The Steve Bannon School of American History


Michael Graziano

Recent news reports indicate that Steve Bannon, formerly the Executive Chair of Breitbart News and currently Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump, will join the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. There’s a lot to be said about Bannon and his relationship to Jews, Muslims, women, and other racial and religious minorities. But there is also a surprising lack of information about Bannon given his new prominence. That may be in part because, as Bloomberg’s Joshua Green notes in a fascinating long-read, Bannon’s life has been “a succession of Gatsbyish reinventions.” (Side note: I encourage you to read Green’s piecewritten when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were still the presidential frontrunnersand remind yourself that its subject now has a permanent seat at one of the most select meetings in DC alongside the Secretaries of State and Defense.)

A permanent seat on the NSC’s Principals Committee is a striking promotion, even by Gatsby’s standards. Though it’s been overshadowed by the roll-out of new policies targeting Muslims and refugees, Bannon’s new role is worth reflecting upon. Bannon has had Trump’s ear for a while now, too. Understanding the administration might mean understanding Bannon.

Most news coverage portrays Bannon as a strange fit for the NSC. He is viewed as an outlier because he has not been employed by traditional foreign policy institutions: the Department of State, the CIA, NGOs, etc. Even so, for many critics it is less his résumé than his ideas that are cause for concern. Yet I think it is a mistake to view Bannon as entirely alien to the national security complex. Bannon’s ideas about the relationship between race, religion, and national security make him an important public intellectual for this new moment in American national security policy.

Anti-Bannon signs during the Women's march
The NSCand American national security policyhas always been political. Decisions about what constitutes a threat to US security, and appropriate responses to it, are inescapably political questions. Shortly after its creation under President Truman, National Security Council Report 68 [1950] (often abbreviated to NSC-68) called for a spiritual “counter-force” to challenge the “fanatic faith” of the Soviet Union. Like the Cold Warriors of years past, Bannon has a remarkably well-defined worldview through which he perceives specific threats to, and values of, the United States. National security policy in the United States has long been in conversation with (and, at least since the Cold War, dependent upon) such a narrative. Given Bannon’s prominence, it’s worth considering how he sees the world, and how these narratives might influence how he thinks about national security.

Sikh Captain America

Cara Burnidge

One of my favorite topics to discuss in both my world religions and religion in America classrooms is Sikhs. There are a few ways that I bring this topic into the classroom: as a matter of classification ("What/Who is a "world religion"/"American religion"?); as an example of minority/majority religions (Sikhs live as a religious minority wherever they are in the world); and, most often, as a poignant example of how the "map is not territory": the Pew Research Center's demographics reflect the social, political, and cultural context of the world/America. There are around 24 million Sikhs in the world (by the numbers alone, the fifth largest religion in the world); yet most Americans are unaware of Sikhs.

In addition to these avenues for bringing Sikhs into the conversation about who and what is "American" or "religious" in American religion, another way to introduce Sikhs to our classrooms is through Sikh Captain America. Far more than a comedic stunt, Sikh Captain America provides an important moment of reflection on American identity in the 21st century.  

Religion and the CIA: A Trove of Declassified Intelligence Documents in CREST

Lauren Turek

On January 17, the Central Intelligence Agency posted some 930,000 text-searchable declassified documents on its FOIA reading room web page. The New York Times detailed some of the interesting materials this release made available to the public, noting that "technically, you could have gained access to the files before, but only if you drove to the National Archives building in College Park, Md., where there were four computers you could use to sift through the C.I.A. Records Search Tool, known as Crest." Now these materials are readily available to the public online.

These documents hold obvious value for those of us who work on national security topics, but the NYT article makes clear that there are also many documents of potential interest to scholars and students of American religious history. Indeed, one of the first documents mentioned in the article is a CIA report on "spiritualist healers in New Mexico."

This public and text-searchable access to the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) may prove useful not only for scholarly research in American religious history, but also in the classroom. By virtue of the fact that they contain information that policymakers once considered sensitive or top secret, declassified documents have a way of enlivening discussions about primary sources. Additionally, the CREST database is a tremendous resource for students working on major research papers—students can search for any keyword or combination of keywords pertaining to their topic and find a wealth of interesting documents, all of which are available as PDFs, and all of which researchers can download and read through.

To illustrate the possibilities of this exciting new resource, I have performed a few searches in CREST and turned up the following examples of documents that pertain in some way to religion in American history, foreign policy, or national security. Click on the Document Number to visit the CIA catalog page and access the full PDF of each document.

These samples just scratch the surface of the material now accessible through this database. I look forward to bringing some of these documents in to my U.S. foreign relations course this semester and hope others find them helpful as well.

AAR CFP now available

Cara Burnidge (two cfp posts in one day!)

The Call for Papers is now available for the American Academy of Religion's 2017 annual meeting. This year the AAR is in Boston, MA from November 18-21.

 For those who have never navigated it before, the AAR's Call for Papers can be overwhelming. There are guidelines for submitting and participation requirements to follow, not to mention an overwhelming set of program units (all with their own cfps), additional and concurrent meetings, job workshops, and THATcamp.

While overwhelming, methodologically inconsistent, and theoretically incoherent, the AAR's "Big Tent" structure can work to the benefit of graduate students and others looking to present at a large, national conference. For whatever it might be worth, here's what I do when the CFP comes out each year:

Rethinking Religion and the Civil Rights Movement: A Panel at AHA/ASCH

Today's guest post comes from Joseph Stuart. Joseph Stuart is a PhD student at the University of Utah, whose doctoral work examines the relationship of race and gender in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. His prior work has examined the role of race in the formation of New Religious Movements in America, specifically Mormonism and the Nation of Islam. You can find him on Twitter @jstuart87.
Joseph Stuart

Many history and religious studies courses throughout the country regularly assign David Chappell’s A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow to students—and for good reason. It’s an excellent book that addresses both black and white people, takes religious beliefs seriously, and connects theology and religious culture to broader currents of American history. In short, it’s a book that is at home in courses on religion, civil rights, race, or postbellum American history.

While there have been several books published after Chappell’s in 2004, I believe that there are still many aspects of religion and the Civil Rights Movement left to address. New studies like Stephanie Hinnershitz’s marvelous book on Asian American religionists fighting for civil rights on the West Coast and Kerry Pimblott’s excellent work on religious revolutionaries and gender in Chicago are excellent examples of how historians are rethinking the role in the Civil Rights Movement. There are still many more points of analysis that historians can explore in studies of the Movement.

The 2018 meetings of the AHA/ASCH would be an ideal place to present new work on race, religion, gender, sexuality, or intellectual histories of the Civil Rights Movement. I plan to organize a panel on the history of religion, race, and the Civil Rights Movement for the 2018 meeting of the American Historical Association, possibly in conjunction with the American Society of Church History. This panel idea generated from my own work on the histories of race and gender that contributed to religious opposition to the Movement from a variety of groups.

My own paper will address the different ways that African-Americans religious leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X defined black masculinity in their fights for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s. Any paper that broadly addresses race and religion in the Civil Rights Movement would fit very well with such a panel.

If you’re interested in joining the panel, or have thoughts about race, religion, and civil rights, please email me at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] edu. I hope to hear from those interested in joining/forming a panel!

Greenawalt, Exemptions: Necessary, Justified, or Misguided? (Review)

Charles McCrary

Kent Greenawalt, Exemptions: Necessary Justified, or Misguided? (Harvard University Press, 2016)

With his multiple-choice question subtitle Kent Greenawalt is not wondering if religious exemptions in general are necessary, justified, or misguided. Rather, he acknowledges that in a given case any three of these might be an apt descriptor. The hard part is figuring out which one applies and, perhaps harder still, the criteria by which we should decide. These criteria and tests can be murky and debatable, but Greenawalt’s book expertly guides the reader through the various arguments and counterarguments before explaining and defending his own view. For this reason, Exemptions is valuable not only for its arguments but for how clearly Greenawalt explains the history and debates and considerations surrounding a range of issues, from military service to drug use to same-sex marriage.

Religious exemptions are fairly straightforward in theory and complicated in practice (what isn’t?). The basic problem is as follows. The law demands and prohibits certain actions. Religions do too. Sometimes, the law requires something a religion forbids. Sometimes, religions require something that the law generally forbids. So, sometimes the state grants an exemption from the law, lest people be compelled to break their religious commitments or violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. But, of course, not just any religious belief entails an exemption from just any law. You can see where this is going…

Reconstructing the Peace Movement

Guest Post by Lilian Calles Barger

Lilian Calles Barger is an independent intellectual, cultural and gender historian and frequent podcast host for New Books Network. Her book tentatively titled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

At the 2017 meeting of the AHA/ASCH, I presented a paper entitled “Rosemary Radford Ruether:
The ‘Megamachine’ and the Construction of an Eco-feminist Pacifism.”  Ruether is a pioneering feminist Catholic theologian and part of the vanguard of feminist theology that took shape in the 1970s. A prolific writer, her work reflects the radicalization of feminism, the new ecology, the resurgence of pacifism brought on by Vietnam, and the emergent liberation theologies. She intervened at a time when feminism’s relationship to pacifism was changing and under threat of a complete severing.

Ruether noted that the peace movement had moved away from the non-duality of virtue that had characterized nineteenth-century Christian radicalism. She summarized her ideas in a 1983 essay “Feminism and Peace” published in the Christian Century where she offered a historical foundation for what I am calling “eco-feminist pacifism.”  In the essay, she ties peace to both ecology and the liberation of women and turns to the Garrisonian tradition which called on both men and women to oppose slavery, the subordination of women and to promote peace and arbitration. Ruether noted how this radical tradition expressed no bifurcation of virtue between men and women but rather called a common humanity to peacemaking.  [1]

Making American Religious History

Cara Burnidge

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the presidential inauguration behind us, the semester is now in full swing for many of us. If you're like me, then your classes are beginning with primers on how to think critically about religion in American history. Today provides us with a fantastic, current  example to share with our students.
At 10 AM EST this morning, most news channels began covering the National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral. Washington National Cathedral is no stranger to presidential politics, supporting and legitimizing past presidents and political causes through their space and services. Yet, this service was not without some controversy. Current and former deans of the church disagreed about the choice to host Trump. Some Christians focused on number of evangelical leaders represented at the event. Even though this National Prayer Service hosted a larger variety of faith leaders than previous services, the number of evangelical leaders was double that of past National Prayer services.

National prayer services provide one way to study religion in American history and culture: institutional; formal, structured services; led by clergy; largely (though not exclusively) male. This might be what most expect to study when they enroll in an American religion class. We could disrupt this stereotype in these early weeks (or throughout our classes), by encouraging our students to see the diversity of American religion on display currently and in the past--and introduce them to the robust conversations and debates found in our field's historiography.

We can share clips and images from C-SPAN and Twitter or share the split screen at a variety of channels. In these places, another form of American religion is on display and in the making. These displays are not in the pews of formal religious institutions, but in the streets of Washington, D.C. and numerous other cities across America. The Women's March on Washington (and other cities) includes religious leaders like Sister Simone CampbellRabbi Sharon Brous and these Episcopal women, practices like indigenous women dancing in solidarity and protest, and images like the one below.

New Books in American Religious History: 2017 Year in Preview, Part One (January-April)

Paul Putz

It's time for part one of the 2017 book preview list! This one will cover books published from January through April.

The usual preface: I've listed the books in roughly chronological order based on the month of their tentative release date. Although I've tried to include as many relevant and interesting titles as I could find, I'm sure that I left out some deserving books. Sometimes this is because publishers don't have updated information on their websites, and sometimes it's because I just missed it. Please feel free to use the comments to add to this list and I can update the post as needed.

As for how I define what is "American" in American religion (to say nothing of what is "religion" in American religion), for the purposes of these lists I mostly follow Kathryn Gin Lum's response in this IUPUI RAAC forum. There, she articulated an understanding of "America" as the region that eventually became known as the United States. That definition does have problems, of course, which is why your contributions to this list -- contributions which envision "America" differently -- are more than welcome.

Now, on to the books! (after this collage to add some color to any social media links)


Elesha Coffman

For those of you who didn't get the updates in Denver (an unusually small winter meeting--any theories on why?), there was a lot of big news from the American Society of Church History, including new dates to be aware of.

Regarding next year's winter meeting, the ASCH council passed a motion to meet adjacent to, rather than in conjunction with, the AHA. The text of the motion: "Assuming the ASCH is able to secure adequate hotel space, the Society will hold its own meeting alongside but not as part of the AHA in 2018." Effectively, this should return the ASCH winter meeting to its old format: ASCH sessions will be held in a hotel near the AHA headquarters hotel(s), and ASCH members will be strongly encouraged to stay in that hotel, because filling the hotel rooms is how a group negotiates things like use of meeting space and--if we're lucky!--free breakfast. ASCH members will once again register for the meeting through ASCH, not through AHA, which should lower the overall cost of attendance and keep the registration fees flowing into ASCH coffers. On the negative side, registering through ASCH will mean loss of access to the AHA book display (again, a return to the way things used to be, with ASCH and AHA folks wearing different nametags) and ASCH sessions not showing up in the AHA program book or app. People who register for AHA or ASCH would be equally able to attend sessions sponsored by either group. Anyone presenting at a session, however, must be registered for that group's meeting--or, in the case of jointly sponsored sessions, they must be registered for both meetings.

Co-sponsored sessions become especially important in this scenario. ASCH has not, traditionally, pitched many of these to the AHA, but other affiliate societies, notably the Conference on Latin American History, have. Under the AHA's "one meeting" model, co-sponsored sessions were a way for affiliate societies to get more panels on the schedule. An independent ASCH meeting won't have this issue--we can schedule as many sessions as we have room for, without worrying about the "slots" designated by the AHA--but it will have a program visibility issue. In other words, if you want AHA people to know about your session, it would be a good idea to request co-sponsorship and get the session listed in both the ASCH and the AHA program books. To this end, the ASCH has moved its CFP deadline up to February 15, to coordinate with the AHA deadline. If you are proposing a full session, think about whether you would like to apply for co-sponsorship. The ASCH program committee will also watch the submissions for co-sponsorship candidates, i.e. sessions broad or significant enough to attract an AHA audience. Because appearing on a co-sponsored panel is likely to incur extra costs for participants, ASCH will try to provide assistance for graduate students and contingent faculty members who find themselves in this situation. ASCH leaders believe that the tradeoff--more cost, but a lot more visibility for the presenter and the society--is worth the extra effort.

In other ASCH news:

Announcement: Lake Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship

Lake Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship

Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy will offer a one year doctoral dissertation fellowship of $22,000 for the academic year 2017-2018.

This doctoral dissertation fellowship will be given to a graduate student whose research engages and intersects issues within religion and philanthropy or faith and giving. The fellowship is intended to support the final year of dissertation writing.

The fellowship award will be paid in three installments: $10,000 at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year; $10,000 at the mid-point of the 2017-2018 academic year; $2,000 upon the successful completion of the dissertation.

The application process for the 2017-2018 Lake Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is now open. All applications materials must be received by January 31, 2017.

For applicant criteria and application procedures, visit the Grants and Scholarships page:

MLK and Confronting America's Past

Cara Burnidge

It could be the ice storm across the Midwest and the generally dreary whether, but this year I find myself in a more reflective mood than in past Martin Luther King, Jr. Days. It's hard not to feel like this year is different. The legacy of King and the Civil Rights Movement are openly under fire as the President-Elect and others question the integrity of one of the nation's pivotal civil rights leaders. Americans and American institutions present themselves as honoring King when their past or present is openly known to have obstructed his efforts or oppose his positions. The consequences of not knowing the history of the Civil Rights Movement, like the horrors activists endured and the depths of the racial injustice in America, seem more apparent than ever. To teach religion in America at this time is both a privilege and an awesome responsibility.

What a week we will have in front of us. We begin it with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and we end it with the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump.

These historic bookends remind me of what I consider to be most poignant aspect of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington, D.C. When visiting the memorial, most stand in awe, looking up at King emerging from the stone of hope. It is a beautiful work of art, no doubt. King certainly rose above the society he was born into. But when I visit it, I prefer to stand beside King and face the direction he faces. When you do, you see the intentional efforts of the monument's designers to have King face the Thomas Jefferson memorial. The symbolism, the National Parks Service explains, highlights the trinity of leaders honored in D.C.:
"The plans aimed to create an entire city to remind us “what we should be trying to achieve as a nation, as a society [and] as human beings on this planet.” For the “I Have a Dream” speech, King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and referenced the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson. The symbolism helped to reinforce core American values that appealed to all Americans, highlighting the injustice perpetuated by segregation."
I like to see it a different way. I imagine King to be staring down Jefferson, holding the man and his words accountable in American culture and law. I imagine Jefferson not being able to look up, on, or out without being reminded of who was left out of ideals and his America for so long. It creates a tension rather than a harmony in my mind. A poignant and unavoidable tension in American history that deserves reflection. To honor that tension, rather than any one triumph, I like to stand beside the King memorial and imagine that I too confront America's past.

Two Books on Evangelicalism in the Non-Union Era

Janine Giordano Drake

Why did we see a decline in discussions on unions within evangelical churches in the late twenteith century? How has this decline impacted the beliefs, practices and theologies of evangelical Christians? A number of books have addressed the rise of a new kind of "Christian capitalism" in recent years. These include Tim Gloege's Guaranteed Pure, Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Walmartand Ken and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf's Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South. But, I want to point our attention to two 2016 books which carry on this question particularly well, and which really talk to one another. They would pair very well within a graduate seminar.

The first, Darren Grem's The Blessings of Business: How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity, shows how many companies in the second half of the twentieth century combined their previously separate divisions of "production/sales" and "mission work" within a new product called Christian business. These new corporations advertised themselves as Christian businesses, for they hoped that both employees and consumers would sponsor their corporate mission while also enjoying their products and services. Chick Fil A, for example, advertised its Sunday closures and celebrated traditional families with male breadwinners. Other companies invited employees to voluntary Bible studies and made sure that consumers knew their values.

Grem also shows how the postwar phenomenon of a "Christian business culture" reshaped conservative evangelicalism into a culture deeply comfortable with consumer choice. The close relationship between evangelical businessmen and evangelical ministers meant that late twentieth century evangelicalism saw a wide variety of Christian-branded commodities.

The second, Janis Thiessen's Not Talking Union: An Oral History of North American Mennonites and Labor shows the ways that not-talking about unions has reshaped the theologies and practices of contemporary Mennonites, and led to contemporary tensions among different groups of these evangelicals. The book is a rigorous oral history of Mennonites' theologies of work and God, and does not directly follow change over time. But, it illustrates with exquisite clarity the ways that Mennonite business practices have been affected by the "Christian business culture" which Darren Grem explores.

Race and Religion: Double Publication

Jonathan Den Hartog

Even as the AHA and ASCH meetings are kicking off--and don't forget Cara's handy guide below--it seemed fitting to notice our blogmeister (emeritus) Paul Harvey's double publication of Christianity and Race in the American South and Bounds of Their Habitation: Race and Religion in American History.

Earlier this week, Paul showed up on the Research on Religion Podcast. Tony Gill runs a great podcast for all kinds of scholars of religion, and he conducted an effective interview on Christianity and Race in the American South.

In the podcast, I was particularly taken with two ideas. One was Paul's goal to historicize evangelicalism in the South and place it within larger historical frames. The other was the discussion of the westward expansion under Manifest Destiny (with displacement of natives and expansion of the slave system) as an expression of one religious vision coming into competition and conflict with another. That is, just as some varieties of white evangelicals were justifying expansion through religious language, they were being challenged by other evangelicals demanding more justice, also from biblically-inspired perspectives.

Then, if you were looking for a shorter introduction, Paul also just showed up in "The Author's Corner" at the Way of Improvement.

For those in Denver, I understand Bounds of Their Habitation is available at the Rowman & Littlefield booth.

Altogether, I think Paul has given us a lot to chew on in the new year.

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