Announcement: Kelly Baker on MSNBC


Former blogmeister, Kelly J. Baker, will be on MSNBC today (August 13) at 3 PM (now!) to talk about hate crimes and modern KKK. 

Scholars of American Religion have much to say in this moment (and, of course, many of us have been talking about these issues in the classroom and on our campuses for some time). Inspired readers are welcome to send in their essays about Charlottesville or related topics/tactics for the classroom to Cara (cara [dot] burnidge [at] uni [dot] edu).

A Death, a Body, and the Living Word

Adam Park 

Jonathan Glover, circa 1948.
A foundational member of the Assemblies of God community died this Saturday. I knew him. From the United States to Sierra Leone, in fact, lots of people knew him. And for them that did, we knew that to be acquainted with Jonathan Glover was also to be acquainted with Someone else.

At just over 5-foot tall with shoes on, and 130-pounds soaking wet, the Someone else that Jonathan embodied was not easy to identify upon first glance. Unlikely vessel, perhaps. But then again, I hear, He was the least of these. What was clear, however, was that the Word inside Jonathan was bigger than he was. It overflowed incessantly. Everywhere. To anyone. He couldn't keep It in, nor did he try. Moments when Jonathan would become the Word were readily visible. His body would pulse with excitement. His short spine would stretch to hold him higher. He would spring up on the balls of his feet, lest Satan catch him on his heels. The volume and cadence of his voice would alter, rising and falling, quickening and pacing, punctuating and pausing. He would pronounce "God" differently, as though it was spelled with a "w" after the "G." A learned melody and sing-song style. The Word had an accent. Weberian charisma. The Word had charm. Jonathan had mastered a craft. Jonathan had been mastered by a craft. To watch Jonathan manifest the Word was like watching a bird in an updraft, effortlessly gliding, animated, held aloft, driven by an invisible thing.

The Fence: Mainline Protestants and Immigration Sixty Years Ago

Today's guest post comes from Nicholas T. Pruitt, a Visiting Instructor in History at Eastern Nazarene College. Pruitt recently completed a dissertation titled "Open Hearts, Closed Doors: Native Protestants, Pluralism, and the 'Foreigner' in America, 1924-1965."

Before there was talk of a wall, there was The Fence. First circulated in 1956, The Fence was a pamphlet that demonstrated sharp divisions among Americans over immigration policy. I first encountered this booklet while researching for my dissertation on white Protestant responses to immigration between 1924 and 1965. As I sifted through material from the Presbyterian Historical Archives, I came to realize that the history surrounding The Fence speaks volumes about midcentury American society and the position of white Protestants who sponsored its publication.

Many mainline Protestant leaders contributed to the public conversation surrounding the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, a bill that aimed to revamp the nation’s immigration system. While it ended Japanese exclusion, its critics pointed out that the legislation was still premised on unevenly distributed quotas based on national origins and other forms of discrimination. Congress eventually passed the bill sponsored by Nevada Senator Pat McCarran and Pennsylvania Congressman Francis Walter, but only after overriding Harry Truman’s veto. Most mainline Protestant denominations opposed the legislation, drawing upon a mix of postwar internationalism, social gospel ideals, and common concern for home missions. While the bill was being considered, the National Council of Churches (NCC) passed a statement in March 1952 calling for Congress to reform the quota system and demanding that the United States assume its global responsibilities and aid refugees. It is striking that in Truman’s veto message of McCarran-Walter, he even invoked the social gospel rhetoric of his Protestant contemporaries, claiming that the law “repudiates our basic religious concepts, our belief in the brotherhood of man.” Following its passage, the mainline periodical Christian Century questioned the law and had to fend off an angry rebuttal by McCarran, and Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam even had to answer for his criticism of the legislation before the House Un-American Activities Committee, on which Walter served, in 1953.

Thinking Seriously about “Taking Seriously”

Today's guest post comes from Haley Iliff, an MA student in the American Religious History program at Florida State. She is currently researching nineteenth-century women in the American west and their popular religious literature.

Haley Iliff

During my first year of graduate work, I wasn’t really sure what it meant to “take religion seriously,” but I was aware it was something required of me if I wanted to be a scholar. Now, about to enter my second year, I’m still not quite sure what the phrase means, but I think Charlie and Adam’s recent posts have given me a place to start thinking about “taking religion seriously” as an aspect of scholarly tone, especially the tone we take when discussion our subjects.

Historiographic Saints


Isaac Hecker, circa 1890
In the spirit of RiAH's 10 year anniversary, we welcome a guest post from historian William Cossen. You can follow him at and on Twitter @WilliamCossen.

What do historians of Catholicism owe to the saints about whom they write?

This question has been on my mind since the American Catholic Historical Association’s Annual Meeting in Denver this past January.  Two moments at the conference together served for me as the genesis of this question.  The first moment took the form of a comment from Thomas Rzeznik during his presentation for the ACHA’s presidential roundtable, about which I have written in more detail on John Fea’s Way of Improvement Leads Home blog.  Rzeznik noted that scholars of Catholicism should remain mindful of the multiple audiences they serve through their research and writing: the academy, the institutional church, and interested laypeople.

The second moment emerged following my own panel on Catholicism and Americanism.  I had a conversation on the state of the field of Catholic history with the panel’s organizer, Erin Bartram.   Both of our papers dealt with Isaac Hecker, a central figure in the study of mid- to late nineteenth-century U.S. Catholic history, and we briefly pondered the nature of writing about an individual such as Hecker, who is presently being investigated for potential canonization.

It is obviously not uncommon for historians of Catholicism to write about men and women who have been recognized as saints by the Catholic Church.  This may be somewhat rarer in scholarship on U.S. Catholicism, which reflects the fewer canonized saints from the United States than from other countries with longer histories of an extensive Catholic presence.  There are, however, several fine examples of recent historical scholarship that include canonized (or soon-to-be canonized) Catholics as central figures in their narratives.

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