What does Trayvon Martin have to do with American Religious History?

Matthew J. Cressler

Ever since Trayvon Martin’s murder, and especially after George Zimmerman’s acquittal, I have been haunted by the feeling that something fundamentally shifted, even if everything seemed to remain the same.  The world feels different now, despite the fact that Martin was just one young man among countless black boys, girls, men and women incarcerated or dead in these United States. This struck me as a signal event, one that made me think of that infamous moment when Emmett Till’s battered face graced the covers of newspapers in 1955.  What does Trayvon Martin have to do with American religious history?  Another way of asking this is, what does his death mean for my research and my responsibility as an American religious historian?  

 Shepard Fairey's Trayvon Martin cover for Ebony
Over at Religion and Politics, Marie Griffith writes powerfully about the consolations of faith in the wake of Martin’s murder, but she insists they must not serve as substitutes for concrete action.  She joined Trayvon’s parents and countless religious and nonreligious allies in yearning for an end to racial profiling, gun violence, and self-defense laws.  But it won’t come about magically, or easily,” Griffith concludes.  “It will take determined action, both personal and political, to bring that day to pass.”  Well, what could be more personal and political than our research, than teaching American religious history?

Trayvon Martin’s death calls each of us to act in different ways, in various venues.  This is not something that can be cordoned off – as political, as racial, but not pertinent to American religious history writ large.  It should impact all of us, especially as scholars and teachers.  This means we must remain attentive to the inseparability of religion, race, and violence against African Americans – not to mention against countless other marginalized peoples.  

Theosophy and the Liberal Catholic Church

John L. Crow

Last weekend was both the annual summer convention for the Theosophical Society in America headquartered in Wheaton, IL and also the end of my weeks of dissertation research in the TS archives in Wheaton. As part of the celebration, Vice President of the American Section of the Theosophical Society, Ed Abdill, conducted Mass at St. Francis of the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC). This was the first time I attended an LCC Mass and I found it to be similar to the Masses of the Roman Catholic Church. This is not surprising as the LCC has apostolic succession through the Old Catholic Church and bases its liturgy on the RCC’s liturgy.

Originating in England around 1916, the LCC emerged from a dispute in the Old Catholic Church (OCC) in England, a branch of the OCC in the Netherlands. Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew ordained a number of Theosophists to the priesthood, knowing them to be Theosophists. However, he later declared that they had to abandon Theosophy if they were to stay in the Church. They rejected the demand and were dismissed from the OCC. They, however, lacked a presiding Bishop to oversee their church activity. Bishop Frederick Samuel Willoughby corrected this lacunae by consecrating James Ingall Wedgwood a Bishop in 1916 and in the same year, Wedgewood consecrated Charles Webster Leadbeater. From that point forward, Theosophists have been very active in the LCC. Yet, they are quick to point out that the LCC and the TS are independent organizations. This assertion, however, does not change the fact that the LCC spread in many ways through the network of the Theosophical Society.

Know Your Archives: Archdiocese of New York Edition

This afternoon's post comes from our newest contributor, Monica L. Mercado, who is currently finishing her Ph.D. in the Department of History at the University of Chicago. You can find more details about her research and teaching interests in women's and gender history at monicalmercado.com.

Monica L. Mercado

Regular readers of this blog might remember that I'm spending much of the summer in New York State, hunting down the women (and men) of the Catholic Summer School of America while finishing the draft of my dissertation project, "Women and the Word: Gender, Print, and Catholic Identity in Nineteenth-Century America." But my plans to take a road trip north to the Catholic Summer School's former site on Lake Champlain came to a screeching halt last month when I decided to change direction and head downstate to investigate the Archives of the Archdiocese of New York, housed at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers (aka Dunwoodie). The Archdiocesan Archives re-opened its doors to scholars earlier this year and to put it mildly, it's kind of a big deal.

New Books in Religion: Kristian Petersen's Interviews Online

Kristian Petersen

We’ve jumped on the Color of Christ bandwagon at New Books in Religion. Our hour-long conversation (as promised long ago) with both Edward Blum and Paul Harvey is posted for your listening pleasure (listen here). In addition to discussing much of the book’s content Blum and Harvey give us a peak into their creative relationship, being a public academic, and how to write a great book.

Here is a blurb from the post:

In our chat, Blum and Harvey discuss the ups and downs of American religious history, offering various vignettes of Jesus’ role in determining opinions about race. They also help us think about being an author, including issues of public scholarship, hustling as an academic, creating a book website, successful peer review, editorial control, and co-writing a book.

If you are looking for something to do this summer you can revisit some previous NBIR interviews with Kathryn Lofton on Oprah, Kelly Baker on the Ku Klux Klan, Hugh Urban on Scientology, Jim Wellman on Rob Bell, Brent Plate on Religion and Film, and Monica Miller on Religion and Hip Hop. Several books of interest are on the way too. We will be speaking with John Modern about Secularism in Antebellum America, and Sarah Ruble about The Gospel of Freedom and Power in the next few months.

To keep up to date and suggest creative and significant new books “like” us on our New Books in Religion
Facebook page and follow us on Twitter.

Scholar Faces Media-Entertainment Complex. Scholar Wins?

Paul Harvey

Hey, with all this scholarship about religious history, we've really made great progress in advancing public understanding of the aims and purposes of our endeavors, haven't we?

Nope. Here's the Fox interview with Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan on twitter) that's going viral, about his new book Zealot. Host Lauren Green begins with hostility (paraphrasing slightly here), "you're a Muslim, so why would you write a book about the founder of Christianity?" In the next ten minutes, she repeats the question (over and over), ignores the book's contents, reads from a bunch of dumb Internet rants about the book, and generally plays to the audience in this sector of the media-news-entertainment complex.

Kevin Levin uses the interview to make some interesting parallel points about the public role of Civil War scholarship here.

But wait: the fact that it's gone viral due to people mocking the know-nothing, self-parodying stance of the interviewer means that, maybe, the scholar won this time. Or so I hope. Update: it's getting better. Those on Twitter check the entries at the hashtag #foxnewslitcrit, where the premises of the interviewer are applied elsewhere: "Mr. Shakespeare, you are an Englishman; why are you writing about Italian teenagers?" 

The Book of Mormon: Americanist Approaches. CFP

Call for Papers
The Book of Mormon: Americanist Approaches

Editors: Jared Hickman, The Johns Hopkins University
Elizabeth Fenton: The University of Vermont
 Over twenty years ago, Nathan Hatch highlighted a gap in the study of American religion, noting that, “for all the attention given to the study of Mormonism, surprisingly little has been devoted to The Book of Mormonitself.”  Though scholars of US religion and culture have produced a wide range of work on Mormonism, its history, and its peoples in the past two decades, Hatch’s assertion remains largely true. In the field of US literary studies particularly, The Book of Mormon stands as a telling absence, perhaps because questions about what it is and where it came from have overshadowed discussions of how it works and what it does.  This essay collection begins with the premise that, whatever else it may be, The Book of Mormon is a significant, world-altering literary text that should be studied as such.

For this proposed collection, we are seeking essays that engage with The Book of Mormon as a work of literature and situate it within the context of Americanist literary studies. Although the book’s theology is in many respects inseparable from questions of its historicity, we seek essays that resist the urge to simply historicize the book’s importance away or address its claims to sacred status. We are, in other words, less interested in how the book came into being than in how it operates both in itself and in conjunction with other US cultural productions.

We are interested in essays addressing a range of topics from a variety of critical vantage points.  Essays appropriate for this collection might consider The Book of Mormon’s construction of American indigeneity, its presentations of gender and sexuality, or its complex formulations of race relations. Work on the text’s structure, narrative forms, and intertextual moments is also welcome.  Though we are not seeking pieces centered on questions of The Book of Mormon’s particular composition history, we are interested in essays that analyze its engagements with questions of history and historicity, its imaginings of both ancient Israel and early America, and its place within antebellum religious cultures.

Please submit essay proposals of not more than 500 words to efenton@uvm.edu or jhickman@jhu.edu by30 September 2013.  Oxford University Press has expressed interest in this collection, and so we will be submitting the proposal to that press by the end of 2013.  Complete drafts of accepted essays will be due by 30 June 2014.  Finished essays should be 7,000-9,000 words in length.

To Embargo or Not to Embargo: ...What Was The Question? (An #AHAgate Link Round-Up)

Cara Burnidge

As many readers already know, this has been a week full of excitement for members of the American Historical Association, especially its #twitterstorians. It has already been dubbed #AHAgate. On Monday, the AHA posted its "Statement on Policies Regarding the Embargoing of Completed History PhD Dissertations." Adopted at the June 2013 AHA Council meeting, the Statement begins with the clear recommendation:
"The American Historical Association strongly encourages graduate programs and university libraries to adopt a policy that allows the embargoing of completed history PhD dissertations in digital form for as many as six years."
With more universities making digital copies of dissertations available and easy accessible beyond the university, the AHA contends, publishers will be increasingly reluctant to turn revised dissertations into books. The statement goes on to explain that "History has been and remains a book-based discipline, and the requirement that dissertations be published online poses a tangible threat to the interests and careers of junior scholars in particular." The AHA sums up its policy decision by stating:
"the AHA seeks to balance two central though at times competing ideals in our profession--on the one hand, the full and timely dissemination of new historical knowledge; and, on the other, the unfettered ability of young historians to revise their dissertations and obtain a publishing contract from a press. We believe that the policy recommended here honors both of these ideals by withholding the dissertation from online public access, but only for a clearly stated, limited amount of time..."

American Civil Religion: Never Leave the Country Without It (a photo essay on God, liberty, and democracy in the American passport)

Brantley Gasaway

As I recently discovered when I renewed my passport, the State Department completely redesigned the American passport in 2007. Our post-9/11 world necessitated this update, as the new passport contains security features that include a computer chip with the owner's digital image and biographical information. Yet the State Department not only incorporated new technology. It also replaced the bland interior pages that had faint state seals in the background with striking images and quotations in support of the passport's theme: "American Icon."

And, indeed, what immediately struck me is how the passport can serve as an icon of American civil religion. As Raymond Haberski has demonstrated in his recent God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945 (discussed on our blog here), civil religion operates as a broad, malleable set of myths concerning the relationship between the American experience, God, and metaphysical national ideals such as liberty, equality, and justice. Civil religion inspires, justifies, and even sanctifies sacrifices made on behalf of these ideals.

Unlike the previous spartan version, therefore, the new passport has more than a utilitarian purpose. It stands as a type of public text and symbol. It offers a civics lesson about the nature of our country and its citizens. Together, the writing and the pictures tell a patriotic story, a myth, centered around the God-given blessings of liberty and democracy embodied in the United States. For those of you who have not seen the new passport (or have not examined it recently), I reproduce much of it below:

The inside cover cites our national anthem to herald our country as "the land of the free and the home of the brave." The initial page contains the first of two quotations from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to evoke the need to sacrificially defend democracy.

Much More than Salem: America Bewitched

Emily Suzanne Clark

In the early hours of the morning on January 5, 1895, Mrs. Baptiste, “a colored woman,” found “a small black coffin” in front of her residence in New Orleans at Royal Street and Caffin. Once Baptiste realized what was on her stoop, a large crowd of residents congregated at her house and “considerable excitement prevailed.” Sergeant Hevron of the Fifth Precinct arrived and “took charge of the box.” With a hatchet he pried off the coffin’s lid and inside revealed “several candles, a wire mask, and a shirt made out of a oat sack” arranged in such a way as “to represent a body.” For her part, Baptiste was “badly frightened” of the coffin since she “terms herself a voudou.” Her own house had been raided by the police before and “a lot of snakes in bottles, bones, and bundles of letters from her victims” had been uncovered. While it was unknown who placed the coffin at her door, it was clear that they meant her harm. (Story and quotes from “A Voudou Victim. A Coffin on the Doorstep Creates a Sensation,” 6 January 1895, The Daily Picayune; image from George Washington Cable, "Creole Slaves Songs," The Century Magazine, April 1886).

Stories like this, of people seeking supernatural powers to work their will, proliferate throughout American history. As Owen Davies’s recent book America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft After Salem (OUP, 2013) demonstrates, America’s relationship with witchcraft did not conclude with Salem in 1692. America Bewitched is an enjoyable read, and one that served as a nice break from working on my dissertation. The book is geared towards a popular audience and so it reads at a pleasant pace with little theory. The chapters are full of story after story of witches and witchcraft in American history from the seventeenth century through the twentieth. The bulk of the prose is narrative surrounding these stories, which range from entertaining or funny, but are more often tragic and gruesome.

Sex and Race in New Orleans

Michael Pasquier

We are in the midst of a renaissance in the history of New Orleans, and most of it has to do with sex and race. Three books, in particular, build on the work of Alecia Long’s The Great Southern Babylon: Sex, Race, and Respectability in New Orleans (2005). They put forward the argument that, while New Orleans surely merits a unique status in American history, it also reflects larger trends in American attitudes toward morality and reform throughout the nation.

Judith Schafer, Adjunct Professor of History at Tulane University, begins her book Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women: Illegal Sex in Antebellum New Orleans (2009) with a dialogue between a Catholic priest and a governor of colonial Louisiana. The priest suggested to the governor that he “send away all the disreputable women to raise the moral tone of the colony.” The governor responded, “If I send away all the loose females, there will be no women left here at all.” What follows is a history of prostitution in a city variously described by people then and now as “a perfect Sodom,” “the great southern Babylon,” and “the promised land of harlotry.” A legal historian, Schafer shows us how antebellum lawmakers from New York to New Orleans were in the business of legislating morality, especially when it came to the bodies of women.

Virtue Rewarded, and the Righteous Exalted: Or, Our Blog Contributors and Friends in the New York Times

Paul Harvey

We interrupt this programming to bring you this late-breaking news.

Books from friends of and contributors to this blog are discussed in Wednesday's New York Times: Jennifer Schuessler, "A Religious Legacy, with Its Leftward Tilt, Is Reconsidered." Featured in it are blog contributor Elesha Coffman and her new book on The Christian Century, friend-of-the-blog Matt Hedstrom, whose great book The Rise of Liberal Religion gets extensively discussed, and various other books we have covered here including Jill Gill's Embattled Ecumenicism, David Burns' The Life and Death of the Radical Historical Jesus, and others. Congrats to all, thanks to the author for a very nice overview of a field of scholarship we're obviously all interested in here, and to Elesha whose blog comment from about 1 1/2 years ago is (anonymously) quoted: "It’s heartening that dead, white, powerful Protestants are getting another look."

Next up, I hope: a similar sort of article about the recovery of religion, labor, and working-class history, being led by our blog contributors Chris Cantwell, Janine Giordano Drake, and Heath Carter. Pretty please, New York Times

Secularists All!, or, Writing Religion and Diplomacy after Preston


Mark Edwards
Andrew Preston’s Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith (Anchor, 2012)  is a monumental achievement in the field of religion and politics—testified to by its winning of Canada’s Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction.  A significant accomplishment for a country with (WARNING: 30 Rock reference, not author's opinion) only 700 words in their dictionary.   In many ways, Sword represents the capstone on if not completion of the “religious turn” in Diplomatic History.  For several years now, Preston has been leading a number of scholars trying to convince historians of foreign relations (SHAFR) that faith matters (see Cara Burnidge's important recent post on religion and SHAFR here).  Sword is so successful at tracking religious presence in U. S. foreign policy traditions that it is forcing me to ask a different question: Why is there so much secularism in the diplomatic discourse of the American Century?

Rethinking the Garrisonians

Carol Faulkner

Caleb McDaniel's new book, The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery: Garrisonian Abolitionists & Transatlantic Reform, makes the counter-intuitive argument that William Lloyd Garrison and his allies, known for their rejection of American politics, were in fact political thinkers. One of my favorite, amusing quotes about the Garrisonians comes from James Gordon Bennett (who else?), who described Garrison's American Anti-Slavery Society as home to "Non-resistants, Infidels, Socialists, Atheists, Grahamites, Pantheists, and all the disaffected materials afloat on the bosom of society." According to McDaniel, historians have created a similar portrait of Garrison: "the classic image of Garrison is of an impractical, 'radically antinomian' religous reformer obsessed with moral perfectionism" (9). Instead, McDaniel makes a convincing argument that Garrisonian abolitionists were committed to democracy and republican government. Rather than vote, they sought to influence politics through public opinion. Garrisonians also confronted the difficulties of democracy--majority rule, particularly public opinion that was openly hostile to abolition--but they did not abandon their faith that agitation could bring about change.

Psalms in America

David W. Stowe

For an Americanist like myself, to study the Hebrew Psalms is to be reminded and humbled at what a relatively short segment of Judaism and Christianity has taken place in North America. Yet as readers of this blog know, the Psalms have been here as long as Europeans. Psalms were chanted and sung by the earliest Spanish and French explorers and missionaries. The Bay Psalm Book was the first English-language book published in America (and now, as Boston's Old South Church knows well, one of the most valuable).

My own research has focused on a particular psalm, 137, "By the Rivers of Babylon," which has had a notably interesting reception over the millennia. Psalm 137 is an encapsulation of exile. Its nine verses invoke a complex admixture of loss, humiliation, defiance, memory, and vengeance. I began this project by examining its presence in American culture, starting with the Pilgrims' Ainsworth Psalter (1612) and Puritans' Bay Psalm Book (1640) through deployments of the psalm by William Billings, Frederick Douglass, and Rev. C. L. Franklin, up to recent adaptations by the Melodians, Godspell, Don McLean, Leonard Cohen, and Matisyahu.

The Radical Middle Path: Jesus According to Ingersoll, Herron, and Debs

Paul Putz

The twentieth of every month is about to get a whole lot less interesting for readers of this blog. That's because instead of getting a dose of historian extraordinaire Ed Blum, you'll get to read words typed by a first-year doctoral candidate whose last name doubles as an old-timey derogatory term. If you're a regular reader, then you'll finally know how Chicago Bulls fans felt when Pete Myers replaced Michael Jordan in 1994.

By way of introduction, I suppose I should mention my area of research (Gilded Age/Progressive Era religion in emerging American West urban settings), my school (Baylor), my favorite rap album (Mos Def's Black on Both Sides), my previous occupation (high school social studies teacher in Omaha, Nebraska), and my most annoying habit (using parenthesis way too much).

Now onto more interesting things, like David Burns' The Life and Death of the Radical Historical Jesus (Oxford, 2013).

At the heart of Burns' work is a seeming paradox, an argument for what he calls the "radical middle path." This path was trod by "secular-minded religionists" of the late-19th and early-20th century who sought to find some way to balance the demands of reason and religion, and ultimately found their answer by infusing a secular worldview with religious imagination, or, as Burns puts it, "finding divinity in Jesus' humanity." These freethinkers, socialists, and anarchists, Burns claims, have been overlooked by previous historians of religious history partly because the standard interpretation is that religious modernism was a movement controlled by the liberal professional theologians and academics embedded in elite universities and seminaries. Thus, radical modernists who were outside the stratosphere of the elites have been neglected. Burns believes that his book serves to correct the standard narrative. 

Religion "Where Cool Was Born"

Elesha Coffman

Unless you have lived in central Indiana, you almost certainly do not know where cool was born. I grew up there, so I know that the answer is Fairmount. Despite having a population under 3,000, the little town boasts two famous native sons--James Dean (the cool one) and Jim Davis (the somewhat less cool creator of the Garfield comic strip)--and at least two notable religious history sites, Back Creek Friends Church and Bethel Tabernacle. And so, on a blog on which "regional" almost always means Western or Southern, today I'll add a splash of local color from the rural Midwest. For most of you, this will be a virtual side trip to a place you'll likely never visit. For me, it's a reminder of the ways my unconscious assumptions about what's normal or familiar in American religion, versus what's exotic or in need of explanation, continue to be shaped by the place I come from.

I knew little about Back Creek Friends Church when I lived a few miles from it, except that it was the church James Dean attended in his youth. In fact, it still held a memorial service for him every fall during James Dean Days. It's hard to say what influence Quakerism might have had on the Rebel Without a Cause. He certainly was known for being silent.

Now, thanks to a Marion High School wiki (public history in action!), I find that Back Creek Friends is both quite old and quite interesting. Established by a group of Quakers who migrated from the Carolinas in the 1820s, the church has occupied its current meetinghouse (pictured) since 1899. Membership was around 440 at the time, buoyed by a natural gas boom that had brought abundant jobs in glass making to the area. Ball State University, named for the canning jar family, is nearby, as are the towns of Gas City and Gaston, all reminders of the short-lived boom. Makes you wonder what monuments, intentional or incidental, are being built near fracking sites today.

Also interesting, the first official pastor at Back Creek Friends was an 18-year-old woman, Ruth (Elliot) Carey. She assumed leadership of the church in 1873 and was married there in 1875. The Centennial History of Grant County, Indiana, 1812-1912 described Mrs. Carey as "one of the ablest exhorters to be found among ministers of the church body" and claimed that "few have wielded a greater influence for good than has Mrs. Carey wherever she has gone." I often tell my Presbyterian seminarians that there were female clergy in America before the mid-20th century, but I'm not sure they believe me.

Chasing Widows

Today's guest post is by Jim Lutzweiler, an archivist at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  In the post, he shares some stories about chasing widows in order to obtain collections, as well as some of the exciting holdings at the seminary.  I met Jim at the AP Grading, and have gotten to know him by running the camera for some oral history interviews in Chicago.  I can guarantee that if you do research at this archive, you'll hear some great stories if Jim is not off chasing widows.  Jim can be reached at jlutzweiler@sebts.edu.

My boys call me a widow chaser.  It’s true and it’s fun.  And sometimes I catch them and sometimes I don’t.

I assume my meaning is clear to anyone reading about the archive business.  But in case this moniker eludes a quick grasp, let me explain:  I try to preserve the papers of men (or women, but mostly men) who have made some contribution to American religious history.  Sometimes I get to their widows before they toss them, and sometimes I don’t.  More often it is the former, but sometimes the latter.

In re: the latter, I remember well and with no little archival pain a widow I was chasing because a friend suggested that I go easy on her husband before she became a widow.  My job hazard is giving off the ambience of a buzzard circling the still warm --but not very warm-- bodies of Baptist preachers and educators who have over their careers accumulated somewhat of a literary legacy. I followed my friend’s advice (after all, he had suggested the name to me), and the next thing you know the subject in question, a former seminary president, was dead.  And the next thing you know after that, his papers, like him, were toast.  Why? Because his admiring widow woke up every day and stared at his two four-drawer file cabinets full of his life’s work and began to miss him so much that she tossed them to kill the pain!  Since her son was a seminary president also, it never occurred to me that I should have just risked the buzzard paradigm.

The Strange Career of "the City on a Hill"

Today's guest post comes from Ben Wetzel, who is a PhD student in history at the University of Notre Dame.  He has published in the Journal of Church and State, as well as in The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (Wipf & Stock, 2012).  His dissertation will focus on the intersection of American religion and politics, 1865-1920.    

Ben Wetzel

Perhaps the most famous article in all of American religious history is Perry Miller's 1953 piece in the William and Mary Quarterly entitled, "An Errand into the Wilderness."  Originally delivered at a meeting of the John Carter Brown Library in 1952, "An Errand into the Wilderness" reconceptualized the idea of a Puritan mission to the New World.  Expanding upon themes he had developed in The New England Mind (1939), Miller proposed that John Winthrop intended the Massachusetts Bay Colony to be a model for Europe (and perhaps the rest of the world) to imitate.  To buttress this view, Miller seized upon several lines of Winthrop's now famous Modell of Christian Charity: For wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us."  At the conclusion of his article, Miller even implied that there was a direct connection between Winthrop's vision and the founding of the United States: "Having failed to rivet their eyes upon their city on a hill," he wrote, "they were left alone with America."

Signed, Cautious and Confused Scholar: The Perils of Writing a Religious History Column

Charity R Carney

I probably have no business writing for the local paper. But here I am, in rural East Texas, spreading the gospel of religious history in a region that thinks it already knows everything about that subject. For today’s post, I thought I’d share my most recent column (featured on the Religion page of Nacogdoches’ Daily Sentinel) and to ask how others handle writing for a non-academic audience. The following did cause a bit of a stir at the paper and adjusted placement because of its subject, which pushed me to consider how to best handle future articles and to seek the advice of others.

“More churches evolving to society, accepting LGBTQ church members”
Daily Sentinel, 7/13/2013

You can no longer “pray away the gay”—at least not according to leaders of the former Exodus International. In June of 2013, the same month that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Exodus International closed its doors. This decision is huge news for the religious right and gay rights advocates, alike. The organization was the leading provider of “reorientation therapy” for gays and lesbians in an attempt to make them straight or celibate. In an open letter, the leader of Exodus, Alan Chambers, apologized to the gay community “for years of undue suffering and judgment at the hands of the organization and the Church as a whole.” Chambers admitted that Exodus hurt many people and did not defend the rights of gays and lesbians when it should have. Some groups have lashed out against Exodus, but the announcement has also received considerable support from some evangelicals. Christians can be gay, too, they proclaim, and the ranks of homosexual believers is growing.

Shout Bands

Paul Harvey

Just a very brief follow-up to the post below, which discusses a visit to the House of Prayer for All People in Augusta.

NPR this week is featuring a "sacred sounds" series, kicking off today's with a special feature on Shout Bands, which makes for great listening. These trombone-led bands have long been a feature of services at local congregations of the House of Prayer for All People. Anyway, give it a listen; looking forward to the rest of this series as well. And, a great CD sampler of this form of sacred sound may be found here.

The Religious World of Augusta, Georgia: Or, The SBC, the United House of Prayer for All People, The Masters, John C. Calhoun Expressway, and the Shotguns

Dr. Jeffery Thomas, pictured on right
Paul Harvey

Some weeks ago I made quick visit to Augusta, Georgia, to give a lecture and have a public conversation and forum at the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library in downtown Augusta. The evening was moderated by Dr. Jeffery Thomas, pastor of the Trinity CME [Christian Methodist Episcopal] Church, a historic black congregation in the city. It was my first visit to the city.

I'm not going to lie; I wasn't thrilled with myself for booking this particular venture, especially after I learned the exorbitant plane fare from COS to AGS was going to eat up my honorarium and then some, and after the last year of quite a bit of guest lecturing and seminar-ing all around the country, I was a little tired of plugging a certain book by one Edward J. Blum; but I agreed to do it back in the spring, so there I was driving to the airport at 4:00 a.m. for my 5:50 flight to Atlanta and then Augusta, mostly hoping I would be done with that coming evening's events in time to retire to my room and watch Game 7 of the NBA finals.

As is surprisingly often the case in life, that which you get dragged into and just barely make after not being able to come up with a decent excuse to miss, turns out to be the thing that you would never have want to missed, one of those gifts life gives you. Many years ago, the single greatest jazz performance I have ever seen, at the late and lamented Koncepts Cultural Gallery in Oakland, came after I had spent two days in bed with an excruciating and blinding migraine, the cure for which was found from an astonishing tuba-piano-sax-drums quartet that tore through the entire history of jazz in a 2 1/2 hour set, the likes of which I have never seen repeated anywhere else.

I won't say my experience in Augusta rocked my world in quite the same way, but it did result in an evening at the Library and day of visiting religious sites there that I will never forget, and for which I'll always be grateful.

After arrival, I made my way in my rental car from the hotel towards the downtown area. I had meant to check my map to see where the Augusta National Golf Club (where The Masters is played) was, but had forgotten to do so. Never fear -- as I drove on the street that empties into John C. Calhoun Expressway -- yes, that John C. Calhoun -- the massive green ivy walls protecting the former indigo plantation that is the Master's course appeared before me. I got in the right lane, looking to see if there was any place to turn in and sneak a peek at any of the famous holes -- heck, maybe I could get lucky enough to see one of the most sacred sites of all: Hogan Bridge, in the middle of Amen Corner, leading to the 12th green. But no, a mighty fortress is The Masters, and the ample security in and around the facility is there to make sure loiterers like me don't hang around long.

Historical Society of the Episcopal Annual Meeting

Michael Utzinger

I had the pleasure of attending the annual meeting of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (HSEC) in San Antonio, Texas on 10-11 June 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.

The Rev. Will Wauters delivered the keynote address to the Society. A graduate of Stanford University and Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Wauters has served churches in East Los Angeles, San Francisco, Jersey City and Trenton in New Jersey and currently serves at Santa Fe Episcopal Church in San Antonio. For seven years he was Chaplain and taught Religion and Ethics at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. In San Antonio The Rev. Wauters (photo by Matthew Payne) also teaches at Haven for Hope, a transformational center for the homeless, and is a Chaplain with the Bexar County Detention Ministries. His address, entitled "The Borderland Cultures Encounter the Church and a Church Gave Birth to a New Chicano Culture," described how the Church of the Epiphany in East Los Angeles, the oldest standing Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, opened its doors in a new way to the revolutionary times of the 1960's in the barrio and how both the Church and Los Angeles culture and history were transformed by one another. 

Religion, Medicine, and Native Peoples in the Pacific Northwest

Today's guest post is from Suzanne Crawford O’Brien, Associate Professor of Religion and Culture at Pacific Lutheran University, where she teaches classes in Native American religious traditions, religion and healing, religious diversity in North America, and comparative theories of religion.  Her book, Coming Full Circle: Spirituality and Wellness among Native Communities in the Pacific Northwest will be released by University of Nebraska Press this fall. Suzanne also contributed the essay on Native American Religions for my anthology Columbia Guide to Religion in American History.

Suzanne Crawford O’Brien

In 1883, Reverend Myron Eells ordered a sixteen year old Skokomish Indian girl, “Ellen Gray” confined to her room.  (The Skokomish are part of a larger cultural and linguistic group known as the Coast Salish, which stretches from British Columbia, through Western Washington to the Tillamook on the Oregon Coast.)  Eells set guards at her door, and ordered them to keep out any Native healers, friends, or family members who might try to see her. The girl was sick, suffering from congestion, a chill, and what he referred to as “suppression of menses.”  Her real sickness, he was certain, was entirely psychological, brought on by a superstitious certainty that a dangerous spirit power (“tamanawas” in the local trade jargon that Eells used) had entered her, and needed to be removed.  Finally, one night Eels reports that she “threw off the clothes, took cold, and would not make any effort to cough and clear her throat and on the twenty-second she died, actually choking to death.” He concluded that “it was a tolerably clear case of death by imagination.” 

Eells’ story highlights the ways religion and medicine intersected in the colonial Northwest—and how that intersection impacted the lives of Native people.  Following a century of epidemic diseases (the first wave of smallpox likely hit the area in the 1780s, before the arrival of any Europeans), missionization, and the creation of reservations, Native communities like those of Ellen Gray were demographically and culturally devastated. Their traditional healers were floundering, unable to address new illnesses and social conflicts. Long term poverty and hunger were being experienced for perhaps the first time by a people who had lived for millennia in an environment rich in abundant resources.  Euroamerican settlers had outlawed Native religion and healing practices, actively suppressing and imprisoning ceremonial leaders, and enforcing the conversion of Native people through mandatory boarding schools and other forms of coercion.  The story of Ellen Gray exemplifies this moment of history, and the way it played out upon the body of one young girl. 

The Creation(ist) Tour in a Secular Age: Reprise of an RiAH Classic. Or: Why There is Almost No HOpe for America.

Editorial Note: Our esteemed co-blogmeister Randall Stephens is enjoying the fruits of his success presently at a conference at Oxford, and as a result this month doesn't have time to pay his taxes to "the little people" who run this blog. As a result,  and since we are in re-run season anyway, I am reposting one of his contributions from May of last year.
It is especially appropriate to post this now since I just had the great pleasure of hanging out here in Colorado Springs with my buddy Sarah Posner, who was here working for a story for The American Prospect that will appear next week, about Hobby Lobby and its suit concerning the "contraception mandate" in Obamacare, an issue that no doubt will find its way to the Supreme Court in some future session. While she was here, Sarah also visited the "Creation Tour" ("Prepare to Be Amazed") given by the Navigators at Glen Eyrie, the stunningly beautiful headquarters of the group near Garden of the Gods in the western part of Colorado Springs (the campgrounds and headquarters there were mercifully spared during the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012, which for a time threatened to engulf that entire area). There, she discovered that the massive geologic rock formations in my home area were of recent vintage, dating from the time they were carved by Noah's flood, and that there is of course no evidence for the long history that you would learn in virtually any Geology or Geography course anywhere in the United States, including in most religiously-affiliated colleges, or for that matter in the Visitor's Center for Garden of the Gods park just down the road from Glen Eyrie. That brought to mind the chapter on creationist experts from Randall's book The Anointed, and hence a re-run of the post below. 

Randall Stephens

When you're actually getting hate mail and watching conservative Christians rail against you on-line, it is . . . not fun.  But now looking back on how my co-authored book and a couple op-eds Karl Giberson and I wrote were received is sorta entertaining, in a bizarre way.

The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age(Harvard, 2011) dealt with the rise and popularity of conservative evangelical experts.  These figures have served as go-to thought leaders on human origins, psychology, end-times theology, history, and more. We looked at the parallel culture of evangelicalism that has helped certain views thrive. And still evangelicalism in modern America is anything but monolithic. We also focused on a collection of evangelical scholars and scientists who are engaged with the fields they represent and tend to have a presence in the academy.

Sure, we did get some very positive reviews in Christian Century, the Wilson QuarterlyJesus Creed, the Nation, the New York TimesInside Higher Ed, andBooklist.  Yet, those did not have that red-faced, veins bulging-out-of-the neck, barking jeremiad passion that the haters put out there.  

So, I thought it would be interesting to put together excerpts from the "best of the worst" coverage, criticisms of both our opinion pieces and the book.  

American Nietzsche

John Turner

Clarence Darrow, in his closing argument in defense of Nathan Leopold, blamed his role in the murder of fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks on Friedrich Nietzsche:

He grew up in this way. He became enamored of the philosophy of Nietzsche. Your Honor, I have read almost everything that Nietzsche ever wrote. He was a man of a wonderful intellect; the most original philosopher of the last century. Nietzsche believed that some time the superman would be born, that evolution was working toward the superman. He wrote one book, Beyond Good and Evil, which was a criticism of all moral codes as the world understands them; a treatise holding that the intelligent man is beyond good and evil, that the laws for good and the laws for evil do not apply to those who approach the superman. He wrote on the will to power. Nathan Leopold is not the only boy who has read Nietzsche. He may be the only one who was influenced in the way that he was influenced.

...Why should this boy's life be bound up with Frederick Nietzsche, who died thirty years ago, insane, in Germany? I don't know. I only know it is. I know that no man who ever wrote a line that I read failed to influence me to some extent. I know that every life I ever touched influenced me, and I influenced it; and that it is not given to me to unravel the infinite causes and say, "This is I, and this is you." I am responsible for so much; and you are responsible for so much. I know that in the infinite universe everything has its place and that the smallest particle is a part of all. Tell me that you can visit the wrath of fate and chance and life and eternity upon a nineteen-year-old boy! If you could, justice would be a travesty and mercy a fraud. 

Many readers of this blog will recall that at the next year's Scopes Trial, William Jennings Bryan made hay out of Darrow's Nietzsche-based defense of Leopold and Loeb.

In her recently published American Nietzsche, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen elegantly traces the history of the many ways Americans responded to the German philosopher and cultural critic. For an appreciative and critical review of the book, see this in the NYT. The reviewer calls it a "sober work of intellectual history," which is true, though it's also written in clear and engaging prose and thus is more interesting and more accessible than most such sober works.

Is there a American Radical Tradition? Is it a Faith-Tradition?

Janine Giordano Drake

Is there an American Radical Tradition in the United States? That is, was there a continuous thread of American leftist ideas which have been passed on through generations through political parties and important individuals? What evidence would you need to convince you that there is?

In his recent book, Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition, Dan McKanan takes this relative continuity of an American radical tradition as fact. He uses it to argue that this "American radical tradition" is yet another of our American prophetic traditions--another set of believers committed to belief in a relatively similar picture of a better world. For this reason, this Radical Tradition ought to be understood as a kind of religious tradition.

As he put it,

"When we see that religious practices, ideas, and institutions are thoroughly intertwined with the Left, we will be able to tell richer stories from every epoch of American radical history. No single book, of course, can rewrite the history of radicalism. My goal is to highlight important religious threads within the fabric of the Left....

In telling the story of religion and radicalism, I recognize that some readers who share a commitment to liberty, equality, and solidarity will not embrace the 'Left' and "radical" labels. Some activists who appear in this narrative shared that reluctance...

Today's radicals inherit a rich tradition, a heritage of prophetic forebears who struggled against enormous odds, won signal victories, and created a repertoire of practices that we may adapt to the challenges of today...."

McKanan chronologically sketches selected radical visions from a wide assortment of American radical communities of faith, and shows how their oppositional stance toward the religious and cultural authorities of their day, combined with their common set of beliefs in a better world, qualifies their tradition as a community of faith.

I find the book eminently readable and a wonderfully provocative discussion piece for an undergraduate course in American Religion, American Radicalism, or American Politics.  (In fact, I think it would pair wonderfully with Kip Kosek's book on the nonviolent tradition, as the conclusions the two scholars reach about the most important "origins" of Christian nonviolence are ultimately quite different. Kosek finds the Fellowship of Reconciliation a more-or-less Christian tradition, while McKanan's work insists that it really deserves a different context.)

Truth be told, I am not sure what I think yet, because I am still stuck on the suggestion that there is such a thing as an American Radical Tradition in this country.

Digital Religion in the Classroom

Chris Cantwell

Of the many terms people use to define the current state of the digital humanities, the one word I often use is “breathless.” For many scholars, digital technology is either the humanities’ savior or the final nail in its coffin. Either way, it is momentous. And big. Crowdsourcing. Open Access. Massive Open Online Courses. The death of the monograph. The birth of the blog. Academic Tim Gunn. This is the stuff of epics and tragedies.

But to truly measure the impact the web is having in transforming (or having transformed) the humanities, it is often helpful to look at its seemingly more mundane influences. For it is at the level of daily practice that a methodological turn's most most profound effects can be observed.

Take Lincoln Logarithms for example. A project of Emory University’s Digital Scholarship Commons (or DiSC, as the Applefication of the modern acronym demands), Lincoln Logarithms uses text mining software to analyze a collection of digitized sermons from 1865 eulogizing a recently assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The results are pretty interesting. Using data mining programs like ViewShare, Voyant, and MALLETT—tools that can track the repetition of phrases or the proximity of terms in a text—the project found that where Northern ministers framed Lincoln’s life around specific accomplishments like the abolition of slavery, Southern ministers emphasized Lincoln’s longing for peace.

The Zombies Are Coming!

Kelly Baker

"How do we know they are coming?"--Karin Lane (Mireille Enos)

"They're coming."--Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt), World War Z

Zombies are everywhere. Brad Pitt battles them in the film adaptation of World War Z.  AMC's The Walking Dead follows human survivors in a post-apocalyptic zombified world. You can download Plants vs. Zombies for your smart phones, or be chased by these monsters for 5K fun runs. Zombies, particularly portrayals of the zombie apocalypse, are also my current area of research as I have mentioned before (how an American religious historian comes to study zombies is another matter entirely).

Recently, I had the opportunity to think and write about zombie apocalypses for beyond my usual audience of fellow scholars. Bondfire Books approached me about writing about zombies for a general audience, and the result of our partnership is my ebook, The Zombies Are Coming! The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse, which is now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes. My goal for this project was to interrogate how the zombie apocalypse shifted from fantasy to possible reality for some Americans. Thus, I examine government and civilian emergency preparedness campaigns, doomsday preppers, guns and ammunition created for the destruction of the undead, zombie shooting targets, and a spate of cannibalistic attacks. All of these case studies lay the groundwork for me to show how zombies emerge as real threats rather than Hollywood monsters. The fictional becomes the actual. This is the only the beginning of my work on zombies, apocalypticism, and American religions, so I welcome any feedback. If the zombies are coming, somebody has to study them. (Though, I will probably be eaten.)

Histories of Sexuality and Religion in the 20th Century United States --CFP

Histories of Sexuality and Religion in the 20th Century United States
Call for Proposals, due October 1, 2013
Editors: Gillian Frank, Bethany Moreton, and Heather White

The time has come to think about the intertwined histories of religion and sexuality in the 20th century United States. In this twenty-fifth anniversary year of D’Emilio and Freedman’s landmark Intimate Matters, the study of the history of sexuality has become one of the most exciting and challenging areas of intellectual inquiry. Historians have investigated how sexuality has been central to the political, social, and cultural history of the United States. Yet few historians of sexuality have attended to the important ways that religious practices, identities, beliefs, institutions and politics have shaped sexual politics, sexual communities and sexual identities over the course of the twentieth century. Likewise, historians of religion in the twentieth century have only recently begun to account for the changing meanings of sexuality to religious identities, politics, practices and beliefs. To that end, this anthology is accepting proposals for historical scholarship that places the categories of religion and sexuality at the center of its analysis in order to map the interrelation of changing religious and sexual landscapes. We welcome chapters—new or previously published in article form—that take religion as a starting point for rethinking American sexual history and sexuality as a starting point for rethinking American religious history. Submissions that respond to the following questions are particularly encouraged:

Beyond Religious Boundaries: Thoughts on David Cannadine's "The Undivided Past"

Trevor Burrows

Of all the insightful moments that transpired at the Religion and American Culture’s conference in June- see some related recaps here and here - it was a short comment by Jon Butler that has haunted me a bit.  In the meeting’s very first session, entitled “Fifty Years of Non-Sectarian Study of Religion: Goals, Limitations, Expectations,” Butler noted that although scholars have opened the range of their potential subjects to include a host of non-Protestant traditions, histories are still generally written through a rather narrow tradition-specific purview. We have histories of Christianity in America, or Judaism in America, or Islam in America - but broader histories of religion still seem elusive.

As much of my recent reading has dealt with questions of religious pluralism recently, Butler’s comment has regularly resurfaced since the conference. Yet if many of us would readily nod in agreement with the observation, such assent comes with a number of troublesome questions: what would such a history look like? What does it mean to move beyond sectional, denominational, or tradition-oriented histories, and to work toward histories of American religion writ large? And how do we do so in a way that recognizes religion as a constructed category, indeed as a category produced in part by past and present scholarship?

Existential Feelings, Teaching, and the Wabash Experience


Kate Bowler                                                 
I have just returned from rural Indiana with a favorable report about the land and its people. So for those who haven’t heard the news, Crawfordsville, Indiana, is the Promised Land for pre-tenure faculty in the study of religion.

Ostensibly, the Wabash Center workshops and colloquies for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, held every summer in Crawfordsville, Indiana, are about contemplating teaching as “a craft developed over a lifetime of critically reflective practice.” (“Our Philosophy,” Wabash Center.) But in truth, it’s the place where more than 1000 faculty members have gone to have their feelings. You know, their institutional feelings.

The Wabash Center hosts annual weeklong workshops for pre-tenure faculty—one track for theological schools and another for religion departments—and others for mid-career folks and deans to contemplate life as teachers and scholars with a diverse set of competing and complimentary bids for their time. The result is a lively series of conversations that excavate the oft-buried hopes and anxieties scholars have for and about their teaching and their careers.

“The Wabash experience,” as it is often called in reverential tones, is a combination of focused discussion, free time, and obesity-fostering hospitality that tries to crack open space to think intentionally about what the academic life might yet hold. So when my husband asked what I did all week, the answer was something like: “You know, they helped me make a time budget. I canoed. I humiliated myself in series of improv sketches about teaching dilemmas. And I ate a lot cheesecake.”

The commitment is substantial: two summers of weeklong workshops and a winter retreat. But the experience, hospitality, stipend, and research grant in the final summer are well worth the effort. For more information on applying see: http://www.wabashcenter.wabash.edu/programs/apply-program.aspx?i=0

When Podcasts Get Edgy

Art Remillard

After a short break, the JSR podcast returns with two edgy installments. OK, they aren't edgy in any trollable sense. But they do bring us to the edges of southern religious history, to places that generally escape our attention.

To begin, we have Andrew Stern talking about his book, Southern Crucifix, Southern Cross: Catholic-Protestant Relations in the Old South. One might expect from the title an account of anti-Catholicism, with healthy doses of random violence and church burnings. Not quite. Tensions certainly existed between Catholics and Protestants in the Old South. But as Stern explains, members of these faiths formed meaningful bonds that led them to heal, learn, worship, and rule together. Among the many surprises in the book, we discover that Protestants donated money not only to Catholic schools and hospitals, but also to the building of Catholic churches. Stern admits that the sources don't fully reveal the motivations behind these donations. But we can conclude that the boundaries separating Catholics and Protestants were anything but impermeable.

Next, I talked with Nora Rose Moosnick about her new book, Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky: Stories of Accommodation and Audacity. In our discussion, she recalls how her family history brought her to this project. Moosnick then offers an overview of the unique women featured in the book, some of them mentioned in her guest post on RiAH back in May. The podcast ends with Moosnick reflecting on her postscript, "On Being a Documentarian." Anyone interested in oral history needs to buy and read this book for this section alone. Here, the author wrestles with the challenges of gathering Kentucky's "untold stories" in an age of instant celebrity.

Religion, Secularism, and Book Art; Or, a Religious Historian Stumbles into a Gallery

Michael J. Altman

You never know when you'll bump into something extraordinary. Like maybe this:

A mountain carved out of a book. But not just any book, carved out of the 1000 Impressions of Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, better known as the Heart Sutra. This sculpture by artist Guy Laramee is part of an exhibit titled Rebound: Dissections and Excavations in Book Art that I stumbled across yesterday while visiting my alma mater, the College of Charleston with my family. Hosted by the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, the exhibit's more religiously themed pieces fascinated me. 

Laramee has carved a mountain out of a Buddhist text. Upon further inspection, it is a Buddhist text translated into English and bound up in a large book. East meets West meets a knife.

Laramee claims that in his work "mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains." But is the Heart Sutra really disused? Wu-Tang Clan used it. So did The Clash. And let's not forget Allen Ginsberg. Yet, it is still rendered a mountain. 
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