Jesus in Red, White, and Black

One of my more fun classes ever -- in spite of it being a night class, 7:15 - 9:50 p.m. -- "Jesus in Red, White, and Black." Partly it was inspired and taking off from Stephen Prothero's American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon" -- which ex-blogger Mode for Caleb gives and extended and thoughtful response to here. Our class covered everything from the Jesuit Relations to Du Bois to Vine DeLoria. We watched The Apostle and discussed R. Marie Griffith's excellent review of the film. The student blogs and journals from this class were terrific.

Also recommended: Mark Noll's lectures at Princeton University last fall, on the subject "Race, Religion, and American Politics: From Nat Turner to George W. Bush" -- podcasts and web downloads are available if you're on a high speed computer.

Young Scholars Syllabi

There are an awful lot of great American religious history syllabi available at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, from the various "classes" of the Young Scholars in American Religion program. Here, for example, are the syllabi from the 1997-99 class. Great teaching resources. I'm putting a more complete list under the "Teaching Resources and Syllabi" roll on the left side of the blog (scroll down). Please send useful links that you use in teaching.

Graduate School

Here's a great list of Required Readings: A Compendium of Links for Graduate Students. Everything from thinking about going to grad. school, to being on the job market, for potential or current PhD students, and for those who wish they had such practical advice back in the day. Also recommended is Tim Burke's answer to the question "Should I Go To Graduate School?"

American Religious History A-Z

I'm currently co-editing (along with Ed Blum and bibliographic editor Randall Stephens) the Columbia Guide to Religion in American History, which will feature, among other good things, about twenty-one essays by top scholars in the field on all manner of topics, from "Colonial Encounters" to "Religion and Politics" to "Islam in America."

One of the appendices for the book will have a glossary -- American religious history A-Z. So, what do you think are some really important but often overlooked terms -- people, events, movements, whatever -- that should go in such a glossary. Send me some suggestions, and I'll give you the grand prize -- a tour of Focus on the Family headquarters if/when you visit Colorado Springs.

P.S.: Somebody really needs to do a good, solid, non-polemical academic history of Focus on the Family -- anybody doing any such thing out there?

Crocodile Tears for Military History, and Religious History

All the whining lately about the state of military history gets an excellent response from Mark Grimsley. It reminds me a bit of occasional whining I still hear -- more from the public than the profession -- about how religious history has somehow not been given its due in the academy, or how scholars of faith are hounded or driven out. Time for the p.c. conservatives to get over themselves. If you apply for 3 or 4 academic jobs in a year and don't get one, for god's sake, join the crowd. By this standard, everyone in every field in American history would feel victimized.

Meanwhile, Catherine Brekus's introductory essay ("Searching for Women in Narratives of American Religious History") to the new anthology The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past is a must read for scholars in American religious history. She names names and takes the historiography to task--women's history for not understanding religion, and religious history for continuing to marginalize women. The essays in the volume are strong.

Religion, Race, and the Right

Here is Mark Noll's interesting review of my book Freedom's Coming, from the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. He provides an excellent overview of the book, says some kind words, and ends with an interesting critique and discussion.

He begins:

Paul Harvey's well-researched book provides a welcome overview of a complex
subject that has been as important for national public life as for American
religious history. Continuity in the volume is maintained by Harvey's focus on
"theological racism," "racial interchange," and "Christian interracialism" in
the South from the time of the Civil War to the early twenty-first century. At
one level, Harvey offers a relatively clear history of causes and effects, with
widespread "theological racism" being undercut by "racial interchange and
leading on to "Christian interracialism." Yet most of the book does not dwell on
this large-scale narrative; rather, it features a great deal of insightful local
history, many telling personal vignettes, careful attention to institutional
development, and probing denominational history in which the three main themes
are interwoven more as recurring leitmotifs than as links in a causal chain.

In a later paragraph, Noll takes issue with my argument in chapter five, about how contemporary southern religious conservatives has jettisoned older racist arguments, but have retained the traditional conservative emphasis on order and hierarchy, only this time applied to gender (oversimplified, but basically that's the point). Here is Noll's response:

Harvey's succinct interpretations of the recent past are convincing, with
perhaps one exception. He develops at some length the argument that the
postcivil rights ideology advanced by some Southern religious conservatives can
be explained by the shape of earlier racist ideology: in his words, "the
standard biblical arguments against racial equality, now looked upon as an
embarrassment from a bygone age, have found their way rather easily into the
contemporary religious right's stance on the family" (246). This connection is
certainly plausible. But as Harvey himself has demonstrated, the strongest link
is between literal biblical arguments for slavery (rather than literal biblical
arguments for racial inequality) and literal biblical arguments for the
traditional family. Religiously considered, it was the weakness of explicitly
biblical arguments for racial segregation that differentiated the civil rights
era from the antebellum era and that helped ease the way to a more egalitarian
society, once the "the folk theology of segregation" (229), which had never been
more than casually biblical, gave way. In other words, once conservatives
accepted racial equality—which is demonstrably more prominent in Scripture than
racial inequality—it may actually have facilitated the conservative confidence
in following the letter of Scripture on questions of gender and the family.
Thus, Harvey's prediction—"Later generations seem as likely to look upon gender
restrictions with the same regret as evangelicals ponder the history of
proslavery and pro-apartheid theology" (250)—may rest upon an equation between
proslavery and pro-apartheid that literal believers in the Bible reject. The
distinction between proslavery (as possibly biblical) and pro-apartheid (as
anti-biblical) takes race out of the picture and may facilitate a more
self-conscious biblicism about other areas of life.

I do appreciate the concluding words of the review:

It is a mark of the care with which Freedom's Coming has been researched
and written that it can give rise to such quibbles. This is a fine book that,
especially for its chronological breadth, should be a most useful guide for many
years to come.

A few years ago I reviewed David Chappell's Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Decline of Jim Crow and addressed some similar issues in looking at his treatment of religion and southern segregationism. By his accounting, religion was a weak and ultimately ineffectual prop for segregation, in comparison especially to the strong foundation religion provided for proslavery thought. My response:

In brief, I believe that Chappell's focus on segregationist thought focuses too much on a relatively few ministers, who did in fact produce some pretty idiotic tracts, and not enough on the pervasiveness of the white southern obsession with "purity," which ultimately drew from deep religious roots. This makes the triumph of the movement more, rather than less, remarkable, and thus ultimately buttresses the argument of the first half of this book better than Chappell himself does.

Jane Dailey's piece (pdf format) mentioned above is highly recommended and already standard reading on this topic as well. Her point is argued skillfully:

It was through sex that racial segregation in the South moved from being a local social practice to a part of the divine plan for the world. It was thus through sex that segregation assumed, for the believing Christian, cosmological significance. Focusing on the theological arguments wielded by segregation's champions reveals how deeply interwoven Christian theology was in the segregationist ideology that supported the discriminatory world of Jim Crow. It also demonstrates that religion played a central role in articulating not only the challenge that the civil rights movement offered Jim Crow but the resistance to that challenge.

New and forthcoming books by Joseph Crespino, Carolyn Dupont, and others should take this debate to a new level, as they are examining the question in specific local contexts -- Mississippi in particular in the case of Crespino and Dupont. Seth Dowland's dissertation at Duke -- "Christianity and Masculinity on Tobacco Road: Gender, Order, and the Bible in the South, 1965-2000" -- follows the story through the last few decades of the twentieth century; he has some excellent chapters on the rise of Christian academies and the struggle of conservatives against school texts. The theme of all this recent work is about the rise of grassroots conservatism in the South leading to the coalescing of the religious right as a power in the region. This is a topic sure to interest historians for years to come. The history of conservatism is "in" right now, and that's a good thing.

American Religious History Syllabi and Links

It's on the blogroll, but everyone interested in American religious history should find the syllabi in American religious history posted from H-AMREL to be of use. Also, a shout out to Randall Stephens and the Journal of Southern Religion, a pioneering and perservering online journal. I posted my own personal reflections on writing Freedom's Coming there a while back. The current issue has an excellent critique by Charles Reagan Wilson of the film Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus.

Religion by region lives! Here's a great series of map summaries of U.S. religious expression ca. 2000, from the Glenmary Research Center. Nancy Ammerman has a good full review of the Religion by Region books (eight in all; I contributed to one), including the strengths and weaknesses of using datasets such as the Glenmary and American Religious Identification Surveys. Statistics tell some, but not all.

Religion and Race in Early America: Beam Me Up from this Planet

Here's a fellow summer toiler in the vineyards of religion and race in early America. While Historianess must produce syllabi and book contracts, Slothful Colorado resident must get going on his chapters of Jesus in Red, White and Black. I'm currently mulling over how Native Americans in the colonial and antebellum eras encountered the idea of "Jesus," or "Christ." Having spent the bulk of my research career in Civil War to present, this is a new enterprise for me. Historian to Enterprise: beam me up from this strange planet, where I suddenly understand very little.

DuBois: American Prophet


This is a new blog to foster discussion, sharing of links, and (I hope) eventually a group blog in American religious history. Please feel free to join the discussion; here is my home page. Yes, it hasn't been updated for a couple of millennia.

Let me start with a recommnendation for my friend Edward J. Blum's new book W. E. B. Du Bois: American Prophet. Blum's work should foster a new level of discussion on one of America's most profound religious thinkers.

Lately I've been following the fascinating discussion at Mary Dudziak's Legal History Blog, as well as Mark Grimsley's posts at Blog Them Out of the Stone Age and of course my old friend Ralph Luker's Cliopatria. A more complete listing of history blogs may be found at Cliopatria's history blogroll.

I've been looking around for other American religious history blogs -- anybody out there?
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