Race and White Supremacy in the Construction of "American Catholicism"

Matthew J. Cressler

It's October the 31st, so you all know what that means... Just twenty-one days until the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting kicks off in Atlanta! (It also means my daughters will soon be Nemo and Marlin, but that's a post for Facebook.) As you sit down and start planning out your time in Atlanta I want to call your attention to a roundtable conversation I'm especially excited about. Yes, I'm excited about it because I organized it, but I know it's something many of you will be interested in as well. I want to invite you to join me and a group of stellar scholars for a roundtable conversation on "Race and White Supremacy in the Construction of American Catholicism" at 9AM on Monday, November 23 (Marriott L-405-406).

What will we be talking about? Well, here's the short version. On the morning of Monday the 23rd, Emma AndersonShannen Dee WilliamsFelipe HinojosaKristy Nabhan-Warren, and M. Shawn Copeland will join me to think through at least two questions. What would the study of Catholicism look like if it included a sustained consideration of the ways race and white supremacy have shaped the very idea of "American Catholicism"? What consequences would such a consideration have for Catholic studies? Full disclosure: I think it would have far ranging consequences not just for the study of Catholics, but for the study of American religion writ large.



Over the last few years, on the day before the AAR & SBL conference begins, scholars from a variety of backgrounds and methodologies in the field of religious studies, come together for THATCamp to explore the way technology enhances humanities scholarship. This year is no different. On November 20th, 2015, THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) unconference will take place you are invited to attend. This year we already have over 80 participants registered, but there is room for many more.

THATCamp is an unconference, meaning that the participants decide on the sessions that will be held and the topics to be discussed. However, this does not mean you cannot make a suggestion now. We already have a few suggestions for sessions and welcome more. All you have to do is register on the THATCamp website and, once your membership is approved, you can post suggestions for topics or sessions. On the morning of the conference, we will also take suggestions and then everyone will vote on which sessions and topics to discuss.

As an unconference, anyone of any skill level can participate. You don’t have to be a technology master to attend or suggest a session. In fact, the best suggestions come from those wanting to know more about specific topics. If you know a little, come share your knowledge with your colleagues. If you are a technology or digital humanities novice, come and learn from your colleagues in a fun and collegial environment.

Finding Religion at College? Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education

Monica L. Mercado

I'm flying home today from the Digital Library Federation Forum in Vancouver, where I presented an update on one of the major projects I've been working on since beginning my postdoctoral fellowship at Bryn Mawr College last summer. That project, the open access portal College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education collegewomen.org, launched in May, the result of a year's work between Bryn Mawr and six partner institutions funded by a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (you can read the original grant narrative, here).

The site brings together -- for the first time online -- hundreds of digitized letters, diaries, scrapbooks and photographs of students who attended the northeast U.S. women’s colleges once (and often still) known as the Seven Sisters: Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, and Radcliffe (now the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University). Together, we have developed a pilot for subject-specific federated digital archives projects; our goal, most broadly, is to increase the visibility of women’s education histories, central to our missions as archives and teaching collections in historically women’s institutions. Digital collections development gave us the opportunity to connect our seven related but physically separate collections; our hope is to expand the portal significantly in the coming years.

Tradition? The Barnard Greek Games (1931),
Barnard College Archives, via collegewomen.org.
The idea for this project began with the concern that our seven institutions’ extensive collections of student materials were a largely underused set of documentation on the history of American women. Because our libraries and archives have similar histories, we knew we could aggregate similar materials -- for comparison and contrast. As a group, we agreed on themes that would shape what digital items we would contribute to the beta site. The themes were topical subjects that could better connect our materials (such as 'traditions' and 'academics') or keywords we saw as important to the history of discourse around women’s education, or topics we hope to document further. Themes can also be used in the site search so that our audiences can locate related results easily. One of those themes? Religion.

On Privileging Religion in International Relations - Reviewing Hurd's Beyond Religious Freedom

Lauren Turek

Earlier this month, Michael Graziano penned the first in a series of three posts reviewing Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s new book, Beyond Religious Freedom. This rigorous, compelling volume questions the recent efforts of U.S. and European policymakers to use the promotion of religious freedom as a means to foster peace, fight terrorism, and counter sectarian violence throughout the world. In this post, the second in the series of reviews, I'd like to highlight two elements of the book that I found particularly significant for the study of religion and the history of U.S. foreign relations: Hurd’s analysis of how “privileging” religion as a normative category of identity in international policy and law alters (and sometimes effaces) religious practice abroad, and her argument that privileging religion blinds policymakers to forms of human rights abuses and incidences of inter-group violence that do not stem from religious difference (3, 12).

In the introduction to Beyond Religious Freedom, Hurd asserts that “religion is too unstable a category to be treated as an isolable entity” in international relations (6). The subsequent chapters build on this key claim. Hurd is particularly critical of the tendency in contemporary policy making circles to view religion as both the cause of and the solution to violent conflicts. The prevailing belief that there exist “bad” forms of religion (defined as those religions or practices that policymakers deem intolerant, sectarian, or violent) as well as “good” forms of religion (defined as “tolerant” religions or practices that foster civil society or humanitarianism) has led policymakers to create programs that “discern and defend peaceful religion and project it internationally” as well as “reform or suppress intolerant religion” in order to prevent it from proliferating (23, 34). Beyond the fact that this “two faces of faith” model privileges certain types of religious expression and elevates the authority of “moderate” religious leaders, Hurd argues that this model also makes the mistake of assuming that “religion and religious actors are identifiable” (29). Throughout the case studies that she presents, Hurd demonstrates that the lines between believer and non-believer are far too blurred and mutable to bear out this assumption.

Teaching Faux Primary Sources

Emily Suzanne Clark

This semester I'm teaching one section of African American Religions and two sections of American Christianities. Like many of us, I try to come up with assignments that are both enjoyable (or at least not painful) for students and are also enjoyable (or at least not painful) for me to grade. And all of my courses fulfill a core curriculum requirement. In other words, I'm not teaching majors but rather students from across the whole University. Right now I've got a batch of take-home midterms from my African American Religions course where the students had to pick the most significant reading they've done so far in class and argue why it was the most significant. Just before that, my American Christianities course turned in faux primary sources.

In both courses we have a primary source reader, and we read a ton of primary sources. Before the end of the semester they have to do a handful of worksheets on primary source readings of their choice. The questions on the worksheets are: What is the author's main goal? And then: How does the historical context shape the document? The goal of these worksheets is to get them reading primary sources more critically (as opposed to just reading for basic content). In the case of the American Christianities course, these worksheets are complemented by the completion of two faux primary sources. Twice during the semester they turn in faux primary sources, which means they have to "channel" a real or fake person or group from American religious history and then come up with a document that s/he/they would have written.

Data and Conversation Partners in American Religious Studies

Charles McCrary

There are certain people, some dead, some alive, with whom scholars speak. There are other people, many more of them, about whom we speak. We study them. As applied to our “religious” objects of study, this distinction—call it “conversation partners” versus “data,” or, perhaps, secondary versus primary sources—has particular relevance. As the relatively uncontroversial, albeit overly simple, dictum goes, there’s a difference between studying religion and doing religion. Now, whether “we” scholars should do one or both has been the subject of much debate—debate that has arisen again amid the recent AAR election in which two white male Protestant theologians were advanced as the only candidates for Vice President. I won’t address that particular issue here (as usual, you should read Finbarr Curtis). Instead, I want to think about a similar set of questions. How do certain people become conversation partners for scholars of American religion? Whose ideas—and which ideas—will we take up, evaluate, and employ, and whose will we “simply” historicize, analyze, and problematize? Who gets to be a theorist, and who must only always be data?

Conference Recap: Nostra Aetate and the Future of Interreligious Dialogue

Today's guest post comes from Dan Hummel. Dan recently defended his dissertation on the history of Jewish-Evangelical relations and Christian Zionism. He graduates from University of Wisconsin-Madison this December. Congrats, Dan!

Dan Hummel

From October 11-13, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions hosted a conference on “Nostra Aetate and the Future of Interreligious Dialogue” in recognition of Vatican II’s fiftieth anniversary. The presenters were a mix of clergy, academics, and seminarians representing a diversity of religious and intellectual viewpoints. In addition to the expected reflections by Catholic and Jewish presenters, the conference included informative panels on Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu interpretations of Nostra Aetate.

Most RiAH readers are probably familiar with Nostra Aetate. The title (English: “In Our Time”) reveals the pressing need its writers felt to update the Catholic Church’s relationship “to non-Christian religions” during the Vatican II Council (1962-65). While the document’s primary thrust was to improve relations with the Jewish world, it addressed other religions as well. Indeed, as John Borelli (Georgetown University) argued in the opening plenary talk, the document’s writers were concerned about the Church’s relationship to a variety of religious traditions. Countering the notion that discussions outside of Judaism (essentially section four of Nostra Aetate) were added merely for political purposes, Borelli pointed to the key role of Louis Massignon and other scholars of Islam in lobbying for a more positive assessment by the council. Missionaries and bishops in India, among other non-Western representatives, also pressed the council to address their local interreligious situations.

While attendees certainly expressed appreciation for Nostra Aetate, panels did not uncritically celebrate the document. The director of the Lubar Institute, Charles Cohen (University of Wisconsin-Madison)*, summarized his and many others’ views when he described Nostra Aetate as both “transformative” and “showing its age.” Many of the panelists focused on these two aspects of Nostra Aetate: either recounting how such a transformative document emerged in the 1960s, or dwelling on its limits and possible improvements for the future. Especially in the first panel on Catholic perspectives, Jeannine Hill Fletcher (Fordham University) highlighted the built-in racial and cultural hierarchies of the document that limit its usefulness in the twenty-first century. Particularly troubling to many panelists and audience members was Nostra Aetate’s focus on religious traditions that were “bound up with an advanced culture.” What did this mean for the Church’s relationship to indigenous religions and “unadvanced” cultures and societies? Panelists used phrases like “sliding scales of culture” and “graded inclusivism” to attempt to understand the document’s assumptions. As Borelli observed, while Vatican II condemned racism and other forms of discrimination, it had only one foot in the post-colonial reality of the 1960s.

This Day in American History: The 1963 Chicago School Boycott

Monica C. Reed

It is well known that in the mid-1960s Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began working on the Chicago Freedom Movement. Members of organization wanted to expand their reach into Northern cities to combat the segregation and slum conditions that were ubiquitous above the Mason Dixon line. The history of racial tension and violence in Chicago along with the significant African American population and pervasive de facto segregation there made it an obvious place to start this expansion. What is often missed when we focus on the growth of the famous SCLC, though, is the influence of Chicago-based organizations that were active in the city in the years leading up to King’s move. The population and history of Chicago made it an clear choice, but so did the presence of many influential and respected African American leaders and civil rights organizations. One of those groups was the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO).

Although the CCCO is perhaps best known for partnering with the SCLC in 1965, it was active in Chicago politics in the years before. The group developed in the early 1960s and seems to have formed largely in response to the segregated school system and the policies of school superintendent, Benjamin Willis. Students in Chicago were assigned to neighborhood schools, and because Chicago neighborhoods were strictly segregated, so were public schools. Nearly a decade after the Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision deemed school segregation laws unconstitutional, housing segregation in Chicago meant that schools there were as segregated as ever. This became particularly problematic as the African American population of the city grew and the number of school aged children increased. By the early 1960s, the schools in black neighborhoods had became impossibly crowded and under resourced, and something had to be done. Eventually superintendent Willis was forced to find a solution to the overcrowding in these schools, but rather than allow African American children to attend white schools, Willis began setting up trailers in the parking lots of black schools to provide more space. These “Willis wagons” were the last straw for many Chicagoans and the CCCO began organizing against the superintendent and protesting school segregation.

An Interview with Suzanne Krebsbach

[This month's post is an interview with Suzanne Krebsbach, an independent scholar who traveled to the Notre Dame archives on a Cushwa Research Travel Grant last year. A note: this interview was scheduled to run just a couple of days after the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Since Suzanne's research is on Charleston -- and on race in Charleston, no less -- we decided to hold the interview back for a few months, out of respect. However, we also decided not to edit what had already been prepared in order to reflect more directly on recent events. This is another small piece of the broader context of race and religion in Charleston.]

Cushwa: What's your book about? Where did you find archival sources?

My work is  on black Catholics in Charleston SC.  This book is a longitudinal study of a community, held together in part by a common religious and ethnic history. French-speaking black Catholics arrived in Charleston in the 1790s as the Revolution in France echoed across French Caribbean, especially Saint-Domingue, later known as Haiti.  Emigres were black, mulatto,and white, free and enslaved, Francophone and Catholic; and their impact on the Protestant and English speaking community was profound.  Early records of the Charleston diocese, where they exist, dealt with John England, the charismatic first bishop who arrived in 1820.  He was followed by Ignatius Reynolds and the controversial Patrick N. Lynch who died in 1882. In the Notre Dame archives I looked at the bishops' correspondence with Propaganda de le Foi, the French charitable society founded in 1822 which regularly contributed funds to the impoverished South Carolina diocese.  In every annual report, the bishops painted glowing reports of missionary efforts to blacks, the numbers barely budging from year to year, however.

What the Map of Urban Religious Histories Shows Us


Earlier today Paul Putz wrote a post about an interactive bibliography that he and I created of books that study American religion in the context of cities. Paul explained our motivation for the project and how we created it. I'd like to offer a few observations about what I think we can learn from the map.

First, and utterly unsurprisingly, the map basically aligns with the urban population of the United States. So New York, Chicago and Boston, followed closely by New Orleans, Washington, Detroit, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are the most written about cities.

A Bibliography of Urban American Religious History

Paul Putz

Back when I thought my dissertation would focus on religion in Omaha, I took a keen interest in American religious history books that had been framed to fit within the context of a specific city. With books like Robert Orsi's Madonna of 115th Street, Wallace Best's Passionately Human, No Less Divine, Margaret Bendroth's Fundamentalists in the City, Mary Lethert Wingerd's Claiming the City, and Matthew Bowman's The Urban Pulpit in the back of my mind, earlier this year one of the digitial mapping projects from Lincoln Mullen inspired me to think about the possibility of combining mapping with bibliography. The idea was to make a map of city-based studies of religion so that someone could click on a location -- say, "Chicago" -- and up would pop a list of books dealing with religion in that city.

Unfortunately, my CartoDB mapping skills were simply not up to the task. Fortunately, though, Lincoln offered to use his digital wizardry to make the bibliographic map a reality. Thanks to Lincoln's efforts, I'm proud to announce that our little project is now ready for public use. The end result is even better and more robust than I had imagined: easy to navigate, searchable, clean, and crisp. Although the difficult work is done, now we need your help. Our initial set of data includes only about 170 books. If you have time, browse over to the map and help us make it more complete by letting us know what books we have missed.

A couple quick notes about the data. First, we included books that focused broadly on religion or a religious tradition within one city,  as well as books that more narrowly analyzed one particular religious group, church, temple, neighborhood, etc. within a city. The books did not have to (but some did) use the local study make a broad claim about "American religion." Second, we included only academic books: that is, books reviewed by academic journals, published by a university press, and/or written by a trained scholar. This means no books published by a hyper-local history press and also no dissertations or articles (not even those in American Congregations). Our reasoning was partly pragmatic -- there is only so much time in the day. But it also serves a larger purpose. We'd like to show where historians and scholars of U.S. religion have focused their book-length attention, and also where they have had their attention legitimized by one of the gatekeepers of academic production in the humanities -- the book publisher (usually a university press).

There are, of course, plenty of other geographic contexts from which scholars can conduct studies. Our map does not account for them. Still, we hope that it will be a useful resource for anyone interested in the study of U.S. religious history. Perhaps it can also help us think about why some cities loom larger than others in U.S. religious historiography and what the implications for this might be. So, too, it might serve as an interesting contrast with a general bibliography of U.S. religious history, allowing for reflection on what is gained and what is lost in a city-based glimpse at academically-produced U.S. religious history.

Anyway, without further ado: A Bibliography of Urban American Religious History

Remembering Emmett Till: On the Importance of Teaching White Supremacy

Karen Johnson

Americans tend to be optimistic and hopeful, not wanting to dwell on the ugly parts of the past, particularly in history textbooks designed to help young people become “good” citizens. As W.E.B. Du Bois put it in his 1935 Black Reconstruction, "One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over." Du Bois continued, "The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth."*

Most Americans learn their history from textbooks and Hollywood films. This question of how we as Americans talk about racial violence is a central one in my gen-ed class on the history of the civil rights movement this semester.To begin our study of the black freedom struggle, my students first explored how primary and secondary school textbooks portray the civil rights movement. Textbooks tend to present the civil rights movement as a natural step in America's progress toward increasing inclusion of racial minorities in American life, which is how, not surprisingly, most of my students thought of the movement. The textbooks, and my students, mostly ignored the problem of white supremacy.

When it comes to the issues of racial violence and white supremacy in American history, textbooks are sorely lacking.  Most portray acts of racial violence as aberrations that individuals commit, which stand apart from true American ideals (Brown and Brown, "Strange Fruit Indeed).When considering the murder of Emmett Till, then, a typical textbook would highlight the individual agency – or "badness" – of J. W. Milan and Roy Bryant.Emmett Till was a 14 year old boy from Chicago who was visiting family in Money, Mississippi in the summer of 1955. While there, Till challenged racial norms by flirting with a white woman, and, even more terribly in the eyes of his killers, boasting about his white girlfriend back North. Milan and Bryant beat and shot the young Till, tied the child's body to a cotton gin fan, and threw the body in the Tallahatchie River.

As teachers, we have a responsibility to be truth-tellers, and help our students see clearly the shape of white supremacy in America. A "bad men" version of racial violence that talks about Milam and Bryant as exceptional men does not tell the truth about the ways that other white people benefited by Till's murder, because it upheld a closed society the privileged whites economically, socially, politically, and religiously. Nor does it tell the truth about the ways other blacks continued to be oppressed. Students must come to see Till's murder not as an exception in U.S. history, committed by a couple of bad men, but as one manifestation of many of the way white supremacy functioned in America at mid-century. This point is essential. If we present white supremacy as an exception, and not as a fundamental part of American culture, we fail our students because we're telling them lies. This matters particularly when we are teaching white students who, because they benefit from whiteness, have a hard time seeing race in America today.

A Shakeup in the Guilds

Elesha Coffman

As I wrote back in January and April, the American Society of Church History is reevaluating its longstanding relationship with the American Historical Association. Because of administrative changes at the AHA, holding the ASCH annual meeting in conjunction with the AHA annual meeting has become more expensive and logistically challenging. The ASCH is in the process of surveying its members and other interested parties (watch this space!), and there will be an extraordinary business meeting in Atlanta in January to discuss future conferences. It's very important to those of us on the ASCH council to gather feedback and make careful, prudent decisions.

Meanwhile, our cousins at the American Academy of Religion are doing their own soul-searching as a result of the society's vice-presidential election. This year, both candidates for VP are Christian theologians, David Gushee at Mercer University and Kendall Soulen at Wesley Theological Seminary. Because the AAR VP goes on to become the president-elect and then the society's president, whoever wins this election will have a leadership role in the organization for the next few years.

Some AAR members have reacted strongly against this slate of VP candidates. Aaron W. Hughes of the University of Rochester boycotted the election and explained why in an open letter to AAR members. Michael J. Altman of the University of Alabama also refused to cast a vote, writing on his blog, "For members of the AAR who, like myself, do not do theological work, who do not engage in constructive work within a religious tradition, who approach religion as a social/historical/cultural/discursive construction, and who work within state universities, there is no representative candidate. I am not a theologian."

Because one of the options for ASCH would be to meet in conjunction with AAR instead of AHA, I'm watching this saga with a fair amount of interest. I have to say, AAR's looking pretty inhospitable right now.

My Dog Ate My Soul

Laura Arnold Leibman

Recently I adopted two pugs "for my children."  Although I used to work with animals before going into academia, I had never been a huge dog person.  (My childhood dog was a bit of a nightmare--a Pit bull mix best known for terrorizing my friends and biting of the heads of my dolls.)  The pugs, however, have taught me there is much to be said on behalf of dogs.  For one, dogs are much more loyal than cats.  While Dr. Know scorns dog owners as crypto-Republicans who "love the top-down, hierarchical thrill of underlings who know their place and think their boss is a god," there is something endearing about having at least two beings in my house that listen to what I have to say with rapt attention ("The Feline Exemption").  Moreover when I was home sick last week, I realized not only was the dog happier because it was near me, I was actually happier it was nearby, too.  With the dog nestled beside me on the couch, I felt that weird euphoria of first love, albeit potentially enhanced by cold medicine.  The pugs even populate my dreams.  One one level this makes sense:  after all, the dogs like to sleep on my pillows and--being pugs--they snore loudly.  Why wouldn't they enter my subconscious? Yet, I also had the nagging feeling for the first time I viscerally understood a kabbalistic edict that had long puzzled me, namely the Lubavitcher Rebbe's prohibition against socializing with non-kosher animals.  My dogs had eaten my soul, or more accurately become affixed to it.  Let me explain what I mean.

"Your child will remember the discussions
of water buffalo in Shulchan Aruch (YD 28:4).
Some say buffaloes are the “meri” of II Samuel 6:13
and I Kings 1:9,19 or the “t’oh” Deuteronomy 14:5
or even the “re’em” of Numbers 23:22, 24:8,
Deuteronomy 33:17 and Job 39:9-12"
Anyone who has spent any length of time with Lubavitch families will have noticed the dearth of toys representing non-kosher animals.  Tiny versions of Noah's ark are populated only by kosher beasts, teddy bears are taboo, and even baby clothes only feature kosher friends.  This is because, as I noted in my previous post on religion and toys, in the early 1980s the Lubavitcher Rebbe requested that his followers not cavort with non-kosher animals or even have representations of non-kosher animals in their homes (Slifkin 36).  Although the Rebbe's supporters follow this edict to varying degrees, at least one women I know who grew up Lubavitch had very visceral memories of the childhood day shortly after the Rebbe's decree when "all the teddy bears went away."  Other people spoke of how they stopped having family pets.  As someone who used to work in animal health care, I always found this edict to be puzzling and sad.  Pets seem to lift our spirits--indeed, some studies have shown that petting dogs releases endorphins and other "feel good" chemicals in our brains (Masters).  Dogs and cats are often used as therapy animals because they can decrease depression and increase human sociability. Moreover, even if one believed "impure" (non-kosher) animals were harmful, why forbid representation of non-kosher animals? At best, this seems to the secular mind (or someone who teaches the Republic each year) like a strangely Platonic distrust of mimesis.  What spiritual harm could animals and their images bring?

CFP: Tri-History Conference

J. Michael Utzinger

The 2016 Tri-History Conference will take place in Oneida (Green Bay), Wisconsin, June 14-17, 2016. The title for the conference is “Wondering, Witness, Worship, and War: Historical Encounters between the Episcopal and Anglican Church and Indigenous Peoples in North America.”  The Tri-History Conference is sponsored by the Episcopal Women’s History Project (EWHP), the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (HSEC), and National Episcopal Historians and Archivists (NEHA).

We invite papers, panels, presentations and workshops to explore the history of the relationship of the Episcopal and Anglican Church and Indigenous Peoples in North America. The Episcopal and Anglican Church has been present among Indigenous Peoples in North America for centuries in a complicated history that has hardly been perfect. In recent decades it has extended significant resources to illuminating historical relationships and dealing with generational impact of its actions.

Topics might include Episcopal and Anglican Church relationships with the Arapaho, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Crow, Inuit, Lakotah, Monacan, Navajo, Ojibwe, Oneida, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, Rosebud Sioux, Seminole, or Ute, just to name a few. Workshops of interest to those who engage in archival activities and historical scholarship might include such topics as historical research methods, archival procedures, or conducting oral histories. Presentations on topics such as the church’s involvement with and repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, or actions of significant Episcopalians, such as Bishop Whipple of Minnesota (who in 1862 appealed to Abraham Lincoln and saved the lives of 265 Dakota people scheduled to be hanged) or Chief Daniel Bread (who played a key role in establishing the Oneida presence in Wisconsin after their removal from New York, taking his cause to Washington and confronting President Andrew Jackson) would be welcome.

Please email abstracts of approximately 300 words for 20-minute papers along with a brief biography by December 1, 2015 to Dr. Pamela Cochran at pdh3q@virginia.edu. Abstracts should include author’s name, institutional affiliation if any, and paper title, panel proposal or workshop proposal. Use of multi-media is encouraged. Submission of a proposal constitutes a commitment to attend the conference if accepted. It is expected papers and presentations will be published by an appropriate sponsoring organization (publication or website), however authors may opt to not have materials published. All proposals will be acknowledged, and presenters will be notified by the end of January 2016.

The Tri-History Conference will be held in Oneida (Green Bay), Wisconsin from Tuesday evening, June 14 through Friday morning, June 17, 2016. The Annual Meeting and Banquet of the Historical Society will be held immediately prior to the conference on Monday, June 13 through Tuesday, June 14. For additional information, contact Planning Committee Facilitator, Matthew Payne at (920) 279-6267.

The Tri-History Conference is sponsored by the Episcopal Women’s History Project (EWHP), the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (HSEC), and National Episcopal Historians and Archivists (NEHA).


National Museum of American Religion

Paul Harvey

A couple of years ago, I was asked to serve on the Advisory Board of the National Museum of American Religion, currently in its early planning stages. The Advisory Board includes a wide variety of people from diverse spectrums of interest in this topic (as well as scholarly and political work), everyone from Marie Griffith, Eddie Glaude, Robert George, and J. Spencer Fluhman to Krista Tippett, Marilyn Mellowes, and Josh Perelman.

The Museum is currently in early planning and "feasibility" stages, and I thought some of you might be interested in learning about this project. (Some of you for sure will be interested in critiquing its "story of American religion" emphasis!).

If you are at all interested in this, go here to learn more about the current crowdfunding project designed to raise some funds for the Master Interpretive Plan.

Here is a description, for your interest (and you may find a more detailed plan as it stands now here). Please share with anyone you would think would be interested.

The National Museum of American Religion (NMAR), a certified 501(c)3 non-profit organization, will tell the story of religion in America through the lens of religious liberty. It will invite Americans and all visitors to explore the role of religion in shaping the social, political, economic and cultural lives of Americans and thus America itself. The museum’s presence in Washington D.C. will highlight the centrality of personal and organized religion to America’s history and contemporary life, and the museum’s vibrant exhibits will explore the impact of individuals and movements whose beliefs and values have contributed to the unique legacy of our nation.
The first step in building this museum is a master interpretive plan,  which will establish the framework and road map for the entire project, and is the most critical step in the museum planning and design process. NMAR has partnered with Gallagher and Associates (G&A), one of the top museum design companies in the world, to complete this task. Among G&A's notable designs are the LBJ Presidential Library, the National World War II Museum, and Sant Ocean Hall located in the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. NMAR is thrilled that G&A has agreed to bring its expertise and innovative designs to our museum.

No Jim Crow Church

Paul Harvey

I wanted briefly to call your attention to this new, and pretty darn cool, book that might fly under your radar: Louis Venters, No Jim Crow Church: The Origins of South Carolina's Bahá’í Community, just out with the University Press of Florida.

Here's a brief description from the book's website, just to plagiarize an easy summary of it:
In No Jim Crow Church, Louis Venters recounts the unlikely emergence of a cohesive interracial fellowship in South Carolina, tracing the history of the community from the end of the nineteenth century through the civil rights era. By joining the Bahá’í Faith, blacks and whites not only defied Jim Crow but also rejected their society’s religious and social restrictions.

The religion, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind, arrived in the United States from the Middle East via northern urban areas. As early as 1910, Bahá’í teachers began settling in South Carolina, where the Bahá’í Faith is currently the largest religious minority. Venters presents an organizational, social, and intellectual history of South Carolina’s early Bahá’í movement and relates developments within the community to changes in society at large, with particular attention to race relations and the civil rights struggle. He argues that the state’s Bahá’ís represent a significant, sustained, spiritually based challenge to the ideology and structures of white male Protestant supremacy. His research provides a fascinating study of an unlikely movement’s rise to prominence and the role of the South Carolina Bahá’í community in the cultural and structural evolution of a new world religion.

This is a pretty amazing story, given that the Bahá’í  faith represents pretty much everything that ran contrary to the mores of the Jim Crow South. Its universalism, its emphasis on peace and justice, its roots in nineteenth-century Persia, its challenge to the Christo-centrism of Protestantism, is emphasis on the unity of all of the world’s peoples – could there be a more challenging faith to profess in the Jim Crow South? And yet, a handful of people did. One of them, by the way, was the great jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, a native of the state. 

Despite southern religious history being (cough, cough) my field of study, I knew almost nothing at all about this prior to reading this book first as a manuscript about 3 years ago. There are many fascinating sidelights to the manuscript. One caught my attention: the ability of a small community of Bahá’ís in the 1950s to get one city’s permission to hold integrated gatherings, with the city more or less acknowledging that they had the rights of freedom of religion to do so. That’s something you didn’t see every day in the 1950s South!

The writing throughout is strong, impeccably scholarly, and incredibly well researched. The author's extensive footnotes are fun to peruse. He has dug through all manner of materials relating not only to the Bahá’ís but also more generally to southern and American religious history. 

Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South--- Conversation at the Journal of Southern Religion

Janine Giordano Drake

A few months ago, I did a post, "Which Came First? Postwar Evangelicalism or the Religious Right?" on teaching/ sorting through the scholarship regarding anti-labor politics following the Second World War.

I emphasized the recent publication of Ken and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf's book, Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South, a wonderful new book on the Congress of Industrial Organizations' post World War II initiative to organize white workers in the South. The Fones-Wolfs begin with the conclusion that the campaign failed. It failed to stop anti-union business people from convincing large numbers of evangelicals to support open-shop campaigns. It failed to create a dominant culture of union-support in the South. But, they query why this is. After all, in the 1930s, there were large numbers of FDR supporters in the South, many of whom were encouraged by his support for legislation which supported working people. Their book explores how and why the CIO failed to transform the growing evangelical lobbies like the National Association of Evangelicals.

About a month ago, the open-access Journal of Southern Religion posted their newest issue, which includes (among a number of terrific forums and articles) a forum on the Fones-Wolfs' newest book, with the authors' gracious response. I encourage everyone interested in the overlap of evangelicalism and anti-labor policies to read the critical reviews, and the book, in their entirety. Alison Collis Greene and Heath Carter each point out the ways that the book advances reserach on working class Christianity, particularly in the South.

The authors offer a very gracious response to the reviews as well. Here is one small excerpt:
"Why, then, did we focus on southern white Protestants? Rightly or wrongly, much of the labor history scholarship suggests that African-American workers, whether religious or not, were more than willing to join unions... The failure of Operation Dixie, historians have asserted, resulted from the flawed decision to target white workers and the inability to organize them in the face of race-baiting and red-baiting. We wondered, to what extent did faith strengthen or weaken these factors? In addition, we operated from the assumption that if the CIO were to achieve its primary goals of building union density and political influence in the South it would have to win the loyalties of southern whites. That did not mean that CIO organizers ignored the concerns of black workers, although some did. Still, Operation Dixie’s organizers who had strong religious backgrounds or connections worked hard to include African Americans. We can only imagine how much more the Civil Rights Movement might have achieved if the CIO had been successful."
Once again, I think we are all missing out if we don't read Fones-Wolfs's newest book alongside the other new research on the rise of postwar evangelicalism (by authors such as Darren Dochuk, Bethany Moreton, Kevin Kruse, and Matthew Avery Sutton). The Fones-Wolfs take seriously the tenet we all theoretically agree upon--that race and class matter to the study of religion. While they naturalize evangelicalism to the South, they do not see the development of an evangelicalism that embraced the Religious Right as an inevitability, for they can see a white working class with different perspectives on work, class, and wealth than their wealthier counterparts. The Fones-Wolfs do an excellent job accessing the unique histories of working class whites in the South. This work is hard to do, but it is essential to really undersatnding religion and politics, especially in the twentieth century.

Elvis' Chi and the Metaphysics of Martial Arts

Adam Park

You might not know it to look at him, but Elvis had tremendous chi. And if you don't believe me, then just look at how big his karate belt was. The fact that Elvis possessed such potent inner force and the power to waylay any grown man is little known. But, some say that his musical gifts were paralleled only by his prodigious abilities as a metaphysical teacher/martial artist. Or at least, I said that. Just now. Nevertheless, historiographically, what this amounts to is that Elvis' attraction to the esoteric secrets of karate was but a small part of a larger resurgence of Asian martial arts in America; and this resurgence was tied to a bourgeoning American interest in spiritual "alternatives" and the New Age. Pedagogically, what this amounts to is that we have some great images (and at least one documentary) of Elvis doing some interesting body "energy" experiments for the enlightenment/amusement of our American religious history classes. Yes, he even led meditations.

First, the martial arts. Elvis loved his eye gouges and groin strikes, and was quite proficient in disarming faux gunmen. He began cultivating these lethal skills in 1958 shortly after he was drafted into the Army. Evidently a quick study, Elvis obtained a black belt in less than two years. Over the next fifteen years he went on to train with such martial arts luminaries as Ed Parker - the father of American Kenpo - and Bill "Superfoot" Wallace - the undefeated Professional Karate Association Middleweight Champion. In 1973 and '74 Elvis' passion for martial arts eventually led him to star in (and fund) a documentary on the subject, The Gladiators Project. In the words of the narrator, "Elvis wanted to promote the martial arts and show the world how great it was. It was good for the whole family."

Elvis' interest in martial arts was representative by the mid-70s. In the years preceding, the Amateur Athletic Union recognized judo, karate, and taekwondo as official sports. A host of tournaments, clubs, associations, federations, and dojos were established across the country. Bruce Lee took the popularity of "kung fu" films to new heights, and David Carradine's Kung Fu won an Emmy. Americans sought to learn more and deadly secrets from the East.

Reforming Sodom: Prostestants and the Rise of Gay Rights an Interview with Heather Rachelle White

Samira K. Mehta
Heather Rachelle White. Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights. (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 2015)

SKM: I realize that I may be asking you to give away the farm here, but how is Christian sodomy different from sodomy?

HRW: Michel Foucault famously calls sodomy a “confused category,” and the research conducted by scholars of sexuality shows that it was even more confused a category that Foucault himself addressed. We could say that sodomy and Christian sodomy are the same thing. Sodomy is from its inception a Christian term--it was a medieval neologism, as Mark Jordan’s work shows, that was coined in reference to the biblical account of Genesis 19, in which God destroys the inhabitants of Sodom because of their wickedness. But the theological term innovated upon the biblical record, which already gave different answers about the nature of Sodom’s wickedness. While I was working on the book, I taught a course on the history of Christian Sodomy as an effort to trace out the changing meanings, and it was interesting to see how much of that history addressed something other than what we would today call “sexuality,” much less “homosexuality.” Sodomy has a long and muddled history as a catch-all invective against people and behaviors seen to embody anti-Christian perversity. That includes some forms of same-sex sexual behavior, but I’d say that there would be more continuity attached to a label like “deviant bestial appetites.”

I’d also add that the legal history of sodomy is also very interesting. Laws against sodomy, such as those that used to be enforced in the United States (until struck down in Lawrence v. Texas), did not have specifically homosexual meanings until the mid-20th century.

SKM: So sodomy is different from homosexuality. But how do you trace that relationship?

The MCC's Troy Perry at LA's 1st Pride Parade
HRW: One of the key arguments of the book is that twentieth century Christian sexual traditions and biblical meanings--like the legal applications of sodomy laws--were shaped by modern medicine. And because of that medical influence, we--meaning most present-day Americans, including people who are not Christian--misperceive the relationship between homosexuality and sodomy. What we think, many of us, is that sodomy is the earlier behavioral analogue (ie, same-sex acts) to the more recent medical and identity categories (ie, of same-sex sexual orientation or gay identity). But I show that Christians since the 1950s, roughly speaking, have interpreted their past prohibitions and the meanings of biblical texts through a medical lens that retroactively reconfigured sodomy. When you go back and trace out the change in late 19th and early 20th century biblical interpretation, you see something different than a shift from prohibition against behavior to discussion of a medical condition. Sodomy and the various biblical texts that are today associated with homosexuality actually had different common sense meanings. This is really interesting because we think of Christian traditions--and especially the bible--as the source for the medicalized category of homosexuality. But the remembered tradition and the seemingly stable bible meanings don’t match up with the preoccupations of even the relatively recent Christian past.

Sympathetic Puritans?

Jonathan Den Hartog

Although early in October, all of the activities of the semester have arrived in full force--including the several stacks of papers waiting to be graded.

With that in mind, let me continue this fall's reflection on Puritan studies with at least a short review of Abram Van Engen's Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (Oxford, 2015).

Scholars of American religion have long known that New England's Puritans were lively, emotional people--one need only read Edmund Morgan or Charles Cohen to be assured of that. Yet, the general impression in the public mind remains that the Puritans were cold, unfeeling, ready to paste a "Scarlet Letter" on miscreants. Surviving portraits too often make them look overly-starched.

So, Van Engen's book is first a reminder of the depth of Puritan feeling. Even more than that, it serves as a close study of the concept of sympathy in Puritan culture, with a special focus on seventeenth-century Massachusetts Bay.

Van Engen describes the multiple roles sympathy could play. It served simultaneously as a duty to have compassion for and identification with fellow saints and as a sign by which Puritans could gain some assurance of salvation (if that sympathy was present). Further, it served a political purpose by indicating who was--and was not--inside the community. In a final step, Van Engen suggests that such sympathy itself helped to consolidate Puritanism as a movement. It energized the loop whereby piety called for a society that could sustain and promote piety.

Sympathy, motivated by love and identification with others, thus helped to constitute Puritan community. Or, as Van Engen puts it succinctly: "The godly needed each other for grace." (14)

As I was reading this description, my thoughts quickly went to John Winthrop's "Modell of Christian Charity." In particular, Winthrop has several moving passages about community commitment. In one, he riffs on the Latin phrase "simile simili gaudet"--like draws onto like. In another, he quotes the ancient historian Aeneas Sylvius about love in the Ancient Church. I was not disappointed--several pages later Van Engen provided a close reading of Winthrop's lay sermon. Winthrop thus really did embody the sanctified affections demanded by Puritanism.

"Expert Religion" and Hurd's Beyond Religious Freedom

This is the first of three posts in a series reviewing Elizabeth Shakman Hurd's new book, Beyond Religious Freedom. In the following weeks, look for posts by Cara Burnidge and Lauren Turek.

Michael Graziano

I was reading Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s new book Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion (Princeton, 2015) during Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, and in the ensuing media circus that began once the world learned he met with Kim Davis. I thought it made for an interesting parallel given Hurd’s focus on religious freedom. In the book, Hurd tracks how international efforts to secure “religious freedom” have regulated some forms of religion and transformed others. The Francis-Davis meeting is a good entry into Hurd’s book, because it exists at what she calls the “exclusionary edges” of religious freedom (110). Francis’s reported encouragement to Davis ("stay strong") was understood variously as support for or opposition to religious freedom. Yet the Francis-Davis meeting, like Hurd’s new book, suggests that the international focus on religious freedom is more complicated than a simple binary of religious freedom/religious oppression would suggest.

An Unlikely Bestseller: The Dutch Catechism in 1960s America


Peter Cajka 

De Nieuwe Katechismus (A New Catechism) hit Dutch bookstores on March 1, 1966. The catechism sold well in its nation of origin. According to one report, Dutch Catholics, a population numbering approximately 5 million,  purchased 400,000 copies. The authors of the catechism, the Hierarchy of the Netherlands and the Higher Catechetical Institute of Nijmegen, had found an audience.  Noting this success, American Catholic publishers recognized the book’s potential in the United States. If the Dutch were hungry for a new catechism perhaps American Catholics had developed similar cravings. Herder and Herder – an important American Catholic press founded in the early 19th century – secured a translator, the imprimatur of Bishop Robert Joyce, and ran off 75,000 copies.

 Though an unlikely bestseller, the Dutch catechism had the makings of an appealing text. Its authors, working in an old genre, gave this iteration a new form, a direct purpose, and fresh materials. Unlike the

What Can You Do with Denominational History?


Lincoln Mullen

I recently read Thomas Kidd and Barry Hankins's Baptists in America: A History (2015). I must have liked it, since my father, for many years a Baptist pastor, says that I've tried to send him copies more than once. This book deserves a proper review, perhaps paired with David Bebbington's Baptists Through the Centuries: A History of a Global People (2010). But for today I want to use the book to think through what a denominational history can accomplish. Here are a few thoughts about the particular set of things the book is able to accomplish because it is a denominational history.

  1. A denominational history can cross the color line.

This book is not filled with "Baptists" and "black Baptists," where unmarked Baptists can be assumed to be white. Rather, Kidd and Hankins are careful to write "white Baptists" when they mean white Baptists, and write "black Baptists" when they mean black Baptists. A denominational history is of course far from the only way to discuss race in the context of religious history. Yet we can contrast the effects of the decision to focus on Baptists with the decision to focus on, say, evangelicalism. Recent histories of evangelicalism or fundamentalism tend to take white Christians as their subjects, whether or not there are good reasons to question that demarcation, acknowledge the color line, and leave it at that. If race is the single most-important category in U.S. history (and it is), then our histories of U.S. religion ought to be able to discuss race at least as well as this denominational history.

  1. A denominational history can describe denominational distinctives.

Baptist distinctives from this church website.

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