What if Historians of Liberal Protestantism Threw a Party and Nobody Came?

by Mark Edwards
Scholars of liberal Protestantism, UNITE!! Well, at least tell us what you are writing about. I imagine many in this field shared my profound appreciation of David Hollinger’s recent OAH Presidential Address on the legacy of American liberal (what he termed "ecumenical") Protestantism. While reading it, however, I wasn’t sure if I was attending a historiographical kegger or funeral service. The essay begs the question of if and how students of liberal Protestantism have figured out how to justify their work in the new era of conservative evangelical scholarship (sorry to invoke the "e" word here without the elaboration it needs). For a long time, many of the biggest names in American religious history shared liberal theologians’ conviction that conservative faith had been consigned to the backwaters of public life. The "Billys" (Graham, Hargis, and Bright) proved them wrong. Just as surprisingly, the Nolls, Hatches, Marsdens, and Carpenters, among others, rode the new evangelical invasion into the center of the historical profession. Today, topics in conservative religion attract some of our best talent, lead to some of our best publications, and garner some of our highest praises. I’m certainly not complaining about this development, as I, too, once delighted in trying to decode Francis Schaeffer, J. Gresham Machen, and the omnipresent David Barton. But, where are the historians of liberal Protestantism?

Following the Mead-Hutchison-Marty-Ahlstrom epoch—and I’m sure I’m leaving out some of readers’ favorite scholars by calling it that—advances in the study of liberal Protestantism began to come from outside religious history. Notably, many of the new cultural historians, including T. J. Jackson Lears (No Place of Grace, 1994), Richard Wightman Fox (see his Reinhold Niebuhr, 1986, along with several essays on liberal Protestantism, especially the one in New Directions in American Religious History, 1998), Susan Curtis (A Consuming Faith, 1991), and Lears’s student Eugene McCarraher (Christian Critics, 2000), recognized the importance of liberal Protestantism to American culture and politics. On the one hand, they moved the field beyond the "history of theology" approach generally practiced in earlier times. They were among the first to connect liberal religious development to broader transformations in American life, for which we should be grateful. Still, their analyses unintentionally echoed the condemnation of the first liberal critics like Machen and Walter Lippmann. I think Christian Critics is one of the most enviable and important syntheses ever written in the field of liberal religious history, but it is hard to come away from it thinking any of its subjects, let alone liberal churches, have a future. So, why keep studying liberalism? An answer after the jump.

Race at Church


By Karen Johnson. 

The intersection of race, religion, and power is a significant one in American history - and today.  Interracial churches are, for the most part, few and far between.  In my last post I discussed teaching white students about race experientially, by putting them in a situation in which they are a minority.  Those students also had the opportunity to talk about race openly and honestly with black and white people from Rock Church who are comfortable with the issues.  Rock Church is located in a predominantly black inner-city neighborhood in Chicago and is an interracial church.  I'd like to follow the lead of the work done with those students - and being done at Rock - and open up a discussion on interracial churches (the following is admittedly about black/white churches.  Race is clearly much more than that).

Doing church interracially can be hard.  Using research she did on a church made up of black and white members, sociologist Korie Edwards, for instance, has argued that in order for a church to remain interracial, the black members have to give up their expectations about what church should look like in order to appease the white members.  In other words, white hegemony reigns supreme.  In my own research on Catholic interracial organizations like the Federated Colored Catholics and Friendship House, I've seen a similar struggle.  The white and black partners struggle over how to distribute power - and often the white people want to lead the way and set the agenda.

But it doesn't always have to be that way.  I think that Rock is a great example of an interracial church in which white hegemony does not reign supreme.  One thing Rock Church used to do was "fudge-ripple meetings" in which black people (or fudge folks)  and white people (or vanilla folks) met separately to discuss a topic and then came together (fudge-ripple) to discuss it. The rule was that a person could not leave the fudge-ripple meeting and then talk with another fudge or another vanilla about their experiences. Black people know how to talk with other black people about white people, and white people know how to talk about black people with other white people.  The church wanted to avoid that sort of behavior and foster open, honest - and often hard and frank - communication across racial lines.  (For more an autobiographical history of racial reconciliation at Rock, see Glen Kehrein's and Raleigh Washington's Breaking Down Walls).

Michael Emerson and Christian Smith argued in Divided by Faith that the vast majority of white evangelicals who talk about racial reconciliation put no meat behind their arguments.  That is, they do not - and indeed seem unable to - acknowledge structural sources of inequality in society and are unwilling to divest themselves of power.  Rock Church is different, and represents well Emerson's argument that white people living interracially are able to see structures limiting black access to power - like their black counterparts.  The history of the organization is full of examples.  Circle Urban Ministries, the non-profit out of which the church emerged, has a medical clinic, legal clinic, and after school program.  The church, too, has put the institutional needs of the society over its own.  The church owns part of a large complex that formerly housed a Catholic school and convent (Circle Urban Ministries owns the other part).  Instead of building a sanctuary, it has invested and partnered with others to pour millions of dollars into rehabbing the building into a school which serves the local community.  A charter school rents out the space.  One day the church hopes to complete the last leg of the rehab: a 1100-person capacity auditorium (which would dwarf our 150 attendance).  That space will become the sanctuary - and also would be a tremendous asset to the community.

While I often lament the long history of white flight, there's a counter narrative to be found.  When Chicago's west side flipped from being predominantly white to predominantly black, some white people moved into the neighborhood and tried to learn from their black neighbors and partner together to create stability and hope in a sea of racial change and isolation.

Experiential Learning About Race and Religion

by Karen Johnson

I'm always amazed at the number of people who think race doesn't matter any more.  After all, we have a black president, they say (and Obama might even be our second black president, if you count Clinton as black!).  Most of those folks talking, however, are white, and for them it doesn't matter because they have access to all the things whiteness gives you.  In my mind, American history, society, and religion have been and are unarguably shaped by race in ways, as Phil Sintiere alluded to, that are by no means benign. 

One way to help white students see the world differently, and perhaps begin to understand how race continues to work in American society, is to put them in a situation in which they are a minority - and give them the opportunity to process what they're seeing >A few months ago, my friend Rusty Hawkins and his co-teacher, Brian Fry , brought 73 students from Indiana Wesleyan University to Rock of Our Salvation Evangelical Free Church, in the heart of Chicago's Austin neighborhood.  Austin is a predominantly black neighborhood.  When outsiders hear about Austin, they think of its crime, but they know little of the vibrant blocks of great people living and working (and landscaping their lawns) in the community.  I see both sides of Austin because I live there.   The students rode the train from downtown Chicago and got off and walked the three blocks to the church.  They had spent the morning in Hyde Park, which is an interracial, wealthy neighborhood on Chicago's South Side (the University of Chicago and the neighborhood did some really creative maneuvering to maintain the character of the neighborhood.  For a flavor of this, seeHirsch,Making the Second Ghetto, chapter 5).  Their walk in Austin was a very from their afternoon in Hyde Park. 

For the first time for some of these students, they experienced being a racial minority.  And they found out that it can be uncomfortable.  Most of the folks on the street the students walked by knew what it was like to be a minority - being black in a white neighborhood can be a dangerous prospect.  Being white in a black neighborhood, however, does not carry the same level of danger because the law is on your side.  At the end of their five minute walk, they arrived at a giant red brick building that used to be a Catholic school and convent before Austin changed, block by block, from a white to a black neighborhood.  Rock of Our Salvation Church and Circle Urban Ministries co-own the building, and the students were there to learn about interracial churches.

Happy birthday to RiAH


Paul Harvey

Religion in American History turned five last week! Happy birthday to us, especially happy as we have long since met and surpassed our goal of 1,000 facebook and 500 (close to 600 now) Twitter followers. Do not ask for whom the vuvuzela blows; it blows for thee. 

"Like" us at facebook 
here, and follow us on Twitter here

Those of you in the field who have been following the blog for a while -- please consider becoming a contributor. The more fresh blood we have here, the more the sharks can continue circling! Those of you who don't want to be a contributor but are dying to post on a particular subject germane to our interests, let me know, we're always happy to host guests for a short visit. 

We've kept you abreast of some of the accomplishments of our contributors as well as friends/followers of the blog, and we look forward to many more of those in the coming days.

We have some big plans coming up down the road for the blog.

As my old age, advanced dementia, and inability to hit a layup, much less a jump shot, obviously have caught up with me, I've been having discussions with our blog contributors and others about moving into a "new era," RiAH 2.0, ideally one with a little less conversation (with me) and a lot more action (from everyone else), to paraphrase Elvis. Later this year we hope to put this into effect, with a fairly regular roster of scheduled posts (somewhat on the model of what the folks at the much-admired U.S. Intellectual History do), occasional "takeovers" of the blog by groups of recruited guest posters, and a renewed focus on this blog's original mission of providing a scholarly forum for research and teaching in the field of American religious history.

More on all that anon. Until then, we'll keep on keeping on. Thanks for your support.

Update: Thanks for all who have asked after me during the fires around the Colorado Springs area. I am fine, but keep us in your thoughts as some of my faculty members have evacuated, and unpredictable wind gusts can still create more havoc and destruction, as happened today when 65 mph wind gusts blew the fire from the forest lands down towards and then into the northwest quadrant of the city. If any of you, as kids, visited the Flying W Ranch, as I did: it is gone. You can view a fantastic slideshow of the #waldocanyonfire here.

Southeast Regional AAR/SECSOR CFP


Kelly Baker

For those of you in the Southeast region, or those who want to visit the Southeast, here's the call for the Religions in American section of the regional AAR/SECSOR meeting. The full call for papers is located here. Next year's meeting will be held March 15- 17 2013 in downtown Greenville, South Carolina. Please note that the deadline for this call is October 3, 2012.

(AAR) Religions in America (4-5 sessions)
Themes:  (1) Studying and theorizing “Culture Wars” for a joint session with Theory and Method. Submit proposals also to Laura Ammon, Appalachian State University, (AmmonLL@appstate.edu) and Randy Reed, Appalachian State University, (reedrw@appstate.edu); (2) Nation and race (3) Re-evaluating class in American religions; (4) Teaching ethnography for a joint session with Teaching Religion. Submit proposals also to Derrick Lemons, University of Georgia, (dlemons@uga.edu) and  Reginaldo Braga Jr., Interdenominational Theological Center, (secsorteach@sre-itc.org); (5) Open call.  Please submit all (joint or single call) proposals to Kelly Baker, University of Tennessee Knoxville, (kbaker27@utk.edu) and Joshua Fleer, Florida State University, (jfleer@fsu.edu).  For joint sessions, please make sure to send proposals to the other (listed) section chairs as well.

Religion in Reviews

Jonathan den Hartog

Be on the look-out for the new Reviews in American History (June 2012, although not available through Project Muse yet). My copy arrived yesterday. It feels like a RiAH reunion and demonstrates how religious categories are shaping the current discourse of American history.

Chris Beneke and Christopher Grenda’s work The First Prejudice has gotten noticed on this blog previously, but the book finally makes it into Reviews. There, it’s coupled with Linda Gregerson and Susan Juster’s Empires of God: Religious Encounters in the Early Modern Atlantic. Both are important works that deserve attention, but I was singularly impressed with the consistently high level of the essays that Beneke and Grenda put together.

Next, Karim Tiro reviews Matthew Dennis’s Seneca Possessed. It looks like Dennis explores both the Handsome Lake renewal movement and the influence Quakers had on Seneca belief.

Later in the issue, Christopher Grenda has his own review, this time of David Sehat’s Myth of American Religious Freedom. Grenda notes the large amount of ground Sehat covers but tweaks him for his claim of being a non-partisan mediator in disputes over religious and cultural liberty. Grenda points out that Sehat ends up voicing support for a teleological story that culminates in “the post-New Deal social organization of regulatory economics and cultural libertarianism.” (310) So, for Grenda, Sehat’s claims to impartiality don’t hold to the end.

The very next page starts a review by RiAH’s Matthew Sutton of Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt. I appreciated Sutton’s note that Dochuk brought together stories of the elites and the grassroots: “Dochuk brilliantly and seamlessly weaves together the lives of the famous with men and women whose names will never again appear in a history book.” (317). Among all the other accomplishments of the book, that strikes me as a great contribution and a humane undertaking.

Finally, Daniel Williams reviews two more book about American conservatism. Williams, himself an expert on the Religious Right, is able to balance both the strengths of the books—he thinks David Farber’s Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism could be eminently teachable—with their weakness of too quickly predicting the movement’s decline.

In short, there’s a lot of exciting work going on, and thanks for this blog for keeping all of us ahead of the curve!

Catholic Calumet and Colonial Conversions

Paul Harvey

 In writing The Color of Christ, which covers some five hundred years of American history, Ed Blum and I drew on a lot of scholarship in areas outside of our own fields of expertise. Nowhere was this more true than in preparing the sections on Natives in colonial America, which I soon learned was one of the most vital and interesting fields in all of American religious history. One of those was our own Lin Fisher's book The Indian Great Awakening, and an interview with Lin and more on his book will appear later this summer.

Also, in working on this, I came across some really deeply researched and perceptive articles by Creighton University scholar Tracy Neal Leavelle, which helped me (among other things) interpret the material I came across in primary documents such as The Jesuit Relations, some travelogues, and other places. The new issue of Choice reviews Leavelle's new book, in which some of the material I saw in article form receives fuller exposition: The Catholic Calumet: Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America, recently out with Penn Press and sure to be a standard reference for all who seek serious studies of Native-Christian interactions in early America.

(Thank you, Penn, for another hefty and important monograph in American religious history -- given the struggles of scholarly and university press publishers nowadays, it's important for all of us to support the publications of these kinds of books).

You can see the table of contents and read a really stimulating excerpt on "conversion as cross-cultural practice" here. The conclusion parallels some of the points Lin develops in his book, albeit in a completely different region with different Native groups and French rather than English missionaries:

Singular definitions of conversion that depend on the idealized renovation of imperial subjects from "savages" to "Christians" are insufficient to explain the complicated processes that unfolded in this colonial world. The experiences of Native peoples and missionaries argue instead for the adoption of a plural, dynamic, and flexible concept of conversion that accounts for the changes in all participants. Such a perspective requires an analysis of religious action—orientation and movement, song and speech, ritual and relationships—more than it does a simple delineation of faith and doctrine. Ritual activity and social relations remained the basis for Native religious life even for those who adopted Christianity, the araminatchiki.

The preview on line is really rich and gives you a good idea of some of the major themes of the book. Below the fold is a brief review of the work from Choice, and some more material from the work's website.

Public Education, Religious Studies, and the Fight for the Soul of the University of Virginia

Paul Harvey

Just a quick note to read Marie Griffith's post at Religion and Politics about the ongoing fiasco of the abrupt and secretive firing of the president of the University of Virginia coming from a sort of internal putsch by a few members of the university's Board of Visitors.

Currently director of the Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University, Marie reflects on what her undergraduate education at the University of Virginia meant to her, what a Religious Studies department ( as well as other departments currently "under the ax," such as Classics and German) means at a public university, and how the recent actions by the Board of Visitors so egregiously violate the very norms that the public university, at its best, is all about. Read it now

Here, just a brief excerpt, from her conclusion. As the product of a public university myself, I can't think of an issue I feel more strongly about:

Public education has long been political—how could it not be? But when pure profit motives take over universities, we are left with educational systems that pander to politicians and opportunists with the latest nostrum to capitalize on. That course looks doomed to fail the test of a true education: giving students the deep learning they need to be engaged, outward-focused citizens who are steeped in the marketplace of ideas, not simply the marketplace of consumerism.

The Invention of American Evangelicalism; or, Why Ed Blum is Mad


(If you're unsure what made Ed mad read this post.)

[Update: Ed says he's not mad anymore, just passionate. Also, read this post from Ed where he expands his thoughts on race and evangelicalism. His thoughts echo much of what's in this post.]

Evangelical history is a lot like this plaque from the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecrafts. The plaque was affixed to the spacecrafts in order to communicate some basic information to any extraterrestrial life they might encounter as they zoomed toward Jupiter and beyond. The plaque is rife with information but the most obvious elements are the map of the solar system and the drawing of a man and woman. The plaque was meant to represent us (humans) to them (aliens). But more than that, the plaque also represents us to us. It shows what we thought was really important (hydrogen) and who we thought we were (that shapely white heterosexual couple with the man standing tall and waving while the woman extends her leg Angelina Jolie Oscars style). It represented us to ourselves.

This is the same dual work that much "evangelical history" does. On the one hand, the history of evangelicalism represents what evangelicalism is or has been to those not within the fold. It's a project that says, "See, we have been at the heart of democracy and republicanism in America. Ours is the religion of freedom, liberty, choice, and reason."  It's also a project that represents itself to itself--that is, to evangelicals. Often these representations are meant to call today's evangelical Christians to be a better sort of Christians by reminding them of what they once were. "Once we had the social passion of the great abolitionists and the depth of thought of Edwards. We can have that again." I think it is this dual work of representation that creates the blindspots around race and gender that engendered Ed's battle cry and Kelly Baker's questions.

That said, I don't think the problem is really about representation. It's not that there aren't enough African American, Latino/a American, or Asian American evangelicals in our indexes and lists. The problem is not representation but construction. Or, to put it as a question, why do we think there even is such a thing as evangelicalism? Or evangelicals? To be blunt, why do we care who is or isn't an evangelical?

The term "evangelical" has a long history that I won't get into and that I'm sure many readers of this blog know more about than I do. However, it seems that the term has been self-applied or imposed upon a variety of Protestants since the Reformation. It is a "native term" batted about by Protestants throughout their various squabbles with themselves and others. For some American Protestants at certain places and times "evangelical" signified "true." Evangelical Christianity stood in contrast to infidel Christianity (be it liberal or deistic or what have you). Or conversely, to put myself in the shoes of the Unitarians I've been reading all week, "evangelical" Christianity is stiff mindless orthodoxy that lacks the refined reason and liberty of liberal Christianity. The question of who is or isn't "evangelical" or what is or isn't "evangelicalism" is a Protestant debate between Protestants and has become a historiographical question within American religious history insofar as American religious history is still under-girded by Protestant sensibilities and categories.

What's at Stake? Race and Evangelical Naming

Edward J. Blum

(update: for more perspective, see Kelly Baker's take)

By drawing attention to the Time list of "influential" evangelicals and John Turner's essay, I'm not trying to say that evangelical scholarship is racist. I'm also not trying to say that African Americans should want to be identified as "evangelical" or necessarily included in  that camp. I'm also not saying that we all need to have "additive" history where we merely add a person of color or a woman to make our stories better (would adding women to Kevin Schultz's book improve it? I'm not so sure).

What I am saying is that when it comes to "evangelicalism" and race, we cannot divorce the work that race did. My first book was based on a simple and perhaps naive graduate student question: when Dwight Moody set the North ablaze with the revivals of 1876 and 1877, why didn't he have anything to say about racial justice in the South? Why didn't Marsden or Noll or hardly else bring up that these were years of terrible racial and sectional strife? (Noll is the great example of a scholar who has grown so richly over time and now takes race quite seriously; but he did not in Scandal!) That led me to an unbelievable discord of rhetoric versus reality in post-Civil War evangelicalism that showed how folks like Moody subtly created a white supremacist morality that undermined the gains and spirit of radical Reconstruction. But this "evangelical" history rarely gets told.

American evangelicalism cannot be separated from race and gender power relations and identities. When southern white evangelicals wrote their treatises on the "spirituality of the church," they did so not only as black men and black women labored so white ministers had pen and paper (and their readers had time), but also on the very ground that Native Americans had once claimed. These evangelicals wrote as women of various hues tended to their physical and material needs. To leave those histories out, to lionize men who have had every advantage in the world, is to miss something so deep and so real: that their wealth of ideas, of reflection, of money, and of influence, was built upon the labors, the procreation, the removals, the sorrow songs, the frustrations, of others. Do we want to be like Perry Miller, talking about "errand boys" figuratively while literal "errand boys" wait upon the whites around us? That strikes me not just as bad history, but also as the kind of history that hides realities of power. I want to write history that speaks truth to power.
Richard Hook, Head of Christ (1964)

And this is what drove my book with Paul on Jesus and whiteness throughout American history. While at some times whites did talk about Christ's white image around them, most of the time his whiteness went unstated. It was assumed, meant to creep into the hearts and minds of those who viewed it, especially children. Whiteness created a morality before moral questions could be addressed, it became a psychological certainty before other theological uncertainties could be dealt with. If we never called out the whiteness of those Jesus images, then we would not have seen a large part of what they represented: group dominance in various forms. Thank God for those who did speak up.

To have an America that moves beyond segregation religiously, then we need to have the historical imagination to move beyond it as well. Ida B. Wells did not influence her generation to end lynching. But isn't it her faith legacy we want to remember more than Thomas Dixon's? When we remember Charles Finney's new measures, should we not also remember Samsom Occum and William Apess and David Walker who created the notion of religious hypocrisy as a greater injustice than violating white supremacist laws? In part, this is to create a usable history. But also, it's to create a religious history of the United States that puts power in its place, recognizes whiteness and male power even when it is unspoken but exerted, and that accomplishes what scholars are called upon to do: reveal that which is cloaked.

Blog Race War


Edward J. Blum

If Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America, then evangelical studies may be the most segregated books by U.S. historians.

Over at patheos, John Turner revisited Time magazine's list of top 25 most influential evangelicals in America. I consider John a friend and a terrific scholar. His biography of Bill Bright is just terrific, and I've already read and reviewed his Brigham Young, which too is wonderful. But I'm ready to go to blog war over Time's list and his revisited one. There is 1, count 'em 1, African American named on the list: T. D. Jakes. The list had 25 in 2005; it had 1 African American then. Turner now revises it and calls for more names (in part to replace those who have died or fallen from grace), including Asian American and Latino American names.

My complaint is not with John, but with the entire field of "evangelical" studies. Until it can come up with a definition of itself that explains why books about it are almost uniformly about white people (because last I checked, lots and lots and lots of African Americans have fit Bebbington's definition), then it needs greater definitional precision. So many American historians bristle at "whiteness" studies, but this is a clear case, to me, where whiteness is hidden in plain site. This is the kind of assumption that leads books about religion and the founders to exclude Phillis Wheatley, to focus on Charles Finney but rarely William Apess, to pine for Lincoln to be evangelical but to ignore Frederick Douglass, and to lionize Dwight Moody and leave out Ida B. Wells.

I'm ready for "evangelical" scholars to go further ... to join Thomas Kidd by incorporating African Americans, Native Americans, and others deemed non-white in their studies of "evangelicals" to be far more robust in their reading and inclusion. If not, I'm prepared for a blog race war. (kidding about war ... blessed are the peace makers)

Religion and Violence in a 21st-Century City

Heath Carter

This morning at 7:30am the Reverend Corey Brooks will depart Bedford, PA, and will walk some 32 miles to Boswell, PA, where he hopes to be by dinnertime.  For the Chicago pastor, it's the latest leg of a planned walk across America, a journey that began in New York City and will end in Los Angeles. Brooks' aim is two-fold: to call attention to the alarming levels of violence in Chicago and to raise money for a community center in his south side neighborhood (for more on those plans and/or to follow his journey, check out the site for Project HOOD).  His transcontinental ambitions have garnered the attention of major news outlets such as Good Morning America, making his one of the more celebrated religious responses to rising gun violence in the Windy City.

The Reverend Corey Brooks on his walk across America
There has been all-too-much to respond to in Chicago of late.  Two sentences in yesterday's Daily Mail (UK) put a fine point on the matter: "Over the course of the war since 2001, around 2,000 US troops have died in Afghanistan compared to the 5,000 gunfire victims in the Illinois city.  Since the start of the year, 144 US soldiers have been killed on duty in Afghanistan, while at least 240 people have been shot dead in Chicago."  The point here is not to diminish casualties abroad, of course, but rather to underscore the ongoing war in urban streets: nearly 900 Chicagoans wounded by gun violence so far this year; the casualty numbers for the last three weekends, starting with the most recent, are 42, 54, and 32.  Such figures do not begin to tell the story of hundreds of (disproportionately) young lives - including, for example, that of 6-year-old Aliyah Shell (pictured below) - cut short. 

6-year-old Aliyah Shell was shot on her front porch in the Little Village neighborhood in March 2012
The Rev. Brooks is one of many within Chicago's religious communities who have responded in force to the violence.  St. Sabina, a vibrant African-American parish in the south side's Englewood neighborhood, sponsored a march last week during which its well-known pastor, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, declared, "It is time for the righteous to stand up."  The church has moreover called for persons of faith to fast and pray every Wednesday throughout the summer for an end to the shootings.  At another large interfaith march back in early April space was created for the parents of victims to share stories and memories of their slain children.  The group that organized that event continues to create opportunities for local residents to get involved in the struggle against violence. 

A photo from the April march against violence in Chicago
But any account of the religious response to rising gun violence must also consider the spontaneous prayer services and make-shift memorials that have materialized in neighborhoods across the city.  When a 13-year-old boy was gunned down on his front porch a couple of months ago, some six blocks from our home on the southwest side, my family attended one of these services.  I passed by that same house on a walk through the neighborhood last week: the icons and candles were still there. 

In the years to come, historians of religion and violence will have a complicated tale to tell about early-twenty-first-century Chicago.  In the meantime, I count myself amongst the many ordinary folks who long for peace.

New Blog: The Feminist Mystique

For those of you who are searching for new and interesting blogs, we at RiAH just ran into The Feminist Mystique. It has some fascinating posts on what the Bible says about menstuation, theology of the body, and the "last name project." Here is a paragraph on it from founder and editor Shannon Hill.

The Feminist Mystique explores contemporary feminism, women's rights, and gender issues, with a special focus on the intersection ofgender and religion. The blog aims to provide an intelligent and fresh feminis tperspective on current events and explores how to fully live a feminist life,one that helps make the world a better place for women. It covers everything from the big issues—such as reproductive rights, women’s leadership and participation in the Catholic Church, sexual violence, and child care—to everyday feminist issues—such as ethical eating and shopping, safe cosmetics, what to do with a last name upon marriage, and parenting.

The Feminist Mystique was founded by Shannon Hill, a writer and feminist activist. She holds an M.A. in Religion and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Yale and a B.A. in Religion and Women's Studies from Wellesley College. In addition to blogging, Shannon works as a freelance grant writer, a fellow at All Our Kin, the Yale Women Faculty Forum, and the Zigler Center for Child Development and Social Policy, and as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

Scholars on the Move

Several of my favorite religious historians are moving right now (some for one-year fellowships ... Matt Sutton to Ireland), others for new and exciting jobs. Above, is my diagram of Randall Stephens from Boston to England, Kathryn Gin moving from Princeton to Stanford, Molly Worthen from Toronto to North Carolina, Luke Harlow from Michigan to Tennessee, Darren Grem from Atlanta to Ole Miss, Jennifer Graber from Ohio to Texas, John Turner from Alabama to Washington D.C., and Amy Koehlinger from Florida State to Oregon State.

Anybody else currently on the move? Please let us know.

John Woolman's Path to the Peaceable Kingdom

Paul Harvey
John Woolman's Path to the Peaceable Kingdom
Quite a while ago, I blogged about a (then) new biography of John Woolman, the pioneering eighteenth-century Quaker abolitionist,by Thomas Slaughter (The Beautiful Soul of Thomas Woolman).

The scholarship on Woolman continues. Penn Press has just published a new work by the British historian Geoffrey Plank, John Woolman's Path to the Peaceable Kingdom: A Quaker in the British Empire, which looks fascinating. There's an author interview over at the Penn Press website, a little excerpt of which I'll post below:

Did you discover anything about Woolman in your research that was particularly surprising or seemingly uncharacteristic?
I think I was most surprised by Woolman’s relative wealth and his commercial dealings. Woolman mentions in his journal that he was a successful draftsman and shopkeeper, but the implications of his financial success did not become clear until I examined his ledger books and worked out some of the details. In the mid- to late 1750s, at exactly the same time that Woolman was beginning to dramatize his opposition to slavery, he invested in hog production. He almost certainly sent pork to sugar-producing plantations in the Caribbean. Quaker abolitionists are often depicted as busybodies, interfering in the lives of distant people whose concerns were far from their own. This stereotype misrepresents most colonial-era Quaker abolitionists, who were intimately familiar with slavery in several contexts—in their homes, in places like the local iron works, in the American south, and in the Caribbean.

Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy

Paul Harvey

Front CoverI picked up this week Ananda Rose's Showdown in the Sonoran Desert: Religion, Law, and the Immigration Controversy, just out with Oxford University Press, just as news of the Obama administration's recent change of immigration policy towards members of undocumented families who came under the age of 16. Based on a recent Harvard Div. School Th.D. dissertation, Rose's work is a combination of oral history, sociological exploration, and theological analysis of a particular borderlands region where over 2,000 migrants have perished over the last decade trying to make a perilous crossing.

Rose provides excerpts of interviews and studies of people on all sides -- law enforcement personnel, ranchers in the region, "Minutemen," religious and humanitarian aid workers, and others. Early in the book, she explores faith-based organizations such as Humane Borders and No More Deaths, which have responded to the humanitarian crisis engendered by the border crossings. A later section of the work takes up those who defend "state sovereignty" and dispute the theology behind the groups (making a sort of "tragedy of compassion" argument). Her work emphasizes stories based on extensive fieldwork which she hopes "will help us move beyond the stereotypes (of the heartless Border Patrol agent, the sanctimonious aid worker, the bigoted Minuteman, the law-breaking immigrant, etc.) so that perhaps . . . everyone can take a small step back and perhaps see the problem in a more nuanced, humanized light."

American Pluralism(s): An Interview with and Lecture by Martin Marty

Paul Harvey

Over at the Newberry Library's Scholl Center for American History and Culture blog, friend-of-the-blog Christopher Cantwell interviews the renowned American religious historian Martin Marty, and notes there (for you Chicago-area people) a public lecture on "Pluralisms with a Big 'S': The American Versions," to be given by Marty on Tuesday, June 26, at 6:00 p.m., in Ruggles Hall at the Newberry. on June 26. We'd love to hear a report/account from anyone who is able to make the lecture. Below the fold is the lecture announcement and a little excerpt from the interview:

Clothes Count - Part 3 of 3

Edward J. Blum

Question: Do you see skin as another form of dress (lack of dress) or as something distinct and different?

Pamela Klassen: The strong—though mixed—reaction to Hillary Clinton going without makeup for a day seems to suggest that for powerful women in public, at the very least, skin requires dressing.  That said, racialization, and attendant assumptions and prejudices about the meaning of skin color, shape how particular kinds of dress are interpreted—a hoodie on Mark Zuckerburg and a hoodie on Trayvon Martin are not saying the same thing.  As I put it in an article I wrote on African-American Methodist women and dress: in the nineteenth-century U.S. “skin color trumped clothing, regardless of the richness of the fabric or the simplicity of the pattern.”  I’m not sure how different it is now.

In addition to racialization, the meaning of skin is made through distinctions drawn between being naked and being clothed.  These distinctions are themselves culturally and historically specific. 

For example, I’m on the dissertation committee of a student of late antiquity, Erin Vearncombe, whose use of Judith Butler and dress theorists such as Anne Hollander, along with her prodigious knowledge of all things Greco-Roman, is allowing her to advance a fascinating argument about nakedness, dress and early Christianity.  With cognizance of the differences among a cloak, a tunic, and a cloth, and what each means in the context of social, class, and gender distinctions of nakedness, Erin is able to reread theologically saturated interpretations of key New Testament texts.  She argues that references to clothing in these stories cannot be read anachronistically as prognostications of the significance of future Christian themes, but instead should be understood as narratives that use articles of clothing as convenient, and historically specific, plot devices.

These two readings of skin—through racialization and through nakedness—show that skin is never uninterpreted and is always in play with dress.  Adding age to the picture would be one more example of skin’s endless (and lucrative) interpretive pliability despite its simultaneously material fixity, as the current fruitless battle in the name of “anti-aging”—whether through creams or surgeries—attests.


Brent Plate: I'd put it the other way: Dress is another form of skin. It’s a screen. It's another way of simultaneously displaying the self while keeping a membrane in place between the one and the other.

Praying Hands Tattoos
But yes, skin can be dress too. I immediately think of tattoos, scarification, piercing, and other skin-oriented modifications that signal membership--even in the modern day "cult of the individual"--belonging, and a sense of self. Skin can be decorated, and decoration necessarily changes the thing it is connected with.

At the same time, I'm hesitant to go too far with skin as dress, since there is so much identity connected to "natural" skin, and it is not as malleable, as volitionally changeable, as clothing. There is so much about skin that we are just stuck with and we can't head to the closet to change when we feel like it.

Kelly Baker: Like Brent, I would be nervous with pushing the analogy of skin and dress too far because dress cane be changed more readily. However, I think we can move too far in imagining that dress has infinite potential for change without paying careful attention to the ways in which fashion is tangled up with gender, racial, religious and class identities too. Clothes can communicate individual choices but they are more than that too. For instance, the blog Stuff White People Like does a nice job of riffing on the fashion of white middle class women, especially the supposed love of scarves. An individual fashion choice might appear as choice, but it could represent more the “habits” of a certain group of people.

When thinking about how skin can be fashioned as dress, I think there is also this focus on individual choices and individual bodies, rather than the structure guiding our choices. Last fall, I participated in a panel discussion  about embodiment and body modification, and agency and choice ran amuck, as some of panelists assumed that all of their own body modifications reflected them as individuals rather than the social and cultural spaces they inhabit. Unsurprisingly, I tend to disagree. The conversation became very intriguing (and problematic) when one of my fellow panelists wanted to suggest that prejudice against those who modify their bodies through piercing, tattoos, cosmetic surgery, hair dye, scarification, bleaching, implants, etc.  was essentially the “same” as racial prejudice. Unsurprisingly, the student audience found fault with this argument because our “natural” skin was not quite a choice like optioning to modify. The questions of agency and bodies are intriguing ones as well as questions of meaning and identity. While students wanted to assume that every modification was meaningful to individuals (a consciously fashioned self), they couldn’t decide if  the skin that we are in was always meaningful or should mean less.  “Natural” skin was ascribed worth, and attention to bodies, then, becomes increasingly important to demonstrate how exactly social and cultural constructions of race change or remain the same in different historical moments. For scholarly work on body modification, check out sociologist Victoria Pitts; intriguing study, In the Flesh (2003).

Many thanks to our wonderful panelists on the topics of religion, clothes, and skin.

New JSR Podcasts: Michael Sean Winters and Jeff Wilson

Art Remillard

I first learned of  Richard Cizik by way of Bill Moyers's PBS documentary, "Is God Green."  At this point, Cizik was the chief lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals, making it his mission to warn fellow evangelicals about the dangers of global climate change.  The message of "creation care" resonated with some.  But for many with politically conservative leanings, Cizik had joined an "unholy alliance" with the political left.  Indeed, one time Cizik was on CNN alongside Jerry Falwell, who proclaimed that only "liberal Democrats, blue-helmeted UN types, and misinformed evangelicals" believe in global warming.

Cizik would be run out of the NAE, due in part to his environmental activism but also to his "evolving" views on homosexuality and civil unions.  He is now the president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, "a faith-based organization committed to an agenda that fosters values consistent with an open and free society." And Cizik's name came up in the newest JSR Podcast with  Michael Sean Winters about his new book, God’s Right Hand: How Jerry Falwell Made God a Republican and Baptized the American Right. Specifically, I asked Winters to speculate as to whether or not a new political-religious movement might form around those sharing Cizik's views, similar to how Falwell molded the Moral Majority to the conservative forces of the 1980s.  You'll need to listen to the podcast to hear Winters's thoughts on the matter.

Winters writes for the National Catholic Reporter, where he also blogs at "Distinctly Catholic." In our conversation, he explains what compelled him to write this biography. Winters then discusses Falwell's early career, his rise to political prominence, his curious friendships with the likes of Larry Flynt, and his "mixed" legacy as it relates to American religious and political culture.

Also, just in case you missed it, a few weeks ago, Michael Pasquier spoke with Jeff Wilson about his new book, Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South. Wilson is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College, University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada. During this conversation, Wilson talks about his ethnographic and historical study of a Buddhist community in Richmond, Virginia. He provides unique insight into the pluralistic dimensions of religion in the contemporary South.

Clothes Count ... Part 2 of 3

The second part of our conversation with Pamela Klassen, S. Brent Plate, and Kelly Baker on clothing and religion.

- Edward J. Blum

Question: From your research, what’s the quirkiest or most interesting example of dress and its links to religious identities?
Arrested Development's "George Bluth"
wearing a head covering after his
prison conversion
Pamela Klassen: I was preparing a lecture for my anthropology of Christianity class this past spring, and turned to google for some images to go along with my discussion of Joan Scott’s The Politics of the Veil (which I think is one of the best of very many books on Muslim women’s head coverings).  I discovered that there is a North American renewal movement of sorts, with a very active internet marketplace, focused on convincing Christian women from a range of denominations to return to the head covering as a symbol of their submission to male headship and, ultimately, to God. 

Anglicans, Catholics, Mennonites, Jews for Jesus, and evangelicals of various sorts all testified to their joy at wearing a small(ish) piece of cloth on their heads. Cottage industries of sisters and mothers making both traditional and downright sexy head coverings have sprung up and you can visit some here (they take both Visa and Paypal): http://www.prayercoverings.com/ , http://www.headcoverings.com/ , and my personal favorite for its Martha Stewart aesthetic, http://www.garlandsofgrace.com/

Brent Plate: I'll just say my favorite connection is found in the artist Nick Cave's"Soundsuits." He's been working on these for many years. They are marvelous performative, living artworks that invoke the senses just as they pull on West African masquerade traditions. They are modernist as they are performance and body oriented and utilize found objects; and traditional as show what can be done with the body even as the body is hidden and the individual is depersonified in ritualistic form. See http://soundsuitshop.com

Kelly Baker: Klansmen claiming to wear Jesus on their bodies in the form of robes is my most interesting example by far, and I have been hard pressed to find another example that surprised me as much as this did. Though, a modern seamstress blessing Klan robes places a very close second. The founder of the second Klan, William Simmons, describes, in words that I can only call lovingly, the sacred importance of the robes as a memorial to the Reconstruction and their deep symbology in “every line and every angle.” Many more Klansmen than Simmons described the “value” of the robes in their connection to Christ and biblical narratives, while also affirming the robe and mask’s importance as covering individuals while presenting an order. The practicality of masked faces was not lost on them nor was the popular criticism of the “hated” hood. Theology became material by donning the robes. Yet, the meaning of the robes was never quite fixed. Klan leaders envisioned the robes as material Christianity, while victims of the order saw something quite different an example of terror and horror. The multiplicity of this one garment, then, signals the complexity of interpretations for clothing as artifacts of religion. The multiplicity lures me in every time I rely upon clothes to discuss religion (in my religion and gender course I include a whole unit on clothing) and my main interest, religious intolerance.

Part 3 on Friday: Do you see skin as another form of dress (lack of dress) or as something distinct and different?

Civil Religious Revivals and Awakenings

Art Remillard

If you haven’t been following Raymond Haberski’s posts on civil religion and his new book, do yourself a favor and read them  (herehere, and here).  I promise that you will find them enlightening.  For me, they were a relief.  Ever since I began writing about civil religion, I worried that I was stuck in the 70s.  Alas, Ray's book is one of many recent studies that use the category.  Indeed, we are in the midst of a civil religious revival.

I will confess that I wasn't always a fan of civil religion.  In fact, for the longest time, I hated it.  Then I had an awakening, which fittingly enough began with a crisis--a dissertation crisis.  Here's the scene: I had five chapters written, but nothing holding them together.  Yes, I had a vague sense of what I was doing—looking at reflective pronouncements of public morals.  But I lacked a vocabulary, a cohesive conclusion about what all of this stuff meant.  I hoped that writing the introduction would clarify things.  But when I finished my first draft, it looked like a Jackson Pollock painting.  My canvas was a mix of Dewey, Freud, Foucault, and even Heraclitus, with drips of Geertz, Bell, and Grimes clumped along the edges.  All the while, I gazed over at the unused buckets of Bellah and Rousseau. I was, though, determined not to use these civil religious shades. They were passé.  A little too Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer for me.  In fact, I remember telling a friend that I was not going to even mention civil religion in the entire dissertation. Take That!

But the crisis continued, until a book review awoke me from my civil religious dogmatic slumber.  “Here is a very rare bird indeed,” Ira Chernus said of Richard Hughes’s Myths Americans Live By“a new book on U.S. civil religion, written by a credentialed scholar in the academic study of religion. People still write about U.S. civil religion. But the academic study of religion largely abandoned this subject years ago, and with good reason. It had become something of a prison.”

At this point, "We Will Rock You" was playing in my head.  Confirmed were my suspicions that academics had moved beyond civil religion.  But I continued reading.  Chernus’s beef was not with civil religion, per se, but rather with the term's common usage.  Too often, he explained “we” have a sense that “our” civil religion is the civil religion.  I found his closing remarks to be particularly poignant.  “We need studies of civil religion that claim no supposed consensus but allow ‘us’ to speak in all our diversity,” Chernus announced. “Perhaps we must study only civil religions, in the plural. Or, if in the singular, we need to see civil religion as a broad, dynamic field of contending forces rather than an imagined unified tradition. We need studies of civil religion(s), and myths Americans live by, that invoke no sub rosa theological agenda or summons to a higher, more moral Americanism. Myths America Lives By is a timely reminder of how important the subject is, how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.”

Move over Freddie Mercury, here comes some “Hallelujah Chorus.” Here in front of me was the golden thread, an idea to pull together my disparate five chapters.  As I dug into the post-Bellah literature, I found that Chernus was not alone.  N. J. Demerath and Rhys Williams are the Bizarro-Bellahs of this intellectual exercise.  Their 1986 article, “Civil Religion in an Uncivil Society,” encouraged future studies on “the contexts and uses of civil-religious language and symbols, noting how specific groups and subcultures use versions of civil religion to frame, articulate, and legitimate their own particular political or moral visions.”  

The rest of the dissertation flowed, and, eventually, Southern Civil Religions came to print.

But I still worry about the problems and perils of civil religion, which I try to address in the book.  Definition seems to be an ongoing problem.  Bellah stopped using the term, explaining that he “grew weary of the whole definitional debate.” Rhys Williams did too.  But they both have said that they remain interested in the “substance” of the category, which, as Williams told me in an e-mail, is “the moral formulations that shape political discourse and action.”  Additionally, both Bellah and Williams have framed their post-civil religion writing using the term, “the good society.”  Hence, the subtitle of my book, Imagining the Good Society in the Post-Reconstruction Era.

So with this in mind, I focused attention on the nexus of religion and public life in the New South, where social values assume transcendent status.  Here, I pay attention to difference, competition, and conflict.  I also look in less-than-obvious places.  Most studies of civil religion seem to focus on statues, memorial day celebrations, presidential inauguration speeches, etc.  For studies of the New South, this has led to a concentration on the Lost Cause.  But as I dug through the sources, I noticed that there were plenty of other civil religious conversations at work in daily discussions, private ponderings, public pronouncements, and physical places.  So, for example, I found that in the New South, railroads were not simply transportation devices.  They were symbols of prosperity, growth, or—for detractors—northern intrusion.  City designs had a similar symbolic weight.  Specifically, in the era of Jim Crow, public places bore the stamp of racial distinction.  Blacks who transgressed the physical geography of white spaces, also transgressed a white moral geography.  The consequences could be dire for blacks, and the rules set forth by white society were often vague.

As I understand it, when Bellah wrote his article, he was genuinely concerned about what holds “us” together in a post-Protestant age.  It’s a noble aim, one that is probably still worth discussing.  And to say that I admire Bellah and his work is an understatement.  But his concern is not my concern.  I’m interested in contextualizing the realities of American many-ness, complimenting Mark Silk and Andrew Walsh’s insightful, One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics.  Why? Because in my brief history of a tiny sub-region of the American South, I found different groups, pulling from different cultural resources, coming to different conclusions about how society ought to be.  Does that mean that everyone had an equal say?  Of course not.  But if we want to understand us, it’s worth understanding how the many voices of our past and present have made sense of themselves and their society.  I like to think that the revival of civil religion as a category of analysis will help bring us closer to this end.

Clothes Count... Part 1 of 3

Clothe Yourselves with...

Edward J. Blum

We all know that clothes matter. We try them and buy them; we comment on them; we wash them, iron them, fold them, organize and arrange them. We feel sad when they fit tighter and tighter (and by "we" I mean me). And of course, clothes are vital to religious presentations and identities. For those of us who use Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video in our classes, we probably interrogate the difference of clothing between Madonna’s sleeveless and skimpy brown dress that highlights her pale skin and the cross on her chest and the full choir robe – red and black – that covers just about all of the skin of the main black female choir singer. In a video that challenges variants of white supremacy (including Klanish burning crosses and a legal system that seems to assume black guiltiness), clothing works to enhance white exposure and black enclosure.
Since clothing is a crucial part of history, religious studies, and cultural studies (and it should be a bigger part of economic history … consider how much time the little women of Little Women spend sewing and learning how to create button holes), I approached three of my favorite scholars in religious studies to consider the place of clothing. Below, S. Brent Plate (managing editor of Material Religion and author of Religion and Film), Pamela Klassen (author most recently of Spirits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity), and Kelly Baker (author of Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930) address the first of three questions on religion and clothing (the next two will follow later in the week).

Question: For someone who wishes to start analyzing the role of clothing in religious history, what secondary work should she or he begin with?

Brent Plate: For sheer range of things, The Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion is certainly the most comprehensive collection on clothes, with many, many references to religious history. This, plus ongoing work on the topic, is available by subscription at http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/

Alison Lurie's 2000 The Language of Clothes is still an intriguing read on clothes in general.

Of course, as managing editor I have to mention various works in Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief, from Jennifer Connerley's "Quaker Bonnets and the Erotic Feminine in American Popular Culture" (2.2; 2006) to Kelly Baker's "Robes, Fiery Crosses and the American Flag" (7.3; 2011--part of her Gospel According to the Klan book), an "In Conversation" on "Dress, Religion, Identity" with contributions from Cordelia Warr, Anna-Katharina Höpflinger, and Lisa Hughes (6.3; 2010), and several other articles on veils, dress, and religious identity.

Kelly Baker: I found several works helpful in my approaches to clothing including Linda B. Arthur’s Religion, Dress and the Body (1999) and her edited volume, Undressing Religion (2000); Colleen McDannel’s Material Christianity (Yale: 1995), especially the chapters on Mormon sacred garments and t-shirts; Leigh Eric Schimdt’s article, “A Church-going People are a Dress-loving People” (1989 ); Pamela Klassen’s articles “Robes of Womanhood” (2004) and "Sacred Maternities and Post-Biomedical Bodies” (2001) and her wonderful Blessed Events (2001); Anthea Butler’s chapter on dress in her Women in the Church of God in Christ  (2007); and Paul Fussell’s Uniforms (revised edition 2002), which contained much to work against rather than work with; and Lurie’s The Language of Clothes, which Brent mentions.

For my theoretical apparatus on self, clothes and identity, I employed both Erving Goffman’s classic The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956), especially the emphasis on dramaturgy, and Asylums (1961) on institutions and institutionalization. I am partial to literary scholar Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain (1986) on pain, bodies, imagination and artifacts. Sociologist Bryan Turner’s The Body and Society (2008) is very helpful too, as much of my interest is about the ways in which dress reflect collective and individuals values, which means clothes can conform, contradict, reinforce, challenge religious ideals, norms and values. We can’t “read” clothing as solely individual or collective, and these books helped me understand that complexity and my ability to interpret clothes for analysis.

Pamela Klassen: I find work that takes a “social life of things” approach to dress most interesting.  So, for example, there is fascinating research on the sari in colonial and postcolonial contexts, including a great article by literary scholar Nandi Bhatia that religion scholars might find particularly interesting for the way that it implicates Mircea Eliade in the Orientalist fetishizing of the sari in the West.

Like most research on dress, gender, and religion, Bhatia finds that women are especially marked by their clothing, and are often expected to carry what historian Marlene Epp has called the “banner of nonconformity” for the entire community.  In North America, we can see this gendered distinction among some groups of Mennonites, Amish, Muslims, Jews, and other religious communities—the men often dress to fit in with the dominant culture, the women dress to stand out.  (This is of course, not always the case, as Old Order Amish and some Orthodox Jews demonstrate).

Two other great resources that are theoretically rich and empirically layered are Carol Duncan’s discussion of head-ties and re-materializations of “Aunt Jemima” in her book on Caribbean-Canadian Christians, This Spot of Ground: Spiritual Baptists in Toronto and Marjorie Garber’s Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety.  Garber takes on religion, gender, sexuality, and race as just some of the vectors that one can “cross” with dress.

  • Nandi Bhatia, “Fashioning Women in Colonial India” Fashion Theory, 7 (3-4, 2003), 327-344.
  • Marlene Epp,“Carrying the Banner of Nonconformity: Ontario Mennonite Women and the Dress Question,” Conrad Grebel Review 8 (Fall 1990): 237–57.
Part 2 on Wednesday with answers to this question: "From your research, what’s the quirkiest or most interesting example of dress and its links to religious identities?"

New Books in Religion on Lofton's Oprah

Kelly Baker

Looking for some more American religions for your weekend? Then, I suggest that y'all check out New Books in Religion  recent podcast with blog contributor Katie Lofton on her recent book, Oprah: Gospel of an Icon (University of California Press, 2011), and her curation with John Modern of freq.uenci.es.

Here's the teaser:
Oprah has been providing the path to achieve this (Aha!) moment for decades now through the rituals of contemporary consumer culture and spirituality that enable individuals to live their best life.Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religion at Yale University, cleverly unravels Oprah’s story within the broader context of American religiosity and the academic study of religion in her book Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (University of California Press, 2011). In this excellent work, Lofton contends that modern religion is not something distinct that we can analyze but should be conceived of as the interaction of various modalities, which are often bracketed off as “Spirituality,” “Commodity,” and “Corporatism.” In our interview we explore various topics, weaving in and out of the content of the book, covering politics, public policy, ritual, capitalism, 9/11, among many others. We also had time to discuss freq.uenci.es, a co-curated project funded by the Social Science Research Council, as well as the various reactions to the project from critics on The Immanent Frame. Lofton was a delight to talk to as you can tell from her engaging presence but for those who have not yet read the book be reassured that her personality and sharp insight shines throughout the text.
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