Roger Williams Code is Cracked!

 IMAGE: This image provided by Brown University shows the preface page of the "Mystery Book" from the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, R.I.

Paul Harvey

This is pretty darn cool: a code used by Roger Williams in one of his late writings has been cracked by a mathematic major at Brown University. The story is here. Thanks to Professor Kathryn Gin Lum for bringing to my attention. TI'm sure this will get covered elsewhere and more extensively, so I'll post updates on this later. A little excerpt:

Historians call the now-readable writings the most significant addition to Williams scholarship in a generation or more. Williams is Rhode Island's founder and best known as the first figure to argue for the principle of the separation of church and state that would later be enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
His coded writings are in the form of notes in the margins of a book at the university's John Carter Brown Library. The nearly 250-page volume, "An Essay Towards the Reconciling of Differences Among Christians," was donated in the 1800s and included a handwritten note identifying Williams as the notes' author — though even that was uncertain at first.
A group including former library director Edward Widmer, Williams scholar and Rhode Island College history professor emeritus J. Stanley Lemons and others at Brown started trying to unravel the so-called "Mystery Book" a few years ago. But the most intense work began earlier this year after the university opened up the challenge to undergraduates, several of whom launched an independent project.
"No one had ever looked at it systematically like this in generations," said Widmer. "I think people probably looked at it and shrugged."

Pop Culture Junkies

If you are like us, late November and early December means two things: 1) pumpkin spice lattes; and 2) holiday movies. We're already through how "Santy Claus" defeated the Martians, Bing Crosby bored me to tears in White Christmas (that wonderful scholar of religion and literature Briallen Hopper has some reviews of similar films at "Not Coming to a Theater Near You), and Will Ferrell performed the best bits of wonderment I've ever seen in Elf. As pop culture junkies, I wanted to draw your attention to two other recent phenomena of particular interest to those of us who are religious history pop junkies:

1) South Park recently revealed that Jesus Christ used performance enhancing drugs in yet another spin on the image and meaning of Jesus for Americans
2) Aimee Semple McPherson has been resurrected once again. Thanks to Kathy Lee Gifford, she is now on Broadway. Check out this story at Patheos on it.

Needing Niebuhr Still?


By Mark Edwards

The immediate occasion for this post is a shameless plug. Among the many panels put together for the 2013 AHA and its affiliates on the subject of religion, I want to highlight The Christian Origins of the American Century, which will feature papers by Cara Burnidge, Caitlin Carenen, and myself, and commentary by Malcolm Magee and Andrew Preston.  It’s a bit early in the morning, but Darren Dochuk has offered to buy attendees coffee and a scone, so it’s all good.  In the meantime, and to cover my shameless plug in robes of serious historical inquiry, I thought I’d revisit a question that Randall Stephens took up a few years ago: After all these years, why is Reinhold Niebuhr still America’s premier public theologian and, more importantly, what does that say about us?

Raise a Glass Dr. Janine Giordano Drake

Since this is one of the most celebratory academic blogs out there, I thought it was apropos that we raise our digital glasses to Dr. Janine Giordano Drake who successfully defended her dissertation early this week. No doubt, "The Church Outside the Church": The Working Class Religious Left, 1886-1936, will make for a stellar book - so publishers let the bidding war begin at $5,000! (I think I get 5% so maybe make it $10,000).

Graduate Student Workshop in American Jewish History: Call for Applications

Apropos of the post just below on an important new book in the history of American Judaism, please see and forward along this announcement, for a new graduate student workshop in American Jewish History:
 Graduate Student Workshop in American Jewish History
May 20-22, 2013
Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan
Beth S. Wenger, University of Pennsylvania
Jewish Politics and American Society
Inline image 3The Frankel Center for Judaic Studies together with the American Jewish Historical Society and the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives announce a graduate student workshop in American Jewish history to be held at the University of Michigan.  Designed to bring together graduate students invested in both American history and Jewish history, the workshop will encourage productive conversations that push the boundaries of both fields based on the premise that these historical subfields are mutually constitutive.
 While sessions will focus on in-depth discussion of dissertation chapters, the workshop’s larger goal aims to give graduate students a forum in which to discuss their work within the growing field of American Jewish history and to explore issues of pedagogy and professionalization with the purpose of creating an intellectual community. The theme of the workshop looks at politics—broadly defined—to enable more sophisticated analysis and understanding of identity formation, negotiation of power, voting choices, social affiliation, religious change, and ultimately transformations in American and Jewish life.
 ELIGIBILITY: Graduate students who have achieved candidacy and will have a dissertation chapter ready to pre-circulate by early spring 2013. Housing and meals will be provided. Students must provide their own transportation.
 APPLICATION: All materials should be submitted online as pdfs to
  1. A 3- to 5-page dissertation prospectus that demonstrates how the dissertation fits in the historiography of both Jewish history and American history
  2. A CV
  3. A brief description of career goals (250 words)
  4. One recommendation letter from an advisor (sent separately)
 DEADLINE: January 4, 2013
Students will be notified of decision by February 4, 2013

From Fashion to Politics: Hadassah and Jewish American Women in the Post World War II Era

Paul Harvey

Wanted to highlight a review of this new work that will interest some of you here: Shirli Brautbar, From Fashion to Politics: Hadassah and jewish American Women in the Post World War II Era. Check out the blog/website for the new book here. Below the review is a bit more about the book from the website. 

Buddhism in America: New Paperback Edition


Paul Harvey

Many of you know the very useful series of books Columbia University Press puts out introducing readers to various religious traditions in America: Jane Smith on Islam in America, Randall Balmer and Lauren Winner on Protestantism in America, and this one, Richard Hughes Seager on Buddhism in America. That latter volume has just been released in a revised paperback edition, giving us a chance to blog about it again. Here's a short review of the revised edition:

Seager, Richard Hughes.  Buddhism in America.  Rev. and expanded ed.  Columbia, 2012.  362p bibl index afp; ISBN9780231159722, $79.50; ISBN 9780231159739 pbk, $27.50; ISBN 9780231504379 e-book, contact publisher for price. Reviewed in 2012dec CHOICE.
The first edition (1999) of this work by Seager (Hamilton College) long has served as a key source and comprehensive guide to the philosophy and practice of Buddhism, in its many forms, transplanted to the US. Now this revised and expanded edition, with its comprehensive approach, updates that history during the last half century, covering contemporary developments and the growing prominence of this religious movement, which encompasses multiple contemporary American Buddhist communities (Buddhisms?). This current edition serves as a much-needed general clarification of existing materials. It adds three new chapters that include revision of information on the divergent forms of Buddhism outlined in the earlier edition, up-to-date information on new leadership among European American Buddhists, and the role of current neurological research and ongoing methods of meditation, along with an account of the growing interest in mindfulness practice. Seager offers a broad yet even take on Buddhism's development and a glimpse into changes that the future could bring to Buddhism in the US. Summing Up:Recommended. Upper-level undergraduates and above; general readers. -- J. M. Boyle, emerita, Dowling College

Call for Papers: Politics of Religion

Fast approaching (Dec. 1) is the deadline for the 12th annual FSU Graduate Student Symposium. Below is the call for papers. I encourage all graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines to submit. It's a great conference (and I ain't just saying that because I organized 2011's).

Call for Papers: The Florida State University Department of Religion
12th Annual Graduate Student Symposium
February 22-24, 2013 • Tallahassee, Florida

The Florida State University Department of Religion is pleased to announce its 12th Annual Graduate Student Symposium to be held February 22-24, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.

This year’s symposium will be centered on the theme “Politics of Religion.”

Dr. Aaron W. Hughes of the University of Rochester will deliver this year’s keynote address. His lecture is tentatively titled “The Search for Urreligion: The Politics of Religious Studies.”

Due to our commitment to collaborative scholarship, students from all fields with interdisciplinary interests in the study of religion and at all levels of graduate study are encouraged to submit paper proposals.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to: Identity Formation; Comparative Conflict; Church and State; Human Rights and Ethics; the Construction of Legitimizing Discourses; Issues of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality; the Body; and the Role of the Scholar.

Presentations should be approximately 15 to 20 minutes in length and will receive faculty responses. In addition, every year respondents select the best graduate paper to receive the Leo F. Sandon Award, an endowed award named for the Religion Department's former chair.

Proposals including an abstract of approximately 300 words, a list of key terms, and a one-page CV should be submitted by December 1, 2012 for review. Final papers must be submitted by January 15, 2013. Please send proposals to Brent Gordon at <>.

More information on this upcoming symposium and previous years' programs can be found here. Thank you for your interest. We look forward to hearing from you or your students and seeing you at the 2013 Graduate Student Symposium at Florida State University.

"There's Only One God, Ma'am..."

Edward J. Blum

War was on the horizon. Powerful forces from the sky were about to obliterate the landscape. But before the chaos, Thor showed up. Blonde and buff, he grabbed his deranged brother from inside a plane and whisked him away. Iron Man went in hot pursuit, while Captain Rogers (aka Captain America) put on a parachute. The jet pilot recommended that Captain America sit this one out - these were basically "gods" he was going to engage. "There's only one God, Ma'am," the Captain responded, "and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that."
Monotheism was never more exciting; never sexier; never more American. And, of course, it had me thinking of Captain America's religious history origins - that moment in the early 1940s when white Protestants, Catholics, and Jews were rallying behind what Kevin Schultz calls "tri-faith America." Even when confronted with so much evidence to the contrary, Captain America still believes that one God exists, that perhaps that God made all people (are Azkardians people?), and that Americans needed to battle for the sake of that God.

will the real Captain America
please start typing (and cut his hair)
If you are still reading (which, to be blunt, it wouldn't shock me if you were not), then I've brought you to the real point of this post. Schultz's Tri-Faith America is now available in paperback. I've taught this book in three previous classes and will use it in my US history survey in the Spring. Here is why the book works so well in the classroom. First, it is written clearly and complex theoretical positions are explained so that thoughtful readers can grasp them. Second, part one discusses the history of a concept: Judeo-Christianity and how it is developed. Part two then has case studies of what happened when that concept was operationalized in a variety of lived and imagined forms (from suburbs and fraternities to census creations).

Feasting at the AAR

by Karen Johnson

Conferences are like church potluck Thanksgiving dinners.  More specifically, dinners like those at a multiracial/multicultural church when participants bring food from their respective backgrounds.  I feasted at the AAR this weekend.  I went to some panels that were standard fare for me, which were like the traditional turkey, gravy, and cranberry mold.  I went to others that were more like steamed bok choi or collard greens with bacon bits, dabbling in things I was less familiar with.  Before my body is overwhelmed from a tryptophan-induced nap,  I wanted to draw out some of the more tasty themes relevant to religion in American history.  

First, I was struck by how varied church leadership strategies across denominations, time and space lead to such different outcomes.  The last panel I went to dealt with the tension between the leadership and the laity in 20th-century mainline churches.  Aaron Sizer explored the conflict between Presbyterian denominational leadership and individual churches and organizations as the denominations tried to create a tightly-run organizational structure worthy of the glories of Protestant America. Elesha Coffman considered the battle between ministers and the laity in the Christian Century (which, by the way only had a maximum circulation of 35,000!) when the esteemed magazine tried to recruit intransigent lay members.  Curtis Evans detailed the resistance the FCC faced from local congregations as it tried to promote anti-lynching laws.  In each situation, organizational bodies tried to reign in the masses. 

RiAH, Matchmaker Edition

Paul Harvey

Ya'll didn't know before, but you'll know now -- aside from playing pickup basketball and binge viewing wholesome, family-oriented TV series (such as Breaking Bad and Deadwood) on Netflix, and occasionally working in desultory fashion, I also offer matchmaking services for American religious historians (the occasional free beer or blog post is my charge). To wit: some years ago Hilde Løvdal, a graduate student from Norway, wrote and told me she'd be traveling through Colorado Springs and researching Focus on the Family; we met up and had a pleasant conversation over coffee and kept in touch; she even wrote about her experiences for the blog (and another one later about the Oslo Soul Children and the Cowboy Twins, at which point i christened her "Senior Norwegian Correspondent" for the blog). Some time after that, I was rooming at the AAR with my longtime friend and co-blogmeister Randall Stephens, and at said AAR ran into Hilde. 

The light bulb turned on, cartoon character style, and I returned to the room to tell Randall, who was soon to be on his way to Norway for his Fulbright, that he really ought to meet this very funny, intelligent, engaging person from the University of Oslo. Said meeting took place. From there I heard nothing until many months later, when in an email conversation about work matters, Randall wrote in response to a query about whether he had seen Hilde, "she is AWESOME." I figured that was a good sign.

So: a big Thanksgiving week congratulations to Randall and Hilde, now engaged, and between them sure to possess more humorous anecdotes and inexplicably acquired bizarre tidbits of information about religious kitsch, life in Branson, Missouri, family values coalitions mass emails, Creationist museums, offbeat artistic design, alt-country-punk bands, midwestern Nazarene culture, and Norwegian evangelicalism than any couple on the planet. And I couldn't be more pleased for two of my favorite people on the planet! Congratulations, Randall and Hilde.

Fresh Air Interview on Color of Christ: But Really, What Did He Look Like?

Paul Harvey

Reporting in from the American Academy of Religion, which sprawled across Chicago and McCormick Place like my ski gear used to sprawl across the slopes during particularly spectacular spills and falls on the slopes. Glad I brought my walking shoes at least. So glad to see many blog friends and followers here. 

T.M. Luhrmann's book When God Talks Back examines how evangelicals perceive and relate to God.The blog will be on a little break while a lot us return from conference season, try to recover from late nights and non-stop talking, and celebrate Thanksgiving. In the meantime, why don't you go over to Fresh Air with Terry Gross and listen to the interview with Edward Blum about The Color of Christ. 

Or if that doesn't interest you, check out this interview with Tanya Luhrmann about her book When God Talks Back, aired earlier this year and re-aired on Friday. It's a really interesting and moving conversation. 

See you back here in a few days. 

This is.....fresh air!

In case you hadn't heard, a couple of folks associated with this blog have a new book out. It's called The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. It's getting good reviews too.

But if you don't know it yet, never fear, NPR's Terry Gross is here.  She's having blogmeister Paul Harvey and frequent contributor Ed Blum on her show this coming Monday. Check your local listings!

This is yet another sign that American religious historians are slowly taking over the world.

**Update: It turns out it's just Ed on the show, not Paul.  She must have looked at his fantasy football scores and skipped over him.

Reporting Religion Around the World

David W. Stowe
(Illustration by Michael Helfenbein)

Readers of this blog may be interested in a new group called the International Association of Religion Journalists. Founded earlier this year, IARP already has more than 400 members drawn from 90 countries. I learned of it through a symposium at Yale yesterday that brought in several leading religion journalists from across the globe.

Listening to the main event, a panel discussion titled "Faith Across Oceans: Leading International Journalists Talk About the Religion Beat," I realized that these journalists have many of the same goals as those of us who teach religious studies courses: to combat religious stereotypes and to promote respect and informed communication about religions familiar and unfamiliar.  The discussants came from Egypt, Australia, Argentina, India, and the United States, but it was striking how many of the challenges they faced as reporters were the same: how to foster better understanding of Islam, and to disentangle popular conceptions Muslims from views about Arabs, the Middle East, shariah law, and terrorism; the tensions posed by immigration—legal and illegal—and resulting changes in the religious landscape; reporting on child sexual abuse in the church; interpreting the rise of the “nones.”

The journalists spoke of the difficulties of translation: how to convey loaded terms like “jihad” or “fundamentalist” which are used in different ways by different movements and leaders.  Panelists acknowledged that journalism, broadly defined, has often fanned the flames of mistrust and religious antagonism. Executive director David Briggs urged that journalists stop focusing on perceived slights posed by other countries and their dominant religions and focus more on promoting understanding within their home societies. “We can be part of increasing religious understanding or part of increasing cycles and violence.”
The official goals and objectives of the IARJ are:
  • To encourage religion reporting and expand the global network of journalists who report on religion.
  • To foster cross-border reporting and the establishment of local and regional cooperation.
  • To enhance the skills involved in covering religion news stories through the development of religion data resources, industry training, ethical guidelines, meetings and dialogues and through partnerships with related organizations.
  • To support journalists who are persecuted in the line of covering religion.
  • To promote excellence, education and innovation through scholarships, fellowships, grants and prizes.

As we send our religious studies graduates out into the world of gainful employment it might be useful for some of them to be aware of this organization.

Dissertation Completion Fellowship in American Religion and Politics -- Please Share Widely

Dissertation-Completion Fellowship in American Religion and Politics

The John C. Danforth Center at Washington University in St. Louis is pleased to offer one or two fellowships to support completion of a dissertation on religion and politics in the United States.  Fellows will spend the 2013-2014 academic year in residence at Washington University in St. Louis.  Most of their time will be devoted to research and writing on their dissertations.  Fellows will also be asked to contribute to the Center’s intellectual life by organizing a small conference or other event of interest to the wider University and the general public.  They will be expected to share in the Center’s ongoing colloquium and some of its other programs. Fellows will receive a stipend of $28,000 and an allowance for relocation.  They will be given additional support for organizing public events.  Some funds may also be available for professional travel.  Fellows will be expected to continue their medical and other benefits through their home institutions.

Histories of the Sacred and Secular: New Book Series

Paul Harvey

I am excited to announce this new book series from Palgrave MacMillan. Anyone who has a possible interest or book manuscript in the works out there who thinks this would fit them, please feel free to contact me about this.


    Histories of the Sacred and the Secular, 1700 - 2000
   Edited by David Nash, Oxford Brookes University, UK

About the Series

 Histories  of  the  Sacred  and  the  Secular  1700  -  2000  reflects  the  awakened  and  expanding 
 profile of the history of religion within the academy in recent years. Intending to publish 
 exciting new and high quality work on the history of religion and belief since 1700, the series 
 actively encourages the production of interdisciplinary proposals and the use of innovative 
 methodologies.  We  welcome  book  proposals  on  the  history  of  Atheism,  Secularism, 
 Humanism and unbelief/secularity and encourage research agendas in this area alongside 
 those in religious belief, as well as proposals covering subjects in Britain, Europe, the United 
 States and Oceana. Histories of the Sacred and the Secular 1700 - 2000 aims to reflect both 
 the work of new scholars entering the field, alongside the work of established scholars.

 Editorial Board

 Professor Callum Brown, Dundee University, UK
 Professor William Gibson, Oxford Brookes University, UK
 Dr Carole Cusack, Sydney University, Australia
 Professor Beverley Clack, Oxford Brookes University, UK 
 Dr Bert Gasenbeek, Humanist University, Utrecht, Netherlands
 Professor Paul Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, USA

                  for  more  details  of  the  series  or  guidelines  on 
                  submitting a proposal contact the general Editor:

                                     Professor David Nash


Baptists and the Spirit: Conference and CFP

Call for Papers
Baptists and the Spirit: Living Into God’s Future
June 20th, 2013
Overland Park, Kansas
                American Baptist Churches, USA will celebrate their 2013 Biennial meeting in Overland Park, Kansas. In an effort to foster ongoing, vigorous theological conversations among American Baptist theologians, pastor-theologians, and theological educators throughout the denomination, the Office of the General Secretary of ABCUSA and the Emerging Theologians Task Force will host the second pre-biennial conference around the theme Baptists and the Spirit: Living into God’s Future.  The gathering will be held at Central Baptist Seminary, an ABC-related seminary, on Thursday, June 20th, 2013.  We welcome paper proposals that address the conference’s central theme. We invite presenters to also reflect upon the denomination-wide initiative Transformed by the Spirit (  Papers may explore (American) Baptist notions of pneumatology and eschatology as they relate to questions of economic justice, worship, leadership, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, missional/global engagements, Baptist history and identity-shaping, beloved community, and post-colonialism in American Baptist contexts.  Papers should be limited to 20 minutes and can be co-authored.  Additionally, the Office of the General Secretary announces its second competition for an ABCUSA Theology Fellow.  Eligible candidates include students in PhD programs in religion and/or theological studies (including biblical studies, church history, Christian ethics, and practical theology) who are interested in making contributions to the life of the American Baptist Churches, USA. Recipients of the fellowship will be awarded a bursary that will cover expenses for attendance to the pre-Biennial event in Overland Park, Kansas. 
Submit paper proposals before January 31, 2013 to the attention of:
 Dr. Donald Brash -
For information on the ABCUSA Theology Fellow application, please contact:
Dr. Jennifer Davidson –

Mainline Moment: On a Mission from God and Secularism

Paul Harvey
Jake and Ellwood BluesI'm sure you're all wondering when the "Mainline Moment" will return. I'll tell you when: next Saturday 4-6 p.m., and Monday, 9 - 11 a.m., and then 4-6 p.m., at the panels below at the American Academy of Religion meeting: with sessions on John Modern's Secularism in Antebellum America, an author meets critics session on our good friend and occasional contributor Tracy Fessenden's landmark book Culture and Redemption, and then a panel I'm chairing on the twentieth-century mainline. Details after the jump break below. See a bunch of you blog readers very soon, I hope, in Chicago; make sure and bring your walking shoes, to get around McCormick Place.

Please feel free to use the comments section here to plug your panel; and check out this post for information on sessions specifically related to Religion in the American West.

Also, our contributor Mike Altman has blogged about his upcoming panel, "Exceeding Boundaries: Approaches to Transnationalism in American Religions," here. And plenty of people will be live-tweeting and blogging panels; personally, I don't "conference-and-drive" like that, but some of these youngsters with their newfangled contraptions can, so have at it.

New Issue of Fides et Historia

Randall Stephens

It's that time of year again.  The new issue of Fides et Historia (Summer/Fall 2012) will soon be in mailboxes and on library shelves around the country.  (You can access new and back issues on ATLA as well.)

In this latest issue you'll find dozens of book reviews in theology, religious studies, religion and politics, sociology or religion, and church history along with some very interesting forums and stand-alone essays.

Here's the table contents:

Volume 44, No. 2 Summer/Fall 2012

From the Editor Donald A. Yerxa


Common Ground: The Perspective of Timothy L. Smith on American Religion History
Floyd T. Cunningham

The Anti-Secular Tradition in British Historiography: From Herbert Butterfield to Maurice Cowling
S.J.D. Green

Roundtable: Beyond the Protestant Nation

Christopher D. Cantwell

American Metaphysical Religion
Catherine L. Albanese

American Jewish History Against the Grain
Lila Corwin Berman

A History Beyond “Belief”
Wallace Best

The Mormon Story
Richard Lyman Bushman

I’m Starting to Think this is Not About Catholics
Robert Orsi

New Issue of the Journal of Southern Religion


Mike Pasquier

Luke Harlow and I are very happy to announce the publication of the latest edition of the Journal of Southern Religion. Volume 14 features the following items:

We hope you are impressed with what we’ve been able to accomplish with no money, but with plenty of enthusiasm from a few committed scholars.

We would like to thank our editorial team. First, Arthur Remillard worked tirelessly to solicit and edit 32 book reviews, a new record for the JSR! Art has also taken the lead in producing our podcast series. Our readership is up considerably because of Art’s innovation. Second, Lincoln Mullen has singlehandedly taken the JSR into the 21st century by completely overhauling our website. Lincoln represents everything that’s bright about the future of American religious history. And lastly, Emily Suzanne Clark has remained the backbone of the JSR as our copyeditor. I think we all know how tiresome it is to slog through pages and pages of proofs, and somehow Emily does it with great skill and cheer.

Please spread the word to your colleagues and students; we’re always looking for people to contribute articles and ideas for future issues of the JSR. And please join us in thanking Art, Lincoln, and Emily for all their hard work.

That other conference: ASA

I know most of you will be heading to Chicago for the AAR, but just south of you ... in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the American Studies Association will be meeting. Everything from questions about Joseph Smith's whiteness (and straightness) to Zombie Apocalypse, from Jesus to Islamophobia. Here's a list of the panels related to religion (as I could locate them).

The Election and Why Millennials are Leaving the Church Margins

by Kerry Pimblott
[Cross-posted from Kerry Pimblott's blog Marginalife]

One of the most interesting findings about our electorate this election cycle is the growing number of people identifying as religiously unaffiliated or "Nones".

In October, the Pew Research Center identified that "Nones" were on the rise with one-in-five adults polled indicating that they had no religious affiliation. The trend toward religious disaffiliation was particularly pronounced in my age bracket - "the Millennials" - with one third identifying as such.

Let's Make this CASA, our CASA

Edward J. Blum

The good people at the California American Studies Association were foolish enough to put me in charge of this year's annual conference (#miCASA13). You know me and my insane rage for US religious history so I'm hoping that this year's CASA meeting can become RiAH west coast edition. (with all of the amazing work being done on California and religion ... isn't it high time we flexed our muscle here on the best coast too). So ... fire up those word programs, type, type, type, submit the proposal or panel, and come join me for street tacos. I promise not to complain about the word "evangelical," not to mention the color of Christ, and to have 5 copies of Matt Sutton's Jerry Falwell to give out to needy graduate students. Let's pretend we are Finneyite home missionaries in the burned over district: enter the CASA and refuse to take "no" for an answer.

California American Studies Association
2013 Annual Meeting
San Diego State University
April 26-27, 2013

The Program Committee for the California American Studies Association invites proposals for presentations to the 2013 Annual Meeting, to be held Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27, hosted by San Diego State University. 

Proposals for individual papers, conference panels (usually 3 papers, a commentator and a chair), roundtables (4-5 participants maximum), field trips, and other special sessions (such as films or performances) are welcome.

Embattled Majority: Part II of Jason Bivins On His Work Embattled Majority

Today is Part II of our two-part series featuring Jason Bivins' reflections about and on his ongoing work Embattled Majority. Read Part I here.
by Jason Bivins

On one level, Embattled Majority is a genealogy of the tropes of persecution and victimization among religious conservatives since the 1960s, as well as among their vocal detractors. The book tells the story of this discursive formation – locating its origins in judicial decisions, school desegregation, and grassroots campaigning – but also focuses on how new media, religio-political celebrity, and the emotional registers of affront and offense give it shape and prolonged life. As meditations and exemplars, the book looks to a series of performed outrages that give life to the religion of embattlement: David Barton’s pseudo-history, Glenn Beck’s tears, legislation outlawing Sharia in Tennessee and Oklahoma, the political celebrity of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry’s prayer gatherings, and birtherism. The topic is not an unfamiliar one, and some authors have treated it admirably. Randall Balmer and Jeffrey Sharlet – whose works are diametrically opposed in many different ways – have each limned the institutional or movement contours of this sense of embattlement. Elizabeth Castelli has sharply located some of the discursive features of this notion in her important piece on the Justice Sunday conferences. Historian Grace Elizabeth Hale has written a provocative chapter on the 1970s conservative Christian appropriation of erstwhile leftist outsider tropes. And social and political theorists such as Wendy Brown, William Connolly, and even madcap Slavoj Zizek have written provocatively about discourses of victimization in contemporary culture. Yet I focus not just on the frank existence of such claims, on targets and practitioners, but on the technologies of their deployment; on the role of speed, intensity, and virality therein; on their emotional contours; and of course on what their ubiquity reveals about our religio-political moment, and what may come.
A central focus is on two discursive constructions of “religion,” which share revealing groups of similarities. One is spoken by a group we might call “Whistle-blowers,” whose media expressions – including NPR commentaries, websites like Salon, Christo-phobic texts by Christophers Hedges and Hitchens, and blogs like The Rude Pundit – have sought to “blow the whistle” on evangelicals said to be seeking theocratic rule and attacking the First Amendment. The tone of these allegations – enraged, panicked, dismissive – has had a large role in constructing one model of political “religion” in recent years. The other discourse issues from a group we might call “Martyrs,” shaped largely by institutionally powerful, heavily-funded speakers – from media personalities like Glenn Beck to pop authors like Tim LaHaye to Presidential hopefuls like Ricks Perry and Santorum – with significant connections to Christian Right organizations. They claim to be victims of “religious bigotry,” an unjust marginalization of Christians from public life at the behest of secular liberals who oppose America’s Christian legacy.

Embattled Majority: Religion and Its Despisers in America (Or: The Long-Lurching Wreck of American Public Life)

I'm psyched to guest post this two-part series from Jason Bivins, well-known to many of you out there for his books and articles, including Fracture of a Good Order (2003) and Religion of Fear (2008), which I reviewed several years ago on the blog here.

The Fracture of Good Order: Christian Antiliberalism and the Challenge to American PoliticsJason is currently at work on  a couple of projects. One of them, Spirits Rejoice, is about jazz and religion, and we'll have much more about that exciting book down the road. The other project is the one we're featuring for the next couple of days, from a book project entitled Embattled Majority. The work takes (as is characteristic of Bivins's work) an original and compelling look at what one would otherwise assume to be a well- trod topic, religion and the culture wars in contemporary America. I'll let him explain further below.

Part I is today and discusses both current projects and the genesis of the current Embattled Majority book and provides a first-person intellectual autobiography. Part II is tomorrow, and features an extended analysis of our current "embattlements," in which, as he says, we are all engaged. It's our way of celebrating the end of the election season, with all its attendant hyperbole and bluster, with some scholarly analysis that forces us out of our customary ways of thinking into something deeper and more interesting.

Embattled Majority: Religion and Its Despisers in America. (Part I)
Jason C. Bivins

             I’ve been meaning to write some posts for this blog for about three or four years. Having recently spent a fantabulous couple of days with Paul Harvey, and with his kind encouragement, I thought I might write a bit about the state of two lengthy research projects I’m working on. The first one is about jazz, and will be the subject of a subsequent entry. The one I’m writing about here comes from my ongoing enquiry into American political religions. Since a lot of the posts here are first-person and anecdotal, I thought I might write not just about the project’s particulars but about its inception. Here goes. 

            Over the last few years I’ve thought a lot not just about political religions but about my own motivations in writing about them. What does it mean to write about such matters amidst such an absolute, overwhelming abundance of discourse, much of it assuming some form of outrage, David Hume’s “common blaze.” Was there anything more to say about religion and politics in this context? Would academic complexity and nuance, assuming I could conjure them, be noticed at all, matter at all? Would my attempt to write partly in the idiom of social criticism be a risky one in a field often committed to the documentarian position (or what I sometimes think of as the Sunday newspaper magazine mode)? What in fact was I seeking and locating: the emotional experience of religions in political life, a distinct kind of religious expression (that we might clearly distinguish from other kinds), a mode of discourse? 

            My interest has generally been in the latter, with the clear sense that it gives insight into the former. I’m compelled by the notion that the political is, despite being so obvious in American religions, elusive and resistant to conventional descriptive efforts. What I’ve tried to do in my major writings so far, and continue to do in my current work, is to stage theoretical interventions into what is often a dusty discourse, stuffed with enumerations of practitioners and pamphlets and often bereft of suggestions about how to rethink these fundamental tropes and experiences in American life. In these, I’ve tried to excavate and analyze American cultures of religio-political discontent and to propose for my readers new interpretive languages, my own terms for the study of political religions.

Tulsi Gabbard, the First Hindu in the U.S. Congress?


By Michael J. Altman

The Religion News Service has posted an excellent profile of Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat running for Congress in Hawaii's 2nd district. Gabbard is leading in the polls by a whopping 52 points and should win in a landslide. Of course, her opponent, Kawika Crowley, lives and campaigns out of bumper-stickered white van. If Gabbard wins, she will be the first Hindu in the United States Congress.

In the RNS article, reporter Omar Sacirbey notes some of the push back non-Christian religions have experienced in Congress:
Not everyone would welcome a Hindu into Congress. When self-proclaimed "Hindu statesman" Rajan Zed was asked to open the Senate with a prayer in 2007, the American Family Association called the prayer “gross idolatry” and urged members to protest; three protesters from the fundamentalist group Operation Save America interrupted the prayer with shouts from the gallery.

Then-Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, said the prayer and Congress' first Muslim member “are not what was envisioned by the Founding Fathers.” Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum told supporters this summer that equality was a uniquely Judeo-Christian concept that “doesn’t come from the East and Eastern religions.” Crowley, in an interview with, said Gabbard’s faith was incompatible with the Constitution.

Roundtable Review of God and War

Art Remillard

If you haven't yet seen it, our friends at the U.S. Intellectual History blog featured a roundtable review of  Raymond Haberski's God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945.  David Sehat starts the conversation, asking, "Civil Religion: Who Needs It?" He concludes:
Haberski ends the book with a declaration of civil religion’s indispensability.  It is, he tells us, “the only way to acknowledge that we still need to believe in something worthy of the sacrifices that have been and will continue to be made in the name of the nation” (p. 254).  I see in this statement what I so often see when people start talking about civil religion: Christian theistic assumptions being smuggled into a debate about how people in a pluralistic nation can live and die together. 
So, Ray, why again do we Americans need civil religion?
Next up is Andrew Hartman, who confesses that before reading the book, he was "skeptical that civil religion was an important concept in seeking to understand the intellectual history of American nationalism in the second half of the twentieth century."  But...
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