Reflections on SHAFR @ 50 Annual Meeting

Lauren Turek

This past weekend, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations celebrated its fiftieth anniversary (as well as the fortieth anniversary of the journal Diplomatic History) at its annual meeting in Arlington, VA. Just as I reported last year, the conference included a number of panels and roundtable discussions on the topic of religion in American history and foreign relations. There were, in fact, so many good panels on religion that I could not even attend all of them owing to my unfortunate inability to be in multiple places at once! As such, in addition to providing my own overview of the exciting work that scholars showcased at the SHAFR meeting this year, I have included some reflections from other attendees as well.

Most of the panels that I attended reflected in some way on missionaries and missionary work, though the listing of panels that I have included at the end of this post does make clear that there were many panels at the conference that examined religion and foreign relations beyond missionary work (and that there were papers on a diverse array of faith traditions, including Judaism and Islam).

The first religion-themed panel that I attended was a roundtable discussion about David Hollinger's forthcoming book Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America, which is due out in October. Daniel Immerwahr organized the roundtable, with Hollinger offering an overview of the project, Melani McAlister, Madeline Hsu, and Andrew Preston providing commentary on the book, and David Engerman moderating. Hollinger outlined his argument that the mainline Protestant missionary project played a key role in "deprovincializing" America, fostering multiculturalism in American life and ecumenicism in American churches in the years between 1890 and the Vietnam war. He suggested that missionaries, the children of missionaries, and the organizations that supported missionary endeavors created what he termed "missionary cosmopolitanism," which contributed to a nascent embrace of other cultures and a strong critique of colonialism—a critique which spurred debates about the missionary project itself and a turn toward more humanitarian aid. Hollinger also revealed how the missionary project, and the cosmopolitanism it inspired among the groups he examined, led these missionaries to engage in debates over the role of the United States in the world in this period. He argued that the alliances some of these Protestants developed with colonized peoples through their missionary work pushed them to embrace an idealism about the potential for U.S. foreign policy to act as a force of morality in international relations, advancing humanitarian and anti-colonialist goals. Hollinger shared a number of wonderful, engaging anecdotes about missionaries such as Kenneth Landon, who ended up briefing Franklin D. Roosevelt and working for the OSS during World War II because he was one of the only experts on Thailand the State Department could find, and about the role some missionaries played in enforcing humane interrogations of POWs in the Pacific theater. Yet, as he concluded, the Vietnam war "shattered their idealism" about the "morality of American policy."

Adventures in the Archives: Tips for Minimizing Expenses, Maximizing Time, & Having Fun

Andrea L. Turpin

“It takes a village to nurture a book into being, and I have been privileged to be part of one that stretches from coast to coast.” This is the opening sentence of my book's acknowledgments section, and I thought of it recently when a Baylor history colleague solicited archive stories to share with her graduate class on archival research (wish I’d had one of those!). The stories that jumped to my mind related to creative ways to fund archival visits and maximize time there—which for me very much depended on a network of friends and supporters.

As it happens, I write this from Philadelphia, where I am spending two weeks at the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society researching for my next book project. Stay tuned next month for my “Know Your Archives” post on this excellent resource for American religious history. In the meantime, here’s an adapted version of the tales and tips that I passed along to our graduate students on how I conducted my dissertation research.

As a single woman, I made a great American road trip and did all my archival research in one year. Then I processed and wrote it up the following two years, rather than alternately researching and writing. During my research year, I visited 12 archives housed in 10 cities, from Boston to Berkeley. I had a blast, came home with some great finds, and managed to spend almost none of my own money above regular expenses. I admit luck and the nature of my topic played a role, but this is the advice I would give graduate students just diving into archival research:
Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

1. Apply for grants. Lots of them. I tell students they can write a strong travel-to-collections grant proposal with a formula something like this: “I am writing on X, which has been overlooked. We need to rectify the fact that X has been overlooked because it will significantly change our understanding of Y (which should be something a reasonable number of people care about). Your specific archives are essential for this project because Z. I am the right person to undertake this research because ABC.”

When selling my students on the glories of researching the history of higher education, I note that choosing that topic for my dissertation/first book meant that it was easy to make the case that a college or university archive should give me a grant: I wanted to write on their institution, which is always flattering, and their institution is always the sole place that houses the archives of their institution. I would add that college archives are excellent—and often overlooked—sources for American religious history, with relevant sources ranging from curricular records, to faculty and administration papers, to the records of student organizations. I found that Princeton University, the University of Michigan, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study all offer unusually generous travel-to-collection grants.

CFP: Newberry Library Seminar on Religion and Culture in the Americas (Deadline is June 30)

By Karen Johnson.
I am thrilled to announce that the Newberry Library in Chicago is hosting a seminar on Religion and Culture in the Americas this year.  If you're working on a project and would like feedback, please apply.  You'll have the opportunity to share your ideas, to receive formal feedback, and to hear comments from attendees.  The deadline for a proposal is soon: June 30!  I have found the Newberry's seminars (the library hosts a wide range of groups) to be incredibly helpful, both for learning what others are doing in a deep and sustained manner, and for receiving feedback on my own work. 

Read on for the the official description:

Is there such a thing as working class religion?

Janine Giordano Drake

Is there such a thing as working-class religion? 

In his recent book, The Making of Working Class Religion, Matthew Pehl argues that there is such a thing. For Pehl, "worker religion," is a pattern of idioms and symbols that are co-constituted in the workplace and in religious communities. When we assess working people's religious experiences through the category of "working class religion" (rather than "faith" or "belief," which differ by tradition), we come to see the ways that Catholics, Protestants and Jewish workers had common experiences which informed their religious identities. That is, Pehl argues, workers experienced class through their religion, and religion through their class. The one category cannot be understood without recognizing the way the other category helped constitute it.

How does this theory impact the way we read the history of the working classes in Detroit?

According to Pehl, it was partially religion that brought workers into the labor movement and kept them there. White, ethnic Catholic workers came together under iconography that celebrated Christ-the-worker. Black Protestant migrants from the South came together under Southern idioms and cultural symbols that deeply connected with agricultural work and Southern religion.... Pehl convincingly argues was not just workers who were organized by the UAW, but whole working class religious groups which the United Auto Workers shaped and was ultimately shaped by. Their balance of left-wing but not Communist politics, for example, was deeply shaped by the Detroit Archdiocese. The Detroit Archdiocese, however, was also deeply shaped by the number of Catholic workers in Detroit. 

When the heyday of the Detroit UAW fell (with the automation of the car industry and the de-industrialization of Detroit), so also did the heyday of "worker religion." Class-based religious consciousness, held together in large part through the UAW and the common experience of the shop floor, fragmented in the 1960s. As large number of working class whites left the city for white collar jobs and the suburbs, Detroit's religious consciousness was remade along the lines of race rather than class. 

The book balances theory and social history extremely well. I would highly recommend it for any class in Religious Studies or Working Class History.

For a critical discussion of the book, however, I'd love to assign this book alongside Kate Bowler's Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. Both books are fantastically well-written, but they each address poverty and the prosperity gospel/ Word of Faith movement of the 1930s through a very different lens. Bowler addresses the role of class and material conditions of poverty in the rise of the movement, but for her, the 1930s was a moment of impossibilist prayers for scarce material blessings. For Pehl, however, the 1930s was a moment of profound gains for labor due to the very "working class religion" that the 1930s produced.  Of course, part of the discrepancy is the fact that the two historians focus upon different regions of the country. Poor Americans in the rural South, of course, experienced the Depression differently from the employed working classes in Detroit. However, the two books trace the origins and effects of the Word of Faith movement pretty differently. 

For Bowler, the Word of Faith movement is not really a class phenomenon; it is an American phenomenon. It is little more a response to poverty than a response to an American culture which fetishizes health and wealth, and an American Christianity which has historically accomodated those cultural values. For Pehl, however, that desire for material prosperity which led to the Word-of-Faith movement in the 1930s needs to be read primarily as function of Detroit's social history. The Word of Faith movement in Detroit, Pehl suggests, arose only because of the way it brought together the collective histories of Detroit's working class Protestants. Pehl challenges us to trace all religious beliefs as a outgrowth of specific, class and material conditions.

Overall, I'm very excited about the flowering of new scholarship on religion in the Great Depression. Alison Greene's No Depression in Heaven speaks to these subjects as well, but for that we'll have to wait until next month. 

The R&AC Conference: Taking Religion "Seriously"

Adam Park

"Why so serious?"--The Joker

With tongue perpetually in cheek, admittedly, I get a little nervous when people get "serious." My skittish ears are therefore perked at the very mention of the s-word. In all its stern demand, the s-word happened a lot this weekend at my favorite conference ever--the Religion & American Culture Conference. And, not incidentally, the s-word happens a lot in Religious Studies. "Taking religion seriously," so it goes. As Michael Altman Twittered (sp.?) the first morning of the conference: "what does it mean 'to take X seriously'? I've heard a lot of that this morning." I second that Twitter query. Though testing my incessantly satirical nerves, I think it worthwhile to explore the nature of our cultivated tone, our asserted imperative, our assumed position, our seriousness. 

Here's what I think is going on. As Charlie McCrary suggested in his previous post, "taking religion seriously" has much to do with assertions of proximity or intimacy to our subject(s). And as Elizabeth Pritchard so insightfully argued, the scholarly injunction to take religion "seriously" is laden with secular liberal assumptions about the existence of a power-neutral space within which to discuss a given topic. Both points taken. Additionally, here's some other things I think we mean when we issue calls to take X "seriously." 

Know Your Archives Series

Cara Burnidge

Now that RAAC2017 has come and gone,* summer is in full swing. For me, and I suspect many readers too, that means it's time for archival research. Fortunately, we've accumulated a quite a few posts for those who might be researching for the first time or heading somewhere new. Here's a round-up of what we've posted previously.
For those unable or uninterested in heading to an archive, contributors have highlighted some digital sources:
Now that you've found your archive and/or your material, you might want to consider what comes next. Mike Graziano wrote about his archival workflow in "Research Tools and the Dissertation"

While we're on the subject of archives, if you're interested in engaging students through archival work, Emily Clark has some posts that may help: "Taking Classes to the Archives" and "Students in the Archives."

If you're spending some time in an archive not mentioned below, send us a post sharing your experiences--the same goes for digital sources, workflow tips, and teaching ideas. Posts and post ideas should be sent to cara [dot] burnidge [at] uni [dot] edu.

*Stay tuned for RAAC2017 reflections. Those posts are on in the queue....

Primary Source: Eisenhower on D-Day

Jonathan Den Hartog

As my June entries have traditionally fallen on the anniversary of D-Day, I've enjoyed using the entry to highlight topics around religion in World War II. For previous entries, see here and here. 

Via the National World War II Museum

Today, briefly and with minimal analysis, let me share Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's Orders of the Day for D-Day:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944 ! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground.

Our Home Fronts have given us an superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your devotion to duty and skill in battle.
We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

I would observe that not only does Eisenhower conclude by beseeching "the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking," but he had earlier assured the soldiers that the "hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you." Eisenhower posed the D-Day invasion as a "Crusade" that properly had the support of American and international prayers. All participants could enter the fray with a sense of a just cause for the violence that was awaiting them. A one-page order thus points to many questions about faith, war, violence, and nationalism.
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