Inheritors of Unwanted Legacies

Today's post comes to us from our friend and occasional guest poster Judith Weisenfeld, Professor of Religion at Princeton University and author of the recent and excellent volume Hollywood be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929-1949. Judith discusses some recent documentaries on the entangled history of race, slavery, communal myths, and religion in American history.

Inheritors of Unwanted Legacies
Judith Weisenfeld

On July 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the non-binding respolution H.Res. 194 ( formally “apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans” and committing to rectifying “the lingering consequences of the misdeeds committed against African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow.” Predictably, my reading of responses posted on online news sites turned up many people arguing that this as far too little and far too late and many insisting that these sins of the past have nothing to do with them. Some, however, took the opportunity to respond at length to the question of what kinds of responses to the legacies of slavery and racism are useful and appropriate.

Coincidentally, I recently saw two new documentaries made by white women dealing with the implications of their families’ histories as participants in America’s long traditions of racism. Katrina Browne’s Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, which premiered on PBS’s POV in June, follows ten descendants of the DeWolf family of Bristol, Rhode Island as they struggle to come to terms with their ancestors’ tremendous success as slave traders from the mid 18th century through the early 19th century and slave plantation owners in Cuba well into the 19th century. The film follows this group as they retrace the steps of the slave trade from Ghana to Cuba to Bristol and consider the economic, political, and moral consequences of their ancestors’ business in each location. In addition to building the economy of Bristol through their active traffic in people, the DeWolfs were important figures in the local Episcopal Church. Many of the descendants featured in the film are active members of churches and see their work as fundamentally religious. The information the film presents about the profound ways in which Northern communities were implicated in the Atlantic slave trade and American, Caribbean, and Latin American systems of slavery is compelling and makes clear that, while the documentary began as a personal project, it is not simply the story of one family. At the same time, the focus remains on the individual emotional journeys of participants, with Browne serving as narrator and commentator. I sometimes found it difficult and at other times moving to observe their struggles, but was generally made uncomfortable by Browne’s sighing, worried narration which contributed to a certain aura of self-indulgence on the part of the DeWolf descendants.

A good deal of screen time is devoted to conversations among the ten participants about what, if anything, their inheritance enjoins them to do and, although no single path emerges, we do get a sense at the film’s end of the actions various family members take. One of these was a campaign to get the Episcopal Church to apologize for its involvement in the slave trade and in slavery. A dialogue project has emerged from the film and discussion materials and information about screenings are available (although I was a little taken aback by the division of viewing guides into ones for African Americans, “European Americans,” “multi-racial” people, and “other race groups and ethnicities”). Traces of the Trade is just out on DVD soon and so easily obtained.

Margaret Brown’s The Order of Myths chronicles the 2007 Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama, where she grew up. The oldest Mardi Gras in America, Mobile’s celebration remains racially segregated, with an all-white association crowning what they understand to be the true and only King and Queen of Mardi Gras. An all-black group, founded in 1939 in response to Mobile’s black residents only having access to the celebration as servants, musicians, or fire carriers (this remains the case today), crowns its own King and Queen. 2007’s white Mardi Gras Queen descends from an infamous slave trader who brought an illegal shipment of Africans to Mobile in 1860 and, as it turns out, that year’s black Mardi Gras Queen descends from one of the Africans on board that ship. The mystic societies that sponsor balls and parades – The Order of Myths is one of these – remain inaccessible to black members and many of the white participants Brown interviews insist that they simply want to maintain their traditions and, besides, the “coloreds” like it that way.

What makes this film so compelling is the skill with which Brown accomplishes observational, cinema verité documentary – she chose informational title screens rather than a voice-over narration – and refuses easy resolution. This is not to say that her perspective is not apparent. Her emotional presence informs everything, especially the editing, which moves the film along quickly primarily through juxtaposition of scenes of the separate black and white events. It did seem to me, however, that the editing sometimes relegated the black participants in service of Brown’s desire to show the separate but unequal nature of the celebrations rather than allowing these people’s stories their own integrity. We learn late in the film precisely how Brown is connected to Mobile’s Mardi Gras and it seems to me a good decision for her to have withheld that information for so long. It is clear that the filmmaker has an investment in the past and future of Mobile’s rituals and, despite a few missteps, she does a remarkable job of presenting a complicated vision of one small portion of contemporary American race relations. In his review in New York Magazine, David Edelstein sums up the source of the film’s power and effectiveness well: “In the telling, The Order of Myths sounds obvious, and its underlying racial politics might be. But Brown is scrutinizing the surface, the tension between individuals and their ways. You try to read their faces, and it’s as if they’re wearing Mardi Gras masks, held in place by… what? Fear? It’s no wonder. Without the order of myths, what’s left?” The film’s website has information on the limited schedule of screenings, but I sincerely hope that we will see a DVD release soon. [Editors' note: my Netflix queue gives a January release date for the DVD).
Update: We have received the following information on getting the DVD, especially to show for classes and the like, for The Order of Myths: "it is available for purchase on DVD with Public Performance Rights. You can order it online through our website, at (select New Releases along the top), or by calling or faxing us directly at Tel: (212) 685-6242, or Fax: (212) 685-4717.

"Secrets of a Master Scholar"

Kelly Baker

Our illustrious leader, Paul Harvey, was recently interviewed by the Colorado Springs Record because of his excellent scholarship as well as his Teacher of the Year award, 2007-2008, at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Congratulations, Paul!

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

CSR+: Congratulations on being awarded Teacher of the Year at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs 2007-08. It is a great honor that recognizes you an academic leader at UCCS and in the community. What has contributed to the quality of your teaching excellence?

I have compared teaching history classes to my favorite musical form: jazz. Teaching is taking a theme, making sure that theme is explored, but allowing plenty of room for improvisation, and most especially for those moments when a student conversation or insight “takes flight”, and something totally unexpected emerges. Being rigorously trained in the discipline, being clear and firm on the standards expected in the classroom, but also being open “to the moment”—all of these combined are required, I believe, for the best teaching. It requires a careful blend of discipline, structure, and spontaneity which never stays the same from one class to another. One also has to have a lot of patience and forgiveness, both for students, but also for one’s own self; every day is not going to be a shining moment of teaching brilliance, and sometimes your most valued and ostensibly impressive teaching experiments will just flat-out fail. That’s fine, as long as one always learns from the experience.


CSR+: Your particular interest lies in the impact of religion on American culture and society. How would you characterize the profound impact religion has had or has on American culture? Is it different from the impact of religion other societies around the world?

The impact of religion in America presents a fundamental paradox. On the one hand, the United States was founded with the principle of the separation of church and state, without any established church or religious tests for office. Some of the founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, believed that this would lead to a society based on rationalism rather than (as Jefferson saw them) biblical myths and religious superstitions. But then, as it turned out, history worked out very differently, and the United States became a place where religion exerted more influence than perhaps any other society in the western world. That influence was deeply pervasive and cultural, rather than strictly political, and this dates, I believe, from the antebellum era of American history (about the 1820s forward), with what is called the “Second Great Awakening.” That is when evangelicalism became a dominant form of religious expression. It’s hard to compare America’s experience with religion’s influence to anywhere else, for in this regard the United States is sui generis, unlike anywhere else.


CSR+: What role does religion play in current American society? Is it healthy or unhealthy? How do you see the role of religion on American society evolving as our country’s population becomes more diversified?

That’s a hard question to answer, because in the field of religious studies, no one really agrees on what the term “religion” means, and certainly the impact of religion in public life, and whether that is “healthy” or “unhealthy,” is deeply disputed – just think of the arguments about groups such as Focus on the Family, for example. Religion is deeply ingrained, for better or worse, in our national identity, in our political dialogues, and even in the most basic metaphors that we use to understand America as a country. That’s why a 17th-century Puritan phrase, “city upon a hill,” has had such a long life in American politics. That kind of American idealism, derived ultimately from religious ideas, has inspired much of what is best in our country’s history (including the ideals of religious freedom, however imperfectly practiced, that I mentioned above), as well as much of what is worst in our history (including the legacies of slavery, racism, intolerance, and religiously motivated violence). Nowadays, as Americans learn pretty much for the first time in our history what “pluralism” truly means – i.e., not just different varieties of Christians, or even different varieties of Jews and Christians, but multitudes of different faiths living together in close proximity – our religious heritage of de facto Protestantism continues to lag behind the reality of religious pluralism. That explains the tortured debate about whether America is a “Christian nation.” Yet the U.S. has the promise to show what a truly religious pluralistic society looks like. We’re a long ways from that, but we’re a far sight better than we used to be.

God's Hunky Bodies


Kelly Baker

In my Religions in the U.S. class, I use images of Jesus to demonstrate different theological movements: the feminized Jesus, Warner Salman's Jesus, an African American Jesus, etc. I also use an image of Jesus from the Book of Mormon in which Jesus is preaching to Native American peoples. What I point out to students is that this rendition of Jesus is always so muscular. He's got huge biceps, a chiseled chin, and flowing hair. I pass around my copy of the Book of Mormon, so that they can see that the other figures depicted in the sacred text are also sufficiently muscled. Moroni buries the golden plates as his forearms and biceps ripple and bulge. The images make it clear that these religious men are manly men with the strength to prove it. Masculinity exudes from them.

Recent agitation over a calendar of shirtless Mormon missionaries made me reflect on the above images and why glorifying male bodies proved inflammatory in this particular context. Steve Freiss, in an article entitled "Mormon Beefcake," explored the controversy over the calendar and the excommunication of the calendar's creator, Chad Hardy. For the author, the fusion of religion and sexuality that appeared in the calendar led to Hardy's punishment. "Men on a Mission," after all, juxtaposed pictures of smiling Mormon men in their missionary attire (white shirt, tie, black pants, and name tag) with images of the men shirtless in various poses with smoldering gazes. Freiss writes:

Hardy says the church has accused him of using religion to sell sex. But he prefers to think of it as the other way around: he's using eye-catching and unexpected images of usually buttoned-up men to draw attention to the charitable and civic contributions of the faith. Until his excommunication, Hardy was a sixth-generation Mormon who some six years ago stopped attending church, tithing or wearing the requisite sacred undergarments, but he insisted he still admires the church and wanted to use the calendar a form of outreach. "I have my own feelings about the church; they're personal," he said. "I don't want to make the church look bad. I want this to be a positive thing for these guys."


The calendar also features a biography of each model, mentioning the place where he served his mission and some thoughts on his faith. None are particularly provocative poses by beefcake calendar standards, although Mr. October 2008 does have a finger tugging down his belt and exposing the elastic of his underwear.

Interestingly, one of the participants for the 2009 calendar, Christopher Hayes, thought the calendar might demonstrate that Mormons were part of the mainstream. Freiss noted:

Hayes's mother, in fact, urged him on after the 2008 edition was cited as the "Hot Calendar" of the year by Rolling Stone magazine. Hayes's mother and grandparents even attended the photo shoot in Las Vegas in March. "What we're doing is showing people that Mormons aren't the weird, sheltered people that people think we are. It was more of an acceptance of us as people."

On Hardy's website, Mormons Exposed, one can buy the calendar, declare a secret crush on the models, buy a t-shirt with your favorite model, and learn about auditions for new models. Additionally, the FAQ section addresses questions about the purpose of the calendar and the larger project of Mormons Exposed. The website echoes Hayes's sentiments:

Behind the eye-candy, this calendar has a deeper story - one that can reshape perceptions, heighten awareness, and perhaps encourage and inspire a broadened acceptance of human and religious diversity. The fact that twelve young returned missionaries are posing shirtless will certainly raise eyebrows, but may also help to sort out some common misconceptions about Mormons. The shock value of what these traditionally conservative young men have helped to create has the power to build a dialogue that encourages people across every belief system and walk of life to defy stereotypes, step out of judgment and embrace tolerance.
The twelve former missionaries who "bare their testimony" on the pages of the Men on a Mission calendar were hand-selected for their striking good looks and powerful spiritual devotion. They are men who were comfortable enough in their own beliefs, and independent and brave enough to take a stand for what they believe in regardless of what others may think. By slightly stepping away from the Mormon traditions of modest dress, these missionaries show the world they can have a strong faith and be proud of who they are, both with a sense of individualism and a sense humor at the same time.

The message is by showing Mormon "eye-candy," the website hopes to counter stereotypes of Mormons in larger culture. Muscled bodies demonstrate that these young men are no different than other half-dressed religious people? Baring their chests lays bare their devotion to their faith as well as highlights their virility. Folks who scoff at Mormon missionaries on bikes have missed the sheer prowess of their masculinity, and the calendar serves as a corrective to show that Mormons, just like other religious Americans, are willing to showcase their bodies (for their faith in this instance). Undressing for tolerance is not an idea I have encountered before, but it could work if hard bodies distract folks from their religious prejudices. (If this catches on, please let me know.) However, I think the paean to tolerance and supposed humor of the calendar were lost on LDS officials.

Hardy claims that his excommunication was due to his personal behavior not the calendar, but not all agree with his claims. Richard Bushman, noted Mormon scholar, chalked the issue up to the combination of the erotic with imagery of the missionaries.This fusion suggested that missionaries are more than chaste evangelists for the faith but rather are sexual creatures as well. The glorification of male bodies and sexuality seems to be problematic because the calendar makes it obvious that missionaries are sexual beings despite the uniform. Moreover, the conception that gazing on these men builds religious commitment might prove to be a bit of a stretch. Lust might not be the approved way to become more faithful. (See Gary Laderman's Ecstatic Sex on the complicated relationship of religion and sexuality at Religion Dispatches.)

Yet muscled Mormon bodies have presence in Mormon visual imagery. However, muscled angels and religious figures are tucked safely away in sacred text. They also have their shirts on. (Editor's note: I stand corrected most have their shirts on. Please see the comments section.) Their muscles signal virility and strength of the tradition rather than sexual objectification. The calendar lacks the sacred legitimacy despite Hardy's commitment to using sexuality to sell religion. This falls outside the bounds of previous masculine representation. Muscled religious figures promoted the faith, but how do shirtless missionaries contribute?

Moreover, the issue of who consumes the calendar also adds to the controversy. Hardy noted that "Men on a Mission" was quite popular among gay men. The issue of eroticism proves tricky, but the possibility of homoeroticism is more difficult for the leadership of LDS because gay members must remain chaste. Hardy, however, is not discouraged by the commotion over "Men on a Mission" because his next calendar entitled "Hot Muffins" will contain images of Mormon mothers and their recipes. Risque pictures of Mormon moms might prove even more controversial than the barely clad missionaries.

Sports and Religion: Beijing 2008

by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Here at Religion in American History, religion and sports gets regular attention.

With the Olympics right around the corner, I figured there might be some interesting material available for discussion. Alas, I found a page at the official Olympics website that details places of worship for athletes and/or spectators. The page reads, in part:

China is a country with religious freedom and respects every religion. Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity are religions found in Beijing. Religious activities are carried out in Buddhist temples, Taoist temples, mosques and churches in Beijing. Religious activities are carried out in Buddhist temples, Taoist temples, mosques and churches in Beijing. The most well known of these are: Catholic East Church, Catholic South Church, Gangwa City Christian Church, Chongwenmen Christian Church, Niujie Street Mosque, Dongsi Mosque, Guangji Temple, Guanghua Temple, Baiyun Taoist Temple and Yonghegong Lamasery.

The question of religious freedom and religious pluralism in China of course has a long and contested history to it. The issue of Tibet still endures, for example, the future of Christianity in China remains a subject of some speculation, outlined in a recent Frontline documentary, and late last year the issue of Bibles and the Olympics emerged, as Religion Clause reported.

Sports fan or not, religion and the Olympics will surely continue to generate intrigue and interest. (Anyone know of any writing on the subject of religion and the Olympic games?)

A Jew among the Evangelicals

by John G. Turner

A few years ago, Christian Smith complained about "religiously ignorant journalists," particularly those who write about "evangelics," "evangelicalists," and "evangelists" when trying to come up with "evangelicals." [Books & Culture, January/February 2004].

If one ever feels blue about journalism on religion, especially on evangelical Christians, meet Mark Pinsky, religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel. When I was researching the history of Campus Crusade for Christ, I relied on his articles to explain Crusade's relocation from California to Orlando. He's also the author of several books, including The Gospel According to the Simpsons (Westminster / John Knox Press, Rev. Ed., 2007).

I recently read Pinsky's A Jew among the Evangelicals, which chronicles his experiences living with and reporting on the Sun Belt evangelicals of Orlando and includes some broader reflections on American evangelicalism. In his book, one can vicariously visit Orlando's Holy Land Experience, for instance.

I wish I had read A Jew among the Evangelicals and talked with Pinsky before finishing my book on Campus Crusade. First off, I love his capsule introduction to Bill Bright: "Physically unassuming -- a small, round man and a bit of a dandy -- he had a persistently beguiling way about him."

Pinsky then details an encounter with Bright in 1997. Bright had given the invocation opening a session of the Florida Senate in which he prayed in the name of "the Lord Jesus Christ ... the true God, the only God," upsetting several Jewish legislators. Troubled and embarrassed by the reaction, Bright asked Pinsky to arrange a meeting with his rabbi, Steve Engel, who was then the president of the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis. Bright asked Engel how best to pray at public events in a manner that would be meaningful and authentic but inclusive of Jews.

Pinsky avoids simple stereotypes of evangelicals and finds evangelical leaders like Bright more complex than the caricatures that appear of them in many media outlets. Simply repeating those caricatures and stereotypes are a temptation for academics studying evangelicalism, as one can get a lot of mileage out of detailing evangelical homophobia, sexism, and hypocrisy. Evangelical leaders deserve much of the criticism they receive, but those of us who write about contemporary evangelicalism can find in Mark Pinsky a good model for sensitively writing about evangelicals in their full humanity.

For many historical topics, one of the best sources of information for historians is always newspaper reporting, especially for topics with limited archival sources. The excellent religion journalism of the Los Angeles Times was also invaluable for establishing Campus Crusade's history. It's bad news for future historians that newspapers around the country are cutting staff and that despite the general interest in stories about religion, reporters working the religion beat are finding themselves made redundant. They are anything but.

Religion Compass: CFP


Religion Compass: Religion in the Americas is a new section of an online academic publishing project from Blackwell Publishing; the American Religion Section is headed by Jason Bivins and Sean McCloud. Below is a call for papers on the senses and American Religions.

Religions in America section editors Jason Bivins and Sean McCloud invite you to contribute an article to Religion Compass, an online journal from Blackwell Publishing Ltd. The topic for our inaugural issue is "The Sensorium of American Religions," and our goal is to offer pieces on American religions and the five senses: vision (such as religious visual cultures, iconography, film, art), hearing (such as religion and music, oral prayers, incantations), taste (such as religion and food), touch and smell (in the context of ritual and memory, for example). We also welcome proposals on religious understandings of a "sixth sense," the recurring register through which American religions have imagined alternative or extra-sensory experiences.

Articles will ideally be between 3,000 - 6,000 words and would summarize the state of the field for the educated non-specialist by discussing recent research on the subject and providing a look to the future direction of study. All articles go through a full peer-review and revision process. For further information, or to proposea n article, please contact the editors at: Jason Bivins, jcbivins AT unity DOT ncsu, or Sean McCloud, spmcclou AT uncc DOT edu.

Jason C. Bivins, Associate Professor and Associate Head, Department of Philosophy and Religion, North Carolina State University

Summer School: Teaching Du Bois


by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Since reading Ed Blum’s W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet last June, Du Bois has been on my mind, on my research radar, and was a part of my teaching this past year in new and I hope interesting ways. So in this post I want to think about the extent to which historiography informs our teaching, and how it shapes and inspires our pedagogy.

Admittedly, before making my way through Ed’s book, Du Bois occupied staple places in my teaching of U.S. history (e.g., Du Bois’s debates with Booker T. Washington, Du Bois as founder of NAACP, Du Bois as Pan-Africanist, etc.). But that changed drastically when, thanks to Ed’s intriguing and compelling arguments, I began to see Du Bois as something more than merely a writer, an activist, an organizer, and an intellectual—I began to see Du Bois as a prophetic figure, a spiritual sage, a religious thinker—and how religious conviction influenced his activism, organizing, propaganda, and intellectual pursuits.

So last summer and fall as I read tons and tons of Du Bois, I began to think about Du Bois in the classroom, and began to contemplate ways to reconfigure my lectures, discussions, and assignments to make use of these new discoveries. Here's what I came up with for the spring 2008 semester.

Given time frame (2-3 days) and grade level (sophomores, juniors, and seniors), I settled on 4 short readings: "Credo" (1904), "The Forethought" from Souls of Black Folk (1903), and two short stories from The Crisis: “The Sermon in the Cradle” (1921) and “The Son of God” (1933). I opted for the shorter readings so as to cover Du Bois in a different kind of breadth, as well as to offer a challenge to students—given the religious dimensions of the readings—to think about Du Bois’s ideas both in literature and religion classes.

In terms of the units that structure my class, I introduced Du Bois during the Interwar unit as I felt this allowed me to discuss him with considerable leverage—glancing back to his work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while focusing on his life as editor and propagandist in the 1910s, 20s, and 30s (and then later framing the interesting juxtaposition of his death in 1963 on the eve of the March on Washington). Situating Du Bois as I did, I hoped, would also provide considerable context for the Crisis short stories.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll limit the main points of discussion below to one of the two short stories I assigned, as Blum effectively narrates “The Son of God” in American Prophet (ch. 4).

The first day’s lesson began with a relatively quick overview of Du Bois’s life via PowerPoint and blogpost (I specifically referenced the interactive map and the FBI files in class; students followed other links on their own time). I concluded the class with a brief discussion about Du Bois’s relationship with and to religion and ended with a reading and class discussion of "Credo." As for Credo, I asked students to think about context—how the ideas, phrases, images, metaphors and the like reflected some of the major social, political, and racial issues of the early 20th century. I also noted its parallels with early Christian creeds, statements of faith Du Bois would have recited or heard recited in the Episcopal liturgy he knew well (for more on this see Blum, pp. 28-31). This set the stage to discuss Du Bois’s configuration of “twoness” and the veil metaphor from Souls, followed by comments about using “Souls” in the title of this most important book (see American Prophet, ch. 2 for a fuller discussion of Souls).

The first short story students read, “The Sermon in the Cradle,” appeared in the Christmas 1921 Crisis number. This story retold Jesus’ birth as if it happened under British colonial rule in Benin. Wise men came from the East to inquire about this “new Christ,” which then troubled the Prime Minister and other officials. In the story, Du Bois rewrote the Nativity prophecy from Isaiah: “And thou Benin, in the land of Nigeria, art not the least among the princes of Africa: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my Negro people.” The star later guided the wise men to the birth site (“in a house”), and upon seeing this new African Christ, worshiped and presented gifts—“gold and medicine and perfume,” presents with symbolic significance and practical value. All of the wise men then left (warned by God in a dream not to return to London), except one black wise man who was from Benin. He “lingered by the cradle and the new-born babe,” Du Bois wrote. Eventually “the multitudes” showed up and the black Christ child broke into sermon, as Du Bois reconfigured Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor folks for they shall go to heaven. Blessed are the sad folks for someone will bring them joy. Blessed are they that submit to hurts for they shall sometime own the world. Blessed are they that truly want to do right for they shall get their wish. Blessed are those who do not seek revenge for vengeance will not seek them. Blessed are the pure for they shall see God. Blessed are those who will not fight for they are God’s children. Blessed are those whom people like to injure for they shall sometime be happy. Blessed are you, Black Folk, when men make fun of you and mob you and lie about you. Never mind and be glad for your day will surely come. Always the world has ridiculed its better souls.

After reading this story aloud in class, I then posed several questions, and along with discussion aimed to highlight the following points:

First, the date of publication in the December 1921 issue. Many of Du Bois’s short stories about a black Christ appeared at particular times of the year—in December and in April. Du Bois himself understood the significance of Christian celebrations and the liturgical cycle, and some of his readers no doubt did as well.

Second, “The Sermon in the Cradle” is yet another instance of Du Bois retelling the life of Jesus as a black Christ. For comparison, and also part of a subsequent lesson, I reminded students that Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes, for instance, also wrote about black Christs in the 1920s during the Harlem Renaissance.

Third, Pan-African and anticolonial movements were underway during the 1920s, and as is well known Du Bois understood World War I to be in part a colonial conflict and sought and pursued solidarity internationally. What’s more, Du Bois organized the first Pan African Congress in Paris in 1919 and another in 1921 and so this story is a clear indication that these issues were on his mind at the time. And of course it is significant that Du Bois chose the story and teachings of Jesus as one way to creatively narrate these larger global concerns. This begs the question, particularly in light of his life’s work: for Du Bois, was salvation to be found in Africa?

Fourth, and finally, the reformulated Sermon on the Mount highlights Du Bois’s explicit focus on the ethical dimensions of Jesus’ teaching, perhaps another example of Du Bois as a “religious modernist” (American Prophet, p. 160). There are no miracles and “The Sermon in the Cradle” is devoid of divinity: social and economic justice will eventually come for those subject to hurt and wrong, and even though there existed a deep thirst for vengeance, Du Bois placed God on the side of Black Folk since “the world has ridiculed its better souls.”

Whereas “The Sermon in the Cradle” focused on Africa and the globe, the short story “The Son of God”—published in the December 1933 edition of The Crisis—quickly narrated the course of Jesus’ life, from birth to death. In it are familiar characters: Joe and Mary are the parents of Joshua, a carpenter from the South who uplifts the meek, tends to the poor and disheartened, and blasts rich folks by saying they won’t be in heaven. Yet the end of the story claimed the death of Jesus and its redemptive elements for an (African) American context as it concluded with the lynching of Joshua—“Behold, the Sign of salvation, a noosed rope,” Mary said. (I also showed students some of the lynching artwork from The Crisis, some of which carried the same message as “The Son of God.” Follow this link to see one example of this artwork, and see ch. 3 of Amy Helene Kirschke's Art in Crisis. )

Reading “The Son of God,” coupled with discussion of lynching in my unit on the Gilded Age and Progressive Eras, I hope added significant texture to my teaching of early 20th century American history. In the end, enlivening discussions with my students about literary and artistic responses to lynching led to new thoughts about Christianity’s complex and contested role in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century American culture.

To conclude: well beyond his storied debates with Booker T. Washington and his instrumental efforts in the early years of the NAACP, for example, inspired by Blum’s work my students were able to see how Du Bois creatively, engagingly, and prophetically responded to the events, trends, developments of his time, and hence gain a better grasp of American (religious) history. Also, as I teach at a religiously-affiliated college preparatory school with required classes on biblical interpretation, after reading about Joshua and the birth of a black prophet in Benin, the Euro-American Jesus with which my students are most familiar became a far more complex and problematic figure. I hope to expand upon this dimension of my classes in future years, drawing insights from Paul Harvey and Ed Blum’s forthcoming volume on racialized images of Jesus.

In the end, adding these elements to teaching Du Bois I hope allowed for a more layered analysis of the multiple issues of his time, utilization of my own interests and research in the spirit of uncoverage, and the incorporation of new historiographical insight to the classroom.

So, as we conduct summer school here at the blog, where does Du Bois fit into the narrative of your classes on American religion, or American history? What texts do you use to teach Du Bois and his life and times? Any tips and/or strategies to share?

July / August Books & Culture


by John G. Turner

I found the July / August issue of Books & Culture in my mailbox yesterday. For some thoughtful interpretations of the intersection of religion with American politics, read two pieces by Randall Balmer (on Ron Sider) and Gary Scott Smith (on Randall Balmer). One receives point-counterpoint in only two pages.

First, Balmer reviews Ron Sider's latest scandal, The Scandal of Evangelical Politics (Baker, 2008), and finds it insufficiently discerning of said scandal. In fact, Balmer concludes his review by lamenting that "one of our clearest, most prophetic voices [Sider] has been reduced to equivocation" for adopting the triumphalism of contemporary evangelicalism and failing to critique mainstream views ranging from the Iraq War to homosexuality. In his review, Balmer also includes his own conclusions of the Religious Right:

The cautionary lesson from the sorry saga of the Religious Right lies not in the movement's political ineptitude, egregious as that has been, but in its devaluing of the gospel in the quest for political influence. The New Testament suggests that religion always functions best from the margins of society and not in the councils of power—a principle strongly reinforced by an overview of American history. Whenever people of faith begin grasping after power, they lose their prophetic voice. This was no less true of mainline Protestantism in the 1950s, tethered as it was to white, middle-class Eisenhower suburbanism, than it has been of the Religious Right in the decades surrounding the turn of the 21st century.

Smith commends Balmer's "critique of American Christians' self-delusion and hubris," found in his latest God in the White House (Harperone, 2008). Balmer -- and I certainly agree -- questions whether any "clear connection exists between a president's faith and personal morality and his policies." [See discussion thread about John McCain below]. Yet Smith still finds something of greater significance in presidential faith:

On the other hand, in many instances, the faith of presidents has strengthened their character, increased their courage and confidence, helped them deal with the immense challenges of their office, inspired them to exhort Americans to live up to their best ideals, and encouraged citizens to promote policies that truly embody biblical teaching ... their personal faith has generally helped them perform their duties more effectively.

For those tired of both historical and contemporary wrangling over religion and politics, Paul Harvey has an entertaining review (no link yet) of Scott Gac's Singing for Freedom (Yale, 2007). Gac's book recovers the ministry of a largely unknown set of entertainers, the Hutchinson Family Singers (whose popularity appears to have peaked in the 1840s). The Hutchinsons were an antislavery, "antiminstrelsy" who sang lyrics such as these:

Yes we're friends of emancipation
And we'll sing the proclamation,
'Til it echoes through our nation from the Old Granite State
That the Tribe of Jesse
That the Tribe of Jesse
That the Tribe of Jesse are the friends of Equal Rights.

The Hutchinsons lend support to Balmer's contention that "religion always functions best from the margins of society and not in the councils of power—a principle strongly reinforced by an overview of American history." On the other hand, Abraham Lincoln might provide yet another counterpoint...

What We Can Expect From McCain at Compassion Forum 2

John Fea

As a follow up to Matt Sutton's recent post about the Obama-McCain showdown at Rick Warren's church I thought our readers might find this video interesting. (This is painful to watch on so many levels).

In the comments section, John Turner has offered a different view of McCain as a man of faith that is worth adding to this post. (Much less painful and, from where I sit, quite inspiring).

Smart Books from Smart Historians


by John G. Turner

Mountains, Mormons, and mines -- all central to the history of the American West but infrequently examined within the same pages. Two recent works in Mormon History bring these themes together and help fill in what Jan Shipps once labeled the "doughnut" hole of Western History.

Jared Farmer's On Zion's Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard, 2008) tells the story of a mountain. I have to confess I failed to notice Mount Timpanogos on either of my two forays to Provo. Farmer explains why (besides the fact that there are never-ending vistas of impressive mountains in Utah that quickly overwhelm awestruck easterners) by documenting how Provo Mormons "created" Mount Timpanogos. Not the highest peak in the Wasatch, local boosters promoted it as such. They organized hiking trips and even wrote an Indian legend featuring a "lover's leap" from the top of Timp.

Farmer's book has many virtues, especially crisp and lively writing and the ability to closely examine myths. Did the Mormons make a desert bloom like the rose? No, the choicest parts of the Salt Lake Valley were already blooming. [I am going to investigate that one]. Were the Mormons benevolent toward Utah's Indians? No, they quickly crowded them out of their traditional fishing grounds. "Although Mormons had envisioned a different and extraordinary outcome for 'their' Indians," writes Farmer, "the outcome here was bleakly conventional." (55) Along the way, as is the case in most good books, one takes creative and entertaining detours. Farmer discusses topics like the health crazes of the late 1800s and the "invention" of hiking.

Paul Reeve's Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes (Illinois, 2006) examines the Mormon frontier that intersects current-day southwestern Utah and Nevada. Reeve, whose work profits from careful work in Mormon and government archives, transcends the "conquest" paradigm of recent Western History by emphasizing "interethnic and cross-cultural connections" over what for at least two of the groups was sacred space. If the Mormon pioneers partly conquered Utah's Indians, including the southern Paiutes, their Indian policy also included elements of unusual benevolence (here is a difference from Farmer). The pioneers themselves, moreover, were in danger of becoming the conquered when other Americans sought riches in Utah's mines. Ultimately, while there were winners and losers, all groups survived and sought to maximize their opportunities amidst changing circumstances.

Like Farmer, Reeve includes fascinating details, including the political process (rife with corruption) that stripped Utah of valuable mines by awarding additional territory to Nevada. Toward the end of Making Space, he includes several examples of Mormons, miners, and Indians transcending animosity and intermingling in more humane ways (when the Nevadans weren't joking about seducing plural wives). Reeve closes with a lament that too few saints followed 2 Nephi's insistence that "all are alike unto God," and he might well have lamented that Mormons and miners alike ignored Galatians 3:28.

Both Farmer and Reeve integrate Utah into the larger history of the West and the history of the nation. In Zion, like elsewhere, peoples clashed over hunting grounds, mining claims, and arable land. Reeve puts the clashes over mining rights within the context of Gilded Age greed and corruption, with both Mormons and Paiutes expressing a "relative lack of interest in the acquisitiveness permeating Gilded Age America." Both authors also ultimately tell stories of Americanization. Mount Timpanogos, although venerated by the Saints (who in 1993 christened Mount Timanogos Temple in American Fork, Utah), became "a modern, secular, American mountain" through its boosters' emphasis on athleticism and tourism. Reeve places the interactions between Mormons, miners, and Paiutes within a broad context of Americanization, as Mormons Americanized by abandoning polygamy and theocracy and Paiutes became even more obvious victims of forced Americanization by being forced to the margins of American society.

There are many points of intersection between the two books, as both Reeve and Farmer discuss Mormon Indian policy, Mormon economics, and Paiute history. Hopefully, they'll review each other's books, which might help me sort out my thinking on such matters.

I'll be on the lookout for Mount Timp next time I'm headed to Provo, and much as I take an interest in the lingering controversy over the Mountain Meadows Massacre, it's nice to have other historical topics to ponder regarding Southwest Utah.
[Note: Kelly Baker previously plugged both of these books (Reeve and Farmer) for us. I'm just finally catching up on these excellent recommendations!]

God and Race in American Politics


Paul Harvey

I've just had the privilege of reviewing an important new work by Mark Noll (to be published later in Christianity Today -- I'll put up the link or review later once it's available): God and Race in American Politics: A Short History, based on a series of lectures Noll gave at Princeton in 2006.

I'll post something more about the review later, but for the present here are a couple of paragraphs in the book's "Theological Conclusion," where Noll lays out some ideas for what might be called a moral history of religion, race, and politics in American history:

Throughout American history, what I have called the broad Calvinist tradition has been responsible for many of the achievements, but also many of the problems, that require a consideration of contradictions, antinomies, and paradoxes. Most obviously, reliance on the Bible has produced spectacular liberation alongside spectacular oppression. . . . . The history of American race, religion, and politics from Nat Turner to George W. Bush is a narrative in which contradictions, antinomies, and paradoxes abound. For making sense of this tangled history, it is helpful to proceed from a standpoint with a scope for moral complexity as wide as the heights of goodness and depths of evil within that history. Historic Christian faith offers suich a standpoint from which it is possible to see how much believers themselves have done to promote the evils of racism in American politics while at the same time recognizing how often they have offered hints of redemption as well.

Religious Liberties and Anti-Catholicism

Paul Harvey

A few days ago, I posted some bibliographic suggestions, from H-AMREL, for studies of early and more contemporary anti-Catholicism. Tracy Fessenden subsequently sent me a note about a forthcoming book from Oxford by Elizabeth Fenton (coming out in 2010 or thereabouts, I believe), which appears among other things to be a synthesis of much of this work, and something that many of you will look forward to. It reminds me of a more literary, American Studies take on some of the arguments Philip Hamburger proposed in Separation of Church and State. Anyway, for your interest, here's a precis and an appetizer:

Religious Liberties examines the anti-Catholicism’s seminal importance to the liberal democratic tradition in the United States. Charting the echoes of the Continental Congress’s early characterization of Catholicism as “dangerous in an extreme degree… to the civil rights and liberties of all America” through literary and political texts of the nineteenth century, this book argues that the rhetoric of pluralism so central to U.S. liberal democracy emerged in tandem with a discourse that characterized the U.S. as “free” by placing it at odds with the Catholic. The book begins by arguing that late-colonial responses to the toleration of Catholicism in Quebec laid the groundwork for an anti-Catholic liberalism and then goes on in its chapters to show how such anti-Catholicism structured early national novels concerned with territorial expansion, literary and political responses to the Mexican War, debates over women’s suffrage, antebellum colonization schemes, and late-nineteenth-century critiques of political corruption. Religious Liberties aims to illuminate the ways in which a variety of texts from the early and nineteenth-century U.S. aligned the nation with Protestantism and thereby ensured the mutual dependence, rather than the “separation” we so often take for granted, of church and state.

Obama, McCain, and God


By Matt Sutton

Just when it looked like the role of religion in the 2008 campaign might be ebbing, Obama and McCain have brought it back, front and center. They just agreed to appear together on August 16 at a forum at Rick “The Purpose Driven ________” [fill in the blank for an instant bestseller] Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. (Ed—you can drive there).

Despite the embarrassing efforts of James Dobson to resuscitate the religious right’s old model of engagement, Rick Warren is clearly positioning himself to become evangelicals’ new go-to guy. This forum is certainly the kind of coup that the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson could only dream of. My only question is whether or not Warren will have his baptismal warmed up and ready for McCain should the maverick decide that after years of refusing to be baptized he finally wants to take the plunge.

Summer of Love, Listening, Death Cab Meets Cutie, and Mortal Kombat


“Send Me an Angel”: Some Spiritual and Historical Ruminations on Contemporary Music

by Ed Blum

I’ve spent the summer on the road. Virginia may be made for lovers, but southern California is made for drivers. If I want to meet Matt Sutton for dinner in Huntington Beach, I have to drive; if I want to get to downtown San Diego, I have to drive. If I want to make a meeting, I have to drive. My poor little Honda Civic is taking a beating; thankfully my radio has been blaring some new songs that continue to inspire my spiritual strivings and interest in religion. I wanted to take you on a quick jaunt through the emotive, sensual, fun, and energizing moments I have had in the car with some new (and not-so-new) songs.

Since driving is my theme, it is fitting to begin with the band Death Cab for Cutie. I hate their name... or rather the second half of their name. For some reason, the word “cutie” irritates me. “Death Cab” strikes me as a better name, but that would be too dark for their fun, albeit eerie, pop. My favorite Death Cab song is “Soul Meets Body,” because it makes me think of the intersection of race and religion – where the soul and the body meet, collide, and blend. But that’s an old song, a more recent one chock full of religious inspiration is “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” It’s a relatively slow song with simple guitar accompanying voice. One portion of the chorus brings me great hope. Lead singer Ben Gibbard smoothly voices of the hereafter:

No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight
Waiting for the hint of a spark
If Heaven and Hell decide
That they both are satisfied
Illuminate the NOs on their vacancy signs

I am fascinated by the idea of heaven and hell being satisfied, that both are full, that neither will take new visitors. It comforts me – perhaps I deserve to go to hell, but will not have to because there are no more vacancies. And heaven has rarely appealed to me. So what will the dark be like if heaven and hell are satisfied? I do not know, and I find the confusion inspiring.

Then, Death Cab juxtaposes an experience in Catholic School with alleged true love:

In Catholic school as vicious as Roman rule
I got my knuckles bruised by a lady in black
And I held my tongue as she told me
"Son fear is the heart of love"
So I never went back

Since I never went to Catholic school, I have no idea how common this is. I have heard a tale or two of the meanness of nuns; and we all know about the sexual voraciousness and deceit of the Catholic church, but the nun’s claim to be teaching love through the physical violence is striking. And, as historians, we know that Catholic school teachers have not been the only ones to use physical force to uphold principles. In the late 1850s, a Boston court dismissed charges against a teacher for beating a Catholic boy because he refused to read the Protestant 10 commandments. In this case, little Thomas Whall had his knuckles bruised not by a lady in black, but by a prejudiced, evil teacher who viewed Catholicism as an impediment to the glory of American liberty. Each time I hear these Death Cab lyrics I think about the stereotype of Catholic mistreatment of children and the amnesia about Protestant abuse. Then I feel a contradiction within myself about the song: I wonder if I’m OK with hell being satisfied when it comes to those who violate children? I wonder if I would want hell to have vacancies for men like the teacher who beat Thomas Whall?

Then there’s Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” Cold Play got a bad rap in the Judd Apatow film Forty Year Old Virgin. As actors Seth Rogin and Paul Rudd (two of my absolute favorites) played video games (I believe it was Mortal Kombat), they accused each other of being gay (a “put down” in films that elicits a ton of laughter and shows me just how homophobic our culture is). At one point, one explains that he knows the other is gay because he listens to Coldplay. I really enjoy Coldplay, and don’t see it connected to my sexuality at all. “Viva La Vida” is a fascinating song, where the chorus runs:

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

I’m not going to comment on the chorus, but it is so clearly replete with religious imagery that it strikes me as a spiritual onion – layers upon layers, some of which lead to tears when exposed. There is another line that captures my attention. Near the end, the singer exclaims: “For some reason I can't explain / I know Saint Peter won’t call my name.” Now, most lyric databases have Coldplay claiming that they know Saint Peter “will” call his name. But my ear hears another lyric. I hear the singer claiming that Saint Peter “won’t” call it. You can judge for yourself. But following my own ear, I am thrown back to the problem of heaven and hell – the problem from which Death Cab had almost saved me. What do I think of Saint Peter at the pearly gates? Will I get in? And what of the people I study? Did Saint Peter call their names? Or, and more importantly for my scholarship, how did their beliefs about heavenly lists influence their choices? Were American missionaries the bourgeois, imperialist, and hyper-nationalists I and so many others paint them as or were they people hoping that heaven had vacancies and that Saint Peter would call their name (or perhaps the names of the individuals they encountered abroad)?

These are the questions I have as I speed up the 5 to Los Angeles. These are the thoughts I have as I scroll through the radio stations. Just as songs like “Send Me an Angel," “Like a Prayer," and just about anything from Phil Collins led me to spiritual highs and questions as a teenager, so now Cold Play and Death Cab let me ruminate on my own spirituality and my life in the religious history of our nation.

There are so many other songs that I could discuss that whirl me into different worlds of American religious history. Bruce Springsteen, Dave Mathews, and The Killers all have great songs about Jesus that are helping me on that project; Eminem was inspiration for Reforging the White Republic; Jars of Clay, and their song “Redemption,” gave me the rhetoric and spirit to approach lynching and the sacred in W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet. Eventually, I plan on writing some on demons in America, and I have a coterie of devil songs just ready to roll on my I-Tunes. I would love to hear more about how music is influencing you, your religious life, and your scholarship. Please feel free to comment or drop me a line.

Sideburns, Cassocks, Capes, and Bird Nests


I come across quite a few pictures of Roman Catholic priests in my line of work. I’m an historian of American Catholicism who specializes in the history of the priesthood during the nineteenth century, so I guess it makes sense that I’ve seen my fair share of sallow faces resting atop all sorts of outfits, from fancy fringed cassocks to austere woolen sacks. But after all these years of rushing through dusty archives and scanning illegible texts for “the good stuff,” I guess I’ve forgotten how to stop and smell the roses, or, in this case, stare at some old guy.

Pick up any book about Catholicism written over forty years ago and you’ll find that almost all of the illustrations bear the faces of pope after cardinal after bishop after priest after deacon after brother after alter boy. Collared men in robes were all the rage. And then everything changed when Pope John XXIII had the bright idea of giving his church a fresh haircut in the form of a Second Vatican Council. All I’ve got to say is, “what does a bald man know about haircuts, anyways?” Apparently quite a bit, because Catholic historian after Catholic historian systematically cut the clergy out of their new social histories of “the people,” culminating in 1985 when Jay Dolan and Robert Orsi changed the field of American Catholic studies forever with their two groundbreaking books The American Catholic Experience and The Madonna of 115th Street. The nail in the coffin of old Father Frowny Face came when nuns and sisters started to let down their hair and Catholic historians started to pay attention to the incredible lives of women who used to wear habits.

And the rest, as they say, is historiography. But what if historians decided to retrain their eyes toward the old institutional histories of Catholicism, only this time looking through the theoretical and methodological lenses of recent scholarship? Of course, I don’t mean to say that the study of the Catholic priesthood is dead (Leslie Tentler’s Catholics and Contraception comes to mind); it’s just that there are a lot of dead men who could use a makeover.

To get you started on the road to rewriting the rewritten history of American Catholicism, I thought I’d introduce you to a few men in my life. Mind you, these are all relatively well-known clergy. I find that some of the most fascinating, flawed, heroic, pathetic, human priests are usually the ones without photos or paintings to go along with their stories told in maybe one or two letters to a local bishop.

Antonio de Sedella (1748-1829), a.k.a. Pére Antoine. Spanish Capuchin friar and pastor of St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Rejected the authority of the Spanish governor when he established the inquisition. Rejected the authority of the first bishop of Baltimore and the pope when he refused to relinquish his pastorship of the cathedral. Lover of women and father of children. Owner and baptizer of enslaved Africans. Freemason. Subject of recent archeological dig. Popularized side-Antoines until a guy named Burns came along and ripped off his style.

Abram Ryan (1838-1886), a.k.a. The Poet-Priest of the South. Son of Irish immigrants and Old Virginny. Member of Vincentian Order. Confederate chaplain and brother of killed Confederate soldier. Author of some the Lost Cause’s favorite poems “The Conquered Banner” and “The Sword of Robert E. Lee.” Subject of a recent biography. Suffered from catoptrophobia (fear of mirrors).

Augustine Tolton (1854-1897), "mistaken" a.k.a. The First Black Priest of the United States (see James Augustine Healy, ordained in 1854, second bishop of Maine). Born into slavery in Missouri. Believed to have fled with mother to the free state of Illinois during Civil War. Forbidden to enter American seminaries. Studied for the priesthood in Rome. Considered missionary vocation in Africa. Pastor of black congregation in basement of white church. Died in Chicago. Subject of republished biography. Dressed in his Sunday best.

Fulton Sheen (1895-1979), a.k.a. The First Great Catholic Televangelist. Small-town Illinois boy trained at the Leuven. Host of the syndicated T.V. hits “Life is Worth Living” and “The Fulton Sheen Program” from 1951 to 1968. Currently under consideration for canonization. Argued that people who don’t believe in angels are Communists. Wore capes, for crying out loud! Definitely DID NOT suffer from catoptrophobia.

Anti-Catholicism Bibliography Addendum

To the previous post, Tracy Fessenden wrote the following comment, which I'll post here to make sure everyone sees it, and the reference to what appears to be a fascinating forthcoming book: I wanted to let readers know that Elizabeth Fenton is writing a book, "Religious Liberties: Anti-Catholicism and Liberal Democracy in U.S. Literature and Culture, 1774-1889," which should be out on Oxford in the next year or two. What I've seen of it is fabulous.

Catholicism and Anti-Catholicism: Some Bibliographic Suggestions

Paul Harvey

A few months ago, a subscriber to H-AMREL posted this inquiry, which I thought would be of interest to some readers of this blog:

I am creating a syllabus for a seminar in the History of American Catholicism, and I would be particularly interested in suggestions for good journal articles for the early republic and antebellum periods. Iwould be particularly interested in works on anti-Catholicism. Suggestions of full-length books would also be appreciated, but I am already familiar with several major works, and they all seem to be currently available in paperback. Although the matter is less pressing, suggestions for appropriate readings on the period between the world wars would also be appreciated.

The query received a number of replies, which add up to a nice beginning bibliography for the subject. Here's a compilation.

The first respondent wrote: Here are a few article possibilities on Catholicism in the early republic and antebellum period:

Carter, Michael S. "'Under the Benign Sun of Toleration": Mathew Carey,the Douai Bible, and Catholic Print Culture, 1789-1791" Journal of the Early Republic 27 (Fall 2007).

Dolan, Jay. "The Search for an American Catholicism, 1780-1820," in Religious Diversity and American Religious History, ed. Walter H.Conser, Jr. and Sumner B. Twiss, University of Georgia Press, 1997, pp.26-51.

Dolan, Jay. "Catholicism and American Culture: Strategies for Survival," in Minority Faiths and the American Protestant Mainstream, ed. Jonathan D. Sarna, University of Illinois Press, 1997, pp. 61-80.

Fenton, Elizabeth. "Catholic Canadians, Religious Pluralism, and National Unity in the Early U.S. Republic," in Early American Literature, Vol. 41, No. 1, 29-57.

Lannie, Vincent P. "Alienation in America: The Immigrant Catholic and Public Education in Pre-Civil War America." Review of Politics, XXXII (1970), 503-521.

Lannie, Vincent P. and Bernard C. Diethorn. "For the Honor and Glory ofGod: The Philadelphia Bible Riots, 1840" History of Education Quarterly,Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring, 1968): 44-106.

Next response:

All but one of these are full-length books, but I'm passing them along just in case they aren't already on your radar.

Early Republic and Antebellum periods: Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York: Macmillan, 1938).

The classic work on the subject, this book charts the rise and fall ofthe Know Nothings in the mid-19th century.

Davis, David Brion. "Some Themes of Counter-Subversion: An Analysis of Anti-Masonic, Anti-Catholic, and Anti-Mormon Literature." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 47, No. 2. (Sep., 1960), pp. 105-224.

Another classic, dealing with the interrelationships between these three forms of intolerance in the mid-19th century: Jenny Franchot, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Roman Catholicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).Excellent material, but a tough read. I would only recommend this for graduate students and advanced undergrads.J

john T. McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York:W.W. Norton & Company, 2003). The early chapters deal with the antebellum period.

Interwar: Lerond Curry, Protestant-Catholic Relations in America: World War I Through Vatican II (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1972).

The next response adds a few more:

Daniel Cohen. "Passing the Torch: Boston Firemen, "Tea Party" Patriots,and the Burning of the Charlestown Convent." Journal of the EarlyRepublic, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Winter 2004), pages 527-586.

And then:

With regard to 19th century American Catholicism, I would draw your attention to two articles by Tracy Fessenden, "The Convent, the Brothel, and the Protestant Woman'sSphere." Signs, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Winter, 2000), pp. 451-478, and "The Nineteenth Century Bible Wars and the Separation of Church and State." Church History." Vol. 74, no. 4 (December 2005), pp. 785-811. Also her recently published book, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular,and American Literature, which actually extends into the twentieth century. As with Jenny Franchot's work, this material is not an easy read, but well worth the effort.

For American Catholicism in the period between the two world wars, I have found particularly insightful William M. Halsey's The Survival of American Innocence (Notre Dame, 1980).

A graduate student respondent includes some articles that emphasize more religious cooperation than conflict and anti-Catholicism:

For different perspectives on American Catholicism andanti-Catholicism during the antebellum period, might I suggest:

Andrew Stern, “Southern Harmony: Catholic-ProtestantRelations in the Antebellum South,” Religion in American Culture 17.2 (Summer 2007).

Emily Clark and Virginia Meacham Gould, “The Feminine Face of Afro-Catholicism in New Orleans, 1727-1852,” William andMary Quarterly 59.2 (2002): 409-448.

Joseph Mannard's work on Protestant-Catholic relations throughthe lens of gender studies could also be useful to you, and they are article-length pieces (as opposed to the Franchot book!) I particularly like:

Mannard, “Maternity. . . of the Spirit: Nuns and Domesticity in Antebellum America,” U.S. Catholic Historian 5.3-4 (1986):305-324.

Mannard, “Protestant Mothers and Catholic Sisters: Gender Concerns in Anti-Catholic Conspiracy Theories, 1830-1860,”American Catholic Studies 111 (2000): 1-21.

Gene Mills of Florida State adds:

And then don't forget:

Michael Pasquier, "'Though Their Skin Remains Brown, I Hope Their SoulsWillSoon Be White': Slavery, French Missionaries, and the Roman Catholic Priesthood inthe American South, 1789-1865" _Church History_ June 2008.

Divining America


Paul Harvey

Here's a great teaching resource that I had sort of forgotten about, even though it's on the blogroll to the left: Divining America: Religion in American History, from the "TeacherServe" at the National Humanities Center. It has expanded recently with a number of newer essays, and although meant for more introductory levels, scholars in American religious history who can't keep up with the latest in every subject will find these short essays to be a great guide. For example, Darren Staloff contributes a nice piece on Deism and the Founding of the U.S., and Christine Leigh Heyrman surveys The Separation of Church and State from the Founding to the Early Republic, and Randall Balmer explores Apocalypticism in American Culture. Check it out, there's something for everyone.

An Interview with Stephen Prothero

Randall Stephens

In the May/June 2008 issue of Historically Speaking I interviewed Stephen Prothero. We're a little bit behind, so this just came out in print. Prothero gave his take on the changing field of American religious history, evangelicals in the academy, teaching, religious literacy, and the differences between history and religious studies. I asked: "Are there major concerns that shape how religious studies scholars work?"

Prothero: We don’t really have a discipline like historians do, so we’re always ripping things off from other people. Religious studies still has a lingering status anxiety problem. It has had to justify itself. That’s less the case since 9/11. Obviously it’s harder for administrators to ask the stupid question: Why should we study religion? . . . Not long ago I spoke on the [Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't (HarperOne, 2007)] at the University of Florida. Religious studies students asked, “Why don’t you do more with Judaism in?” And my answer was, “Because it doesn’t matter as much. It doesn’t have the same influence that Christianity did and does.” That was a historian’s answer. I wrote more about Christianity in Religious Literacy because 85% of Americans are Christian, because all the presidents have been Christian, and because Christianity is the language of American politics.

I would like to see a discussion on this issue at the AAR, OAH, or AHA. Are historians concerned with numbers and representation when it comes to the topics they focus on? Should historians and religious studies scholars take percentages into consideration? Many, I think, would argue that scholars have an obligation to write about individuals and groups that were oppressed or underrepresented in society. Since at least the 1980s the model has been to teach diversity. There are some intense arguments to make on either side of the issue.

I told Prothero that the history students in my Religion and American Culture course were big fans of his book American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003). Among other things, most thought it compelling because it showed so much change over time.

Prothero: A religious studies treatment of the topic would have been more synchronic. The tension between history and religious studies is essentially between anthropology and history.

The interview concludes with Prothero's brief discussion of his current work on the Exodus narrative in American history.

"It's Just the Way It Is":Of Spiritual Salad Bars, Spiritual Bazaars, Spiritual Shopping, and Spiritual Seeking

By Phillip Luke Sinitiere

As many readers are no doubt already aware, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released the second report of its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Part one dealt with religious affiliation, and part two covers beliefs, practices, social, and political views.

Part of the second report's summary reads as follows:

A major survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that most Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to faith. A majority of those who are affiliated with a religion, for instance, do not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. And almost the same number believes that there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion. This openness to a range of religious viewpoints is in line with the great diversity of religious affiliation, belief and practice that exists in the United States, as documented in a survey of more than 35,000 Americans that comprehensively examines the country’s religious landscape.

This is not to suggest that Americans do not take religion seriously. The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey also shows that more than half of Americans rank the importance of religion very highly in their lives, attend religious services regularly and pray daily. Furthermore, a plurality of adults who are affiliated with a religion want their religion to preserve its traditional beliefs and practices rather than either adjust to new circumstances or adopt modern beliefs and practices. Moreover, significant minorities across nearly all religious traditions see a conflict between being a devout person and living in a modern society.

The Landscape Survey confirms the close link between Americans' religious affiliation, beliefs and practices, on the one hand, and their social and political attitudes, on the other. Indeed, the survey demonstrates that the social and political fault lines in American society run through, as well as alongside, religious traditions. The relationship between politics and religion in the United States is particularly strong with respect to political ideology and views on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality, with the more religiously committed adherents across several religious traditions expressing more conservative political views. On other issues included in the survey, such as environmental protection, foreign affairs, and the proper size and role of government, differences based on religion tend to be smaller.

One of my hometown newspapers, the Houston Chronicle, ran a story on the Pew Report, observing, "Texas appears to be more religious than the nation as a whole, according to the survey, with 47 percent of Texans saying they attend church once a week, compared to 39 percent of Americans. Moreover, 77 percent of Texans say they have an absolutely certain belief in God, compared to 71 percent of people nationwide."

As the saying goes, everything is bigger in Texas.

On a more serious note, the point of this post is to highlight the early impressions, observations, and interpretations of the data. I find it interesting that in response to both reports commentators and analysts find evidence of and for a religious economy. (See Kelly Baker's previous post on the report, as well as thoughts offered by Luke Harlow and Randall Stephens.)

Writing about the first report, Susan Jacoby calls the U.S. a spiritual bazaar, while Chester Gillis prefers to write about seekers and shoppers, as does Martin Marty.

Kelly Baker's blogpost cited above quotes the Jacoby and Gillis analyses so I won't post those here. However, Marty's thoughts, originally part of a Sightings piece, correspond nicely to those offered by Jacoby and Gillis.

According to Marty:

Shopping and switching accelerate long term trends. Centuries ago, evangelists in staid New England lured established Congregationalists into becoming ecstatic Baptists; advertising, luring, and changing has long gone on since. Here is Emerging Trends, June, 1980: "LESS THAN HALF REMAIN IN SAME DENOMINATION. Princeton, N.J. Fewer than half of U.S. adults [43 percent] say they have always been a member of their present religion, or denomination, as determined by a recent Gallup survey.

Is that good or bad? It's certainly inevitable. Mobility, the tangle of mass university experience, inter-marriage, advertising, competition, perhaps a dose of pick-and-choose egocentrism, "fulfilling…boutique church-going desires" (Wall Street Journal, March 1), valid or superficial judgments on the religious affiliation one is leaving, and profound spiritual searches all go into the "switching" and "changing" mix. Together they assure that those who cover American religious life will not run out of puzzling and exciting subject matter, as they switch subjects and change attitudes themselves.

Most, I presume, will agree that a religious economy exists in America, or at least consider using the marketplace metaphor to help explain the dynamics of religion in the U.S. It is not the only interpretive grid of course, and there are other meaningful metaphors to use. Nevertheless, as I read responses to and interpretations of the report it struck me that many used economic terms and ideas to explain religious affiliation and non-affiliation. Religious economy, or at least some configuration of the marketplace approach, apparently has staying power.

I end with the observation of Rice sociologist Michael Lindsay about the second report, quoted in the Houston Chronicle article: "Religion in American is like a spiritual salad bar. Americans pick and choose their beliefs and religious practices in a custom-designed faith system. I don't have a judgment call on whether it's good or bad. It's just the way it is."

[More religion humor found here.]

Faith 2008

Paul Harvey

Here's a compilation site that may interest some, from the Berkley Center for REligion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University: Faith 2008, described as follows: The Faith 2008 Database tracks religious rhetoric in the campaign by candidate and theme, and features historical and international comparisons.

This site links closely with Jacques Berinerblau, The God Vote: A collaboration with Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive's On Faith site, The God Vote explores the role of faith in this year's election. It is featured here as well as on Georgetown/On Faith.

Just more smack for you political junkies. As for me and my house, I am too busy waiting impatiently for Season 5 of the The Wire to appear on DVD to follow every in-and-out of religion in this year's election, so these sites add to those already blogrolled to the left for some good shortcuts.

Blogging Bonanza

Paul Harvey

Our contributing editor Phillip Luke Sinitiere has been going on a blogging bonanza, with his new course blog in American religious history "One Nation, Many Faiths," part III of his interview with historian Thomas Kidd about Kidd's work on the Great Awakening, and a year-long retrospective interview with Ed Blum about W. E. B. DuBois, American Prophet, which also features a roundup of interviews, revews, etc. about the book. Thanks to Phil for this blogging feast.
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