RiAH Blog: The Twitter Edition

Kelly Baker

For all of you with Twitter accounts, please consider following @USReligionBlog (or via Facebook). Additionally, many of our RiAH bloggers are also quite active on Twitter. We tweet about not only religion in American history and culture but also among a variety of other topics from pedagogy to current events to parenthood to academic life. I've included a handy list of our bloggers alongside a list of other folks who tweet about American religions.

Here's the list of our bloggers:
Paul Harvey
Mike Altman
Mike Pasquier
Art Remillard
Darren Grem
Ed Blum
Christopher Jones
Matt Bowman
Gerardo Marti
Luke Harlow
Chris Cantwell
Kelly Baker (me!)

Other folks who tweet on American religions:
Andrew Hartman
L.D. Burnett
Richard Bailey
Daniel Silliman
Per D. Smith
Charles Richter
Lincoln Mullen
Chip Callahan
Scott Poole
Julie Byrne
John Lardas Modern
Julie Ignersoll
Anthea Butler
Stephen Prothero
Thomas Kidd
Joanna Brooks
Max Perry Mueller
Kristian Petersen
David Schwartz

Mormon Studies
New Books in Religion
New Books in History

Please feel free to add anyone else in the comments section.

Whig History and the Baptists

Just a little while back we posted Linford Fisher's review of John Barry's new biography of Roger Williams, one of the best reviews we've ever posted here IMHO. Fisher appreciated the narrative quality of Barry's book, while questioning some of the "Whig history" (my term, not Lin's) assumptions that went into the presentation of Williams in that book. It's in that spirit I guest post this contribution from Curtis Freeman, Research Professor of Theology at Duke University Divinity School. Freeman is an authority on early Baptist history, and in the below takes aim at some cherished assumptions that Baptist historians have brought to their work. I might add that many of us have contributed to a new volume which similarly complicates (we hope) Baptist history: Through a Glass Darkly: Contested Notions of Baptist Identity (University of Alabama Press), edited by Keith Harper. More on that volume soon.

Whig History and the Baptists
by Curtis Freeman

While attending a recent conference, I struck up a conversation with one of the participants, John Coffey, a leading historian of the Stuart period of English history in which the Baptists emerged. “So,” he asked, “Why is it that you Americans seem bent on seeing the history of the early English Baptists as so Whiggish?” Offering what I thought was a perfectly good explanation, I replied, “Because we’re Americans.” With a wry smile, he shot back a reply that dripped with irony: “True, but the early Baptists weren’t. When I got back home from the conference I immediately began reading Coffey’s book, Persecution and Toleration in Protestant England 1558-1689 (Longman, 2000).

It is a carefully researched and compellingly written account of the social and political world in which the early Baptists arose. Coffey frames his narrative with a critical assessment of the historiographical assumptions that previous historians have made in answering the question: How did England come to reverse its policy of state-sponsored persecution in favor of civil toleration?

Mormons in the Media, 1830-2012

 Paul Harvey

This semester I am using Jared Farmer's wonderfully entertaining  book On Zion's Mount for an M.A. class in the history of the American West. We've posted about that work previously, here and here. Religion Dispatches covered the work more extensively here. , and Juvenile Instructor (somewhat more critically) here

As John Turner posted Sunday (just as I was writing this -- great minds think alike), Farmer has has spent the summer (unbeknownst to me) putting together this excellent e-book -- an illustrated e-book, is how I would describe it -- Mormons in the Media, 1830-2012 -- on Mormonism, anti-Mormonism, and the media, from the 1830s to the present. He describes it as aimed at general readers and journalists, but scholars will find plenty here to enjoy.

You can read John's post from Sunday for more, but 
I asked Matt Bowman, who just blogged for us on Stephen Covey, to take a look at the new e-book and provide some thoughts. Here is what he wrote -- some good suggestions here for you scholars in the field:

1) The material culture of Mormonism is a field white and ready to harvest.   There's not been a lot done on it (one exception being The Color of Christ's attention to representations of Jesus, and another being at over at George Mason University Jenny Reeder is prepping a material history of the Relief Society for her dissertation) and ever a cursory glance through this thing shows how fruitful the study of images might be.  

2) One obvious possibility is how much images can contribute to ideas about race.  Farmer spends a lot of time here, both on how Mormons related to Native Americans but also on how other Americans understood Mormons to be in the process of creating their own degenerate race, made of equal parts polygamy and political tyranny.  The comparison to brutish images of Irish Catholics seems appropriate here.

3) It's also fascinating to watch the ways in which Mormons have represented themselves.  I was thrilled to see Farmer devote time to a pressing question that sometimes receives attention in the hallways of the Mormon HIstory Association annual meeting: the many weighty meanings of Mormon facial hair.  From nineteenth century Biblical beards signifying patriarchal authority to twentieth century respectable clean-shavenness, the presence or absence of facial hair in Mormon media is only one striking illustration of Mormonism's careful attention to its own image.  Farmer provides many more.

West of Eden

Paul Harvey

Below is a brief review I did of a very interesting anthology of essays -- some scholarly, some personal and experiential - on utopian communities in California. A special for you Communards out there. For those interested in the topic, I highly recommend the volume.

West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California West of Eden: communes and utopia in northern California, ed. by Iain Boal et al.  PM Press/Retort, 2012.  262p bibl  index  afp ISBN 9781604864274 pbk, $24.95 

This excellent, unique collection comes via the joint efforts of a multidisciplinary team of scholars as well as first-person accounts of activists and others.  Together, they provide a large variety of perspectives from the most removed and scholarly to the most personal and passionate regarding communal experiments (including everything from the late Berkeley Co-Op store to deep experiments in communal living around Mendocino) in an area rife with experimental forms of living in the 1960s and after.  The result is a study of, meditation on, and defense of the role of communal experiments and utopian dreams in US history.  The opening essay by Timothy Miller puts these stories in a long historical perspective, while a closing essay by Michael Watts discusses more broadly the international context of the events of the 1960s.  Lee Worden considers how ideas borne in countercultural communes invaded the spaces of Silicon Valley, often with libertarian effects.  Part II includes material on Native American activism at Alcatraz and on the Black Panthers, while Part III prints reminiscences of communes on the Mendocino coast.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.  Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- P. Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

On College Football and Klan Robes--Two New JSR Podcasts

Art Remillard

My name is Art, and I am a self-loathing college football fan.

Recently, I listened to a debate on whether or not college football should be banned. I reflexively nodded in agreement with Malcolm Gladwell, who quipped that colleges "should not be in the business of encouraging young men to hit themselves over the head." In contrast, I shook my head in disbelief when Gladwell’s interlocutors responded by saying something akin to, "Yea, college football is corrupt, antithetical to higher education, and physically and mentally destructive. BUT WE LIKE IT!!!  And this is America—damn it!"

OK, it's probably unrealistic to think that college football will be banned any time soon. But after reading Taylor Branch’s scathing indictment of the NCAA, I'm beginning to wonder if it's time to professionalize the sport.  Drop the charade, pay the players, and stop expecting them to attend classes. Would such measures bring an end to the sport as we know it? Maybe. But the Olympics scrapped amateurism, and I'm not sure that it's ever been more popular since.   

Oh, and then there’s Penn State—a team that I once followed a little too closely. Enough said…

It’s all rather disheartening and—if I had a shred of integrity—I would turn my back on the sport. But I won’t. No chance. Why? I don't know. Maybe Eric Bain-Selbo is right, and for the game’s true believers, college football has a sort of religious attraction. Eric is author of Game Day and God: Football, Faith, and Politics in the American South and he talked with me about the book for the most recent Journal of Southern Religion podcast. We discuss the rise of college football in the South and how it developed a religious dimension. Eric also reflects on the game's violence and recent scandals in the world of college athletics.

Also new to the JSR podcast collection is my discussion with THE Kelly Baker on her book Gospel According to the Klan. Kelly discusses how she used ethnographic and historical methods to examine the print culture of this "unloved group." She also talks about how and why the Klan translated its identity through a Protestant lens in their time, and where similar rhetorical constructions of nationalism, nativism, and intolerance appear today.

 As you listen, you will notice ambient noise in the background, since these podcasts were recorded at the annual meeting of the Society for Values in Higher Education. If you're unfamiliar with the SVHE, check it out. Kelly, Eric, and I participated in a lively discussion on the finer points of compassion and empathy. We began with Nietzsche’s "A Criticism of Morality" from The Will to Power.  We then moved to Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman's The Empire of Trauma, J. D. Trout’s Why Empathy Matters, and Frans de Waal's The Age of Empathy.  During the sessions, Kelly's fellow UT colleague Allen Dunn masterfully directed the conversation, most of which pivoted back to either Nietzsche or The Empire of Trauma. At one point, I took off on a rather Calvinist rant that—as one participant phrased it—left us all "marinating in sin." I guess all of that self-loathing finally paid off.  

Mormons and the Media, 1830-2012

Jared Farmer, author of the award-winning On Zion's Mount and a forthcoming history of California (to be published by Norton), recently shared with me a marvelous creation ... an e-book (free!) titled Mormons in the Media, 1830-2012.

From the site's self-description:

This is a curated collection of media images – examples of what historians call “primary sources.” The images concern Mormons and Mormonism in U.S. politics and the public sphere, from Joseph Smith to Mitt Romney. I use the word “media” broadly to encompass books, magazines, newspapers, photos, films, posters, postcards, ads, cartoons, sheet music, and websites. My collection considers both outside views of Mormons – including anti-Mormon propaganda – and depictions promulgated by Latter-day Saints themselves.
What follows is a treasure trove of discovery and interpretation. The images are to be savored. On successive pages, one finds E.D. Howe's Mormonism Unvailed and Southpark. There are choice depictions of Brigham Young and his many wives. Farmer includes several images of Mountain Meadows Massacre historical markers. [Jared, I want to know who bothered to compose "Down with the Mormons" in 1870]. There's a fascinating section on Mormons and whiteness. There's even a Dale Murphy baseball card (my favorite player during the 1980s despite a maddeningly high strikeout rate).

Besides learning about how other Mormons have loathed, mocked, and denounced the Latter-day Saints for the past 180 years, students (as in undergraduate students in particular) would learn a great deal about Mormonism from Mormons in the Media. I'm going to have my students next semester use it at length. Bravo, Jared, and thank you for making this available to everyone gratis.

Is John Turner's Brigham Young Biography Better than Broadway's The Book of Mormon? Pre-Pub Reviewers Think So!

by Edward J. Blum

Lots of wonderful pre-publication reviews of John Turner's Brigham Young biography: here's a sampling:
  • "A scholarly yet thoroughly readable historical/biographical study, of considerable interest to students of 19th-century American history and religious revivalism." (Kirkus Reviews)
  • "Turner's broad historical perspective clarifies why Young's ecclesiastical successors have still felt the man's influence--even after abandoning polygamy. An impressively detailed portrait of a controversial giant." --Bryce Christensen (Booklist (starred review)
  • "Previous biographers of Brigham Young have used epithets such as "American Moses" and "Lion of the Lord." However, what Turner demonstrates here is that the three-dimensional Young cannot be reduced to saint or tyrant; he was bold, brave, crude, petty, visionary, manipulative, creative, charismatic, kindly, and much more besides. He presents Young as a family man navigating the complexities of polygamy, as a leader moving large numbers of people across the Great Plains, and as a politician negotiating enough independence for the Mormons from the American government that he could build the kingdom of God as he saw fit. Turner was given unprecedented access to the LDS church archives and he makes full use of them and other sources, as well as providing a cogent interpretive context. It is easy to forget Young's significance in American history, but at a minimum it needs to be remembered that he is responsible for settling a vast swath of the West. Turner gives him his due...There aren't enough superlatives for this book. It will remain the standard biography for a long time. Because of its thorough documentation, academics will take it seriously, while general readers will appreciate its clarity of prose and argument." --D. S. Azzolina (Library Journal (starred review)
  • "A definitive biography of Mormonism's greatest activist and apostle" --Adam Gopnik (New Yorker )
  • "Turner teaches us not just about Brigham Young, but also about American society in the nineteenth century" (Edward J. Blum, Christian Century, not out yet)
  • "Simply put, Turner's treatment of Young's life is a landmark in Mormon biography." (amazon.com customer review)

Arizona Dranes, Forgotten Mother of the Gospel Beat

Paul Harvey

 Heard this wonderful story during a glorious bike ride last Sunday afternoon through the Colorado Springs hills, on "Arizona Dranes, Forgotten Mother of the Gospel Beat."

She's not all that forgotten, being prominently featured in works from Lawrence Levine's classic Black Culture and Black Consciousness to the works of gospel music historian Horace Boyer. But that's not to say that your ordinary reader/listener would have heard of her.

I've followed/written about Dranes a little bit in some of my scholarship, but this story retrieves some of her personal background (including her likely classical training) that I didn't know about. And I should add, there's some great stuff about her here, on a blog about important little-known musicians.

Here's a little excerpt:

David Barton and Maurice Halbwachs; Or, Another Blog Post about Barton (and a Call for More)


Charlie McCrary

David Barton is like “Party in the U.S.A.”  Despite my scrupulous efforts to avoid them at all cost, one little hook—be it that opening guitar line of the inane Miley Cyrus hit or a classic Barton line about Founders’ “seminary or ‘Bible school’” training— sets the whole tune rattling around my unwilling skull for days.  Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, has led to a flurry of responses: huge sales, point-by-point refutations, a recall by its publisher, and a number of excellent blog posts and articles.  But I try not to read them.  Why spend my time on this?  I have a thesis to write.  I want to talk about something “serious.”
But David Barton is serious.  His books have sold millions; his ideas influence education policy; his supporters include members of Congress.  While I am glad that others have taken up the task of refuting Barton’s ideas on historical grounds, there is further inquiry to be done.  What interests me is not so much the content of Barton’s work but its context.  Barton may have failed to historicize Thomas Jefferson, but scholars of American religions should not fail to historicize and theorize Barton and his audience.  What are the epistemological systems—and the history of those systems—that undergird Barton-devotees’ allegiances?  How does Barton fit in the context of the Religious Right?  What about Common Sense Realism?  What about the history of American education?  Which theorists can help us understand Barton and his audience?  Questions like these, and the complexity of their answers, are what keep me coming back to Barton, besting my efforts to ignore him: “Ok, one more YouTube clip, then back to work.  Just one more article.  Ok, now I’ll write one.”

David Barton most recently imposed himself upon my brain as I was reading Maurice Halbwachs’s On Collective Memory.  Though published nearly a century ago, Halbwachs’s work is remarkably useful, and it holds up well in light of later theorists and new understandings of human psychology.  In On Collective Memory, Halbwachs demonstrates the ways that community identity, informing and informed by individuals’ self-understanding, relies on reconstructions of the past.  Those reconstructions, though, are never exact, as they are inevitably influenced, on a cultural as well as psychological level, by present circumstances.  In short, for Halbwachs, memories work within “social frameworks.”  These frameworks help determine collective and individual behaviors, including memories but also feelings and emotional expression, religious beliefs, and systems for evaluating truth.  So, taking our lead from Halbwachs, we can ask—by what social frameworks do Barton’s devotees evaluate knowledge?  Halbwachs offers some general theoretical guidance, which can be added to historically-based analysis, to this question.

Stephen R. Covey: Business Savant, Self Help Guru, Mormon Theologian

by Matthew Bowman

Today's guest post comes from the talented Mr. Matt Bowman, recent Ph.D. from Georgetown, Professor of Religion at Hampden-Sydney College, author of The Mormon People, and frequent commentator on twentieth-century Mormonism for The New Republic and other publications. 

 Everyone in Utah has a story about Stephen Covey, the best-selling author, business consultant, motivational speaker and Mormon who grew up in the state and lived there most of his life. Since his death a few weeks ago members of his Mormon tribe have been swapping soon-to-be tall tales. One has Covey patiently instructing a media figure whose fame surpassed his own that because she was unmarried she would not be allowed to sleep in the same bedroom as her boyfriend while spending the night in the Covey family cabin. “Those are our family rules, Oprah,” said Steve.   Another places Covey in a board meeting for a research group at Brigham Young University. Having hustled in apologizing for his lateness, Covey took the last seat, which happened to be at the head of the table, and spent the next fifteen minutes effortlessly contributing to a conversation about fundraising and marketing through new media before realizing he had joined the wrong board meeting and quietly slipping out.

 In tandem, the two stories, though like most such tales second-hand and perhaps unreliable, reveal a lot about the complex man Stephen Covey was, and more, about what others thought of him: a business savant, a phenomenally effective self-help guru, and a man who believed that human relationships should first be understood as spiritual relationships. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the 1989 book which built the foundation of his empire, offers what Covey called “habits:” seven new practices for success in relationships, personal management, and life in general.   They include being “proactive,” that is, seeking out opportunity rather than passively waiting for it; understanding that the greatest success comes through cooperation rather than competition; taking time to “sharpen the saw” – that is, to balance life and refresh one’s talents.  The habits are certainly applicable to business, but drilling down into them reveals Covey’s roots in Mormon theology – and on the way, a number of ways of looking at Stephen R. Covey

Dakota War Special

Our friends over at Books and Culture have just run a special 2-part series on the Dakota War of 1862. Check it out. And also a good time, if you missed it, to read our previous post on the Dakota War, based on Jennifer Graber's excellent article "Mighty Upheaval on the Minnesota Frontier: Violence, War, and Death in Dakota and Missionary Christianity," Church History 80 (March 2011): 76-108. And speaking of Jennifer Graber, here's a link to her interview at that award-winning, million-person-hit-per-day, about-to-be-purchased-by-yahoo-for-1-million-dollars blog edited by Kevin Schultz TUSH.0.
Battle of Birch Coulee, September 2, 1862http://www1.assumption.edu/users/mcclymer/his260/defaultsioux.html

Race, Place, and Jesus in American History

Paul Harvey

Over at the Historical Society blog, Randall Stephens and Hilde Løvdal conduct an interview with Edward J. Blum and myself about The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (UNC Press, 2012). In it, we try to hit some of the main points of the text. A little excerpt below; click here for the rest.

Løvdal and Stephens: Could you say something about the malleability of the image of Jesus? How can Jesus appear so different depending on who is using his image?

Harvey and Blum: Great question, and that is really the heart of the book. We can best answer that by mentioning the three main myths our book explores about Jesus imagery and shifting appearances. First, there is a myth that humans create God or gods (especially Jesus) in their own image. This myth claims that people invariably represent Jesus to look like themselves. So whites make a white Jesus, blacks a black one, Asians an Asian one. But American history shows this is not true, and the myth hides how much racial groups have interacted and affected one another throughout U.S. history. No racial group in the United States has been separate enough to form distinct and impenetrable religious cultures. Moreover, lots of people have worshiped Christ figures that look nothing like them. For centuries, African Americans and Native Americans embraced white images of Jesus, debated them in their midst, and tried to replace them but generally did not. The myth hides the powers of money, of technological access, and of production capabilities. . . 

The second myth is that the United States has always been a "Jesus nation" or a "Christian nation." When we take seriously discussions of the race and color of Christ, we find that Jesus has been a lightning rod for struggle, conflict, and tension. For every occasion where someone makes Jesus into an icon of entrepreneurial salesmanship, as Bruce Barton did with his bestselling book of the 1920s The Man Nobody Knows, there are other Americans who have made Jesus a lynch victim (like W. E. B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes did in the 1930s), as a Native American who promised the defeat of the whites and the return of the Buffalo (as Wovoka did), or as a socialist who would get beat up by American mobs (as muckraker Upton Sinclair did). Jesus has not defined American culture; he has purely been at the center of the titanic and oftentimes bloody struggles over what the culture would be

Call for Contributor

By Heath Carter

Three of the regular contributors to this blog - Chris Cantwell, Janine Giordano Drake, and I - are in the process of pulling together an edited collection of new essays entitled, "Between the Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the Working Classes in Industrial America."   The plan is for the book to be divided into two sections, one which explores the ways that religion has inflected working-class politics; and the other which delves into the ways that class has shaped working peoples' religious lives and communities.  The proposed table of contents is already bursting with some of the best and brightest names working at the intersection of class and Christianity, but we remain on the lookout for an essay that would substantially focus on Latino/a Catholics. 

A photograph of some of the many Mexican pecan shellers who went on strike in San Antonio, Texas, in 1938.
We invite contributions that would fall under either theme of the collection, so long as the material has not been published before and in some way engages with Christianity and working-class Latinos in the industrial age, broadly construed. If you are interested or could recommend someone who might be, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at heath.carter@valpo.edu.  We anticipate the final draft of the essay will be due sometime in the summer of 2013.

John Turner on Mormonism, Scholarship, and Race (and Anne Hyde on Deadwood)

Paul Harvey

Our blog contributor John Turner is on a roll. His biography of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet already has garnered numerous favorable notices and reviews, and just recently he has two very nice pieces that I recommend.

update: and also this piece by Max Perry Mueller, on closely related topics, and something of a response to John's New York Times op-ed.

First, in his blog post for Patheos, Turner explains the turn of his scholarly interests from twentieth-century evangelicalism (which he wrote about for his first book) to nineteenth-century Mormonism, and thence to Brigham Young. He writes:

Studying the history of American religion at Notre Dame kindled my interest in Mormonism. For starters, several of my Notre Dame classmates – Patrick Mason, Matt Grow, and Mike DeGruccio – were LDS. They became good friends, and I was intrigued about their faith and their church. I also think it’s impossible to study American religious history without being somewhat curious about the Mormons. Not a lot of religious groups had a new Bible, a martyred prophet, practiced polygamy, trudged across the country as religious refugees, and nearly fought a war against the U.S. Army. Prophets, persecution, polygamy.  A pretty good story.

Then, in Sunday's New York Times "Week in Review Section," Turner writes very gracefully about issues of Mormonism and race in American history. He writes that:

Saint Pauli


Today's guest post comes from Dr. Sarah Azaransky, author of The Dream Is Freedom: Pauli Murray  and the American Democratic Faith (Oxford University Press).

A combative, chain-smoking pixie on the wrong side of history is the not the typical profile of a saint, yet this is how Pauli Murray described herself.  Last month the Episcopal Church admitted Murray to the pantheon of “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints” in honor of her efforts toward “the universal cause of freedom.”

The first African American woman ordained an Episcopal priest, Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was so much more.  Lawyer, poet, memoirist, polemicist, expat constitutional law professor in Ghana, co-founder of NOW, mentor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and friend to Eleanor Roosevelt, Murray forged intersections between American movements for black freedom, peace, and women’s liberation.

The Indian Great Awakening: Part 4 of 4

Paul Harvey

Here is the final part of our conversation with Linford Fisher, author of The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. You can go here for the entire 4-part series in one easy reading series. Or, in separate parts: Part 1 is here, Part II here, and Part III here.

7. In the epilogue you talk about present-day Native communities and even interview several individuals. What kinds of relationships were you able to build in this process, and in what ways are these important to you as a historian?

The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early AmericaAlthough engagement with present-day Native groups was not necessarily expected or encouraged in my grad program, I increasingly realized there are two discourses out there, two very different visions of the past. On the one hand you have scholars from various disciplines who try to carefully and in an “objective” way reconstruct the past. On the other hand there is the world of Native communities, activists, and lay historians who see academics as perpetuating certain myths about the benevolence of their white ancestors or at least failing to tell American history in all of its sordid fullness. Native academics often span these two worlds, but too often historians work in the comfortable space of the archive. I wanted to make sure I had a few additional perspectives on the past as I was writing, so I intentionally took a few trips to Native reservations and was fortunate to be able to talk to a few people throughout the project who really helped me to think in a more nuanced way about the past and the issues I was trying to interpret. In the end, I can’t say the book is groundbreaking methodologically in that regard, but the process itself was important to me in various ways, and I think, too, the epilogue (if people actually make it that far!) will prompt the reader to consider the ways in which these things continue to play themselves out in the present. I’m really grateful for the connections I was able to build and look forward to continuing those friendships and conversations. 

The Indian Great Awakening: Part 3 of 4

Paul Harvey

Here is Part III of our series with Linford Fisher, author of The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. You can go here for the entire 4-part series in one easy reading series. Or, in separate parts: Part 1 is here, Part II here, and Part III here.

4. Your book begins with a really striking image of a medicine bundle. Talk about how you use that image, and how it symbolizes some of the major points in the book.

In 1990 some wealthy homeowner in southeastern Connecticut wanted to put in an underground shooting range on his property. As the excavation began, the astute backhoe operator noticed a series of places where the earth was a darker color for 3-4 feet below the ground. After cutting through several of these, he halted his digging and called the local authorities, which triggered a full-scale archeological investigation in conjunction with the local Mashantucket Pequot nation. It turns out they had very unfortunately been digging through a colonial-era Indian burial ground. Although this unearthing was tragic, it did afford the tribe and archaeologists a rare window into seventeenth century Indian lifeworlds. In one grave of a young Pequot girl they found a little medicine bundle that contained a bear paw and a folded up Bible page, all of which they were able to date somewhere between 1683 and 1720. Bibliographers were actually able to reconstruct the fragment of the Bible page and even trace it back to a particular edition of the Bible that had been printed in London. The passage was from Psalm 98:1-2, and talks about the strong right hand of the Hebrew God and how he shows his righteousness to the heathen.

To me this represents the both/and approach by Natives with regard to European religious and cultural engagement—a syncretic approach to the great questions of life, one that incorporated new religious ideas and possibilities without completely abandoning old ones. But the medicine bundle was also important to me because it represents the limitations historians hit when trying to reconstruct Native lifeworlds. We’re really not sure what exactly the medicine bundle meant to the Pequot girl and her family. I see it as a caution to not read too much into it (particularly in ways that impose western Euroamerican ideas on it) or too little. I had hoped this would set the tone for the way that the reader approaches Native religious change and engagement throughout the book.

The wealthy homeowner never got his underground shooting range, by the way.
5. You deal a lot with terminology in your book -- you resist terms such as "conversion" and "resistance," historically the dichotomous poles used for this topic. Explain for our readers the terms that made the most sense to you in interpreting your topic.

One of the things that first got me into this topic was the narrative of the sudden and complete conversion of American Indians in the First Great Awakening. This always seemed too simplistic to me. What I found instead was a century-plus long process of religious and cultural experimentation that varied greatly within communities over time. Even individuals changed exhibited different attitudes across months and years as they sampled religious rituals and practices.

The Indian Great Awakening: Part 2 of 4

by Paul Harvey

I'm delighted to present Part I of our three-part interview with Linford Fisher, Professor of History at Brown Univ. and author of The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. A quick note: Question # 3 below, and Lin's answer, are copied directly from  the previous interview with Lin conducted by Ed Blum and Kevin Schultz at the Teaching U.S. History 2.0 blog. 

You can go here for the entire 4-part series in one easy reading series. Or, in separate parts: Part 1 is here, Part II here, and Part III here.

1. Lin, you have had quite a trajectory in your education, from college, to rock band drumming and touring, to seminary, to Harvard, quickly to a state institution in Indiana, and now to Brown. Talk about how you made the choices you did in following your path that got you to the superstar you are today.

Yes, thank God I’m not running for office—there’s all sorts of weird stuff in my past. Let’s just say I was a late-bloomer in general. I’m the 7th of nine children, my parents were Amish when they got married (had left—kicked out, really—by the time I came along), I totally goofed off in high school, dove into sports (mostly soccer), played drums in a rock and roll band, and never really intended to even go to college. For two years after high school I worked full time for my father as an electrician while trying to make the band thing work (one tape, two CDs, one video, countless shows and east coast tours, and six years later, we gave up). Fortunately I was rescued by my girlfriend (now wife), Jo. She talked some sense into me and I ended up attending a local college in Lancaster, PA. We got married halfway through college, much to the chagrin of our parents, who thought we would never finish school.

The Indian Great Awakening: Part 1 of 4

Paul Harvey

Just a little heads-up: this week we're going to run a 3-part interview series with Linford Fisher, Professor of History at Brown University and author of the marvelous new book The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America. If you don't want to wait until tomorrow, you can check out Ed Blum and Kevin Schultz's previous conversation with Lin here.

As you might have picked up from some previous posts here this summer, including this one on Tracy Neal Leavelle's new book The Catholic Calumet: Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America, as well as previous posts about Julianna Barr's work in this period on Florida, the subject of Native religious expression in early "American" history is one of the most vital in the field, and Lin's work is an astonishingly researched and wonderfully written and argued contribution to this discussion (I had the privilege of reading and commenting on the book in manuscript form, so have been looking forward to its publication for a while now).

Incidentally, I've begun to note how much thinking in religious history has made an impact on other works in this field which are not really about "religion" per se, but nonetheless invoke historical explanations and arguments. A notable example: The Comanche Empire, by the historian Pekka Hämäläinen (don't even ask me how to pronounce that), a powerful and sweeping book which has a wonderful section speculating on various reasons why Natives over-hunted bison (beyond the carrying capacity of bison on the plains) in the early to mid-nineteenth century even though preservation of the bison was central to their entire religious ethos.  I'll be discussing Comanche Empire with my students in a few weeks, and I can't wait -- this isn't a work of "religious history" per se so we won't be covering it here, but just to say, along with Lin's book, this is a work that will transform your perspective on an entire history and era, so just a little side plug here before we get to Lin's book in detail.
After the jump break below is a bit more about Lin Fisher's book from the Oxford University Press website, and tomorrow we'll start with a 3-part interview to run Tuesday - Thursday.

Interracialism and Christian Community in the Postwar South: Clarence Jordan, Southern Baptist Visionary

Paul Harvey

After yesterday's post, time to move back to some actual history.

I just learned today that I share a birthday (July 29) with a personal hero, Clarence Jordan, who would have been 100 this year. Jordan was a Southern Baptist visionary, inspiration for a portion of the modern affordable housing movement, and founder of Koinonia farm. Kirk Lyman-Barner reflects here on Jordan's career, including a lot of material about his later life outside Koinonia that I didn't know much about. The article notes some events coming up to commemorate Jordan's life and legacy:

This fall, Jordan will be remembered with the Koinonia Farm 2012 Celebration, chaired by the Jordan's son Lenny, which will begin with the Clarence Jordan Symposium to be held in Americus, Ga., on Sept. 28-29. The event will bring together theologians, activists, academics and lay leadership influenced by Jordan and the Koinonia experiment that is going strong today. President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter are honorary co-chairs. Tom Key will perform his one man version of The Cotton Patch Gospel. Topics will include homiletics, partnership housing, environmental theology, racial reconciliation, civil rights, agriculture and more. The honoring of Jordan's legacy that will continue for a month will include the Renovation Blitz Build at the farm Oct. 1-26 and the Koinonia Family Reunion Oct. 26-28.

More specific to the history of Koinonia, the anniversary is a good time also to mention, first, Clarence Jordan: Essential Writings, an invaluable compilation of his work, as well as Tracy K'Meyer's excellent 1997 work Interracialism and Christian Community in the Postwar South: The Story of Koinonia Farm. I'll reprint here a review I did of this work for the Journal of American History many years ago, to highlight K'Meyer's fine work as well as to remember Jordan's remarkable achievements. Review is after the jump.

David Barton's Fall From Grace? Or, What Do Elitist Professors Have in Common with Adolf Hitler, Saul Alinsky, and Brett Favre?

Paul Harvey

I want out, but they keep getting me back in. 

These classic lines from the otherwise unfortunate sequel film Godfather III came to me when Religion Dispatches suggested I write a piece about the latest David Barton dust-up involving his publisher, Thomas Nelson, pulling its copies and ceasing publication of Barton's most recent book The Jefferson Lies.

After this article from last year (characterizing Barton as an intellectual entrepreneur, a piece I still stand by, and the only thing I ever intended to say on this rather dismal subject), and this article more recently reviewing Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter's work Getting Jefferson Right, I had retired from David Barton commentary, hoping to move back to commenting on, you know, actual books containing actual facts and reasoned analysis of stuff that has happened in the past. Or hell, maybe even commenting on defining the term "religion."

Meet Brian Foulks - Cultural Theologian, Church Planter, and Social Activist

One of the best parts of the digital revolution (at least to me) is the ability to meet and dialogue with people from various walks of life, areas, and professions. For scholars, this allows us to interact with folks who read scholarly and thoughtful works, hear what they think and how the works influence them. One blogger who has recently caught my attention and with whom I've enjoyed chatting is Brian Foulks. I wanted to introduce him to this blog and let him discuss what books have influenced and are influencing him now. (Edward J. Blum)

Brian Foulks is a church planter, an urban missionary, and a social activist. He has a passion for those nestled in the cortex of Hip Hop and church. Known for being an advocate for invading the culture with the truth. He is considered to be a hybrid of the faith-connecting the seminary/academy with the block, the unorthodox, hip hop culture with some of the liturgical aesthetics of the church. His mission is based on a need to redirect the efforts of the church toward a people group that society at large has been disinclined to engage. He has a B.S. in Recreation from Benedict College and a M.A. in Theological Studies from Liberty University. He is currently a PhD. student at Oxford Graduate School.

Books are the convening space of dialogue for me and have been for the past sixteen years. They have allowed me the opportunity to explore places and people that I would have never imagined existed without seeing them in print. They have presented existential, pragmatic, anthropological and theological queries that have challenged the very essence of my Christian faith. The list below highlights some of the books that have shaped the metanarrative called Brian. The six books that reshape my narrative are books that brought tremendous change to my personal perspective. They answered questions that I did not know I had within myself. These books changed how I viewed the world as well as how I interacted with the world- oddly from a theological perspective. They present a hard truth and stern, thick contrast of reality that gets at the heart of “what does it mean to be human.” (These are books that should be read on a yearly basis)

Pluralism is a Wound

by Christopher Cantwell

I was going to write about something else. For weeks I had planned to write about the reluctance of public historians to seriously contend with religion, which I've been ranting about on twitter for a while.  But then Sunday's shooting at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin happened. Suddenly, my interest in the more mundane controversies of American religious life seemed trivial by comparison.

I'm sure most of you are aware of the facts. The news is everywhere. Indeed, writing four days later as I am seems almost an eternity in this information age. The story has already moved far down the Huffington Post's thumbnailed hierarchy of worth, and most other news outlets have returned to covering the Olympics. But I'm still unable shake Sunday's attack. Unlike the Aurora theatre shooting, which was carried out by an individual that appears to have been driven by his own instability, the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin's attacker was, according to the FBI, politically or racially motivated. Again, the news here is almost old hat, but bears repeating. Wade M. Page, a forty-year-old Army veteran with a long history of involvement in the white supremacy movement, walked into the Temple moments before its services began and opened fire. Page first confronted a handful of priests, including the Temple's sixty-five-year-old founder Sadwant Singh Kaleka. In an act that some say saved the lives of many, Kaleka challenged Page with his Kirpan, the blunt ceremonial knife some Sikhs carry as a reminder of their duty to protect the oppressed that then became a literal weapon of defense. Kaleka's attack was futile, but the noise from the multiple shots it took to stop him were enough to send others in the temple into hiding. Page would go on to kill five other Temple members before dying himself in a gunfight with police.

Southern Baptist Transitions: Richard Land Doubles Down on Culture War, Bill Leonard Reflects on Southern Baptist Past

Paul Harvey

In The New Republic, Amy Sullivan covers the "retirement" of Richard Land from his post as head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (which, despite its title, has spoken out recently on issues such as global warming -- clearly not happening, ya'll -- and why tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% are biblical).

Land apparently felt that his outspoken positions on "culture war" issues have been hampered by his need to be diplomatic as a denominational servant. This is ironic, as Sullivan points out, because:

If Land has felt limited in his ability to express opinions on culture war issues, I cannot imagine what an unplugged Richard Land will sound like. In the past three years, he has described Democratic health-care reform as "precisely what the Nazis did," compared Zeke Emmanuel to Josef Mengele, . . . reported debunked conservative email rumors about Michelle Obama, warned that ending the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy would "provide further impetus for God's judgment on this nation," and accused gay rights activists of "recruiting people for homosexual clubs" and seeking the "outright sexual paganization of society." 

Joanna Brooks Brings Book of Mormon Girl to Jon Stewart and the Daily Show

Edward J. Blum

Jon Stewart has had a lot of wonderful and not-so-wonderful scholars of religion on his program. Stephen Prothero was featured in 2007 for his religious illiteracy book, and David Barton was featured for his historical illiteracy. One of my favorite moments was Randall Balmer discussing why we care about politicians' faiths. 

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Randall Balmer
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook
This Thursday, Stewart will feature one of the most literate religious historians in all the land: Joanna Brooks.

J.B. has two main scholarly identities. First, there is the incredible scholar of religion and literature. Her American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures won the Modern Language Association's William Sanders Scarborough Prize (which Eddie Glaude had won only a few years earlier for Exodus!). It is striking how often American Lazarus is either referenced by historians without being understood or ignored outright. In it, Brooks offers a compelling read about how the figure of Lazarus, who is mentioned twice in the Bible but neither time as an agent of change, became an important metaphor for the "civilly dead" African American and Native American communities who were seeking resurrections for themselves. While the "Exodus" motif gets the lion's share of attention, the Lazarus images were there too and deeply complicated.

Her other identity is as Religion Dispatches senior correspondent for politics and all things Mormon. This is why she'll be on The Daily Show. Her memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl explores her experiences growing up Mormon, the anxiety she felt encountering Coke products at birthday parties, and how to relate feminism to her faith. It's an incredibly moving book from an incredibly moving person. CNN did a feature on her for this and so did The Daily Beast. Politco named her one of the top 50 political bloggers to watch.

We're going to have some discussions on Thursday about Joanna's book and appearance. If you are on twitter, use the hashtag #MoJo. If you want to discuss it on facebook, just befriend me at Edward J. Blum.

The Mormon Moment Hits the New Yorker

Paul Harvey

The Book of Mormon was a sacred object meant to be venerated; the fact that it existed mattered as much as what it said.Here's something you don't see every day: a sympathetic look at the history of Mormonism, drawing heavily from recent scholarship by contributors and friends of the blog, in the New Yorker. There's a bit of a weak connection with Mitt Romney's campaign at the end, and other issues that could be raised with this or that passage in the article, but I'm less interested in picking nits than highlighting Adam Gopnik's praise of and reliance on Matt Bowman's The Mormon People, John Turner's Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, Joanna Brooks's Book of Mormon Girl, and J. Spencer Fluhman's A Peculiar People. Did I mention we have covered each of these works extensively on the blog previously? (He also mentions Paul Gutjahr's The Book of Mormon: A Biography, which we've mentioned briefly here before).

Gopnik writes:

Matthew Bowman’s “The Mormon People” (Random House) offers a comprehensive, neatly written synopsis of the whole history of the Latter-day Saints movement; Paul C. Gutjahr’s “The Book of Mormon: A Biography” (Princeton) traces the origins and afterlife of Latter-day Saints scripture; J. Spencer Fluhman’s “A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth Century America” (North Carolina) shows how much Mormon-hating helped shape standard American Protestantism; and John G. Turner’s “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet” (Harvard) is a definitive biography of Mormonism’s greatest activist and apostle.

The rest of the article is an interesting read; glad to see these authors get appropriately prominent play in an unexpected place.

American Religious Liberalism: New Anthology

by Mark Edwards

Just a quick advertisement:American Religious Liberalism, a new essay collection edited by Leigh Eric Schmidt and Sally M. Promey, is now available.  Several of these pieces grew out of a conference at Princeton University in 2008.  As you can see from the table of contents below, it boasts an all-star line-up and some fascinating topics.

Introduction: The Parameters and Problematics of American Religious Liberalism
Leigh E. Schmidt
I. The Spiritual in Art
1. Reading Poetry Religiously: The Walt Whitman Fellowship and Seeker Spirituality

Michael Robertson
2. The Christology of Niceness: Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Jesus Novel, and Sacred Trivialities
Carrie Tirado Bramen
3. Visible Liberalism: Liberal Protestant Taste Evangelism, 1850 and 1950
Sally M. Promey
4. Discovering Imageless Truths: The Bahá’í Pilgrimage of Juliet Thompson, Artist
Christopher G. White
5. Where “Deep Streams Flow, Endlessly Renewing”: Metaphysical Religion and “Cultural Evolution” in the Art of Agnes Pelton
Nathan Rees
II. The Piety and Politics of Liberal Ecumenism
6. “Citizens of All the World’s Temples”: Cosmopolitan Religion at Bell Street Chapel
Emily R. Mace
7. Religious Cosmopolitanism in the U.S. Woman's Rights Movement
Kathi Kern
8. “We Build our Temples for Tomorrow”: Racial Ecumenism and Religions Liberalism in the Harlem Renaissance
Josef Sorett

9. Reading across the Divide of Faith: Liberal Protestant Book Culture and Interfaith Encounters in Print, 1921-1948
Matthew S. Hedstrom
10. The Dominant, the Damned, and the Discs: On the Metaphysical Liberalism of Charles Fort and Its Afterlives
Jeffrey Kripal
11. Liberal Sympathies: Morris Jastrow and the Science of Religion
Kathryn Lofton
12. Jewish Liberalism through Comparative Lenses: Reform Judaism and Its Liberal Christian Counterparts
Yaakov Ariel
III. Pragmatism, Secularism, and Internationalism
13. Each Attitude a Syllable: The Linguistic Turn in William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience
Lindsay V. Reckson
14. Protestant Pragmatism in China, 1919-1927
Gretchen Boger

15. Demarcating Democracy: Liberal Catholics, Protestants, and the Discourse of Secularism
K. Healan Gaston
16. Religious Liberalism and the Liberal Geopolitics of Religion
Tracy Fessenden
Afterword and Commentary: Religious Liberalism and Ecumenical Self-Interrogation
David A. Hollinger

Machiavellian Missouri Synod Minions in a Modern Morality Tale: The Changing Face of Conservatism in America

By Jon Pahl 

A Review of James C. Burkee, Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod:  A Conflict That Changed American Christianity. Foreword by Martin E. Marty.  (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2011).

By definition, conservatives hate change.  Religious conservatives, one might say, double-down on the hatred by wrapping the fetish of a static point amidst the contingency of history in transcendent garments of one kind or another. The great virtue of James C. Burkee’s Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod is to document how much, despite their rhetoric about preserving timeless truth, the conservatives at the core of the 1960s-70s schism in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod changed their denomination.  It remains to be seen how much they might have changed American culture and Christianity, as Burkee’s subtitle claims.  My own hypothesis is that this tempest-in-a-teapot will go down as a relatively minor and deservedly forgotten episode in the broader history of religious violence in American culture in the past half-century.  No blood was let, but there was plenty of violence dressed up in piety to go around.  So what else is new in America?

Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity            Burkee’s book, originally a Northwestern University dissertation, traces the history of the LCMS from 1938 to 1981.  Throughout, Burkee also has an eye on contemporary developments.  As he sees it, things have gotten worse.  “In 1972 membership in the Missouri Synod peaked at nearly 2.9 million members.  Since then the church has lost over five hundred thousand members.”(183)  Burkee attributes this loss to the contentious spirit of the Synod during the seventies.  “A once thriving church . . . had become an also-ran, struggling for existence and relevance even as it continued the fight to define itself.”(183)  As I have pointed out elsewhere, other causes for statistical decline within the Missouri Synod and other mainline Protestant denominations are more likely than theological bickering to explain things--notably immigration patterns and birth-rates—but those would not fit the morality-tale plot-line.


Darren Grem

Note: Updated 8/2/12.  See amendments and new links. 

It's been about two weeks since Dan Cathy's interview with Baptist Press and subsequent interview with the Ken Coleman broke through the media haze to be a national story stretching from Atlanta to Chicago and Boston.  From the start, I decided to take a "wait and see" approach, primarily because I've already written a decent amount about Chick-fil-A as a business and activist organization (although much of that was published before the story broke last year from Pennsylvania).  But I also wanted to see what people were talking about, what they wanted to know about, and if I could shed any light on what was said and why it matters.  Sorry if that sounds calculating and self-promotional.  I swear it's not.  (Well, maybe a little bit.)

After a few back-and-forth's with folks on Facebook and Twitter, it seemed best that the best thing to do was draft up a cash flow map for Chick-fil-A, primarily because that hasn't been talked about in any bird's-eye-view way in the press.  You can catch a medium sized version of it here as well.  I leave it up to you to make what you will of this map.  I suspect it will both confirm your suspicions or inclinations but also make you aware of a thing or two you might not have known.  In any case, read this in the spirit of a PSA - a public service announcement for the sake of providing the info everyone needs to support what they're saying or not saying.  Ok, yeah, I guess this is quite self-promotional.  

Do know a few things first.  It doesn't show what percentage of every dollar that drops in Chick-fil-A's till goes where.  Rather, it shows what buying a chicken sandwich (or any other item off their menu) does for Cathy, the company, and the larger socio-economic and political arrangements that CFA has embedded itself in for the past forty-five years.  I also have probably left out a few things, especially in terms of operational costs that a chicken sandwich sale cover and the multiplier effects in given communities.  There's also no accounting here of the conversations and salvos that have happened in the public sphere.  It's been diversity displayed.  (Consider briefly the range among evangelicals from the culture war calls of Mike Huckabee for a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" to the conciliatory appeals of Rachel Held Evans.)  But I could only fit so much on a Post-it note.
newer post older post