Four Questions with Chris Beneke



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Randall Stephens

Chris Beneke is an associate professor of history at Bentley University in Waltham, MA. He completed his PhD at Northwestern University in 2001 and since then has written numerous essays, articles, and books on colonial religion, toleration, and intellectual history. His first book was Beyond
Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (Oxford, 2006).  Since then he has edited, with Christopher S. Grenda, The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America (UPenn, 2011); with Christopher S. Grenda and David Nash, Profane: Sacrilegious Expression in a Multicultural Age (University of California, 2014); and with Christopher S. Grenda, The Lively Experiment: Religious Toleration in America from Roger Williams to the Present (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015). More recently he has been working on the First Amendment's religious clauses (his Free Exercise is forthcoming with Cornell University Press, exp. 2016).  In addition to that Chris has also written for The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, and The Christian Century.

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

Chris Beneke: When I began graduate school, I thought I’d be studying political history, or the history of political thought. That plan didn’t survive my first semester. I got hooked on religious history while reading Perry Miller and Edmund Morgan. At some point during that same year, it occurred to me that many of the most illuminating questions about politics and social life in eighteenth-century America had been raised by people whose answers were often religious. I then a wrote an undistinguished master’s thesis on an obscure eighteenth-century clergymen. It was not auspicious, but it was a start.

I should confess that I don’t actually call myself a religious historian. During graduate school, I described what I did as intellectual history. I don’t do that anymore—it takes too much explaining. It also sounds pretentious. But I’m not exactly a religious historian either. I usually describe myself as a historian. If pressed, I say that I study religious toleration. That usually brings the conversation to an amicable close.

Job Announcement: VAP in American Religion @ University of Wyoming



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The Religious Studies department at the University of Wyoming announces a one-year position in American religions at the rank of Visiting Assistant Professor or instructor, beginning in August 2015.  Responsibilities include five undergraduate-level courses over the academic year, with at least one of these taught online.

Required qualifications: Ph.D. in Religious Studies or related discipline, or evidence of imminent completion of the degree; demonstrated expertise in American religions.

Preferred qualifications: Specialization in religion in the American West; ample experience in undergraduate teaching.

To apply: Submit a cover letter and CV, as email attachments to: relstudies@uwyo.edu.  Please include names and contact information for three recommenders in cover letter.

Review of applications begins May 5, 2015, and will continue until the position is filled.

Direct any inquiries regarding this position to Quincy D. Newell, qdnewell@uwyo.edu.

The full job ad can be found here.

The University of Wyoming is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.  All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or protected veteran status or any other characteristic protected by law and University policy.  Please see www.uwyo.edu/diversity/fairness.

We conduct background investigations for all final candidates being considered for employment. Offers of employment are contingent upon the completion of the background check.

Sex in the Pacific



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Charles McCrary 

This post is the third installment in a series on the Pacific. For previous entries, see parts 1, 2a, and 2b.

The first post in this series ended with a question: What models, topics, and themes might we use to study the Pacific and to incorporate Pacific history into American religious history? Global history is often best told by following one theme—an idea, group, commodity, even an individual—in order to trace the networks of people, things, and capital that create world history. Sidney Mintz’s seminal Sweetness and Power has been a model for food studies and global histories, with its dynamic ability to focus on vast trade networks, labor, and capital, as well as the cultural changes (such as how the British eat dessert) driving and driven by global capitalism. Many others have studied foods in this way: Mark Kurlanksy’s popular histories of cod and salt, as well as forthcoming work from Augustine Sedgewick on coffee and Hi'ilei Hobart on ice. Scholars have studied other commodities and their networks. Gregory Cushman’s Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, which won last year’s inaugural Jerry Bentley Prize, awarded by the AHA to the best book “dealing with global or world-scale history,” is an outstanding, wide-ranging book that incorporates many subfields and topics (including religious/missions history) while telling its detailed stories. It’s one of the best books I read last year; you should read it. See also Sven Beckert's Empire of Cotton, which recently won the Bancroft Prize.

I want to spend some more time considering broad frameworks (flows, networks, exchange) that might allow for a Pacific– and globally oriented American religious history. One way to get at these issues, and to focus and organize our inquiries, is to think about particular themes and topics. Which subjects might provide us lenses into broad histories that bridge subfields? Capitalism, empire, environment, and the more specific topics associated with them all provide fruitful lenses. Here, working with an “exchange” model, I’ll sketch broadly how an interdisciplinary Pacific history might be told through a particular type of exchange: sex.

Are the Culture Wars History?: A Conversation with Andrew Hartman



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The following is an interview with Andrew Hartman, author of the new book, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago, April 2015).  You may also be interested in Hartman's recent talk with The Boston Globe.  Hartman is the founding President of the Society for U. S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) and a regular blogger there.  He is also chair of S-USIH’s upcoming conference in Washington DC in October.

1. You mention in your Acknowledgements that Leo Ribuffo gave you the topic for this book.  Could you say more about how and why it came about?

After one of Professor Ribuffo’s seminars that I took in graduate school, Leo offhandedly suggested that I should write my dissertation on the battles over education during the 1950s. A few years later I had a dissertation, which he directed, and a few years after that I had my first book, Education and the Cold War. Leo seems to have a knack for knowing how to match my interests to the gaps in the literature. So in 2008, just as my first book had come out, Leo once again offhandedly suggested in an email that perhaps my second book should be a history of the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s. He knew then, and I soon discovered, that no historian had ever written a monograph about the culture wars. And the topic really did match my interests since it allowed me to explore education, politics, and culture—all through the lens of intellectual history.

But Leo suggesting that I write a history of the culture wars was also deeply ironic, because he doesn’t think that historians should take the “culture wars” label seriously. He always prefaces the “so-called culture wars.” He thinks it’s hyperbolic and that Americans have always had shouting matches related to the national identity.

Ask the Southern Baptist Convention and Robert Dale Owen? Or advice on the best age for marriage



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Carol Faulkner

Last month, a NPR story about the Southern Baptist Convention's "soft push" for early marriages caught my attention. My mother always told me not to marry until age 30, which says a lot about her political and philosophical differences from leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention. When I reached that age as a single woman, however, she began to get nervous. Still, my mother was on to something. Studies show that college-educated women who delay marriage do better financially than women who marry at a younger age. The Southern Baptist Convention's new campaign grows from their awareness of the rising marriage age (as of 2011, the average age of marriage for women was 26.5 years, for men, 28.7), as well as the denomination's interest in discouraging premarital sex. The NPR story quotes Andrew Walker, who leads SBC efforts on early marriages, explaining the rationale: "The reality is, starting at the age of 12, 13, boys and men, growing up into maturity, are hardwired for something that God gave us a desire for and an outlet for.... And so to suppress that becomes more difficult the older you get." Though there is a lot to say about this quote, I will focus on how it echoes the marriage advice of antebellum reformers. Aside from shared disapproval of premarital sex, these reformers had little in common with antebellum or modern evangelicals. Their advice on the appropriate age of marriage reveals their contradictory attempts to address sexual inequality in nineteenth-century America.

Robert Dale Owen

Perhaps the best-known of these nineteenth-century writers was socialist (and later spiritualist) Robert Dale Owen, whose book Moral Physiology famously promoted the use of birth control among married couples.*  Owen shared Malthus's concern with population growth, but he also believed contraception enabled couples to achieve economic stability and, more importantly, personal happiness. Owen posited that, "the families of the married often increase beyond what a regard for the young beings coming into existence or the happiness of those who give them birth, would dictate." He wrote in opposition to "orthodox" clergy who advocated later marriages as a means of birth control. Instead, Owen argued that early marriages would solve a number of social problems, including onanism (masturbation), seduction, and prostitution, because "all men will marry while young" if they had the ability to limit their children. Owen saw sexual fulfillment as essential to marriage. In his view, early marriages, when combined with birth control, would be "salutory, moral, and civilizing" for both men and women.

"A more catholic American Catholic Historical Association," Part II: Recapping the Spring Meeting of the ACHA



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[This month Cushwa welcomes Michael Skaggs (@maskaggs), who is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Notre Dame, to recap the recent ACHA Spring Meeting.]

Michael Skaggs
            
From March 26 to March 28, the University of Notre Dame hosted the American Catholic Historical Association’s 2015 Spring Meeting. The 2015 Spring Meeting was, to judge from the feedback of presenters and attendees, a great success. Just a few minutes spent mingling during the crucial coffee breaks between panels revealed an abundance of new connections, happy reunions, and fruitful discussion among conferees. In terms of both topic and timeframe, the meeting covered an extraordinary amount of ground. Junior scholars (yours truly included) greatly benefited from the feedback, critique, and support of experienced colleagues, proving that the ACHA is making great efforts to foster the next generation of scholarship. I’m grateful for Peter Cajka's preliminary report from April 5 on the Catholics in the American Century roundtable. Because Peter covered that highlight of the conference so well, I’ll offer only a few words, as a non-participant, on that panel below. I’ll conclude by offering a few thoughts on whether we succeeded in answering Peter’s call to become “more catholic” in our scholarship.

New Books Alert: 2015 Year in Preview, Part Two (May-August)



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Paul Putz

Back in January I posted a preview list of new books within the field of American religious history. That list only included books set to be released between January and April. As promised, here is the second part, featuring the May-to-August books. Once again I've included about 50 titles, and that doesn't even include LSU Press's "updated edition" of Ed Blum's Reforging the White Repblic, set for publication in June. (Congrats, Ed!)

A couple quick points to make before we get to the list. First, I've listed the books in roughly chronological order based on the month of their release date. Second, although I've tried to include as many relevant and interesting titles as I could find, I'm sure that I left out some deserving books. Please use the comments to add to this list, and I can update the post as needed. Third, to add a little color to this post, here are six of the books that I am most interested in reading (I'd include Heath Carter's Union Made on this list, but alas, I could not find an image of the book cover):

*Update: just added Heather White's Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (North Carolina, August). I'm not sure how I missed this book the first time around. I suppose this is why we crowdsource!


ASCH: Suddenly Single?



7 comments
Elesha Coffman

The American Society of Church History has been holding its annual meeting in conjunction with the American Historical Association since at least 1909. Owing to changes in the way AHA relates to its affiliated societies, however, the two groups could part ways in future years. Readers of this blog who attended the meeting in New York City in January likely noticed some differences in the registration procedure and may have heard chatter about an impending split following the Sunday night business meeting. As a member of the ASCH council, I would really like to hear from you all regarding what you think we should do--or, more specifically at this stage, what questions we should ask, and of whom, as the ASCH enters the process of making a decision.

To outline the situation very briefly: Recent policy changes by the AHA will make it more expensive for members of affiliated societies (including ASCH, ACHA, and all of the others listed here) to attend the AHA annual meeting while also giving affiliated societies less control over their portions of the meeting--how many paper sessions they have, where those sessions meet, what kind of displays the societies can set up, and so forth. These changes seem to leave ASCH three basic options: (1) to keep meeting with AHA, though under less congenial terms; (2) to affiliate with a different scholarly society (or societies); or (3) to go it alone and plan its own, separate annual meeting, analogous to though larger than the current ASCH spring meeting.

A survey laying out these options in detail and inviting feedback from constituents will be available later this year. I'm helping draft the survey, and there are some things I want to think more about--and hear from more people about--to try to make sure we get the most useful information from all of the people with a stake in the ASCH's next move. So here are some of my big questions:

Guaranteed Pure: A Conversation with Tim Gloege



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Heath Carter

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Tim Gloege regarding his important new book, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (UNC Press), which led us into some larger questions having to do with the histories of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and capitalism in the United States.  The book is available now and qualifies as a must read.  


HC: For those who haven't read the book yet, can you offer a sneak preview of some of the ways in which you argue the Moody Bible Institute and Business contributed to the Making of Modern Evangelicalism?  

TG: Yes, absolutely, and thanks for this opportunity to talk about the book, Heath. 

Guaranteed Pure tells the story of a group of businessmen, ministers, and evangelists that developed a particular strain of evangelicalism—what I call “corporate evangelicalism”—during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. The center of gravity of this network was the Moody Bible Institute (MBI), founded in Chicago in 1889 by the salesman-turned-revivalist Dwight L. Moody. The story begins in the 1870s when Moody stood at the center of a dynamic, if unstable, network of self-described “Christian workers” committed to evangelizing the urban “masses.” It traces the failure of that project and MBI’s transition, after Moody’s death, to a new focus on influencing middle-class Protestantism. Under a new regime, headed by the promotional genius and president of Quaker Oats, Henry Crowell, they battled liberal theology and modified its evangelical message to insure it was safe and attractive to the “respectable” middle classes. During the 1910s and early 1920s, MBI became a virtual headquarters for an emerging fundamentalist movement. 

The book traces a number of ways that MBI and business contributed to the making of modern evangelicalism, but I’ll highlight three. First, it brokered a set of connections between evangelicalism and a new set of economic identities, assumptions, and techniques. It began with Moody’s construct of a “Christian worker.” This constituted a new religious identity for laypeople, based on new realities of industrial work and especially the desires of elite businessmen for submissive employees who worked hard. This identity in turn influenced their interpretation of holy writ. The Bible became analogous to a work contract—filled with promises and requirements for God’s employees. Under Crowell, MBI shifted the primary identity from Christian worker to savvy consumer. What God required of faithful believers, they taught, was to choose and consume “pure religion.” 

But perhaps more important were the bedrock assumptions that underlay both these economic identities and their religious analogs. It was a vision of the world in which society consisted primarily of individuals constructing identities by making rational choices. Thus, it was not coincidental that modern conservative evangelicalism developed contemporaneously with modern consumer capitalism; they share a similar ideological foundation (one, interestingly, that is often at odds with the findings of modern post-Darwinian science). 

First Baptist, Depreston: Megachurches and Making Suburbia



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Charity R. Carney

Strip malls. Chain restaurants. Gated communities. Starbucks… So many Starbucks. And megachurches. One of the main features of today’s suburban landscape is the megachurch. Megas offer entertaining services, architecture that mimics the surrounding material environment, and a sense of community that seems to fit the suburban lifestyle. For sprawling suburbs many megachurches have even built satellite campuses so that the Sunday commute isn’t too burdensome. Large, seeker-sensitive churches (some preaching prosperity) seem to do particularly well in the suburbs, which have provided homes for more than 75% of megas in United States since the late-1980s.1 The suburbs have contributed to the evolution of modern American evangelicalism’s rituals, doctrines, material culture, community structures. While we can still lament the rise of pre-fab houses and “Californian bungalows in cul-de-sacs” (see Courtney Barnett’s brilliant new homage to the suburbs, Depreston), it is important to recognize the diversity of suburbia and the ways that it has affected religion and religious practices.

The Short, Secret Life of Academic Articles



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Laura Arnold Leibman

In How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, Katherine Hayles notes the "shockingly small rate at which [academic] articles are cited (and presumably read)."  The news is bleak enough for the sciences, in which 22.4% of all articles aren't cited even once within the first five years, but that unfortunate statistic pales compared to humanities articles, 93.1% of which fail to be cited even once five years after they appear in print.  Regardless of the greater prestige given to books in our field, this is dismal news (Hayles 3-4).  The story gets incrementally worse for those us not in the social sciences.  As David Hamilton points out, "Within the arts and humanities (where admittedly citation is not so firmly entrenched), uncitedness figures hit the ceiling. Consider, for example, theater (99.9%), American literature (99.8%), architecture (99.6%), and religion (98.2%)" (Hamilton 1991, 25).  Certainly things may have improved for the better since Hamilton's article appeared due to the rise of electronic databases like JSTOR and Project MUSE and the willingness of people to place offprints online on Academia.edu and Research Gate. Even so, given the amount of time and affection many of us put into writing academic articles, these statistics are more than a little depressing. 

In some ways these paltry statistics belie my own experience: articles often influence my own thinking the most.  Are there things we could (or should) be doing to make academic articles more visible in the circuit of ideas?  Like most scholars, I focus my published reviews of other scholars' work on their books; hence I'd like to dedicate this post to a few articles that either I return to again and again, or (if the articles are recent) I expect to return to repeatedly in the future.  I hope this list will not only lead others to these gems, but also encourage readers to present their own lists of favorite article in the comments or to review articles in future posts on RiAH.

Here is my current Top Five:

Grant Announcement: The Historical Society of The Episcopal Church



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Michael Utzinger



The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church invites applications from individual scholars and academic and ecclesiastical groups for grants to support significant research, conferences, and publications relating to the history of the Church of England, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and Anglican and Episcopal churches in North America.

Grants are usually modest, generally $1,000-$2,000, though more or less may be awarded depending on number of awards and amount of funds available in any year. Typical grants include travel to archives, collections or resources, dissertation research, and seed money for larger projects.

The deadline for submission is May 1, 2015.

Applications must include:

  1. A statement of the subject and purpose of the project of no more than 500 words;
  2. A bibliography or reference list of the project, no more than a single page;
  3. A concise curriculum vitae;
  4. A projected total budget for the project and specific amount requested (with detail of how it will be used).  If less than the total budget, it must be made clear how a grant would help and what other resources are available or being pursued;
  5. At least two letters of recommendation or support (in the case of a graduate student, we expect one will be from the project's main supervising professor);
  6. A sample of recent scholarly writing (an article, essay, or chapter of no more than ten pages).

Submitting
To submit an application, send an email with all materials attached (PDF preferred) to hsec_a573@sendtodropbox.com. If total file size is over 5MB, you may send the files as separate emails. If one file is over 5MB, contact the Director of Operations (administration@hsec.us) for directions on how to submit.

Grant recipients are announced in July. It is expected recipients will make an appropriate submission to Anglican and Episcopal History.

A list of previous grantees can be found on the Society's webpage: http://www.hsec.us/grants/

Divided by Faith, or Ambivalent Miracles? (Or Both).



1 comments
Paul Harvey

Recently I wrote a thing on an excellent new book by Nancy Wadsworth,Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing. This work continues the ongoing discussion initiated by the important work Divided by Faith. Below is the beginning portion of my thoughts, and just click on the link at the bottom to follow the rest. Last year, by the way, our contributor Karen Johnson interviewed the author in a two-part series; you can find that here and here. (Note: a brand new piece for The Atlantic explores similar themes on evangelicals and racial politics, focusing particularly on Southern Baptists. Thoughtful piece and well worth reading for those interested).
__________________________________________________________
Ambivalent Miracles

Nancy D. Wadsworth, Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing, University of Virginia Press, 2014, 319pp., $39.95 Nancy Wadsworth’s stimulating new work on the politics of racial healing came to my attention just as news about national protests stemming from the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York took center stage in national news broadcasts. Social media buzzed with various reactions to the unprosecuted killings of unarmed black men, including numerous comments made by professional athletes. Just before a Monday night football game — and right after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson case — a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, Benjamin Watson, weighed in on Twitter: “So many thoughts on#Ferguson. My heart is full and I don’t know where to start. Lord help us. All of us. Black & White. Anger Fear Despair.” He then immediately followed up with a multifaceted facebook post which communicated his anger and frustration over the killings, connected them to experiences of African Americans through generations of American history, condemned violent responses to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, expressed empathy for police officers making split-second decisions, and looked for hope in the gospel of Christ. Watson’s words leapt to mind while I was reading Nancy D. Wadsworth’s Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing A key section of that post almost perfectly captures the ambivalence of the subtitle of Wadsworth’s book:

Continue Reading Here

American Religion and the New Materialism



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Sonia Hazard

What’s so new about new materialism? New materialism is more than a buzzword or this Tuesday’s theoretical vogue. It’s a reconceptualization of material things—chairs, altars, books, robes, neurons—and how these chunks of matter move us, speak to us, and make incessant demands on our thought and practice. What is new about new materialism is its argument that things are agents, in their own rights, with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own.” This is not a playful statement. Things and their powers are serious business.

For this year’s American Academy of Religion in Atlanta (November 21-24), I’ve been involved (with the indefatigable Karen Bray) in organizing a panel on new materialism in religion, called “Between Philosophy and a Phenomenological Hard Place: New Materialism as a Methodology in the Study of Religion.” It’s co-hosted by the Philosophy of Religion Section and the Theology and Continental Philosophy Group. American religionists will find much of interest in the panel: the point is to convey an expansive sense of what new materialism—not only as a philosophy but also as a method—can do throughout the various subfields in the study of religion, including American religion. The panel is designed not only for thing devotees but also the thing-curious.

I will open the session by offering a lively introduction to new materialism, drawn from an essay in Religion and Society. I’ll describe its stakes and its relation to more common approaches to materiality in the study of religion. Even in religious material culture studies, the generative power of things receives short shrift. Things tend to be regarded either as secondary symbols of human culture, or as the background against which human subjects conduct their activities.

Three panelists, each representing different subfields in religious studies, will offer remarks that enact the first panelist’s methodological provocation in concrete, case-based ways that speak to the concerns of their subfields. Hillary Kaell will be the first to engage new materialism’s methodological provocation in her ethnographic work on wayside crosses in Quebec. Her remarks are titled, “Seeing the Invisible: Ambient Catholicism on the Side of the Road.” Karen Bray, a philosophical theologian, will follow her, with a paper on “Material Laments: Things that Pray and Temples that Feel.” Then, Peter Anthony Mena, a historian of late antique religion, will offer a reading of Origen in his called “Noetic Bodies: Origen of Alexandria, the New Materialist.” Whitney Bauman will respond and John Modern will chair.

American religion will be very much a part of this conversation, both at the American Academy of Religion meeting and in new materialist scholarship in the future. It is our hope that the panel’s multidisciplinary approach will inspire in a diverse audience an excitement around these new theoretical and methodological tools, and embolden them to put such ideas into practice concretely. No doubt, there also will be vigorous debate.

Comparing the First Gilded Age to the Second Gilded Age



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Janine Giordano Drake

How does the present-day climate of organizing around wealth inequality compare to that of the Gilded Age? According to Steve Fraser in his new The Age of Acquiescence, it does not even light a candle.

According to Fraser, while the first Gilded Age was full of militant workers who did not give up in the face of Pinkertons, labor injunctions and a legal system that benefited the upper-class, the present age has acquiesced. While the first Gilded Age boasted of popular writers like Henry Demarest Lloyd, Edward Bellamy, and Henry George, each of whom gave the working classes a language to analyze and protest wealth inequality and the ways it destroys the fabric of American democracy, the present day fetishizes businessmen as populist heroes. While the first Gilded Age honored working class clergy-heroes, like Edward McGlynn, and made room for Eugene Debs' claims that socialism was a Christian idea, the religious leaders of the present Gilded Age overwhelmingly promote the status quo.

Fraser's overarching thesis may or may not be overstated. As popular reviewers like Naomi Klein and Jon Wiener remind us, Fraser does not see the Black Freedom Movement nor the Women's Liberation Movement, nor the numerous grassroots movements which have persisted and grown since then, impacting the social consciousness of the mainstream with regards to wealth inequality. For, they ran alongside an era that glorified business leaders and oppressed discussions on wealth distribution and radical social equality. Fraser is probably shortsighted in his assumption that rules governing the workplace (rather than the point of consumption or reproduction) are the best ways to trace interest in topping wealth and social inequality.

Yet, Fraser also has a point that the success of these 1960s movements has not significantly transformed the production or distribution of American wealth. For, as Fraser expertly shows, in spite of the success of these movements, the "Second Gilded Age" has glorified the worker as a "free agent," allowed the destruction of the labor movement and the laws workers built to defend unions, and enabled the phenomenon of "limousine liberalism." Sure, there are present-day groups organizing in response to wealth-inequality. But, compared to the thousands of workers who went on strike for months and months, even in the face of Pinkertons and labor injunctions and real poverty, we have acquiesced. His point is that the obstacles workers faced in the late nineteenth century were every bit as bad, and worse, than they are in the early twenty-first century. Yet, the first era saw massive protest, and the second has not. This point is compelling.

Interview with Jodi Eichler-Levine, Author of Suffer the Little Children



1 comments
Samira K. Mehta

Jodi Eichler-Levine. Suffer the Little Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature. (New York: New York University Press, 2015) 

Tomorrow, NYU Press will re-release Jodi Eichler-Levine's Suffer the Little Children, a fabulous 2013 book that will now
be available in paperback!

SKM: As I read Suffer the Little Children, I was really struck by your use of language, in two senses. First, your word choice was elegant and even playful. I love how you referred to chosenness as as a “‘wild thing’ in its own right.” Given that you were writing about literature, did you feel a particular imperative to polish your own prose?

JEL: Yes. Writing about literature did make me want to bring forth my best prose, which emerged dialogically with the authors I was studying. There’s a quote from Mikhail Bakhtin about how we always come upon language as “already inhabited”-- I actually use it in my acknowledgements. It has stuck with me because I feel it deeply when I write. So, Sendak’s Wild Things and abundant language; Julius Lester’s poetic magical realism; Virginia Hamilton’s idiomatic use of African American folklore… all of these were planted in my head and sprouted out into the book. Finally, while playfulness is not unique to children’s literature, I think engaging with that genre brought a bit more jouissance to my work.

SKM: Also, on the subject of wording, you have a note about the challenges of using language of race and ethnicity throughout your text, particularly given internally diverse and historically shifting naming practices. Could you say a bit about the challenges of choosing terms as you talk about both African American and Jewish American experience?

JEL: It’s probably evident in that note that I am deeply ambivalent about this challenge. It’s one that I am still figuring out. One of my solutions is to try to borrow tricks from German: throw as many words together as you can at once, but with spaces in between them to be grammatically correct; hence: “Jewish and African Americans.” I tried to give those two adjectives the freedom to modify “Americans” on their own or together. I also use also “ethno-religious” at some points because those concepts are so very entangled. I’m deeply aware of the power of naming and not so comfortable with that power. I also am an “insider” to Jewish Americans, but not anyone in the African diaspora … but worry that the term “Jewish American,” too, gets coded as “Ashkenazi”. 

Frederick Douglass, William Jay, Abolition, and Christianity in Antebellum America



1 comments
Jonathan Den Hartog

With the on-going interest in Frederick Douglass (his Narrative made it to the Junto's 2015 Primary Source Documents Final Four! David Blight is writing a major biography of him!), I found Douglass making some very interesting comments in a much lesser-known work than his Narrative. In May 1859, Douglass addressed a primarily African-American audience at Shiloh Presbyterian Church to deliver a "Eulogy of the Late William Jay" (available via GoogleBooks). 

Douglass had much to praise about Jay. He opened by stating that "In the death of WILLIAM JAY, the cause of Emancipation in the United States has lost one of its ablest and most effective advocates." Douglass suggested that Jay would be ranked alongside "the venerated names of WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, THOMAS CLARKSON, and GRANVILLE SHARPE," the leading British abolitionists. The only difference was that Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Sharpe had lived to see the fulfillment of their abolitionist cause and Jay had not. Nonetheless, Jay's character and work merited honor. "All that is commanded in virtue--all that is exalted and sublime in piety--all that is disinterested in patriotism--all that is noble in philanthropy...stand out gloriously in the life of William Jay."

Douglass praised Jay's contribution as a writer supporting abolition. In "Letters, essays, pamphlets, books, newspaper articles" Jay advocated for abolition. "The pen was the weapon of his choice, and the weapon of his power." Further, Jay's contributions were timely. "Mr. JAY...wrote precisely at the right time. No great occasion escaped him. He was ready for every emergency." In the constellation of abolitionist efforts, Jay's great efforts were devoted to using the moral suasion of the word to convince others of the evil of slavery.

Douglass also made much of Jay's early commitment to abolition. A leader, rather than a band-wagon joiner, Jay "was not behind the chiefest apostle of immediate emancipation." Further "impartial history" would give Jay "the credit of having affirmed all the leading principles of modern Abolitionism long before modern Abolitionism was recognized as a reformatory movement." Jay's commitment to abolition dated long before it was a large or popular phenomenon in the North. He was working for the cause when there were few laborers alongside him.

Douglass's eulogy mentioned two other important components of Jay's involvement in abolition. One was that Jay was part of a line of anti-slavery advocates. This began with his father John Jay, who as governor had signed into law New York's gradual emancipation act. It continued with William's son John, who as an active lawyer had dedicated himself to opposing slavery through legal means. On this point, Douglass exclaimed, "Abolitionism seems hereditary in the family!"

The other point was William's care for fugitive slaves. Not only concerned about them in life, in his will he had left $1,000 for promoting the "safety and comfort of fugitive slaves," many of whom passed through New York.

Reading "Catholics in the American Century" at the ACHA



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Today's guest post from Peter Cajka recaps a panel held at the recent spring meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association. Peter is a PhD candidate at Boston College where he works on religion in modern American history. He is currently writing a dissertation that explores how and why ideas of conscience became central in American Democracy and Christian ethics between 1961 and 1985. A full report of the conference will follow in a few weeks, to be posted by Notre Dame PhD student Michael Skaggs.

Peter Cajka

In response to a call for more book panels and historiography at its conferences, the American Catholic Historical Association convened a session on Catholics in the American Century: Recasting Narratives of U.S. History. The book features essays by Robert Orsi, Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas Sugrue, R. Marie Griffith, David G. Gutierrez, and Wilfred McClay. It’s the product of a conference convened in 2008 by the Cushwa Center of the University of Notre Dame. Cushwa asked historians who normally write about other topics (labor, cities, Protestant women, the nineteenth century self, ethnicity) to write essays on American Catholicism. The general goal of the volume is to present a case for why studying Catholics will help us to understand American History more deeply. A second goal of the volume is to make a few suggestions about how this task might be accomplished. In this blog post I offer two quick snapshots from the collection itself before summarizing points made at the panel.

Pacific Studies: A Brief Introduction (Part II), featuring a bibliography



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Charles McCrary
Continued from part I

Pacific history, particularly done from an American and/or European perspective, has a different history and historiography. These histories are situated in a long tradition of Western knowledge production about the Pacific, and are generally quite conscious of this fact. For over two hundred years, Americans and Europeans have used the Pacific as a site of knowledge production, including botanical, geological, mineralogical, zoological, and of course anthropological knowledge. These encounters have determined the shape of many narratives of Pacific history. British and French
Louis-Antoine de Bougainville
histories of adventurers like James Cook and Louis-Antoine de Bougainville were popular in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. These histories traded on familiar tropes of New World exploration, but often with variations on those themes. Pacific Islanders in these histories were often depicted as savage cannibals. Of course, some Islanders did in fact practice cannibalism, though it was almost always practiced against conquered tribes or opposing kingdoms. An American whaler, for example, would have little chance of being eaten. Islanders were exoticized as savages, but Europeans and Americans were also celebratory of the “natural beauty” of the islands and Islanders. Naturalness cuts both ways. In light of these issues and others, questions about how to frame these interactions, and who—or what—are the subjects of Pacific history remain difficult and central.

There are multiple venues for Pacific history. Here I will give an overview of a few, and at the end of the post I’ll provide a brief bibliography. My intended audience here is American historians who are largely unfamiliar with Pacific history but would like a short guide for where to look if they would like to incorporate it into their research and/or teaching.

Pacific Studies: A Brief Introduction (Part 1)



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Charles McCrary

This is part two of a series on the Pacific Ocean and part one and a two-part post providing a short historiographical overview of "Pacific studies" and "Pacific history."

Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, after Louis Choris, "Temple du Roi dans la baie Tiritatéa" (1822)

In the first post in this series, I asked about the place of the Pacific in American religious history, how historians of American religions might better incorporate the Pacific into our existing narratives and frameworks, and, if we were more conversant in Pacific history, how our larger narratives might change. Today and tomorrow, I want to back up a little bit and provide a short introduction to the Pacific studies/history. I studied 18th– and 19th–century Pacific history for a comprehensive exam last year. In my reading I focused largely on exchange among Europeans, Americans, and Pacific Islanders, so my posts will be geared toward those topics. Others, especially those with expertise in the twentieth century, East Asia, and/or the Philippines, should make suggestions in the comments. Today’s post focuses on “Pacific studies” and the Tomorrow I will take up historical work on the Pacific, done by historians working in the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Island nations.

First, of course, we have a thorny definitional question: What is “the Pacific”? Much work under the labels “Pacific studies” and “Pacific history” focus on the islands of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, although there are scholars who contest these categories. The divisions between Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, probably first made by Jules Durmont d’Urville in 1832, relied on essentially racial categories. Some scholars have defined the Pacific as a geological feature or ecological system, the “tide-beating heart of earth.” Islanders were mobile for many centuries before Europeans ever arrived, so determining how people got where they did is a difficult task for anthropologists. If the study of the Pacific is a study of Islanders, then there are many outstanding questions about classification and categorization, and many of the data needed to make these claims are beyond the realm of traditional historical study.

CFP: Still Guests in Our Own House? Women and the Church since Vatican II



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From Loyola University Chicago's Michelle Nickerson, comes the following CFP, with a deadline of June 1, 2015.


Still Guests in Our Own House? 
Women and the Church since Vatican II 
November 6 - November 7, 2015 
Loyola University Chicago 


CALL FOR PROPOSALS

  • What has and has not changed for women in the Church since the Second Vatican Council?  
  • What positions do women have and what roles do they play in the Church today? 
  • What is the future for women in the Church? 
  • What should be the agenda of engagement for the next half century? 
In Fall 2015, Loyola University Chicago will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II with a public symposium. 

Women's lives across the globe have changed dramatically since the Council, and these changes have had a powerful effect in the Church as well. Women have taken on new roles, challenged traditional teachings, and raised new questions. What role did and does the Council play in this complex development?

At "Still Guests in Our Own House," scholars will address the issues raised by these questions. Please join us in what promises to be a lively exploration of the Council's history and impact on women by proposing a paper, panel, or roundtable. 

Keynote: M. Shawn Copeland, Professor, Department of Theology, Boston College 

Responder: Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Associate Professor, American Studies, and Director, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism 

We invite interested scholars to submit a 100-200 word proposal for a panel, roundtable or paper by June 1, 2015 to socialjustice@luc.edu. A decision will be conveyed by June 15, 2015. 

The Symposium is sponsored by the Carolyn Farrell, BVM, Professorship in Women and Leadership, the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, the Department of Theology, the John Cardinal Cody Chair in Theology, the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Life, the Catholic Studies Program, and the Department of History. It is free and open to the public. For more information, see www.luc.edu/gannon.

Christian Nation, Christian Libertarianism



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by Lincoln Mullen

Kruse, Kevin M. One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

One Nation Under God, Kevin Kruse’s new book on How Corporate America Invented Christian America, is a fascinating narrative of the connections between religion, big business, and patriotism and governance in the United States from the New Deal to Ronald Reagan. The book is justly receiving praise and widespread attention, including several reviews here at Religion in American History (by Michael Graziano and Darren Grem) and coverage in the New York Times and on NPR. Since there are a number of reviews or summaries of the book available, I am going to take for granted that you know the basic shape of the book. In this review I intend to cast the book’s argument into relief from the perspective of nineteenth-century American religious history in order to highlight the contribution that the book makes.

One Nation Under God is a history of how the idea that the United States is a Christian nation was deployed in the middle of the twentieth century. There were several possible historical moments when this idea could have arisen. One is during the revolutionary period: Kruse deftly “sets aside the question of whether the founders intended America to be a Christian nation and instead asks why so many contemporary Americans came to believe this country has been and always should be a Christian nation” (xiii). Another contender is the Cold War period. This book takes the Cold War into account, to be sure, but it offers an important corrective by tracing the idea of “one nation under God” to business opposition to the New Deal in 1930s and 1940s. As Kruse writes about the addition of that phrase to the pledge of allegiance, the change was “the result of nearly two decades of partisan fighting over domestic issues. The Cold War contrasts were largely a last-minute development, one that helped paper over partisan differences” (109). But there is a third contender for the origins of the Christian nation idea: the nineteenth-century United States. This critical period for understanding church-state concerns has been re-examined in recent years by scholars such as Sarah Barringer Gordon, Steven K. Green, and David Sehat.

The Religious and The Political, Or, Why the Nation of Islam Bamboozles My Students



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Matthew J. Cressler

What we usually call "the religious" and "the political" have been practically inseparable in my course on African American religions this semester. After all, how can students think about practices, communities, institutions, and experiences born in no small part of involuntary migration and servitude - born of Atlantic world empire and slavery - without thinking about power, governance, and resistance? I would venture to guess that this is true of many (maybe most) courses on American religions and it carries special weight in African American religious studies. One way I tried to impress this upon my students was through a discussion of Eddie Glaude's "very short introduction" to African American Religion (Oxford, 2014). In it, Glaude argues that, if the category is to have any usefulness, the study of "African American religion" must be more than simply the study of the ways African Americans happen to be religious. Instead, Glaude draws on J.Z. Smith and others to insist that
"African American religion is the invention of scholars who, with particular aims and purposes, seek to describe, analyze, and theorize the religious practices of African Americans under a particular racial regime [white supremacy in the United States]" (8).
Glaude's approach, as well as that of my course, thus "assumes that the political and social context in the United States is a necessary though not sufficient condition of any study of something called African American religion" (7). To this end, we have examined and entered into debates about the inseparability of Christianity, slavery, and slave revolt; imaginings of "Africa" and the construction of African American (religious) identity; and black churches as a counter-public sphere, among other topics. All this is to say that, for my students and myself, the realms of "the religious" and "the political" have never been far from each other.


Then we came to the Nation of Islam and these blurred boundaries were built back up in no time.

Technology enabled Churches



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John Crow

Last month the Barna Group released the latest in its surveys regarding the use of technology in America’s Protestant churches. Entitled, Cyber Church: Pastors and the Internet, the report notes that an overwhelming number of pastors and church leaders are embracing technology in the church for both personal use and for ministry. Wanting to get a direct assessment of the use of technology in the church, I reached out to Phil Cannizzaro, president of InfoTank, an Atlanta technology services company. InfoTank serves the technological needs of many Christian institutions within the Atlanta-metro area. Clients include Peachtree Presbyterian, the largest church within P.C.(USA), having over 7000 members, North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, All Saints Catholic Church, Ambassadors for Christ, an Atlanta-based evangelical ministry, Women's Community Bible Study, and numerous Christian schools including Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta Youth Academy, and Whitefield Academy.

Cannizzaro was quick to point out that, in general, churches use the same technology as any other profit or non-profit companies. The difference is not what is used, but how it is deployed. One area that he points out is a significant driver of technology use is church membership management. This is an area that the Barna Group makes no reference to, but Cannizzaro says is a major concern for every church he services. Capterra, a business-to-business technology consulting firm, lists over 50 different software packages in the church membership management space. Varying in cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, these software packages attend to various needs within the church including membership management, accounting, tithe and donation management, sermon management, and attendance tracking. The more sophisticated software packages often have web server modules that allow members to directly access and manage their account, updating contact information and tracking church giving. As the Barna Group points out, the larger the church and the more financial resources it has, the more likely it is to adopt technology to offer services and solve problems. Cannizzaro notes that the churches that have greater economic resources are willing to invest in customizations to software packages whereas churches with fewer resources are more willing to use software as is “straight out of the box.” One last point Cannizzaro makes about church management software is that the software packages are generally three to five years behind in technology adoption. Even though the market is large for church management software, it has its limits and there is no incentive for being innovative. Only once a technology is ubiquitous in other areas of society, is it likely to show up in the church management space.

In a 2008 report about technology use in Protestant churches, the Barna Group found that two thirds of churches had large screen projection systems in the sanctuary. Cannizzaro notes that his Protestant church clients also have projection systems in their sanctuaries and will use it in a variety of ways during services. One note of contrast, however, is that his Catholic Church clients do not have screens or projection systems within the sanctuary and have no interest in getting them in the future. Another Protestant/Catholic differences he finds in is the streaming of church services. Most of the Protestant churches he services broadcast their Sunday services on the internet. None of his Catholic church clients broadcast their Masses, and he said you’d be hard pressed to find many that do. It would seem while Protestant churches are interested in getting their Sunday Services to anyone in any way, Catholic churches are more focused on getting members to physically attend Mass and not participate through the mediation of online streaming video.

The Jews of Cleveland: a Conference Summary and Reflection on Local Studies



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Rachel Gordon

Last week at the Cleveland Historical Society, a group of academic contributors to a forthcoming volume on the Jews of Cleveland met. Primarily historians and religionists from North America and Israel, we discussed our chapters-in-progess and the Jewish history of Cleveland.

Why Cleveland?

For decades, scholars of the Jewish experience have sought to expand our gaze beyond the obvious centers of Jewish life in America. Yet, Ohio -- important as it has been in the history of Reform Judaism, and in terms of early 20th century Jewish population growth -- still gets short shrift. Cincinnati and Cleveland have significant Jewish histories

Our topics are varied and include Cleveland Jews and the Civil War, Orthodox Judaism in Cleveland, Cleveland Jewish family history, Jewish interracial neighborhood activism, the city's Jewish education offerings, Superman's Cleveland origins, Jewish urban flight, and the mid-twentieth century founding of Cleveland synagogues.

With the beginnings of Cleveland communal Jewish life in 1839, when a group of 19 Jew immigrated from Unsleben, Bavaria, the city included two large Reform synagogues by 1850. Like other major American cities, Cleveland felt the second phase of Jewish immigration to America as Eastern European Jews fled persecution in the last decades of the 19th century. It was in Cleveland's garment industry, second only to New York's in the early 20th century, where these Jews largely found work.

By the 20th century, as our conference presentations revealed, Cleveland's diverse population had begun to give the lie to a unified Jewish community, with various stripes of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews in coexistence. In her keynote address, historian Hasia Diner exhorted conference attendees to reconsider use of the term, "Jewish community" -- a phrase that many use interchangeably with "American Jews," but which often suggests a false consensus.

Diner also posed the question: why do we scholars choose our topics of study at a particular moment in history? Recalling that many cities and towns conducted community studies in the mid-twentieth century, in honor of the tercentennial celebration (1954) of Jewish life in America, Diner challenged us to think about what it is that we value about these local studies in 2015.

I thought back over the past two weeks of world news, which had brought reports and reactions to Israel's election. American Jewish responses were sundry. What I noticed along with this diversity of reactions was how important it felt to many Jews to make clear that they did not necessarily agree with other Jews. "Other Jews do not speak for me," has felt like a common theme in American Jewish reactions to current events, particularly those relating to the Middle East, over the past year. As a minority in the American population, Jewish anxiety about being lumped together with all other Jews seems realistic. I hear the reflexive assumption, in my classrooms, that all Jews, or all Mormons, or any member of a religious minority group, must think and act like other members of the group. Local studies such as this one about Cleveland remind readers that even the smallest groups contain diversity within. We just have to be willing to look for it.

Conference Recap: National Museum of American History's Religion in Early America Symposium



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Today's guest post comes from Charles Richter, a PhD candidate in American Religious History at George Washington University. He studies irreligion and its critics, apocalypticism, and their intersections with American culture. Charles attended the Religion in Early America symposium hosted by the National Museum of American History last week. Following Charles' lead, readers are welcome to submit guests posts from conferences or while visiting archives this spring and summer. Submissions should be emailed to Cara.

Charles Richter

Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History could be forgiven for thinking that religion has not played a large role in the nation’s history. Most are more interested in seeing Dorothy’s ruby slippers anyway, but the stories told by the official repository of artifacts from United States history have largely steered clear of involving religion to any meaningful degree. This is about to change, thanks to the work of many prominent scholars of American religion. On March 20, NMAH hosted a symposium on Religion in Early America, organized by Stephen Prothero, to introduce the museum’s plans regarding religion and to discuss some major issues in its representation.

Mormon sunstone capital from the original Nauvoo temple
(currently on display at the National Museum of American History)
Photo by Charles Richter, 2015
Introducing the symposium, NMAH director John Gray announced both an exhibit on religion in early America scheduled to open in 2017, on the second floor of the newly remodeled west wing, and the museum’s goal to hire a permanent curator of religion. The initial exhibit will be curated by David Allison, associate director of curatorial affairs, and guest curator Peter Manseau, whom many readers of this blog will know from his recent book One Nation Under Gods. The exhibit will include such artifacts as Lucretia Mott’s cloak, George Washington’s christening robe, and the Jefferson Bible, on which the museum recently performed significant conservation work.

In his opening and closing remarks, Prothero, who had initially been brought to NMAH on a fellowship following the God in America PBS series, described religion in America as “connected, contested, and complicated.” The challenge for the museum is to represent the interconnected nature of the stories of religion in America while also acknowledging the conflicts, not only between religious traditions, but also over the interpretations and definitions of religion itself. The exhibit and symposium both address three major themes: religious freedom, religious growth, and religious diversity.


Amusing Archive Finds



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Emily Suzanne Clark

How many times have you read something in the archives or in a primary source that made you smile, chuckle, or even lol? For some research topics, the answer might be never. But hopefully everyone finds topics for the classroom that allow us to think about funny things in American religious history.

This is on my mind because in both my courses last week, Religions in America and African American Religions, my students had primary source readings that made some of them (and me) chuckle. Last week in my African American Religions class, students read excerpts from the FBI's files on the Moorish Science Temple from the 1930s and 1940s. These are a great read for students because they reveal so much about how outsiders saw the Moorish Science Temple, the politics of monitoring raced religions, and still the files describe some elements of the Moorish Science Temple. As a class we commiserated over our frustration at what's blacked out in the declassified files. And the place of employment of one interviewee's brother made us smile. The interviewee's brother, who helped keep order at the meetings, worked in a "potato chip shop." Something about the idea of a store that specializes in and sells potato chips makes me smile. No, not lol levels, but still some amusing archives. After the jump break I share what's funny from my own current research—what I like to call seance snark.

Where is the Pacific in American Religious History?



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Charles McCrary

Note: This post is the first in a series on the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t really plan a series, but the introduction to this post quickly became too long. So, this post serves just as an introduction to the series. Please ask questions and make suggestions in the comments section, and I’ll try to address them in future posts.



American religious history is going global. As many historians move away from the nation-state as a way to organize their objects of study and instead trace other themes—capitalism or environmental change, for example—they are taken beyond the geographic bounds of the United States. The upcoming Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture will feature sessions on “American Religion and Global Flows” and “‘Religion in the Americas’ as an Organization Program.” At the 2013 AAR meeting in Baltimore, a panel considered the theme “Placing the Subfield: North American Religions, Religion in the Americas and Beyond.” Those of us paying attention to the job market likely have noticed an increase in the number of calls focusing on Latin America, the Caribbean, and/or “the Americas.” Not all of this interest has to do with the decline of the nation-state. In fact, studies of religion and government are on the upswing, with “empire,” “American in/and the world,” and “foreign relations” all providing valuable frames for the study of religion. Even in cases where confining studies to the United States might make sense, there are ways that a global approach might be beneficial. Studies of American religious freedom, for example, often center on historical interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. But these stories are bolstered by discussions of global secularity, constitutionalism around the world, and the role of religion and secularism in international relations. In short, we do need to ask important questions about what exactly our subfield is about, and in what ways geography should define “American religious history” (or “American religions” or “religion in the Americas”.) In what networks do we plot “religion”? I do wonder about graduate programs changing to “the Americas”—why not “the world”? Or “global flows”? Should Brazil be more a part of our subfield than Canton? Or Tahiti?

So, after that introduction full of things everyone knows already, I’ll get to my real question: Where is the Pacific in American religious history?

Evangelicals and the Business of One Nation Under God



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The following is Darren Grem's review of Kevin Kruse's best-selling new book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.  You can find Mike Graziano's earlier review of Kruse's work here.  Darren E. Grem is Assistant Professor of History and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.  His first book, Corporate Revivals: Big Business and the Shaping of the Evangelical Right, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.  



Darren Grem


 “A nation with the soul of a church.”  We all know the quip.  G.K. Chesterton, right?  He was wrestling with the question “What is America?”  Here’s what else he had to say, from his 1922 book What I Saw in America:

America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.  That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in The Declaration of Independence. . . . It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice and that governments exist   to given them their justice, and that their authority is for that reason just.  It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from which these equal rights are derived.

Chesterton’s reading of religious meaning into a foundational document like the Declaration of Independence is the kind of striving that Kevin M. Kruse’s One Nation Under God historicizes.  According to Kruse, this narrative—that America is a “God blessed” or even “Christian” nation bestowing equal rights and religious freedom on its citizens and others—is of recent vintage, and corporate Americans played a key role in popularizing it after World War II.  I won’t rehash Mike Graziano's fine review for this site.  But I would like to consider where Kruse’s book fits into the series of recent books that consider the role of businessmen and corporate America in constructing religious categories and narratives in modern American history.  Then, I will suggest how Kruse’s book also reaffirms some problems and shortcomings in the present historiography and where we might go next in writing the corporation into our understanding of the modern religious past.

Some favorite books in honor of Women's History Month



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Carol Faulkner
"Progress of Woman," Library of Congress

Several years ago, Kelly Baker published a series of posts (here, here, and here) on favorite scholars of gender and American religion for women's history month. Inspired by her example, I decided to put together a special post for this month (though, really, every month is women's history month for me). In order not to duplicate Kelly's lists, I asked a group of colleagues to name their favorite book on women and American religion. While I stuck with "American," I tried to consult scholars with different specializations and time periods.

The scholars, and their choices, follow the break. Readers, I hope you will add your favorites, and tell us why, in the comments section.
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