Asian Americans and the Color of Christ - A Round Table


One of the quirkiest examples of Jesus in recent America was in the film 21 Jump Street. A spoof on the 1980s television show, the cinematic 21 Jump Street featured a moment when the character played by Jonah Hill tries to pray to a "Korean Jesus." (warning, clip has many curse words) His prayer is marked by confusion and profanity. At the end, the lead officer played by Ice Cube shouts at Hill. He verbally fills the sonic silence left by the Korean Jesus, explaining that Korean Jesus does not care about Hill's problems. As if there were not enough wrinkles to the scene of a black man speaking for a Korean sacred figure to a white nonbeliever, in the 1990s, Ice Cube was known for his particularly anti-Korean rap lyrics. The cinematic example reveals that there is much to consider in the realm of Asian American history and depictions of Jesus ... much more than is on display in The Color of Christ or American Jesus or Jesus in America or The Black Christ. Because of this, and with the encouragement of our friend Paul Lim of Vanderbilt University and his terrific workshop, we decided to convene a three-part online round table to address questions of "Asian Americans and the Color of Christ." Today's post from Joshua Paddison, who is the author of the fabulous book American Heathens: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California, will be followed by posts by Derek Chang and by Beth Hessel.

Joshua Paddison, Indiana University

One of the challenges of writing a book as ambitious and wide-ranging as The Color of Christ is that many topics will necessarily be excluded. So rather than bemoan the lack of Asian American material in the book, I thought it would be fruitful to consider why it was (by and large) left out and how the inclusion of Asian American perspectives might have changed the book.  (These comments build on a conversation with Edward J. Blum that occurred at a panel focusing on The Color of Christ at last fall’s American Studies Association meeting.)

Despite Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s call in Re-Telling U.S. Religious History (1997) for “a reconsideration of religious history from the perspective of the Pacific Rim,” Asian American religious history remains largely unexplored. This is especially true for the nineteenth century, my own area of research, despite the fact that, according to the census, there were 114,189 people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent in the United States in 1900, a figure that omits all those who had lived in the U.S. and returned to China, Japan, Korea, India, or Hawaii in earlier decades. Yet historians of the nineteenth-century Asian American experience—I’m thinking of Gunter Barth, Sucheng Chan, Ronald Takaki, Judy Yung, Charles McClain, Yong Chen, Mary Ting Li Lui, John Kuo Wei Tchen, Madeline Hsu, Erika Lee, Mae Ngai, and others—have mostly focused on social, political, and legal history, mentioning religion only in passing. This lack of monographs means that, when synthetic works like The Color of Christ are written, there is not a stack of books for authors to turn to. (click to read on)

Pieces in Public Discourse


The following came to me via Gabby Speach, editor of the journal Public Discourse; I'm posting here for anyone interested in these particular pieces:

I’m the Managing Editor of Public Discourse, an online journal designed to educate readers on the moral foundations of free societies. We just published three articles by professors at Notre Dame and Hillsdale that might be of interest to your blog readers—their debate is more broadly about the principles guiding the Constitution, but they each take different positions on the American founders’ view of religion. 
Nathan Schlueter (associate professor of philosophy at Hillsdale), “Natural Law Liberalism Beyond Romanticism,”
Phillip Muñoz (associate professor of political science at Notre Dame), “Sustaining American Liberalism in Principle and Practice,”
Patrick Deneen (professor of political science at Notre Dame), “Liberalism’s Logic and America’s Challenge: A Reply to Schlueter and Muñoz,”

Gabby Speach

Solomon Schechter's New Religious Movement

I'm delighted to add to our list of contributors Rachel Gordan, currently a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University after recently finishing her Ph.D. at Harvard University. She is currently working on a book about post-World War II American Judaism --PH. 

By Rachel Gordan

When I was a teenager, someone offered me a shorthand method for understanding the movements in American Judaism. For some people, he explained, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox mapped roughly onto "lazy, hazy, and crazy." It was an early clue that there was a lot of work to be done in understanding American Judaism. 

It's not surprising that Solomon Schechter is at the heart of the latest effort to understand American Judaism's “middle movement.” Few figures in early twentieth century American Jewish history attract the admiration of Rabbi Solomon Schechter. A former professor at Cambridge University, Schechter became chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the founder of the Conservative movement's United Synagogue of America. He changed the study of medieval Judaism in 1896 when he excavated the papers of the Cairo Geniza, a collection of over 100,000 pages of rare Hebrew religious manuscripts and medieval Jewish texts that were preserved at an Egyptian synagogue. Six years later, and now living in the United States, Schechter also changed the course of American Judaism. He never wanted to be the founder of a separate movement; his vision was for American Judaism to be united. Yet, Conservative Judaism became his legacy, Michael R. Cohen shows in a new book published by Columbia University Press.

3rd International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society


Today's guest post comes from Richard Kent Evans, a graduate student in the Department of History at Texas Tech University.

The Third International Conference on Religion and Spirituality in Society recently took place on the campus of Arizona State University. As that’s my (relative) neck of the woods, I decided to attend. About one hundred scholars, skeptics, and believers (and interesting combinations thereof) were in attendance, representing thirty-two countries. Three presentations stood out to me, and they should be of interest to historians of American religion.

Michael York, a PhD candidate in Communication and Culture at York and Ryerson Universities in Ontario is working on the Ex-Gay Movement, specifically Exodus International and NARTH. Interestingly, Michael has access to former participants who provide insight into the inner-workings of these organizations. Michael’s dissertation should add to the growing interest in the Religious Right.

Rabbi Dr. Paul Shrell-Fox of The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem is working on a sociological study of orthodox Rabbis who have abandoned their faith. Many of these Rabbis are still leading congregations, because, as Paul put it, “they have no marketable skills.” Beyond the practical reasons, however, Dr. Shrell-Fox’s study is a fascinating glance into the centrality of the Rabbi within orthodox communities and families. “When a prayer requires a quorum of ten,” Paul said, “these Rabbis always make sure they are the eleventh.”

Traveling Through the Lost Land: Latina Pentecostal Women and Labor History in Texas

by Arlene Michelle Sanchez-Walsh

A few weeks ago, I continued my farewell tour through Texas by stopping in San Antonio. I will spare you the deconstruction of the Alamo--that is really beating a dead horse. 

One striking image in the midst of my Alamo visit was memorable enough to include here. In between the choral singing of the "Yellow Rose of Texas," a procession of military guard, and a group rendition of "Deep in the Heart of Texas," I walked across the street to one of the vendor shops to see if there was a trinket worth buying. Beneath a wood carving of a six-shooter, were wooden puppets of Mexicans--complete with sombreros and zarapes.  

I did not have the heart to buy it, but that product placement did get me to thinking about Mexicanos in Texas and those of us who come from that hearty stock.  The fact that we lie underneath a gun and above replicas of the state of Texas-with strings attached so that we can be easily swayed in either direction--for amusement or for expediency, was about all I needed to see of the Alamo.  As a religious historian though, that juxtaposition did get my mind racing, so here is a day in the life of my mind--racing through 75 years of Texas history and of course, with a few religious folks thrown in for good measure.

The Disestablishment of American Religious History: A Crosspost from the U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The following post appeared yesterday at the U.S. Intellectual History Blog (#USIH) in response to Ray Haberski's "Why Academia Found God" and John Fea's "Biography and American Religious History"

by Cara L. Burnidge

This past weekend, Florida State University held its first Religion and Law Conference. The Religion and Law student group had the pleasure of hosting Winnifred Sullivan who, during her keynote address, asserted that the history of religion in the United States is a narrative of establishment(s) and disestablishment(s). Using Richard Cover's foreward to the Harvard Law Review's summary of the 1982 Supreme Court term as the basis to her remarks, Sullivan explained that our approach to studying religion and law is best understood as "Nomos and Narrative": "the codes that relate our normative system to our social constructions of reality and to our visions of what the world might be are narrative. The very imposition of a normative force upon a state of affairs, real or imagined, is the act of creating narrative"[1].

This rubric can also be applied to the historiography of American Religious History. As a doctoral candidate in American Religious History and a frequent reader of USIH, I appreciate Raymond drawing attention to the "tsunami" of monographs engaging American religions. What makes this wave so interesting and, perhaps even overwhelming, is not the amount of recent monographs that engage the topic of religion (though from my vantage point that is refreshing), but rather the ways in which scholars now engage religion. As Andrew Hartman rightly noted via the resulting twitter conversation, this new wave of scholarship is disinterested in its approach to studying religion in American history. Indeed, the historiography is at a point in which a critical mass of scholars have now distanced themselves from a confessional model of religious history, in which the historian's religious affiliation no longer drives their study of religion and these historical approaches no longer consider "religion" to be, primarily, a matter of the religious affiliations of historical actors.

What (And When and Where) are Africana Religions

Welcome to our new occasional contributor Matthew John Cressler! Cressler is a doctoral candidate in American religions. He specializes in American Catholic history and African American religious history, paying particular attention to conceptions of race and nationalism, and his dissertation is titled “Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: African American Catholics in Chicago from Great Migrations to Black Power.” Cressler here posts about the brand new Journal of Africana Religions, whose first volume has just been published.

What (and When and Where) are Africana Religions?
by Matthew John Cressler

The National Office of Black Catholics (NOBC) inaugurated their magazine on Black liturgy, Freeing the Spirit, in August 1971.  They dedicated the first issue “to all Black people who have rediscovered their imprisoned souls / Also, this book is a prayer for those Blacks who still have not found themselves; who have not discovered their Beautiful Black Self.”  The magazine hoped to actualize its title.  The NOBC was literally invested in freeing the spirits of African American Catholics, spirits imprisoned by the assumption that being Catholic necessitated worshipping in European (read: white) ways.  Black Catholic contributors worked to identify the essential elements of “Black Liturgy,” so that African Americans across the country might integrate them into Catholic worship and thereby discover their “Beautiful Black Selves.” 

Right at the start, this process turned toward Africa and Africans.  The NOBC interviewed one Tanzanian and two Nigerian priests for their first issue, asking them about Church and liturgy in Africa.  These African Catholics agreed that “African peoples” are a spiritual and religious people, insisting “European missionaries had nothing new to teach Africa” by way of God or religion.  One priest spoke at length about the persistence of African-ness in the face of European missionaries.  When missionaries presented Africans with an ultimatum – cease being African if you want to be Christian – most rejected the false dichotomy.  The majority of those who became Christian, according to this Nigerian priest, “did not lose their identity as Africans.  After going to mass on Sunday and listening to what the priest had to say from the pulpit, they said O.K. Father, you said what you have to say, and they went back home and did their own thing.”  This deeply resonated with the NOBC, which likewise argued that black Catholics could be truly Catholic while still expressing themselves musically and liturgically as a Black people.  A growing number of African American Catholics in the 1970s argued that what it meant to be Black, and thus how one should be Black and Catholic, was deeply rooted in Africa.

"Bless Jesus and Lincoln"


by Emily Suzanne Clark

My post today is a “this day in history” from my dissertation research. My dissertation examines how the beliefs and practice of Spiritualism helped Afro-creoles mediate the political, social, and cultural changes in New Orleans as the city moved from the antebellum period through Reconstruction. The messages the Cercle Harmonique received from the spirit world and the spirits who sent them offered the circle a forum for airing their political grievances and a place to imagine a more egalitarian world. Certain republican ideals, particularly those inherited from the memory of the French Revolution, were reinvigorated and reworked to relate to contemporary issues. While American religious history typically associates Spiritualism with white, liberal Protestants living in the northeast, I explore Spiritualism as practiced by New Orleanian Afro-creoles.

On March 25, 1869, the spirit “Lamenais,” a spirit who frequented the circle’s table, came to compare President Abraham Lincoln and Jesus. This wasn’t the first time that he taught via comparison; on another occasion this spirit explained how the creation of the US and the birth of Jesus both signaled new eras in humanity. This spirit, “Lamenais,” though spelled with only one “n” in his séance record sign-offs, was French priest Hugues-Félicité Robert de Lamennais (1782-1854). Lamennais was raised in a royalist household, but as he became increasingly interested in politics, Lamennais became more critical of the French Church and the government. He argued that the role of the Church was supposed to be fighting for the people, reforming society, and advancing justice. It would be his 1834 publication Paroles d’un Croyant (Words of a Believer) that would get him officially condemned by the Vatican in the Papal Encyclical Singulari nos (July 7, 1834). And his support for the Revolution of 1848 and his election as a deputy for Paris to the Constituent Assembly certainly didn’t help his standing with the Pope. But it made him popular in New Orleans. Lamennais’s Catholic background, combined with his willingness to be critical of the Church institution and “tyrants” of any form made him an attractive spirit for the Afro-creole Cercle Harmonique, who themselves came from creole Catholic families.

The message channeled by the medium 144 years ago covered a lot of territory. Lamennais expressed his approval of Narciso López’s attempts for Cuban independence from Spain; he predicted that through the “mysterious ways of the Divine Providence, Human Slavery shall disappear little by little on this continent;” he discussed the continuous struggle of “Progress” and “Truth” versus “moral slavery;” and he reprimanded Catholic priests in the South for their support of the Confederacy “preaching the sanctity of the horrible institution of slavery” and “blessing banners of the battalions which were forging new and stronger chains for their brothers.”

A key part of his message was his discussion of Lincoln—Lincoln who “sealed with his precious blood, the funeral stone which must cover Human Slavery.” For Lamennais, the comparison between Lincoln and Jesus was a simple one. “One died for Humanity; the other was sacrificed for wishing to liberate the black race, subdued under a degrading yoke by brute force.” Indeed, Lamennais’s message concluded with the sentence, “Bless Jesus and Lincoln: one will regenerate Humanity; the other, the Republic of the United States.”

The pro-Lincoln, pro-republicanism, anti-slavery message jived with the political goals and orientation of the Afro-creoles at the séance table that spring of 1869. And the message came with authority. A revolutionary Catholic priest not only chose to communicate with the circle but he also shared their political views and, with them, hoped for continued progress.

Macklemore the Catholic


I have a confession: if I have to talk or read about the pope one more time, my head is going to explode. Such is the risk for those who teach and write about the Catholic Church. I guess I asked for it.

So on this Palm Sunday, I'm going to take Julie Byrne's suggestion that we think less about the pope and more about the people. After all, "the roil of Catholic opinion on the ground is the real show."

Macklemore, famous for popping tags, grew up in a Catholic family in Seattle. Last year, he released the single "Same Love" during the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Washington. Macklemore's outspoken support for same-sex marriage stems from his Catholic childhood. He talks about it with Kurt Andersen on the radio show Studio 360.

Give it a listen:

And watch the video:

Is There a Christian Approach to History?

By Mark Edwards

I've been spending alot of time lately with the good folks over at USIH.  Not only do they generate fascinating, substantive reflections on the art of history and a high level of sustained discussion, but they are also nice to me, which is nice (check out, for instance, this thoughtful review and critique of my book by Gene Zubovich, another "new light" in the field of American religious history).  One of the more stimulating USIH debates of late has concerned the impact of "ideology" in historical scholarship and teaching (see here then here).  Put simply, are personal convictions, political or otherwise, obstacles for the historian to overcome or resources that the historian should embrace?  How sympathetic should scholars be toward their subjects, especially those whose politics the scholar finds reprehensible?  Should the teacher seek to be "objective" before their students, presenting "all sides" of an issue and then "letting the student decide?"  Or, should instructors rather share openly their partisan preferences and/or operating principles?

These questions took a bit different turn for me when I started reading Confessing History (Notre Dame, 2010) for my historiography class.  The book is a collaborative effort by several members and fellow travelers of the Conference on Faith and History, including its editors Jay Green, John Fea, and Christopher Lasch biographer Eric Miller.  Since 1967, the CFH has concerned itself with primarily one question: What difference does being a Christian make to the study and practice of history?  I've heard the CFH referred to in private conversation as "the intellectual arm of the religious right."  Certainly, George Marsden's Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford, 1998), despite its huge popularity among the CFH and conservative Christian colleges, has been greeted with suspicion by those fearful that "integration of faith and learning" is theocratic code for "faith over learning."  But I'm not here to judge.  Instead, I want to commend  and recommend Confessing History essays for the questions they raise about ideology and history in general, as well as for their attempts to articulate a post-Marsden vision of Christian historiography.  The best academic conference I ever attended remains the 2002 CFH meeting at Huntington University.  For a young grad student, I (and fellow graduate and undergraduate students) marveled at the passionate seriousness and open confrontations of presenters trying to determine the ifs, hows, and whys of Christian scholarship.  Confessing History might not be able to take readers back to that moment, but 2002 is nevertheless written all over it.  In fact, one of the must-read essays is a revised version of Christopher Shannon's opening address of the 2002 meeting, "After Monographs," a merciless assault on Marsden's "Idea" (with Marsden in the room, mind you), on the state of Christian historiography, and on the post-Enlightenment historiographical/monographic tradition as a whole.  Here's a taste, if you dare:

It is my contention that in embracing naturalistic causality and the procedural norms of the historical profession, Christian historians merely trade in one providentialism for another.  Where Christian historians of old once looked for the hand of the Holy Spirit, the new-model Christian history follows the naturalist quest for historical agency.  The modern secular monograph tells us, with pius, mind-numbing regularity, that human beings, as individuals and groups, make history, but not under conditions of their own making.  Within the general framework of accommodation and resistance, secular historians remind us of the ironic disjunction between intended actions and unintended consequences, but insist on the primacy of action, whatever its consequences.  Historical actors are those people who manipulate, negotiate, and reshape their relations with each other and with nature in their effort to maximize their individual and collective autonomy from imposed constraints.  History, through a process of dialectical struggle, reveals the natural unfolding of a kind of instrumental individualism.  The producer ethic of the middle-class professional historian is written into the narrative structures of history.  It finds its most immediate material manifestation in the industrial production of history monographs (p. 172). 

For those interested in a concrete example of what Shannon is getting at, check out his review of Robert O. Self's All in the Family (Hill and Wang, 2012) at USIH.

I should add that Shannon's essay is hardly representative of the Confessing History collection.  The most compelling contribution to me is Beth Barton Schweiger's elegant meditation on the central role of love in historical practice (with honorable mentions to Lendol Calder and Thomas Albert Howard).        

ACT UP, Fight Back, Fight AIDS

By Carol Faulkner

Rachel Lindsey recently asked about our favorite documentaries for teaching. I haven't used United in Anger yet, but I plan to do so the next time I teach a class on sexuality, social protest, and/or religion.  This film by Jim Hubbard, which grows out of his work on the ACT UP Oral History Project, explores the history of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and its efforts to both raise awareness and transform government policy, from its founding in 1987 through 1993, when the large number of deaths devastated members (the organization still exists). ACT UP's tactics were confrontational and controversial, but ultimately successful. The film shows archival footage of protests at the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control, and, as one member recalls, panels reviewing AIDS drugs for approval eventually--and for the first time--included HIV-positive individuals as experts.

One of themes of the film is the diversity of ACT UP members. This organization was not limited to gay white men, as many might assume. Hubbard interviews dozens of individuals in the documentary, from over one hundred interviews in the ACT UP Oral History Project, and more activists are identified throughout the film, including, tragically, some with their birth and death dates. The activists are/were men and women from all different racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, united in their need to do something about the disease ravaging their bodies, friends, families, and communities.

Historians of religion and social movements will be interested in the film's coverage of the high-profile demonstration known as "Stop the Church," targeting John Cardinal O'Connor and New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral on December 10, 1989. The film shows the debate within the organization, with activists divided over how disruptive to be during a Sunday mass, the scheduled time for the protest. Some activists noted that they were not protesting the Catholic religion, but the church's policies. ACT UP did not overcome these divisions, but, in the spirit of their non-hierarchical organization, went into the demonstration divided. During the mass, protestors staged a "die in" in the main aisle leading up to the altar. The film shows parishioners looking askance at the bodies, while the mass proceeded as usual. Soon, other protestors began yelling, asking O'Connor to justify the church's deadly restrictions on condom use and sex education, and police moved in to arrest the protestors. Immediately outside the church, Sandy Schulman, now Hubbard's co-producer and co-founder of the ACT UP Oral History Project, was interviewed, and she argued that the disturbance had worked against the protestors because they lost the sympathy of the people in the pews. Another ACT UP veteran and interviewee (also a woman) argues that the protest was a success, costing the Catholic Church some of its political power in the city.  In addition to the activists inside, this member points out that thousands demonstrated outside the church.

This documentary will give ACT UP a prominent place in the history of American social movements. Like abolitionist come-outers, most notably Stephen S. Foster in "The Brotherhood of Thieves, or, A True Picture of the American Church and Clergy," ACT UP made the controversial decision to condemn religious institutions for their moral failings. I hope "United in Anger," which includes a helpful study guide on its website, and the Stop the Church demonstration, will provoke interesting class discussion about the value of social protest, the pros and cons of "the church" as a target and location of protest, and the role of religion in the midst of a public health crisis like AIDS.

For more information on the image and others like it, see the New York Public Library.

How to Write an Op-Ed

David W. Stowe

Why are Ops Ed? Or more to the point, where do they come from? Not so long ago an unexpected opportunity fell into my lap and I became the author of one. In the process I learned some unexpected things about how Op-Eds come to be and the many steps they take to achieve their final form.

One finding: Op-Ed editors are really smart, and the ones I worked with seemed to have a high-level but necessarily ADHD graduate seminar going on in their suite. Second, you will find out what it's like to get your prose thoroughly workshopped to a degree you may not have experienced since undergraduate days--and only if you had a very dedicated composition teacher.

I wrote about all this for the UNC Press website, which asked me for a couple of contributions to mark the release of the paperback edition of No Sympathy for the Devil.  An excerpt:

Then, nothing for ten days. On April 19 Clay sent me his revised draft. Recognizably mine but much improved. Still the editorial prodding went on. The Op-Ed team  wondered what was lost in the split my piece highlighted between secular and sacred pop music. The question historians dread: “Why should we care, today?”

They were giving me an opening to weigh in on the current state of pop music. To render judgment on what I argued was a deeper gap between secular and religious than existed in the blissfully promiscuous Seventies, when artists threw in references to God and Jesus at will. But did I really care that these domains of popular music had diverged so far from each other? Had anything of value

Some new books

Edward J. Blum

Random reading and thoughts (is this what my blog posts have come to?!?)

Finished Emily Raboteau's beautiful and bitter Searching for Zion where she rolls around the world trying to find a home for herself while investigating how various groups have conceived of Zion. When confronted by African Americans who proclaim themselves to be Jews, she write, "There is no such thing as a black Jew. I rotated the thought in my mind. I’d always considered the two groups to be mutually exclusive." When I read that, I imagined myself in conversation with her, ready to interrupt (as I do still sometimes in my well-meaning-but-nonetheless-rude New Jersey fashion): "have you seen Jacob Dorman's new book Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions? It is a tremendous study of the ins and outs of the makings of black Judaisms throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century. After reading this, you'll find a bunch of people who definitely did not see the two as mutually exclusive at all."

If the books weren't so damned good, I would feel more frustrated by the regular deluge of work after work that keeps hitting my desk and immediately going into the "must read" stack. At least I knew Edward E. Andrews's Native Apostles: Black and Indian Missionaries in the British Atlantic World was coming. I had heard Ted (nope, not a typo, an Edward who goes by "Ted" ... crazy) present at the American Studies Association and I knew I had to grab this book. Follow here to the Harvard website.
Ted posted some thoughts over at Teaching United States History on teaching with visual art from the colonial period ("some guy" named David Morgan might be proud).

Oh, and "some other guy" named Jon Sensbach has this to say about it: Edward Andrews convincingly shows how native American and African populations took control of their encounters with Christianity in the age of empire and slavery. Native Apostles is an impressive tour through the spiritual kaleidoscope of the Atlantic world.

On a completely separate note, if you are in San Diego tomorrow (March 21), drop by our first "Workshop in American Religious History" (WARh, what is it good for? absolute nothing ... is our theme song). We'll be discussing Sarah Azaransky's book on Pauli Murray before she leaves us for her new position at Union Theological Seminary!!!

Sarah Osborn's World: Substance with Style

Elesha Coffman

Because I was a journalist before I began grad school, I never thought I would have a problem writing prose that communicated with people. I worried (a lot) about amassing the knowledge and credibility to say something as an academic, but I expected the actual saying part to continue to come fairly naturally. By about my third semester of coursework, however, academic anxieties combined with primary- and secondary-source overload to choke everything I tried to compose. I had lost my voice.

I was reminded of that struggle as I read Catherine Brekus's remarkably fluid new book, Sarah Osborn's World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America. An early entry in the Yale University Press "New Directions in Narrative History" series, this work suffers from no such scholarly laryngitis. Instead, it advances a strong argument in clear language with enough historical context to keep non-specialists engaged and enough drama to keep any reader turning the pages. Brekus makes this all look easy, a testament to the painstaking labor that doubtless stands behind the finished product.

In a nutshell, Brekus argues that evangelicalism evolved in the 18th century as a response to the Enlightenment and to both political and economic liberalization, becoming "a heart-centered, experiential, individualistic, and evangelistic form of Protestantism that was intertwined with the rise of the modern world" (11). The key word here is "experiential," for it ties the argument to the book's narrative: an account of the life and ministry of Sarah Osborn, leader of a Newport, Rhode Island, revival in the 1760s. Because the Enlightenment privileged experience as a source of illumination, Osborn, a poor, self-educated, and physically infirm woman could emerge as a spiritual leader, her ministry encouraged (and her writings published) by her famous minister, Samuel Hopkins. The Enlightenment and evangelical religion clashed on many points, but Osborn's career was made possible by their confluence.

Catholicism on the Secular Campus

by Karen Johnson.  

What happens when a secular university in a Catholic city develops a Catholic Studies program?  The University of Illinois at Chicago, a secular, state-run institution, is home to a vibrant Catholic Studies program.  Not only are the classes popular and engaging, but the program brings a wide range of speakers to campus, from Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George to Sister Simone Campbell (the two stood miles apart on Obama’s health care plan, and in response to the Vatican’s rebuke, Sister Simone and the lobbying group NETWORK sponsored the Nuns on the Bus tour.  To watch Sister Simone on the Colbert Report, go here).  In a city – and at a school – with a large Catholic population, the Catholic studies program offers the community an opportunity to think about and debate Catholicism’s history, theology, philosophy, and cultural life.  Ralph Keen, chair of the Catholic Studies program at UIC, has agreed to write a guest blog for RiAH readers about Catholicism on the secular campus.

What is the study of Catholicism doing in the curriculum of a state institution? The question is never asked quite so directly, but it should be. The Catholic university system has been the custodian of this field since its inception, guarding the legacy and interpreting it for the next generation of Catholic citizens. The non-denominational private sector entered the field a few decades ago, often with endowed chairs funded by Catholic donors or agencies. Most recently there have been positions in Catholicism at state institutions, and degree programs in Catholic Studies can be expected to take their place alongside similar units as a natural development.

At the University of Illinois at Chicago, such a program has been in the making for years, and a BA minor in Catholic Studies is close to being a reality. Core faculty include a specialist in North American Catholicism, one in Latin American intellectual history, and another in the history of theology in the early-modern period, “early Catholicism” for those who see the confessional tradition beginning with the Counter-Reformation. All three are located in the history department. Affiliated faculty offer courses housed in their home departments which are cross-listed with Catholic Studies. Even so, only a portion of the tradition is covered in course offerings.

"Habemus Papam": Tell Me More!

Today's guest post comes from Charles Strauss, who recently completed a Lilly Postdoctoral Fellowship at Valparaiso University and is now an assistant professor of history at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, MD.  You can find more details about his research and teaching interests in political and religious history at

By Charles Strauss

How did you pass the time or procrastinate this week?  Did you prepare for Selection Sunday by getting a head start on your "bracketology"?  Maybe you celebrated Timberweek on NBC?  Were you one of the 100,000 who joined the Save Google Reader campaign?  Or perhaps you were like Rush Limbaugh and settled in for some quality time with the Vatican Smoke Cam, brought to you by CBS News?

The Sweet Sistine
On Wednesday morning, Rush aired his discomfort with the 24-hour news coverage of the Catholic Church's papal election by reporters who, in his opinion, were really just "mocking" the whole thing.  He complained that Wolf Blitzer on down were "demeaning" and "cheapening" an event that Rush, though not a Catholic, remembered watching as a kid.  The next morning, after the College of Cardinals had elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as pope, Rush was the one doing the mocking, as he snickered at the "Drive-By Media" for reporting on Pope Francis' conservative theology.  He failed to mention Cardinal Bergoglio's defense of Catholic teaching on "the preferential option for the poor."

You did not have to share Rush's "Drive-By Media" shtick to notice that a lot of people were talking about the conclave this week - and not just cable news, app developers, EWTN, and U.S. Catholic theologians, historians, and journalists (too many for hyperlinks).  I know at least one Catholic history professor who added, "I'll be there unless there is white smoke," to all invitations and appointment responses once things got started in the Sistine Chapel.  Everyone, especially television, print, and online media, seemed to be interested in the next Bishop of Rome.  And once the commentators' second or third tier papabile, Cardinal Bergoglio, addressed the audience in St. Peter's Square as Pope Francis I, coverage and commentary went wild (again, too many for hyperlinks).

In many ways, this is understandable given the excitement around the first Latin American pope, the number of Catholics worldwide (1.2 billion), the role of the Vatican and the institutional Catholic Church in the world, the sexual abuse scandal, and the largely unsurprising 2005 papal conclave that elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the truly surprising (unless you are a diehard follower of papal news and writing) resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.  However, after spending some time this weekend with America's Historical Newspapers and Historical Newspapers, as well as this site, a comprehensive index of papal conclaves by John Paul Adams at Cal State University-Northridge, I am  convinced that Americans have been enamored with papal election news since at least the 1840s.  Moreover, though small in number at papal conclaves, American cardinals and members of the faithful at home have played no small role in the process and outcome of many papal elections.  More on both of these fronts after the break.

Teaching American Religious History Online


Charity R. Carney

Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I teach online.

Online learning has become an important part of American education, but it is often regarded as the redheaded stepchild of the traditional university system. Despite its reputation, it is playing an increasingly important role in training the American workforce and offers important advantages and opportunities to expand the role of the faculty. As online education grows, it behooves us to take a moment to understand the opportunities and challenges presented by the online classroom, especially in regards to teaching subjects as vital and provocative as religious history. I’d like to encourage more dialogue, in other words, between the online and traditional religious history folks in the hopes that we can learn from and grow with each other to expand the reach of our discipline.

Saturday Night Live, Djesus, and Masculine Christianity


Today's guest post comes to us from Blaine Hamilton, a graduate student at Rice University with John Boles

Saturday Night Live, Djesus and Masculine Christianity
Blaine C. Hamilton

As many of you may be aware a few weeks ago Saturday Night Live produced a brief, two-minute sketch that has received a lot of attention from religious communities in the United States.  “Djesus Uncrossed” was a movie trailer spoofing Quentin Tarantino’s recent historical revenge films like Inglourious Bastards and Django Unchained.  The video, which you can watch here, suggests how Tarantino might tell the story of the resurrection if he got his hands on it.  Instead of ascending peacefully into the skies, Djesus emerges from the tomb with a vengeance, a cross on his back and a samurai sword in his hands.  The apostles are also featured reeking havoc on the Romans with even more blood than a typical Tarantino film.  The clip claims, “Critics are calling it a less violent Passion of the Christ.  For everyone familiar with SNL and sketch comedy in general the satire and humor should be evident.  The joke is on Tarantino, who if given the opportunity would even rewrite the resurrection as a revenge story.

Reflections on the Study of African American Religious History: A Conference in Honor of Albert J. Raboteau

From Judith Weisenfeld comes news of this conference, honoring the life and career of Albert Raboteau, April 26-27, 2013. Presenters include Cornel West, Leigh Schmidt, Eddie Glaude, Yvonne Chireau, Wallace Best, Robert Wuthnow, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, John Wilson, and some other folks that you might be familiar with.

Reviewing Marjoe (1972, 2006)

by J. Michael Utzinger

Howdy neighbor.  The Lord Bless you.  I'm in town to give the devil two black eyes. 

It takes me a while to catch up on the good stuff I see on this blog, and I finally took Randall Stephens’s advice and watched the documentary Marjoe, which follows the last year of evangelist Marjoe Gortner's career.  Filmed in 1971, the documentary, directed by Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith, won an Academy Award for best documentary film in 1972.  It was rereleased in 2006 once Kernochan bought the rights to the film from a company in receivership.  (She recounts this interesting story in her own blog.)  My memory of Gortner was as the lion tamer in the Circus of the Stars in the 1980s; although, I will admit it took me a while to figure this out.  He looked so familiar I had to figure out how I knew him, and I knew it wasn't from a revival in the early 1970s. 

Religion in the PNW: Visiting the Islamic Center of Tacoma


By Seth Dowland

For the first post in the series, click here.

During my first year at PLU, I had to design four new courses. The first three – American Church History, Religion & Politics in the U.S., and Religion and Gender in American History – were in my wheelhouse. But the last one, Islam in America, kept me up at nights. I had scant training in the subject, and I cast about widely for books and other resources that would get me through the semester. (Some of the best books to teach, for those of you who are interested: Edward Curtis’s Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States, Kambiz GhaneaBassiri’s History of Islam in America, and the always-reliable Autobiography of Malcolm X. This semester I’ve added a novel, The Submission, by Amy Waldman, which I first learned about from Paul’s 2011 blog post.) A grad school friend, UT-Austin professor Chad Seales, sent me his (very good) syllabus and a couple assignment ideas. Using these and other resources I made it through the semester relatively unscathed. Actually, I had a lot of fun teaching the course. It’s a good thing, too, since Islam in America is part of my regular rotation.

One thing I didn’t ask students to do last spring was to visit a mosque. I’ve added that requirement to the course this spring, and students will begin their visits this Friday. I made my first trip to the Islamic Center of Tacoma for Jumu’ah prayers five days ago, on the lookout both for ways I could prepare my students and, for the purposes of this blog series, for anything distinctively “northwest” about the mosque. But aside from mosque parking lot’s view of the Puget Sound, there was little indication that we were in the northwest. Once I stepped inside, I could have been anywhere. The racial and ethnic diversity of mosques is remarkable, especially for an observer accustomed to racially homogenous churches. This week’s service featured two messages—one in Arabic and one in English. Of the men who wore regionally distinctive clothing, I saw a few long robes, plenty of fleece jackets, and an unsettling number of New York Yankees caps. If a member of the Muslim hikers association was there, I didn’t meet him.

Upon further reflection, the mosque’s ambivalent geographical identity began to make sense. In the northwest, I’ve seen small Lutheran sanctuaries that use clear glass to frame views of fir trees and mega-churches where the artisanal coffee and preponderance of beards and tattoos never let you forget where you are. But for a religious community with a sizeable proportion of immigrants, it makes sense that the focus is less on where you are than on who you are. The speaker at Friday’s service spent a good five minutes chastising the worshipers for not attending midweek and weekend services as faithfully as they did on Fridays. The message reflected concern about the ways a foreign culture might overwhelm faithfulness – perhaps most especially out here in the “none zone.”

Four Questions with Sarah Pike

Randall Stephens

This post marks the first in a series of short interviews with religious studies scholars and religious historians who work on American topics. I hope to conduct these interviews with senior, junior, and mid-career scholars from the states and abroad. (Suggestions are always welcome!)

This inaugural interview is with Sarah Pike, a professor in the Department of Religious Studies, California State University, Chico.  Her innovative work will be familiar to many of our readers.  Pike has studied the relationship between religion and ethnicity, identity, and cultural expression.  Along with a variety of articles and book chapters, she is the author of
Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and The Search for Community (University of California Press, 2001) and New Age and Neopagan Religions in America (Columbia University Press, 2004).

Randall Stephens: When and why did you decide to study American religion?

Sarah Pike:
When I entered graduate school, I intended to study Tibetan Buddhism, but within my first year of course work, I became increasingly interested in studying religion in my own “backyard.” I began to notice that the landscapes around me were full of stories about American religious life. In particular, I wondered about the mysterious classes offered by a little occult shop in my new hometown of Bloomington, Indiana. As it turned out, the world I found there was not unique to Bloomington, and the interests expressed at the shop were reflected across the nation. So I wanted to find out how the worlds of Witchcraft and magic fit into the broader story of American religion.

CFP: 50 Years After Schempp


Conference at Indiana University: Call for Papers

The Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Bloomington is hosting a conference entitled “Religious Studies 50 Years after Schempp: History, Institutions, Theory” the weekend of September 27-29, 2013.

Fifty years ago the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decision in Abington v Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963). While the case before the Court concerned the constitutionality of mandatory Bible reading in Pennsylvania public schools, the opinions in the case have come to be understood as the authorizing texts for the academic study of religion in public colleges and universities across the U.S. and beyond. The Court wrote that while prescribing religious exercises in public schools violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization” could be said to be a necessary part of a complete education.

Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath


Rachel Lindsey

Valarie Kaur and Sharat Raju's 2008 documentary Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath is, five years later, not a new film and many readers of this blog may have used it in teaching a variety of courses, from introductory surveys to advanced seminars. But it is film worth remembering. Divided We Fall follows Kaur and her cousin, Sonny, across the United States as they investigate violence against Sikhs in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 (here's the extensive companion website, including a number a teaching points). Combining original, amateur footage, with media coverage, and later interviews and narration, the documentary raises a number of questions pertinent to studies of religion in American history, religion in the media, religion and politics, and religion and race. I screen it both in my world religions courses and religion in American history courses, making use of the documentary's extensive bonus material to cater to a variety of different lectures and discussions. Many of my students have very little, if any, prior knowledge of Sikhs and there are segments in the film and additional footage that can be used effectively to start robust classroom discussions. But the film itself is an especially useful tool for helping to expose the effects of media representations of religion, including students' own reception of the "turban equals terrorist" message in the modern media market. What is perhaps the greatest benefit of using the film, however, is that students relate to it. Almost without exception, when we reflect on the semester towards the end of classes, students bring up the film as a keystone in their experience. The clip here is the beginning sequence to the documentary but I highly recommend the entire film.

What are your favorite teaching films?

Churches and Child Care

Janine Giordano Drake

When Jessie Ramey's book, Childcare in Black and White: Working Parents and the History of Orphanages came out this year, it was much anticipated. The book won the Herbert Gutman Prize from the Labor and Working Class History Association, the Lerner-Scott Prize in Women's History from the OAH, and the John Heinz Award from the National Academy of Social Insurance.

The book has been widely praised as a pathbreaking study in the history of social class, race, and child welfare. The book shows not only how child care has been a pivotal resource for working families in times of crisis. But, it shows how racial segregation (especially the racial divisions among orphanages) has added to and exacerbated social divisions among families.

Ramey focuses on two orphanages run by "church people" in Pittsburgh. One was the all-white United Presbyterian Orphan's Home, and the other an all-black Home for Colored Children. Working families, Ramey found, widely used orphanages "interchangeably with day nurseries." In fact, they were much more trusted by working people for childcare, and many families retained a large degree of custody over children placed within them. But, the orphanages regarded families' capability of caring for children differently depending on parents' racial and ethnic background. I cannot wait to finish the book and talk more about it later.

One thing I wanted to mention now, however, is the extent to which this history of orphanages is as much a history of working class women and families as it is a history of the middle and upper class white Anglo Protestants who built and maintained these "helping" institutions. As we revise our analysis and periodization of the origins of our social welfare system, we need to also revise our understanding of the Social Gospel movement. Ramey's book is not explicitly about the Social Gospel movement or the churches or the propriety of social relations in "Christian families," but it is also ALL about all of these things. Church records comprise a large portion of Ramey's evidence, and "Christian visions" of family welfare interlace this history. I hope this book goes on to win the same kind of attention in religious history circles as it is everywhere else!
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