Free Associate with Me

Matthew J. Cressler

I currently have the pleasure to be teaching African American religious history for the first time and, as I do with most of my classes, I began the semester with an exercise in free association. Since my objective is always to press my students to think critically - with specificity, sophistication, self-reflection - about "religion," the exercise serves at least two purposes. It makes all of us in the classroom aware of the working conceptions and definitions of religion (and religions and religious) we carry with us, though most of the time we don't stop to name them. But it also - and this is what is the most fun for me as a scholar-teacher - provides a preliminary map of some of the most popular and pervasive images and ideas about a particular topic.

What first comes to mind when you hear "African American religion"? The map my students made included "awesome choirs," Baptist, T.D. Jakes, "instrument of liberation," music, Christianity, and Martin Luther King. As you can see, the words that sprang to mind tended to have one thing in common: they were, in varying degrees, associated with "the Black Church." (Though, I'm happy to note that Nation of Islam and "voodoo" did make the list.)

I'm sure this revelation surprises few, if any, of you - those words may be akin to what first came to your mind, or, they may be what you would have expected to hear from most students. They certainly corresponded with the results of a quick Google search (because yes, of course I Googled "African American religion"). My students and I catalogued the images Google produced for this search and quickly noticed the preponderance of Christian churches, choirs in exuberant son, preachers exhorting crowds, and bodies (especially women's bodies) in motion. Wikipedia ostensibly has two entries on "African American religion." The entry on "Afro-American religion" will introduce readers to a chart of African diasporic religious traditions in Latin America, the Caribbean, and New Orleans. If you want to learn about the religious life of African-descended peoples in the United States (beyond New Orleans), you'll have to see "Religion in Black America" instead. There, aside from one use of the word "Catholic" and an odd sentence noting how the Nation of Islam eventually "added a Muslim factor," what you will find is a history of Black evangelical Christianity.

American Religious Change and Caring for the Dead

John L. Crow

Burial and caring for the dead has been traditionally something associated with religion. When we teach our introduction or defining religion classes, we frequently discuss what might be called religious behavior of prehistoric peoples. We point to the ways they buried their dead, including objects, arranging the body, and placing materials, like ochre, on and around the bodies. In some cultures, whole religions are associated with death and caring for the dead, such as Buddhism in Japan. In the United States, burial practices have often been influenced by prevailing religious attitudes. For instance, how one behaved in life influences if one can be buried in hallowed ground. In the South, it was not until after the Civil War that the undertaker became professionalized as a mortician who offered the services of embalming, shifting care of the body from a religious concern to a medicalized one. Yet, many Southerners were concerned about the effect of embalming on bodies when they were to be resurrected. As Charles Wilson writes, “The undertaker had trouble convincing many tradition-bound southerners to allow this tampering with the earthly remains of the temple of God.”

Baron Joseph Henry
Louis Charles De Palm
During this this period, cremation was also introduced to America by the Theosophical Society. The first cremation in America was in Washington, Pennsylvania. Henry Steel Olcott, of the Theosophical Society, organized the cremation of Baron Joseph Henry Louis Charles De Palm on December 6, 1876. While Olcott’s motivation was a result of his orientalism, the sudden explosion of cremation after De Palm was led by other concerns including sanitation. Yet, there was much concern about whether cremation was compatible with Christianity. Stephen Prothero notes in Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America (2002) that despite many of the first participants in cremation coming from alternative religions, the vast majority were Christian and the debate about the suitability of cremation versus burial was an intra-Christian one (80-81).

Cremation, though, has become more and more popular over the last fifty years. According to the Huffington Post, in 2012, cremation was how 43.5% of all bodies were handled, up 1118.5% from 1958 in which only 3.6% of American bodies were cremated. But this trend intersects with another, the decline in participation with organized religion, and the increase of the spiritual but not religious (SBNR). What do the SBNR do with their bodies after death? It turns out there have been many responses, but most deal with remembering the person while forgetting the body.

Corpses are becoming less and less of an issue for people to be concerned with when a loved one dies. Upon death, the body is quickly taken away by morticians and funeral home staff. More and more, memorials are taking the place of funerals and viewings, meaning that once the body is in the possession of funeral home professionals, loved ones may never see the body again. Instead later they might just see a closed casket lowered into the ground or a box or urn containing ashes. Candi K. Cann notes that this dislocation of the body results in people looking for other means to remember the lost loved one as ways to deal with their grief. In Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-first century (2014), Cann writes, “Whether it is a memorial located at the place the body was last intact before its death, such as roadside memorials and the Sandy Hook Elementary memorial, or it is a memorial service held with cremated remains and no corpse, bodiless memorials are clearly indicative of the trend towards memorialization without bodies” (17).

5 Questions for Brett Hendrickson on Curanderismo, Border Medicine & New Mexico Chile

Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh

For many Latinos/as, curanderismo is part of a healing regimen that we identify with older women in our lives taking care of us. At least that is how I learned about curanderismo, and that my great-grandma Maria rolled her own cigarettes and drank a shot of tequila every day for her health--what a great-grandma she was!  Today's interview with Brett Hendrickson discusses his fantastic new book Border Medicine.  For my colleagues looking for material to teach Latino/a religion, borderlands religion--and to turn the tide away from looking South and East for sources of American Religion--I highly recommend Brett's book.

Brett is an assistant professor of religious studies at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he studies and teaches on religion in the Americas, Mexican American religion, metaphysical religion, and cross-cultural religious change. He is especially interested in curanderismo, Latino popular religious devotions, and religion and healing.
He has lived in a variety of places including Arkansas (where he grew up), New York City, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Kentucky, Illinois, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. In some of these places, he served congregations in his other role as an ordained Presbyterian minister. Brett and his wife, the Rev. Alex Hendrickson have three lovely children and live in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Five Questions for Brett Hendrickson

1) Your book makes a case, if I can simplify that curanderismo is not just for Mexicanos? Tell me about that idea

Yeah, one of the arguments of the book is that curanderismo, to greater and lesser extents, has been an important folk and religious healing tradition in the United States for Anglos as well as for Mexican Americans. The subtitle is "A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo," and by this, I really want to emphasize that, although this healing tradition developed in a very unique set of cultural and ethnic circumstances, the realities of colonialism and U.S. expansion have meant that contact and exchange has taken place for a long time between whites and Mexican Americans. The various chapters document this historically from the turn of the last century up through today. I talk about white ranching families that went to the local curandero for healing in the early part of the twentieth century, and I also talk about white New Agers who are looking for new "spiritual" healing experiences with curanderas in Albuquerque. Of course, the book also covers how Mexican and Mexican American healers have reformulated curanderismo over time to respond to these incursions as well as to other changing realities in the U.S. - Mexico border region and beyond.

With that said, the book is definitely not prescriptive. I have no interest in promoting these kinds of cultural exchanges. However, it is important to understand the power dynamics, exploitations, problems, and occasional redemption stories that occur in instances of colonialism.

Review of Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice

Lauren Turek

Today I have the great pleasure of reviewing Brantley W. Gasaway’s recent monograph, Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice (University of North Carolina Press, October 2014). In this book, Gasaway traces the contours of the progressive evangelical movement from its emergence in the early 1970s through the present day. He details the pressing social concerns that spurred leaders such as Jim Wallis and Ron Sider to call like-minded evangelicals to greater political involvement, explains how these leaders’ views on hot button issues such as gay marriage and the war on poverty evolved over time, and explores how the movement endured despite tensions with the religious right as well as the secular left.

Gasaway locates the roots of the progressive evangelical movement in two journals, The Other Side (which was founded in 1965 as Freedom Now) and the Post-American (which was founded in 1971 and became Sojourners in 1975), both of which championed progressive political causes such as civil rights and economic justice. He argues that these journals provided a testing ground for leaders to develop their ideas as well as an intellectual community where individual Christians could come together to form a nascent progressive evangelical network. As he notes, “in the pages of these pioneering magazines, leaders presented theological and pragmatic arguments to persuade evangelicals that progressive social action represented a duty rather than a diversion. Their development of an evangelical theology for public engagement represented an important step, for contributors to these journals constructed a middle ground between what they deemed two unacceptable alternatives: most evangelicals’ preoccupation with individual religious conversions and apolitical separatism, and the Social Gospel emphasis on societal transformation and justice that continued as a force within liberal Protestantism.” (40).

Whither "Evangelicalism"? Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Randall Balmer's "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory"

Brantley Gasaway

At the Winter Meeting of the American Society of Church History earlier this month, I was honored to be part of a panel that celebrated and reflected upon the significance of Randall Balmer's classic study of "popular evangelicalism": Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture. First published in 1989, the book received periodic updates and expansions in subsequent editions, with the fifth one appearing last year. 

Ed Blum moderated this panel, which also included Anthony Petro, Dan Vaca, and Mary Beth Mathews. They each presented insightful papers that addressed a range of historiographical and methodological issues. Prof. Balmer offered engaging responses and remarks, and we then enjoyed a fruitful discussion with the audience. 

In my limited time, I chose to focus on Balmer's effort to define and to describe "evangelicalism." Below, I reproduce most of my remarks, including several asides as part of the oral presentation. Feel free to add your own comments or reflections, either regarding the book as a whole or regarding its analysis of "the evangelical subculture."
As a preface to my reflections on this “book about popular evangelicalism,” I want share my testimony and describe how I came to have a personal relationship with Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. I first encountered this book in 2002 as I began my graduate studies in American religious history with inchoate plans to conduct research on contemporary evangelicalism. Like many appreciative readers, I admired Prof. Balmer’s prose, perceptive analyses, and nuanced portraits of evangelicals. But in addition, the book captivated me because many of its autobiographical elements—descriptions of Balmer’s religious background within and professional journey beyond the evangelical subculture—seemed similar to my own personal and professional path. I was also reared in a fundamentalist household, albeit in North Carolina rather than the Midwest. Like Balmer, I was taught to believe that Catholics were not really Christians. [I’m sorry to say that we did not have a high view of Episcopalians, either.] I too annually attended church youth camps, and Balmer’s moving chapter on Word of Life Island brought back a flood of memories. Not only did I experience those “perennial, elusive quest[s] for summer romance,” but I also participated in ritualized re-dedications of my life to Jesus as I stood in front of the camps' climatic campfires. In short, I was a fellow “product of the evangelical subculture.” As a result, I appreciated how Balmer admitted in the prologue that he wrote the book in part “to come to terms with what it meant to grow up fundamentalist, and to sort out the many ways that the evangelical subculture had shaped [him] and continues to define who [he is].” I know what that process is like. [1]

But—rest reassured—my topic this morning is not the therapeutic benefits of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory for former fundamentalists. Rather, I want to express appreciation for—and then ask critical questions about—how the book addressed a recurring debate for those of us who study and teach about evangelicals: how do we know who exactly are “evangelicals,” and how should we define and describe “evangelicalism”? [I should note that this topic has been raised at two other sessions that I have attended here this weekend.]

New Issue of the Journal of Africana Religions

Emily Suzanne Clark

The Journal of Africana Religions recently released the first issue of its third volume, and it's a special issue: The Meaning of Malcolm X for Africana Religions: Fifty Years On. Released on the fiftieth year anniversary of his death, the articles in this issue examine the historical and the contemporary, and the national and the international importance of Malcolm X. As Sylvester Johnson and Edward E. Curtis IV put it in the special issue's editors' note, Malcolm "stood at the symbolic center of global Africana debates about diasporic consciousness, political liberation, strategies for Black empowerment, and Black religious identity." According to Johnson and Curtis, the contributions' insights into Malcolm's international identity "shed new light on Malcolm X's political and religious philosophies, practices, and alliances." They also note that this Malcolm will strike readers differently than the more familiar one in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This important contribution builds on some of the conclusions of Manning Marable in Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (a book I reviewed here at RiAH shortly after its publication).

I haven't had the opportunity to read all of the issue yet, but I certainly plan to do so. Thus far, the article that has jumped out at me most is Juan Floyd-Thomas's contribution "Gaining One's Definition: The (De)Christianization of Malcolm X's Life and Legacy." Floyd-Thomas considers the "cognitive dissonance surrounding Malcolm X in the collective consciousness" of a predominantly Christian nation. Malcolm is malleable, and one way he has been remembered is as a "Christianized Icon." Floyd-Thomas concludes that Christocentric readings of Malcolm and his life are largely due "to an almost dogged determination to ignore the function of his evolving religious beliefs and self-identification in favor of discussing how anomalous or exceptional he was in his beliefs." This article might be a late add-on to my African American Religions class this spring. Floyd-Thomas's work to dechristianize Malcolm is helpful for conversations about Malcolm but also for thinking about how religion works in American culture: why has Malcolm been memorialized this way and how did that process work? I should also note that Floyd-Thomas's work is accessible for undergraduates. My African American Religions class already reads his article "A Jihad of Words: The Evolution of African American Islam and Contemporary Hip Hop" from Anthony Pinn's Noise and Spirit.

My students in both my Religions in America class and my African American Religions class are always fascinated with Malcolm X. He's an iconic figure of the American twentieth century made all the more relevant by recent events. They listen to his voice with inquisitive, thoughtful expressions and note the differences between his speeches and writings pre-hajj and post-hajj. Many of them share how they had imagined Malcolm X and MLK to be on two opposite sides of the civil rights spectrum, one violent and one peaceful. However, they leave class realizing that Malcolm X was a much more complicated person than they thought. Class conversations like those that make me want to design a whole class on Malcolm or a class on Malcolm and MLK like Jonathan Walton has in the past.

Public Education in American Religious History

Charles McCrary

At the meeting of the American Society for Church History earlier this month, I participated in a panel titled “Religion in Public Schools: Church History, Law, Education, and Ethics.” The panel, which was organized by Candy Gunther Brown, built on and extended some ongoing conversations, and it was designed to encourage the study of education in American religious history and to help to set an agenda for future study. In this post, I will give a brief synopsis of the panel session, followed by some broader observations and prescriptions for the developing subfield of the historical study of religion and American education.

Mark Chancey discussed his ongoing research into the Bible in twentieth-century public school curricula, from the invention of academic Bible courses in the early twentieth century as part of the project of “religious education” to self-consciously secular post-Schempp courses (e.g., “the Bible as/in literature”) to the recent revival of academic Bible courses by companies like the Bible Literacy Project. Leslie Ribovich shared some of her early dissertation research on moral education in New York City Public Schools in the 1950s and 1960s. Educators tried to instill “nonsectarian” morals and root out delinquency as they constructed narratives of progress (evidenced by “unity”) and decline (evidenced by “tension.”) As these programs targeted student populations apparently given to tension and lacking in “civility” and “brotherhood,” the narratives and understandings of delinquency often were racialized.

I talked about what is often called the first American public school law, the Massachusetts School Act of 1647 (often known as the “Old Deluder” law) and its colonialist setting. The Act required towns to use tax revenue to set up school buildings to ensure that children were catechized and taught to read, since it is “the chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.” While most historians of education have focused on the explicitly “religious” nature of the law (because it mentions Satan), I argued that the document is more interesting as a colonialist text, written and enacted in an environment where the devil and demonic were frequently associated with “wilderness,” “ignorance,” and the “barbaric” Others of settler colonialism.

Menopause as Crisis: Gender and the Spiritualist Body

Carol Faulkner

Andrew Jackson Davis, Clairvoyant Physician

As a young, and increasingly famous, clairvoyant, eighteen-year-old Andrew Jackson Davis learned how to heal. Though he had little formal education, he communicated with the ancient Greek physician Galen (d. circa 200 AD) while in a trance state. From Galen, Davis learned physiology, medicine, and how to treat diseases with a rod. Renouncing any economic motives, he decided to use his powers to help others, writing "I seemed to be a sort of a connecting link between the patient's disease and its exact counterpart (or remedy) in the constitution of external Nature" (From The Magic Staff, p. 252). Indeed, Davis's letters to his friend, follower, and benefactor, William Green Jr., in Yale University's Manuscripts and Archives, are filled with medical advice. In many of the letters, Davis asks Green for money (on June 5, 1848, he assured Green, "If ever it is within my power to reciprocate benevolence and duty it will be done according to my predominating affection"), but he also prescribed homeopathic remedies and coached William's wife Cornelia as she went through menopause, or what Davis called "the crisis." To be clear, Cornelia's health problems were much more serious than Davis realized. Did he take advantage of the Greens? Maybe. But his letters offer a tantalizing peak at Cornelia's physical and emotional experience, albeit from a male perspective.

Historical experiences of menopause are hard to find. When suffragist Lucy Stone went through menopause at age 46, she was severely depressed, but such evidence about nineteenth-century women is rare.* Judith Houck's book, Hot and Bothered: Women, Medicine, and Menopause in Modern America, examines the medicalization of menopause over the course of the twentieth century, including the adoption of hormone therapy, and the way women (particularly feminists) and their doctors redefined the physiological stage. At the end of the nineteenth century, however, doctors viewed menopause as having no "medical consequence." When women did consult doctors about hot flashes and other symptoms, "Physicians generally treated these patients with education and reassurance, supplemented, perhaps, with prescriptions for bland food, sensible fashions (no corsets), and temperate living" (p. 5-6).  Yet in a society that valued women as wives and mothers, menopause raised questions about "the nature of women" and the "breadth of women's roles" (p. 3).

“A more catholic American Catholic Historical Association”: Recapping the Annual Meeting of the ACHA

[This month Cushwa welcomes Peter Cajka to recap the recent ACHA meeting. Those in the vicinity of South Bend are welcome to the Spring Meeting from March 26-28; while the CFP has closed, registration is now open. Pete is a Ph.D. candidate at Boston College, where he works on religion in modern American history. His dissertation traces the revival of interest Americans showed in lived experiences and theologies of conscience in the 1960s and 1970s.]  

Pete Cajka

In the prefatory comments of his presidential address, Daniel Bornstein of Washington University St. Louis urged members of the American Catholic Historical Association to be “catholic” (with a small “c”): universal, broad in our interests, and involving all.

Did the 2015 meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association answer Bornstein’s judicious call? How can future meetings address this challenge?  I report on the 2015 meeting in this post, attempting to convey the breadth and depth of the conference proceedings. I then highlight a few opportunities for the ACHA to become "more catholic."

In terms of historical persons and groups explored, I would say that the 2015 meeting met significant aspects of Bornstein’s challenge.  Papers deepened our knowledge of familiar figures and introduced new subjects to the field. Audiences heard papers on Maria Monk, Action Française, the German Center Party, Jansenists, Archbishop Hughes, Garry Wills, Cardinal Spellman, Pope Francis, Catholic schools, Catholic hospitals, Catholic voluntary associations, Catholic progressives, Louis XVI, Oliver Plunkett, and Virgil Michel. A number of fresh subjects joined this seasoned cast of characters. For example, gender studies entered the mix as historians James McCartin, Amy Koehlinger, and James O’Toole explored the “Varieties of Catholic Masculinity” with papers on priests not reluctant to get married; “Boy-ology” and boxing; and manhood at Boston College. The presenters made note of the rich array of sources available to historians of gender in Catholicism, including syllabi for a “Theology of Marriage” course at Boston College and documents that track the popularity of boxing among Catholic Youth Organization members. In his comments, chair Anthony Smith noted that historical research on the role of gender in American Catholic history is still filled with potential. Some excellent recent studies of the lives of Catholic women religious notwithstanding, this panel demonstrated that analysis of the role of gender in the American Catholic past must also take into consideration how Catholics constructed and experienced masculinity.

Toward a Bibliography of Religion in the Midwest

Paul Putz

Map by Bill Rankin
I've written previously about recent efforts to bring renewed scholarly attention to the Midwest. In the time since then, I've often wondered: what would a history of religious life in the Midwest look like? What already published books and articles would need to be considered and incorporated?

To my knowledge, the most complete attempt to probe what is distinct about religion in the Midwest is Religion & Public Life in the Midwest: America's Common Denominator? (2004). As part of AltaMira's Religion by Region Series, editors Philip Barlow and Mark Silk put together a series of fascinating essays covering a range of topics: the Midwest as the United States writ small, the Midwest's enduring Methodist tinge, its high concentration of Lutherans, its distinct brand of Catholicism (more innovative and ethnically diverse), Chicago (need I say more?), the diversity of religious affiliations brought about by recent changes in immigration patterns, and the contrast between urban, suburban, and rural forms of religious expression. While the essays were insightful, they were also rather short and suggestive. If you believe that considering the Midwest as a region is a useful enterprise, there is plenty of work to be done.

To that end, I'd like your help developing a working bibliography. I am interested here in two things: first, what books or articles, if any, have been framed distinctively as a study of religion (or of a specific religion, religious group, or religious leader) in the Midwest. And second, among the many books or articles that are set in the Midwest but that do not purport to be studying the Midwest as a region, which would be helpful to any attempt to offer a synthesis of the history of religious life in the Midwest?

Church History as a Guild

Elesha Coffman

It's commonplace to refer to one's corner of the academic world as "the guild." I've been thinking about that designation since the recently concluded annual meeting of the American Society of Church History, at which the relationship between ASCH and the American Historical Association came up for discussion. In what ways does ASCH function like a guild? In what ways might it function more like one? And what is its relationship to other guilds?

According to Wikipedia, because, yes, I do know that little about the history of guilds, this form of organization combines elements of a professional association, a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society. There's not enough money involved in church history for it to qualify as a cartel, so I'll confine my musings to the other three types.

The main task of a professional association is to set standards. Think of the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association. You don't get to practice medicine or law unless the relevant professional association signs off on your training and your credentials. If you practice medicine or law badly enough, the professional association might step in to make you stop.

ASCH doesn't quite work this way. One does not have to attend an ASCH-accredited school or pass an ASCH exam to "practice" church history. Instead, our various PhD-granting institutions control our training and certification. ASCH sort of sets standards for the field through the journal Church History and at conferences, in the sense that any work presented in these venues has been deemed by an ASCH-affiliated authority (the journal editors, the program committee) to be legitimate, praiseworthy church history. ASCH can't revoke anybody's license, though. On a practical level, if someone trained as a church historian publishes elsewhere, or attends a different conference, or doesn't pay her ASCH membership dues, her career prospects might not be affected. The fortunes of the society, by contrast, are affected rather significantly by these choices.

Allan Austin on Quaker Interracial Activism, Part 2

Karen Johnson

Today concludes my mini-series on Allan Austin's book Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950, a fascinating look at the ways Quakers facilitated interracial activism in the first half of the twentieth century.  You can check out the first half the interview here, and my post comparing Quaker and Catholic interracial activists here.  Austin's work adds to our knowledge of religion in the long civil rights movement further and lays the groundwork for future research on Quakers, race, and civil rights.

KJ: Quakers consistently added non-Quakers to the staff of the AFSC.  Did they have a theological justification for this?  Or was the decision more tactical?

AA: One of the ongoing issues for the AFSC from its start, the addition of non-Friends to the AFSC staff was done, as best I can tell, out of very practical concerns.  As you note, as the AFSC became more deeply involved in what they came to see as more complicated problems (than they had perhaps at first imagined), leaders came to understand that amateurs could not always carry out such work effectively.  Given the relatively small number of Quakers, it’s not all that surprising that they had to find people outside the Religious Society of Friends to meet their perceived needs. I didn’t come across any real evidence of theology driving this decision, but one supposes that a belief in the Inner Light—shared by all individuals—may have made Friends more open than others to working with people who, while officially not members of the Religious Society of Friends, shared their basic principles and goals.

Future Saint: Junipero Serra, Violence, and the Legacy of Missions (Bonus: CFP on Religion & Violence)

Sarah E. Dees

Pope Francis recently announced his intention to canonize Junípero Serra (1713-1784), the Franciscan friar remembered for his work among California Indian nations. From 1769 to 1782, Serra founded nine missions in California. Serra has been hailed by some as California's founding father and reviled by others due to his treatment of Native Americans; the pope's announcement has thus received mixed responses. 

Catholic news agencies such as the Catholic News Service have noted how surprised--and pleased--Serra's supporters were to hear this news, even while recognizing the contested nature of Serra's legacy. Steven Hackel, a professor of history at the University of California Riverside and author of books on Serra and the California missions, suggested that this moment might help to increase public dialogue about California's colonial history. Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders such as Anthony Morales, Chief of the Gabrielino Tongva Band of Mission Indians, highlight the destructive nature of the mission system for California Indians and argue that the pope should reverse his decision.

Coinciding with this news, I thought I would share a CFP from the Comparative Approaches to Religion and Violence AAR program unit. While the geographical scope is open, historians of American religion, including those looking at the legacy of missions for Native American religions, might be interested in participating in the conversations this unit promotes.

CFP Special Issue of AJH dedicated to Material Culture & Religion

Laura Arnold Leibman 

Call for Papers Special Issue of American Jewish History dedicated to Material Culture

American Jewish History is currently seeking submissions for a special issue on material culture, guest-edited by Laura Leibman (Reed College).  The journal offers articles on every aspect of the American Jewish experience and is the most widely recognized journal in its field. Founded in 1892 as Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, AJH is the official publication of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS), the oldest national ethnic historical organization in the United States.

This issue will address how Jewish American religion and culture is shaped through and by material objects.  Objects discussed may be from any time period colonial to the present, and may include images, ritual artifacts, architecture, sacred space, art, popular culture, or other physical forms.

Laura would be delighted to speak to scholars about the possible fit of their work with the special issue. Proposals should include a 500 word abstract and an abbreviated CV.  Manuscripts must not exceed 10,000 words including footnotes.

Deadline for proposals: February 15, 2015

Other deadlines: June 1, 2015 (first draft of accepted manuscripts); December 15, 2015 (final version of manuscripts).

All submissions should conform to the Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition) and will undergo peer review in keeping with the procedures of the journal.  The issue will appear in 2016.

Please direct all questions and proposals to Laura Leibman (

Job Announcement

Below is a job announcement for work with the publication Religion Dispatches, which I was asked to forward to anyone who could be interested. Feel free to forward or contact

JOB ANNOUNCEMENT: The University of Southern California (USC), founded in 1880, is located in the heart of downtown L.A. and is the largest private employer in the City of Los Angeles. As an employee of USC, you will be a part of a world-class research university and a member of the "Trojan Family," which is comprised of the faculty, students and staff that make the university what it is.

The USC Annenberg Knight Chair seeks an experienced editor for Religion Dispatches’ “Remapping American Christianities” initiative—a new project in online journalism with a commitment to investigating and analyzing the rapidly changing Christian landscape. The ideal candidate will have experience in online media, a background in journalism and a deep interest in the goals of this initiative.

The position will work along with RD’s publisher and co-editors-in-chief to acquire content, edit material for publication, publish to the site. The editor will also assist with the planning and programming for yearly convenings, and will work closely with the academic advisory board to the project. The editor will meet with writers and support staff and oversee contractors, as needed.


Texas Textbooks: Four Questions with Jennifer Graber

Seth Dowland

I'm stealing Randall's format for today's post, which is an interview with the inimitable Jennifer Graber, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin, author of The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, and, as you will see, citizen activist. Her current book project focuses on the religious transformations in Indian and settler communities in a part of Indian Territory over the course of the nineteenth century. Jen and I began grad school together 14 years ago, and we've been good friends ever since. I asked her to respond to some questions about her recent experience testifying at the Texas state school board hearings, in which members were considering adopting a new social studies curriculum. You might have heard Jen speak about her testimony on NPR. Here, she offers a few more insights about her experience.

Seth Dowland: How did you become involved in the social studies textbook adoption process in Texas?
Jennifer Graber: The Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group working on issues of religious freedom, asked historians and scholar of religious studies to evaluate a series of American government, U.S. history, and world history textbooks under consideration by the Texas board of education. The report pointed to imbalance and bias in the textbook's representations of non-Christian religions, as well as misleading statements about religion in the founding era in government and U.S. history books. I read the report and then added my name to a letter co-signed by academics across Texas concerned that these problematic textbooks would be adopted by the Texas board of education.

At that point, my proximity to the state capitol became important. It's a 10-minute walk from my office to the pink granite dome in the heart of Austin. When the time came for a hearing in which the board heard public comments on the proposed textbooks, I was one of the scholars close enough to attend. So on a Tuesday afternoon, I finished teaching, walked downtown, waited in line, and got 2 minutes to say my peace (and present the co-signed letter) to the board.

#Nerdlife 2015: A New Year's Almanac Treat

Paul Harvey

#Nerdlife post.
A Divinity for All Persuasions (inbunden)What better way to spend a New Year’s eve/day than perusing an almanac. Or a survey of almanacs from the colonial era to the early nineteenth century, of the kind wonderfully presented in T. J. Tomlin’s new book A Divinity for All Persuasions:Alamanacs and Early American Religious Life.

This is one of the books that seems such an obvious and fruitful topic that it would have been thoroughly covered a long time ago. After all, as Tomlin points out, the almanac was “early America’s most affordable and widespread form of print,” serving as a “calendar and an astrologically based medical handbook” which also was full of “poetry, essays, moral axioms, and anecdotes.” Moreover, “other than a Bible and perhaps a few sermons and schoolbooks, an almanac was the only printed item most people owned before 1820.” Because almanacs in the 19th century moved to a status of folksy quaintness at best, and caricature at worst, they have become forgotten.

But they weren’t before the mass printing revolution of the 19th century. Before then, “Catering to consumer demand by drawing on the religious works available in their shop or their own familiarity with religious idioms, almanac-makers placed a distilled Protestant vernacular at the center of America’s most popular genre.” Throughout, Tomlin emphasizes a shared religious culture reflecting a “distinctly pan-Protestant sensibility,” but one also shaped by Latitudinarianism and the new science of the English Enlightenment. (They were also shaped, I might add, by some pretty hilarious trash-talking between almanac-makers, who promoted their own products by dissing those of others -- scorning the weather predictions of others was especially popular).

On Evangelicals and Civil Rights: MLK Day 2015


There are few topics in American history that have as much contemporary relevance in the classroom as Civil Rights and race matters. Often this takes shape as students debate whether there is a need for the Civil Rights movement today, or if the election of Barack Obama means that racial equality has been achieved. In recent months, the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, among others, have brought fresh interest in these issues and scholars of history and religion have a unique voice in shaping the conversation. 

It is helpful to understand just how much has remained the same on race issues since the Civil Rights era. On November 4, 1956, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama that he titled “Paul’s Letter to American Christians.” He spoke with the full prophetic voice of the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which had been in effect for nearly one year after the arrest of Rosa Parks in December 1955. King’s interpretation included condemnations of the abuses of capitalism, greed, segregation and personal selfishness. King, speaking with the voice of the Apostle Paul, brought this lament for the American Christian church:

You have a white church and you have a Negro church. You have allowed segregation to creep into the doors of the church. How can such a division exist in the true Body of Christ? You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing "All Hail the Power of Jesus Name" and "Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind," you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America.

#DigitalReligion: New Essay Series at The Immanent Frame

 Chris Cantwell

For many of you, the blog The Immanent Frame needs no introduction. A publication of the Social Science Research Council, TIF has been one of the most innovative born-digital publications out there. In addition to hosting a number of scholarly exchanges on everything from the Arab Spring to sex abuse in the Catholic Church, The Immanent Frame has also been central to the emergence of secularism studies.

Well beginning yesterday, TIF has launched another series of essays that seeks to explore the relationships between the study of religion and digital culture. As the series's announcement reads:

The task before us is to reconsider how we think about religion and the secular in a world that claims to have put everything on the Internet, that takes what goes viral as true. The study of religion might be thought of as a quintessential hack—a practice of exploring, of taking apart, of using whatever means are available for revealing how the machine works, and maybe even of grasping the ghost inside. But the presumed authority in a hacker’s hubris, an academic’s credentials, or an interview’s virality can be as deceptive as it is alluring. The insights that technological metaphors might bring to our understanding of religion must be considered alongside what looking only through the lens of technology leaves out.

The series will run over the next month and a half, and will feature articles from not only scholars in the field, but also journalists and other writers whose work has been transformed by the Internet. I'll have an essay myself in the series later in February. But the first essay comes from Kathryn Lofton, where she writes about the religious underpinnings of a paperless society. You can find Lofton's essay here, and follow all of the essays here. And as you read them, consider contributing to the conversation both at the TIF, as well as on Twitter via the exchange's hashtag, #digitalreligion.

The Paula E. Hyman Mentoring Program

Samira K. Mehta

I have been thinking quite a bit about mentoring lately. This is largely because I am currently participating in a remarkably successful mentoring program. Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary, with the support of the Association for Jewish Studies Women’s Caucus, created mentoring program for emerging scholars in the field. Anne Lapidus Lerner (Jewish Theological Seminary) conceived of the program to honor the memory of the late Paula E. Hyman (1946-2011) by advancing the field of Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies through nurturing a cohort of six emerging scholars. And this young(ish) scholar is immensely grateful.

The program selected junior women scholars from across a range of disciplines and paired us with senior women scholars in our respective fields. We all have received PhDs within the past five years. Three of us are in religious studies, and three in literature. We have mentors in cultural studies, American history, museum studies, European history, and religious studies. Each pair is supposed to meet (either virtually or in person) bimonthly. My mentor, Annie Polland (Vice President of Programs and Education, Lower East Side Tenement Museum), and I aim to meet twice monthly (or approximately every three weeks) and discuss many aspects of career development, but focus particularly on the preparation of my book manuscript and other writing. Her advice is proving invaluable.

"Mad Tom" and Religious Struggle in the New Nation

Jonathan Den Hartog

With my book Patriotism and Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation preparing to ship, I thought I would merge some shameless self-promotion with reflections on a great visual item from the early republic that communicates quite a lot.

In approximately 1802, a Federalist drafter drew a cartoon entitled "Mad Tom in a Rage."

"Mad Tom" is Tom Paine, and he's pulling away at the pillar of the Federal Government, which has been well-founded by George Washington and John Adams. Paine is identified first by the writings in his pocket--The "Letters to the Citizens" stands for his "Letters to the citizens of the United States, and particularly to the leaders of the Federal Faction" and the "3rd Part" is possibly a reference to The Age of Reason. Then Paine, a notorious drunkard, is associated with the Brandy bottle at his feet.

Finding Religion at "The 1968 Exhibit"

Trevor Burrows

A prefatory observation:

In Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin’s America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, a chapter devoted to the year 1968 and a chapter on religion sit side-by-side. Chapter 12, “1968,” opens as follows: “Significant change seldom respects the calendar. But, on occasion, a single year fills up with revolutions--attempted and dreaded, imagined and repressed. [...] 1968 was that kind of year.” The authors go on to call 1968 “the pivot” of the decade. The following chapter, entitled “Many Faiths: The ‘60s Reformation,” opens with similar drama: “Nothing changed so profoundly in the United States during the 1960s as American religion.”

The opening lines of both chapters describe their subjects in exceptional terms, and both subjects are positioned as symbolic or characteristic of the decade as a whole. Yet when read alongside each other, it is difficult to ignore the fact that these two exceptional subjects barely speak to each other. Virtually nothing that might normally appear on our radars as “religious history” is found in the authors’ treatment of 1968, save the religious ghosts alluded to while recounting the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In the chapter on religion, 1968 is explicitly referred to only once, as the year of Pope Paul VI’s issuance of Humanae Vitae. Many of the developments described there - Jewish renewal and the havurah movement, the effects of Vatican II, and the “dizzying fragmentation of the religious landscape,” to name a few - clearly include 1968 in their long spans, but none anchor themselves upon that “pivot” of the era. The momentousness of 1968 and the “reformation” of religion in the Sixties appear to have no obvious or concise point of intersection. Isserman and Kazin are not unique in this potential disjunction, as even longer, dedicated histories of 1968 rarely pay much attention to religion in their narratives.

A Guide to the Latter Days (of AHA): Remaining #AHA2015 Highlights

Michael Graziano

Since many of us are in New York attending the 2015 AHA Annual Meeting (or following along on Twitter from afar, like myself) I thought I would take a moment to preview some of the interesting panels still to come, and briefly review some of yesterday's highlights.

Idols, Immigration, and Asian Religions in the American West: The North American Hinduism Group 2015 CFP

Vedanta Society Temple, San Francisco (via Flickr user Anomalous_A)

Michael J. Altman

While all the cool kids are hanging out in New York for the AHA/ASCH, I thought I'd take use this post to promote that other big conference, next year's American Academy of Religion meeting. I'm co-chair of the North American Hinduism Group (along with the amazing Shreena Gandhi) and wanted to give everyone a sneak peek at our unit's CFP before the official AAR CFP comes out. So, submit, people!

If you are interested or have questions you can contact me or Shreena:

Michael J. Altman
University of Alabama

Shreena Gandhi
Kalamazoo College

This Program Unit seeks to advance the study of Hindus and Hindu traditions in North America, and to nurture thoughtful debate on the methodologies and theories unique to and appropriate for this subject. We welcome any paper or panel submissions that might fulfill these goals.

Religious History and Religious Studies Syllabi from the Past Semester

Lincoln Mullen

Happy New Year, Religion in American History readers.

One of my favorite ways to get to know a scholar is to read her syllabi. Syllabi show how scholars put together a whole field. (And probably no text reveals personality as much as the introduction and policies on a syllabus.) Yet unfortunately teaching documents are shared less routinely than our research, so we are much more likely to know a scholar's books and articles than her syllabi. Following the example of Paul Putz's regular lists of new books, I intend to start a posting a roundup of syllabi for religious history and religious studies from the past semester from whoever wishes to contribute.

So here is a list of past syllabi from people who replied to my entreaties. Only a small number replied this first time, but if you would like to add your syllabus to this list, feel free to leave a link in the comments, or you can e-mail me a document and I'll add it (

N.B. The following syllabi have been added since this post was first published:

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