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.

Jews and the American War Novel

Rachel Gordan

Leah Garrett's new book, Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel (Northwestern University Press, 2015) explains how Jews, a group that has been traditionally denigrated as weak and bookish, "became the popular literary representatives of what it meant to be a soldier" in the post-WWII years. In surveying the dominance of Jewish authored war novels throughout the 1950's and 1960's, Garrett's book shows that, "In much the same way that in Hollywood, Jewish studio heads and directors helped shape how mainstream Americans understood cultural touchstones such as Christmas, best-selling Jewish American war novels influenced how the public came to understood the recent war."

Leah Garrett is the Loti Smorgon Professor Contemporary Jewish Life and Culture at Monash University in Australia. Her previous books include A Knight at the Opera: Heine, Wagner, Herzl, Peretz, and the Legacy of Der Tannhauser and Journeys Beyond the Pale: Yiddish Travel Writing in the Modern World. Northwestern University Press describes Garrett's scholarship as "devoted to understanding how Jewish authors in an array of languages used their literary discourse to enact, reimagine, and subvert conventional ideas about the relationship between Jews and the modern world."

RG: Young Lions, or readings from it, might be usefully paired with Deborah Dash Moore’s book, GI Jews(or her Religion & American Culture journal article on that topic). You expand on her theme of WWII providing American Jewish servicemen with an education in what it meant to be an American, a Jew, and a man. You both correct the view that it was only with the 1967 view that American Jews felt pride in their status as fighters and soldiers. What do the war novels reveal about the American Jewish experience with WWII that we wouldn’t learn if we didn’t pay attention to this genre?  

LG: The war novels reveal that military service was profoundly important for American Jews in terms of reckoning and grappling with their position in American society. In the war novels, the authors use the events as a means to teach their audiences, and themselves, that the role of Jews in America was permanently altered because of their successful participation in the fight against the Axis forces. By so doing, they showed that the American Jewish position as the fighter of the Germans was in opposition to the European Jewish position as the 'passive' victim of the Nazis. In this way the novels positioned American Jews as ideal, new American men--able to fight the good fight by combining a new type of Jewish physicality with the best aspects of Jewish intellectualism. They were, moreover, a rejection of the 'negative' shtetl Jew who, according to the worst stereotypes, was weak and cowardly. I believe this goes a long way towards explaining the huge popularity of the Jewish authored war novels. They presented to the American public an idealized and acceptable portrait of the American Jew who had been reborn by becoming an American and had therein become the opposite of the despised shtetl Jew.

RG: You interviewed Pulitzer Prize-winning (now centenarian) author, Herman Wouk for your book. When I spoke with Wouk at his home in Palm Springs, in 2011, he showed me the Lone Sailor award he had received from the U.S. Navy, which recognizes veterans who have distinguished themselves in their subsequent careers and lives. Wouk shared that he felt more proud of this award than any other he has received. What was your understanding of why military service was so important to Wouk? 

LG: For Wouk--I communicated with him via snail mail (which was pretty lovely), and since my interest was focused on the 'Jewish aspects' of his service, the sense that I got from him was that a large reason why the military was so important to Wouk (and for Leon Uris as well) was because in his experience it was entirely accepting of him as a Jewish serviceman. I think he felt the military was the best of America because it enabled an intellectual Jewish kid to thrive and lead and it therefore was an example of how deeply accepting America was of Jews (in stark contrast with what had occurred in Europe). 

RG: You use the term "cloaking" in your book to describe how some of the authors present their Jewishness. Why this word and what does it mean in this context?

LG: In postwar Jewish American literature, there is a regular and constant form of poetics where writers used a range of 'Jewish' cultural and literary forms--Yiddishisms, immigrant issues, intergenerational conflict, talmudic style humor- but never labelled them as 'Jewish'. The archetypal example was the Loman family in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman which he only admitted was Jewish decades later. I came up with the term 'cloaking' to discuss this trait in postwar Jewish discourse, where the Jewish aspects were rendered in a range of ways but never labelled as such because the authors, for a range of reasons, were reluctant to have their works 'limited' by the Jewish label. I came up with the term after getting into trouble in an old essay for instead using the term 'marrano' to describe this trend of hiding the Jewish aspects in plain sight, since that term was too politically loaded.

RG: Your book exposes a wrinkle in what historians call the “golden age of American Jewry.” Yes, things improved dramatically for American Jews after WWII (anti-Semitism declined, Jews became more middle-class, etc.), but as you point out, we find, during this era, an American Jewish literature in which Jewish authors continue to “cloak” and hiding their Jewishness. If things were so good for Jews at this point in American Jewish history, how do you explain these authors’ reticence about their Jewishness?

Migrating Faiths: 5 Questions for Daniel Ramírez


It is my great pleasure to interview my dear friend Dan Ramírez for my post this month.  If it is possible to have friends in this business who are in the same field, who have probably competed with you for the same jobs, grants, and accolades, and still come out as friends....Dan and I are an example of how academia is supposed to work. Perhaps because through all the noise of academic prestige, Dan is committed to something beyond his own publicity, and you can't always say that about academics. Dan and most of the Latino/a religion scholars I consider friends, are committed to insisting that Latino/a Religion not be a sideline, a blip in the narrative of "American" religion.

photo courtesy of Evans Koukios

I know once you read Dan's exceptional book, Migrating Faithand assign it in your classes, you will also agree--This work can no longer be relegated as Dan mentions below, to the "silent archive."  Enjoy!

Hey, Arlene, always great to continue our tertulia of many years. Thanks for the questions.

Q1. .  “Migrating Faiths” makes many arguments about the nature of faith & Latino/a religious communities, one of the more understudied is the role of music in Apostolic faith life, can you tell us more about that?

Migrating Faith addresses the tone deafness in our several guilds and argues that we can no longer beg the absent or silent archive. This is especially important when considering subaltern religious traditions and communities that do not inhabit "textual" worlds, that is to say, that have been denied the opportunity to leave deep textual archives. By privileging written texts or traditional archives over others, we skew the narrative arc away from certain groups like migrating proletarians and uprooted peasants. The long day in the cotton or vegetable field or fruit orchard and the long night of testifying and preaching around campfires did not leave much time for the writing of sermons, diaries, and theology. What they did carve out time and space for, however, was music, much music—translated music inherited from missionaries, translated and original compositions by evangélico precursors, and music of Pentecostals' own creation. The musical archive provides an analytical window through which we can peer into early Pentecostals' souls and communities.  When we juxtapose the several musical traditions—and these often complemented as much as competed with each other—we can see some remarkable processes underway. Apostolics took great license in shaping evangélico hymnody to their needs and in sacralizing musical genres and instruments that their evangélico precursors and missionaries had previously dismissed as profane. Guitars and banjos were simply more practical and mobile than pianos and organs. It would have been hard to install an organ around a labor camp fire. The new corito tradition wrapped Scripture in popular musical forms. These simple and easily repeatable and mobile musical fragments allowed evangelicalismo finally to burrow deeply into the soil of popular religiosity (like Luther's hymns and Calvin's psalms).  Instead of converts and would-be converts having to learn the repertoire of tune indices (early Spanish-language Protestant hymnals included these), they simply had to recognize familiar chord sequences and musical forms: polkas, valses, huapangos, boleros, etc. Apostolics also took great license in hymn translation, subverting metaphors and performing bricolage. We can also see (or hear) an appropriation of African American music. The new sonic scape helps to explain how Apostolics earned the early moniker or epithet, "Aleluya" (like the English "Holy Roller). There are clear traces of this in the extant scholarly and official record of the 1920s, for example, in anthropologist Manuel Gamio's study of Mexican immigrant life stories. Anticlerical mayors and governors in Baja California reported up the official chain to Mexico City their suspicion that this new evangélico upstart was "una cosa de negros, traido de los Estados Unidos" (a thing of Negroes, brought over from the United States). There is even evidence of aleluya influence in the early career of César Chávez; he credited Apostolic farmworkers with inspiring his decision to make music central to his future labor organizing. Like faith, belief, and doctrine, Apostolic music migrated wherever bodies and hearts did. When those bodies were pushed out of the U.S. by xenophobia (e.g., the Great Repatriation of the 1930s and Operation Wetback of 1954), so too was the music. So, I guess the book is as much about migrating music as it is about migrating faith.

Q2.  think the book, like much of the literature on Latino/a religion, makes a rather explicit case that American religious lenses trained on the East coast and South are missing a huge story out in the Southwest. Where does your book fit in the larger “Religion in the West” story?

Whose West are you speaking of? For many of the historical subjects I write about the region in question was their North. Put another way, we can see Latino USA as the northernmost Latin American nation. In other words, not only do I propose an expedition through the long border swath from San Diego to Tampico, I also invite readers to follow the movement's expanding transnational circuits deeper into both countries. So, the borders are quickly scrambled in Migrating Faith. In the spirit of the many coritos and hymns about rain and water, may I suggest a hydrological metaphor? By examining the headwaters of the river we know on its northern banks as the Rio Grande and on its southern bank as the Rio Bravo and by tracing the topography of its course, we may have something to say about its flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Similarly, the long-overdue study of early Latino Pentecostalism emanating from the Azusa Street Revival can help us understand the effervescence and strength of contemporary revivalism in the hemisphere. So, yes, Migrating Faith seeks to help to fill the lacuna in scholarship on "Religion of the West," but by spending an equal amount of time south of the border, it also seeks to help to fill the lacuna in scholarship on Latin American religion. 

Q3. One of Apostolic Pentecostalism’s more well known characteristics are the dress codes, to what extent did Latinos/as adapt  or modify those codes? How do you deal with the material culture of the movement in your book?

Well, it's evident from the photographic evidence that most hermanas paid a lot more attention to their hair than Kim Davis…. Sorry. Cheap shot. But it is striking how the search for respectability or the representation of respectability can be seen in the record: individuals, youth groups, congregations, convention ministers and attendees, and even congregations working together in agricultural fields (temple construction fundraising projects). Hats on men and women were very common in the beginning. I'd call it a stylish modesty. Of course, as in most Pentecostal movements, women bore the burden for "santidad" (holiness). So, the female body became the site of signification. One of the fascinating and telling markers is the veiling one. Male pioneers imposed this symbol of piety, in order to distinguish Apostolics from their white and black counterparts. Of course, women were complicit in this arrangement. Thanks to pioneer José Ortega's obsessive photography, we have a decade-by-decade record of the evolution of this telltale marker of gendered Apostolic identity. They began looking like other post-Victorian Evangelicals, but by the second decade began to take on uniform bonnets and outfits. The influx of poorer immigrants in the 1940s resulted in a standardized veil, black for married women and white for unmarried women. (Some leading pioneer women never relinquished their modest church hats; this suggests a class distinction.) Then things took an unexpected turn when enterprising women, cued into the glut of Spanish mantillas caused by Vatican II's reforms for Catholic women, took velo aesthetics to a different level, creating a cottage industry in the process. Color dyes followed. Now, women purchase velos to match their clothing and accessories. So much for the sanctified machismo of the early years. There's a dissertation to be written here. There is also one to be written about Apostolic foodways, fellowship, and hospitality.

Q4.As I like to tell all up and coming academics, and to quote my favorite t.v. show, “The Sopranos,” You’re only as good as your last envelope.  So, what are you working on next?

  Migrating Faith takes the story up to the late 1960s, owing to important generational transitions in leadership in both countries and important macroevents like the expiration of the Bracero guest labor program (1942-1964) and the 1965 immigration reform. Pentecostalisms of Oaxacalifornia will take up the story from that point, when the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca began to figure prominently in the flow of labor migration. This unique migration flowed through the agricultural regions of Sinaloa and Baja California states, up to the border cities of Mexicali and Tijuana, and over into California and beyond (I've enjoyed delicious oaxaqueño mole negro in New Jersey!). The new geographic coinage reflects activists' views of the expanse of territory from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico to northern California. The 2000 and 2010 censuses of Mexico revealed a relatively high percentage of Pentecostals and evangélicos in Oaxaca and other southern states. I think circular labor migration had a lot more to do with this than missionary enterprise; certainly, proximity to the U.S. can't explain this. So, this second book takes up where Migrating Faith leaves off, and adds an additional layer of analysis, in order to examine the intersection between indigenous identity and cambio religioso (religious change). Methodologically, I borrow heavily from ethnography.

Q5. Most people who read this blog have little idea about who we are, so I guess it's time to mention that we have known each other for nearly 20 years! I believe it was the 1997 American Academy of Religion meeting?  For the longest time, we have had lunch or dinner at one of these convos for nearly that long!  So I feel comfortable in asking you the following questions:
Favorite color:
Pet peeve:
Favorite Movie:
and most importantly:  Flour or corn tortillas

Favorite color: Blue, navy and light. That's probably why I chose Yale and Duke.
Pet peeve: There must be a special corner in Hell for that person who first tossed cheddar cheese on top of a plate of Mexican food and then passed it off as authentic. Favorite movie: Young Frankenstein (We had no TV at home, and never went to movies. This was one of the first movies I saw in college. It made breaking the taboo very enjoyable. Never tire of it. My younger brother Jonathan and I can mute the movie and perform the entire dialogue.) Flour or corn tortillas: Depends if they're handmade or not. Corn for menudo and most guisados. Flour for chorizo con huevo burrito. We were raised with mostly handmade flour tortillas (a precious childhood memory that my older sisters do not share), although our roots were in western Mexico, where corn predominates. There's another dissertation that awaits writing: the transition from corn to flour (to manufactured) tortillas in Mexican American society. What happened?!     


Daniel Ramírez brief bio

Daniel Ramírez (Ph.D., American Religious History, Duke University) is an Assistant Professor of North American Religion at the University of Michigan, and author of 16 publications in the field of American, Latino, and Latin American religion. His forthcoming book, Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century (University of North Carolina, October 2015) examines the transnational and cultural dimensions of revivalism within a migrating labor diaspora. His second monograph project, "Pentecostalisms of Oaxacalifornia," continues the analysis through the more contemporary time period of oaxaqueño migration and through the added prism of indigenous experience and identity.

In December 2013, the Hubbard Library of Fuller Theological Seminary inaugurated the Apostolic Archives of the Americas, a project convened by Ramírez to create a repository for Latino and Latin American Pentecostal historical collections. Dr. Ramírez serves as Board Vice Chair of the Wesley Foundation, the college chaplaincy program based at the First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He also serves as Board Chairman of the Lewis Stallworth Charter School, a largely African American and Latino primary-through-middle school in his hometown of Stockton, California.

Announcement: U.S. Catholic Historian issue on "kinship"

For more than thirty years the U.S. Catholic Historian has published theme-based issues relevant to the history of American Catholicism.  An upcoming issue will address the theme of “Kinship.” Contributions could include, but are not limited to, studies of the following:
  • Relationships by blood or marriage, including siblings, parents and children, spouses, etc. (examples include the Kenrick, Healy, Purcell, and Spalding families) 
  • Connections within and between members of religious orders/communities 
  • Friendship, mentorship, and social relationships 
  • Geographic/ethnic connections among families and individuals 
Scholars considering a submission are asked to contact the editor, Fr. David Endres at before preparing a contribution. Approximate length is 7,000-10,000 words. We ask for submissions by November 1, 2016 and look forward to hearing from potential contributors.

Fr. David Endres Editor,
U.S. Catholic Historian

Young Scholars in American Religion: Call for Applications

The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI has announced its call for applications for the 2016-2017 Young Scholars in American Religion program.

The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI announces a program for early career scholars in American Religion. Beginning in 2016, a series of seminars devoted to the enhancement of teaching and research for younger scholars in American Religion will be offered in Indianapolis. The aims of all sessions of the program are to develop ideas and methods of instruction in a supportive workshop environment, stimulate scholarly research and writing, and create a community of scholars that will continue into the future.

The dates for these seminars are:
Session I:           April 13-17, 2016
Session II           October 5-9, 2016
Session III:         April 5-9, 2017
Session IV:        October 18-22, 2017
Leigh Schmidt and Kathryn Lofton will lead these seminars.
Schmidt is the Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He joined the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in 2011 after serving as the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School from 2009 to 2011. Previous to that, he taught for fourteen years in the Department of Religion at Princeton University, including a stint as department chair and multiple shifts as director of graduate studies.  His books include: Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman (2010); Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (2005); Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (2000); Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (1995); and Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (1989). His next book project, Village Atheists: A Cultural History of American Unbelief, is due out from Princeton University Press in late 2016.
Lofton is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History and Divinity at Yale University. A historian and cultural critic, her research focuses on the problem of religion in modernity. She has written about modernism, consumerism, celebrity, and secularism. Her book in progress, Consuming Religion, includes examinations of Goldman Sachs, Kim Kardashian, and parenting as subjects for the study of religion. Lofton has served as an editor-at-large for the Immanent Frame; she co-curated (with John Lardas Modern) a collaborative web project titled Frequencies; and she has recently launched (also with John Lardas Modern) Class 200: New Studies in Religion, a book series with University of Chicago Press. For her work at Yale she has won the Poorvu Family Award for Interdisciplinary Teaching, the Sarai Ribicoff Award for the Encouragement of Teaching at Yale College, and the Graduate Mentor Award in the Humanities.
Eligibility: Scholars eligible to apply are those who have launched their careers within the last seven years and who are working in a subfield of the area of religion in North America, broadly understood. Ten scholars will be selected, with the understanding that they will commit to the program for all dates. Each participant will be expected to produce a course syllabus, with justification of teaching approach, and a publishable research article. Costs for transportation, lodging, and meals for the seminars will be covered, and there is no application fee.
To Apply: Applicants must submit: (a) a curriculum vitae; (b) three letters of reference directly supporting their application to the program (do not send portfolios with generic reference letters); and (c) a 700-word essay indicating why they are interested in participating, their current and projected research, and teaching interests. The deadline for applications is 16 November 2015. Essays, CVs, and letters of reference should be sent in PDF format to (Letters of reference should be submitted directly by referees.)
For those interested in learning more about the program, the 2014-2016 YSAR leaders, Laurie Maffly-Kipp and Douglas Winiarski, talked about the program and its current participants with Kristian Petersen over at Marginalia. The Young Scholars program also has been mentioned more than a few times on this blog. YSAR has provided numerous posts through contributors who have been participants in the program and books we've discussed--not to mention our Blogmeister Emeritus Extraordinaire Paul Harvey's service as a leader of the 2007-2009 seminar. The program also has been a topic of conversation over at the S-USIH blog where Ray Haberski referred to it as the source of more than a mere "wave" of scholarship, but a "tsunami" of scholarship. (The collection of syllabi could be included in that too.)

Christian Nationalism at USIH

Mark Edwards

For those of you in or near the DC area the weekend of October 15th-18th, be sure to swing by the Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel for the Seventh Annual Society for U. S. Intellectual History Conference.  The Society is offering a one-day "local" pass at a reduced rate.

As usual, there are a number of excellent panels on the subject of religion.  I'd like to highlight one Saturday morning panel in particular on the topic of Christian nationalism:

Roundtable: “Christian Nationalism in American History”

Chair/Discussant: Mark Edwards, Spring Arbor University

Emily Conroy-Krutz, Michigan State University

Raymond Haberski, IUPUI

Lauren Turek, Trinity University

Steven K. Green, Willamette University

Matthew Sutton, Washington State University

Here's a bit more about our subject:

What the History of American Slavery Teaches Us about Religion

Today's post comes from new monthly contributor Monica Reed. Monica is an instructor at Louisiana State University where she teaches courses in religion in the United States and World Religions. Her research focuses on the relationship between religion and racism and her current project investigates religion, slavery, and evolving notions of humanity in colonial New England.

Monica Reed 

Edward Baptist’s article, "Teaching Slavery to Reluctant Listeners," in last week’s The New York Times Magazine got me thinking about how and why I discuss slavery in my own classes. In the piece, Baptist talks a bit about his experience teaching on the topic over the past 20 years at different institutions and the difficulties that he has faced. Not surprisingly, he has encountered many students who are uncomfortable learning about the history of slavery in America, and he concludes the article explaining that this discomfort is in large part because “whenever we dredge up the past, we find that the rusty old chains we rake from the bottom are connected to some people’s present-day pains and others’ contemporary privilege.” I absolutely agree that this contributes to students’ discomfort and that this makes teaching about slavery all the more important. (Points that were driven home a few days later when I read an opinion piece is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled "Remnants of slavery: White guilt is not helping black America.")

Even though it’s hard, Baptist is right that it is one of the most worthwhile topics to discuss in the classroom. This is true not only because the institution shaped American history and has had long-lasting effects on our culture, but also because it forces students to confront aspects of American and Christian history that make them uneasy. This unease is exactly what is so important, and by discussing slavery through the lens of not just American history, but Christian history, I have found that it helps students understand two of the main points that I want them to get out of our time together. It allows students to see in a very concrete way that there is diversity within religious traditions and that people’s religious beliefs and traditions change over time.

Passion Projects

Catherine Osborne

About eight years ago, I was going through a huge collection in the archives at Notre Dame, feeling out the first contours of what became my dissertation. For preservation reasons, the archivists had separated correspondence and other written material from photographs and prints, so by the time I got to this particular folder I was hip-deep in decontextualized visual material, much of which was not especially interesting to me. I was moving fast, trying to survey all the collection's boxes before my month's residency ran out, and not paying too much attention.

Then I opened a folder and stopped.

What Would Karl Wettstone Read? Liberal Protestantism and Popular Religious Reading

Paul Putz

Omaha World-Herald, 1927
Meet Karl F. Wettstone. If you're a consistent reader of this blog, you may have already met him. He was the president of the University of Dubuque who, Elesha Coffman has told us, launched an ill-fated attempt to end "commercialized" intercollegiate athletics at the school in 1925.

After his failure at Dubuque he made his way west to Omaha, Nebraska, where he assumed the presidency of the University of Omaha (then a Presbyterian school). Upon his arrival in Omaha the World-Herald sent a reporter to get the scoop on the new resident. Wettstone was an ardent golfer, the reporter discovered, and a member of the Kiwanis club. Wettstone also had some ideas about the "so-called wave of agnosticism among college students" (it was "mostly pish-posh"), and, most important for my purposes here, modern writers.

No fan of the Smart Set, Wettstone denounced H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis. The former was "not decent," and the latter had a "polluted mind." Wettstone could only make it halfway through Elmer Gantry before throwing the book away in "utter disgust." Such vitriol may lead one to believe that Wettstone was a theological conservative. But, as you may have guessed by my tone here, that assumption would be wrong. Instead Wettstone admired the writings of religious liberals Harold Bell Wright, Henry van Dyke, and Dr. Frank Crane, and he declared himself a follower of William James.

The World-Herald's profile of Wettstone fascinated me, partly because I've been thinking quite a bit about print culture, religion, and consumer capitalism, and how the authors one reads so often serve as markers of religious identity. Wettstone was a Presbyterian (PCUSA), sure, but what kind of Presbyterian? His choice of favorite authors seemed to serve as a short-hand to answer that question for interested readers. And it was not just Wettstone's list of favorite authors that helped to define him -- the description of flinging Elmer Gantry away in disgust was an especially vivid way to describe his literary preferences. That all of this was recorded in an article for a newspaper means we have all sorts of elements of print culture converging here, hopelessly entangled.

But what do Wettstone's author preferences mean? What do they suggest about his place within the typical categories for 1920s American Protestantism?

A Socialist Speaks to the Faithful

Elesha Coffman

With Bernie Sanders's recent address at Liberty University making  much  news, I wondered how evangelicals responded to Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas back in the day. The short answer is ... I don't know. Christianity Today seems never to have commented on him, and, of course, Thomas's political career mostly played out before what we think of today as "evangelicalism" established itself. Over in the mainline world, none of the pro- (from Reinhold Niebuhr) or generally less-pro (from the editors) coverage of Thomas in The Christian Century appears to be digitized. The best I could manage, lacking time to inter-library loan a biography of Thomas, was an Amazon review in which someone who gave one of those biographies four stars complained, "Thomas also thought the Christian church had some sort of mission to create a new world order, and had failed to do so. Thomas is wrong in this idea. ... The purpose of Christianity is atonement of sins, redemption, and faith in Christ." That's about what I'd expect.

Instead, for your Saturday afternoon reading, you'll have to content yourself with these excerpts from an article Thomas wrote for the Christian Century in March 1966, titled "President Johnson's Great Society." Addressing the mainline faithful nearly 50 years ago, Thomas applauded Johnson's progress on civil rights, condemned the war in Vietnam, and shared additional thoughts on subjects including the economic impact of computers, the appropriate number of millionaires in America, the "miasma" of the political right, and our postreligious age.

Cybernetics and the Welfare State

The coming of cybernetics gives new importance to the question of the nature and use of the welfare state. Two or three years ago I was concerned about the advent of a prosperous society accompanied by a great increase in unemployment because wonderful computers and automated machinery would make great numbers of workers superfluous. The fact that unemployment has slowly decreased, not increased, since that prediction was made has taken the edge off my immediate concern. It could be decreased even more by adoption of a tremendous construction program in the course of the war against slums.

Nevertheless, problems raised by cybernetics are by no means solved. Unemployment, present or prospective, causes great concern in many industries. The process of shifting employment--for instance, from factory production to service employment--will not be automatic. Can cybernetics produce enough wealth to make possible pensions for all or many of us without our performing the necessary labor? Will more of us find creative employment in the arts or in such useful services as teaching? Will not the owners and programmers of computers and automated machinery become masters of the society for which the machines--which cannot strike--will be the producing agents? So far the drawing boards of the incipient Great Society have not had room for problems like these.

Job Announcement: TT Assistant Professorship in Religion of the Latino/Afro-Latino Diaspora

The Tufts University Department of Religion seeks a scholar for a tenure-track Mellon Bridge Assistant Professorship in Religions of the Latino and/or Afro-Latino Diaspora in the United States. PhD is required. Candidates will preferably have training in religious studies, but applications are encouraged from scholars with cognate interests in Anthropology, Ethnic Studies, History, Sociology, or other disciplines. The Department of Religion at Tufts boasts a dynamic and research-active faculty with scholarly and teaching interests in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, early Christianity, and American religious history. With this hire the department seeks a colleague who can help expand our research engagements and curricular programming. This position also supports a joint commitment to Latino Studies within the Consortium on Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora. Apart from a demonstrated commitment to scholarship and teaching in the area of Latino and/or Afro-Latino diaspora religions in the United States, candidates should be actively engaged with the study of race, ethnicity, colonialism, indigeneity, and/or migration.

This position is being supported by a grant from the Mellon Foundation to promote scholarship and teaching that bridges different departments and programs in the humanities at Tufts. The successful candidate will receive an appointment as a fellow at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts (CHAT) for the duration of the pre-tenure probationary period. We seek candidates whose research and teaching has prepared them to contribute to our commitment to diversity and inclusion in higher education.

Applications should include a cover letter, CV, writing sample, and one or more sample syllabi. Applicants should also arrange to have three confidential reference letters submitted directly by the authors. All materials must be submitted via Interfolio at Questions about the position should be directed to For help with Interfolio, please email or call (877) 997-8807.

Review of applications begins October 1, 2015, and will continue until the position is filled. The position begins July 2016.

Tufts University is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer. We are committed to increasing the diversity of our faculty. Women and members of underrepresented groups are strongly encouraged to apply.

Religion After PowerPoint

Laura Arnold Leibman 

In my graduate class this past summer, we talked about how different digital platforms shape the narrative structures of our scholarship.  How would moving an "essay" from WordPress to Wix or Prezi reorder the logic behind our ideas?  Which platform might crystallize and clarify our ideas more? In this post I am interested in an analogous question:  what is the impact of digital software and platforms on on presentations? That is, how does presentation software shape the stories we tell, for better or worse?  Like poets who try to choose the right form (sonnet, sestina, pantoum) for their subject, should scholars attempt to create an organic relationship between the types of stories we tell about American religion and the way we deliver those histories?

The issue of presentation software is crucial for me because I work primarily on material culture. Thus my lectures and talks often focus heavily on visuals, and I am constantly seeking out new and better ways of delivering those visuals to my audience.  When I am not obsessing about material culture, I commonly team-teach a large lecture class with 20-25 other people each year, which means I spend a lot of time sitting in the lecture hall reliving what it is like to be a student listening to lectures at 9 a.m.

As a listener, I find sometimes PowerPoint can help illuminate the structure of a lecture, but more often than not it competes with speaker and the logic she might have followed if PowerPoint weren't available. Indeed much has been made of the phenomenon of how PowerPoint shapes our thinking in unhelpful ways.  As Edward Tufte has pointed out,"the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis" (Tufte). Equally important from the student perspective is the fear of "death by PowerPoint" (above).  What however, are the alternatives?

This past year I set myself the task to use at least three different presentation platforms other than PowerPoint and Keynote (alias "Pretty PowerPoint for Macs"). As a result of this experiment, I increasingly feel that there is no one "perfect" software, nor is PowerPoint inherently a death sentence.  Rather, different stories benefit from different platforms.  Hence when I want to create a presentation, I begin my platform choice by asking myself, what kind of story am I telling, and what is the most important thing the audience needs to get out of it?  In this post, I discuss three presentations I gave in the past year, each of which tested out a different platform that competes with or augments PowerPoint: Prezi, Presentain, and Emaze.  I discuss what motivated the choice of each platform.

Summer/Fall Issue of Fides et Historia

Randall Stephens

The Summer/Fall 2015 issue of Fides et Historia will be making its way into pigeon holes and mailboxes across America.  (Some of those mailboxes will be plain metal ones with the obligatory flag, others will be ones designed to look like tiny barns.  Some may even look like little country churches, with small steeples and little gothic, stained-glass windows.) 

This special issue features the usual reviews, insightful articles, review essays, and two forums.  The latter covers Kate Bowler’s excellent recent book Blessed along with the work, career and wide-reaching influence of Kate’s PhD advisor, the inimitable Grant Wacker.  (Kate, of course, is much on our minds these days.) John Wigger (University of Missouri) provides a great intro to the forum on Kate’s superb work:

Blessed is an extraordinarily satisfying book. It is elegantly written, full of wit and humor. It is also deeply reasoned and thorough in its analytical sweep. Bowler’s perspective is informed by archival research and personal observation. She visited prosperity churches and traveled to Israel with Benny Hinn. Beginning with the New Thought movement that emerged in the late nineteenth century, Bowler traces the development of conceptions of faith, wealth, health, and victory within the prosperity movement through the twentieth century. The range of her analysis allows us to see the connections between such diverse figures as A. A. Allen, Norman Vincent Peale, Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Frederick Price, Joyce Meyer, and Benny Hinn. Bowler’s distinction between the “hard prosperity” of the 1970s and 1980s, which tended to reduce God’s blessings to a mathematical formula, and the “soft prosperity” that replaced it in the 1990s, with its more “therapeutic and emotive” tone, is particularly helpful. Scholars will use these definitions for years to come. Bowler’s concluding chapter is brilliant, demonstrating how the prosperity gospel continues to radiate outward through American culture.

Don Yerxa, my former colleague at ENC, also offers his introduction that effortlessly ties together the themes and topics in this latest issue.  As usual, graduate student membership in the CFH (and a one year subscription to Fides et Historia) is only $20.

Christian Historiography: An Interview with Jay D. Green


Jay D. Green has served as Professor of History at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia since 1998. He is also Vice President of the Conference on Faith & History. His latest book, just released by Baylor Press, is Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions. Green gives serious treatment to five “models for thinking and writing about the past in deliberately Christian ways.” Green gives more perspective on his book in this short interview.

Tell us about the book and why you decided to write about historiography.

The book represents a culmination of more than twenty years of thinking about and wrestling through my dual identity as a Christian believer and a student of history.  While I’ve had a deep love of history since I was four or five years old, it wasn’t until I had nearly finished my B.A. that I began to see that history was more than simply a “basket of facts.”   It was then that I began to discover the far more interesting “history of history” that stands behind every attempt to collect, analyze, and arrange the facts of past.  My introduction to graduate-level explorations of historiography coincided with an equally serious effort on my part to think about how my own personal faith should inform (or was already unconsciously informing) the ways I read and interpreted the past.  I entered graduate school in the early 1990s, when the postmodern turn in academic scholarship was reaching its zenith.  Authorial identity, intent, and perspective—along with ever-present anxieties about objectivity—were matters of great concern, which fueled my interest in thinking about what might be meant by a “Christian interpretation of history.”  

Catholic Archives in the Digital Age: A Conference for Teachers and Archivists

Monica L. Mercado

From the Catholic Research Resources Alliance (CRRA) comes the following announcement.

Catholic Archives in the Digital Age: A Conference for Teachers and Archivists

October 8-9, 2015 | 9:00a.m.-4:00p.m. | 
The Catholic University of America

[Register online]

The worlds of archives and education continue to experience transformation during the digital age. This conference will explore how digitization has affected both the fields of archives and education, with a focus on Catholic archival and educational institutions. We will also explore the new opportunities and challenges presented to teachers and archivists by the advent of availability of digital materials via the web.

There is also a livestream option planned for those who cannot attend in person.

Kim Davis and the Lived Theology of Conscience

Today's guest post comes from Peter Cajka. Peter is a PhD candidate in the Boston College History Department. He's working on a dissertation that examines the way Americans have understood and experienced conscience between 1939 and 1991.

Peter Cajka

The basic details of the Kim Davis saga are readily available, and now scholars and commentators are seeking explanations for her actions. Davis refused a state order to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, and her persistence landed her in jail. Some articles have emphasized Davis’s denominational positionality as a member of the Apostolic Christian Church.  Others see Davis as the most recent conscientious objector, in a long line, to be inspired by religion. Sarah Posner made the helpful observation in Religion Dispatches that, “if you listen to what Davis is saying, her real argument is that God’s authority trumps that of the courts … not that her religious liberty is under siege.”

How can religious history help us to better understand Kim Davis? In this blog post I suggest Davis is participating, inadvertently or otherwise, in a broad conversation – widely conducted in America in the 1960s and 1970s and present in our own times – about the “Theology of Conscience.” Davis may not know it, but she has stepped into a dialogue often rehearsed in American history, one vigorously debated in the 1960s and 1970s.

Davis seems to accord conscience a pride-of-place. As she explained to fellow Kentuckians:
I have worked in the Rowan County Clerk's office for 27 years as a Deputy Clerk and was honored to be elected as the Clerk in November 2014 …To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God's definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience … Our history is filled with accommodations for people's religious freedom and conscience … I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience.
I have read many statements like this in primary sources, both published and private, for my dissertation on the Theology of Conscience in postwar America.  Catholics and Protestants yearned in the 1960s and 1970s to not be forced by political power to “violate conscience.” They often claimed that being forced to violate conscience left permanent scars. Against this longer historical context, Davis’s exegeses on conscience, it seems to me, ought to be taken seriously, no matter where one stands on gay marriage.  She seems to believe that a violation of conscience could bring permanent pain. She might anticipate the pain to be so deep and lasting that she dares not trespass against her own conscience. This is not a call to make her theology normative (in the sense that, as she claims, it reflect God’s will), it is a call to understand how conscience actually operates in her life.

Introducing @Preacher_Bot: An Experiment in Evangelical Speechmaking

Chris Cantwell
It rained most of Labor Day in Kansas City, which meant my partner, my two kids, and I spent most of the day indoors at home. It turned out ok. I read various children's books, played various children's games, and made, according to my three year old, the coolest pillow fort ever. But the best part about yesterday was an amazing stretch of about three hours where my two boys remarkably occupied their own time. It was time I had hoped for in order to finish my RiAH blog post for today, but instead I found myself in the mood to keep playing. So I ended up doing something I had been wanting to do for a while, build a Twitterbot.

For those of you who don't know, a Twitterbot is a simple piece of computer programming that posts content to Twitter automatically. If you're any kind of regular Twitter user, you've encountered twitterbots before. The most common are spambots that favorite, retweet, or reply to a tweet of yours so you see the product they're advertising when you look at their profile. In the last several years, however, a growing number of artists and hacktivists have harnessed the power of twitterbots to make various cultural and political statements. On the one hand there are completely nonsensical bots like @TwoHeadlines that randomly smashes together the titles of two news articles to make often hilarious results. On the other hand there are a number quite serious bots like @CongressEdits, which sends out notifications when someone makes an anonymous edit to Wikipedia using an IP address from within the US Capitol. The bot includes a link to the edited Wikipedia entry in the tweet so the world can see what kind of scrubbing, altering, deleting or updating some congressional staffer was doing that they didn't want known. In between these poles are a variety of poignant or playful twitterbots that algorithmically comment upon our times. Readers of this blog might appreciate the @Every3Minutes bot that sends out links to books on slavery every 3.6 minutes, which was the average interval between slave sales in the antebellum South. My most recent favorite, however, is the @TheHigherDead, a bot built by Chuck Rybak and bot-extraordinaire Mark Sample that transforms the platitudes of university administrators into the ramblings of bureaucratic zombies out to eat faculty brains.

Kate Bowler Fan Club

Note from your Blogmeister Emeritus:

As many of you know from social media, our much-beloved colleague, professor at Duke University, periodic blogger for RiAH, and wittiest person this side of Tina Fey, Kate Bowler, is staring down a serious illness. As Philip Goff put it on the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture page on facebook, "for those who know Kate, no words are necessary. For those who don't, no words are sufficient."

Aside from sending her and her family, including 2-year old Zach, all our warmest wishes, there is something else we can do: help support her family during this time of added medical expenses, child care, and much else through what we hope will be her full recovery.

Please go to the Support Kate, Zoban, and Tach crowdfunding website, to learn more. You may also go to Kate's personal website for periodic updates on her progress. There are also several other sites up where you can help.

We love you, Kate, and we want you back making us all spit out our wine laughing as soon as you can. 

Thomas Hooker's Terrifying God

Jonathan Den Hartog 

With the beginning of the new semester, I find myself back at the beginning(s) of narratives for both the United States, generally, and American Religion more particularly.

One of the places to start is with the Puritans. But, can anything new be said about them? It turns out, several things can be. Indeed, there might be enough to stretch across this entire fall.

In answer to that question, I recently received a new volume from RiAH World Headquarters--Baird Tipson's Hartford Puritanism: Thomas Hooker, Samuel Stone, and Their Terrifying God.

Tipson has retired from academic administration, but in this volume he returns to his earlier interests in religious history.

Rather than staying in Massachusetts Bay, Tipson pays attention to the distinctives of Connecticut Puritanism. In Hartford, Hooker preached Puritan doctrine while his assistant Samuel Stone taught it more systematically.

Tipson thinks Hooker is in need of a re-branding. Public memory and scholarly descriptions have alternately portrayed Hooker as a democratic spirit, leaving behind the elitism of Boston; as a Calvinist modernizer who opened the door to human action in preparation for salvation; and as a careful chronicler of spiritual regeneration. As are many puritan studies, this one is an extended answer to Perry Miller, who saw in Connecticut an opening wedge of human action and democracy to counter established Calvinism.

Frederic Church's 1846 painting of Hooker's journey to Hartford envisions him as a democratic pioneer.
In contrast to these views, Tipson carefully reads Hooker's full corpus to show that he remained an elitist and an enforcer of moral and spiritual codes, that he reinforced the strongest reformed outlooks toward predestination, and that he was actively defining how his congregants should experience their conversions. The resulting picture bears a truer mark, while showing both Hooker's daunting character and his distance from contemporary attitudes.

The book benefits from larger trends in puritan studies (lower-case "p" preferred). An important one is to place greater emphasis the English character of the movement. Thus, studies increasingly see the puritan movement  as not simply transatlantic but primarily English. Francis Bremer has been influential in this reconsideration, especially in his biographies of John Winthrop and John Davenport. This strategy works well with Hooker, who spent the first fifty years of his life in England and there developed all of his significant opinions.

Tipson pays close attention to Hooker's English background. Following the lead of historians of the English Reformation, Tipson is able to place Hooker's strong preaching and non-conformity as marked but not all that distinct from the English Protestant mainstream of the early 1600s. He pays close attention to those preachers who influenced him (John Rogers of Dedham), the "godly" circles he ran in, and the culture of which he was a part. The defining years for Hooker were thus not on the frontier, but during his time as a public theological lecturer and teacher in the English village of Chelmsford.

CFP: Religion and Law at SECSOR 2016


Michael Graziano 

This year has been chock-full of interesting developments in American religion and law, many of which have been chronicled on the blog. With the Kim Davis story dominating the news cycle the last few days, this seems as good a time as any to share the following CFP for the religion and law section at SECSOR. The conference will be held in Atlanta, and is a great opportunity for people living in the Southeast (or who'd like to visit the Southeast!). While some parts of the call are aimed at developments within the United States, we are very interested in work on religion and law in non-US contexts. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact myself or Brad Stoddard.

CFP: Religion and Law Section,
SECSOR 2016 (Atlanta, GA) March 4-6

For the 2016 meeting, we are especially interested in papers addressing: (1) The Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), (2) Sincerely-held religious belief, (3) Tolerance, pluralism, and the law, (4) Recent Supreme Court decisions such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Holt v. Hobbs, and (5) Conflict and Consensus: Christianity, Civil Rights, and Religious Freedom in the United States (joint session with History of Christianity). As evidenced by Indiana's recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the relationship between "religious freedom" and other notions of "human rights" or "civil rights" is far from settled. What can scholars interested in the evolution of religious freedom, Christian history, and American history more broadly learn by studying the contested and disputed state of religious liberty in the past fifty years?

In addition, we are always interested in papers related to religion and law generally. Send proposals to Brad Stoddard ( and Michael Graziano ( If you are proposing a paper or panel for the joint session with History of Christianity, please indicate this in your e-mail.

*Image Credit: Mike on Flickr.

The Examined Life: An Undergraduate Conference in the Liberal Arts

Art Remillard

Back in 2007, I started an undergraduate conference in religion and philosophy. In the years that have followed, the conference has attracted an astonishing number of participants, traveling in from all over the United States and Canada. Additionally, it has switched locations between here, Westminster College, and Lebanon Valley College.

For the 2016 installment, we decided to extend the focus and have a two day "celebration" of the liberal arts. Appropriately enough, the celebrating starts with an "ethics bowl," before our friend John Fea delivers the keynote address. In anticipation of his arrival, I will be organizing a course around Professor Fea's remarkably insightful and accessible Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?

So please circulate this CFP among your students and colleagues. Our website  will be developed throughout the year. And I have been posting items relevant to the conference on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Feel free to follow along.


Call for Papers

The Examined Life
An Undergraduate Conference in the Liberal Arts

Friday and Saturday, March 18-19, 2016
Saint Francis University
Loretto, Pennsylvania 15940
Click HERE for a PDF version of the Call for Papers

Job Announcement: Two Positions at The University of the South

The Department of Religion at The University of the South seeks applications for two tenure-track positions. The first position is in American Religious History (preferably with a focus on migration in any of the Americas and/or the Caribbean). The second position is in either Religion and Science (preferably with strong grounding in theory) or Islam (area of specialization open but conversant with the modern period). Both positions begin in August of 2016.

The successful candidates will teach introductory courses and upper division courses in their areas of expertise and eventually including an upper level class on methodologies, which all members of the department teach. The teaching load for each position is five courses per year. We prefer candidates to have a Ph.D. at the time of appointment. The successful candidates will also show evidence of effective classroom teaching and commitment to scholarly research and publications.

Applicants will please submit a cover letter, curriculum vitae, unofficial graduate transcripts, and at least three letters of recommendation through the following web portal:

We also welcome a writing sample, though one is not required. For full consideration applications must be received by October 30, 2015.

The University of the South comprises a well-regarded College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a distinguished School of Theology. It is an institution of the Episcopal Church that welcomes individuals of all backgrounds. The University is located on a striking, 13,000-acre campus on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau.

The University of the South is committed to creating and maintaining a diverse campus environment. We are proud to be an equal opportunity educational institution and welcome all qualified applicants without regard to their race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age, or veteran status.

Eligibility for employment is contingent upon successful prescreening.
- See more at:

Questions may be directed to the Chair of the Department, Sid Brown (sbrown [at] sewanee [dot] edu) 

African American Religion as a category

Matthew J. Cressler

A laundry list of topics I'd like to blog on accumulated over the past month - my family and I moved to the South Carolina Lowcountry where West African simbi spirits reside; Sylvester Johnson's game-changing African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom (Cambridge, 2015) just dropped; Show Me A Hero has me thinking a lot about white Catholic resistance to forced desegregation; and, with the (ongoing) help of friends, I'm compiling a reading list on Black liberation and religion. Surprising to no one, the frantic start to the semester pressed pause on this ambitious list.

So instead, today I want to share a little bit of what went down in my first class at the College of Charleston. This is my second year teaching an introduction African American religions, albeit at two very different institutions, and for the second year in a row I am attempting to teach "African American religion" as a category of analysis. In this I've been influenced by Eddie Glaude's argument in African American Religion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2014), which I've blogged about here before. In a quote worth reading in its entirety, Glaude argues provocatively (and I think persuasively)
If the phrase "African American religion" is to have any descriptive usefulness at all, it must signify something more than African Americans who are religious. In fact, African Americans practice a number of different religions. There are black people who are Buddhist, Jehovah Witness, Mormon, and Baha'i. But that African Americans practice these traditions does not lead us to describe them as black Buddhism or black Mormonism. African American religion singles out something more substantive than that (7).
To paraphrase Glaude a bit bluntly, if the study of African American religion is simply the study of the many ways African Americans happen to be religious, then that study is neither interesting nor productive.

Religious Museums, Historical Memory, and Public History

Lauren Turek

Photo by Lindsay Eyink

Now that Fall classes have begun, I am (naturally? neurotically?) thinking ahead to the classes that I'll be teaching in the Spring semester. One of those will be a course on Museums and Society, which I will be designing as an introduction to public history as well as to museum work. Mulling over the topics I want to cover in that class has led me to think not just about my previous training in museum studies, but also about the museums I have visited or worked with over the years—including a number of religious and denominational museums. Some of these, such as the Judah L. Magnes Museum of Jewish Art and Life in Berkeley, CA, are dedicated to exploring the life, art, and material culture of specific religious groups in the United States and their connections to the larger diaspora. Others, such as the Assemblies of God museum at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, MO are designed primarily with members of their faith in mind. They provide a history of the denomination and their global missionary enterprise while seeking to inculcate a sense of  pride and belonging among fellow believers. Then there are those religious museums and theme parks, such as the much-publicized Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (as well as the related and still-under construction Ark Encounter), which actually serve as physical spaces that embody, perform, and teach religious doctrine rather than present the history or heritage of a particular religious group.

This has led me to wonder—what would be the most effective and sensitive way to incorporate the study of these religious museums into courses on American religious history or public history?

In the diversity of their missions and presentation practices, these types of museums strike me as fascinating potential case studies for those of us interested in understanding how communities use, create, and present their histories to themselves and the larger community. They also shed light on religion in American history as well as in contemporary politics and civic life. After all, why build a museum? What is it about the museum as a concept that has led religious groups to create these spaces? How do the denominational leaders or founders of these institutions decide on the narrative their museum will present to the public—what they will include in the story and what they will leave out? How do they present religious objects/artifacts, texts, and images? How do they define their mission—is the museum a place to bolster existing beliefs? To win new believers? Or teach non-believers about the history of Jews or Catholics or Sikhs in a specific town, state, or the nation as a whole? What do their mission and the exhibitions they develop tell us about religion in public history?

CFP: Heidelberg Center for American Studies Annual Spring Academy Conference

Heidelberg Center for American Studies 13th Annual Spring Academy Conference

Heidelberg, Germany, 14-18 March, 2016

Call for Papers

The thirteenth HCA Spring Academy on American History, Culture, and Politics will be held from March 14-18, 2016. The Heidelberg Center for American Studies (HCA) invites applications for this annual one-week conference that provides twenty international Ph.D. students with the opportunity to present and discuss their Ph.D. projects.

The HCA Spring Academy will also offer participants the chance to work closely with experts in their respective fields of study. For this purpose, workshops held by visiting scholars will take place during this week.

We encourage applications that range broadly across the arts, humanities, and social sciences and pursue an interdisciplinary approach. Papers can be presented on any subject relating to the study of the United States of America. Possible topics include American identity, issues of ethnicity, gender, transatlantic relations, U.S. domestic and foreign policy, economics, as well as various aspects of American history, literature, religion, geography, law, musicology, and culture.

Participants are requested to prepare a 20-minute presentation of their research project, which will be followed by a 40-minute discussion. Proposals should include a preliminary title and run to no more than 300 words. These will be arranged into ten panel groups.

In addition to cross-disciplinary and international discussions during the panel sessions, the Spring Academy aims at creating a pleasant collegial atmosphere for further scholarly exchange and contact.
Accommodation will be provided by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies.

Thanks to a small travel fund, the Spring Academy is able to subsidize travel expenses for participants registered and residing in developing and soft-currency countries. Scholarship applicants will need to document the necessity for financial aid and explain how they plan to cover any potentially remaining expenses. In addition, a letter of recommendation from their doctoral advisor is required.







The Origins of American Religious Nationalism

Charles McCrary

Review: Sam Haselby, The Origins of American Religious Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Some of the most interesting and vibrant work in American religious history/studies has analyzed the constructions and intersections of religion, politics, sectarianism, nationalism, and secularism in the early national period. At the same time, many of these conversations are stale—or, at least, the paradigms are. It’s a strange problem. Talented scholars have written great articles and books on these topics, fostering a rich conversation that includes Paul Johnson, Nathan Hatch, Amanda Porterfield, Eric Schlereth, Christine Heyrman, and many others. And yet, many of the characters, frameworks, and questions remain the same. Was the Second Great Awakening about “individualism” or “social control”? Were Methodists and Baptists really egalitarian? What, exactly, is Jeffersonianism? And what did Protestantism have to do with the “frontier” and American expansion?

Alongside this literature, and sometimes overlapping with it, many scholars have taken interest in the creation of the American nation and the advent of nationalism, national identity, and American exceptionalism. In expanding out from Perry Miller—and Sacvan Bercovitch and Richard Slotkin after him—many American studies scholars moved away from questions of nationalism and “the nation” in favor of analyses of material culture, racialization, gender, popular culture, and a host of other topics and lenses. However, a newer group of scholars, building from these insights and combining them with political theory and analytical frameworks like imperialism and settler colonialism, have argued again for the centrality of the nation(al) to nineteenth-century American life. These scholars, including Susan Schulten, Jason Frank, Thomas Allen, and Eric Slauter, have written outstanding (and some of my favorite) works, though religion is often absent from their discussions. Another group of scholars, understanding the United States as an empire, have resituated the nation as a category of analysis by focusing on its global engagements. Some of these scholars have focused on religion and the early national period. Heyrman and Emily Conroy-Krutz (both forthcoming), for example, have demonstrated how Protestant missions globalized America’s “civilizing” imperialism. These histories occasionally intersect with work on religion, politics, and the “Second Great Awakening” (sometimes under the framework of the “Benevolent Empire,” as discussed recently on this blog), though the work discussed in this second paragraph rarely is in sustained historiographical conversation with the first.

That was a long, scattered historiographical introduction. But I bring up all these issues only to highlight how impressive—and invaluable—a contribution Sam Haselby has made with The Origins of American Religious Nationalism. The historical people, movements, and ideas, as well as the historiographical questions and frameworks, certainly are all related. But the threads are in a tangle. Haselby picks apart the knots and weaves together a lucid narrative while remaining disciplined, focused, and clear. What results is a story about American religion, politics, and nationalism that is sweeping and expansive and, at the same time, clear and coherent.

Reforming Sodom, or Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster

Mark Edwards

For those of you who missed the preorder parade, get your copy now of Heather R. White’s new book, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (UNC).  I’m sure there will be a lot to say about White’s work in the upcoming months here at RIAH.  What follows is less a review than a brief historiographical meditation upon this exceptional piece of scholarship.

Put simply, Reforming Sodom reveals the surprising history of Protestant contributions to the creation as well as destruction of the post-World War II  “straight state.”  As White explains:

The broad common sense about the Bible’s specifically same-sex meaning was an invention of the twentieth century.  Today’s antihomosexual animus is not the singular residue of an ancient damnation.  Rather, it is the product of a more complex modern synthesis.  To find the influential generators of that synthesis, moreover, we should look not to fundamentalist preachers but to their counterparts (pp. 3-4). 

SPOILER ALERT: By “counterparts,” White means the liberal Protestants who coopted, formed, and spread the therapeutic sciences after 1920.  Her work is in keeping with recent arguments by David Hollinger, Matt Hedstrom, Gene Zubovich, and others regarding the central—if often “quiet”—impact of liberal Protestantism within American culture.  Countering secularist narratives of the liberatory power of the social sciences, White advances a (thankfully) plain-man’s Foucaultian account of how liberal Protestant pastors, Bible scholars, and others generated a “new sexual binary” between heterosexuality and homosexuality.  Much like Dr. Frankenstein gazing upon his monster, however, liberal Protestants quickly recoiled in horror at what they had fashioned.  They revolted against—and generally forgot—their own handiwork, becoming early supporters during the 1950s and 1960s of a pro-gay politics.  Evangelical conservatives, nearly a decade later, turned to the same “therapeutic orthodoxy” in their resistance to gay rights.  Thus, as White concludes, “a liberal Protestant legacy has shaped all sides of the oppositional politics over gay rights” (p. 5).

Reforming Sodom can be read as an essential compliment to at least two recent syntheses of post-World War II America.

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