Watch Night Greetings


Paul Harvey

Our 3rd annual Watch Night post -- time for all to hear Bessie Jones's rendition of Yonder Comes Day (disk one, track 17).

Read more about it in
"Singing and Shouting in Moving Star Hall" (J-STOR access required; it's from Guy and Candace Carawan, "Singing and Shouting in Moving Star Hall," Black Music Research Journal 15, Spring 1995, pp. 17-28).

Happy New Year to all. For K. Lofton -- your annual CD compilation has already made my New Year a good one.

And for you historian-geeks out there, Ambrose Bierce is back with a Christmas/New Year's greeting, a la Roger Angell, much fun insider reading. I'll even forgive him that Mary Dudziak, Tenured Radical, Ralph Luker made the greeting, while RiAH contributors got shut out. Better luck next year. See you then.

Dissertations on Dudeness, the Historical Profession, and Francis Asbury


Paul Harvey

Just following up on some of previously posted-about topics.

First, "Dissertations on His Dudeness," NY Times, December 30, has more on religion/philosophy, cult movies, and The Big Lebowski, which we had posted about here previously.

Secondly, over at Immanent Frame is more on "Religion and the Historical Profession," including several scholars weighing in on an uptick of interest in religion in the historical profession, as discussed in a recent AHA study and reported on by Inside Higher Ed; we blogged about it previously here (with links to all of the above). From the perspective of a Europeanist, Jonathan Sheehan of UC Berkeley points out that many of the great studies of the Reformation (to cite one of many examples) occurred during the alleged low period for study of religion a generation ago. He continues:

So what seems most interesting about these findings is not that we are attending to religion with renewed zeal. Rather, it is the eagerness of historians (myself included) to hitch ourselves to the religion train, to declare ourselves historians of religion, rather than historians who happen to study religious events, people, or phenomena.

Sheehan then goes on to reflect further on some of the dangers of according religion a field of autonomy that is often not so readily granted to other phenomenon: Whether it is 9/11 or modern evangelical politics, world circumstances lure us into believing in belief. They lure us into believing that, beyond the social, political, and cultural, there is a certain something, an area of faith, that stands apart. But of course, this is exactly what religions have always said about themselves. If historians don’t want do the work of religion, then I think we have to reserve judgment on the thesis of religious autonomy.

David Hollinger, the renowned intellectual historian at UC Berkeley, reflects on the necessary and healthy disconnection among some between religious faith and religion as a field of study. He writes:

Religion is too important to be left in the hands of people who believe in it. Finally, historians are coming to grips with this simple truth. Why this has happened and with what effects may differ from period to period, continent to continent, and religion to religion.

Here, I will comment on this transformation as visible in the field I know the best, 20th century United States history.The careful and sustained study of Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism in this particular field has been carried out primarily by scholars who profess some version of the faith they study. This has produced some wonderful work, and I am not suggesting that belief is a barrier to successful scholarship. But this religious demography of scholarship does narrow the inventory of perspectives brought to the field, and once in place it is self-reinforcing: it can create the impression that religious history belongs mostly to the religious, and that historians of a more secular orientation will compromise their secularity by getting involved at all. The current increase of interest in religion on the part of scholars in this field follows in large part from the breaking of the connection between belief and the object of study. Just as we have lots of studies of Nazis by people who have no sympathy for Nazism—to use an extreme example to make the point—so, too, can we have studies of Presbyterians by people who have no commitment to Presbyterianism and may indeed find its influence on American life to be more pernicious than not.

Finally, more one someone who most certainly didn't think that Methodism was "more pernicious than not" -- Francis Asbury, subject of a recent biography by John Wigger, which
we'll have further and more extensive discussions about up sometime in the next few months; we previously blogged about the book here. Wigger is interviewed about his huge new biography here and also here. Here's a little excerpt from the 2nd:

One of the things I hope this book does is raise questions for readers about the meaning of religious leadership in America. To some extent, we’ve misunderstood religious leadership. We’ve tended to focus on individuals who were great communicators, great preachers. But, if you look at the country’s largest religious movements—Methodists, Baptists, Roman Catholics—most Americans today can’t name a single figure who put these religious movements together in this country. Most Americans today don’t know who Francis Asbury is. I wanted to go back and find out what was it about Asbury that allowed him to do this with Methodism. The first thing I found was that he was never a great preacher.

Finally, I would just add that our contributor John Fea has more about all this (including a good short summary of the Immanent Frame contributions) on his own blog, so check that out too.

Joseph Smith Papers Project -- Job Announcement

Historian/Documentary Editor, Joseph Smith Papers Project-0900581

Application Process


The Joseph Smith Papers Project is engaged in producing a comprehensive edition of Joseph Smith documents featuring complete and accurate transcripts with both textual and contextual annotation. The scope of the project includes Joseph Smith's original correspondence, revelations, journals, historical writings, sermons, legal papers, and other documents. Besides providing the most comprehensive record of early Latter-day Saint history they will also provide insight into the broader religious landscape of the early American republic. The Joseph Smith Papers Project is ready to hire a historian/documentary editor with the appropriate academic training, research and writing skills to edit Joseph Smith's papers.

• 30% Document analysis: bibliographical and physical description; provenance and custodial history; research regarding textual and documentary intention, production, transmission, and reception; composition of source notes and historical introductions.
• 30%--Routine annotation: research coordination with project chronologists, cartographers, and genealogists; research and writing for chronological, geographical, and biographical notes, as well as glossary entries, organizational charts, and other forms of routine annotation.
• 30%--Explanatory annotation: general research in the relevant sources available for the volume's period; general research regarding the major issues recurring in the volume's documents; research and writing of footnotes to clarify, explain, or illuminate passages that are unclear, challenging, or otherwise problematic.
• 5%--Teamwork: regular participation in volume team meetings to address historical issues, coordinate research efforts, and correlate editorial treatment; occasional participation in project committees to expand or refine project resources, confront and solve new editorial problems as they arise, develop the project website, or address other project needs.
• 5%--Professional development: keeping abreast of Joseph Smith biography and early Mormon history, attending and participating in selected academic conferences on an annual basis; serving occasionally in professional associations.


PhD (or doctoral candidate) in history, religious studies, or related discipline. Understanding of antebellum American history and major social and political themes of the time. Demonstration of excellent writing skills, typing proficiency and facility with current technical tools for data management and production. As the highest professional standards of documentary editing are expected of the position, including a rigorous production schedule, the applicant must exhibit the ability to work in an academic environment that requires personal initiative and collaborative competence in all aspects of the project. Professional and personal integrity required to maintain the trust and confidence of professional colleagues, department supervisors, and archivists working in other public and private repositories. Member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and worthy to hold a temple recommend.

Malls R Us


It's been a slow blogging week here as we're taking a little time off, but in the meantime, for your post-santum depression, enjoy this from our contributor Jon Pahl, about the film Mall R Us.

The Making of Malls R Us
by Jon Pahl

"I'm in a movie." This has been an effective attention-getting line for me lately at cocktail parties. It's most effective late in a liquid evening. And it works especially well as one-upmanship after another partygoer has just been singing his or her own praises.

But it's true. The film is called Malls R Us. It was directed by Montreal filmmaker Helene Klodawsky, who described her approach to the film as an attempt to tell "a kind of history that hadn't been written." I get about fifteen minutes of screen-time (not that anyone is counting) in a seventy-eight minute feature documentary. Roger Ebert gave it three stars (out of four) in his review, and called it "provocative."

Ebert's review also quotes me, without credit (of course), in its opening sentence: "Is a shopping mall a sacred place?" That's my question! But, then, Ebert continues: "Not a question often asked." Should I be proud, or embarrassed, about that?

In fact, I've been asking that question for twenty years, and some of the results can be found in my book, Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces, which is how I got into the film.

Helene Klodawsky has been making movies with a progressive and historical bent about as long as I've been wondering about the spiritual significance of shopping malls (see a profile of her work, including an interview, here). She does her homework. So, when she was invited by producer Ina Fichman to "make a movie on shopping malls," she found my book, with the help of researcher Teri Foxman, and got in touch.

I was only too happy to "go Hollywood." And I'm happier to report that the film is a shrewd, interesting, and wryly funny exploration of mall culture and history. And I'm happiest to report that I don't come off as too much of a dork.

Making the movie must have been a globe-trotting blast for Helene. She filmed at malls in West Edmonton, outside Montreal, and in Paris, London, Osaka, Dubai, Delhi, and with me for three days in Philadelphia. She interviews architects and mall developers, along with mall critics, and includes some sterling historical footage. Historians will also appreciate the role of the guys at, who have dedicated themselves to tracking dead or dying shopping malls around the U.S., or as they put in on their website, "Welcome to Retail History."

As a careful (and often visually-stunning) study of globalization and sacred space, and as a micro-history in the spread of American empire, the film is made for classroom purposes. It even includes some clips from my slightly-less-famous-than-Al Gore's powerpoint lecture, "The Desire to Acquire: Or, Why Shopping Malls are Sites of Religious Violence."

You can view the trailer (featuring yours truly, along with my son, Justin) at

Everywhere and Nowhere: Religious History and Historiography


Paul Harvey

This piece is getting a lot of attention at various academic blog sites:
"Religious Revival," Inside Higher Ed, December 21. It reports on an American Historical Association survey that Randall blogged about here before, which shows that religion is the "box" now most often checked by historians reporting on their specialities/interests, with a disproportionate number of younger historians reporting on religion as a field of interest/inquiry/research. From the article, a summary of reasons cited for the rise of religion in the field:

  • Interest in the rise of "more activist (and in some cases 'militant') forms of religion."
  • An "extension of the methods and interests of social and cultural history.
  • "The impact of the "historical turn" in other disciplines, including religious studies.
  • Increased student demand for courses on the subject.
Jon Butler, a professor of history, religious studies and American studies at Yale University, is quoted in the AHA report as saying: "I think the category has become more popular because historians realize that the world is aflame with faith, yet our traditional ways of dealing with modern history especially can’t explain how or why. In short, the ‘secularization thesis’ appears to have failed and so we need to find ways to explain how and why it didn’t die as so much written history suggests.

Robert Townsend of the American Historical Association reflects further on the study
here in the December 2009 Perspectives of the AHA, with a bit more detail on the points summarized in the Inside Higher Ed. article.

Is it time to celebrate? Partly but not so fast. Trends and interests come and go; social history was king of the mountain a generation ago, but has gone into rapid decline according to these self-identification surveys. Yet social history is so ground into the assumptions and practices of the discipline, perhaps, that it seems superfluous for many to self-identify with that field as opposed to something more recognizably set (diplomatic history, military history, economic history, religious history, or whatever).

Further, in our forthcoming piece "Everywhere and Nowhere: American Religious History and Historiography," co-authored by Kevin Schultz (an occasional contributor to this blog) and myself and forthcoming in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, we suggest that the proliferation of American religious history in recent years has not necessarily centrally shaped the narratives of mainstream historiography of modern America (with the exceptions of the civil rights movement and the rise of the New Right). Here's the abstract to the piece:

A spate of recent polls show that Americans are as religious as ever, even if their affiliations to particular faith groups have somewhat faded. Furthermore, during the past two decades, historians of American religion have unearthed much new information, connecting American religion to broader currents of American life in numerous exciting ways. Despite these two events, we argue that religion has yet to become central to the way in which most historians of modern America (since 1865) tell their story—except in areas that are either racialized (the civil rights movement) or considered to be politically marginal (the New Right). Religion is everywhere in history, but nowhere in mainstream historiography. We explore some possible reasons for this fact, and then conclude by pointing out several directions in which religious history is currently moving, and in which an examination by mainstream scholars might benefit the field as a whole tremendously.

You'll have to wait for the rest later when it appears, but in the meantime sometime after the New Year Kevin and I will have an shorter op-ed piece for Inside Higher Ed summarizing our piece and how it reflects on the kinds of polls/surveys such as this one from the AHA.

Gustave O. Arlt Award

Our Ed Blum has won the 2009 Gustave O. Arlt award for his Reforging the White Republic. From the press release:

Professor Blum’s book discusses the influential role that religion played in the reunification of northern and southern whites after the U.S. Civil War. He argues that northern religious ideas of a “white republic” justified and promoted racial segregation, ultimately leading to nationalism and imperialism. Yale University professor Harry S. Stout called the book “powerfully written…a first-rate intellectual and cultural history” and Rice University historian Michael O. Emerson described it as “one of the finest studies of race and religion ever written.”

Parenthetically, I used Reforging in a graduate seminar this past semester to good effect. The students appreciated the fact that the book introduced them to so many new storylines and themes absent from the other accounts of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age they had read: Reconstruction-era radical missionaries, Dwight Moody, the 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic, the WCTU, and the American-Filipino War.

It's pretty fine stuff indeed to have a book continue to win awards four years after its publication.

The Dude Abides -- Or Is He Just Stoned?


Paul Harvey

Cathleen Falsani's The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, featured yesterday on NPR, takes up the question of the moral order to the movies of the Coen Brothers -- The Big Lebowski, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, Barton Fink, and most recently A Serious Man. A little excerpt from the interview:

The hero of The Big Lebowski is portrayed by Jeff Bridges as a meditative — or perhaps stoned? — fellow with long hair and a beard. He might evoke the traditional representation of a messiah, though he spends the entire movie clutching either a joint or a White Russian.Though he may look like a slacker, says Falsani, "there's a deep centeredness to him."

The interview doesn't get much into the most obvious parallels, in O Brother, Where Art Thou, the film that turned Man of Constant Sorrow into a national hit and revived the great Ralph Stanley's career. Much of the latter part of the interview explores Marge Gunderson's role in Fargo, her moral centeredness amidst the chaos she finds around her as she uncovers the petty but gruesome murders in Brainerd.

As for The Dude, having known a few borderline mystics/definite stoners from my Berkeley days, I'd say there's a fine line between mysticism and stoner-ism -- the line between, say, Jeff Bridges's Dude and Judd Apatow's anything.

Stonewall Jackson and the Catholic Fathers

Paul Harvey

Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin has an excellent post where, as usual on his blog, he whacks down some more persistent neo-Confederate mythology, this time concerning how Stonewall Jackson's Sunday Schools made the General a great friend of the black man. Levin uses our friend Charles Irons's The Origins of Proslavery Christianity to set this particular mission to the slaves in proper context:

Earlier I referenced Nat Turner and I did so because it is crucial to understanding this story. Charles Irons does a magnificent job of analyzing the degree of cooperation between white and black evangelicals in Virginia through the early 1830s. He notes that by 1830 there one-quarter of black Virginians (115,000) had been converted to evangelical Christianity and thousands more practiced outside of the church. In addition, Turner’s claims that God had inspired him to rise up against the white population worked to reinforce growing concerns among white evangelicals as to their ability to safely monitor black gatherings. Irons is instructive here:

Gripped by fear and mistrust for several months, white Virginians struggled to adjust to the sobering fact that converted slaves could unleash such savagery. Some, particularly nonslaveholders from the western portion of the commonwealth, suggested that only a general emancipation could save the state from racial Armageddon and pushed for a constitutional convention to consider such a measure. Others, including some white evangelicals still shocked by August’s carnage, favored simply denying slaves the privilege of religious expression. Stark choices: emancipation or an end to evangelization. Within two years, however, white evangelicals hadfound a way to move forward without either destroying blackreligion or freeing their slaves. No single ideologue emerged to articulate the new policy of constant white supervision right away; politicians and churchgoers independently stumbled toward the formula of aggressive oversight and proselytization. (p. 143)

Within this context, Jackson’s school makes perfect sense, though it should be pointed out that a school had been established in Lexington as early as 1843. While our popular perceptions paint Jackson as some kind of liberator who was ahead of the curve, Irons’s analysis provides us with a clearer understanding of how the school reinforced slavery and white supremacy in Lexington and the Shenandoah Valley. Jackson admitted as much himself when he noted that God had placed the black race in a subordinate position. Constant oversight allowed Jackson and the rest of thewhite population to continue to proselytize and at the same time monitor his black students’ understanding of themselves in relationship to God and the white community. One can only wonder what Jackson wouldhave said to a student who put forward the notion that slavery stood in contradiction to God’s law.

An ironic parallel with this may be found in our own Michael Pasquier's study Fathers on the Frontier: French Missionaries and the Roman Catholic Priesthood in the United States, 1790-1860, which now is showing up at its Oxford Press website and on Amazon, ready for order -- should be out in a couple of months. A brief description of the book here:

As they became more accustomed to the lifeways of the American South and West, French missionaries expressed anxiety about apparent discrepancies between how they were taught to practice the priesthood in French seminaries and what the Holy See expected them to achieve as representatives of a universal missionary church. At no point did French missionaries engage moredirectly in distinctively American affairs than in the religious debates surrounding slavery, secession, and civil war. These issues, Pasquier argues, compelled even the most politically aloof missionaries to step out of the shadow of Rome and stake their church on the side of the Confederacy. In so doing, they set in motion a strain of Catholicism more amenable to Southern concepts of social conservatism, paternalism, and white supremacy, and strikingly different from the liberal, progressive strain that historians have usually highlighted. Focusing on the collective thoughts, feelings, and actions of priests who found themselves caught between the formal canonical standards of the church and the informal experiences of missionaries in American culture, Fathers on the Frontier illuminates the historical intersection of American, French, and Roman interests in the United States.

In his book, Mike shows the inexorable force of slavery as an ideology and practice, compelling the Catholic missionaries he studies to take their stand. The kinds of informal education they sponsored for slaves ended up looking a lot like what the Protestants did, as well.

Recent Themes in American Religious History


Paul Harvey

Just in time for your holiday shopping season, my blog co-editor has put together a terrific series of conversations, essays, and responses on American religious history into a tidy volume: Recent Themes in American Religious History: Historians in Conversation. A brief description from the book's Amazon page:

Described as “the New York Review of Books for history,” Historically Speaking has emerged as one of the most distinctive historical publications in recent years, actively seeking out contributions from a pantheon of leading voices in historical discourse from both inside and outside academia. Recent Themes in American Religious History represents some of the best writing of recent years on understanding the context and importance of religious thought, movements, and figures in the American historical narrative.

This collection of essays and interviews from Historically Speaking address several subjects central to religious history in the Unites States. The first section maps the state of American religious history as a field of study and includes interviews with award-winning senior religious studies scholars Robert Orsi and Stephen Prothero. Subsequent sections explore the challenges of assimilation faced by Jews and Catholics in the United States, the origins and historical significance of American evangelical Christianity, and the phenomenon of millennialism in America. The volume concludes with a discussion of religious experience as an indicator of the limits of historical understanding, and of the tension that exists between the two modes of knowing.

Edited by Randall J. Stephens, Recent Themes in American Religious History will appeal to students, scholars, and general readers of American history, American studies, and religious studies. The contributors are Kathleen Garces-Foley, Nicholas Guyatt, Thomas S. Kidd, Thomas Kselman, Bruce Kuklick, George Marsden, Wilfred M. McClay, John McGreevy, Robert A. Orsi, James M. O’Toole, Stephen Prothero, Leo P. Ribuffo, Jonathan D. Sarna, Christopher Shannon, Jane Shaw, Stephen J. Stein, and John G. Turner.

Members of any Young Scholars in American Religion class will appreciate the book's dedication to the 2007-09 class of Young Scholars.

A highlight of the book for me is the conversation about Robert A. Orsi's well-known piece "Abundant History: Marian Apparitions as Alternative Modernity," with responses by Thomas Kselman and Jane Shaw.

Oral Roberts, Dead at 91

Randall Stephens

"Expect a miracle!" he told the millions who watched him on TV or attended his healing revivals. Few Christian leaders had the kind of influence or impact that Oral Roberts had.

With the recent passing of America's healing evangelist, I thought I'd post a couple of sections from obits here and provide some links. Roberts helped pentecostalism and the charismatic movement go mainstream in ways that would have been unimaginable in a previous generation. (If only Elvis had stayed in the AG church. Think of it!) Roberts life charted some of the most significant changes that pentecostals underwent from mid century to the present.

Keith Schneider, "Oral Roberts, Fiery Preacher, Dies at 91," NYT, 12/15/09.

Mr. Roberts’s will to succeed, as well as his fame, helped to elevate Pentecostal theology and practice, including the belief in faith healing, divine miracles and speaking in tongues, to the religious mainstream. During the 1970s, Time magazine reported, his television program “Oral Roberts and You” was the leading religious telecast in the nation. . . .

Mr. Roberts’s prominence and will to succeed were important factors in building the Pentecostal and charismatic movements and combining them into the fastest-growing Christian movements in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s and, by 2000, the largest Christian movement in the world. “No one had done more to bring the Pentecostal message to respectability and visibility in America,” David Edwin Harrell Jr. wrote in “Oral Roberts: An American Life” (Indiana University, 1985).

Bill Sherman, "Oral Roberts Dies," The Tulsa World, 12/15/09.

The often-controversial charismatic minister built Oral Roberts University, the now-closed City of Faith Medical and Research Center and the University Village Retirement Center in Tulsa.

He was a pioneer of the healing evangelism movement in the 1940s and ’50s and of radio and television ministry, which made his a household name to generations of Americans.

Roberts’ life was fashioned by what he described as a call to take “God’s healing power” to his generation, and every major effort he undertook was to that end.

See also:

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, "Oral Roberts, Pioneer Televangelist Dies," NPR, 12/16/09.

Charisma Magazine's collection of responses from the pentecostal charismatic community: "Healing Evangelist Oral Roberts Dies at Age 91," 12/15/09.

Blast from the past: See these Time magazine reports of Roberts's chilly reception in Australia (1956) and his damage control at ORU (2007).

I'm still waiting for Fox News or CNN to roll out Christopher Hitchens.

All You Need is Love (or, A Book I Should Have Read Three Years Ago)


by Steven P. Miller
I was doing many things back in 2006—namely, defending a dissertation, then beginning the laborious task of revising it. I was not, I regret, reading Debby Applegate’s thrilling and richly contextualized biography of Henry Ward Beecher, The Most Famous Man in America—and wouldn’t finally do so until last week. Paul talked a while back about a “boomlet in religious biography.” Applegate’s Pulitzer Prize winner puts the boom in boomlet. The book provides a window into the human (very human) side of perhaps the greatest of the many great reversals in American Protestant history: the transition from Lyman Beecher’s providential God, who already was warming up to the idea of human improvement, to his son Henry’s Gospel of Love, from which derives that warm fuzzy feeling I get every time I attend a Presbyterian Church, USA service. In short, Applegate offers a riveting coming-of-age story for liberal Protestantism. In the sense that Beecher was at the center of so much of mid-nineteenth century American history, the book also is a mini coming-of-age story for the nation itself. (Applegate proudly writes in the old-school—that is, pre-theory—American Studies tradition, which practically begs for such sweeping generalizations.)

Ward’s status as the man at the center got me thinking. Purportedly, more than a few conservative Protestants in this country are nostalgic for an earlier golden age of evangelical culture and influence, which likely occurred sometime in antebellum America. Likely, that is, just as Beecher started mucking everything up with his Gospel of Love and, if you believe the evidence in the book (from which Applegate, in an odd replication of the euphemistic ways of her Victorian subjects, skirts around outright conclusions), his propensity to express that love in diverse fashions. Maybe Beecher wasn’t a hypocrite, but rather a good anything-goes liberal, suggests this shallow reading of Beecher, which Paul smacked down when it surfaced in a Books & Culture review. But, if you think about it, shouldn’t fans of the old-time Christian America wish that, say, Ted Haggard’s own extramarital endeavors had caused as much of a stir as did the charge that Beecher seduced Elizabeth Tilton? Perhaps what evangelicals should really be nostalgic about is a period when an adulterous minister was the subject of a national scandal precisely because that minister had real influence outside of his home base. On the cusp of the Beecher-Tilton scandal, New York elites genuinely believed that revelations about Beecher’s exploits “would tend to undermine the very foundation of social order” (408). Say what you what you will about Ted Haggard, but he can only wish he had ever been a pillar of the social order. Besides, Beecher’s story would make a much richer movie. Anyone know if one is in the works?

Samson Occom's Dream

Paul Harvey

I blogged about this collection a couple of years ago, if I recall correctly, but time to do so again as I'm going through it now more carefully and thoroughly: Joanna Brooks, ed., the Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Native America (with a foreword by Native American scholar Robert Warrior) -- Oxford Univ. Press, 2006.

Occom is best-known as the student (and later critic) of Eleazar Wheelock, and Indian emissary for Moor's Indian Charity School in England for two years before returning to New England for a career as a minister, author of hymns, and increasingly bitter critic of the treatment accorded to himself and his people. He was the author of a short autobiography and a classic address at an eighteenth-century execution, "A Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, An Indian," from 1772. Those are of course reprinted here (the autobiography in 2 drafts, showing the handwritten amendments that you don't see in other reprintings).

What is especially fascinating here, though, are not the pieces that have dominated reprintings of Occom's work elsewhere, but the extensive letters, petitions, tribal documents, diary entries, and sermons, which document the daily texture of Occom's life. Brooks provides a splendid introduction which sets Occom in a different context than we see him in other literature:

Occom thought of himself first as a Mohegan with profound responsibilities to his own tribal community and to American Indian people in general. He was an herbal doctor, a hunter, a fisherman, a father, a husband, a tribal leader, and an intertribal political figure as well as an ordained Presbyterian minister, a schoolteacher, and an itinerant minister. . . . He could write a letter, preach a sermon, or tell a story by carving a box. . . Occom's elm bark box reminds us that English language literacy did not cancel out other forms of Native writing. It emblematizes the fullness, the richness, and the complexity of the thought-worlds inhabited by Occom and other early American Indian writers and intellectuals.

Occom left behind the "largest extant body of writing produced by an American Indian author before Santee Sioux intellectual Charles Eastman (1858-1939) began his writing career . . . " This volume is a much purchase for your university library, and a painstaking work of scholarly/literary recovery that brings to life a figure who often frustrates or disappoints readers who encounter him in the sparse documents reprinted in many anthologies.

Just as a taste, here is Occom's recording of a dream he had in 1786, of his friend George Whitefield, the famous evangelist and "divine dramatist" of the Great Awakening:

Last night I had a remarkable dream about [Mr] Whitefield. I thought he was preaching as he use to, when he was alive, I thought he was at a certain place where there was a great Number of Indians and Some White People - - and I had been Preaching, and he came to me, and took hold of my wright Hand and he put his face to my face, and rub'd his face to mine and Said, -- I am glad that you preach the Excellency of Jesus Christ yet, and Said, go on and the Lord be with thee, we Shall now Soon done, and then he Strechd himself upon the ground flat on his face and reachd his hands forward, and mad a mark with his Hand, and Said I will out doe and over reach all Sinners, and I thought he Barked like a Dog, with a Thundering Voice.

Here's a description of the work from its Oxford page:

This volume brings together for the first time the known writings of the pioneering Native American religious and political leader, intellectual, and author, Samson Occom (Mohegan; 1723-1792). The largest surviving archive of American Indian writing before Charles Eastman (Santee Sioux; 1858-1939), Occom's writings offer unparalleled views into a Native American intellectual and cultural universe in the era of colonialization and the early United States. His letters, sermons, journals, prose, petitions, and hymns--many of them never before published--document the emergence of pantribal political consciousness among the Native peoples of New England as well as Native efforts to adapt Christianity as a tool of decolonialization. Presenting previously unpublished and newly recovered writings, this collection more than doubles available Native American writing from before 1800.

The Formerly Evangelical Intelligentsia

Paul Harvey

Kiera Feldman, "New York Literati on Growing Up Evangelical," from Killing the Buddha, explores the early evangelical influences of writers James Wood ( critics for New Republic), Malcolm Gladwell (New Yorker staff writer known for Blink and other books), and Christine Smallwood (of The Nation). All three live and write on the grounds of what Wood called "disappointed belief," and a search for a substitute for the transcendent:

What remains in the absence of faith is the very question of secular life: how are we to feel deeply without access to the divine in everyday experience, warming our hearts with a love that is not of this world? And how are we to think?

Recommended piece.

God's Architects: A Documentary by Zack Godshall


I’m always looking for documentaries to screen in my classes. Zack Godshall’s latest film “God’s Architects” will definitely find a spot in my syllabus next semester. Godshall, currently writer-in-residence in LSU's Department of English, was recently named the 2009 Louisiana Filmmaker of the Year by the New Orleans Film Society. He’s also the co-writer and director of the film “Low and Behold” which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. DVDs of “God’s Architects” are available for purchase at the film’s website. Check out the trailer and read the synopsis and backstory below.


God's Architects is a documentary that tells the stories of five divinely inspired artist-architects and their enigmatic creations.The film details how and why these oft-marginalized creators, with neither funding nor blueprints, construct their self-made environments.


In the spring of 2005, Emilie Taylor, then a graduate student at the Tulane School of Architecture, received a travel grant to research and document self-taught and visionary builders around the south. After visiting and documenting a number of builders, most of whom professed some degree of divine inspiration, Emilie shared her findings with filmmaker Zachary Godshall. Immediately attracted by Taylor's stories, drawings, and photographs, Godshall decided to visit the builders himself.

And so in November 2005, Godshall set out from south Louisiana with a camera, tripod, and microphone to interview and document the work of Floyd Banks Jr., a divinely inspired castle builder living in the east Tennessee hill country.

Three years later, Godshall completed a feature-length film that both examines and celebrates the work of Banks along with four other solitary builders who have constructed similar monuments. Beyond the builders and their work, the film functions as a personal essay that explores the nature of inspiration and one's dedication to a creative project, no matter how absurd or mysterious the circumstances may seem.

Know Your Archives, Part VIII: American Catholic Archives Tip Sheet


As all red-blooded Protestants of the 19th century loved a good convent captivity narrative, so too do all blue-blooded historians of the 21st century love a good archival horror story. Sadly, I have no such tale to add to the genre. I spent the better part of six years in and out of archives specializing in the history of American Catholicism. I concentrated my attention on Catholics in the antebellum United States. And I came away with the impression that most archivists of Catholic institutions hardly resemble the image of the gruff guardian of the church’s secrets whose sole purpose in life is to foil the research agenda of even the most alter-boyish of academics. Perhaps this has to do with the apparent harmlessness of my research topic—French émigré priests in the trans-Appalachian West. Or perhaps it’s to do with the fact that, as someone once told me, when it comes to gaining access to the personal papers of Catholic priests, the deader the better.

At any rate, here are a few archives that may help someone out there interested in 19th-century American Catholicism:

Thanks to the collecting acumen of 19th-century librarian and historian James Edwards, the University of Notre Dame Archives (UNDA) has become a sort of clearinghouse for all-things-Catholic in the United States. UNDA’s commitment to the accumulation and dissemination of Catholic Americana made this former graduate student’s life a whole lot easier. One week I could concentrate on the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, collections, and the next I could shift gears to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, finding time in-between to consult microfilm versions of archives previously accessible only in France and Italy. Side note: don’t remind the archivists and priest-historians of Louisville and New Orleans of your love for UNDA. A Louisville priest once told me about his plan to sue UNDA for “stealing” documents related to Kentucky Catholicism; fortunately, cooler heads have prevailed. And if you find yourself in the Archives of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, you’ll notice that most 19th-century manuscripts are photocopied; that’s because an archbishop in the 1890s gave them to Notre Dame's Edwards for safekeeping. Let’s just say the New Orleans folks don’t brag about this fact.

Before you plan your trip to UNDA, look into applying for a Research Travel Grant from Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. You will not find an institution more supportive of American Catholic studies in the United States. I personally owe an incredible debt of gratitude to Timothy Matovina and Kathleen Sprows Cummings of the Cushwa Center for their kindness, generosity, and criticism. They are true ambassadors of the field.

If 20th-century American Catholicism is your thing, then the American Catholic Research Center and University Archives at Catholic University of America is a fine place to start. I consulted the papers of Peter Guilday and John Tracy Ellis (arguably the founding [ordained] fathers of American Catholic history) during my visit a few years ago. Manuscripts related to the Second Vatican Council are especially relevant to recent trends in the field of American Catholic studies. And CUA’s archivists have started to digitize some of their collections, including documents on the burning of the Ursuline Convent of Charlestown, Massachusetts, and the First Vatican Council (the 19th century, it should be said, is also well represented in CUA’s holdings). The archives also offer the Dorothy Mohler Research Grant to folks on an annual basis. Again, an all-around outstanding place to conduct research.

When it comes to regional archives (as opposed to the more national-oriented repositories at UND and CUA), I’d single out the Associated Archives of St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland. Located on the campus of, you guessed it, St. Mary’s, the Associated Archives include the collections of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, St. Mary’s Seminary and University, and the Sulpicians of the United States, effectively offering historians of the early American Catholic Church with no better place to get one’s sea legs. The facilities were recently renovated and the archivists are incredibly generous with their expertise as both librarians and historians.

Lastly, a word of caution to those interested in American Catholic studies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Historians of American Catholicism (myself included) are in the habit of focusing most (if not all) of their attention on Catholic-specific archives like UND, CUA, and St. Mary’s. There are very good reasons for this pattern, not the least of which is the practical appeal of one-stop-shopping. But my recent work in earlier periods of colonial American history—periods covered less thoroughly in the collections of American Catholic repositories—has made me realize just how much I may have missed in my 19th-century studies. Walking into a place like UNDA can be exhilarating—where to begin? when will it end? so much!—but it can also be suffocating.

Photo #1: Knute Rockne, University of Notre Dame
Photo #2: United Mine Workers of America, Catholic University of America
Photo #3: Altar Boy Procession, St. Mary's Seminary and University

Recreating a Lynching, Part II


Kelly Baker

My previous post on Screening a Lynching focused on the cinematic recreations of the Leo Frank Trial and subsequent lynching. This is my very tardy follow up post, and I promise no more about Leo Frank from me until at least next year.

The newest attempt to narrate this sensational trial and its aftermath is The People Vs. Leo Frank (2009), which based largely on Steve Oney's book, And the Dead Shall Rise:The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank (2003). The docudrama relies on dialogue from the historical record as well as interviews with scholars, including Leonard Dinnerstein who has his own book on the trial and lynching, as well as descendants of those involved in this historical event. The People Vs. Leo Frank takes the position that Frank was obviously innocent and documents Frank's innocence with detailed accounts on the crime scene and trial. What I like about this rendition is its attempt to situate both the trial and the lynching in place, period and culture. The early moments of the docudrama highlight Atlanta's growth as a city, the place of the Jewish population in the Southern city and the growing concern over Jewish immigrants by 1913. What I was not as interested in was the crime show feel of the whole film. The film maker spent much time on excrement, blood stains, and questionable testimony. These, I guess, make for good entertainment for the popular audience, but in many ways, The People rehashes previous renderings of the case. For instance, the film strongly suggests that Jim Conley, the black janitor, was responsible for the murder of Mary Phagan, which might be true.

There were two things that were particularly striking to me about this docudrama. First, there was not enough attention to the problem of anti-Semitism. The documentary actually seems to suggest that anti-Semitism was not a real presence in American culture before the lynching, which is wholly untrue. One of the most fascinating parts of the docudrama involves how Frank's attorneys tried to use black prejudice to combat the religious prejudice that their client faced. Moreover, the prosecutor Dorsey argued that the defense "injected religious prejudice" in the trial because he obviously believed that he was not pandering to Jewish stereotypes. What The People successfully visualizes is the clearly anti-Semitic atmosphere of Atlanta, and the avid belief of Frank's attorneys and supporters that a white (Jewish) man, Frank, would not be convicted by the words of a black man, Conley. They were clearly wrong. I was initially skeptical of the film maker's use of re-enactment, but to see as well as hear Conley's testimony made it clear by the jury chose to believe him. His story was debauchery, and the jury and the larger Atlanta wanted to believe that Frank was a sexual pervert who violated vulnerable young white women.

Second, the women of the trial and the lynching are merely placeholders. My frustration is not simply directed at this film on this point, however. Frank's wife, Lucille, instead of being an active and ardent supporter of her husband, becomes a good looking woman who tenderly touches Frank's hand, sits quietly in the courtroom and writes him poetic love letters. This does not represent the actual Lucille, who was quite vocal about her husband's innocence. She is simply a silent sufferer through out. Not surprisingly, Mary Phagan is the poor, wretched victim. She appears in Frank's office to ask for her pay in her best clothes for the Confederate memorial parade. She's blonde and polite, and she gently asks Frank if there will be more work for her soon. The next time Phagan appears in the docudrama, she's dead. Luckily, there is some commentary from scholars about the place of young women in factories in the South and the gender and class conflict that arises, but visually this piece of the story is missing. Phagan becomes a placeholder and warning for young white women. Her sweet persona is much more important than her actual personhood. Nancy MacLean writes effectively about the class and gender impetus for the lynching of Leo Frank, and I would have liked to see some of her insight here. For a film about a lynching in a which the death of a young woman is central, women are relegated to silent second tier characters while the voices and actions of men become the leading narrative. Granted, the film is about Frank, but I would really like to see someone tackle the implications of the visual culture of Mary Phagan and her hagiography. The film even recreates the stream of young women who testified against Frank, but we don't hear much of their voices. Instead, their appearances and purported innocence is what we see on screen, and I would have liked more reflection on the inaccuracies of the their testimony as well as how these young women became the voice of Mary Phagan.

My final point on The People Vs. Leo Frank (and Leo Frank for awhile) is the actual visualization of the lynching in the docudrama. This recreation shows the level of planning and strategy in the capture and subsequent lynching of Frank. Frank was removed from prison without a lock broken or a shot fired. The film estimated that it took ten minutes to remove this famous prison from his prison. His captors drove him to Marietta, Phagan's hometown. The lynch party was not chaotic but solemn. Visually, the lynching scene focuses on Frank's feet. Gradually, the viewer sees Frank's form hanging from a tree with crowds gathering slowly. Then, the film uses actual photographs of the lynching to juxtapose with the reenactment. Over 15,000 people passed by Frank's body at an Atlanta funeral home. The rope was cut into small sections and sold.

One of the interesting questions that emerges at the end of the film is how could elite, educated people commit this lynching. The assumption, I guess, is that these types of people would not be involved in brutality. Instead of dodging this question, descendants of the lynchers discuss this very point matter of factly. Those that planned and committed the lynching envisioned themselves as bearers of the law and justice. Phagan was murdered, and her gruesome murder needed to be avenged by another equally gruesome death. In MacLean's article, she quotes a minister who notes that this lynching (this sacrifice) is somehow better because the victim was Jewish and white. It almost made it seem like Phagan's death was vindicated by the lynching, but yet she remained just a banner for a cause not her own person. Phagan remained a victim, and Frank became a victim. And unfortunately, visualizing these events does not necessarily bring clarity to this murky historical event. Recreating a lynching might present the peculiar trial to a modern audience but it does not explain the lasting interest in a trial about the murder of a young white women supposedly by a white man. I, sometimes, wonder if the interest in this case doesn't have to with the failure of the privilege of whiteness in this historical moment. In the repeated disbelief that Frank was convicted by the testimony of a black man, I see glimmers of concern. Maybe I am reading too much into the trial and its visualizations, but again, I begin to wonder.

Ted Haggard's New Life

by John G. Turner

Worth reading in part because of commentary from two incisive historians (Michael Hamilton and Larry Eskridge) of American evangelicalism, the Los Angeles Times observes Ted Haggard preaching to overflow crowds, albeit in his living room instead of at his former megachurch.

In American popular and political culture, we love both sin (this year's stars include Mark Ensign, Mark Sanford, and Tiger Woods) and redemption (Eliot Spitzer), thus I'm sure no one is surprised that Haggard is making a comeback. I didn't think he'd keep selling insurance for very long.

The article suggests that Haggard's prayer meetings are the beginning of a new church and includes a Focus on the Family official's criticism that Haggard would start a new fellowship or church so close to the one that he betrayed several years ago. Considering he has been attracting many current or former New Life members to the prayer meetings, the criticism seems fair.

Historians often complain about the quality of religious journalism, and the way that major newspapers write about evangelicalism often bugs me. I think it's a very encouraging sign that the Los Angeles Times found Hamilton and Eskridge, and their observations provide very helpful context:

"Sin, sorrow, repentance, conversion and trying to live out your new faith -- that's the standard evangelical way to look at one's life," he said.

But whether Haggard can achieve his previous success is questionable, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College in Illinois. "The larger question is the inability to put himself under someone else's authority and whether it shows true repentance," Eskridge said.Another issue is the nature of the scandal itself.

"Even though evangelical theology doesn't make distinctions between sins," Hamilton said, "homosexuality is a hard one for evangelicals to cope with."

We'll have to send Harvey to investigate futher. Surely he can fit a prayer meeting into his advent schedule after papers and exams are graded.

UPDATE: Thanks to Chris Jones, see this more detailed portrait of the redeemed Haggard in Religion Dispatches. I particularly like the following nugget:

He [Haggard] talks now of modeling his prayer sessions on the glory days of Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright before the evangelical movement took on the oppressive moralism of the 1980s and ’90s when Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson and their media empires came to power.

Postdoctoral Fellowship Opportunity


Laurie Maffly-Kipp sends along this fellowship opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In the department of religious studies

As part of a continuing commitment to advance scholars from underrepresented groups in higher education, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Carolina Postdoctoral Program for Faculty Diversity is pleased to announce the availability of postdoctoral research appointments for a period of two years. The purpose of the Program is to develop scholars from underrepresented groups for possible tenure track appointments at the University of North Carolina and other research universities. Postdoctoral scholars will be engaged full-time in research and may elect to teach only one course per fiscal year. Applications for study in any discipline represented at the University are welcome. The Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a special interest in candidates with expertise in Medieval/Early Modern Christianity, Religions of the Americas, or South and Southeast Asian religions. For more information about our programs, please visit our departmental website at

The stipend is $36,262 per calendar year. Funds are available for research expenses, including travel. Interested applicants who will have completed their doctoral degree no later than July 1, 2010 and no earlier than July 1, 2006 are eligible to apply. Preference will be given to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. This program is funded by the State of North Carolina.

Interested applicants should apply online at Directions for the electronic submission are provided at the website. Any questions may be directed to The application deadline is Thursday, January 7, 2010.

A Muted Call for Sacrifice


A Muted Call for Sacrifice: A Clear Call for Responsibility

By Jon Pahl, Ph.D.

Barack Obama's December 1 speech to the Cadets at West Point on Afghanistan was not what I expected. After years of listening to, and critiquing, George W. Bush's civil religious rhetoric, I worried that the current President would succumb to a cynical appeal to military "sacrifice." Instead, that theme was remarkably muted.

Far more prominent was the way the President invoked his inaugural theme of responsibility. He began with his own duties as Commander in Chief. He clarified the responsibilities of Afghanis, Pakistanis, and other international partners. And he held up the moral and civil values he expected his fellow Americans to demonstrate, including the military.

Obama did invoke a rhetoric of sacrifice near the end of his speech. He cited the "service and sacrifice" of "our grandparents" that launched the U.S. under Franklin Roosevelt into the current era of global interconnectedness. Then the President cited the "unbroken line of sacrifice" by men and women in uniform on behalf of Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." That was it for the favorite theme of the Civil War version of American civil religion.

Obama might have been tempted to use, and I fully expected to hear, the rhetoric of "sacrifice" in relation to the service of soldiers in Iraq. Instead, the President praised their "courage, grit, and perseverance." At the same time, Obama realistically acknowledged the "costs" of war, as he recalled signing letters of condolence, visiting "wounded warriors," and meeting the "flag-draped caskets" of those who died.

If he avoided pandering by cloaking military policy in religious rhetoric, the President did not avoid addressing moral questions. Obama first focused on the legitimacy of the war in Afghanistan. It was defensive. It was approved by Congress (overwhelmingly). It had international support. And it was undermined by the war in Iraq that "caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world."

The President then defended his deliberate approach to designing a strategy in Afghanistan. It did not delay necessary resources. It allowed him to "ask the hard questions." And it engaged key partners. It was, in a word, responsible. "I owed the American people--and our troops--no less," he concluded.

If his own responsibility was one theme of his speech, another clear theme was the responsibility of Afghanis and Pakistanis. He used the words "responsible" or "responsibility" nine times. Five of those times he related his favorite theme to the Afghani people. They had "responsibility for their own future." It was our goal to "transfer responsibility" to the Afghanis. And "success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan."

The President also identified responsibilities of the international community. He claimed "a broad coalition" of 43 nations in support of his policy. And he recalled his Nobel-inspiring vision of a world in which nations renounced weapons of mass destruction. "Every nation must understand," he claimed, "that true security will never come from an endless race for ever-more destructive weapons--true security will come for those who reject them."

But finally it was the responsibility of Americans that was, appropriately, Obama's chief theme. The American people are "not as young--and perhaps not as innocent--as we were when Roosevelt was President," the current President admitted. "We have made mistakes." For a standing President to humbly admit a lack of innocence on the part of Americans is as rare as it is, well, positively Lincoln-like in its responsibility.

To admit an absence of innocence does not signal weakness. It signals a deeper strength than pompous piety. "Our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people." And those people "must draw on the strength of our values."

This means that a responsible way forward in a "time of great trial" is not to invoke people's "deepest of fears," but instead to call people toward "the highest of hopes." That means not only promoting values in rhetoric, but "living them at home." And that means "prohibiting torture" and "speaking out on behalf of human rights." It means, in my favorite phrase from the speech, that in a new era of responsibility, "right makes might." There is, in short, a "moral source of America's authority."

Spoken at West Point, before Cadets to whom he might have pandered, Barack Obama reaffirmed the reasons he united a nation to elect him as America's first African American President. He remembered that "our union was founded in resistance to oppression." And he grounded American authority not in some pious projection of innocent transcendent power, but in moral suasion that must show "restraint in the use of force."

It remains to be seen whether Barack Obama's hope can unite Americans again. Even if the war is just, and responsibly waged, one wonders if the President can do without heavy appeal to the pious rhetoric of "sacrifice" employed to justify war by so many of his predecessors in office. I, for one, am thankful for the effort.

Jon Pahl is Professor of the History of Christianity in North America at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and the author of Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence, due out any day now from New York University Press.

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