The Cursillo Movement in America

An Interview with Kristy Nabhan-Warren

Eduardo Bonnín Aguiló, a Catholic man born and raised in Mallorca Spain, organized the first Cursillo weekend retreat in 1944. Bonnín initially intended the Cursillo de Cristiandad, or “short course in Christianity,” to serve as a space for Catholic lay men to cultivate a deeper piety and form an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Men who “made the weekend,” as it came to be called, were transformed into Catholic soldiers for Christ. They went forth from their weekend as cursillistas, committed to “become apostles in their communities and reform Spanish Catholicism through a lay Catholic revitalization of faith and friendship” (41). Spanish soldiers spread Cursillos across the world in a little over a decade and by the 1970s these retreats had grown into an interdenominational Christian spirituality movement in the United States. In The Cursillo Movement in America: Catholics, Protestants, and Fourth-Day Spirituality, Kristy Nabhan-Warren draws on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and archival research to illustrate the history and experience of this movement among American Catholics and Protestants alike.

Announcement: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Launches Mormon Studies Book Series

The Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Series in Mormon Studies

The Fairleigh Dickinson University Press Mormon Studies Series welcomes academic works from established and emerging scholars that explore Mormonism in a thoroughly contextualized manner. Mormon Studies is a burgeoning field of scholarly inquiry that has been buttressed by the establishment of academic journals, professional societies, and university programs, as well as an ever growing number of books published by university presses. It intersects with and is enriched by many disciplines including history, family history, religious studies, American studies, literature, philosophy, ethics, law, political science and sociology.

 The objective of this interdisciplinary series is to encourage fresh lines of inquiry and analysis that will shed light not only on established subjects of research such as Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the Mormon role in the settlement of the American West, but also on a variety of lesser known topics. Some of these might include Mormons and comparative religion; interfaith relations; Mormonism and politics, race, class, gender; the institutional development of the Mormon Church, its history in North America, and its growth on an international scale, including its intersections with global history; LDS theology, liturgy, missiology, and Christology; studies on the Book of Mormon–any aspect–as literature, as sacred scripture, in relation to the Bible, as a way of understanding the cultural role of religious texts in nineteenth-century America, within the context of book history, etc. This series is committed to publishing scholarship that will add depth and breadth to the academic discourse on Mormonism as well as considering how it has interacted with society, culture, folklore, philosophy, and the arts.

Let Us Now Praise Generous Scholars

Thanks to so many readers of this blog, the Elijah James Blum Memorial Fund achieved its goal of $20,000 and is proud to announce its first winner. Jennifer Lindell received her M.A. from SDSU in 2011 and was poised to enter the PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania before she died on May 23, 2011. Thirty-two years old, Ms. Lindell was an incredible young scholar and a wonderful teacher. Her master's thesis was an exquisite study of Native Americans in the imaginations of Mormons from the 1820s to the 1850s. As a teacher, Ms. Lindell was thoughtful, an expert listener, and extraordinarily diligent.

One of my happiest moments with Elijah was the evening we took Ms. Lindell to pizza to celebrate the package Penn had put together for her. We swapped Anthea Butler stories of admiration. We laughed about how nice Penn's library was versus SDSU's. We planned a time when I would visit the campus to discuss Mormon theologized imaginaries of race. But most of all, we held Elijah, rocked him amid the sweet-bitter smell of just-enough-overcooked cheese, and chatted about how much Elijah loved his teachers. They were teaching him to roll and to grab objects (like his turtle).

Those who know (or know about) Elijah and Jen know how much they are missed and how much they gave to this world. I cannot imagine myself without them, and the thought of Jen teaching my son in the realms beyond is one that brings joy to my heart as it rains tears from my eyes. Thanks to all who made this possible with your donations and listening to our announcements.

Studies on Global Christianity and the American Foreign Policy Historian

Today's guest post is written by Lauren Turek, a Ph.D. candidate in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia and a Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. I had the pleasure of meeting Lauren at the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations annual meeting earlier this year. Her dissertation, entitled "To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelicals, Human Rights, and U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969-1994," illuminates the complex ways in which religion and religious groups interacted with foreign policy, political culture, and the international human rights regime to shape America's role in the modern world.

Studies on Global Christianity and the American Foreign Policy Historian

By: Lauren Turek

In June 2013, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary released a report entitled "Christianity in its Global Context, 1970-2020: Society, Religion, and Mission." This report, which draws on data from the World Christian Database and the World Religion Database, highlights Christian demographic trends over the past forty years, underscores Christian concerns about evangelism and social justice, and offers projections for the coming decade. It also expresses concern about the intractability of social and economic ills, despite Christian humanitarian outreach. In a nutshell, the data reveals that the world's population has grown more religious since 1970; that Christianity--especially the Renewalist Christianity of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements--has expanded most rapidly in the Global South; and that, owing to these changes, the pattern of Christian evangelism has shifted as Southern nations have begun to send out more missionaries. These trends, which the Pew Foundation also explored in a 2011 report entitled, "Global Christianity," should come as no surprise to historians who study recent Christian history [1]. Yet, familiar or not, the findings in the CSGC  report and others like it raise a tantalizing array of historical questions.

As a historian of American foreign relations, I am keenly interested in understanding how American Christians, operating within the context of the global social, political, and economic changes of the late twentieth century, influenced international affairs and U.S. foreign policy. I find the CSGC and Pew Foundation reports intriguing because they provide hard data (and, in the case of the Pew report, beautiful visualizations) on the fluctuations, geographical extent, and denominational character of global Christian expansion vis-a-vis other religious traditions. The tremendous growth and change that world religions experienced over the past forty years emerged from a set of important historical circumstances, and, in turn, shaped the geopolitical order. Yet, though the reports acknowledge that historical forces contributed to this global transformation of Christian demographics, they do not explain how or why. Nor do they explain how these changes may have affected international politics. This isn't, after all, their intended function. It is a job and good opportunity for historians though. For that reason, I'd like to use the platform of this guest post (thank you, Cara!) to explore a few of the historical questions that the CSGC report in particular elicits for me, thinking about it from the perspective of diplomatic or foreign relations history.

Blogging as a Pedagogical Tool

by Brantley Gasaway

As contributors to and readers of this academic blog, most of us value this medium for our professional purposes and personal enjoyment. But I suspect that some of you, like me, also use blogging as a teaching tool. I want to use this post to describe briefly why and how I incorporate student blogging into one of my upper-level courses.

This semester, as part of my "Religion & Constitutional Law" course, students are contributing posts and comments to a publicly accessible blog: "Religion and American Law." In this past, I have worked with fellow blog contributor Seth Dowland and Isaac Weiner, who is now teaching at the Ohio State University, to create an inter-institutional blog when they were teaching similar courses on American law and politics. But this semester is the second time that I have used the blog for my students alone, and it has remained just as valuable. 

In my guidelines for students, I describe the three primary reasons that I choose to require this blogging assignment:  

First, I believe that the course readings and discussions will help you provide meaningful commentary on the role of religion in legal, political, and public issues. That is, this assignment will require you to explore the relevance of what you are learning in class for current events, contemporary legal debates, and political controversies. Second, the task of composing your own blog posts for an audience of your peers and even others will challenge you to craft well-written yet brief essays that develop and defend an argument. Finally, I hope that you will find the task of participating in this blog not only a welcome alternative to traditional academic assignments but also a creative means for demonstrating your critical thinking and writing skills.

After the jump, I describe some of the benefits and practical details of the course blog:

Reflections on “Public Atheism: An American History”


Emily Suzanne Clark

The Religion Department at Florida State University was lucky enough to host Leigh Schmidt from the Danforth Center at Washington University this week for the Charles T. Wellborn lecture in American religious history. Schmidt’s talk, “Public Atheism: An American History,” focused on his current research project.
In his talk Schmidt focused on three moments in the history of American public atheism, each featuring different strategies for carving out a public space for nonbelief and asserting some kind of influence on the public sphere. These moments provide landmarks in the history of an American public sphere that once categorized blasphemy as a potentially capital offense and now observes the “rise” of the nones. The first moment was the revolutionary deism of the late eighteenth century and into the early American republic. Thomas Paine and later tributes to Paine were more of a diffuse threat to Protestant hegemony than an organized force but these later tributes testify to the lingering influence of Paine. In the earlier colonial era, there was both a legal and a social privileging of belief, namely Christian belief. One need only think of Paine’s influence and how his lack of “proper” belief and his association with the French Revolution cost him his reputation. The bridge between this first period in public atheism to the next could be easily seen in the visual culture tributes and memorializations to Paine, specifically in Watson Heston’s cartoons in the Truth Seeker. One particular cartoon contrasted Paine as the defender of liberty and a tyrannical John Wesley; while one stood for American patriotism, the other was a symbol of corrupt power.

American Society of Church HIstory Annual Winter Meeting 2014

Michael Pasquier

The winter meeting of the American Society of Church History is fast approaching. Here's a list of panels that should be of interest to those who visit the blog. The range of topics is incredible. I wouldn't miss it for the world. You can get the full program here.

Thursday, January 2

The Christian Law of Marriage: Debate and Discussion of A.G. Roeber's Hopes for Better Spouses: Protestant Marriage and Church Renewal in Early Modern Europe, India, and North America
Heike Liebau
Amanda Porterfield
Kirsten Sword
A. Gregg Roeber

Printing Evangelicalisms: Evangelical Book Culture across Three Centuries
Catherine Brekus
Jonathan Yeager
Keith Grant
Daniel Vaca

Friday, January 3

Fracturing a Global Empire: Religion and Place in the American Revolution
Anna Lawrence
Christopher Jones
John Fea
Katherine Carte Engel
Mark Allen Peterson

Texts and the Origins of Liberal Religion in America, 1880-1950
Lydia Willsky
Matthew Bowman
Elesha Coffman
Matthew Hedstrom

America's Wars: Revealing Divisions and Transforming Beliefs
Darryl Hart
Benjamin Wetzel
Cara Burnidge
Paul Kemeny
Richard Gamble

Doubting the Democratization Thesis: A Roundtable Discussion of Amanda Porterfield's Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation
Katherine Carte Engel
Michael Altman
James Byrd
Kathryn Gin Lum
Mark Noll

Exporting la Croix, Importing le Monde: French Catholic Missionaries Take on the Globe
Sue Peabody
Nathan Marvin
Christine Croxall
Jenna Nigro
Michael Pasquier

New Books Alert: The Many Minds of Evangelicalism

Mark Edwards

Molly Worthen's Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford 2013), has been released early.  I've been eagerly awaiting this book since I heard Worthen speak at last year's AHA with Ed Blum.  Here's a description from Amazon.  After the break, I offer a few thoughts based on a brief glance and personal experience.

Evangelical Christianity is a paradox. Evangelicals are radically individualist, but devoted to community and family. They believe in the transformative power of a personal relationship with God, but are wary of religious enthusiasm. They are deeply skeptical of secular reason, but eager to find scientific proof that the Bible is true.

In this groundbreaking history of modern American evangelicalism, Molly Worthen argues that these contradictions are the products of a crisis of authority that lies at the heart of the faith. Evangelicals have never had a single authority to guide them through these dilemmas or settle the troublesome question of what the Bible actually means. Worthen chronicles the ideological warfare, institutional conflict, and clashes between modern gurus and maverick disciples that lurk behind the more familiar narrative of the rise of the Christian Right. The result is an ambitious intellectual history that weaves together stories from all corners of the evangelical world to explain the ideas and personalities-the scholarly ambitions and anti-intellectual impulses-that have made evangelicalism a cultural and political force.

In Apostles of Reason, Worthen recasts American evangelicalism as a movement defined not by shared doctrines or politics, but by the problem of reconciling head knowledge and heart religion in an increasingly secular America. She shows that understanding the rise of the Christian Right in purely political terms, as most scholars have done, misses the heart of the story. The culture wars of the late twentieth century emerged not only from the struggle between religious conservatives and secular liberals, but also from the civil war within evangelicalism itself-a battle over how to uphold the commands of both faith and reason, and how ultimately to lead the nation back onto the path of righteousness.

Religion in New York

File:View of the Empire State Building from Macy's.jpgBy Carol Faulkner

The theme of this year's Researching New York: Perspectives on Empire State History conference is Religion in New York. "Researching New York" is an annual conference sponsored by the History Department at the State University of New York at Albany and the New York State Archives Partnership Trust. The program for this upcoming conference (November 14-15, register now!) looks fantastic.

The conference features two keynote speakers:

Robert Orsi, Northwestern University, "The Gods of Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York, 1800 to 1950." From the website: New York City is generally thought of as the very epitome of American modernity and so it was—but it was also a rich landscape of religious practice, innovation, and conflict. Virtually every major development in American religious history had, if not its origins in New York, then its most public and extravagant expression.  Religion did not just happen in New York City; it happened through the city, in the media of its streets, shadows, and stoops, and in exchanges among people of all the world's religions. New York has never been a secular city—or perhaps the religious history of New York demands a rethinking of what "secular" means. This lecture invites a rethinking of American urbanism as a profoundly religious reality.


Howard B. Rock, Florida International University, "The Battle for New York." Rock's most recent book is Haven of Liberty, New York Jews in the New World, 1654-1865,  the first of the three-volume City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York City (New York University Press, 2012), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

CFP: Articles on Teaching Religion

By David W. Stowe

To all you pedagogues who can write on deadline: there is still time. The editors of Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, are seeking articles (5,000-10,000 words) and media essays (overviews on books, film, video, performance, art, music, websites, etc. 3,000 to 5,000 words), and items for the "Material Culture of Teaching” section, that explore teaching and religion.
Submissions should explore strategies for teaching about religion in the classroom and in non-traditional spaces (such as the media and public discourse). We welcome jargon-free essays from all disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.
Transformations is a journal which invites college teachers to take pedagogy seriously as a topic of scholarly articles.
For further guidelines, see instructions for authors. 
Deadline: November 15, 2013.  Queries welcome.

Possible topics for pedagogy-related articles:
· The politics of teaching religion
· Teaching about religion in literature, film, and other arts

A Time for Burning: (ir)Religion, Race, and Civil Rights in Omaha

Paul Putz

In 1966, Lutheran Film Associates did something surprising. They commissioned and publicly released A Time for Burning, a documentary film that laid bare the harsh reality that racism was alive and well within Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska. The film, directed by Bill Jersey and Barbara Connell, documented the efforts by Augustana's new pastor Bill Youngdahl to get his all-white congregation to reach out to neighboring black churchgoers in the interest of racial reconciliation and integration. The cameras rolled as leaders within Augustana discussed the pros and cons of launching a voluntary "couples exchange" program, in which white Lutheran families would have dinner with black Lutheran and Presbyterian families (spoiler alert: the cons outweighed the pros). The cameras also captured Youngdahl's attempts to reach out to Omaha's black community, and grabbed footage of a number of lively discussions between African American teenagers, Youngdahl's reluctant congregants, Omaha's mayor, and more. The film was widely praised at the time of its release, receiving an Academy Award nomination in 1967 for Best Documentary Feature. Nearly fifty years later the movie is still intensely fascinating. This is a film that should be seriously considered for use in any class that covers the Civil Rights Movement. 

There are many ways to analyze the place of religion in A Time for Burning, not least of which might be to consider the present state of segregation with Christian churches. However, I've set up this blog post to tackle the film from two other distinct angles. In part 1, I'll briefly discuss the way religion is used by the movie's nonreligious black provocateur and unquestioned (if unstated) star, Ernie Chambers (on the DVD cover above, Chambers is the man pictured in the top left and bottom left). For part 2 I've dragooned Tim Grundmeier, a Lutheran and fellow PhD student at Baylor, to situate the film within its Lutheran context.  As Tim will point out, Lutheranism is a tradition that is often overlooked in the study of American religious history, despite the fact that some of the giants in the previous generation of religious historians (Martin Marty, Sydney Ahlstrom) came from a Lutheran background.

Not-So-Old Hymn #606

Elesha Coffman

Once a semester, I'm invited to preach in chapel here at UDTS. This fall, I chose October 30, for its proximity to Reformation Day, and began formulating a service that would include references to all of the major churches that emerged in that era. This is the sort of thing that happens when a historian gets to preach--aided and abetted by the first lectionary reading for the day, from Ezra 6, which begins, "Then King Darius made a decree, and they searched the archives where the documents were stored in Babylon." I may know practically nothing about preaching, but I do love archives.

While considering elements that would recall the various early Protestant traditions, I wanted to make sure the Anabaptists got a nod, so I immediately thought of adding Hymn 606 to the order of service. At this point, you have either launched into the song right there at your computer, or you have no idea what I'm talking about.

In the 1969 volume The Mennonite Hymnal, number 606 is a four-part choral setting of the doxology ("Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow") that has become wildly popular among North American Mennonites. I learned it during my three years as a member of a Mennonite and Brethren congregation in Morgantown, W.V. You can Google "Mennonite 606" to find numerous videos of groups singing the anthem, as well as gems like this story of a Michigan church that made and sold 606 tamales to raise money for global development work. Unfortunately, in the course of my own online research, I discovered that Hymn 606 does not provide a meaningful link to the radical Reformation, as I had hoped. It is instead a testament to Mennonites' Americanization and move toward the Protestant mainline.

Christians and the Color Line

Karen Johnson.

Today's post interviews Rusty Hawkins and Phillip Luke Sinitiere, the editors of a new book Christians and the Color Line: Race and Religion after Divided by Faith, which is rumored to be coming out with Oxford on November 6.  Check the end of the post for a table of contents.

 Karen Johnson (KJ): In a nutshell, what is Christians and the Color Line about?

 Phillip Luke Sinitiere (PLS) and Rusty Hawkins (RH): Christians and the Color Line is about the changing, but still fractured state of race relations within American Christian communities. The book’s first section offers an accounting of important moments in the history of racialized Christianity in the United States. The second section provides social scientific assessment of what brings faith communities together across racial and ethnic lines, while also examining how communities who claim fidelity to a purported Christian message of unity and reconciliation continue to be wedged apart. We should be clear that this book is in no way a “how-to” volume for religious leaders, but at the same time we think it offers vital perspectives for anyone interested in racial justice within religious organizations. The book also offers a strong challenge to those who believe American Christianity has entered some “post-racial” era. This simply isn’t true. All of the chapters take as their starting point the important claims Michael Emerson and Christian Smith made in their book Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Taken as a whole, Christians and the Color Line updates, challenges, and in some cases revises Emerson and Smith’s findings.

 KJ: What do you think is most exciting about the book? Why?

Religion and US Empire

Today's guest post comes from Sylvester A. Johnson, author of The Myth of Ham and professor at Northwestern University. With Tracy Neal Leavelle (author of The Catholic Calumet), Professor Johnson is heading a new initiative in US religious history "Religion and US Empire." With a group of fellows, an AAR panel, and plans for more, "Religion and US Empire" endeavors to transform how we write and teach on religion, empire, and the two together and in tension.

“Religion and US Empire”
by Sylvester A. Johnson
Ask virtually any student of classical antiquity about Roman society, and you will hear a common refrain: Rome was an empire. Virtually every scholarly study of ancient Roman society, whether examining gender or material culture or religion or philosophy, begins by attending to the significance of Rome’s status as an empire, and with good reason. Empires involve a scale and architecture of power across multiple domains that affect every aspect of life. This is especially true of religion. Since the Roman Empire’s decline, a number of other “greats” have risen and fallen—the Byzantines, the Mongolians, the Ottomans, and the British, to name a few. Historians have repeatedly recognized that the US emerged from the Cold War the decisive victor as the world’s leading superpower. Since 9/11, especially, it has become commonplace for scholars to recognize that the US is an empire—the world’s most powerful—and to examine what this means for economics, politics, culture, human rights, etc.
Unlike the case of ancient Rome, however, the study of religion and US empire is an intersection to which scholars overwhelmingly prefer a detour. Such studies do exist—among the more notable are Martin Marty’s Righteous Empire (1970), Cornel West’s Democracy Matters (2005), Mark Taylor’s Religion, Politics, and the Christian Right: Post-9/11 Powers and American Empire (2005); Rosemary Reuther’s America, Amerikkka: Elect Nation and Imperial Violence (2007); Vincent Rougeau’s Christians in the American Empire: Faith and Citizenship in the New World Order (2008); and Jon Pahl’s Empire of Sacrifice (2010). But the sheer paucity of these studies is striking. Of the hundreds of studies of US empire that have emerged over the past decade, a only mere handful examine the intersection with religion. Or, to phrase the same problem differently, for the vast majority of scholars of US religion, it seems to matter little if at all that the US is an empire.[1]

Blurred Lines: The Basement and Evangelical History (Part II)


Charity R Carney

In Birmingham, Alabama, the current trend is not Auburn or Alabama jerseys. Instead, young people are donning“#FreePitt” shirts and plastering their vehicles with Basement stickers in a show of support for the celebrity youth pastor, Matt Pitt. Yesterday morning, Pitt, the founder and lead minister of the Basement (a 5,000-member youth group) had his probation revoked and was sentenced to a year in jail for impersonating a police officer. Last month I introduced the current controversy surrounding the Basement and since then several developments have plagued the Basement organization, which has rallied its members to defend their spiritual leader. Regardless of the support he is receiving, the scenario has certainly tested Matt Pitt’s personal slogan: “We are not perfect, just forgiven.” 
Since my last post, a local reporter released an interview taken with Pitt right before he jumped off a 45-foot cliff in an attempt to avoid arrest. The interview has caused quite a stir, but it also reveals Pitt’s own understanding of his place within American religious (and even civil rights) history, with a complicated racial component. Note, especially, the remarks on Creflo Dollar and Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Language, Media, Religion Mini-conference and Roundtable

Laura Leibman

Although I said I would do the second part of my previous post on "Soul Gender" this month, I am taking a slight detour to talk about the Language, Media, and Religion mini-conference and roundtable held at Reed College on Oct. 4th, 2013.  (I will return to soul gender next month.)  This conference was hosted by one of my fantastic junior colleagues, Linguistic Anthropologist Courtney Handman.  I am making this detour because I believe the mini-conference raised some questions about the way we treat language, media, and the body in religious studies that would resonate with other Americanists, and I am curious to hear feedback from other readers of the Religion in American History blog.

The conference challenged (or at least problematized) recent assertions that we should "de-throne language, belief, and texts from the central positions they have long had in the study of religion."  Each of the participants used examples from their current work to debunk the easy divide between language and the body and to grapple with how we might reconceive the role language plays in the study of religion.

Mississippi Praying

Paul Harvey

This is just a quick post to recommend this new book by Carolyn Dupont: Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, just out with NYU Press. I had the pleasure of reading this in manuscript form a few years ago, and since then the author has gone through a lot of revisions to make an excellent manuscript even better!

This is, for my money, right at the top of the heap for works dealing with southern white churches and the civil rights movement (another one is Stephen Haynes's new book The Last Segregated Hour, which I have just reviewed at length in the new Reviews in American History and previously blogged about here; it focuses specifically on the story of kneel-ins in Memphis, and their aftermath in one particular Presbyterian Church there).

Here's a bit about the work from the NYU Press website; I'll post about the book more extensively in the near future when I'm not filling out departmental "assessment reports" and performing other critical and vital tasks like that. But suffice to say for here, this is a crisply written, strongly argued book that takes a decided stand on an issue (the degree of support that white southern churches gave to segregationism) that has been the subject of a most interesting and productive recent scholarly dispute.

Mississippi Praying examines the faith communities at ground-zero of the racial revolution that rocked America. This religious history of white Mississippians in the civil rights era shows how Mississippians’ intense religious commitments played critical, rather than incidental, roles in their response to the movement for black equality.
During the civil rights movement and since, it has perplexed many Americans that unabashedly Christian Mississippi could also unapologetically oppress its black population. Yet, as Carolyn Renée Dupont richly details, white southerners’ evangelical religion gave them no conceptual tools for understanding segregation as a moral evil, and many believed that God had ordained the racial hierarchy.
Challenging previous scholarship that depicts southern religious support for segregation as weak, Dupont shows how people of faith in Mississippi rejected the religious argument for black equality and actively supported the effort to thwart the civil rights movement. At the same time, faith motivated a small number of white Mississippians to challenge the methods and tactics of do-or-die segregationists. Racial turmoil profoundly destabilized Mississippi’s religious communities and turned them into battlegrounds over the issue of black equality. Though Mississippi’s evangelicals lost the battle to preserve segregation, they won important struggles to preserve the theology that had sustained the racial hierarchy. Ultimately, this history sheds light on the eventual rise of the religious right by elaborating the connections between the pre- and post-civil rights South.

The Deep and Wide Worlds of Billy Graham

A hearty welcome to our new contributor Michael Hammond, Professor of History at Southeastern University, and an attendee at the recent Billy Graham Conference which we blogged about here before. Raised in Indiana, Michael did his MA with Mark Noll at Wheaton, and took his Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas. At Southeastern, he enjoys teaching Baseball and America, the Civil Rights Movement, and American Christianity and Culture Since 1945.  His research is on the intersection of race and religion, especially with regards to political movements.

Despite their areas of staunch disagreement, scholars of 20th century American evangelicalism have had little trouble agreeing on the identity of the movement’s key standout figure.  Few religious leaders, past or present, have rivaled the influence of Billy Graham.  Graham's legacy has not only shaped Christianity but post-World War II America. It should not be surprising, then, that the Billy Graham Center and Archives have become a center for global study of American Christianity.

The “Worlds of Billy Graham” conference provided an opportunity to join other scholars in my field to explore Graham’s legacy.  Meeting in the Cliff Barrows Auditorium at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, the purpose of this gathering was not to debate whether Graham mattered, but rather to measure the length of his shadow. Presenters at the conference brought original research in support of chapters for a book project funded by the Lilly Endowment grant. This forthcoming book will focus on the worlds of Billy Graham—assessing his cultural and political influence. Presentations evaluated Graham’s influence on these important “macroscopic” worlds, and the symbolic influence Graham had around the globe. But in doing so, these papers also revealed the ways that Graham shaped the “microscopic” level of personal Christian practice.

The Web They Wove


Rachel McBride Lindsey

One of the epigraphs to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s brilliant history of the tactile memories of nineteenth-century Americans who saved—and archived and curated—the stuff of generations past is an anonymous toast from the Mary Floyd Talmage Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1910:
What did they do, our grandmothers, as they sat spinning all the day? Are we not ourselves the web they wove?

The Age of Homespun, as Ulrich writes, “is a book about the objects nineteenth-century Americans saved, the stories they told, and the stories that got away.” Predictably, Ulrich dazzles readers with her sweeping command of historical data and her consummate interpretive sensibilities. But what lingers with me most is the model that specific artifacts cannot be approached as proxy for material culture writ large, as if any artifact from a given period or people could be substituted for another and yield the same questions. The persistent exchange between objects and stories means, among other things, that artifacts are never full contained within their materiality.

Ulrich’s book, of course, is not only about specific objects and the labors that went into creating them, using them, and remembering them. It is also about the larger cultural systems of gender, economics, politics, and memory that artifacts limn and thus instantiate, if only for a whisper. This nexus of specific artifacts, storytelling, and cultural systems that slip between signified and signifier can stink of academic stagnation; as if added to the chorus of interpretive considerations that chime regularly in seminar discussions and peer-reviewed articles, but that offer little in the way of practical engagement with the artifacts we actually study, be they baskets, hairpins, diaries, or sermons. But these connections do shape encounters with objects and the materiality of an object is never quite the entire story it has to tell.

Here is my object-story.

How Mennonites Reinvented Non-Conformity and Non-Resistance, 1908-2008

Janine Giordano Drake

If the Mennonite tradition in the United States had a long and robust history of pacifism and non-resistance to abuse, how and why did so many American Mennonites participate in World War II and support American wars thereafter?

How, why, and when did so many American Mennonites move away from the primacy of non-resistance theology and toward  advocacy of "justice"  in its place? Was it the secularization and "Americanization" pull of the dominant culture?  Or, was this theological change more deliberate--an attempt to align the faith tradition with a truer sense of achieving social peace?

I picked up Ervin Stutzman's book on the subject, From NonResistance to Justice: The Transformation of Mennonite Church Peace Rhetoric, 1908-2008 not because I am at all an expert on Mennonites, but because I genuinely wondered. Paul Buhle's terrific graphic history, Radical Jesus  (reviewed here) introduced me to the celebrated traditions of Anabaptist nonresistance, and I was just puzzled to understand how war-tolerating Mennonites fit into the tradition.The set of answers Stuzman finds is fascinating, and remind us how absolutely critical World War I and the 1920s were to the transformation of American Religious doctrine. The author acknowledges that the study is limited by its focus on records from conferences and other published materials, but for a rhetorical study, I could not think of how it could be better researched or written.

Register Now for @THATCampAAR!

As this blog and Lincoln's amazing post from last week readily shows, digital technology has revolutionized how scholarship on religion in America can be both produced and shared. And while we've talked about these transformations on the blog here before, I'm thrilled to announce an opportunity for everyone to learn, share, and collaborate in the ongoing evolution of how knowledge is made.

This year the American Academy of Religion is hosting it's first ever THATCamp on Friday, November 22, 2013!

THATCamp stands for “The Humanities and Technology Camp.” They exist to bring scholars and technologists of every skill level together to learn how to integrate digital technology into their teaching and research. This means the format is not your typical conference proceedings. THATCamps are “unconferences,” which means sessions are built around hands-on workshops and collaborative working groups rather than formal presentations. Participants are even encouraged to propose sessions they would like to attend in advance of the meeting on the THATCamp AAR13 Blog. So far, we've been able to confirm the following workshops:
And more are in the works, including potential workshops on Zotero and teaching with tech.

THATCamp AAR13 is free and open to everyone, but a separate registration is required as space is limited. But do hurry and register because because half the spots are already taken! Also note we'll be running from 9am to 5pm on the Friday before sessions begin, but people can pop in and out if their schedule dictates.

For more information, check out or on follow us all on Twitter  @THATCampAAR.

Hope to see you there!

Job Opening: Mormon History Association Executive Director/Business Manager

* Job Announcement *
                                                       Mormon History Association
                                             Executive Director/Business Manager

The Mormon History Association is seeking qualified applicants for the independent-contractor position(s) of Executive Director/Business Manager. The position(s) may be best filled by two people, one of whom serves primarily as Business Manager. The Executive Director/Business Manager serve as officers and members of the MHA Board of Directors. The term is for three years, may be renewed, and begins in early 2014.

New England Theology Revisited

Jonathan Den Hartog

A passel of Edwardseans walk into a's almost a set up for a joke.

When the review copy of After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology, edited by Oliver Crisp and Douglas Sweeney, landed in my mail from the Colorado headquarters of RiAH (also known as Paul Harvey's office), one of my first reactions was "There are a lot of Edwardseans here." By that I mean there are many chapters in this edited collection--17 to be precise. These chapters cover a large numbers of Edwardseans. Further, the book is filled with scholars who have spent years studying not only Edwards himself but his theological heirs.

Cover for 
After Jonathan Edwards
The New England Theology is the designation for the extended system of theological reflection, which through much of the 19th century claimed a heritage back to Edwards. The movement had largely lost steam by the end of the 19th century, and even much scholarship has not taken the later generations of Edwardseans seriously, dismissing them as theological hair-splitters. In Joseph Haroutunian's classic formulation, they marked the decline from piety to moralism.

As Crisp and Sweeney make clear in their introduction, they aim for a "rehabilitation" of the New England Theology. To them, "the theologians of the New England school were creative contributors to a living American tradition of theological reflection" (5). Not only was New England Theology a unique American theological contribution, but it possessed serious intellectual weight.

The recovery of these Edwardseans has followed the recovery of Edwards as a formidable intellect in his own right--a recovery aided by the Edwards Papers Project at Yale. Earlier works covering the development of this theological tradition included Allen Guelzo's encyclopedic Edwards on the Will, which was not only about Edwards but about Edwardseans on the Will, and Sweeney's earlier study of N.W. Taylor and the New Haven Theology. Still, with the growing body of Edwards scholarship has come the scholarly interest in reconsidering where his ideas took subsequent generations.

The first section of essays considers several of the major themes of the Theology. Allen Guelzo contributes a new essay considering their ideas, not only on the Freedom of the Will, but also on Original Sin. Paul Helm in a subsequent article returns to the issue of the Will and presents a second interpretation, comparing Edwards to other Reformed thinkers on the subject. James Byrd traces the significance of the concept of Benevolence, disinterested and otherwise. Oliver Crisp discusses the new theory of atonement--specifically the Moral Government view--in the tradition.

James McBride's "The Good Lord Bird" and the Religiosity of John Brown

by Trevor Burrows

In his famous response to the conviction and sentencing of John Brown, Henry David Thoreau seized on the popular sentiment that Brown was insane. He poked at the idea by first questioning how people should understand those men who followed Brown personally, or those who celebrated his actions - were they all insane, too? Thoreau then suggested that if his words and actions were held up against the words and actions of congress, the “manly directness and force,” the “simple truth” of “crazy John Brown” would stand out against the inaction and deceitful eloquence of the political elite. Thoreau turned the tables on those who sought to discount Brown by diminishing the truth of his words or the courage of his convictions: I do not believe that Brown is insane, he seemed to say, but I’m not so sure about the rest of you.
In his recent novel, The Good Lord Bird, James McBride also plays with the theme of Brown’s potential insanity. The Good Lord Bird is a bit of satirical historical fiction, a clever and often hilarious retelling of the John Brown story through the eyes and voice of a young slave named Henry (although a series of misunderstandings result in Henry’s masquerading as a young girl named Henrietta for much of the story). A dark comedy of errors puts Henry within Brown’s ragtag outfit in Kansas, and despite his efforts to escape from Brown’s tutelage and conscription on several occasions, he is always pulled back in by one means or another. He quickly becomes a favorite of Brown, who refers to him/her lovingly as “Onion,” and Onion’s presence gives us a fictional first-person view of Brown’s encounters with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, of Brown delivering stump speeches on a fundraising trail, and, of course, of seminal bloody events across the Midwest and at Harper’s Ferry.

Reframing Hope, Part 3

This is the third of three reflections on Carol Howard Merritt's book Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. For the introduction to the series and first post by Seth Dowland, click here. For the second post by Steven Miller, click here.

by Brantley Gasaway

Carol Howard Merritt's engaging book, Reframing Hope, offers an important reminder to both current observers and future historians of American religion that one should be wary of widespread reports of the "decline of the mainline." 

In many ways, of course, statistics from the early twenty-first century paint a grim picture for mainline Protestants. Even as Merritt was publishing her book in 2010, the Christian Century reported on the dramatic downturn in attendance in mainline churches since 2000: the Episcopal Church at -18%; United Methodists at -10%; the Evangelical Lutheran Church at -15%; and the Presbyterian Church (USA) at -16%. In terms of membership, the 2011 yearbook of National Council of Churches documented the ongoing decline in every mainline denomination. The recent demographic report for Merritt's own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), shows that the median age of members increased from 60 in 2008 to 63 in 2011, while the denomination lost over 5% of its members just last year. "With fewer and increasingly older members," the Christian Century concluded in its report, "in the 21st century mainline churches will face perhaps their greatest challenge since they faced the American frontier of the 19th century." By almost every quantitative measure, the decline of the mainline is real. 

As we all know, however, numbers do not tell us the whole story--and that is where Merritt's book is valuable. She offers a qualitatively different picture of mainline Christianity, a vision of vibrant and imaginative ministries that are attempting not only to remain faithful to the mission of the church but also to effectively meet the present challenges. She candidly acknowledges that the "old frameworks" for successful ministry no longer work, for the world "has become so different from the one in which our churches were formed" (130). As a result, Merritt wants to "reframe" the ministries of mainline Protestants so that their churches can adapt and flourish in a postmodern and pluralistic culture. In her book, the decline of the mainline fades into the background, and the transformation of the mainline takes center stage.

Job Announcement: Assistant Professor, Philosophy

Art Remillard

I'm pulling a Pasquier and posting a job announcement for my department. Please share far and wide.   

The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Saint Francis University invites applications for a tenure-track position in Philosophy to begin August, 2014. The candidate must have a significant background in the History of Philosophy and should be broadly trained in Ethics. Teaching Health Care Ethics will be required on a regular basis. Modern Philosophy, Philosophy of Law, and Epistemology are desirable. Candidates should have completed their Ph.D. and have significant teaching experience.

Complete an online application at, and then submit a letter of application, curriculum vitae, three letters of reference, a writing sample, and student class reviews to:

We will be conducting interviews at the American Philosophical Association 2013 Eastern Division Meeting in Baltimore, MD, December 27-30 (interview days to be determined). All correspondence should be sent electronically to

Saint Francis University is committed to diversity of students,staff, and faculty, and encourages applications from historically underrepresented individuals, women, veterans, and persons with disabilities. AA/EOE

The History of Religion in American Religious History; Or, the Eliadian Roots of Liberal Religion


By Michael J. Altman

Perhaps, Eliade was right. Perhaps there really is an eternal return. And, perhaps, it is time for his.

I'm teaching Mircea Eliade's approach to the "History of Religions" this week in my introduction to Religious Studies course. We've covered Durkheim, Freud, Hume and even Tylor. We've found functionalist explanations of religion in European thinkers.

Then comes Eliade. In America.

Eliade refuses to explain religion. Rejecting the reductionism of psychoanalysis or sociology, Eliade demands that religion be understood "on its own terms." We do not explain religion, rather, the historian of religion describes and categorizes religion. The historian of religions looks for symbols, myths, and archetypes through comparison. Because the sacred is sui generis, unique, irreducible, we should seek understanding, interpretation, and pattern. Explanation is anathema.

Historical Religion Data in the NHGIS and What You Can Do with It

In 1865, the French observer of American Catholicism E. Rameur opened the inaugural issue of the Catholic World with an article on “The Progress of the Church in the United States.” In assessing the current population of the church, Rameur’s task was very difficult, as he pointed out: “The number of the faithful it is not easy to determine accurately; for a false delicacy prevents the Americans from including the statistics of religious belief in their census-tables. Estimates are very variable.” Rameur was right: in the United States, unlike in many other countries, the census does not track religious data. The omission is justified by the separation of church and state, but every religious historian I know would gladly suffer a breach in the wall of separation for the sake of reliable data for the history of religion.

But Rameur understated the amount of data about religion in the U.S. census. By the time he wrote, the 1850 and 1860 census had gathered some data about churches, though not about their membership. (Rameur dismissed this data, but historians can’t afford to be so discriminating.) Gaustad and Barlow summarize what is available in the census for their note on the sources for their standard work, The New Historical Atlas of American Religion:

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