I Think, Therefore I Buy; I Buy, Therefore I am Good



It seems inevitable that objects never remain easy. They are (always in America, at the very least) proficiently signified with utility that moves beyond the mere purchase, wandering somewhere near the obscenely moral.

To wit, sent to me by one of our Floridian correspondents, Chad Seales (New College in Sarasota, Florida): http://www.joinred.com/you/calculator.asp

The holiday season is upon us, with all the related efforts to cajole us beyond the gift checklist. Buying, after all, is the only activism we citizens seem to possess (well, that plus listserv babbling and MoveOn.org forwards). I think therefore I buy. I buy, therefore I am good. My own hypothetical purchase of a Motorola Bluetooth Headset, a Joss Stone video ("Tell Me What We're Gonna Do Now"), an iPod Nano, and six Hallmark cards (with iTunes-endorsed "sound," no less) led to the remarkable donation of 170 single-dose (nevirapine) treatments for mother and baby to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. At 12 cents per treatment, it suggests that my goods cost a little over $20. Or that RED is making a very good sale.

But just when you get nervous, remembering all those 29-cents-per-months-feeds-an-Africa-child-for-a-week campaigns with grim resistance (after all: they're still starving), you turn on the TV, and you see: http://www.joinred.com/ And you figure: I really should send more cards.

P.S. If you're interested in a fantastic exploration of RED's greatest purveyor, Monsieur Bono, see Chad Seales, "Burned Over Bono: U2’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Messiah and His Religious Politic," Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 14 (Fall 2006): www.usask.ca/relst/jrpc/art14-bono.html

Is Mormon History American History? From the Juvenile Instructor

Such is the question posed at the Juvenile Instructor (a blog I just found that attempts to discuss Mormonism within the wider context of American history -- the blog's title is from a 19th-century Mormon periodical). The discussion there concerns the relative treatment of Mormonism by Charles Sellers, Sean Wilentz, and now Daniel Walker Howe in their respective treatments of the antebellum era, discussed further in John Turner's post below. The post concludes by asking: All of this leads to the question: how significant is Mormon history to the larger narrative of American history? Is Wilentz right in granting Mormonism just one paragraph in a 800-page book on antebellum American history? Or is Sellers (and possibly Howe) more accurate in devoting more time to Mormonism’s place in American history?

The post is well worth checking out as part of our discussion here of religion, the market revolution, and the antebellum era, as well as for those with a special interest in discussing Mormon history in more depth. And thanks for the links and references.

Also, this of interest on the same topic, from American Religious History:

Mormon-studies professorship is first in California

The Claremont Graduate University program will be led by Richard Lyman Bushman, a church elder, media commentator and author.

By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 30, 2007

Claremont Graduate University is establishing a new professorship in Mormon studies and hiring a prominent historian and biographer of the religion’s founder to fill that slot — starting the first such academic program in California and the second of its kind at a secular school nationwide.

Non-Mormon academics and Mormon church leaders described Claremont’s appointment of Richard Lyman Bushman, professor emeritus of early American history at Columbia University, as a significant advance in serious scholarship about the religion, which is growing quickly worldwide but also raising puzzlement and even hostility. (Click on link above for rest of article)

John Turner: Wilentz, God, and What Hath God Wrought, Part II



I haven't yet had a chance to read Daniel Walker Howe's What God Hath Wrought (see Paul's post below). There is only time for so many 900-page books, especially when one is forced to stay up late at night pondering the possibility that God might be a sports fanatic from Boston (I retain the irrational belief that Jesus, who understands suffering, still favors the Fighting Irish).

Alongside Charles Sellers's Market Revolution -- as Lepore notes in her review of What God Hath Wrought -- Howe's book should also be read alongside (and in partial opposition to) Sean Wilentz's recent The Rise of American Democracy, which out-hefts Howe's effort by more than 100 pages. As Gordon Wood commented in the New York Times, "Wilentz makes no concessions to his readers' patience." For an engaging discussion of Rise of American Democracy, see the Journal of the Historical Society's December 2006 forum on the book (not available online, alas, but worth tracking down). And while we're in the habit of plugging Jill Lepore reviews, her account of Wilentz's book (also in the New Yorker) is again witty and engaging.

Like Sellers, Wilentz despises Howe's heroes and extols anti-capitalist movements that fought against "the monied interests" in the Jacksonian age. Wilentz admires Andrew Jackson, finds the presidency of John Quincy Adams uninspiring at best, and identifies an arch-villain in Nicholas Biddle. Like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Wilentz credits democrats (later Democrats) from Jefferson to Jackson for rejecting the aristocratic republicanism of the Federalists and proto-Whigs and ushering a much more robust and inclusive American democracy. As Wood notes: "The key to Jacksonian politics," Wilentz says, was "a belief that relatively small groups of self-interested men were out to destroy majority rule and, with it, the Constitution."

Gordon Wood observed that "Andrew Jackson is Wilentz's hero." "Not so," Wilentz responded to the New York Times, and he also rejected Wood's attempt to link his portrait of the Jacksonian age to contemporary partisanship (I wonder what Daniel Walker Howe thinks of Sellers's comment on their "warring assumptions). "If I intended to portray any president, warts and all, as heroic, it was Abraham Lincoln, and he was no Democrat at all." Perhaps I was fatigued by the time I reached Lincoln, but I thought Jackson was Wilentz's "hero" as well. To be fair, however, Wilentz's book (unlike Schlesinger's, I would argue), is no simple morality play. While he cannot applaud the Whig Party as a whole, he praises evangelical Whigs like Joshua Giddings for their fervently moral opposition to slavery. Having begun the book with a fairly negative impression of Andrew Jackson because of Indian removal and white supremacy, I found myself at least partly persuaded by Wilentz's careful portrait of the bank war, somewhat less persuaded by Wilentz's emphasis on the radical Democratic contribution to abolitionism.

What of religion? Wilentz does not mention William Miller and only briefly discusses Mormonism in connection with "the evasive truce of 1850." Henry David Thoreau only appears in the context of John Brown and Harper's Ferry. Wilentz does include lengthy and informative passages on the role of evangelicalism in disestablishment campaigns, Sabbatarianism, anti-Masonry, and Whiggery, and I am impressed with the amount of scholarship on evangelicalism and other religious movements that Wilentz digested and incorporated into his synthesis of the Early Republic. Moreover, his pages on the religious diversity of urban environments provide a quick introduction to a number of intriguing sectarians and radical thinkers, such as the Universalist and union leader William Heighton in Philadelphia.

Especially apart from anti-slavery agitation, Wilentz has little sympathy for the Whig Party's "Politics of Moral Improvement." But like Howe writes of the dominant political figure of the 1820s and 1830s (if not also the 1840s): “Jackson was a controversial figure and his political movement bitterly divided the American people.” Given the disparate treatments of this era of American history by Wilentz and Howe, Old Hickory continues to divide contemporary historians as well. Therefore, I'll have to move What God Hath Wrought toward the front of my reading list.

Memo to Religious Conservatives: There's a Snake in Your Garden

Today's New York Times Magazine section features David Kirkpatrick's "The Evangelical Crackup." Most of the article will be familiar to those who follow contemporary religion and politics. Kirkpatrick discusses the dissatisfaction of the religious conservative base with W, the movement of some evangelical leaders towards "green" and "social justice" views typically more associated with liberalism, and the despair of evangelical conservative kingmakers with the current crop of Republican candidates. "Not for me, my brothers," Dobson proclaimed of Giuliani. Kirkpatrick follows the travails of some pastors in Wichita, formerly a stronghold for religious conservatives (as bemoaned in Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas), but treated here as symptomatic of the fracturing of the evangelical coalition.

Of course, political fortunes ebb and flow. As we've discussed on the blog before, rumors of the "death of the religious right" are greatly exaggerated, just as the triumphalist rhetoric of religious conservatives after the 2004 election proved to be hubris. The dance between religious belief and political activism will continue, and religious conservatives will remain a significant power as long as they continue to mobilize significant numbers of voters, and as long as they address serious moral issues that concern many Americans of various political stripes. Politically categorizing evangelicals has never been as simple as the press sometimes has made it out to be, and Kirkpatrick's article is pretty good in terms of showing a diverse spectrum of evangelical opinion.

None of this agonizing over the limits of politics would be surprising to Reinhold Niebuhr. Like Jesus, Niebuhr seems to have self-proclaimed adherents on all sides of the current political spectrum. Today's Speaking on Faith features some oral excerpts from Niebuhr's preaching -- I had not realized fully before the moral urgency and charisma he conveyed in his public speaking. See Moral Man and Immoral Society: Rediscovering Reinhold Niebuhr, another stimulating hour of radio courtesy of Krista Tippett.

More to the point here is that the article reminds us that the "b" word -- bigotry -- is alive and well in certain sectors of the evangelical coalition. The slandering of McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000 (remember his illegitimate biracial child, South Carolina evangelical voters? Oh, and thanks for the memories, Karl Rove) was an example of the way politicos can play on this ugly underside of the base. Here's another one, ripped from the current campaign. Memo to Dobson et al: there's a snake in your garden. And, in god's name, when the hell are you going to deal with it? What more, in the name of love?

In the Wichita churches this summer, Obama was the Democrat who drew the most interest. Several mentioned that he had spoken at Warren’s Saddleback church and said they were intrigued. But just as many people ruled out Obama because they suspected that he was not Christian at all but in fact a crypto-Muslim — a rumor that spread around the Internet earlier this year. “There is just that ill feeling, and part of it is his faith,” Welsh said. “Is his faith anti-Christian? Is he a Muslim? And what about the school where he was raised?”

“Obama sounds too much like Osama,” said Kayla Nickel of Westlink. “When he says his name, I am like, ‘I am not voting for a Muslim!’ ”

Fox, meanwhile, is already preparing to do his part to get Wichita’s conservative faithful to the polls next November. Standing before a few hundred worshipers at the Johnny Western Theater last summer, Fox warned his new congregation not to let go of that old-time religion. “Hell is just as hot as it ever was,” he reminded them. “It just has more people in it.”

Fox told me: “I think the religious community is probably reflective of the rest of the nation — it is very divided right now. This election process is going to reveal a lot about where the religious right and the religious community is. It will show unity or the lack of it.”

But liberals, he said, should not start gloating. “Some might compare the religious right to a snake,” he said. “We may be in our hole right now, but we can come out and bite you at any time.”

Extreme Makovers and Missionary Envy -- From Our New Contributing Editor!

Last weekend, I had the privilege of leading a group of scholars in American religious history -- including our present contributing editor Randall Stephens -- through a weekend of discussion on teaching in our field. More on that in a future post.

One of our seminar participants, Kathryn Lofton -- the pride of Racine, Wisconsin, a PhD graduate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and presently a Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University -- has been featured on our blog before. I'm pleased now that Lofton has agreed to join our merry band of bloggers as our newest contributing editor! Yes, folks, with two new contributing editors on board, our blog is apparently once again on HGH -- appropriate for the World Series season. I'm doubly pleased because Lofton promises to bring her voracious intelligence and religious-studies-way-of-seeing-the-world to our history-heavy blog.

By way of introduction:

My book-in-progress, tentatively titled The Modernity in Mr. Shaw: Modernisms and Fundamentalisms in American Culture, offers a microhistory of conservative American Protestantism through the life of one Presbyterian fundamentalist, John Balcom Shaw (1860-1935), an editor of The Fundamentals who was remitted from the ministry following accusations of sodomy in 1918. Using Shaw’s biography as the narrative backbone, I trace the ways that religious orthodoxy, sexual identity, and modern definitions of the self commingled during an epoch of profound technological, social, and economic transformation.

In addition to this research, I have also explored the religious contours of Oprah Winfrey’s multimedia empire and the meaning of masculinity studies within contemporary humanist research. Future projects include a religious history of American happiness, which will be a broad survey traveling from the hardscrabble early national frontier of Lorenzo Dow to the pillow-strewn late-twentieth century meditation retreats of Marianne Williamson. Alongside this book-length project, I am also researching the relationship between Scientology and celebrity, as well as the religious histories of common commodities.

Here is the first of what we hope will be many provocative posts!
October 19, 2007
Dorm Matron at Oprah School Is Suspended
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) -- A dormitory matron at
Oprah Winfrey's school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa has been suspended amid allegations of serious misconduct. No details were disclosed about the alleged offense at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls at Henley on Klip, just south of Johannesburg. Police confirmed they had been informed of the allegation, but weren't investigating at this stage. Chief Executive Officer John Samuel said an internal inquiry had been initiated ''based on one serious claim of misconduct involving a dormitory parent.'' The accused was no longer on campus, Samuel said in a statement Friday, and immediate action had been taken ''to ensure the safety and well-being of the academy's learners.'' ''Nothing is more serious or devastating to me than an allegation of misconduct by an adult against any girl at the academy,'' Winfrey said in a statement. South Africa's Child Protection Services have been notified, and U.S. and South African private detectives have been engaged to investigate, Samuel said. To ensure an impartial investigation, the head of the academy has agreed to take a paid leave of absence, Samuel said, making clear the woman wasn't the subject of any allegations. The school was opened in January amid much fanfare.


Editorial observers of Oprah Winfrey’s latest philanthropy have somehow made self-celebratory largesse a bad thing. Rather than applaud her South African donation, critics have lingered in a perfectly American solipsism: Where’s my money? Where’s my green blazer? A nation is in mourning for its exported makeover.

Yet this criticism misses an important opportunity for a conversation about the presumptions of international philanthropy. Winfrey’s documentation of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls -- on her television show, her website, and in the January 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine -- offers transparency to an oft-privatized American activity abroad: gift-giving. Winfrey has given a careful exposition on her role in African education, noting that a visit with Nelson Mandela instigated her initial $10 million offering, a gift that eventually grew to $40 million. However, as she claims time and again, this isn’t about money. “My own success has come from a strong background in reading and learning,” she declares, “The greatest gift you can give is the gift of learning.”While her promotional materials market this educational aspiration, they also linger on subjects less pedagogic, and more material.

Much is made of the academy’s aesthetics, and of Winfrey’s role in selecting the proper appearance for the girls and their housing. “Beautiful environments inspire beauty in you,” Winfrey suggests, “I said, from the start, I am creating everything in this school that I would have wanted for myself—so the girls will have the absolute best that my imagination can offer.” And so she did, choosing fitted uniforms, soft towels, white sheets, pillowcases bearing an embroidered O, and bathroom tiles in “happy” yellow for the girls to enjoy. The academy is a forty million dollar exhibition of accessories.

Such material redressing is no surprise to the Oprah viewer; Winfrey has made herself famous through her benevolent peddling of dreams and goods. But at the level of international patronage, the cleansing and remaking of native subjects carries a dubious legacy. Missionary photographs from the nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries illustrate the Christian pride taken at the exchange of indigenous garb for three-piece suits. Whether Sioux or Xhosa, the converted minority stares back at us from history, made proper by an colonial etiquette and the Sears Roebuck catalog.

It was surprising, therefore, that it was the American obsession with possessions that forced Oprah from inner-city Chicago to the Gauteng Province. “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going,” she has said, “If you ask kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers.” She, like so many before, found the naïve asceticism of her chosen mission field appealing because it contrasted with the perceived excesses of her native land.

But who is to blame for this excess, for the materialism? Any answer to that question must include an assessment of the ultimate gift giver, the one with the Pontiacs and holiday “Favorite Things” bonanzas. It is hard to break bad habits, and gifts – in the form of money, insitution, and military occupation – are what Americans do best. From paparazzi photographs to magazine advertisements, the main impression of America abroad is one of appearance, not substance. For Winfrey, there is a spiritual message sealed within this shiny wrapping: the right goods can make a right person, constructing an exterior for their interior to fulfill.

It is too soon to know how Oprah’s South African progeny will respond to this donation, whether they will embrace inner beauty or the temptations of a tailored uniform. Winfrey’s dream—the American dream—is that these lessons go hand in hand. Whether you agree with her gilded meritocracy or not, Winfrey’s academy invites us to wonder whether our goods make our services worthwhile. To worry over whether we get the goods or they get the goods is to miss the ultimate teachable moment, an object lesson in extreme makeovers.

This essay is an excerpt from a longer piece to be included in Darkness Visible: New Essays on Blackness in the Modern World, Matthew Guterl and Vivian Halloran, eds.

What Hath God Wrought? Or, Can Money Buy You Love, Revisited

As promised, some more on Daniel Walker Howe's new volume for the Oxford History of the United States, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of the United States, 1815-1848, as well as on the coming and going of another millennium day of October 22, anniversary of the Great Disappointment but also the birth of any number of American religious groupings.

With permission from Oxford University Press book blog, I'm cross-posting Daniel Walker Howe's reflections on the millennial dreams of the era that saw William Miller search for Jesus in the skies while Samuel Morse strung together the telegraph. Click here for Jill Lepore's review of Howe's work in the New Yorker -- which reflects on the striking contrast (one clearly of the values of the respective historians) between Charles Sellers's Market Revolution thesis and Howe's take on the same period. A nice appetizer for the Lepore's typically perceptive and smartly written review:

Sellers summarized Howe’s argument as “Market delivers eager self-improvers from stifling Jacksonian barbarism” as against his own “Go-getter minority compels everybody else to play its competitive game of speedup and stretch-out or be run over.” Fair enough. “Where Howe’s assumptions suggest that I undervalue capitalism’s benefits and attractions,” Sellers continued, “my assumptions suggest that he underestimates its costs and coercions.” Again, fair enough. But Sellers attributed these “warring assumptions” not to different evidence, methods, theories, or strategies of analysis but to the two historians’ different values. Howe writes from “within the bourgeois middle-class culture,” Sellers scoffed, while his own (presumably more Waldenesque) life had taught him that “relations of capitalist production wrench a commodified humanity to relentless competitive effort and poison the more affective and altruistic relations of social reproduction that outweigh material accumulation for most human beings.” In other words, money talks, but it can’t buy you love.

Anyway, here is Howe's piece:

The Oxford History of The United States series has won two Pulitzer Prizes, a Bancroft and a Parkman Prize. The newest addition, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, by Daniel Walker Howe, looks at the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War. Howe’s narrative history shows how drastically America changed in thirty years. Below Howe, Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University and Professor of History Emeritus, University of California, looks at how October 22nd resonated throughout America.

On October 22, 1844, somewhere between twenty-five and fifty thousand people gathered in groups all over the United States to watch the sky. They stayed up until after midnight, straining to see Jesus Christ coming out of the heavens. A Vermont farmer named William Miller, undeterred by his lack of knowledge of Hebrew or Greek, had applied his naive ingenuity to biblical study. Calculations based on prophecies in the Book of Daniel had convinced him and his disciples that the long-awaited Second Coming of Christ would occur on this day.

How would people behave if they were convinced the world was coming to an end on a known day only months away? In 1844, many paid their debts, quit their jobs, closed their businesses, left their crops unharvested in the fields. Some who felt guilty about past frauds and cheats turned over money to banks or the U.S. Treasury. Others simply gave away money keeping no accounting of it. There was a rush to get baptized. On the appointed night, thousands gathered in many locations outdoors to watch the sky. But Jesus did not appear to them, and October 22d became known among Adventists as “The Great Disappointment.” The legend that Miller’s people had donned ascension robes for the occasion was one of the many humiliations heaped on the Adventists over the next year by a laughing public that had not quite dared risk scorning them until after the fact.

William Miller had never formed a denomination while expecting Christ, for there would have been no point in any long-term planning. But after the Great Disappointment his followers, many of them were expelled from their previous churches, kept their movement alive by differentiating themselves more sharply from mainline evangelicalism. The largest group organized as the Seventh-Day Adventists, under the new leadership of Joseph Bates, who declared Sunday observance an unwarranted innovation and restored the Jewish Sabbath, and Ellen Harmon White, an inspired visionary who instituted dietary reforms opposing tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and meat. The denomination re-interpreted Daniel’s prophecy and decided that Christ had entered a new “heavenly sanctuary” on 22 October, 1844 in preparation for an early but unspecified return to earth. Miller himself never got over his great embarrassment and retired quietly, but the Seventh-Day Adventists survive to this day.

William Miller’s prophecy was only one of many manifestations of the millennial belief widespread in the America of his time. Others include the picturesque Shakers, who called themselves the Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, and the much more potent Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly knows as Mormons. The “latter days” refer to the Mormon belief that the Second Coming of Christ will occur soon, bringing history to an end. The Mormon prophet, seer, and revelator Joseph Smith was assassinated by an Illinois mob in June of the same year that Miller’s people searched the skies for Jesus. The leader of the largest slave revolt in U.S. history, Nat Turner, a literate religious visionary who listened to “the Spirit that spoke to the prophets in former days,” heard that Spirit tell him the day of judgment was at hand, when “the last would be first.”

Many Americans of that time and since have believed in their country’s special destiny to help prepare humanity for the Second Coming of Christ. Faith in democratic progress, in equal human rights, and even in economic and technological improvement have all been expressed in terms of paving the way for Christ’s return. The same year that William Miller was disappointed and Joseph Smith murdered, Samuel F. B. Morse publicly demonstrated his electric telegraph, its wires strung from the Supreme Court Chambers in Washington to Baltimore forty miles away. Morse transmitted a message of portentous religious significance: “What Hath God Wrought.” As Morse later commented, the message “baptized the American Telegraph with the name of its author”: God. America’s self-image was bound up with millennial expectation. In some significant ways, it still is.

Luke Harlow, New Edition of Religion and American Politics

I'm pleased to post a contribution from our newest contributing editor, Luke Harlow!!

Luke is a graduate student at Rice with John Boles, where he's completing a dissertation entitled "From Border South to Solid South: Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1840-1880." Luke has also (already!) co-edited the new edition of an old standard in the field, Religion and American Politics, about which more below. Welcome to Luke Harlow and we look forward to his continuing blogged thoughts in the upcoming days!

Luke Harlow, Religion and American Politics

Thanks to an invitation from Paul Harvey, Mark Noll and I are pleased to announce the recent publication of a volume we edited, Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press). In general, the book offers a well-researched, judicious, academic treatment of a subject that has recently been accorded much more heat than light. While no single volume can treat every aspect of religion and American politics, the book is unusually broad in its coverage and unusually perceptive in its analysis.

Many readers of this blog will recognize Religion and American Politics as an update of the original edition (published 1990). This new edition retains nine chapters from the original, along with two chapters revised for this version, eight completely new chapters, and a collection of briefer essays from five knowledgeable observers from outside the United States. The volume contains contributions from some of the best historians at work in American religious history, as well as significant offerings from sociologists and political scientists.

Contributors include: Margaret Bendroth, Ruth Bloch, Richard Carwardine, Bente Clausen, Darren Dochuk, Michael Emerson, Sébastien Fath, John Green, James Guth, Robert Handy, Luke Harlow, Nathan Hatch, J. Russell Hawkins, James Hennesey, Daniel Walker Howe, Mark Hutchinson, Lyman Kellstedt, George Marsden, John Murrin, Mark Noll, Massimo Rubboli, Manfred Siebald, Corwin Smidt, Peter Steinfels, Harry Stout, Robert Swierenga, John F. Wilson, Robert Wuthnow.

Why is God so Busy on the Gridiron? Perhaps because he forgot to send Jesus Back on Oct. 22nd?

Another October 22 has come and gone, and still no Jesus (more on that, and Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought, in the next post). I'm guessing he's going to be busy DVD-Ring Game I of the World Series on my behalf (sigh -- I'm in class tonight, so no game for me). It's a good thing this year, since it's game on for the Rockies in the World Series -- click here for the Washington Post's take on baseball, superstition, and the spirituality of the Rockies.

And Slate asks "Why is God so Busy on the Gridiron," and comments,

It wasn't so long ago that sports fields were the devil's playground. Babe Ruth could commit five of the seven deadly sins before noon and hit three home runs by dinner. In Damn Yankees, it was Satan, not God, who offered the Washington Senators a pennant in exchange for a player's soul. (Lesson: Offense wins games. Demons win championships.) But today there are Angels in the Outfield, and God seems to be following pro sports more intently than any Vegas bookie.

The article concludes: Emotional, highly personal, nondenominational Protestantism has supplanted Catholicism as America's dominant sports religion. Perhaps that helps to explain the fate of the Fighting Irish this year.

If it works . . . But Big Papi and Man-Ram, who don't strike me as overtly religious, may have something to say about all this yet. [Thanks to John Wilson for correcting my spelling of "Papi"].

Start Breakin' Down

John Wilson has continued our dialogue on religion, scholarship, and the 60s -- click here for his latest post. I'll respond more in due time -- too many good things to post this week!

Darren Grem, Courses, CYA Syllabi, and Competing with the Dawgs


Darren Grem, Beyond Drive-by Surveying?

In between dissertation research and writing, I've been toying with an "uncoverage" version of my Religion in American History syllabus for next term. Check out a draft here (available until 10/31). It's on the venti side (17 pages), but a decent amount of it is just CYA syllabus filler.

I'm teaching two sections of it in the spring, on a MWF schedule. To give y'all some demographics, UGA is a R-1/Div-1 state school, but these upper division classes usually allow for more one-on-one interaction. The majority of my students are history/history ed. majors, with the rest usually coming in from a mix of other humanities or social science departments. Most are full-time students, although some have part-time jobs to pay the rent (a smattering have full-time job commitments and/or families). Given all these considerations, the assignments shouldn't be too overbearing since most UGA students have enough time to complete this sort of reading and writing schedule (barring "extenuating circumstances" like UGA football, Halo 3, YouTube, and Facebook).

As mentioned in my previous post, I wondered what techniques and assignments might provide quantifiable proof that students were learning the “high points” of American religious history and how "to think like a historian." I think this syllabus addresses those concerns for myself, but I'm curious about what y'all think because I presume that my concerns are relatively common. Admittedly, there's only so much that you can tell about a class from its syllabus, but it gives an outline of my aspirations for what the American religious history survey might be and, hopefully, some points for discussion. Hence, suggestions and critiques are more than welcome.

Art Remillard, We Shall Be Silent

If you’re in the mood for irony, then this one’s for you. A colleague recently informed me that tomorrow is, “Silence Day.” The website explains…

Since January 22, 1973 over 50,000,000 babies have had their voices silenced through surgical abortion in this nation alone. Over 4,000 women are emotionally damaged every day. On October 23, people from all over this nation will give up their voices for a day in solidarity for these children. Red arm bands and duct tape will identify them as taking part in the Pro-life Day of Silent Solidarity. They will carry fliers explaining why they are silent and educate others about the plight of the innocent children we are losing every day.

When I reached my office, I Googled “Day of Silence” and found another silence-themed event, held every April devoted to another cause.

The Day of Silence is an annual event held to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination in schools. Students and teachers nationwide will observe the day in silence to echo the silence that LGBT and ally students face everyday. The Day of Silence is one of the largest student-led actions in the country.

It seems that all sides use the weapon of silence in the culture wars.

Do I Know The Secret? Well, Yes, as a Matter of Fact . . . .


The Secret
Kelly Baker

Do you know the “secret”? As part and parcel of my religion classes, all students have to complete a field visit. One current student is fascinated with The Secret, a book written by Rhonda Byrne, and he wanted to visit a worship site, in which believers practiced the esoteric knowledge Byrne brings to light (for $23.95). His interest sparked my interest, and it seems that many Americans are buying the book to improve their minds, and by extension, their lives. According to Slate:

There are now 5.3 million copies of the book in print in the United States, and publisher Simon & Schuster says it is selling about 150,000 a week. A separate DVD version has sold at least 1.5 million copies. Groups have formed to discuss how to best live by The Secret's rules. It is a No. 1 best seller in Australia, England, and Ireland, and it is scheduled to be translated into 30 languages.

As far as I can tell (since I have not yet bought or read this work), this is a book that highlights the importance of positive thinking as the key to having the universe work for you instead of against you. Valerie Frankel, from MSN, notes:

As The Secret explains, "You are like a human transmission tower, transmitting a frequency with your thoughts." What's more, it continues, the universe follows the Law of Attraction, and "like attracts like, so when you think a thought, you are also attracting like thoughts to you." Ergo, to be happy, just think happy thoughts. The book's experts suggest counting your blessings and "wrapping every thought in love" in order to connect with the "strongest positive frequency in the Universe." If you're feeling blue, you're supposed to reverse the negativity with "secret shifters," such as hold­ing a baby, playing with a pet, listening to a joyful song, or watching a funny movie.

Though originally skeptical, Frankel finds the focus on positive visualization helpful, but not a cure to all that ails.

On the other hand, Emily Yoffe, from Slate, finds the book disturbing because its mantra appears to be “perfect thinking equals perfect life, and imperfect thinking equals an imperfect life.” She writes:

At this point I should add that The Secret is not only drivel—it's pernicious drivel. The obvious question that arises from its claim that it's easy to get what you want, is: Why do so many people get what they don't want? As Byrne writes, "Imperfect thoughts are the cause of all humanity's ills, including disease, poverty, and unhappiness." Yes, according to The Secret, people don't just randomly end up being massacred, for example. They are in the wrong place because of their own lousy thinking. Cancer patients have long been victims of this school of belief. But The Secret takes it to a new and more repulsive level with its advice not just to blame people for their illness, but to shun them, lest you start being infected by their bummer thoughts, too.

Americans, as you probably already know, have embraced various forms of therapeutic culture from Phineas Parkhurst Quimby’s “mind cure” to “water cure” to talk therapy, and The Secret appears to be a reworking of previous trends in American religious history that focus on the centrality of the mind for harmony with universe, control over matter, and positive visualization. From Christian Science to Norman Vincent Peale to the magic of Oprah to name a few, Americans have delighted in the ability to correct your life path by focusing on your thought. The Secret proves to be an extension of these.

In the September issue of the JAAR (available online with a subscription), Catherine Albanese highlights the importance of metaphysical religion in American religious history. In her introduction to three articles on metaphysics, “Awash in a Sea of Metaphysics,” Albanese lays out the concerns for the ‘North American metaphysician’ as magic, mind, and salvation (584-585). “Metaphysicians have used ‘mind’—their own and others’, including God’s—as instruments to walk a fine line between spiritual expansion and this-worldly comfort and success (585). Proponents of The Secret follow this model and seek to improve their mental as well as physical well-being through practices of the mind. Metaphysics remain popular, as does the allure of potential of the mind to control our circumstances. The Secret proves to be another instance in this long tradition.

Do I know The Secret? Yes, I do, and it seems fairly familiar, indeed.

On the Road to Atheism -- Again


Atheism Again
Kelly Baker

Speaking of Faith has a podcast on entitled Beyond the Religion-Atheism Divide, in which Krista Tippett interviews Harvey Cox, Jr., a Harvard Divinity School Professor, on the current fad in books on atheism (see my previous post) as well as reflection on his work on secularism. The conversation highlights the problem between dividing the religious and non-religious so sharply. The podcast is described:

In 1965, a young Harvard professor became the best-selling voice of secularism in America with his book The Secular City. He sees the old thinking in the "new atheism" of figures like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. The either/or debates between religion and atheism, he says, obscure the truly interesting interplay between faith and other forms of knowledge that is unfolding today.

One of the main critiques of these recent works in “new atheism” is the occlusion of nuanced ways that religion impacts our world in a myriad of ways rather than just being the root of violence or hatred as some authors suggest. Additionally, Tracy Fessenden’s new book, Culture and Redemption provides a stunning look at the foundations of secularism and how the religious impacts the process of secularization. (Fessenden’s book is highlighted in this post).

Thelonious and the Gospel Truth

Check the Wall Street Journal today for my article "'Gospel Truth: The Evolution of an American Musical Tradition," p. W13 in the "Weekend Journal" section (or click above). My conclusion: "the music of Southern Protestantism and the juke box intermingled frequently through the 20th century--as did the musical worlds of white and black Protestants. Of course, the same was not true of the churchgoers themselves."

Blood Done Signed this Blog


John Turner, More on Religion and the Civil Rights Movement

Paul's recent post on religion in the 1960s (and particularly about David Chappell's Stone of Hope) prompted me to think about another recent book on religion and the civil rights movement: Timothy Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name. Tyson's book has gained numerous plaudits and won the 2007 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion (which comes with a $200,000 prize).

The honors are richly deserved. Blood Done Sign My Name is one of the very best books I have read in recent years. Part autobiography but much more, Tyson's narrative hinges on an unpunished murder of a young black man in Oxford, North Carolina in 1970.

There are some similarities to Stone of Hope. Religion takes center stage in the civil rights movement. Tyson's father, who pastors a white Methodist church in Oxford, takes courageous stands for racial progress over the stiff resistance of many of his parishioners. In both books, religion also infuses early black struggles for civil rights.

Chappell observes that the civil rights movement succeeded "with remarkably few casualties … astonishingly nonviolent." Here Tyson's narrative offers a very different (though not entirely contradictory) conclusion. Violence -- or at least the threat of violence -- was at the heart of racial progress in Oxford. As Tyson argues, "The struggle was far more violent, perilous, and critical than America is willing to remember … It had taken the physical threat of 'Black Power' to make the moral argument of civil rights mean anything on a local level." Change only took place when southern blacks threatened the white establishment with violence and chaos.

Tyson's book is eminently readable -- it is narrative history at its best (and would be very accessible to undergraduates). It is also challenging, because it overturns some now cherished beliefs about the civil rights movement. The book is also sobering, as violence succeeds where religion fails. The civil rights movement is not a redemptive chapter in American History, or at least it wasn't at the time. See Tyson's discussion of Blood Done Sign My Name in the Christian Century.

Tyson also intelligently and effortlessly integrates religion into his narrative. The reader meets a wide variety of southern religious movements (even the Free Will Baptists get an introduction), and even when the narrative moves out of Oxford's churches, religion haunts the story. Blood Done Sign My Name may or may not alter the place of religion in the historiography of the 1960s, but it provides a model example of how to put religion at the heart of one of the central struggles of that long decade.

Getting Religion in the 1960s

John Wilson of Books and Culture and I have been carrying on a dialogue about scholarship on religion and the 1960s. My last post on this is here, which has the links to follow the discussion so far. We've disagreed on some points, but agree on the goal of a richer and more capacious scholarship. I see that scholarship emerging all around me; Wilson sees the "canonical" and textbook accounts as straitened by views of religion which remain unsatisfactory or condescending (or both). Wilson sees evidence of "entrenched orthodoxies" still holding back scholarship, with authors of non-canonical books apparently having to write from the margins of high academe (this was in reference to Doug Rossinow's Politics of Authenticity); I still find this to be a fairly unproductive form of academe-bashing. George Marsden, Mark Noll et al changed the dominant historiography on evangelicalism as a force in American history; I'm sure good books on religion in the 1960s will do the same. "Entrenched orthodoxies" may or may not exist now (we disagree on that point), but in any event they will crumble when faced with superior scholarship.

It's going to take a number of shorter posts to respond to the issues involved here, so let me start here and continue on with this intermittently over the next couple of weeks when I can steal a few moments to think it over further.

Today in my class on Southern History from Civil War through Civil Rights, I had one of those golden moments that we long for in the classroom, but which come too infrequently -- and it was a moment that speaks to our discussion here. I queried the class about a piece about race, religion, and civil rights which they had read. In discussing the piece, a smart political science major in the class volunteered to speak and noted that, for some political science class, she had read David Chappell's Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (the link takes you to my review of the book for the journal North Star). She then explained the basic points she got from the book, which fit directly into our ongoing class discussion. David's book is quite sophisticated, not normal undergraduate fare, but this student "got" it and contributed richly to the class dialogue.

As it happens, I have a very particular disagreement with Chappell on his interpretation of the role of religion in segregationism; beyond that, however, his broader points remain an example of the richer and more capacious scholarship that Wilson and I both desire. He writes, "The civil rights movement succeeded for many reasons. This book isolates and magnifies one reason that has received insufficient attention: black southern activists got strength from old-time religion, and white supremacists failed, at the same moment, to muster the cultural strength that conservatives traditionally get from religion."

In going over the student's points, the students in this class at least seemed to understand that any rich history of the 1960s must go way beyond the usual oversimplified views, and should feature religious belief as a central actor. And they didn't get this from me -- this is not a class about "religion" per se. They brought it from elsewhere -- other understandings, other classes. The students in this course will be getting more along these lines when they get to our next text, the oral history compilation My Soul is Rested, and they'll get a view from the other side in the final book of the semester, Kevin Kruse's White Flight.

Without my consciously intending to provide them with such, the students are getting a rich dialogue on religion and the central event (for my money) of the 1960s, the civil rights movement. I might add that a pretty rich and capacious view of religion as religion (not just as a commentary on something else) is, I believe, "canonical" within civil rights scholarship -- to the degree that Charles Payne's I've Got the Light of Freedom was mildly revisionist for pointing out how little connection to religious belief a number of male (in distinct contrast to female) civil rights activists in Mississippi claimed.

In his post, John Wilson quoted from and then offered a trenchant critique of a passage in Lisa McGirr's Suburban Warriors. I hope to respond to that next (have to track down my copy of the book first!). Stay tuned, and let the dialogue continue.

If God Doesn't Exist, then Everything is Permissible; Oh, Ok, Never Mind, There Is a God

Did Dostoevsky have the Rockies in Mind? 4-0 sweep of Diamondbacks, fair enough, but c'mon -- 21 out of 22 victories, miraculous come-from-behind victory in bottom 13th just to make the playoffs, one weird lucky break after another, sweep Phillies (3-0) and sweep Dbacks? No way. No. Way.

Yes, it must be God's will. No other explanation for the muffed ground ball that led to the Rockies' 6-run inning that won the game. Agnostics, come to the altar at (ahem) Coors Field.

God's on a Rocky Mountain High.

Art Remillard, North American Undergrad. Research Conference in Religion

Last year, I started an undergraduate conference at St. Francis University. Long story short, it went far better than expected (side note: two of John Fea’s students gave outstanding presentations). So this year, I’ve teamed with Bryan Rennie (Westminster College) to offer what promises to be a bigger and better event. Of course, as with any conference, we need quality presenters. So please, my dear blog readers, if you’re anywhere near western PA, and have a handful of good students, encourage them to attend. And bring yourself too! In addition to helping create a collegial environment, professors will serve as judges and offer “faculty consultations” on Sunday (read below). I’ll be updating readers in the coming months, sharing my thoughts on the value of this sort of educational exercise. Meanwhile, if it is feasible, please mark this on your calendar and tell your students!

Call For Papers: The North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy Theme: “Talking About Religion”

Date: March 7-9, 2008
Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA

Deadline: 150 word abstract, January 15; complete submission, February 11, 2008
Bryan Rennie, Westminster College, (e-mail)
David Goldberg, Westminster College, (e-mail)
Arthur Remillard, St. Francis University, (e-mail)

The North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy is organized by Westminster College, PA and St. Francis University, PA with the support of the North American Association for the Study of Religion and the Heinz Lecture Series at Westminster. Undergraduate papers from any discipline on any subject in Religious Studies and Philosophy are sought for an undergraduate conference to take place at Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA from March 7– 9 2008. Public events and discussions, including “faculty consultations” in which the faculty members who accompany their students can share their specific expertise, will take place on Friday evening and Sunday morning. Student presentations will take place on Saturday, March 8.

Although papers on any subject will be considered, those that focus on the conference theme of "Talking about Religion" will be given priority: how can we encourage an open, rational and, productive discussion of religion? How can we promulgate such dialogue and in what terms can we most appropriately discuss this highly charged matter?

Subject to the discretion of a panel of judges cash prizes of $250 each will be awarded to the best paper in Religion, in Philosophy, and in a special category for a “non–traditional” presentation that deviates from the traditional format of the reading of a standard academic paper.

Traditional papers of approximately 2,000 words in length, requiring no more than 20 minutes to read, are sought, as well as “non–traditional” presentations.

Scheduled featured speakers are Bob Abernethy, for ten years the host of the PBS weekly program, “Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly,” who has considerable professional expertise in the area of talking about religion; and Justin Barrett, former associate director of the International Culture and Cognition Consortium and a founding editor of the Journal of Cognition and Culture. Dr. Barrett is the author of Why Would Anyone Believe in God? and was the International Coordinator of Experimental Research Programmes for the Institute of Cognition and Culture at the Queen's University, Belfast. Currently, he is the Senior Researcher at Oxford University's Centre for Anthropology and Mind in the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

Abstracts of c. 150 words should be sent by January 14, 2008. Please include your full name, paper title, institution, e-mail, phone number, and the name and contact information of your major professor. Complete submissions by February 11, 2008. Submissions and any inquiries should be addressed to Bryan Rennie (e-mail).

Stillborn God v. Theocon God

Mark Lilla, author of The Stillborn God (discussed in Art's post below), engages in a dialogue with Damon Linker and Philip Jenkins, summarized here, with links to the fuller essays. They are carrying on a dialogue which John, Art and others have been conducting more informally here at our little baby blog.

Linker writes:

There is much truth in Lilla’s approach to understanding the place of religion in American politics and history. And he is surely right to urge us not to exaggerate the threat of an emerging theocracy at home, when, as he points out, hardly any believers question the legitimacy of the country’s Constitution or basic democratic procedures. Yet I wonder whether Lilla’s conceptual schema is capable of capturing the complexities of America’s political-religious reality. No, American Christians are not, for the most part, “willing to kill or be killed” in the name of their beliefs, as Christians of earlier eras sometimes were. But is it really common for devout believers in the United States to accept that the principles underlying American government are “humanistic,” as Lilla asserts? And is it really accurate to say, as Lilla does, that one of “our” working assumptions in the United States is that “religion is essentially a private matter”? I know that I make that assumption, as does Lilla, and as do many millions of broadly secular (and a good many religious) Americans. But it is also true that many (other) millions of religious Americans explicitly reject this assumption—as they do the secular-liberal interpretation of the Constitution that Lilla assumes.

In his response, Philip Jenkins takes fundamental issue with Lilla:

Let me begin with his basic argument about American exceptionalism, the idea that the lack of a powerful established church in American history meant that the country never developed a political theology. Certainly, Lilla concedes, preachers and religious figures have often advocated particular causes, but with a couple of rare exceptions, they have not challenged the basic legitimacy of American democracy. To the contrary, I would be hard pressed to point to an era in American history in which politics were not characterized by basic political theologies, often in fervent competition with each other. When Lilla opines that “Americans have rarely read the Bible as a call to political battle”, the rumbling sound you hear in the distance is the massed stirring of tens of thousands of normally placid historians searching for their pitchforks and torches before marching en masse to Columbia University to remonstrate personally with the author. His sentence is accurate, provided we replace “rarely” with “always.”

In a broader conclusion regarding what is required for the kind of "great separation" elsewhere that Lilla traces in the West following the religious wars of the 17th century, Jenkins argues

Change depends on economic development, the creation of free institutions and free media. Social pluralism is the prerequisite, not the consequence, of religious toleration. And given the right economic, legal and cultural circumstances, both the tolerance and the pluralism can flourish in any religious context. The problem lies in a stillborn modernization, not a stillborn God.

I'm not much of a Cato Institute guy -- to say the least! -- but this exchange at "Cato Unbound" is stimulating and valuable.

Sanctified Scholarship

I just got in the mail my long-awaited copy of Anthea Butler's Women in the Church of God in Christ, a revision of her Vanderbilt dissertation. Congratulations to Anthea and to her editor and mine, Elaine Maisner at UNC Press.

Albert Raboteau writes of her book: With this book Anthea Butler has made a major contribution to our understanding of the history of Pentecostalism and to the religious history of African American women. This is a pathbreaking work.

The appearance of Anthea's book gives me a good chance, as well, to plug our contributing editor Randall Stephen's review essay on early Pentecostalism, which was posted a few years ago at the now-in-hibernation American Religious Experience. There's not a better place to start for serious study in the subject. Randall's book on the early Holiness movement will be out soon; you'll hear about it here as soon as it is.

Randall's opening paragraph gives a sense of the importance of the subject:

Pentecostalism is arguably the most important mass religious movement of the twentieth century. Today, this movement is the second largest sub-group of global Christianity. It has over 30 million American adherents and a worldwide following of 430 million.1 Pentecostalism’s inauspicious beginnings at the turn of the century make the movement’s growth all the more surprising. This essay will examine how historians have interpreted the origins of American Pentecostalism and will suggest some areas for further study.

In the essay, Randall writes that "the role of women in the early movement in particular has received slight attention." Thanks to recent works by Anthea, Wallace Best, and others, that scholarly neglect is getting some overdue attention.

Weekend Reading

Pastor Bob Cornwall notes and comments on Garry Wills's American Christianities, and reprints Martin Marty's commentary on the same (focusing on Wills's treatment of abortion in Catholic theological history). Alan Wolfe reviews Wills in The New Republic (subscription required). Here is the precis of Wills's book, from the Seminary Coop book website. Further blog entries here and comments are welcome, it'll be a while before I can have a look at the book.

A landmark examination of Christianity's place in American life across the broad sweep of this country's history, from the Puritans to the presidential administration of George W. Bush. The struggle within American Christianity, Garry Wills argues, now and throughout our country's history, is between the head and the heart: between reason and emotion, Enlightenment and Evangelism. Why has this been so? How has the tension between the two poles played out, and with what consequences, over the past 400 years? How "Christian" is America, after all? Garry Wills brings a lifetime's worth of thought about these questions to bear on a magnificent historical reckoning that offers much needed perspective on some of the most contentious issues of our time. A religious revolution occurred in America in the 18th century, one that saw the emergence of an Enlightenment religious culture whose hallmarks were tolerance for other faiths and a belief that religion was a matter best divorced from political institutions-the proverbial "separation of church and state." Wills shows us just how incredibly radical a departure this separation was: there was simply no precedent for it. To put this leap in perspective, Wills provides a grounding in the pre-Enlightenment religion that preceded it, beginning with the early Puritans. He then provides a thrillingly clear unpacking of the steps, particularly Madison's and Jefferson's, by which church-state separation was enshrined in the Constitution, and reveals the great irony of the efforts of today's Religious Right to blur the lines between the two. In fact, it is precisely that separation that has allowed religion inAmerica to flourish since the disestablishment of religion created a free market, as it were, and competition for souls led to the profusion of denominations across the length and breadth of the land. As Wills examines the key movements and personalities that have transformed America's religious landscape, we see again and again the same pattern emerge: a cooling of popular religious fervor followed by a grassroots explosion in evangelical activity, generally at a time of great social transformation and anxiety. But such forces inevitably go too far, provoking a backlash as is happening right now with the forces of Creationism and the anti-abortion fundamentalists. Garry Wills closes with a penetrating dissection of the Religious Right's current machinations and the threat they pose to the enlightened religion that has proved to be such a fertile and enduring force throughout American history. But in the end, Wills's abiding message is to be vigilant against the triumph of emotions over reason, but to know that the tension between the two is in fact necessary, inevitable, and unending.

First Quarter Report: Profits are Up!

In the next day or two probably, our little baby blog (about 3.5 months old now) will reach 10,000 unique "hits," that is, hits from different people/servers. So, happy 1/4th year birthday to us! May there be more good quarters to come. To light our candle, senior blogmeister Ralph Luker writes the following on Cliopatria:

I don't know whether Dan Cohen's speculation that blogs may replace H-Net's listservs as our preferred means of communication is likely to happen, but some very field-specific blogs (Mary Dudziak's Legal History Blog or Paul Harvey's Religion in American History, for example) seem to have become essential reading. Tim Lacey's U.S. Intellectual History has that potential. He's put out a call for more contributors).

So happy 10,000th hit for us, a thanks to Ralph for his kind cyber-thoughts, and best wishes to Mary and Tim's excellent academic blogs as well.

Update: we hit our 10,000th hit this evening. We're never going to get any land-speed records for blogs, but keep those cards and hits a'comin!

God and The War


By John Turner

Last month, PBS garnered high ratings (though perhaps not as high as expected) for Ken Burns's The War.

Burns's 15-hour documentary garnered some mixed reviews. For example, Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times criticized its political timidity, lack of inclusiveness, and insularity. Burns received a large amount of criticism for not including material on Latino Americans in the film, eventually prompting him to insert (somewhat awkwardly, in my opinion) some compensating footage.

As I watched The War, I occasionally thought about the presence of religion in the film: when a Jewish veteran described his motivation for fighting, when troops prayed on ships before entering combat, and when carols accompanied a wartime Christmas. I appreciated a few subtle touches, such as one of my favorite hymns -- Come Ye Thankful People, Come -- serving as background music to a harrowing Thanksgiving meal on the front.

And while I wouldn't have wanted Burns to splice in material on the subject of religion, the little bits of religion that made their way into the film intrigued me. I found myself wanting to know more about the interconnections between American religions and the war. There was a lot of discussion towards the end of the documentary about how the war indelibly changed those who fought in it. I wanted to know how believing (and unbelieving) used their faith (or lack thereof) to interpret what they saw during the war. Perhaps a chaplain for an interviewee? Religion seemed uncontroversial in the early 1940s -- surprisingly so, even when both Franklin Roosevelt (I think) and ordinary Americans talked about the war as a "crusade." I was curious about some divisions and controversies that might have lurked beneath the surface of consensus.

I don't blame Burns for not including more religion -- he had a hard enough task satisfying diverse groups of Americans. Still, the film made me think that we need more studies of religion and WWII. Gerald Sittser's A Cautious Patriotism, I think, is a good starting place (though I think many groups he paid less attention to dropped the caution), and portions of other books (such as Joel Carpenter's Revive Us Again) discuss the impact of the war on certain American religious groups. Because of Youth for Christ and the postwar burst of foreign mission agencies, the war appears to have been central to the reemergence of evangelicalism in a way not yet fully appreciated. The formation of the National Council of Churches shortly after the war possibly highlighted the height of mainline Protestant clout in the United States. The war certainly helped usher in the Protestant-Catholic-Jew consensus of the 1950s. All of these factors make me think of the Second World War as a critical turning point in the history of American religion, and I'm looking forward to someone writing a book that puts this story together for us.

Kelly Baker, New Reviews on Religon from H-AMSTDY


New reviews on Religion from H-Amstdy

First up, Seth Perry, a doctoral candidate at University of Chicago, Divinity School, reviewed W. Paul Reeve’s Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes. The work touches on the relationships between Mormons and the Paiutes, which eventually lead to Paiute conversions to Mormonism. What is intriguing is the author’s understanding of the “hierarchy of Americanism.” Seth writes:

Eschewing simple racial or ethnic categories, Reeve uses the categories of "spiritual" and "worldly" to divide miners from both Paiutes and Mormons, and to plot the groups on a continuum of "Americanness" that, he says, explains how the groups were regarded (regarded _by whom_ is an important question which will be touched on in a moment). "A hierarchy of Americanness emerged that favored the miners as the embodiment of American progress, industry, and quest for wealth. Mormons and Southern Paiutes, however, valued community over individualism and celestial rewards over material gain, ideals that placed them well outside prevailing standards of what it meant to be an American" (pp. 4-6).

For the rest of the review, click here.

Note that progress and wealth, in Reeve’s view, are more “American” than spiritual leanings that emphasize immaterial rewards.

Next, another Seth reviews quite a different book. Seth Feman, a doctoral candidate at the College of William and Mary, explore James Hudnut-Beumler’s In Pursuit of the Almighty Dollar. This book, one I keep meaning to read, explores the place of money in American denominations, which Feman points out is an often contentious point among congregations. His review highlights the importance of understanding the fiscal in the realm of the immaterial. He writes:

To highlight how the shifting economy has inflected theology and denominational development, Hudnut-Beumler considers common but often overlooked fundraising homiletics and tithing advice literature written by ministers and their advocates from the 1750s to the present. This is no easy task. Placing fiscal matters front and center in religious history not only demands a careful revision of traditional narratives. But, since doing so pins the invisible hand to a cross of gold, it also calls for the reassessment of long-held assumptions about the immateriality of faith and the immateriality of finance.

Finally, Elizabeth “Betsy” Barre, a doctoral candidate at Florida State University in the Department of Religion, approaches Zachary Shore’s Breeding Bin Ladens with a critical eye and a sense of grace. She braced herself for a polemic (as books like this tend to be) but found merit in his work. In her review, she notes that Shore uses the term “ambi-Americanism” to describe Muslim reaction to the U.S. as ambivalent rather than full-sale rejection of the national culture. She notes:

Shore argues that the underlying cause of "ambi-Americanism" and "ambi-Europeanism" is "a growing discomfort with mainstream European and American cultural values" (p. 165). He is never entirely clear about what he means by "mainstream" or "values," but he notes that many European Muslims believe that Europe and America are "spiritually empty" (p. 8). As a result, they do their best to resist "American secular values" (p. 127), seeking out products and services that will reflect their own (p. 121).

On a related note, I am always seeking reviewers for H-Amstdy. Currently, I am in dire need of scholars in African American studies, Gender History, History of the West, Catholicism, Religion and Politics, and more generally, American religious history. To be a reviewer, one must be at least ABD. If you are interested or know someone who might be, please send me an email, kellyjbaker (at) gmail (dot) com, with a short CV and a current list of scholarly areas of interest.

Job Search Tip Carnival

Some readers of this blog may be on the academic job market -- as a 6-year veteran of said market, I feel for you.

Check out Tenured Radical's post on academic job-searching, and then read the 25 (and counting) comments -- a carnival of entertaining and contradictory advice. Mostly, it seems to come down to applying general principles to specific cases, and knowing when to adapt those principles to specific situations. For readers here who are looking around, good luck, and be careful out there.

John Wilson and the Religious History of the 1960s -- a Rejoinder

John Wilson has posted a rejoinder to my post on his original Wall Street Journal column on incorporating religion into the story of the 1960s.

It makes for good reading. When I emerge from my grading cave, I'll respond a bit further.

Suffice to say for now, part of our disagreement stems from referring to different kinds of books. If we look at some standard textbooks and major synthetic surveys (such as that of Patterson), and probably some popular literature like some of the Summer of Love books coming out (a singularly overrated event in my view), Wilson's laments make sense. If we instead analyze the monographic scholarship and the general "direction of the field" based on what younger scholars are writing and many senior scholars are incorporating into their work, I think the picture is brighter than he makes it out to be, and this will eventually find its way into the texts and synthetic surveys. On the two specific examples he mentions in his piece, I agree with his assessment of Patterson (see the article for details), and also am in accord with his original assertion that "when the revisionist dust has settled, we'll have an understanding of that tumultuous time that is richer and more capacious." I will argue with him on McGirr, whom he sees as condescending and I see as, mostly, on target.

And note that we have not yet gotten into discussing myriad other books, some self-proclaimedly in "religious history" and some not, that feature religion centrally. Obviously, civil rights movements books generally do that; in that field, religion's central role is in fact an entrenched orthodoxy, to the degree that those who argue with it are staking out deliberately contrarian positions. And, for my money, the CRM stands as far, far more important than much else that was evanscent about that decade, including a good deal of the counterculture that draws too much press and historical attention.

Then, of course, there are works on Catholics, Mexican migrants and C. Chavez, the explosion of Asian immigration and religions, Vatican II in America, the evolution of ideas of freedom among Catholics (a la John McGreevy), as well as the religion of the truly radical right (Christian Identity and others).

Stay tuned! Or, run screaming, if you're already bored. At any rate, thanks to Wilson for his tough but thoughtful response.B

Update: Randall Stephens lists some other important major texts in the comments section; that list could be extended a long ways further, and represents the kind of works I had in mind in my original post.

Religion and Reconstruction

Religion in the Civil War and Reconstruction era has been the subject of a good number of important historiographical interventions, notably including Harry Stout's recent Upon the Altar of the Nation (the link takes you to Grant Wacker's review of the book in Christian Century) and Mark Noll's The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (the link goes to the substantial review in the Journal of Southern Religion; and a symposium featuring several lengthy reviews of this book, including my own, will be coming out in Fides et Historia soon -- based on a author-meets-critics session at the ASCH last January).

On Stout, Wacker concludes: Because Christians did much, and perhaps most, of the fighting, we might say that the volume also represents an inquiry into how Christians in particular ordered and disordered their moral lives during the Civil War. The short answer is that they lost their way. They rarely asked if their own interests were different from God's. If we judge them by their self-professed standards—which is the only fair way to judge—they failed themselves, their nation and their faith.

The war, naturally, tends to draw the attention, but I want to draw greater attention to the work on religion during the Reconstruction era.

The question remains, of course whether incorporating religion into the dominant political narratives changes the story, or merely adds a dash of salt. Beth Schweiger's thoughtful review of a pioneering work in this area, Daniel Stowell's Rebuilding Zion, begins this way:

At the 1998 meeting of the Southern Historical Association, a distinguished panel of historians considered Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution on the tenth anniversary of its publication. Responding to commentator Ivar Bernstein's charge that his book ignored religion, Foner replied that while religion was a critical part of mid-nineteenth-century American life--Democrat and Republican, Yank and Reb--he did not think that serious attention to the subject would alter the story in his book.[1]

Daniel W. Stowell's Rebuilding Zion was 'Exhibit A' in Bernstein's case against Foner. The first contemporary study devoted entirely to religion in this troubled period in the South, Stowell's careful institutional history of Protestant churches does not in the end compel this reader to disagree with Foner. But this book does suggest that a mature scholarship of religion for this period-one built of social, cultural, political, and theological history on Stowell's institutional foundation-can recast our understanding of this turbulent era.

She concludes: Scholars have long taken for granted the agency of religion in the Second Reconstruction; it is time that they carefully considered its place in the first.

Ed Blum has taken up that challenge in his now-standard Reforging the White Republic. That work has, quite properly, received its share of attention and awards, but I want to draw greater attention to a volume of essays that probably has not gotten as much attention: Vale of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction -- the link goes to a review from H-NET.

The question remains, for Reconstruction as for many other topics, whether "serious attention will alter the story" in our books. That's the task for American religious historians of our generation. Where do you see the greatest challenges, or most hope, in the question of whether "serious attention will alter the story." Or is that too much to ask of one historical "variable," such as "religion," especially considering no one agrees on exactly what that term means? Random and perhaps not-very-deep thoughts.

Another American Religious History Blog

I've been remiss in not linking to American Religious History, a fairly new blog kept up by a former student at Cal State-Sacramento. The blogger has a good archive of pieces, including reviews of some older classics in the field, and has posted a good starter bibliography on religion, politics, and American culture. I look forward to future posts there and would point our readers to check him out.

Matt Hedstrom, review of paperback ed of Leigh Schmidt, Restless Souls

Leigh Eric Schmidt. _Restless Souls: The Making of AmericanSpirituality from Emerson to Oprah. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco,2005. 352 pp. Notes, index. $26.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-06-054566-6;$14.95 (paper), ISBN 0-06-085834-6.

Reviewed for H-Amstdy by Matthew S. Hedstrom, Postdoctoral Research
Associate, Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University

A Usable Past for the Spiritual Left

The latest book from Princeton University's Leigh Eric Schmidt, newly
released in paperback, appeared at a propitious moment in the national
conversation about religion and public life in the United States. In_Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality from Emerson toOprah_, Schmidt writes about--and indeed champions--the Spiritual Left as a counterpoint to the Religious Right, and his book, first published in August 2005, emerged just as the connections between faith and political liberalism enjoyed a period of renewed media interest--interest that has continued into the present. A recent forum on faith and politics, for instance, hosted by the liberal evangelical organization Sojourners and featuring Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, drew nationwide attention to progressive Christianity as a political force. Not since the 1960s has the religious left been so visible in American public life. Schmidt's book augments this current conversation about the religious left (religion, here, meaning the institutional infrastructures of faith) with a broader historical examination of the Spiritual Left, encompassing all those facets ofindividual faith experience that give sustenance to public activism and private well-being.

Read the rest here.

Review Roundup

BookForum has a roundup of reviews (HT) on a variety of books in American religious history, ranging from Garry Wills's Head and Heart: American Christianities, to Charles Reagan Wilson's Judgement and Grace in Dixie, to Terry Givens' history of Mormon culture.

I'll just mention a few that caught my eye. Jane Smiley (the novelist, I'm presuming) reviews Frank Schaeffer's (son of Francis Schaeffer, whose intellectual retreat at L'Abri and various books inspired some of the intellectual side of the religious right) memoir Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. Frank was something of an evangelical celebrity for a while in the 1980s, mostly for his association and co-authorship of books and films (notably including Whatever Happened to the Human Race?) with his father. But his memoir shows him to be a not-very-happy camper, hard to blame him with a mother who was, ahem, very problematic, as well as an association with those from the religious right who his father considered "co-belligerents" on the one hand, but also as "loonies." Frank considers all of the leading evangelical lights with whom he associated in the 1980s -- Graham, Robertson, Dobson, etc. -- either insane, or power-hungry, or just plain strange. One could invoke Freud here; but one won't.

I'll be interested to see what Barry Hankins has to say about all this in his biography of Francis Schaeffer which he's currently completing; I suspect the story is more complicated than what the memoir suggests. Smiley concludes cynically but in line with the bitterness (so I gather) of this particular memoir:

One lesson of all of Frank Schaeffer's work is that the inherent contradictions and terrors of Calvinist doctrine have been intolerable to the very family most famous in our day for spreading them. Another is that however the Schaeffers tried to mitigate those cruelties with personal kindness, their allies and associates have gone wholesale for the divisive, the inhumane and the mercenary. Francis Schaeffer's failure was that he didn't learn, from the very cultural history that he loved, the simple historical truth that tribalism and damnation are what organized religion does best.

Next up is Rich Barlow's review of Garry Wills, Head and Heart, a lengthy book for the normally more laconic Wills. The reviewer summarizes the thesis this way:

Definition is the first step to comprehension, and Wills deftly defines the two great tides of American faith, what he calls "Enlightened" and "Evangelical" religion. The former treasures reason for unlocking "the laws of nature and of nature's God" and deems compassion the commandment of those laws. Evangelicals profess "an experiential relationship with Jesus as their savior, along with biblical inerrancy and a mission to save others. . . . The emphasis of Enlightened religion is on the head. The emphasis of Evangelicals is on the heart." The Puritans were heart-believers. The Founding Fathers, aware of Puritan intolerance and its collateral damage, such as Dyer's execution, were head-believers. Wills sides with Enlightened religion.

Another review linked there, from the historian Glenn C. Altschuler, concludes that Wills's partisanship for "Enlightened" and over-reaching estimate of the influence of "Evangelical" religion somewhat mars the text. Oh my, so many books, so little time.

Finally, from The American Scholar, Ethan Fishman's "Unto Caesar: Religious groups that have allied themselves with politicians, and vice versa, have ignored at their peril the lessons of Roger Williams and U.S. history," continues a discussion that we've been having on this blog courtesy of John Fea.

A key passage from Fishman's article connects the differing yet related concerns of Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson, and the costs of the contemporary ignorance or flaunting of those concerns:

The two religious clauses of the First Amendment reflect the different concerns of Jefferson and Williams. Jefferson’s fear that one church would gain control of government resulted in the establishment clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Williams’s emphasis on protecting the independence of churches became the free exercise clause: “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Taken together, these two clauses prohibit government from either helping churches or hurting them. These few words set into law the standard of neutrality that Williams and Jefferson prescribed.

The Bush administration has sought to undermine almost every one of the contributions Williams and Jefferson made to the tradition of religious freedom in the United States. By giving religious denominations the power to directly influence public policy, it has allowed them to force their tenets on others. The administration has also exploited religion for the sake of gaining and maintaining political power. And it has used religious faith to justify the carnage caused by the war in Iraq.

A bit further down, Fishman concludes:

Roger Williams acknowledged that even the most devout religious communities cannot avoid living in the wilderness of the temporal world. The role that government plays in maintaining temporal order is valuable to religious and irreligious citizens alike. How, then, are churches supposed to resist the temptation to cross the line between mere coexistence with government and active political participation? In the eighth century B.C. the prophet Isaiah responded by teaching the Jewish people to strive to be in the world but not of it, and Williams sought to apply Isaiah’s message to colonial New England.

In June 2007 the National Association of Evangelicals debated whether to advise members to “guard against over-identifying Christian goals with a single political party, lest nonbelievers think that the Christian faith is essentially political in nature.” Perhaps that debate will cause the Bush administration and complicit religious groups to reexamine their policies in light of Isaiah’s teachings and Williams’s views.

You have your assignment. Discuss. One at a time, please. And you, in the back row, yo, turn OFF the cell phone, even if your ring tone is set to "Precious Lord, Take My Hand."

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