Freedom's Prophet


Paul Harvey

You know the old adage, often intoned to students as we dispense nuggets of wisdom, of how the more we know, the more we know what we don't know. We pretend like we really believe that. It's a reassuring process of confirming our own ego while ostensibly humbling ourselves.

But we don't really think that, usually. How do I know that? Because of how I often make my own personal reading lists. Biographies of subjects I think I know pretty well already often don't make the list. "I know about that already," my self says, "so better to read about some other stuff that I don't know."

Then if we actually read about what we assume we know already, we come to know what we allegedly knew but actually didn't know. Humiliating though that is to the ego, it's also what makes "keeping up with the scholarship" fun and exciting, and it invigorates both research and teaching.

I went through this process, from dismisal to discovery, yet again recently when encountering Richard Newman's new book Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers. Ok, my self said as I gave it a brief skim initially, I'm pretty well up on African American religious history, and I know Allen pretty well, so I'll save my reading energies for elsewhere. Then a student of mine last semester prepared a senior thesis on the AME Church in Colorado Springs (Payne Chapel, constructed on land donated by the founder of this city). Before getting to his subject, the student went through a lengthy and well-presented history of the AME Church, and included material that I didn't know (one way of learning how much we don't know about what we "know"). The student's thesis drew heavily from Newman's biography, compelling me to reopen the book for real this time.

So, a shout out to you, Marcus, for exposing my need to learn about what I already knew, and making me excited about a subject on which I had grown rather passe, inclined to rely on my standard bromides rather than resituating my knowledge in ways that kept my thoughts fresh.

I was reminded of this again reading over Alan Taylor's review of Newman's biography here at The New Republic (I also read a similar review elsewhere, but can't track that down presently). Taylor's review captures Allen's significance beautifully, and gives the author his props for managing to forge bricks out of evidentiary straw.

I find "founding father kitsch" as tiresome as anyone, until the founding generation gets set in ways that demonstrate afresh the significance of the period. Here's how Taylor does it:
Newman employs the notion of a "black founder" in two ways, one bolder than the other. In the more modest (but still important) sense, Allen was a Founder for African Americans, a man who pioneered black institutions and black politics. . . .

In a bolder sense, Allen was a Founder for all Americans. He advanced a prophetic vision of America as a multi-racial democracy of equal rights and equal opportunities. His egalitarian vision was far more daring than anything considered by the more famous white Founders. Allen exceeded them by fighting against the white racial privilege that so stunted, and threatened to stifle, the libertarian promise of the American Revolution. . . .

Allen and other black activists--James Forten, Prince Hall, Absalom Jones--struggled against the constriction of the revolution into a race-based republic for white men. In 1776, the white Founders had declared all men created equal and divinely endowed with inalienable rights, but by 1790 most of them had regretted that revolutionary burst of enthusiasm. In 1790, Congress adopted a naturalization law that limited new citizenship to white male immigrants. In late 1799, Philadelphia blacks petitioned Congress, then meeting in their city, to repeal the fugitive slave law (which had pinched Allen) and to consider emancipating all of the slaves by some gradual process. But by an 84 to 1 vote, the House of Representatives rejected the appeal with contempt, asserting that free blacks lacked the standing as citizens to petition Congress. A Congressman from Georgia sneered that "'We the people' does not mean them." Most white men had hardened around the consensus that the United States was a white man's republic. Even most white abolitionists of that generation doubted that black freedom should bring equal political rights. In their view, the best that blacks could hope for was a limbo above slavery but below citizenship.

Despite this crushing defeat, black activists refused to abandon the universal freedom and equality promised by the Declaration of Independence. Allen insisted that blacks had a sacred and prophetic mission to save the republic from the racism of white Americans. Since most whites had lost faith in true freedom, black Americans, as Newman remarks, were "the people on whom the great experiment in liberty depended." By non-violent resistance, blacks had a duty to remind the majority of the inclusive dream.

Taylor concludes his piece with thoughts on the meaning of "black founders," riffing on Richard Hofstadter's famous bon mot that America was born in perfection and aspired to progress:

The central narrative of American history insists that we began purified by leaving Europe and have been getting better ever since, perfecting our special brand of freedom. In this morality play, the American Revolution serves as an accelerator, creating a republic on a slow but inexorable course to freedom and justice for all. If this is so, then it matters little that the white Founders failed in their own time to extend freedom to most blacks or to allow equality to any of them. Instead, it is said, their republic ensured that freedom, equality, and justice would emerge in due time--and not a moment too soon.

By casting the early republic as a perfect machine of inevitable progress, this consoling version of our history is doubly distorting. First, it obscures the contradictory nature of the revolutionary generation. The revolution enhanced the liberty of common white men and allowed a measure of freedom for the black minority in the northern states--but the revolution denied citizenship to free blacks, while entrenching and expanding Southern slavery, which remained the lot of most African Americans. White supremacy became more virulent and more ratified by law after 1800 than before. During the 1820s and 1830s, most northern states rescinded the right to vote from blacks (who had rarely been allowed to exercise it previously). And thanks to the southwestern extension of slavery, there were twice as many American slaves when Allen died compared to when he was born. "Richard Allen's world was filled with high hopes and dashing disappointments," Newman concludes.

Our comforting story of inevitable progress also obscures the endurance and the creativity of real people working to change their society--or at least to preserve its ideals for a better day. In particular, the usual story reduces black people to silent victims, waiting for white people to liberate them once the time becomes right. By recovering Allen's life as a troubled but persistent redeemer of our republic, Newman illuminates a truer history of struggle by black as well as white Americans. In his scholarship, Newman reflects Allen's legacy: just as Allen sought to redeem the republic from the unbearable burden of whiteness, Newman helps to reform our national memory which insists that our Founders were all white men at the center of power. If we should finally achieve a genuinely egalitarian society, we will owe as much to our black founders as to their white brethren.

Taylor's review and Newman's book bring Allen to life and set him in historical context in ways that command attention, so I commend both.

And here's an interview with the author which sheds more light on the book.

By John Fea

Cross-posted from The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog.

I just finished Vincent D. Rougeau's excellent Christians in the American Empire: Faith and Citizenship in the New World Order (Oxford, 2008). Rougeau is upset with the way in which Christianity has been distorted by the Religious Right. His main targets are Catholic neo-conservatives such as the late Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, Michael Novak, and the rest of the gang surrounding First Things. He writes as a faithful Catholic and offers a way of thinking about religion and politics from the perspective of Catholic social teaching. Rougeau, a law professor at Notre Dame, is not happy with the way in which members of the Republican Party claim the name of Christ but are driven by other gods: free-market capitalism, libertarianism, nativism, militarism, and moral absolutism. Christian neoconservatives, he argues, have been too selective in their embrace of Catholic social teaching. How else, he asks (for example), could they claim that the Iraq war was a "just" war despite the fact that the Vatican and the American Bishops opposed it?
A few of Rougeau's more intriguing (at least to me) points:

1). Our free market system is obsessed with materialism and consumerism. The free market has "enhanced living standards for millions of people around the world," but it has also bred greed and self-indulgence. Human freedom in a democracy is only sustainable when people learn how to care for their neighbors. Such relationships are difficult when the value of the human person is dictated by the free market.

2). American libertarianism glorifies the individual and results in "radical dissociation of human beings from one another." Republicans tend to embrace this kind of libertarian individualism more than the Democrats, but Democrats have offered no "meaningful alternative" to it. Democrats have promoted individual autonomy as the "favored mode of liberating persons from discrimination and other negative forms of social control that are entrenched in 'traditional society.'" The "left" in America is much less communal and Catholic than the "left" in other nations. "Left libertarianism" allows people to basically do whatever they please, as long as they are not harming anyone.

3). The Vatican is worried about America's "exaggerated individualism, its hyperconsumer spirit, its relegation of religion to the private sphere, its Calvinist ethos." The Vatican thinks that the "American Creed" is "heresy," but most "churchgoing Americans" disagree. American flags, which have long been a staple in Protestant churches, are now beginning to appear in Catholic churches as well.

4). Catholic social teaching is compatible with secular liberalism, especially when it is employed in defense of human rights and dignity. Rougeau lists its core tenets as human dignity (he engages Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre here), the common good, solidarity (human social connections that reflect humanity's "intimate connections to God"), and subsidiarity (the idea that particular communities must be considered alongside the universal human community).

5). Rougeau asks: Are Christians to be one-issue voters, pulling the Republican lever on the basis of the party's facial commitment to a pro-life position on abortion, yet ignoring the party's inconsistent support of life issues more broadly defined? What about the party's promotion of an economic program for the nation and the world that is clearly rooted in a North American libertarianism that Catholic social teaching excludes? On the other hand, can Christians support a Democratic agenda that is marked by the exaltation of the atomized individual in the social order and seems hostile to the role that families, traditions, and communities of memory and meaning might play in the shaping of an individual conscience?

6). The fact that Americans refuse to take "collective ownership" of anything "beyond the scope of their individual responsibility" has meant that the nation "has failed to embrace a shared narrative about the past that privileges African-Americans unique role in the nation's story." This is ultimately a failure of "collective memory." Solidarity "demands that all Americans recognize the unique burdens that have been placed on African-Americans throughout U.S. history." Rougeau thus calls for an Affirmative Action rooted in this kind of Catholic solidarity.

7). Selfishness and the "materialistic vision" of society makes it difficult "for law and public policy to confront poverty in the United States." Again, the key is "solidarity"--"those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess."

8). Catholic social teaching defends the right to emigrate "when one' s ability to sustain the basic conditions necessary for a life of dignity is threatened."

9). Christian belief in the solidarity of all human beings means that "national favoritism" is "difficult to justify on moral terms." The nation-state is not divinely ordained. Loyalty to the state should be based on whether or not the state is promoting human dignity and the common good.

For my readers familiar with Catholic social teaching, many of Rougeau's ideas will be familiar. It strikes me that Catholic social teaching, when applied consistently, leaves one with no real political home. Nevertheless, it seems to be a much deeper and theologically reflective view of Christianity and public life than either the Republican or Democratic parties, or many Protestant evangelicals in power, seem to be offering.

A Bible for A Great American

Fresh from completing his dissertation, Luke Harlow is back, sitting temporarily in the Chair of Christian Kitsch Hermeneutics usually occupied by Matt Sutton! Here's his post on The American Patriot's Bible, a true classic of this genre.
A Bible for True American Patriots
Luke Harlow

Lest anyone continue to doubt the Christian mandate for the United States, Thomas Nelson Publishing is pleased to announce The American Patriot’s Bible.
Not content to rest on the foundational efforts of good Christian patriots like David Barton, and Randall Stephens's forthcoming The Annointed: America's Evangelical Experts notwithstanding--The American Patriot’s Bible promises to advance Christian America arguments even further by “intersect[ing] the teachings of the Bible with the history of the United States while applying it to today's culture.”

And, for those who find the American nation a difficult thing to read into the text, no worries! You’ll have help! This version of the Holy Writ contains, “Beautiful full-color insert pages spotlight America's greatest thinkers, leaders, and events that present the rich heritage and future of our great nation.”

As the editor, Dr. Richard G. Lee, prominent Atlanta Southern Baptist minister, explains in his introduction, the need for this type of Bible was obvious--and dire:

Our seventh President, Andrew Jackson, said concerning the Bible, “That Book, sir, is the rock upon which our republic rests.” Not only was that the opinion of President Jackson, but of every president before and since, as well as countless Americans. On the whole, Americans are a people who love the Bible and the God of the Bible. There is no book more powerful than the Bible to shape the morals and values of men and nations to be right and noble and just. It has proven itself over and over again in the formation and continuance of the greatest nation in history, the United States of America.

While other nations have built their governments upon the shaky foundations of communism, socialism, and countless other anti-God philosophies, only to see those foundations crumble, America stands without equal as a beacon of hope and freedom in a hurting world. Our Founding Fathers delivered to us a system of government that has enjoyed unprecedented success: we are now the world’s longest ongoing constitutional republic. Well over two hundred years under one form of government is an accomplishment unknown among contemporary nations.

Within this special edition of The American Patriot’s Bible, you will find a great volume of both information and inspiration revealing the “strong cord” of the Bible’s influence that runs through the colorful fabric of our nation’s past and present.

Joining with the sacred text are stories of American heroes, quotations from many of America’s greatest thinkers, and beautiful illustrations that present the rich heritage and tremendous future of our nation. If you love America and the Scriptures, you will treasure this Bible.

Much effort has gone into the verification of the quotes and stories included so that the reader can be assured of the validity of that which is recorded herein. To handle the Word of God in any manner is to do so with great care and respect, and that has been done by all who have been involved in this project. May God bless the truth within these pages, and may God continue to bless America!

Crosspost: The New History of Toleration

The following is from our newest contributing editor Chris Beneke's post on the Historical Society blog. (I thought this would be of some interest to readers of Religion in American History.) Beneke is associate professor of history and director of the Valente Center for Arts and Sciences at Bentley University. In the American Historical Review Peter S. Field called Beneke's book, Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (Oxford, 2006), a "wide-ranging, ambitious survey... well written and engaging." Reviewing it in Church History, Frank Lambert described it as an "engaging, thoroughly researched and documented book, [in which] Beneke explains why colonial Americans avoided the religious wars that plagued European states in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries." We blogged previously about Beyond Toleration here, and also noted and blogged about his important edited volume, Religious Tolerance and Religious Intolerance in Early America, forthcoming 2010 from U. Pennsylvania Press.

A warm welcome for Chris Beneke, and we look forward to future contributions here.

The New History of Toleration
Chris Beneke

The latest issue of the William and Mary Quarterly includes a forum on Stuart Schwartz’s groundbreaking
All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World (2008), which argues that a surprisingly large proportion of ordinary people within the early modern Spanish and Portuguese empires maintained that salvation was available to a wide range of believers. Drawing on his extensive archival work on both sides of the Atlantic, Schwartz contends that these two Catholic regimes, famous for their religious exclusivity, actually harbored a substantial number of religious relativists. Schwartz’s book is distinctive in another way: its subject, he notes, “is not the history of religious toleration, by which is usually meant state or community policy, but rather of tolerance, by which I mean attitudes or sentiments.” (6)

The WMQ comments are generally positive. Lu Ann Homza does find fault with Schwartz’s heavy reliance on statements drawn from inquisitorial tribunals and suggests that when “Schwartz found over and over again the phrase that ‘each could be saved in his own law,’ we must ask whether Inquisition notaries were fitting defense testimony into rhetorical formulas.” David D. Hall sets Schwarz’s book within the new, non-linear and anti-triumphalist historiography of toleration in early modern Europe, specifically Alexandra Walsham’s Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England, 1500-1700 and Benjamin J. Kaplan’s Divided by Faith: Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe. Hall suggests that Schwartz’s universalist-minded subjects might be evidence of “the persistence of tensions within any strong cultural system.” Marcy Norton expresses her wish that Schwartz had given more weight to the impact of religious and ethnic diversity in prompting tolerant attitudes. And Andrew R. Murphy argues that we need to devote more attention to the “borderland between attitudes and political practices” than Schwartz does in All Can Be Saved.

As engaging as it is for specialists, this WMQ forum might seem a bit esoteric to the un-initiated. Fortunately, Murphy summarizes recent historiographical developments in his conclusion. The new literature on toleration in the early modern (Anglo-American) world, he writes, is characterized by four “corollaries”:

* Intolerance was—theoretically, conceptually, and theologically speaking—as robust as tolerance.

* Elites often had “good,” or at least comprehensible, reasons for persecuting religious dissenters.

* Toleration often resulted from the intentional plans of tolerationist elites but as an unintended consequence of actions growing out of complex motivations (economic, political, strategic).

* Toleration, when it happened, was due as much to exclusionary impulses and intolerance (separatism, anti-Catholicism) as to humanistic and skeptical ideals.

The WMQ forum on All Be Saved falls on the heels of a fascinating September 2008 conference organized by Evan Haefeli, Brendan McConville, and Owen Stanwood on “Anti-popery” in the Protestant Atlantic world from 1530 to 1850, which also offered a generally non-triumphalist and socially grounded take on the extent of early modern toleration across the Atlantic world.

Beneke's essay, "America’s Whiggish Religious Revolution: An Instance in the Progress of History," will appear in the June 2009 issue of Historically Speaking.

Catholicism and American Liberalism

Paul Harvey

An interesting factoid that I heard mentioned yesterday: If Judge Sotomayor is confirmed to the Supreme Court, she will be the 6th Catholic sitting on the bench. If Scalia and Alito represent one version of Catholic politics -- "natural law" and conservative politics -- Sotomayor could emerge as the bearer of the legacy of New Deal Catholicism.

We'll let the legal historians discuss the implications of Sotomayor's nomination, but a note here on its religious dimension. Religion and politics is most often discussed (in the popular realm) within the realm of Protestant evangelicalism, but scholars continue to excavate the deep history of Catholic thought and American politics. The Legal History blog calls attention to ongoing work in the realm of Catholicism and legal history, one that may set the current nomination in good perspective. Here are some notes on new pieces of interest, crossposted from Legal History Blog:

Zachary R. Calo, Valparaiso University School of Law, has just posted a number of manuscripts on SSRN. Just posted is an article, 'The Indispensable Basis of Democracy': American Catholicism, the Church-State Debate, and the Soul of American Liberalism, 1900-1920. It appeared in the Virginia Law Review (2005). Here's the abstract:

Several recent works of scholarship explore how Establishment Clause jurisprudence has been shaped by broader political debates over the role of religion in public life. This literature focuses on the politics of anti-Catholicism, particularly during the early years of Establishment Clause jurisprudence in the1940s and 1950s. While not questioning the centrality of this period to the historical narrative, this Note argues that the political contest over church and state took shape in an earlier debate over the compatibility of Catholicism and the Constitution during the 1920s. The Church’s response to the anti-Catholicism of this period was of particular importance. Catholic apologists actively challenged the widespread argument that Catholicism could not be reconciled with a democratic liberal political order. In fact, Catholics not only defended the doctrinal compatibility of Catholic social thought and the constitutional separation of church and state. They argued that Catholicism was ideally suited to preserving the moral foundations of the free society. Far from imperiling American democracy, Catholicism was, in the words of the Church’s leading social theorist, "The Indispensable Basis of Democracy." Thus, rather than aiming to depoliticize the church-state fracas of the 1920s, American Catholics drove the issue ever more fully into the realm of politics and culture. In the process, Catholics developed a worldview that now stands at the heart of Establishment Clause politics.

Calo's newest paper is Catholic Social Thought, Political Liberalism, and the Idea of Human Rights.

As the dominant moral vocabulary of modernity, the language of human rights establishes significant points of contact between the religious and the secular. Yet, the human rights movement increasingly finds itself in a contested relationship with religious ideas and communities. Even as the idea of human rights draws on the inherited moral resources of religion, the movement, at least in many of its dominant institutional and intellectual expressions, has established itself as an autonomous moral discourse. In this respect, the human rights movement, as an expression of western liberalism, presents itself as a totalizing moral theory that challenges countervailing theological accounts of human rights. This paper considers the distinctive account of human rights which has emerged out of Catholic social thought’s engagement with political and economic questions. Particular attention is given to the process by which Catholic thinking about human rights has embraced the possibilities of political liberalism while also bounding liberalism within a particularistic theologically-informed account of the human person. The distinctiveness of the Catholic account of human rights raises questions about the role of Catholicism, and religious communities more generally, in shaping the law of human rights. To what extent can secular and religious approaches to human rights law find common cause and overlapping consensus? How does a Catholic account of human rights rooted in theological anthropology relate to a regnant secular tradition which rests on theological categories shorn of religious content (and which has become its own intellectual and moral tradition that is, in important respects, acounter-theology)? While a Christian theological jurisprudence must maintain a concern with the common good, the fractured moral consensus of late modernity usually demands that the goods identified be described with reference to the internal resources of the tradition. Catholicism, in this respect, might both advance and challenge the universalistic impulses of the human rights movement.


'True Economic Liberalism' and the Development of American Catholic Social Thought, 1920-1940, which appeared in the Journal of Catholic Social Thought (2008), and a chapter from Calo's book manuscript, The Circumscribed Radicalism of New Deal Catholicism: Catholic Liberalism in the 1930s.

Dispatches from a TBN Viewer

Randall Stephens

I'm putting in some quality time watching Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Getting the low down on evangelical weight loss strategies, making more money with God's assistance, and finding out about the political details of the coming apocalypse. Dr. Carl Baugh's Creation in the 21st Century is one of my favorite programs. Tonight's episode was mostly about the moral and scientific implications of a global flood. Terrific graphics. And, better still, how many other science shows end with an altar call?

I was browsing around the TBN website when I came across a Christian documentary on Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Called Warriors of Honor, the film speaks "plainly about the Christian faith of Jackson and Lee," says pastor, author, and homeschooling kingpin Steve Wilkins. "It is a beautiful and accurate account of two great Southern leaders and of a war that forever changed our country." (See the Southern Poverty Law Center for more on Wilkins.) The site for the film proclaims: "Both [Lee and Jackson] were masterful generals, brilliant strategists and, above all, faithful Christians. The faith of these 'Warriors of Honor' governed their lives on and off the battlefield, and their legacies continue even today. 'God's will ought to be our aim, and I am contented that His designs should be accomplished and not my own.' - General Robert E. Lee."

Amazing. Brings back memories of those neo-confederate catechisms that Tony Horwitz described in Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. I think I'll need to order Warriors of Honor for my history course on the America South since 1865. Adds to what Paul posted below concerning the Arlington Confederate Monument.

Forging the White Republic in Kentucky

Paul Harvey

Congratulations to our blog contributing editor Luke Harlow, who has completed his dissertation "From Border State to Solid South: Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880" (Luke will also be decamping from Rice University to take a position as an assistant professor at Oakland University this fall, formerly home to our own Matt Sutton -- congratulations on that too, Luke).

Luke sent me PDFs of the diss., which I just had the pleasure of reading. This is one of those works that makes you wonder why it had not been done before, because the topic is so obvious, and so important, and yet Luke's work follows a story in a state that everyone in the Civil War era, from Lincoln on down, understood to be absolutely crucial, but tends to get neglected in the religious history of the period. The key players in Luke's dissertation are those he calls the antislavery conservatives -- the Presbyterian leader Robert Breckinridge and the Baptist organizer James M. Pendleton chief among them. They saw slavery as a scourge primarily for its effects on the ordinary white man -- a border state/Mid-South kind of free soilism that also informed Andrew Johnson. And the kinds of white supremacy that we associate with Johnson also deeply informed this view as well. After the Emancipation Proclamation and into the REconstruction era, Harlow shows, white Kentuckians, including the formerly antislavery conservatives, "embraced a decidedly pro-Confederate stance. . . Kentucky's postbellum white population, led by clergy and laity who rejected civil rights for African Americans, came to a broad embrace of Confederate ideas and paved the way for the emergence of a dominant white Democratic political bloc."

In short, white Kentuckians fought fiercely over the existence of slavery, over Unionism versus secession, and over the political allegiances of their churches (especially among the Presbyterians). But they bonded over postbellum white supremacy, to a degree that is sobering to read no matter how many times one has been over some of this material.

3 cheers for Luke's dissertation and new job, and I look forward to seeing this in published form in the future.

Arlington Confederate Monument

Paul Harvey

Think the religion of the Confederacy has died? Think again.

Dear President Obama: Please Don't Honor the Arlington Confederate Monument.

Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin disagrees, hoping instead that Obama will put his skills at dialogue with those he disagrees with to good use here, as he did recently at Notre Dame. Caitlin Hopkins makes another worthy suggestion:

I would be perfectly happy to see Obama's staff "forget" to order the wreath for this particular bit of Lost Cause nostalgia, but that's not really his style. It seems much more likely that President Obama could be persuaded to add an extra stop on that Memorial Day wreath-laying tour — I suggest a trip to the African American Civil War Memorial before the Arlington excursion.

The future of the Republic probably doesn't stand or fall on whether some low-level administration staffer does or does not participate in this anachronistic, historically ill-informed little ceremony. My take: it's time to let this outdated tribute to Confederate mythology and religion die, let the Lost Causers rage though they will.

Religion and Foreign Policy: Crusading Modern Style

by Matt Sutton

GQ has an excellent article (“And He Shall be Judged”) in this month’s issue about the use of biblical passages on the cover sheets of war-time classified intelligence documents created by top military brass and delivered to George W. Bush by Donald Rumsfeld. The article begins:

on the morning of Thursday, April 10, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon prepared a top-secret briefing for George W. Bush. This document, known as the Worldwide Intelligence Update, was a daily digest of critical military intelligence so classified that it circulated among only a handful of Pentagon leaders and the president; Rumsfeld himself often delivered it, by hand, to the White House. The briefing’s cover sheet generally featured triumphant, color images from the previous days’ war efforts: On this particular morning, it showed the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down in Firdos Square, a grateful Iraqi child kissing an American soldier, and jubilant crowds thronging the streets of newly liberated Baghdad. And above these images, and just below the headline secretary of defense, was a quote that may have raised some eyebrows. It came from the Bible, from the book of Psalms: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him…To deliver their soul from death.” This mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery, which until now has not been revealed, had become routine.

GQ has also created an amazing slide show of such documents, available here.

As outrageous as this is, it is not new. I have just begun reading William Inboden's Religion and Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment (priced in typical Cambridge University Press fashion at $80), which looks like a great book that is very much relevant to our understanding of the intersections of religion and foreign policy today.

Here is the jacket blurb:

The Cold War was in many ways a religious war. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and other American leaders believed that human rights and freedoms were endowed by God, that God had called the United States to defend liberty in the world, and that Soviet communism was especially evil because of its atheism and its enmity to religion. Along with security and economic concerns, these religious convictions also helped determine both how the United States defined the enemy and how it fought the conflict. Meanwhile, American Protestant churches failed to seize the moment. Internal differences over theology and politics, and resistance to cooperation with Catholics and Jews, hindered Protestant leaders domestically and internationally. Frustrated by these internecine disputes, Truman and Eisenhower attempted instead to construct a new civil religion. This public theology was used to mobilize domestic support for Cold War measures, to determine the strategic boundaries of containment, to appeal to people of all religious faiths around the world to unite against communism, and to undermine the authority of communist governments within their own countries.

This is a great article and a great looking book that together provide a troubling commentary on the state of American foreign policy in recent decades. Not as troubling though as my own memories of my years growing up as a "Crusader." Of course we did kick the asses of the L.A. Baptist Knights in basketball, so maybe God does favor the Crusader mascot!

The Democratic Virtues of Notre Dame


Notre Dame Commencement 2009
by Kathleen Sprows Cummings

What a pleasure to walk across the quad this morning without having to keep my eyes downcast. The “abortion plane,” the one towing a banner with a graphic picture of a 10-week aborted fetus, is gone now, after having circled Notre Dame’s campus for weeks on end.

Participating in yesterday’s commencement—I was seated with the faculty about 100 feet from the stage—was both exhilarating and exhausting. The nervous tension before and during the event was unbelievable. There was a Secret Service agent disguised in academic garb (the earpiece was a dead giveaway) seated in the row in front of me, and U.S. Marshalls posted throughout the arena never stopped scanning the crowd for threats. Worst of all were the hecklers at the beginning of the President’s speech, whose comments and subsequent removal were far more disturbing in person than they appeared to be on television.

We had all heard that Randall Terry’s group had obtained tickets, but we didn’t know how many of them there would be, or whether there would be disruptions throughout the speech, or how exactly the crowd would respond. It was a relief after the first five minutes passed, when we could all really start to listen to the President’s marvelous speech (the New York Times reports on it here). And when that was over, we could go about the business that brought us all there in the first place, honoring and celebrating Notre Dame’s class of 2009.

There is no question that the last six weeks have been the most painful in my life as a faithful Catholic. Two weeks ago my daughter’s second grade class held their First Communion retreat on campus, and the joy of participating in that event was overshadowed by worries that the abortion plane would disrupt our nature walk, or that I wouldn’t be able to avoid the demonstrators and their placards as I drove my group back to school. How, after all, does one explain dismembered fetuses, or baby dolls covered in blood, to a group of eight year olds?

But if the Obama controversy has saddened me as a person of faith, it has heartened me as a teacher and scholar of American Catholicism. The folks in administration and development will almost certainly grimace if they read this, but on balance this episode made my professional life, at least, a whole lot LESS complicated. I always search for opportunities to engage past and present in the classroom, and so I was delighted when, early in the semester, Kathleen Sebelius’ nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services was announced the day before we were scheduled to discuss the election of 1928.

But if I was pleased with the thoughtful discussion about Catholics in American public life that Sebelius’ nomination generated, I was astounded by the level of intellectual engagement that characterized our discussions of the Obama controversy. As a prelude to those discussions, we read and analyzed a host of primary documents, ranging from Monsignor John Tracy Ellis’ 1955 critique of Catholic intellectual life to the 1968 Land-O-Lakes Statement of Catholic Higher Education, from Mario Cuomo’s 1984 speech at Notre Dame to the USCCB’s statement on Faithful Citizenship. We debated what the controversy revealed about faith and public life, dissent, episcopal authority, Catholic education, and electoral politics in the post-Vatican II American church. My students came to these discussions from a variety of ideological viewpoints, yet our conversations were invariably characterized by respect and by a sincere desire to understand what developments over the last half-century have brought us to this moment in American Catholicism.

On my way home from work each day, I couldn’t help but marvel at the contrast between our provocative discussions and the daily circus staged by protestors at Notre Dame’s Main Gate. I have never felt more privileged to be a faculty member at the University of Notre Dame than I have been this semester, and I was even prouder during yesterday’s ceremony. Between the legacy of Father Ted Hesburgh, evoked so elegantly by President Obama, and the leadership and courage of Father John Jenkins, displayed so prominently in his own remarkable speech, I was repeatedly moved to tears. I plan to use both speeches as a springboard to discussion in my classes next year, and there is much more that can and will be said about them. Today, though, I am just grateful it is a quiet and happy day at Notre Dame, with nothing but blue skies overhead.

Catholic Culture, the Rooted, and the Universal

Paul Harvey

John Fea's recent blog entry "Catholic Culture" points to a nice piece on this particular type of rootedness, and its decline amid the forces of a more rootless modernity.

It made me wonder how the author would respond to Obama's Notre Dame appearance and speech (a full transcript of the speech is here, by the way). Here is the response, worth reading in full, but a brief excerpt here:

In my view, the singular focus upon abortion as THE issue over which conservative Catholics will brook no divergence and around which we are called to rally reveals, to my mind, not evidence of robust Catholic culture as much as its absence.

What he means by that is a little hard to summarize here, so I encourage clicking on the link above for the rest.

Obama's speech deftly played on the tension between communal rootedness and universal values. It's worth reading in full, too. I'm hoping our contributing editor Kathy Cummings will weigh in on the Notre Dame appearance (hint hint . . . . )

Update: Kathy says she can take a hint, and says it was a wonderful day to be present at Notre Dame -- so a post reflecting on this further is forthcoming!

Religion, Morality, and History: John Ashworth and David Brion Davis


Paul Harvey

Sitting on a sofa on this Sunday afternoon, I came across this nice sentence from Edward Rugemer, "Explaining the Causes of the American Civil War," a review of the two massive John Ashworth volumes Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum American Republic, a huge project which gives a sophisticated class-based interpretation of the coming of the Civil War:

It must also be mentioned that Ashworth completely ignores religion in his explanation of antislavery. This is like writing maritime history without reference to the sea

This piece, from the indispensable (for American historians, anyway) journal Reviews in American History, is appreciative of the synthetic accomplishments of these two volumes, but the second sentence above struck me. The author continues:

Religion was central to antislavery and it cannot be ignored. The need to validate wage labor with the attack on slavery may have been important to the broadening of the antislavery appeal, but it did not 'generate' antislavery; rather, it was a contributing factor in the popularity of antislavery

When we get into what generated antislavery and other humanitarian crusades, of course we enter David Brion Davis land, so how appropriate that a personally reflective essay (a reprinted talk, actually) appears as the last piece in this issue (March 2009)  of Reviews in American History. In a Historiography class a couple of years ago, I assigned Davis's then just-published book Inhuman Bondage, a remarkable survey of a huge range of issues regarding slavery and antislavery in world history, and one that probably only could have been authored by Davis. What struck me in reading the book is how much antebellum American antislavery seemed to have been a response to the market revolution generally (quite the opposite of Ashworth's argument, I think). After tracing his experience in Germany after World War II, where he saw the somber results of human evil all around him, Davis reflects on his career as a student in the subsequent years, and his tutelage under the influence of reading Reinhold Niebuhr's books:

. . . in view of Niebuhr's passionate attacks on pride and arrogance, I've often pondered the paradox of his supposed influence on the "Camelot" group that was around JFK -- the "best and the brightest" who were really responsible for the Vietnam War. . . ironically, as Niebuhr points out, the attempt to maintain one's own pride and self-respect by holding others in contempt leads to an uneasy conscience, to the general insecurity, which the attitude of contempt is meanto alleviate. Various religons have nourished this idolatry by feeding delusions of divine saction, holy alliances, . . . The archetype of this sin of pride and contempt for others, I later concluded was human slavery, especially racial slavery.

The central problem Davis grappled with in his multi-volume "Slavery and Western Culture" series was how anti-slavery ever arose in the first place, and why it did when it did. And, how much do structural changes (such as the market revolution and the rise of a free labor economy), over and above any exercise of individual will or morality, account for these fundamental moral shifts? 

I didn't say I had an answer. I'm just asking. Perhaps more to the point, Davis's short piece is a fascinating exploration of how personal biographies interact with what become research interests. 

Wise Blood, and Killing for Coal Dust

Paul Harvey

You Flannery O'Connor fans unite and get on those Netflix accounts -- John Huston's excellent 1980 film adaptation of Wise Blood, based of course on the short O'Connor novel, is now out on DVD. I saw this twenty years ago or so, can't wait to see it again, as I recall it well capturing the astringent O'Connor at her best.

The same summer I saw Wise Blood, I viewed a number of short documentaries about religion and laboring lives in the extractive industries. Religion and labor remains a subject in need of much more exploration. I was pondering this most recently while reading this year's Bancroft prize winner in History, Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War, a work ostensibly about the Ludlow Massacre of 1914 but, in reality, about the transformational power of coal in Colorado and western history. Coal, the author Thomas Andrews argues, induced a worldwide migration that left the more fabled gold and silver migrations in the dust, literally and figuratively.

Coal was a God which made its presence felt on the environment, in people's lives and lungs, and in the bitterness of a class society which belied the aspirations and ideals of the Quaker founder of the idealistic colony of Colorado Springs, General William Palmer. Coal was essential to his vision, and coal destroyed his vision.

Thomas Andrews has written an astonishingly powerful book. In his synthesis of environmental and labor history, coal is a powerful god-like force, and the relationship of the colliers to their environment was one of respectful fear and awe (best seen in how the colliers used the mice they befriended as their own canaries in the coal mine; when the mice scampered away unexpectedly, the men know something was amiss).

I was hoping for a bit more in Killing for Coal about religion and the multiethnic labor force that descended on the southern Colorado coal fields -- not a criticism of the book, just something I missed. I'm therefore doubly grateful for Richard Callahan's new book Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields: Subject to Dust, which is featured as the book of the week at Books and Culture (review courtesy of our own K. Lofton).

Here's an excerpt from the review, which shows the promise of combining the forces of religious and labor history in a way that Thomas Andrews accomplishes with his synthesis of environmental and labor history:

Callahan offers a lively picture of everyday life in coal towns populated by a microcosm of early 20th century American demography, including Hungarians, Italians, Slavs, Poles, Mexicans, Russians, Syrians, and Romanians. Within this multicultural panorama a rough peace abided. For instance, according to one miner, "The Jews were very much hated people." Yet Jews managed many of the stores that defined the incoming modernism of that era. "Along with the commodification of labor and the ready availability of consumer items," Callahan writes, "coal towns also introduced new patterns of leisure time that larger company towns tried to structure through organized, often commodified, forms of entertainment." At the same moment when modernism and fundamentalism were embattled elsewhere, southern Appalachian religious leaders sought to civilize their flocks through increased domestic consumption and ritual diminishment. One modernist Baptist pastor, for example, discouraged the ritual of foot-washing. "Doing away with [foot washing]," Callahan explains, "was a sign of the distancing of modern Baptists from closely heeding to their physical body, and the bodies of others in the community, as rich sources of religious experience."

Perhaps in reply to these modernist incursions, Holiness and Pentecostal movements enjoyed rampant success among the mining communities. Chapter 5 of Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields supplies a "synthetic and speculative" discussion about Holiness religion's emergence and popularity in the coal fields. Due to the limited documentary material, Callahan relies upon Raymond Williams' cultural theory, along with studies of the Holiness movement where the record was stronger, to explain why Holiness found such a strong footing amidst the horizontal mines of eastern Kentucky. This is a moving chapter, especially in its explanatory reading of healing as a popular ritual among miners. "When I can feel him coming into my body," one southern Appalachian believer said, "I know God is real." The somatic repeatedly appears in Callahan's study as he seeks to recover the palpable and the felt aspects of religious lives. "The event of healing," he writes, "made the power of the Holy Ghost concrete and present to witnesses and the person healed." This was a "somatic form of knowledge of the material reality of divine power and its ability to transform the world physically." In short, the laboring affect may have been particularly conducive to Holiness effects.

Still More on Shields

John G. Turner

Thanks to Paul, we've already discussed Jon Shields's The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right.

At the risk of some redundancy, merited by the book's significance, here are my reflections, recently posted at Books & Culture:

Why, then, does the media portray the Christian Right as a threat to American democracy when pro-life activists behave civilly, promote dialogue and debate on meaningful issues, and boost democratic participation? If anything, according to Shields, it is pro-choice activists who disproportionately act boorishly and refuse to participate in meaningful dialogue on the issue—though he acknowledges that, since pro-choice organizations seek to maintain the status quo, they have much less to gain from debating the issues. Why does the media still write about Operation Rescue-type organizations even though pregnancy counseling centers have vastly more support among pro-life activists? ... Most of the activists who appear in Shields' book are anything but incipient theocrats. They are good citizens by any objective measure.

I don't have enough experience among either pro-life or pro-choice activists to intelligently assess Shields's contrast between the respective attitudes of pro-life and pro-choice activists. Any thoughts?

I tried incorporating Shields's book into my teaching this past semester. I imagine most students not already friendly toward the Christian Right were unconvinced of its democratic virtues, but I thought it was important for students to at least encounter an academically iconoclastic view of the subject.

Ultimately, my own sense, contrary to current conventional wisdom, is that the Religious Right has been a great but not unalloyed blessing for the Republican Party. Certainly, the negative image of the Religious Right hurts the Party with moderates and independents, but it is hard for me to conceive of the quasi-ascendancy of the GOP from 1968-2004 without giving substantial credit to diffuse Christian Right movements. At the same time, as I write in Books & Culture, the Religious Right is an "albatross for American evangelicalism" and "a public relations disaster" for American Christianity more generally.

Practical Matters, Prayer Pawns, and A Chat on We Shall Remain


Paul Harvey

Emerging briefly from the depths of senior theses and graduate seminar papers, before taking a deep breath and diving back down. Notes of interest on new opportunities for online explorations.

First, Practical Matters, an online journal of religious practice and practical theology published out of Emory, has just posted its first issue, on the theme "Engaging Imagination." Articles and reviews range from photography to dance to "ritual praxis inside the classroom," and a host of other ways to open up the religious imagination. The editors introduce the journal here, and explain further:

In this journal you will find digital scholarship that utiliz­es the capacities of the internet to ask and provoke new questions about religious prac­tices and practical theology. You will also find here a variety of content: peer-reviewed scholarship in several media and genres, reflections and essays by practitioners and teachers, video and audio interviews with scholars, reviews of current work in religious practices and practical theology, musical performances, photographic essays, and more.

Next, Katie Lofton has emerged from her cubbyhole at Princeton to deconstruct the recent nonsensical tit-for-tat about the "National Day of Prayer":

The irony of debates about national prayer is that they transform the experience of nationalism (worthy, perhaps) into a prescription of nationalism (failed, always). Despite our stories plurality (or perhaps because of them), the landscape of American hope and American need has become stunningly arid, silenced by prayer box sets and by rationalist relativism. What now to say before the dying soldier? What now to do during an epidemic of economic dismay? We reach for prayers, but they have become too precious by half, made by both squabbling sides something to demonstrate that you have done (he in the Oval Office, they on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue), rather than something that you seek to do. Beyond the glare of this hollow exhibitionism, we stretch for something real, we seek a prayer that isn't a pawn. And so I do what most mothers and fathers, lovers and workers, believers and atheists do: I squeeze the hand harder, and ask what I can do to see you better, to know you better, to serve you better. Then (I promise, I pray, I swear, I stand), I will do it.

Finally, I received this email about the PBS series We Shall Remain, a multi-part exploration of Native American History, which will interest some of you.

We would like to invite you to join us for a live chat with Julianna Brannum, co-producer of “Wounded Knee,” the fifth film in PBS’ “We Shall Remain” series. The films explore pivotal episodes in American Indian history. Tomorrow (Tuesday, May 12) at 2pm EST we’ll host a conversation about the film and Julianna’s behind-the-scenes perspective on this moving film. She'll answer your questions live in our hour-long chat.

Go to on May 12th at 2pm to join the discussion or leave a question for her today.

God's Work: What Can Faith-Based Activism Do For Labor?

Paul Harvey

A few days ago we put up a couple of posts about Jon Shields's important new book Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right. In the interests of being fair and balanced, and in the spirit of Dorothy Day, today we're moving on to rewnewed hopes for a recognition in public policy of the democratic virtues of the Christian Left.

Nancy MacLean (author of the great book Freedom is Not Enough) has posted a compelling piece at the Boston Review -- "God's Work: What can Faith-Based Activism Do For Labor"? She begins,

“I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain, common workingmen,” recalled Frances Perkins. And so she did. From 1933 to 1945, Perkins helped create the core features of the New Deal state: minimum wage and maximum hours laws, legal guarantees for workers’ rights to organize and join unions, prohibition of child labor, Social Security, unemployment compensation, and fair labor standards. For all of the New Deal’s limitations, its laws and programs tamed Upton Sinclair’s “Jungle,” encouraged broad economic security and prosperity, and created, in economic terms, the most equitable America in history. And it was promoted and protected not only by strong unions but also by religious leaders, thanks to the prominence of a social gospel in the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish traditions at mid-century. During her twelve years as secretary of labor, Perkins herself spent one day a month in contemplative retreat at a convent. For her, the reference to God was not simply a rhetorical flourish.

Since the 1970s economic inequality has surged to levels not seen since the 1920s, Dickensian abuses of workers have returned, and deregulation has enabled the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. President Obama’s Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, faces challenges not unlike Perkins’s. Yet today, as in the 1930s, crisis also creates the opportunity for a bold new direction—a New New Deal, potentially more inclusive of the nation’s diverse labor force than Perkins could have imagined. Might the nation’s churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples again have a role in rescuing a wayward economy?

In addressing this question, Solis can learn much from Kim Bobo, founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ). Bobo’s goal is to revive America’s justice-seeking prophetic tradition, with a particular focus on economic justice. In her new book, Wage Theft in America, Bobo argues powerfully for the importance of community allies in improving struggling workers’ lives. She aims to rouse believers from all faith traditions to a new sense of social mission. Her starting point, and the focus of her book, is to address a more specific challenge: “why millions of working Americans are not getting paid and what we can do about it.” The charge is not an exaggeration. Using Department of Labor settlements (which her organization has done much to win), Bobo documents how companies steal literally billions of dollars from millions of workers each year.

Bobo, MacLean explains, "understands that wage theft is a strategic issue that could jumpstart an overhaul of the Department of Labor, help to shut down the low road, and importantly, reanimate progressive politics with the social-gospel spirit." Bobo and groups such as IWJ come from a long tradition of

commitment to social justice in the Catholic and Jewish traditions and the Protestant social gospel that drove so much Progressive Era and New Deal reform. . . . 'We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,' FDR noted in 1937, 'we now know that it is bad economics.' ” We have relearned the truth that it is bad economics, but we still await the moral awakening.

Beyond Belief? Secularity and Scholarly Darlings

Paul Harvey

Nathan Schneider, "Beyond Belief: Research in Religion Goes After a New Target, The Secular," takes up a topic we've discussed here some before: the new scholarly research into secularity. We hit this topic before in covering Phil Zuckerman's new book Society Without God, and also in looking at the rise of the "nones" in surveys such as ARIS (that is, those answering "no religion" in surveys about personal religiosity). Recent commentors have noted that most of the growth of the nones took place from 1990 to 2001, and growth has leveled off since then, so the media hype about the recent study has been (surprise) as much hype as substance. Nonetheless, careful studies of un-belief are overdue and welcomed. Schneider surveys a variety of recent studies, the most interesting of which suggest how the boundary between being religious and irreligious is far more permeable than generally assumed:

Phil Zuckerman's study in Scandinavia, in fact, suggests that these distinctions aren't as clear as one might expect. His interviews show the extent to which, even in the absence of traditional supernatural beliefs, the subjects' religious heritage provides them with moral guideposts and cultural habits. Not believing in God doesn't stop most Danes and Swedes from considering themselves Christians.

Religions, we are beginning to learn, can be better understood by paying attention to what irreligion looks like. Probe irreligion, and you encounter not only new insights about how it works in people's lives, but also echoes of the very religions it defines itself against.

Before getting too comfortable with their apparent newfound status, however, the new secularists still have to contend with some fundamental realities, including the (still) remarkably high rates of religiosity in America. In short, other ways of looking at the evidence suggest that we're about as close to being "post-Christian" as we are to being "post-racial." Stephen Prothero addresses this in "Post-Christian: Not Even Close," where he suggests:

What the rise of the "nones" shows us is not how American Christianity is declining but how it is changing. The data tell us that Christians are increasingly likely to describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious, that they are increasingly wary of labels and institutions, and that they identify their faith less and less with "organized religion" and more and more with the personal power of Jesus himself.

What the data do not tell us is that the United States is becoming "post-Christian." If you meet a random American walking down the street, the odds are only one in 62 that he or she will self-identify as atheist or agnostic. . . . Meanwhile, Christianity remains, for good or for ill, a vital political force, not just on the right but also on the left, and the Christian Bible remains the scripture of American politics, invoked thousands of times a year on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

Over the past two decades, I have taught the "Christian America" debate to hundreds of students in my Religious Studies courses. When we finish our discussion, I call the question. My Christian students almost invariably describe the United States as a multicultural nation of religions, but my Jewish students tell me you have to be blind (or Christian) not to see that this is a Christian country. Here Christmas, not Passover, is a national holiday, and the only question about our presidents' religious affiliation seems to be from which Christian denomination they will come.

Prothero and others (including some posts here) have pointed out that the real news of the ARIS survey is the the shift of Catholicism from Northeast to Southwest, and the continuing decline of mainstream Protestantism and rise of evangelical faiths (born-agains now constituting 34% of Americans).

All of which makes me think of the protagonist in my favorite Elvis Costello song "Beyond Belief," from his Imperial Bedroom:

History repeats the old conceits
The glib replies, the same defeats
Keep your finger on important issues
With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues . . .

I've got a feeling
I'm going to get a lot of grief
Once this seemed so appealing,
Now I am beyond belief.

The New Black Gods

by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Edward Curtis and Danielle Sigler have edited what looks to be a fantastic new collection of essays on Arthur Huff Fauset and African American religious traditions. Titled The New Black Gods: Arthur Huff Fauset and the Study of African American Religion, essays cover multiple traditions and explore many issues in the field. Religion in American History's own Kathryn Lofton has an essay. Among many others, this collection of essays might be beneficially read alongside Edward Blum's work on Du Bois, Barbara Savage's new work on Black religion and politics, Wallace Best's study of Black Chicago and religion, and Curtis Evans's book The Burden of Black Religion.

Here's a description from the Indiana University Press web site:
Taking the influential work of Arthur Huff Fauset as a starting point to break down the false dichotomy that exists between mainstream and marginal, a new generation of scholars offers fresh ideas for understanding the religious expressions of African Americans in the United States. Fauset's 1944 classic, Black Gods of the Metropolis, launched original methods and theories for thinking about African American religions as modern, cosmopolitan, and democratic. The essays in this collection show the diversity of African American religion in the wake of the Great Migration and consider the full field of African American religion from Pentecostalism to Black Judaism, Black Islam, and Father Divine's Peace Mission Movement. As a whole, they create a dynamic, humanistic, and thoroughly interdisciplinary understanding of African American religious history and life. This book is essential reading for anyone who studies the African American experience.

Here's the Table of Contents:

Introduction / Edward E. Curtis IV and Danielle Brune Sigler

Part 1. New Religious Movement(s) of the Great Migration Era
1. Fauset's (Missing) Pentecostals: Church Mothers, Remaking Respectability, and Religious Modernism / Clarence Hardy
2. "Grace Has Given God a Vacation": The History and Development of the Theology of the United House of Prayer of All People / Danielle Brune Sigler
3. "Chased out of Palestine": Prophet Cherry's Church of God and Early Black Judaisms in the United States / Nora L. Rubel
4. Debating the Origins of the Moorish Science Temple: Toward a New Cultural History / Edward E. Curtis IV
5. "The Consciousness of God's Presence Will Keep You Well, Healthy, Happy, and Singing": The Tradition of Innovation in the Music of Father Divine's Peace Mission Movement / Leonard Norman Primiano
6. "A True Moslem Is a True Spiritualist": Black Orientalism and Black Gods of the Metropolis / Jacob S. Dorman

Part 2. Resurrecting Fauset's Vision for African American Religious Studies
7. Religion Proper and Proper Religion: Arthur Fauset and the Study of African American Religions / Sylvester A. Johnson
8. The Perpetual Primitive in African American Religious Historiography / Kathryn Lofton
9. Turning African Americans into Rational Actors: The Important Legacy of Fauset's Functionalism / Carolyn Rouse
10. Defining the "Negro Problem" in Brazil: The Shifting Significance of Brazil's African Heritage from the 1890s to the 1940s / Kelly E. Hayes
11. Fauset and His Black Gods: Intersections with the Herskovits-Frazier Debate / Stephen W. Angell
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