MLK and Confronting America's Past

Cara Burnidge

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

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

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

Two Books on Evangelicalism in the Non-Union Era

Janine Giordano Drake

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

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

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

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

Race and Religion: Double Publication

Jonathan Den Hartog

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

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

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

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

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

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

RiAH @ AHA 2017

The new year is quickly approaching--and, for the sake of beloved celebrities, not soon enough.  In between writing spring syllabi and course schedules, it's time again to set AHA schedules. Once again, I've made a round-up of Religion in America History at AHA 2017. The full list includes panels at AHA and its affiliated societies like American Society for Church History and American Catholic Historical Association. (A brief list of RiAH contributor panels can be found below.) I'm looking forward to seeing RiAH contributors and readers there. As always, readers are welcome to submit their review of conference panels as guests posts via email to cara [dot] burnidge [at] uni [dot] edu.

RiAH Contributor Panels At-A-Glance

Thursday, January 5
  • 3:30-5PM Is Collaboration Worth It? A Roundtable Discussion, Colorado Convention Center, Room 501 featuring Blogmeister Emeritus Paul Harvey & the intrepid Ed Blum
  • 5:30-6:30 Reception for Bloggers & Twitterstorians Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Ballroom F
Friday, January 6
  • 8:30-10:00AM New Directions in American Religion & Internationalism Colorado Convention Center, Room 702 featuring Cara Burnidge, Matt Sutton, Emily Conroy-Krutz, & Chris Nichols 
  • 3:30-5PM 
    • Bringing Sport into the Game: New Scholarship at the Intersection of Christianity & Sports in the 20th Century U.S. Colorado Convention Center Room 702 featuring Matt Sutton, Hunter Hampton, Seth Dowland, 
Paul Putz, Arlene Sanchez-Walsh
    • Sacred Answers to Secular Questions: Religious Critiques of Democratic Politics in Antebellum America Colorado Convention Center, Room 704 with Michael Pasquier
  • 7:30-9:00PM ASCH Extraordinary Business Meeting Hyatt Regency Centennial Ballroom B
Saturday, January 7
  • 10:30AM-12PM 
    • Whose Backlash? Liberal Religious Responses to Conservative Populism, 1965-85 Sheraton Denver Downtown, Director’s Row H with Brantley Gasaway and Karen Johnson
    • The Future of Catholic History: What Do Graduate Students Want to Know? Sheraton Denver Downtown, Governor’s Square 16 with Peter Cajka
  • 1:30-3:00PM The New Academic Hagiography: Perspectives, Methods, and Analysis Colorado Convention Center 705 with Elesha Coffman
The full list of Religion in America History at AHA 2017 panels can be found at this link. 

American Religious Sounds Project

Lauren Turek

Two years ago, David Stowe posted here about the launch of the Religious Soundmap Project of the Global Midwest, which sought to capture the sounds of diverse religious practice in the Midwest and share them via a digital platform. As the project website notes, Isaac Weiner of the Ohio State University and Amy DeRogatis of Michigan State University began the project in May 2014. Student researchers made field recordings of "'canonical' [religious] sounds like Islamic prayer calls or Buddhist chanting" as well as "'non-canonical' sounds in homes and workplaces, during public festivals, ambient noises, and in ostensibly 'secular' gatherings such as school graduations or football games," then created a digital soundmap of these recordings for the public to explore. In this way, Weiner and DeRogatis sought "not to resolve definitively what counts as religious sound, but to present varied sounds that might invite new ways of thinking about religion in the Midwest."

This pilot program proved tremendously successful, and Weiner and DeRogatis have built on this success with the creation of a new, expanded digital religion project that should be of great interest to the readers of this blog: the American Religious Sounds Project. Similar to the Religious Soundmap Project of the Global Midwest, the American Religious Sounds Project will involve students and researchers capturing high-quality audio recordings of diverse religious practices and the creation of a digital archive to preserve and share these recordings. This new project has a national rather than regional scope though, and Weiner and DeRogatis report that their ultimate goal is to "construct a digital platform that integrates sound, images, and text to offer new insights into the complex dynamics of American religious pluralism."

According to the site, the following questions animate the project: "What does religion in the United States sound like? Where should one go to hear it? How might we understand religious diversity differently if we begin by listening for it?" These are compelling questions. As an archive, the project will certainly be of great value to future historians, but the project also obviously holds tremendous pedagogical potential for those who are currently offering courses in American religion and religious history.

For this reason, this project will be an exciting one to track, and Weiner and DeRogatis have created a blog just for that purpose. In keeping with the current holiday season, their post from December 21st highlights the sounds of a diverse array of secular and religious celebrations, from a Pagan Krampus parade to a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Spring Preview: Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism

Catherine R. Osborne 

(posting for the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame)

I wanted to take a moment, now that the end of semester gradefest has died down, to highlight upcoming grant deadlines and events that will take place at Notre Dame this spring.

1) Grants! Research Travel Grants (for travel to the ND archives) and the Hibernian Research Award (for research on an Irish or Irish-American subject) are due December 31. Additionally, you can gear up for the next round of Theodore M. Hesburgh Research Travel Grants, which support research projects in any academic discipline that draw on the Hesburgh papers. These are so great for any projects involving government, international relations, etc, during the mid 20th century. They are due April 1.

2) Lecture! Timothy Neary, associate professor of history and coordinator of the American Studies program at Salve Regina University, will speak on "For God and Country: Bishop Sheil's Vision for Youth Sports," on Feb 10 at Notre Dame.

3) Retirements! From the point of view of history of religion, we have two very significant retirements this year at Notre Dame: Thomas Kselman and Mark Noll. I interviewed Professor Kselman for this blog last fall, and a symposium in his honor will be held at Notre Dame on March 9.

Mark Noll's students have organized a multi-day conference for March 30-April 1. There is much more information available here, and while I would under other circumstances say more in this space, we will be devoting our March 21 post to a conference preview. Please do explore the site and register for the conference, and if you are not able to travel for it, be assured that we will cover it here.

4) Conferences!

The Seminar in American Religion will meet on April 1 to discuss John T. McGreevy's new book, American Jesuits and the World: How an Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global (Princeton, 2016). Commentators for this seminar are Thomas Bender of New York University and Laurie Maffly-Kipp of Washington University in St. Louis. Most readers of this blog are familiar with the Seminar, but just in case: it meets twice annually and is open to the public. Commentators address the book before discussion is opened to the audience, which generally consists of scholars from across the Midwest. More information is available by writing to

Finally, Cushwa's spring semester will conclude with an international conference titled "Too Small a World: Catholic Sisters as Global Missionaries," which will meet from April 6-8 at Notre Dame. The conference program and registration information are available here.

5) Newsletter

Our fall newsletter is available here. As usual, it contains not only a variety of event recaps, conference announcements, interviews, and upcoming deadlines, but also a roundup of recent book and article publications in American religious history and in international Catholic history. The spring newsletter has a submission deadline of January 15, and will become available in March.

Decision on ASCH-AHA Relationship

Elesha Coffman

After all of the discussions and surveys and blog posts, it's finally time for the members of the American Society of Church History to decide on the society's relationship with the American Historical Association going forward. That relationship changed two years ago when the AHA centralized conference registration, which raised the cost of attending the meeting while removing a key reason to pay for ASCH membership. (For the back-story, see my post from April 2015.) Much grumbling about registration costs and an alarming drop in ASCH membership have ensued.

This decision is the topic for the ASCH Extraordinary Business Meeting scheduled for Friday, January 6, from 7:30-9:00 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency Centennial Ballroom B. If you have a stake in this matter, please attend! The meeting is open to anyone at the conference, though only ASCH members will be able to vote. Other major administrative changes for the society are coming soon as well, so stay tuned.

Charisma and the Sacralization of American Politics, 1870-1940

Jeremy Young

Welcome to Jeremy C. Young, our guest blogger! Jeremy is an assistant professor of history at Dixie State University and the author of The Age of Charisma: Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

The letter began simply enough.  “Dear Friend & Brother,” wrote S. B. Morris of Homer, New York, on October 31, 1896, “I am forty five years old. … I am a traveling salesman & travel all over N.Y. state.”  Next, Morris proceeded to the reason for his letter: a description of his recent conversion experience.  “On the night of August 2d while in my room in the city of Schenectady N.Y.,” he explained, “a convicting Power fell on and I was Brought to believe that you were advocating a righteous cause.”  After describing the aftermath of his conversion, Morris offered his correspondent a Christian blessing.  “Now I will close my letter,” he concluded, “by saying – may God bless you and keep you for His namesake.”

What made the letter surprising was that Morris wrote it not to a Protestant evangelist but to Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.  “From that night (Aug 2) until now I have done all I could to help your election,” Morris declared proudly, “and I am longing for the 3d of November when I can cast my ballot for you.”  Similarly, the “righteous cause” Morris mentioned was not Christianity but democracy, “the verry [sic] cause that Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln taught us.”  When Morris was not discussing his political conversion or using religious language, he was describing how he had disrupted a political meeting of William McKinley supporters by loudly championing his candidate.  “I yelled for Bryan and I got struck several times on the head,” Morris reported with satisfaction, “but I am still shouting for Bryan just the same.”

One of the central questions I had to answer in researching my book on turn-of-the-century charisma was how to determine whether a given leader was actually charismatic.  Charisma is an enigmatic quality, both ineffable and deeply subjective; who was I to say that Theodore Roosevelt was more or less charismatic than, say, Woodrow Wilson?  Ultimately, I realized that I was asking the wrong question; charisma was not a characteristic of leaders, but a relationship between them and their followers.  By observing how Americans described their leaders, then, I could let followers do the work of identifying charisma.

Consider two letters, written eight years apart.  “I have read with a good deal of interest,” wrote William F. Ryan to presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison in 1888, “every speech that you have made, and am free to say they are full of good American common sense. … I sincerely hope that you will be successful in the coming election for I think it essential to our country’s success.”  In 1896, Alphonse J. Bryan wrote William Jennings Bryan (no relation) a very different missive.  “I have watched…this campaign,” wrote Alphonse Bryan, “and its success was ordained by God, before it commenced. … I believe you the second Moses, not of Egypt but of America, who will lead back the poor blind oppressed laborer…to the road of Salvation. … When a man sees a Savior…elected for President then there is indeed cause for joy.”

In the hundreds of letters I read over the course of my research, the language of Protestant revivalism was an infallible indicator of the charismatic leader-follower relationship.  Letters that described merely a political affinity read much like Ryan’s: affable and encouraging, but largely unemotional.  Letters that described a charismatic emotional connection, on the other hand, drew heavily on the language of religious experience.  Comparisons with Moses, Jesus Christ, and other biblical leaders were commonplace.  Other writers openly declared Bryan to be a divine agent: “I feel (I Know) God sent Christ to save sinners, Abraham Lincoln to free the 4,000,000 black slaves and God has sent you to save 50,000,000 white slaves,” O. C. Coulter proclaimed without a hint of irony.

Bryan was not the only politician to receive this sort of letter.  In a letter to Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, Ethel Truman praised the leader’s “Christ mind” and assured him, “You are spiritual you are eternal;” after one of his speeches, she insisted, “I saw the Angel of Life hold your hand!”  “Comrade Jesus walks beside [you]; / and we – we throng behind,” wrote Miriam Allen De Ford in a 1920 poem about Debs.  Meanwhile, author Sara Cleghorn treated Debs’ apparel as a veritable saintly relic: “I wish,” she wrote, “when the coat wears out that Eugene Debs wore at his trial, I could have a little piece of it to keep in my Bible.”  African American leaders Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey received similar treatment.  “Garvey was sort of a god, an idol,” recalled UNIA member John Rousseau; “I was fully aware that he was our savior.”  “You are our Moses,” wrote W. J. Cansler to Washington, “destined to lead our race out of the difficulties and dangers which beset our pathway and surround us on all sides.” 

Why did charismatic followers think of politicians in this way?  Could they really not tell the difference between political leaders and Biblical ones, between the temporal and the spiritual?  Despite Alphonse Bryan’s protests to the contrary, it is doubtful he truly believed Bryan was a “Savior” in the way Jesus was.  More likely, followers turned to religious language in an attempt to come to grips with their own emotional experience.  Charismatic followership introduced into their lives emotions they had never felt before – emotions, in many cases, that they had never seen anyone experience outside of a religious setting.  They described their leaders in religious terms not to accentuate the mystery of charisma, but to dispel it: to connect the unfamiliar experience of charismatic followership with the familiar one of religious conversion.

This sacralization of followership, this blurring of the lines between the secular and the sacred, was the defining characteristic of American charismatic movements.  Charisma was not religion for followers, but it could feel quite similar; charismatic political interactions seemed suffused with spiritual energy.  “If you win this battle,” J. E. Tibbins wrote to Bryan, “you will not only be President, but you will be King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.”  Tibbins knew Bryan was not literally Jesus Christ, but for many turn-of-the-century Americans, the difference between the two did not seem so great.

CFP: Embodiment, Corporeality, and the Senses in Religion Conference

Call for Papers: 
Embodiment, Corporeality, and the Sense in Religion
An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference
University of Texas at Austin 
April 8-9, 2017 

Across the broad diversity of religions that humans have developed throughout history, the body is a constant. Through the body and the senses, people experience ritual, sacred space, and personal devotion. Our bodies shape our thinking and how we communicate religious concepts, and the body and the embodied experience of life are important subjects of religious thought. This conference will explore the role of embodiment, corporeality and the senses in religion. Submissions from all disciplines and fields are welcomed.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:
  • Religious phenomenologies of perception. 
  • Sensory and sensual experiences of the sacred. 
  • Disability and bodily diversity in religion. 
  • Habitus and piety. 
  • Experience of sacred spaces and landscapes. 
  • Sport and physical discipline in religion. 
  • The senses and religious imagery. 
  • Moral understandings of the body and embodiment. 
  • Affect and emotions in religion.
Keynote speakers:
  • Sally Promey (Yale University) 
  • Brittany Wilson (Duke Divinity School) 
Submission details:
  • Deadline January 6, 2017 
  • Submissions must include--
    • Paper title
    • Name
    • Department and institutional affiliation
    • 250-300 word abstract 
    • 1-2 page CV 
    • Listed potential A/V need
  • Submit to 

Religion at the End of a Revolutionary Semester

Jonathan Den Hartog

Back at the beginning of the fall semester, in early September, I laid out some ways I would be integrating religion into my class on "The American Revolution and Early Republic." Now, with the semester drawing to a close, it seemed like a good moment to reflect and see how those plans came to fruition.

I'm pleased to say my students "got" much of what I was trying to do.

My favorite moments came as students brought religious perspectives into the historical debates they reenacted. In debating independence, students argued whether Romans 13 implied "unlimited submission" or if obedience could be discontinued at some limit. For many historical debaters, this was a central question--as, indeed, James Byrd indicated it was at the time.

Another historical moment came when a student playing a Roman Catholic Marylander complained about all the anti-Catholic language she heard from patriots, as they equated "popery" with tyranny. She rightfully asked whether she should join such a movement.

A third historical moment came when a "frontiersman" from Kentucky reported that his political views of the world had been shaped by the Methodist Circuit-rider that visited his house regularly.

These imagined moments assured me that students were, in fact, internalizing some of the dynamics I was describing.

We had further highlights, too.

Samuel Seabury
I thought my students did extremely well with using religious categories to understand the Loyalists, and to do so with empathy. Understanding the perspective of someone like John Joachim Zubly helped them wrestle with the complexities of resistance and revolution. I appreciated that many of them had heard about Samuel Seabury, and they found it ironic that Seabury would return as an Episcopal Bishop in Connecticut. This concern for the Loyalists has also shown up in some student research projects.

Discussing establishment and disestablishment at the state level also opened some eyes, as it was part of a church and state arrangement that many of the students had perhaps never considered. In talking about disestablishment, I made sure to give credit to the Baptists, who remained committed to "soul liberty," even as they had opportunities to join establishments.

Students even did a good job of showing interest in the conflicts of religion and politics between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.

Tracing religion as an important theme through the course helped make interesting connections, when individuals showed up in different settings. This time around, I was impressed with how Timothy Dwight helped to connect anti-French politics in the late 1790s, religious outreach in the 2nd Great Awakening, higher education (Yale), and a developing American literary culture (as a "Connecticut Wit" and author of "Greenfield Hill").

Finally, since the semester is not quite over, I'm looking forward to sharing with the class the hot-off-the-presses book that just arrived on my desk--Daniel Dreisbach's Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers.

Altogether, the questions about religion in the era of the American Revolution that I was raising came to resonate well with the students and helped them understand the passions, hopes, and struggles of an era of upheaval.

Pause. And Begin Again. Tracy Fessenden on Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion

Tracy Fessenden delivered this comment at the 2016 AAR meeting in San Antonio on Jason Bivins's work Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion, The first comment, from Paul Harvey, was previously posted here.

A Pedagogy of the Not-ShockedTracy Fessenden

Jason Bivins’s Spirits Rejoice! is inspiration and solace to me I contemplate what pedagogy and scholarship might look like in the months and years to come, what either might include.  Those of us who hoped for a different result on November 8 fall roughly into two groups. Call these groups the shocked and the not-shocked: those for whom the energies that drove and delivered this outcome feel painfully new and strange, incomprehensible, and those for whom they feel painfully familiar.  On November 9 educators in Arizona began to work to ensure that our state’s 2000-odd undocumented college students be afforded “arrangements for the continuation of their degree programs” in the event of their promised “arrest, imprisonment, and deportation” under the coming Administration.  

[Repost] CFP: Religions Texas: Mapping Diversity A Consultation

Back by popular demand and for a signal boost, this is a re-post of a CFP for Religions Texas: Mapping Religious Diversity, A Consultation. The deadline was extended. You may send proposals in by the end of the week. 

Call for Proposals:
Religions Texas: Mapping Diversity
A Consultation

Maps are useful tools for giving meaning and coherence to space. They identify patterns that illuminate the relationship between space and place and create a picture of a landscape. They can illustrate proximity and introduce a reader to her or his neighbors. They play a role in imagining communities. Yet, a map is not territory. And far from neutral, the process of map-making, or representation, reflects the interests and biases of the mapmaker, the scholar. In mapping religions, this often means that points on the map may reflect dominant, majority groups deemed significant and privilege groups that can be easily identified and counted. However, in the field of religious studies, current scholarship is moving away from simplistic definitions and representations of religion and towards more nuanced approaches to religion. Approaching mapping digitally offers resources for confronting these challenges. Digital maps allow for far more layers than the traditional print map, such as representations of change over time and the inclusion of narratives and multimedia data.

The University of Texas Department of Religious Studies and the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life are planning an extensible public humanities project to digitally map and document the religious diversity of Texas, a fast-growing, new immigrant destination with evolving dynamics of diversity. To kick off this initiative, we are convening a consultation on January 26-27, 2017 to bring together scholars of religion and culture to generate a broad conversation about documenting and mapping religions and develop the conceptual foundation for a publicly accessible, engaging, and sustainable digital resource on religious diversity in Texas.

We invite proposals for one of four roundtables that address the following or related questions:
  1. Mapping and Delineating Religious Diversity
    What are some best approaches for documenting and mapping religions and diversity? What are the theoretical challenges? What normative assumptions are implied in our methodological choices? How do we draw boundaries and define traditions, communities or groups?
  2. Documenting Religion and Digital Humanities
    What are resources and models for best practices in digitally documenting religion or culture? How can digital tools facilitate gathering cultural information? What is the relationship between the data and the digital tools? How does this affect the collection and interpretation of data?
  3.  Taking a Regional Approach to the Study of Religions in Texas and Beyond
    What new insights come to light when studying religion regionally? What can the study of religion in Texas tell us about this geographic, social, and cultural place? How do religious and cultural identities shape the place that is Texas and the subsequent civic identities associated with it?
  4. Public Humanities and Religious Literacy
    What are the civic benefits and pedagogical outcomes of mapping religious diversity in terms of public education and professional development? What role can digital humanities play in the public understanding of religion in the United States? What are best practices for creating engaging and accessible public humanities projects?
Each presenter will give a ten-minute or less presentation and then engage in a dynamic, productive moderator-led conversation. Proposals should be 250-500 hundred words. Send submissions to both Tiffany Puett: and Chad E. Seales: by November 15, 2016. Please identify your topic and include a brief biographical statement.

Editor's Note: RiAH readers are encouraged to send CFPs and other professional announcements directly to Blogmeister Cara Burnidge, 

CFA: Inquiry on Religion and Migration


During the academic year 2017/18, the Center will hold an “Inquiry on Religion & Migration.” The human species has been a migrant one since its evolution out of Africa. In an era of forced migration, this phenomenon is now of global concern. Religion is a key factor in the movement of peoples and the study of migration. What do religious traditions look like when seen through the lens of migration? In what ways do religious communities influence the immigrant experience? How should religious actors respond to what Saskia Sassen has called emergent migrant flows, including unaccompanied minors, religious minorities, and those fleeing war zones and despoiled habitats? To what extent can religions make a normative contribution to public debates on migrants and refugees? How can ecumenical, comparative, and interreligious theologies take migration into account? The Center invites applications from scholars in theology, religious studies, migration studies, the humanities, and social sciences with projects that will inform the wider inquiry.

The Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) convenes leading thinkers in an interdisciplinary research environment where theology makes an impact on global concerns. The Center offers its resident community of scholars optimal conditions for research, including spacious studies, furnished housing, and access to world class libraries. Scholars in CTI’s program welcome its terms of membership: working daily at the Center alongside fellow members; meeting weekly in a Colloquium to discuss work in progress and emerging questions; and participating in Symposia with visiting scholars, addressing questions of migration in relation to globalization, refugees, Islamic Law, biblical texts, world religions, and local case studies.

Symposium speakers include Saskia Sassen (Columbia U.), David Hollenbach (Georgetown U.), Anver Emon (U. of Toronto), and John Ahn (Howard U.) in the Fall Semester. Peter Phan (Georgetown U.) will lead a Spring Semester series on the impact of migration on religion.

Applications should be made for one or both semesters: Fall Semester, mid-August to mid- December, 2017; Spring Semester, mid-January to mid-May, 2018. CTI members are required to live in the Center’s housing in Princeton in order to take an active part in the interdisciplinary exchange with fellow members in the Inquiry. The Center will offer a limited number of stipends for one semester to offset additional living costs (including a monthly housing fee of $1,000 plus utilities), but scholars must secure funding from their home institution or external sources.

Apply online at The deadline for receipt of applications for resident membership for 2017/2018 is January 16, 2017, 11:59 pm EST. All queries about the Inquiry or application process should be sent to the Application Manager:

Review of Christine Leigh Heyrman’s American Apostles: When Evangelicals Entered the World of Islam

Lauren Turek

I recently received a copy of Christine Leigh Heyrman’s newest book, American Apostles: When Evangelicals Entered the World of Islam, which came out late last year with Hill and Wang publishers. Most readers of this blog will likely be familiar with Heyrman's previous Bancroft Prize-winning work, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt, so I thought I might share a review of her new monograph here.

American Apostles tells the fascinating tale of three American evangelical missionaries—Pliny Fisk, Levi Parsons, and Jonas King—who left their New England homes to spread the Christian Gospel throughout the Middle East during the early 19th century. As these founding members of the “Palestine Mission” traveled through Ottoman Turkey and the Levant, they chronicled their encounters with Muslims, as well as Jews, Catholics, and other Middle Eastern Christians, eager to gather information about the Middle East, its peoples, and its religions. Fisk, Parsons, and King sent these accounts back to the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) for publication in newspapers and Christian periodicals in the United States. In addition to their official journals, each man also kept private diaries. Heyrman notes that archivists have only recently managed to find the full body of Fisk’s private writings, and her incorporation of these documents allows her to examine the story of the Palestine Mission anew. Her careful reading of these diaries, and the information these diaries captured that the official journals omitted, reveals how each of these men encountered Islam, how they “invented” and reinvented Islam for their American audiences through their descriptions of these encounters, and how they reshaped and redefined evangelicalism in the process. (16).

A Surplus of Brilliance: On Spirits Rejoicing Through This Apocalypse

Paul Harvey

At this year's just-completed American Academy of Religion, I was privileged to participate in a session on Jason Bivins's work Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion. Other participants included Tracy Fessenden, Kathryn Lofton, and Joseph Winters. I'm posting in my comments below for anyone's interest, and also because, as I said at the session, I was delighted to participate in a panel about a book that I love, written by a brilliant scholar and man that I also love. A shout-out to Jason and his work, which Jason himself posted about previously here and here. I also recommend a post of his at the Oxford University Press blog, here, where he focuses particularly on Coltrane's Love Supreme.

A Surplus of Brilliance: On Spirits Rejoicing Through This Apocalypse

During the 1980s, while in graduate school, if people asked me if was “still religious” or “still went to church,” I often replied, with studied sardonic intonation, “sure, I got to Yoshi’s regularly.” Yoshi’s was a jazz club, then on Claremont Avenue in North Oakland, which featured a regular roster of the jazz greats passing through town, often on their way to Japan. Having been raised a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma, I spent my nearly decade-long sojourn in Northern California in part as a spiritual “seeker.” Evidently I missed the “find” part of seek and ye shall find, as nothing concrete or tangible emerged from the seeking. But when I left Yoshi’s or any other venue of music that reached spiritual heights, I often felt that I had been part of some communal ritual of struggle, cleansing, and release. It felt "religious."

On another occasion, in the midst of struggling through the Dissertation Blues, I was felled one Friday by a migraine headache the likes of which I had never had before, and thankfully never since to that degree. The auras accompanying it were there; the orishas were absent. Somehow, on Saturday night I struggled out of the house and made it to Koncepts Cultural Gallery in downtown Oakland, for reasons I no longer remember. What I experienced was a quartet (
led by Henry Threadgill, I now remember, but I was not familiar with him at the time) – a tuba, a piano, a sax, and a guitar – that ripped through and riffed off African American musical history from the spirituals to the 1980s in an hour and a half of some of the most astonishing music making I have ever seen. I was exhilarated; I was healed by the ritual. The incantations had worked their magic. But a day later I could not reproduce what I had heard; it was all over but the shouting. 

RiAH and Digital Futures

Cara Burnidge

As Chris Cantewell mentioned earlier this month, he and Kristian Petersen organized a stellar panel on the Digital Futures of Religious Studies. As an AAR Wildcard Session, they have planned a panel that is, in Chris's words,  "robust and expansive, with discussions about digital research projects, online publications, and new media teaching methods." With a baker's dozen sitting on the panel, the session promises to offer a variety of perspectives and consideration of an array of digital technologies.

As a part of the panel, I'm representing Religion in American History. To frame my thoughts on blogging and the role of RiAH, I've prepared a slideshow. As a preview for those who will be at the panel and as a way to bring more people in to the conversation, you can scroll through it here. Clicking through is worth if for nothing else than the picture of the one and only Paul Harvey. My thoughts can be summarized pretty simply: rather than conceptualizing blogs (especially this blog) as a part of the traditional professional triad of teaching/research/service, I think we should think of it instead as the glue that holds those pieces together. Blogs can serve in any of those three roles, depending on the blog and how contributors or readers use it. And each blog is different. For some, it might make sense to make a case that their blog contributions "fit" as research, but for others that isn't necessarily the case (and that can be okay). At this blog, I see contributors and readers use it for research, teaching, and service, but also a fourth important aspect of scholarly activity: community building. This aspect of blogging is essential for any field because it helps to create the network of peers who shape the field.

Those are my thoughts it brief, but I'm interested in hearing yours. Readers are welcome to fill out this brief survey to let us know what you think works and doesn't work at the blog. And, if you're at AAR, feel free to stop me and let me know your thoughts in person. You can find me at one of the Religion in America panels I've outlined here. By the way, does anyone know how to be in two places at once? Asking for a friend....

Which One Is "The Speech"?

Elesha Coffman

As I tried to lecture about 1980s conservatism on Tuesday, I admitted to my students that I no longer knew what to say about it. Before the election, I had a narrative that worked. After the election, I didn't. As just one small symptom of my distress, I spent the minutes before class madly googling Reagan speeches that I'd never paid much attention to before.

In my old narrative--shaped, no doubt, by the fact that I received my degree from a religion department rather than a history department--Reagan's key speech was his National Affairs Briefing in Dallas on August 22, 1980, where he famously told an audience of conservative evangelicals that he endorsed them. You can find a video and abridged text here, the pre-circulated text (which lacks the endorsement line) here, and an article by Steven P. Miller that emphasizes the importance of the speech here. It's still a big speech, but its celebration of "traditional Judeo-Christian values" seemed completely out of step with the GOP candidate in 2016, which made me wonder if a different narrative, starting with a different speech, would have more explanatory power.

The Author Responds

We conclude our series on Parish Boundaries with a response from the author himself. In today's post John McGreevy, the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts & Letters and Professor of History at Notre Dame, responds to the contributors of this city while also reflection how he thinks Parish Boundaries has aged the last twenty years. 

By John McGreevy

It’s a pleasure and honor to be here.  Thanks to Tim Gilfoyle for organizing the panel and to this distinguished group of colleagues for their willingness to participate and for their shrewd comments.  I’m especially grateful to Jim Grossman, whose red pen, in the long-ago days before track changes, improved the manuscript. I first met Jim in his office at the Newberry Library a few blocks from here, 23 years ago. I was thrilled when he and Kathleen Conzen accepted my unwieldy dissertation into the then just starting urban history series at  University  of Chicago press. I knew he and Kathy would make my dissertation much better and so they did.

So how did I get to that dissertation, entitled, as Lila Berman noted, “American Catholics and the African-American migration, 1919-1970”? It’s a short story. I wandered into graduate school, as we might say, without a “research agenda.” I wavered between high school teaching and college teaching and in fact I  ended up teaching for a time at Hales Franciscan high school, an African-American Catholic high school on the south side of Chicago. At Stanford I loved the coursework and enjoyed working with superb and generous faculty such as David Kennedy and George Fredrickson, ultimately the first and second readers on my dissertation. But I agonized over a dissertation topic.  I did a seminar paper on 19th century populism in California. I did one on draft resisters in California and even wrote a dissertation proposal on the topic.[i] I finally settled  on Catholics and race after reflecting on my own life and that of my parents, very much  raised in a Catholic milieu, with both of my parents having gone to Catholic grade school, high school, college and, for my father,  medical school and then both working in catholic hospitals for much of their professional lives. This Catholic milieu – roughly 25% of the US population and a standard topic in, say, German history --  seemed absent from the literature on United States history.

Not How High but How Close

This is the fourth post in a series commemorating the twentieth anniversary of John McGreevy's book Parish Boundaries. The post comes from Wallace Best, a professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University. The author of Passionately Human, No Less Divine (2007), Best has also completed a religious biography of poet Langston Hughes.

By Wallace Best

I have two confessions to make.  First, I wrote a dissertation and book about black southern migrants in Chicago and only mentioned “black Catholics” once – briefly and in passing.  When called upon this late in my research and writing 1990s, I justified it by saying – “they have their own story.  The story I’m writing is a Protestant story, and I couldn’t do justice to the one about Catholics.”  I was dodging, of course, but I was also convinced that I was correct.  Second confession, I did not read John McGreevy’s magisterial Parish Boundaries carefully enough as a graduate student.  I realize now that had I read it closely enough, I would have noted some crucial and critical thematic intersections, and it would have enhanced and perhaps reshaped some of my own assertions about black Chicago in the early decades of the twentieth century.

I have the opportunity now to note some of those intersections with regard to the issues facing black southerners in Chicago during this period and to think about what ways a more careful reading would have enhanced my work on Chicago in particular and how it has shaped how I now think generally about black religion in urban contexts.

The Boundary between Past and Present

This post is the third in a series on John McGreevy's Parish Boundaries, written on the occasion of the book's twentieth anniversary. Today's post comes from Chris Cantwell, an assistant professor of public history and religious studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. See all of the posts from this series here.

By Chris Cantwell

There’s an old joke about Southern Baptists my grandfather used to tell—a joke that in all likelihood could be told about any religious faith. “How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb?” he would ask. And the answer, for those of you who don’t know, is six. One to call for the formation of a Light Bulb Modernization Committee; another to second the motion; three more to make a quorum; and one church member to stand up and yell “HOW DARE YOU CHANGE THAT LIGHTBULB! MY GREAT-GRANDDADDY INSTALLED THAT LIGHTBULB IN 1902 AND ALL THIS CHANGE IS A SIGN OF HOW FAR WE’VE FALLEN FROM THE FAITH!”

Cleveland's Italian Catholics Celebrate Columbus Day, 1938.
I was reminded of my grandfather’s sense of humor while re-reading Parish Boundaries for it speaks to what I have come to appreciate the most about McGreevy’s magnificent book. When I first encountered the text as a new graduate student in 2003, I initially read it as an exploration of the impact race and the urban landscape had upon the formation of religious communities. The “Great Migration” of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north, McGreevy argues, rent American Catholicism in two as clergy and laity alike split over the church’s response to their new neighbors. While some church members saw the tenets of Catholic social teaching as a mandate to join black Southerners in their search for justice, others saw the arrival of African Americans as a threat to the stability of parish rolls or property values.

Parish Boundaries: Perish, Boundaries!

This post is the second in a series on John McGreevy's Parish Boundaries. Published twenty years ago this year, the book was the subject of a roundtable at the Urban History Association's recent biennial meeting. Today's post comes from another roundtable participant Lila Corwin Berwin who is the Murray Friedman Chair of American Jewish History, the Director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, and the author most recently of Metropolitan Jews. In her post, Berwin reflects on the impact McGreevy's work has had upon the study of urban religion more broadly.

By Lila Corwin Berwin

This past summer, as police shootings of young black men filled headlines, as Black Lives Matter put forward a platform that, among other planks, described Israel as pursuing genocidal policies, as the occupation in Israel neared its fifty-year mark, and as presidential electoral politics traded in cynicism and xenophobia, Liel Leibovitz, a Jewish social critic wrote an open letter to American Jews. “Dear Social Justice Warriors,” it began, “Your religion is progressivism, not Judaism.” To anchor his claim that theology must not act in the service of politics, he turned to early and mid-century American Protestant theologians, summarily arguing that these men knew better than to consign theology to political whim and that, more generally, hardy American religious groups knew to maintain the distinction. As I reread John McGreevy’s book, a book I first encountered in 1999—my first year of graduate school— and then reread several times as I assigned it to students and wrote about urban religion, his illustrations of the interpenetration of religion and politics stood in sharper relief for me than they ever had. He makes it hard to imagine extricating one from the other, as Leibovitz seems intent upon doing.

I want to focus these brief remarks—and appreciations—on the line between religion and politics. I do so because for me the central contribution of McGreevy’s work is its assertion that the boundary itself is a puzzle. Far from giving us a solid place to stand—to be able to say, here rests religion, and over there is politics—Parish Boundaries suggests the instability of the boundary. In doing so, it gently exposes a big lie of common sense American political thought: that religion is separate from the state, and that politics is separate from religion. Thus, the parish boundary may be precisely that boundary that must perish when we think about lived religious space and lived political space: the two, it seems, overlap in confounding and unexpected ways.

"Parish Boundaries" at 20: A Roundtable

Today's post is the first in a series dedicated to John McGreevy's classic text Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban North. Inspired by a roundtable held at the Urban History Association's biannual meeting in Chicago, the series brings together scholars of both religion and the American city to assess the legacy of McGreevy's work on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. The first post comes from Amanda Seligman, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The author most recently of Chicago’s Block Clubs: How Neighbors Shape the City (Chicago, 2016), Seligman is an urban historian by training and her post reflects upon the impact McGreevy's book had upon the study of the American city. Posts from the roundtable's other participants will follow every day this week, and the series will conclude with McGreevy's response. 

Incoming UHA President Timothy Gilfoyle, who convened the
roundtable, kicking off the proceedings.
 As an urban historian, it is an honor to have the opportunity to reflect on John McGreevy’s Parish Boundaries for a religious history blog. Along with Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto and Thomas Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis, Parish Boundaries was one of the three most influential books that I read in graduate school. That trio of books set the basic parameters for my research in the early part of my career, encapsulating what we knew about the making of racial segregation in the urban north and pointing the way to unanswered questions.

The posts in this series reflect the richness of Parish Boundaries. Because each of us identifies distinctive themes, it is worth spelling out what I understood to be McGreevy’s central argument: white American Catholics had a bifurcated response to the growing numbers of African Americans in the urban north in the 20th century. This was not a split between the clergy and laity. Rather divisions occurred within each of these groups, and the divisions combined differently in different places. McGreevy traces increasing racial liberalism among American Catholics in the 20th century, which allows him to provide an optimistic ending. Without saying so explicitly, McGreevy suggests that white Catholic hostility to African Americans was rooted in conceptualizations of the importance of property and property ownership, and that racial liberalism was rooted in careful reading of Catholic doctrine.

THATCamp & Religious Studies at the 2016 AAR/SBL

THATCamp & Religious Studies at the 2016 American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting

The advent of digital technology and social media has not only transformed how today religious communities function, they have also changed how scholars teach about and conduct research on religion more broadly. If you are interested in how technology is changing—or can change—the work of religious studies scholars, then we invite you to attend the THATCamp SBL & AAR 2016 unconference!

THATCamp stands for “The Humanities and Technology Camp.” They exist to bring scholars and technologists of every skill level together to learn how to integrate digital technology into their teaching and research. This means the format is not your typical conference proceedings.

THATCamps are “unconferences,” which means sessions are built around hands-on workshops and collaborative working groups rather than formal presentations. Participants are encouraged to Propose Sessions they would like to attend in advance of the meeting on the THATCamp SBL & AAR website Topics we could cover include academic blogging, social media in the classroom, social media in religion, digital research methods, web-based class projects, online publishing, and countless others.

Sessions largely take one of four formats.
  • Talk Sessions offer the chance for a group discussion around a topic or question.
  • In Make Sessions, someone leads a small group in a hands-on collaborative working session with the aim actually making something–software, best practices document, a syllabus, etc.
  • In Teach Sessions, an individual leads a hands-on workshop on a specific skill or software tool.
  • In Play Sessions, anything goes. You can suggest literally playing a game, or spending some quality time exploring existing tools and resources for digital work.
If you have not already done so, please add THATCamp to your SBL or AAR conference registration. Attending is only $15 and the fees are used to offset the costs of the AV systems and refreshments. In fact, most of the costs of the unconference are covered by our Sponsors. For more information about proposing sessions, visit the Propose Session page of this site. All new session proposals will be posted to the Sessions page. If you will be attending, please be sure to check out the Sessions that you would like to participate in! If you’d like to make a comment about a session to be posted on the website, please use the session submission form. The Final Schedule will be determined during the first session of the day, so be ready to vote for your favorite session ideas on November 18th. The main meeting room for the first session can be found on the Location page on the website. Coffee and tea will be available upon arrival. Lastly, don’t forget to follow @THATCampAAR on Twitter and use the hashtag #thatcampaarsbl when posting about THATCamp SBL & AAR this year.

For those who have not already registered, we hope you’ll join us for THATCamp this year. For those nearly 100 attendees who have already registered, we look forward to your session proposals and seeing you at 9:00 AM Friday morning, Friday the 18th in San Antonio!

THATCamp SBL & AAR Organizers:
John L. Crow, Florida State University
Michael Hemenway, Iliff School of Theology
Candace Mixon, University of North Carolina
Eric Smith, Iliff School of Theology

Federalist #68. The founders intended this.

Janine Giordano Drake

I'm shocked. You may be too.

I wrote a review essay on Mennonite and evangelical silence, and complicity, with anti-union regimes.  But, I can't finish it right now.

All I can think about right now is how Donald Trump won the US presidency. How did the South elect a descendant of Eastern European immigrants, a robberbaron, a New Yorker, an impolite rake?

How did the rustbelt Midwest elect an industrial tycoon, an arch-capitalist, a friend of Vladimir Putin?

How did the formerly communitarian kingdom of Utah elect a man who drinks, carouses, and extorts?

Yesterday, I lined up to vote at the county fairgrounds in my post-industrial city in Montana. Dozens of elderly Native Americans stood in line ahead of me, voter identity cards in hand. Two African American veterans stood behind me, voter identity cards in hand.  A tall man in a business suit and a red tie walked in confidently. Neither he nor I had our voter identity cards, but we didn't get hassled. While I remembered the power of my white privilege, I was also moved by fact that so many of us  showed up at the polls, even as we knew how likely it was that Montana was going to Donald Trump. Those men in suits, I thought, had as many votes as the tribal elders who passed me by.

And then I woke up this morning.

I saw that Hillary Clinton won roughly 152,000 more votes than Donald Trump.

But, Trump took the electoral college.

And then I remembered that this is what the founders intended. This is what Alexander Hamilton intended.

Look at Federalist #68.

Like the whole thrust of the Federalist Papers, this essay in defense of the Electoral College articulates why it is so important to withhold power from the masses.

Hamilton defends our convoluted system wherein states, rather than people, elect the president. He defends a system which requires white, men with property to vote for more statesmanlike white men with property who will themselves cast votes for the president. He defends a system wherein a clear majority from the populace at large seems unlikely and even dangerous. (He presupposes that there are no political parties to organize a clear majority in electoral votes.) He talks of the importance of a "majority" of electoral votes, not a majority of votes.  As Hamilton puts it,
But as a majority of the [electoral] votes might not always happen to centre in one man, and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided that, in such a contingency, the House of Representatives shall select out of the candidates who shall have the five highest number of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.
It is safe to say that Alexander Hamilton--that lover of industry, banking, and personal glory--hoped that the unwashed masses would not determine the outcome of presidential elections. He didn't even make any room in the Federalist papers to consider that a majority of votes could center on anything other than a man.

We like to celebrate the myth that our Constitutional framers wanted to build a republic which empowered poor people to be equal, before the law, to the rich. Our history textbooks proclaimed this hogwash since Woodrow Wilson's administration. For, in the First World War, in the Second World War, and in the Cold War, the United States had to come up with a good reason for intervening into the affairs of sovereign nations. The idea that we are the "arsenal of democracy" helped rationalize our foreign policy--our quest to acquire colonies, and/or economic spheres of influence, around the world. But, though these textbooks made some of us feel better about our country for a few generations, they didn't change the Constitution. They didn't change the past. They didn't change the fact that the people do not elect the president in the United States.

I've been teaching Ed Baptist's book in my US survey class, and I'm reminded how thinly the federalist principle held together the nation in the early years of the republic. The Constitution provides that the states, not the people, help govern the nation. The Progressive era offered a little bit of change to this, but the fundamentals of our 1780 compromises are still intact. The rural states and the former slave states continue to determine our nation's future.

The Digital Futures of Religious Studies: AAR Wild Card Session

By Chris Cantwell

For those of you planning on attending the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting in San Antonio next week, I'd like to call your attention to a special "wild card" session on the program. It's designated as a "wild card" because the AAR accepted the session without the sponsorship of a program unit. But it is also a "wild card" in that it will break with the traditional conference format. In place of formal presentations from a few scholars, the session will feature short five minute provocations on digital methods for religious studies from over a dozen panelists. To further encourage discussion over presentation, the session will even make time for an open mic so audience members can talk about their own work.

The Catholic Idea of Conscience in American Presidential Elections: A Very Brief History


The results of a 2014 Pew Survey. 
The Catholic teaching on conscience appeared in the 2016 election when candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine both invoked the idea in response to a question about abortion. The Huffington Post took note of the language, and explained its appearance by citing a 2014 Pew Survey.   Pence and Kaine, the paper’s research uncovered, did not invent a language out of the blue, or even punt on the moderator’s query. The survey revealed that 73% of Catholics look to conscience for “guidance in major moral decisions.”  It would seem to make sense then that Pence, a former Catholic, and Kaine, a Catholic formed by the Jesuits, would invoke conscience when questioned about important moral decisions.

But we should note that conscience language is political, not just personal. Indeed, though conscience is a crucial term in the Catholic moral imagination, invoking conscience serves a political purpose as it harmonizes candidate and constituency. Kaine portrays himself to be like any member of the faithful who uses his or her conscience to make important moral decisions. Mentions of conscience connect the Catholic candidate (or a former Catholic candidate who wants Catholic voters) to his or her Catholic base.  To explore this phenomenon, it may be helpful to recall a moment, just after a divisive presidential election, when Catholic politicians joined other Catholics in invoking conscience.

The use of conscience language to mobilize a Catholic constituency has origins in the immediate aftermath of the 1968 election. Just five days after Nixon’s victory, Eugene McCarthy (the democrat’s “antiwar candidate”) and Jane Briggs Hart (a founding member of the National Organization of Women) appeared at a rally of 5,000 Catholics near the Washington Monument, where Catholics pressured their own bishops to recognize the freedom of conscience. The Bishops were gathering for their annual meeting just two days later, and some of the faithful wanted the rights of conscience affirmed in the debates about contraception and conscription. McCarthy and Hart headlined the event, joining the crowds in making the case for the importance of conscience.

From left to right: Eugene McCarthy, Jane Briggs Hart, and Rev. John Corrigan.

CFP: FSU Religion Graduate Symposium (Feb 2017)

Michael Graziano

If you're a graduate student in the academic study of religion looking for an opportunity to present your work, the Department of Religion at FSU hosts an annual symposium that might be of interest. There's always a strong American religious history component to the conference, so readers of this blog will feel right at home. (I can also personally attest that it's a great conference with great people!) The CFP is below.


Call for Papers:

The Florida State University Department of Religion
16th Annual Graduate Student Symposium 

February 17-19, 2017 • Tallahassee, Florida

The Florida State University Department of Religion is pleased to announce its 16th Annual Graduate Student Symposium to be held February 17-19, 2017 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Last year’s symposium allowed over 60 presenters from over 15 universities and departments as varied as History, Political Science, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Classics to share their research, learn from one another, and meet many of their peers and future colleagues.

This year’s symposium will be centered on the theme “Religion & Conflict

Dr. J. Kameron Carter, of Duke University, will deliver this year’s keynote address.

producing american religious freedom like you mean it

Andy McKee

Finbarr Curtis’s Production of American Religious Freedom is an excellent exploration of an freedom and its boundaries. As Mike Graziano and Sarah Dees have already noted, this book is an assembly of essays about the pieces of American religious freedom. Curtis uses these fragments pulled from a broader American religious frame to highlight “the work it takes to produce religious freedom” within ever expanding free markets, the increasing power of privatization, and systems of surveillance and control. Curtis argues, “Conflict is not what happens when already formed religions bump into each other in public life; conflict makes religions” (2). Curtis assesses the apparent naturalness of producing american religious freedom to point, I think, less towards its deceptive qualities and more towards its contractions and absurdities.

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