Tuesday's paper, provides a very nice survey of the rapid rise of interest in the history of Mormonism as well as some of the major scholars covering it. The article features the experiences of our contributor John Turner, in researching his soon-to-be-published big biography of Brigham Young; mentions J. Spencer Fluhman's outstanding history of nineteenth-century anti-Mormonism which UNC Press is publishing in September, as well as Patrick Mason's recent volume which we've covered here before; and quotes folks such as Matt Bowman and Kathleen Flake as well. I was also very glad to see the article throw some props to an older scholarly pioneer in the present renaissance of scholarship, D. Michael Quinn, who did the short essay on the LDS Church for my volume the Columbia Guide to Religion in American History

Finally, the article brings in the incorporation of Mormon history into broader volumes of American history scholarship, most notably recently Anne Hyde's Bancroft-Prize winning Empires, Nations, Families (and to that I would add Jared Farmer's really cool book On Zion's Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape). 

This is a good piece of journalism on the scholarly world that I hope will introduce a lot of people to the fruitful ferment in the field and lead them as well to some of these books.

The Theology of Jonathan Edwards: Big New Book from Oxford

Paul Harvey

For you theologians and Jonathan Edwards-heads out there, here's a huge new book from Oxford that you definitely should check out, reviewed in most recent Choice. Below the review is a description and more information from the book's website:

McClymond, Michael J.  The theology of Jonathan Edwards, by Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott.  Oxford, 2012.  757p index afp ISBN 0-19-979160-0, $65.00; ISBN 9780199791606, $65.00. Reviewed in 2012jul CHOICE. The 45 chapters of this stunning book by McClymond (St. Louis Univ.) and McDermott (Roanoke College) are uniformly informative and illuminating. The authors' methodology pursues Edwards's ideas in their local settings and also draws them into conversation with the larger corpus of theology. This is in line with Edwards's intention to write a "history of the work of redemption," a comprehensive argument in a new form that his death prevented. A consistent refrain is that Edwards took up traditions and ideas and modified them with imaginative flair, while always remaining consistent with his reading of scripture and fidelity to Christ. Edwards's intellect is without parallel in American literary history, but his own conviction is that saving faith is built on the sense of "the beauty and amiableness" of God's love. This Augustinian centering on love enables his theology to cross bridges, in the authors' terms, from West to East, Protestant to Catholic, liberal to conservative, and onward to world religions. Sourced in his books, sermons, and lifelong notebooks (or miscellanies), and supported with thorough research of secondary works, this volume is absolutely necessary for any future scholarly work on Edwards. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers. -- R. Ward, Georgetown College

Histories of Nuns and the Church Hierarchy


By Carol Faulkner

Amidst the public attention to the relationship between the Vatican and American nuns, I do not want this recent clash between the Catholic hierarchy and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious to go unnoticed on RiAH (see Kathleen Cummings on the last one here). Since this is not my area of research, I’ve decided to assemble some references on the history of this crisis, as well as the activism of American sisters. I hope RiAH readers and bloggers will add to this list.
Commentators who have addressed this crisis from a historical perspective include Gary Wills here, Mary Hunt here, historian Anne Butler here, and my wonderful colleague Margaret Susan Thompson here and here.
Even a brief look at the history of American sisters suggests that such conflicts over power and doctrine have been part of Catholicism in the U.S. for a long time. In 1810, for example, Mother Elizabeth Seton wrote to Archbishop John Carroll as she battled with the priest appointed to supervise her Sisters of Charity (the italics are Seton's):
“Sincerely I promised you and really I have endeavored to do everything in my power to bend myself to meet the last appointed Superior in every way but after continual reflection on the necessity of absolute conformity with him, and constant prayer to our Lord to help me, yet the heart is closed and when the pen should freely give him the necessary detail and information he requires it stops, and he remains now as uninformed in the essential points as if he had nothing to do with us, an unconquerable reluctance and diffidence takes place of those dispositions which ought to influence every action and with every desire to serve God and these excellent beings who surround me I remain motionless and inactive” (Quoted in Faulkner, Women in American History to 1880, 78-79).
Anne Boylan skillfully weaves the history of Seton and other Catholic women into her The Origins of Women’s Activism. As Boylan writes of Seton’s experience, “Their religious superior, as well as the presiding diocesan bishop, could demand obedience from the sisters, recruit applicants for the order, assign members to new posts, and request services for other Catholic institutions. At the same time, as the community’s founder and leader, Seton exercised inviolable authority in many areas of daily life.” Boylan argues that the “key difference” between the activism of Catholic and Protestant women was that “nuns living in religious orders performed the bulk of charitable labor within the church. They, not laywomen, gained the kind of experience acquired from creating a permanent institution, raising endowment funds, attaining corporate status, and behaving as legal entities.”
Other historians have written the important history of nuns’ involvement in social welfare, and its implications for their spiritual and temporal authority. These include Emily Clark’s Masterless Mistresses (reviewed by Tracey Fessenden here), Katheen Sprows Cummings’s New Women of the Old Faith, and Maureen Fitzgerald’s Habits of Compassion.
For the period during and after Vatican II, Mary Henold's book examines the intertwined history of American feminism and Catholicism. To incorporate this history into your courses, I highly recommend Henold’s document project, including an introductory essay and primary sources, on Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (requires library subscription), titled “How Did Catholic Women Participate in the Rebirth of American Feminism?” Henold’s document project includes “The Declaration of Independence for Women” from the National Coalition of American Nuns in 1972. Among other demands, the sisters included:
Full and equal status of women in churches, including ordination to the ministry and elected proportional representation in church voting bodies. Just as today we are appalled that organized religion once approved slavery, so within a few years will the present oppression of women in churches be recognized as immoral. Imagine how ludicrous that Roman Catholic bishops meeting in their Synod had the theme of justice when not one woman had a vote.


Broad-based research programs in human sexuality. We request organized religion to address contemporary issues related to human sexuality, such as homosexuality, "alternate forms of marriage," abortion, etc., and to do research before making judgments. Judgments which include empirical data will help dispel current myths and fables which tyrannize decisions and behavior of the human family today.

Clearly, as Mary Hunt writes, “Roman Catholic Church history is unfolding before our eyes."

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