The Cold War and Kruse's One Nation Under God



2 comments
Michael Graziano

Note: This is the first post in a three-part review series. Look for reviews by other contributors later this month.

There’s a lot to say about Kevin M. Kruse’s soon-to-be-released One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015). Fortunately, several RiAH bloggers will be diving into the book throughout the month and I’m sure we’ll have some great conversations from a variety of perspectives. The part of the book that I’ll be focusing on today is how Kruse’s narrative adds to our understanding of the early Cold War period. 

Connected Networks: Science, Geography, and Fruit



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When not organizing parties (See: conference) for friends new and old, and when I'm pretty sure harassing students with one more lame (see: hilarious) world religion joke won't get me any more fans for the day, I like to spend my time making impossibly long book lists to add to my comprehensive exam plans (see: fall 2015). One potential avenue that has provided endless fun for exploring the long nineteenth century has been the interlocking topics of science, geography, and pineapples. So, for the blog this month, I'd like to share three great books that everyone should make sure to check out and then leave me some more suggestions and rabbit holes to head down. 

Religious Belief in the Age of the Surveillance State



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By Michael J. Altman

This post started forming in my mind as I watched Citizenfour last week. I'll get to the film eventually, but first, James Madison:
"The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men."
James Madison, "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments" (1785)
Thanks to James Madison, and other founders, religion was constructed as a special category in the United States. The First Amendment set aside a protected space where Congress wasn't suppose to tread. It could not establish nor could it prohibit the exercise of religion. Religion, then, became a place off limits to the state.

Pushing past the First Amendment, many of the Founders imagined this category of "religion" to involved belief--"opinions,""conscience," and "conviction," as Madison described it above. Yes, one must be free to exercise one's religion, but that exercise began with internal beliefs that were then exteriorized in practice. Thus, the First Amendment set up a space where dissent could be tolerated. Religious dissent meant one could believe whatever one wanted and then, theoretically, would be free to exercise that belief. Religion became a space for managing dissent--a pressure valve to state power. But was such a special category sustainable in the new country? Could you really allow people to dissent and believe whatever they wanted and then exercise those beliefs?

CFP: Material Religion: Embodiment, Materiality, Technology



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Lauren Turek

Call for Papers 

Material Religion: Embodiment, Materiality, Technology

An interdisciplinary conference
September 11-12, 2015
Duke University

With support from the Henry Luce Foundation and the Duke University Department of Religious Studies

In 2005, the journal Material Religion began publication. Currently in its tenth year of production, the journal has become an international clearinghouse for research on the material cultures of religions throughout time and around the world as well as a forum for critical discussion and reviews of exhibitions and books related to the study of objects, materiality, images, and the host of practices that give religions their material presence.

Those interested are encouraged to submit proposals for papers addressing any aspect of the three intersecting themes: embodiment, materiality, and technology. The editors of the journal invite submissions in any domain of the investigation of religious material culture from any period of human history.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words and a brief vita (one or two pages) no later than March 15, 2015, to Professor David Morgan, Duke University, david.morgan@duke.edu.

Those whose papers are accepted will need to provide their own travel costs, but food and hotel will be covered for speakers by the conference organizers.

Admission is open to the public and there is no fee for attending the conference.

CFP poster after the break:

The Buffered Self and Movie Buffs



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This guest post comes from Jeffrey Wheatley, a graduate student at Northwestern University. His research explores formations of religious contestation, racialization, the state, and capitalism with a focus on nineteenth-century North America. You can contact him at jwheatley@u.northwestern.edu or on Twitter @wheatleyjt. Cross-posted at History of Christianity, blog of the American Society of Church History.

Image from Esquire

The Academy Awards took place this past Sunday, so I thought a post on movie-going would be appropriate. Plenty of religious studies and American religious history books have engaged religion and cinema in one way or another (Judith Weisenfeld’s stellar Hollywood Be Thy Name comes to mind), but, despite a once tepid response to what I thought would be a compelling lecture (I now know better), I want to use movie-going in this post to take a tour through some of my side research interests and to think rather suggestively about the metaphysics of secularism, about the theoretical and methodological openings and foreclosures implicated in recent work on secularism, and about Frank O’Hara.

In A Secular Age Charles Taylor argues that one of the central transformations of the past five-hundred years is a shift from the porous self to the buffered self. The porous self is open to transcendent external forces like demons, spirits, and witches. In our contemporary secular age, we have buffered selves, meaning that we are largely autonomous agents resistant to external forces. Movie-going, Taylor argues here and elsewhere, is an example of our disenchanted age’s nostalgia for enchantment:
Perhaps the clearest sign of the transformation in our world is that today many people look back to the world of the porous self with nostalgia. As though the creation of a thick emotional boundary between us and the cosmos were now lived as a loss. The aim is to try to recover some measure of this lost feeling. So people go to movies about the uncanny in order to experience a frisson. Our peasant ancestors would have thought us insane. You can’t get a frisson from what is really in fact terrifying you.[1]

World Religions, American Religions, the Object of Study, and an Ode to Bruce Lincoln



8 comments
Charles McCrary

This year I have been teaching “world religions” for the first time. I knew I would be required to do it at some point, and I dreaded it. My position was familiar and unoriginal: Religion doesn’t exist; it has no essence. The word wouldn’t even make sense to any of our non-Western and/or pre-modern subjects. It is a recent invention, a product of what has been largely an imperialist, colonialist, racist project. Less insidious but also dissuasive, many world religions textbooks are $120 assemblages of Wikipedia articles couched in thinly veiled liberal Protestant theology. The discourse of “world religions” is something we can and should study—and, as Mike Graziano recently pointed out, we can study it in the context of American history. But it’s not something we engage in.

Nevertheless, we have classes called “world religions.” Some institutions still call theirs something like “religion in the human experience.” So, how can we teach these classes in ideologically and methodologically responsible ways? Should we teach only a history of World Religions discourse itself—a meta-history? This is a viable option. Equipped with histories like Tomoko Masuzawa’s The Invention of World Religions and David Chidester’s Empire of Religion, intellectual frameworks from Wendy Brown and Russell McCutcheon, and maybe a few methodological tools from Foucault or Marx, students can use their textbook as a primary source, historicizing it and interrogating its normative assumptions. This would make for a good class. But I fear I have neither the patience nor the aptitude to accept total failure that this task would require. (Also, I know that “millennials” are supposedly marked by their ironic self-awareness, but that mood is characteristically absent from large portions of the demographic. My students resoundingly hate anything “meta.”) So what else can we do?

The Secular Roots of the Culture Wars



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The following is a guest post by Andrew Hartman.  Andrew is Associate Professor of History at Illinois State University and a former Fulbright Distinguished Scholar.  He is a past President and current blogger at the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH).  He is also chair of S-USIH's Seventh Annual Conference to be held in Washington, DC this October (deadline for proposals is fast approaching!).  Finally, Andrew is the author of two books, including the excellent forthcoming study, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago, May 2015).  Here is a brief taste of what will be one of his more interesting arguments for RIAH readers. 

Andrew Hartman

Many historians assume that the culture wars (those series of angry quarrels about what it means to be an American that dominated national headlines during the 1980s and 1990s) boiled down to a growing divide between religious and nonreligious Americans. James Davison Hunter had a lot to do with such an understanding thanks to his 1991 book, Culture Wars: The Struggle To Control The Family, Art, Education, Law, And Politics In America, the standard-bearer in the scholarship of the culture wars.

Hunter’s thesis, which proved convincing to most observers, was that American society had become increasingly divided between mostly secular “progressives” and mostly religious “traditionalists.” Hunter’s smoking gun was the fact that conservative Americans who had previously been pitted against one another over different religious traditions—Protestants versus Catholics, to name the most obvious example—were then joining forces in their recognition that secular forces were the real threat to their values.

This is correct as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.

"The Heavenly Vision" of Suffrage, or, Happy Belated Anna Howard Shaw Day!



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Carol Faulkner

In 1888, the Rev. Anna Howard Shaw preached the opening sermon at the first meeting of the International Council of Women. Based on Acts 26:19, "Whereupon, O, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision," she argued that all reformers experienced a call from God: "Every reformer the world has ever seen has had a similar experience.... No one of God's children has ever gone forth to the world who has not first had revealed to him his mission, in a vision."* Shaw reviewed the diverse visions of the women gathered in Washington, D.C., representing multiple organizations and nations. The suffragist had a "vision of political freedom," "that humanity everywhere must be lifted out of subjection into the free and full air of divine liberty." The moral reformer, or social purist, had a vision of "social freedom," in which they defeated prostitution by holding men as well as women accountable for sexual sins (her definition of "social freedom" is somewhat jarring to modern readers). The temperance reformer had seen the "rum fiend" guiding the "ship of State" to the "rocks of destruction." The educator envisioned "the great field of knowledge which the Infinite has spread before the world." Anna Howard Shaw had experienced such a vision herself. As a teenager, living in poverty in rural Michigan, she had experienced a call to preach, though it would be years before she was able to implement it. By the 1890s, according to biographer Trisha Franzen, suffrage was a religion to Shaw, who became the longest serving president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). How did this transformation occur?

Born on Feb. 14, 1847 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, Shaw immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was four years old. Even as a child, Shaw's labor was essential to her family's survival, and Franzen views Shaw's status as an immigrant, and then a working woman, as central to her perspective on women's rights. In 1857, still searching for a better life, the family moved again from Lawrence, Massachusetts, to Mecosta County, Michigan. Her religious vision came shortly after the move to western Michigan, when her father's poor choices had compounded the family's struggles. According to Franzen, "Anna had spent the day in the woods with her books and her dreams. This day, alone with the trees and her thoughts, she felt the call of vocation. She was awed by the experience of feeling God's will, telling her to preach and lead people to salvation." Her Unitarian family was unsupportive. When she was twenty-three, Shaw finally left their farm to move to Big Rapids. She attended high school, converted to the Methodism, preached her first sermons, and enrolled at Albion College.

"As Women With Women": Sisters Negotiating Feminism



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(This month Cushwa welcomes recent Travel Grant recipient Jessie Potish Whitish. Jessie's current work combines policy and history; she has recently been part of a project examining fair and affordable housing in Louisville and was part of a research team that developed an exhibit about the 1954 Anne and Carl Braden sedition trial. Her research interests include oral history, women religious, local social movement history, and religion and feminism. Contact Jessie at jessie.potish@gmail.com or on Twitter as @jessiewhitish.)

Jessie Potish Whitish


Lucy Freibert, SCN, as an initiate


In the first year of my master’s program, I learned that one of the founders of our department—Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Louisville—was a Catholic sister. I attended the University of Notre Dame, with Sr. Madeleva Wolff's St. Mary's College right next door, so I am no stranger to feminist nuns in higher education. But a nun teaching at a secular, urban university? That was thrilling to me.

And so began a series of oral histories with Sister Lucy Freibert, SCN. Freibert is a Sister of Charity of Nazareth, a regional congregation based near Bardstown, Kentucky. She entered the community in 1945, received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1970, and taught the first women’s studies course at the U of L in 1974. In many ways, Freibert’s timeline mirrors that of other sisters across the country in the post-Vatican II Church.

In the years during and after the Second Vatican Council, no group within the Church experienced more shifts in their individual lives and collective identities than women religious. The Church had charged sisters with leading transitions in parishes after World War II, and the Sister Formation Conference was already working to increase sisters’ educational attainment and professional development long before Vatican II. But it was only after Vatican II that women religious dramatically changed their dress, worship, living arrangements, community structures, and ministries. As people of God—usually in the form of teachers and community workers—sisters led their local parishes to embrace post-Vatican II reforms and ushered in a more catholic Catholic Church.


Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture, 1885-1925 (Review)



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Paul Putz

Janine Giordano Drake recently suggested that it might be time to stop using the language of a "Fundamentalist/ Modernist Crisis" when explaining early-twentieth-century U.S. Protestantism. Books by Matthew Bowman and Priscilla Pope-Levison have certainly pointed towards a more cautious use of the "fundamentalist/modernist" binary. Work that is a bit older, especially work done by scholars of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century holiness movement, has made similar claims. In his 2004 biography of early Pentecostal leader A.J. Tomlinson, for example, R.G. Robins argued that "there are sectarian modes of modernity” and that, instead of providing a shelter for rural values in the city, the radical Holiness movement adapted “old cultural forms to new social realities." Josh McMullen's Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture, 1885-1925 (Oxford, 2015) continues this push to rethink how we organize early-twentieth-century U.S. Protestantism.

Taking the most popular turn-of-the-century revivalists and the spectacles they produced as his subject of study, McMullen suggests that big tent revivalists should be understood not as anti-modern reactionaries or fundamentalists but as participants in the transition away from a Victorian culture (with its emphasis on self-control and the importance of character) to a modern consumer culture (with its emphasis on self-fulfillment and personality). This view of big tent revivalism challenges and refines the Fundamentalist-Modernist binary, mainly by consigning its usefulness to the narrow bounds of particular theological debates. Since McMullen is not concerned with those theological debates -- his revivalists "were not primarily theologians," he writes -- the fundamentalist/modernist categories are not especially helpful. Instead McMullen is interested in the interaction between the rise of a mass consumer society and evangelicalism, especially the "unique and important role" big tent revivalists played in combining "the Protestant ethic of salvation with the emerging consumer ethos" (6).

So who were the big tent revivalists? For McMullen they were the professional traveling evangelists who drew the largest crowds in the years between the 1880s and 1920s -- years when attending revivals was an especially popular American pastime. Maria Woodworth-Etter, Aimee Semple McPherson, "Gipsy" Smith, Billy Sunday, and Sam Jones are the main players in McMullen's narrative, with supporting roles played by F.F. Bosworth, J. Gordon McPherson, and Burke Culpepper. Although Dwight Moody's career overlaps with some of McMullen's big tent revivalists, McMullen does not focus on Moody. He sees big tent revivalists as the competitors for Moody's mantle and the builders on the foundation that Moody laid.

Martyrologies and Boundary-Making



1 comments
Elesha Coffman

The recent horrific beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya makes me long for many things, foremost among them, of course, an end to the wrenching violence in that region. In an academic vein, the event and the many responses to it filling my digital media stream make me wish that the Princeton "Lives of Great Religious Books" series, or something like it, offered a history of Foxe's Book of Martyrs. I suspect that the ways we in the West process acts of religiously inflected terrorism continue to be shaped by this much-updated and reprinted martyrology, but a morning's search for information on its influence beyond England turned up surprisingly little. Yet my small university library holds multiple copies, and I can find excerpts or whole texts on numerous websites. This book of bloody death lives on in our collective imagination.

A comparison of the prefaces from an early (1563) and a late (1838) edition indicate some changes and some points of continuity in white, Western, Protestant thinking about the religious others who subject followers of the "true faith" to torture and slaughter.

Southern Baptist Women: An Interview with Betsy Flowers



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Kate Bowler

 Today's interview is the first of a multi-part interview with Elizabeth Flowers about her wonderful new book Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women since World War II.  Having just used this book in my class last week, I can say that it reads like a dream and it teaches beautifully.

Elizabeth Flowers is Associate Professor of Religion at Texas Christian University, where she teaches courses in American religious history, women in religion, the history of evangelicalism, and world religious traditions. Her current research interests include religion, the body, and childbirth practices, and she is working on an edited volume considering shifting notions of gender in the Sunbelt South. During rare but valued free-time, Betsy enjoys trips to family in Memphis, where she can find real barbecue, having coffee with her husband Darren, whose love of Elvis and world cup soccer she happily indulges, cheering for her eight year-old son’s team, the Jedi, and reading women’s memoirs.

Kate: Into the Pulpit addresses a significant gap in evangelical scholarship, whose accounts of the Culture Wars tend to be heavily focused on the theological showdowns of powerful men. What do we American religious historians miss by overlooking Southern Baptist women?  

Betsy: This question captures the book succinctly. I would say that while scholars of evangelicals have considered issues of gender and sexuality in their analysis of the culture wars, most have neglected (or at least avoided any sustained focus on) Southern Baptists, perhaps for fear of straying into the theological realm and more narrowly defined church history. On the other hand, most scholars that treat the Southern Baptist controversy of the same era (1970s to 1990s) have tended to avoid any sustained focus on the culture wars, treating the denomination’s battles more as a theological showdown of powerful men and almost always leaving out the stories of women. A focus on Southern Baptist women absolutely obliges us to look at the two events as integral to one another.

Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South: A Conversation with Elizabeth and Ken Fones-Wolf



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Heath Carter

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Elizabeth and Ken Fones-Wolf regarding their forthcoming bookStruggle for the Soul of the Postwar South: White Evangelical Protestants and Operation Dixie.  It is currently available for pre-order and will be shipping by April, just in time for summer reading lists!

HC: Both of you have written extensively on the intersection of religion and labor in American history.  To what extent does this latest book build upon and/or depart from your earlier work? 

E&KF-W: First, Heath, thanks for the opportunity to chat about our work; we are excited to join a conversation with such a strong and varied crop of people who are exploring issues of faith and class.  We have been interested in how religious beliefs have impacted the choices of both employers and workers for most of our careers, although we have worked on other topics as well.  The current project is probably a bit closer to Liz's work (Selling Free Enterprise) than Ken's (Trade Union Gospel), but it also grows out of Ken's experiences in labor education in West Virginia.  Shortly after joining the Labor Studies faculty at WVU, he taught classes in Ravenswood, WV, following the settlement of a bitter 20-month lockout that forced United Steelworkers Local 5668 to absorb the replacement workers into the union.  He was struck by the importance of religion to workers on both sides of the struggle.

For a long time, there was surprisingly little in the scholarly literature on labor and religion that tried to understand precisely what working people believed and how those beliefs shaped their decisions.  This is in stark contrast to the amount of literature existing on the intersection of Christianity and race, particularly in the Civil Rights Movement.  On class issues, there were studies of influential ministers, employers, and labor organizations that explored the uses of religious rhetoric, but few that tried to examine how popular religiosity linked to the actions that workers took when employers tried to exploit their power at the workplace or when union organizers came to town.  We were as guilty of that as any in our earlier writings, something we have tried to do differently this time.  But earlier, only a few historians, such as Wayne Flynt and Jama Lazerow, were notable exceptions to the prevailing pattern.  Of course, that is no longer quite the case.  A new generation of historians is dealing with religion and class in nuanced and sophisticated ways.  Of special importance to us were Jarod Roll, Richard Callahan, Matt Pehl, and Alison Greene, but the list is quite long.  The book that you are editing with Chris Cantwell and Janine Giordano represents an important effort to capture some of the best of this new work and make it central to the narrative of class relations.  That would have been impossible when we did our earlier work a quarter-century ago.

[The conversation continues just below the fold]


Child of the Jesus People: A Personal History of the Movement and Reflections on "God’s Forever Family”



5 comments
Charity R. Carney

I can still smell the popcorn popping in the old carnival machine. I can remember the endless pots of coffee brewed into the evening to keep the audience caffeinated and upbeat. I can hear the warm tones of the guitars strumming a Larry Norman tune from the stage and the murmur of good friends and family as they discussed their weeks and their plans and their faith. Christian Brothers SKYLIGHT was a fellowship, a coffeehouse, a venue, and a ministry—and it was one of many that defined the Jesus People movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Reading Larry Eskridge’s impressive history of the Jesus People (God’s Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America) is like reading a religious biography of my family in Gadsden, Alabama. Eskridge presents an intricate account of how this California-based movement that became known as the “Jesus People”—believers who adopted the dress, musical stylings, and overall vibe of the counterculture and redirected it towards evangelical/Pentecostal designs.

Like many of the coffeehouses described in God’s Forever Family, the Gadsden group started as an informal meeting of young people who sought a way to outreach to their peers in a way that seemed more meaningful than the stuffy, traditional denominational churches in town. Started by a teenager named Emory Boggs (who happened to be engaged to my aunt Irene) in 1975, Free Relationship Everlasting Enduring (FREE House) began meeting in the back of a doctor’s office but as it grew it moved into a permanent home in a downtown storefront. My parents and my mother’s brothers and sisters served as founding members of the incorporated organization and renamed themselves Christian Brothers SKYLIGHT.

How I Became a Believer: Religion and Music



2 comments
Laura Arnold Leibman

If you have kids, at some point you have probably had the suspicion your children's music is sucking your soul dry.  Perhaps worse, you may have found yourself happily humming along to the music that used to suck your soul dry.  Maybe you have swallowed your pride as you tried to answer your nine-year-old's earnest question, "which 1D album do you like best?"  Better yet maybe you kvelled when your six-year-old piped up from the back seat of the car that the latest Justin Bieber album just isn't as good the second time around and you thought – hope surging – he is no longer a Belieber and maybe, just maybe, that means Bieber albums will no longer play on endless loop during long car trips.

In my household, the musical divide is further fractured by the fact that my husband would prefer that the children wouldn't listen to secular music.  In my rational mind, I know he has the upper hand.  It isn't just that – as my daughter once loudly noted while listening to the radio – "a lot of Katy Perry songs are completely inappropriate."  The rejection of secular music also has to do with the role of music in spiritual transformation in the Jewish tradition.  Some rabbis hold that music has the ability to uplift and shape your soul, and if you want your soul to bend in the right direction, the right music is important.  Yet I also know if I am honest with myself that some of the religious music my children adore (YBC – Yeshiva Boys Choir – comes to mind) wears on me just as heavily as a Bieber album after a few listens.  The tunes are catchy and I like the message, but why does it always feel like the YBC children are yelling at me?  Songs like "Those Were The Nights (of Chanukah)" are cute, but they don't exactly lift up my soul.  I feel virtuous letting my children listen to YBC's CDs and videos, but as soon as the children go to sleep, I change the music.  On the rare instances that I find a religious music group whose melodies do actually seem to make my soul soar (Simply Tsfat comes to mind), my children mutter angrily from the car's back seat that "this is BORING."

Enter the Maccabeats.  Originally formed in 2007 as a Yeshiva University ("YU") student vocal group, the Maccabeats went mainstream four years ago following their YouTube release of "Candlelight," a parody of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite."  As their website (and their songs) makes clear, the group is dedicated to the philosophy of Torah u-Madda (תּוֹרָה וּמַדָּע), the integration of traditional and secular wisdom.  Thus, many of their best songs rework popular American songs to religious and humorous ends.  The implementation of Torah u-Madda in musical form not only is completely in keeping with YU's mission, but also makes the Maccabeats a compelling example of American Religion at work.  Rather than rejecting American popular culture, the Maccabeats embrace it and rework it for religious ends.  I'd like look at the group's blending of Jewish and American traditions in three arenas: (1) genre, (2) language and themes, and (3) parodic humor.  It is this blending of secular and sacred, I suggest, that allows the group to entertain and uplift both the children and adults in our household.

 

American Religious History Symposium, Newcastle University, March 26, 2015



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Randall Stephens

On Thursday, March 26, 2015, the history programs at Northumbria University and Newcastle University will co-sponsor a symposium on “American Religious History.” The event will be open to the general public.

Praying during revival meeting at a pentecostal
church, Cambria, Illinois, January 1939.
Arthur Rothstein, 1915-1985, photographer.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Since September 11, 2001 the study of American religion—through literature, history, sociology, politics, film, and a host of other fields—has been booming.  That might have been surprising news to scholars 50 years ago.  In the 1960s renowned sociologists like Peter Berger predicted that America would become more and more like secular Europe. That did not happen, and in the coming decades Berger made an about face. “[T]he assumption that we live in a secularized world is false,” as he bluntly put it in the late 1990s. “The world today, with some exceptions . . . is as furiously religious as it ever was. . .”  Now scholars and journalists are asking how this upsurge in religious belief and practice relates to standards of tolerance, ethnic identity, and political engagement. Stanley Fish sensed the growing importance of religion in the wake of the 9/11 and the terrorist attacks: “When Jacques Derrida died I was called by a reporter who wanted to know what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I answered like a shot: religion.”

America's Baptists: New Series from University of Tennessee Press



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The note below comes from Keith Harper of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Keith will be initiating and editing a new series with the University of Tennessee Press, on Baptist history in America. Below is a note about the series, brief explanation, and contact information.

America's Baptists have been key players throughout the nation's
history. Sometimes Baptists have been at the forefront of significant social
and cultural change, as with the call for the separation of church and
state. At other, more dubious times, they have commanded center stage
because of internal conflict. Their ranks have produced Presidents and
paupers, pulpiteers and pundits. Their story began as a people marginalized
by cultural and political elites. Gradually, they moved to the mainstream
but by the twenty-first century, they once again faced marginalization.
        

Such a rich, diverse, and complicated history merits close
attention. The America's Baptist Series seeks to explore all aspects of
Baptist history in America. As such, this series will not be limited to one
specific group of Baptists. Rather, this series welcomes works that explore
neglected or understudied aspects of Baptist history, as well as works that
offer thoughtful reconsiderations of familiar themes.
       

If you have questions or wish to submit a proposal, contact Keith
Harper, Series Editor for America's Baptists -- kharper@sebts.edu

Putting to Bed the Term "Fundamentalist/ Modernist" Crisis



13 comments
Janine Giordano Drake

We've all heard the old version of the story. "Modernism" took hold of the academy--indeed, the world--in the early twentieth century, and influenced Bible scholars and theologians to understand Scripture as set of fallible historical documents. American institutes of higher education, as well as the entire Protestant clergy, were forced to decide how much they adhered to the teachings of these "Higher Critics" and with it, what really was the central message of the gospel. Many chose to reject the application of scientific and research principles to the study of Scripture. They held on to older versions of the Bible, and even reinvented the Scripture itself for what they saw as the defensive battle for "Old Time Religion." They focused heavily upon personal conversion. Others dismissed Scriptural literalism in favor of a message of the gospel that emphasized "social salvation." Hence, the Fundamentalist /Modernist crisis was a battle over the relevance of science, the meaning of the gospel, and the purpose of churches.

Scholarship throughout the last thirty years has added to this story significantly. We now know more about premillenial dispensationalists, especially women,  who spent years dedicated to revivals and care for the poor and needy--on behalf of a kind of Social Gospel. We know that the rise of Scriptural literalism coincided with fears about women's participation in the public sphere--the attention to Scriptural literalism was not divorced from social issues of the day. We also know more about the modernists, their overlap with other movements for social uplift and Progressivism, and their sophisticated, if different, Biblical hermeneutic for the Social Gospel. Yet, despite the many elements that complicate the binary of a Fundamentalist/ Modernist crisis, we have largely continued to use the term within conference panels and syllabi. That is, we have largely accepted as a field that the crisis, however complicated and multifaceted, can be captured in the battles over the acceptance or rejection of Modern Scriptural translation.

I think, however, this terminology no longer fits our scholarship. I'd like to point our attention, briefly, to two books published in the last few years--Matthew Bowman's The Urban Pulpit and Priscilla Pope-Levison's Building the Old Time Religion. While the books are very different, they each look to orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy as a source for understanding religious life. That is, they focus upon religion not as it was prescribed (for example, in sermons and Bible editions) but as it was practiced within the functioning of religious institutions. What they each find is that a focus upon significant sermons, Bible editions, and even political orientations of significant Liberal and Fundamentalist leaders only tells a small portion of their story.

CFP: Return to Sender: American Evangelical Missions in Europe, 1830-2010



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Below is a call for papers received by RiAH. Details about submitting proposals can be found after the jump. Proposals are due March 16, 2015.
 

Return to Sender:
American Evangelical Missions in Europe, 1830-2010

Roosevelt Study Center, Middelburg, July 15-16, 2015


In 1830 American agencies sent out the first missionaries to continental Europe to establish new churches. This act signaled the beginning of a reverse movement of missionary activities. After two centuries of European efforts to take care of the souls of North America peoples, missionaries in North Americans began to return out of concern for Europe. These trips inaugurated the first stage of reverse mission in the modern era. Studies such as Ian Tyrrell’s Reforming the World: The Creation of America’s Moral Empire (2010), Mark Hutchinson and John Wolffe’s A Short History of Global Evangelicalism (2012), Brian Stanley’s, The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism: The Age of Billy Graham and John Stott (2013), revealed the growing global network of Anglo-American evangelicalism. These books are more interested in the impressive list of engagements in the "global south" than in Europe. However, despite the modest investment in Europe, this return movement signaled and previewed the eventual global and multidirectional missionary movement of evangelicals. The central question of this conference is how the experiences of American evangelical missionaries in Europe helped or failed to bridge the contrasts between the two continents.

This conference seeks to enrich existing scholarship by bringing together experts who examine the patterns of American evangelicals’ interaction with European audiences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In particular, the organizers seek to examine the intentions, implementation, and implications of American evangelical missions in the Old World. The organizers invite interdisciplinary, long-term and comparative contributions rather than strictly organizational histories of individual mission posts or agencies, The goal is to reveal the similarities and variety in evangelical missionary patterns in Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or mixed countries in Europe. Ranging from Ireland to Russia, Iceland to Sicily, these studies should help to identify the impact of levels of economic development, ethnic make-up, political order, social conventions, gender relations, etc. in the structure of transatlantic religious exchange.

Individual papers might address the following questions:

Katy Perry, the Super Bowl...and American Religion



4 comments
Jonathan Den Hartog

I promise that I had a very serious, historically grounded post on antebellum religion and reform prepared for this month. I'm sure it will make a come-back in March. Today, though, let me take advantage of blogging's ability for topicality and time-sensitive responses to reflect on the Super Bowl--and no, it's not to announce that my book will be retitled as "Patriots and Piety" for New England football fans.

http://static6.businessinsider.com/image/54cf106e6bb3f71921806329-1200-800/shark-katy-perry-super-bowl.jpg
Dancing Sharks!
Still, over 100 million Americans watched the Super Bowl--surely this cultural ritual demands some analysis. If so, even the Super Bowl half-time show holds the potential to prompt our thinking about contemporary religion. Leaving aside some of the show's pyrotechnics (mirrored tigers! dancing sharks! flying stars!), three things struck me as religiously interesting.

First, there was the presence of Katy Perry herself. Perry has a background rooted in the Pentecostal subculture of southern California. Both of her parents serve as Pentecostal ministers, and they continue an evangelistic ministry. They apparently kept a pretty strict household which maintained high tensions with the outside world. As Katy grew and developed her musical skills, she actually recorded a Contemporary Christian Music album in 2001 as Katy Hudson (listen to it all, here). The album received positive notice in Christianity Today online, where the reviewer gave the assessment that "Although her lyrics aren't quite brilliant, they're definitely insightful and well matched to the emotional power of Katy's music." 

Yet, Perry is clearly not in that same religious position currently. In interviews over the last few years, she has expressed an eclectic spirituality, unmoored from traditional Christian belief.

What to make of all this?  Should it be filed as an idiosyncratic biography? Or, is this part of a larger story about de-conversion or the rise of the Nones? Any readers care to weigh in?

Culturally, it seems that this story relates to issues of Contemporary Christian Music detailed in works such as Eileen Luhr's Witnessing Suburbia and Tom Bergler's Juvenilization of American Christianity. Attempts at cultural appropriation as part of youth outreach can lead to uncritical engagements that might transform religious individuals and institutions. Is this one of those moments?

World Religions in American Religious History



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Michael Graziano

Recently I have found myself thinking about the role of “World Religions discourse” in shaping U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. This led me to a broader set of questions about the place of World Religions discourse (WRD) in U.S. history. As the New York Times recently noted, the study of World Religions is alive and well in the United States. What are the historical roots of this? How might we make sense of WRD within the history of American religion?

Where I started—and I imagine where many others did too—is with Tomoko Masuzawa’s The Invention of World Religions. (Side note: this book has a fantastic cover.) Masuzawa is interested in how, when, and why certain people started talking about the “religions of the world.” You can get a sense of her conclusions from the rest of the title after the colon: “...Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism.” Masuzawa writes that
This book concerns a particular aspect of the formation of modern European identity, a fairly recent history of how Europe came to self-consciousness: Europe as a harbinger of universal history, as a prototype of unity amid plurality.
Masuzawa’s research is part of a larger body of work looking at WRD as it relates to European expansion and colonialism. Other work with this focus that I've found helpful includes Donald Lopez’s Curators of the Buddha, Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind, Josephson’s The Invention of Religion in Japan, and David Chidester’s Savage SystemsBut what about the American context? Of course, much in these books can be applied—and is indeed directly relevant—to American history. But since this blog deals with religion in American history specifically, I wonder: How has the study of world religions been institutionalized in the United States, by whom, and to what ends? How have Americans come to understand foreign “religions” as part of a coherent global system, and what effects has this had on American religion at home?

To put the question a different way: the study of Christianity (and the study of the study of Christianity) has received much attention, such as Elizabeth Clark’s excellent Founding the Fathers (2011). Indeed, Clark illuminates the surprising “World Religion-ness” of Christianity as it has been studied in the United States. So what would a WR-centric approach, modeled on a study like Clark’s, look like in ARH? Who is this latter story’s version of Philip Schaff? Which institutions or groups are responsible for developing the study on American shores?

Science, Religion, and the Natural Order of Things



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Andy McKee

In preparing for various conferences this spring (obligatory SECSOR shout-out) I have been reading over brains, bodies, warfare, frontiers, and the (apparent) severe lack of heads in American history. In the expansion of American identity across new borders and boundaries, the history of phrenology played a formative role in how a certain kind of knowledge of bodies and "true religion" was collected and circulated. Following the "Age of Revolutions" across the world, slave bodies, Indian bodies, gendered bodies, and bodies of all colors became sites of the intense contestation over citizenship. For consideration today, I want to think through how these bodies became heightened markers of the struggle over the identity of the frontiers of the Second Seminole War period and what that struggle can help "uncover" about Indian religion in antebellum America.

Religion and the Marketplace in the United States



3 comments
Lincoln Mullen

As Heath Carter has noted, we are due for a bumper crop of books on religion and capitalism in the United States. I want to briefly take note of a new collection of essays on the subject which came out of a conference held at Heidelberg University in 2011: Jan Stievermann, Philip Goff, Detlef Junker, Anthony Santoro, and Daniel Silliman, eds., Religion and the Marketplace in the United States New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

I came to this collection looking for a critique of the persistent metaphor of a "market of religion." (To be more precise, I've been sketching ideas for an essay on this topic. When I saw in the Amazon preview that the title of Brooks Holifield's essay was similar to mine, I figured I needed to read it.) In the introduction the editors begin by critiquing "two metanarratives" about religion and the marketplace. The first of these "compartmentalizes religion and economics as more or less distinct spheres of human life that causally explain each other" (9). Most of the essays in this volume complicate this metanarrative. Mark Valeri on eighteenth-century New England merchants, Grant Wacker on Billy Graham, and Hilde Løvdal Stephens on James Dobson all describe small, daily interactions between religious belief and practice and the economy. Likewise a trio of essays on markets for religious books by Matthew Hedstrom, Günter Leypoldt, and Daniel Silliman show how groups from liberal Protestants to pretribulationist evangelicals navigated and created markets in religious commodities.

The second metanarrative that the editors critique is the idea that "the relationship of religion and markets ... explains 'the American difference,' why America seems so religious in comparison with other Western countries" (15). The bookend essays to this collection by Brooks Holifield and Kathryn Lofton take on this idea. In a tightly argued essay on "The Limitations of Market Explanations," Holifield makes short work of the idea, not so much refuting it as showing its implausibility. He argues instead that there is a "contingent, not necessary" connection between markets in religion and religiosity. Lofton makes the critique more general with a meditative essay on neoliberalism. She offers two observations: that historians are currently writing in an era of neoliberalism, and that most of the essays in the volume argue for a close connection between religious actors and the marketplace. From these observations she asks, "Is all American religion now neoliberal? Or is it merely the case that our scholarship has been so determined?" (285). Lofton doesn't give a definitive answer to this question, but the asking is what makes her essay the highlight of the collection. My suspicion is that the idea of "a [metaphorical] market of religion" has become an crutch we reach for too often to describe American religious interactions without explaining them.

So there are two reasons you might want to pick up this edited collection. The body of the book offers a number of thoughtful, nuanced expositions of the daily interactions between religious actors and the economy. But Holifield and Lofton call into question the terms on which we write about religions and markets.

Free Associate with Me



5 comments
Matthew J. Cressler

I currently have the pleasure to be teaching African American religious history for the first time and, as I do with most of my classes, I began the semester with an exercise in free association. Since my objective is always to press my students to think critically - with specificity, sophistication, self-reflection - about "religion," the exercise serves at least two purposes. It makes all of us in the classroom aware of the working conceptions and definitions of religion (and religions and religious) we carry with us, though most of the time we don't stop to name them. But it also - and this is what is the most fun for me as a scholar-teacher - provides a preliminary map of some of the most popular and pervasive images and ideas about a particular topic.

What first comes to mind when you hear "African American religion"? The map my students made included "awesome choirs," Baptist, T.D. Jakes, "instrument of liberation," music, Christianity, and Martin Luther King. As you can see, the words that sprang to mind tended to have one thing in common: they were, in varying degrees, associated with "the Black Church." (Though, I'm happy to note that Nation of Islam and "voodoo" did make the list.)

I'm sure this revelation surprises few, if any, of you - those words may be akin to what first came to your mind, or, they may be what you would have expected to hear from most students. They certainly corresponded with the results of a quick Google search (because yes, of course I Googled "African American religion"). My students and I catalogued the images Google produced for this search and quickly noticed the preponderance of Christian churches, choirs in exuberant son, preachers exhorting crowds, and bodies (especially women's bodies) in motion. Wikipedia ostensibly has two entries on "African American religion." The entry on "Afro-American religion" will introduce readers to a chart of African diasporic religious traditions in Latin America, the Caribbean, and New Orleans. If you want to learn about the religious life of African-descended peoples in the United States (beyond New Orleans), you'll have to see "Religion in Black America" instead. There, aside from one use of the word "Catholic" and an odd sentence noting how the Nation of Islam eventually "added a Muslim factor," what you will find is a history of Black evangelical Christianity.

American Religious Change and Caring for the Dead



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John L. Crow

Burial and caring for the dead has been traditionally something associated with religion. When we teach our introduction or defining religion classes, we frequently discuss what might be called religious behavior of prehistoric peoples. We point to the ways they buried their dead, including objects, arranging the body, and placing materials, like ochre, on and around the bodies. In some cultures, whole religions are associated with death and caring for the dead, such as Buddhism in Japan. In the United States, burial practices have often been influenced by prevailing religious attitudes. For instance, how one behaved in life influences if one can be buried in hallowed ground. In the South, it was not until after the Civil War that the undertaker became professionalized as a mortician who offered the services of embalming, shifting care of the body from a religious concern to a medicalized one. Yet, many Southerners were concerned about the effect of embalming on bodies when they were to be resurrected. As Charles Wilson writes, “The undertaker had trouble convincing many tradition-bound southerners to allow this tampering with the earthly remains of the temple of God.”

Baron Joseph Henry
Louis Charles De Palm
During this this period, cremation was also introduced to America by the Theosophical Society. The first cremation in America was in Washington, Pennsylvania. Henry Steel Olcott, of the Theosophical Society, organized the cremation of Baron Joseph Henry Louis Charles De Palm on December 6, 1876. While Olcott’s motivation was a result of his orientalism, the sudden explosion of cremation after De Palm was led by other concerns including sanitation. Yet, there was much concern about whether cremation was compatible with Christianity. Stephen Prothero notes in Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America (2002) that despite many of the first participants in cremation coming from alternative religions, the vast majority were Christian and the debate about the suitability of cremation versus burial was an intra-Christian one (80-81).

Cremation, though, has become more and more popular over the last fifty years. According to the Huffington Post, in 2012, cremation was how 43.5% of all bodies were handled, up 1118.5% from 1958 in which only 3.6% of American bodies were cremated. But this trend intersects with another, the decline in participation with organized religion, and the increase of the spiritual but not religious (SBNR). What do the SBNR do with their bodies after death? It turns out there have been many responses, but most deal with remembering the person while forgetting the body.

Corpses are becoming less and less of an issue for people to be concerned with when a loved one dies. Upon death, the body is quickly taken away by morticians and funeral home staff. More and more, memorials are taking the place of funerals and viewings, meaning that once the body is in the possession of funeral home professionals, loved ones may never see the body again. Instead later they might just see a closed casket lowered into the ground or a box or urn containing ashes. Candi K. Cann notes that this dislocation of the body results in people looking for other means to remember the lost loved one as ways to deal with their grief. In Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-first century (2014), Cann writes, “Whether it is a memorial located at the place the body was last intact before its death, such as roadside memorials and the Sandy Hook Elementary memorial, or it is a memorial service held with cremated remains and no corpse, bodiless memorials are clearly indicative of the trend towards memorialization without bodies” (17).

5 Questions for Brett Hendrickson on Curanderismo, Border Medicine & New Mexico Chile



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Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh

For many Latinos/as, curanderismo is part of a healing regimen that we identify with older women in our lives taking care of us. At least that is how I learned about curanderismo, and that my great-grandma Maria rolled her own cigarettes and drank a shot of tequila every day for her health--what a great-grandma she was!  Today's interview with Brett Hendrickson discusses his fantastic new book Border Medicine.  For my colleagues looking for material to teach Latino/a religion, borderlands religion--and to turn the tide away from looking South and East for sources of American Religion--I highly recommend Brett's book.


Brett is an assistant professor of religious studies at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he studies and teaches on religion in the Americas, Mexican American religion, metaphysical religion, and cross-cultural religious change. He is especially interested in curanderismo, Latino popular religious devotions, and religion and healing.
He has lived in a variety of places including Arkansas (where he grew up), New York City, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Kentucky, Illinois, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. In some of these places, he served congregations in his other role as an ordained Presbyterian minister. Brett and his wife, the Rev. Alex Hendrickson have three lovely children and live in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Five Questions for Brett Hendrickson

1) Your book makes a case, if I can simplify that curanderismo is not just for Mexicanos? Tell me about that idea

Yeah, one of the arguments of the book is that curanderismo, to greater and lesser extents, has been an important folk and religious healing tradition in the United States for Anglos as well as for Mexican Americans. The subtitle is "A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo," and by this, I really want to emphasize that, although this healing tradition developed in a very unique set of cultural and ethnic circumstances, the realities of colonialism and U.S. expansion have meant that contact and exchange has taken place for a long time between whites and Mexican Americans. The various chapters document this historically from the turn of the last century up through today. I talk about white ranching families that went to the local curandero for healing in the early part of the twentieth century, and I also talk about white New Agers who are looking for new "spiritual" healing experiences with curanderas in Albuquerque. Of course, the book also covers how Mexican and Mexican American healers have reformulated curanderismo over time to respond to these incursions as well as to other changing realities in the U.S. - Mexico border region and beyond.

With that said, the book is definitely not prescriptive. I have no interest in promoting these kinds of cultural exchanges. However, it is important to understand the power dynamics, exploitations, problems, and occasional redemption stories that occur in instances of colonialism.

Review of Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice



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Lauren Turek

Today I have the great pleasure of reviewing Brantley W. Gasaway’s recent monograph, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice (University of North Carolina Press, October 2014). In this book, Gasaway traces the contours of the progressive evangelical movement from its emergence in the early 1970s through the present day. He details the pressing social concerns that spurred leaders such as Jim Wallis and Ron Sider to call like-minded evangelicals to greater political involvement, explains how these leaders’ views on hot button issues such as gay marriage and the war on poverty evolved over time, and explores how the movement endured despite tensions with the religious right as well as the secular left.

Gasaway locates the roots of the progressive evangelical movement in two journals, The Other Side (which was founded in 1965 as Freedom Now) and the Post-American (which was founded in 1971 and became Sojourners in 1975), both of which championed progressive political causes such as civil rights and economic justice. He argues that these journals provided a testing ground for leaders to develop their ideas as well as an intellectual community where individual Christians could come together to form a nascent progressive evangelical network. As he notes, “in the pages of these pioneering magazines, leaders presented theological and pragmatic arguments to persuade evangelicals that progressive social action represented a duty rather than a diversion. Their development of an evangelical theology for public engagement represented an important step, for contributors to these journals constructed a middle ground between what they deemed two unacceptable alternatives: most evangelicals’ preoccupation with individual religious conversions and apolitical separatism, and the Social Gospel emphasis on societal transformation and justice that continued as a force within liberal Protestantism.” (40).

Whither "Evangelicalism"? Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Randall Balmer's "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory"



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Brantley Gasaway

At the Winter Meeting of the American Society of Church History earlier this month, I was honored to be part of a panel that celebrated and reflected upon the significance of Randall Balmer's classic study of "popular evangelicalism": Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture. First published in 1989, the book received periodic updates and expansions in subsequent editions, with the fifth one appearing last year. 

Ed Blum moderated this panel, which also included Anthony Petro, Dan Vaca, and Mary Beth Mathews. They each presented insightful papers that addressed a range of historiographical and methodological issues. Prof. Balmer offered engaging responses and remarks, and we then enjoyed a fruitful discussion with the audience. 


In my limited time, I chose to focus on Balmer's effort to define and to describe "evangelicalism." Below, I reproduce most of my remarks, including several asides as part of the oral presentation. Feel free to add your own comments or reflections, either regarding the book as a whole or regarding its analysis of "the evangelical subculture."
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As a preface to my reflections on this “book about popular evangelicalism,” I want share my testimony and describe how I came to have a personal relationship with Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. I first encountered this book in 2002 as I began my graduate studies in American religious history with inchoate plans to conduct research on contemporary evangelicalism. Like many appreciative readers, I admired Prof. Balmer’s prose, perceptive analyses, and nuanced portraits of evangelicals. But in addition, the book captivated me because many of its autobiographical elements—descriptions of Balmer’s religious background within and professional journey beyond the evangelical subculture—seemed similar to my own personal and professional path. I was also reared in a fundamentalist household, albeit in North Carolina rather than the Midwest. Like Balmer, I was taught to believe that Catholics were not really Christians. [I’m sorry to say that we did not have a high view of Episcopalians, either.] I too annually attended church youth camps, and Balmer’s moving chapter on Word of Life Island brought back a flood of memories. Not only did I experience those “perennial, elusive quest[s] for summer romance,” but I also participated in ritualized re-dedications of my life to Jesus as I stood in front of the camps' climatic campfires. In short, I was a fellow “product of the evangelical subculture.” As a result, I appreciated how Balmer admitted in the prologue that he wrote the book in part “to come to terms with what it meant to grow up fundamentalist, and to sort out the many ways that the evangelical subculture had shaped [him] and continues to define who [he is].” I know what that process is like. [1]

But—rest reassured—my topic this morning is not the therapeutic benefits of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory for former fundamentalists. Rather, I want to express appreciation for—and then ask critical questions about—how the book addressed a recurring debate for those of us who study and teach about evangelicals: how do we know who exactly are “evangelicals,” and how should we define and describe “evangelicalism”? [I should note that this topic has been raised at two other sessions that I have attended here this weekend.]

New Issue of the Journal of Africana Religions



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Emily Suzanne Clark


The Journal of Africana Religions recently released the first issue of its third volume, and it's a a special issue: The Meaning of Malcolm X for Africana Religions: Fifty Years On. Released on the fiftieth year anniversary of his death, the articles in this issue examine the historical and the contemporary, and the national and the international importance of Malcolm X. As Sylvester Johnson and Edward E. Curtis IV put it in the special issue's editors' note, Malcolm "stood at the symbolic center of global Africana debates about diasporic consciousness, political liberation, strategies for Black empowerment, and Black religious identity." According to Johnson and Curtis, the contributions' insights into Malcolm's international identity "shed new light on Malcolm X's political and religious philosophies, practices, and alliances." They also note that this Malcolm will strike readers differently than the more familiar one in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This important contribution builds on some of the conclusions of Manning Marable in Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (a book I reviewed here at RiAH shortly after its publication).

I haven't had the opportunity to read all of the issue yet, but I certainly plan to do so. Thus far, the article that has jumped out at me most is Juan Floyd-Thomas's contribution "Gaining One's Definition: The (De)Christianization of Malcolm X's Life and Legacy." Floyd-Thomas considers the "cognitive dissonance surrounding Malcolm X in the collective consciousness" of a predominantly Christian nation. Malcolm is malleable, and one way he has been remembered is as a "Christianized Icon." Floyd-Thomas concludes that Christocentric readings of Malcolm and his life are largely due "to an almost dogged determination to ignore the function of his evolving religious beliefs and self-identification in favor of discussing how anomalous or exceptional he was in his beliefs." This article might be a late add-on to my African American Religions class this spring. Floyd-Thomas's work to dechristianize Malcolm is helpful for conversations about Malcolm but also for thinking about how religion works in American culture: why has Malcolm been memorialized this way and how did that process work? I should also note that Floyd-Thomas's work is accessible for undergraduates. My African American Religions class already reads his article "A Jihad of Words: The Evolution of African American Islam and Contemporary Hip Hop" from Anthony Pinn's Noise and Spirit.

My students in both my Religions in America class and my African American Religions class are always fascinated with Malcolm X. He's an iconic figure of the American twentieth century made all the more relevant by recent events. They listen to his voice with inquisitive, thoughtful expressions and note the differences between his speeches and writings pre-hajj and post-hajj. Many of them share how they had imagined Malcolm X and MLK to be on two opposite sides of the civil rights spectrum, one violent and one peaceful. However, they leave class realizing that Malcolm X was a much more complicated person than they thought. Class conversations like those that make me want to design a whole class on Malcolm or a class on Malcolm and MLK like Jonathan Walton has in the past.

Public Education in American Religious History



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Charles McCrary

At the meeting of the American Society for Church History earlier this month, I participated in a panel titled “Religion in Public Schools: Church History, Law, Education, and Ethics.” The panel, which was organized by Candy Gunther Brown, built on and extended some ongoing conversations, and it was designed to encourage the study of education in American religious history and to help to set an agenda for future study. In this post, I will give a brief synopsis of the panel session, followed by some broader observations and prescriptions for the developing subfield of the historical study of religion and American education.

Mark Chancey discussed his ongoing research into the Bible in twentieth-century public school curricula, from the invention of academic Bible courses in the early twentieth century as part of the project of “religious education” to self-consciously secular post-Schempp courses (e.g., “the Bible as/in literature”) to the recent revival of academic Bible courses by companies like the Bible Literacy Project. Leslie Ribovich shared some of her early dissertation research on moral education in New York City Public Schools in the 1950s and 1960s. Educators tried to instill “nonsectarian” morals and root out delinquency as they constructed narratives of progress (evidenced by “unity”) and decline (evidenced by “tension.”) As these programs targeted student populations apparently given to tension and lacking in “civility” and “brotherhood,” the narratives and understandings of delinquency often were racialized.


I talked about what is often called the first American public school law, the Massachusetts School Act of 1647 (often known as the “Old Deluder” law) and its colonialist setting. The Act required towns to use tax revenue to set up school buildings to ensure that children were catechized and taught to read, since it is “the chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.” While most historians of education have focused on the explicitly “religious” nature of the law (because it mentions Satan), I argued that the document is more interesting as a colonialist text, written and enacted in an environment where the devil and demonic were frequently associated with “wilderness,” “ignorance,” and the “barbaric” Others of settler colonialism.
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