Scott Poole Interview, Part 3: Satan in America

by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Baldblogger (BB): As writers, it is inevitable that some of what we write along the way ends up on the cutting floor. What did you have to leave out of Satan in America? What great stories are readers missing?

Scott Poole (SP): Lots, I’m afraid, ended up being left out and I’m sure you understand how painful that can be. This is why I wanted to include “Hunting the Devil: A Bibliographic Essay” at the end of the book to point readers to other resources. The book I originally proposed to write was much larger, in fact coming in at around 600 pages instead of 300. My publisher really felt that this was too hefty and agreed with me that, even writing a book of that size could not mean I would give my subject an exhaustive treatment.

So, I did not examine American literature to the degree I wanted to. The reader will get bit on Hawthorne, Melville and Twain in the 19th century but only a brief mention of Flannery O’Connor in the 20th. I wanted to say a good bit on O’Connor who stared into the American heart of darkness perhaps more directly than any of our great writers. This was a section that could be cut because other scholars have done this really well, including Jeffrey Burton Russell in Mephistopheles.

Another area that had to be cut significantly was my discussion of the “satanic panic.” I felt ok about this, in part, because other books had dealt with the details. I do hope I managed to convey the sense that American demonologies created a kind of moral crisis in American life during that period and that these beliefs found expression in the larger moral crisis of the Reagan years.

Read the final few questions of Baldblogger's interview with Scott Poole here.

Writing American History Textbooks and Teaching Religion: An Interview with Paul S. Boyer

[Crossposted from the Historical Society blog]

Randall Stephens

What to cover? What not to cover? What makes an event, individual, or movement worthy of our attention?

History professors and high school history teachers spend quite a bit of time thinking about those questions. If you have to get through the sweep of American history (pre-Columbian to 1865) in just one semester, then you're going to need to make some cuts. Goodbye obscure Puritan theologian. Hello slave insurrectionist. Hardly enough time in class to talk about how each colony took shape. King Philip's War is interesting, but how much time on center stage does it deserve? For those who teach Western Civilization or the West in the World, good luck figuring out content and coverage. The same questions about scope and range occupy the time of history textbook writers.

Last weekend I caught up with the historian and general bonhomie Paul S. Boyer at a conference on Adventism in Portland, Maine. Boyer, Merle Curti Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, is the author of a number of American history books, like Purity in Print: Book Censorship in America from the Gilded Age to the Computer Age (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968); Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), co-author with Stephen Nissenbau; Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978); By
the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age
(NY: Pantheon, 1985); When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); and Fallout: A Historian Reflects on America's Half-Century Encounter With Nuclear Weapons (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998). He's also written articles for the Journal of American History, American Quarterly, American Literary History, The History Teacher, Virginia Quarterly Review, and the William & Mary Quarterly. But he may be best known as the author of a couple of very successful textbooks: The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People (6th edition, 2007); and The American Nation (Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 4th edn., 2002).

In the 2-part Youtube video embedded here, I ask Boyer about the writing of history textbooks and how he thinks about the role of religion in history. He comments at length on how religion has shaped American history and considers some of the major questions textbook writers ask as they go about their task.

Scott Poole Interview, Part 2: Satan in America


by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Baldblogger (BB): One of the thoughts that came to mind as I read Satan in America was “fate” of God/gods according to the secularization thesis/narrative. Many of the foremost supporters of the secularization thesis have recanted in recent years (e.g., Peter Berger), writing about the endurance of religion and faith in the technological age. From one perspective, it seems that Satan “survived” the secularization thesis; few seemed to question the existence (and/or reality) of the Prince of Darkness even as many doubted the viability of belief in God/gods. Is this an accurate observation, and if so, what does this say about Satan in American religious history?

Scott Poole (SP): I don’t think the secularization thesis is at all tenable for American society. I actually make the case mushrooming beliefs about Satan from the 60s until today underscore the idea that not only is America not becoming more secular, its becoming more religious all the time. Berger has, as you note, recanted. Its as telling to note that the author of The Secular City, Harvey Cox, has published books on Pentecostalism and another called When Jesus Went to Harvard in the last few years.Along these lines, part of my own intellectual background was a book that made a huge impression on me in the mid-90s called The Death of Satan. Written by the brilliant cultural historian and commentator Andrew Delbanco, the book argues that, as beliefs about Satan and the world of spiritual evil declined throughout American history (especially in the 20th with what he calls the birth of a “culture of irony”), Americans lost the ability to talk bout evil in meaningful termsIt’s a profound book but, in my mind, profoundly wrong in certain respects. Americans have not lost the language to talk about evil—they have a lurid, gaudy and intemperate language with which they do talk about it. What Americans have never been able to face, at least Americans who are white and of middle class and upper class status, is the way the national experiment is profoundly entangled with historical evil. I hope that readers are struck, as I still am, by how frequently the Devil has been the ghost at the American banquet. My own experience as an author was to feel like I was on a guided tour of an American inferno, where beliefs about demonology seemed to be creating horrors at every turn. This didn’t cease in the 18th century, or the 19th century or t an point in the 20th. Indeed, one of my last chapters is entitled “Lucifer Rising” to convey the sense that , for specific historical reason, post-Vietnam, post-Nixon America became fertile ground for lurid beliefs about the Devil.

Read the rest of part 2 of Baldblogger's interview with Scott Poole here.



My copy of The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, volume 1, arrived in the mail a few days ago. I could hardly lift it. This is a tome one must heft. No need for a trip to the campus recreation center when one could simply do a few shoulder presses with the latest offering from the Church Historian's Press. Some will balk at the $99 price tag, but per pound it's a much better deal than most trade paperbacks. At the very least, ask your financially strapped university library to purchase these elegant reference volumes.

Revelations 1 is the second volume to emerge from the Joseph Smith Papers project. Last year, the Church released the first volume of the Journals series; the next two volumes will inaugurate the Documents and History series. (I'm looking forward to the latter's presentation of Joseph Smith's accounts of his early religious experiences).

Publishing the contents of two manuscript books, Revelations 1 presents a large majority of those items included in the church's Doctrine & Covenants (alongside the Book of Mormon and the items included in the Pearl of Great Price, a canonical Mormon Scripture). The volume includes a useful introduction, which relates the publication history of the revelations and chronicles the reaction of a November 1831 conference uncertain about the imperfect language employed by Smith's revelations. (An additional revelation helped settle the question and persuaded those elders who were skeptical). The two books also contain nine items not canonized by the church, some of which are not readily accessible elsewhere. Of these, I was struck by the "sample of pure language," discussing the names of God, the "Son," and "man" in the pure, pre-Babel heavenly language. [See Samuel Brown, "Joseph (Smith) in Egypt: Babel, Hieroglyphs, and the Pure Language of Eden," Church History 78 (March 2009): 26-65].

Perhaps most unusual for a documentary project, Revelations 1 features photographic facsimiles of every page of the two manuscript volumes (samples from the JSP website) alongside transcription. The latter include a careful recreation of additions, deletions, etc., color-coded by the scribe who made the changes. (Sometimes as many as seven different scribes amended a revelation). For a more detailed discussion of the changes, see a post by one of the volume editors at By Common Consent. These manuscript books usually represent the earliest extent copy of Joseph Smith's revelations, but they are copy books, not containing a scribe's initial copy (let alone the verbatim words as spoken from the lips of the prophet). The net result is a research treasure trove.

For someone not terribly familiar with Joseph Smith's revelations (I mostly encounter them bit-by-bit as I move through accounts of his life), however, the volume is a bit overwhelming. Should one examine these manuscripts and transcripts before quoting from one of Smith's revelations? Probably a good idea, since the editors have corrected inaccurate dates for several revelations and looking at the textual history might prove worthwhile. The volume simply presents the facsimiles and textual analysis without further annotation and commentary. For the most part, this approach helpfully lets the revelations speak for themselves, but on items like the "sample of pure language" I would have appreciated some guidance. [For the context of the canonical revelations, I would probably start with Steven Harper's recent Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants].

Alongside Royal Skousen's "earliest text" of the Book of Mormon, Revelations 1 heralds the arrival of mass-marketed advanced textual studies of Mormon scriptures. Reviewing Skousen's production for the Wall Street Journal, Stephen Prothero commented that "we probably know more about the production of the Book of Mormon, which is holy writ to the world's 14 million Mormons, than we do about any other scripture." Now we know at least as much about the composition and evolution of the bulk of Joseph Smith's written revelations. The full-size color facsimiles and the eye-popping sales for the first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers (upwards of 20,000 -- UPDATE: perhaps upwards of 50,000) testify to what Prothero termed the "seductive power that scripture has over human beings" and the appetite for both historical and scriptural study among contemporary Latter-day Saints.

I sometimes wonder whether this current explosion of careful textual study and recreation of the earliest Mormon scriptures says about the place of revelation in today's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though the Church's last canonical revelation was received in 1978, Mormons certainly have not abandoned their belief in ongoing revelation.

Brigham Young once commented that he "would not give the ashes of a rye straw for these three books [The Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants] so far as they are efficacious for the salvation of any man that lives, without the living oracles of God." While Young quoted from and regularly alluded to the Bible and the Book of Mormon, he also characterized his own discourses as "scripture." Perhaps others can clarify this point for me, but very superficially it seems that while Mormons of Brigham Young's day honored and used the church's Scriptures, they are treated with more reverence today, symbolized not only by their use in Sunday School lessons but also by Revelations 1 and Skousen's BOM textual work. At the same time, most Mormons still revere their "living oracles," but I don't recall Presidents Hinkley and Monson presenting their sermons as "scripture."

At a time when most university presses are cutting back on documentary editing projects or publishing such editions online, the Joseph Smith Papers project represents a welcome and most unusual success. Now that the second volume has appeared, I'm much more optimistic I'll live to see the remainder published. The Mormons have been known for bold and audacious plans since the religion's first years, but as much as I'd love to utilize a Brigham Young Papers project, I trust they have enough sense not to try to scale that Everest.

Scott Poole Interview: Satan in America


by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

This week Baldblogger interviews Scott Poole, a history professor at the College of Charleston and author of the new book Satan in America: The Devil We Know, just out with Rowman & Littlefield. So while this week is filled with trick-or-treating, ghosts and goblins of various kinds, fall festivals, and haunted houses, give Satan his due by reading Poole's great new book (or surprise those unsuspecting trick-or-treaters by passing out copies of Satan in America!)

Baldblogger (BB): Satan seems to be an ever present interest, preoccupation, even obsession in American history and culture. What inspired your interest in this subject? What were the origins of this fascinating project?

Scott Poole (SP): I have joked with my parents that I probably would never have needed to write a book about Satan if they had let me get ticket to that Ozzy concert in 1986 or not cut off access to Ghost Rider comics around the same time. I don’t know if I’m entirely kidding. I did grow up in the 80s when, as I describe in the book, a wave of irrational paranoia about the influence of the Devil in popular culture, a “satanic panic” swept the country. Evangelicalism’s rather gaudy and dark symbolic world that imagines Satan in the lyrics of heavy metal music and heading up a worldwide conspiracy that will lead to the emergence of the Antichrist held and still hold, enormous fascination for me.

I also think that scholars of American religion have avoided this topic for too long. It seems to me that beliefs about the Devil shaped American religious practice as much, and sometimes more, than beliefs about God. Some wonderful historians, including some that have been very influential on me like Christine Heyrman, have looked at this as part of their larger work.

Finally, I have to confess that I’m an inveterate consumer of low and high-grade pop culture, in massive, possibly unhealthy, quantities. It makes me happy to connect my scholarly life with this other pretty important part of my life.

Read more of the interview here, and look for additional posts on Wednesday and Friday.

'Buked and Scorned: Ellen G. White's Success


Report from the conference on Ellen G. White in Portland October 23-5.

by Amanda Porterfield

Without pretending to do justice to the ambitious book that will result from this conference, here are just two of the interesting questions that arose in discussion.

Randall Stephens posed the question, how did Ellen White build a movement out of the discredited wreck of the Millerite movement, and in the face of public scorn? Part of the answer is that her husband and other handlers enabled her success. Her own interpersonal and organizational skills obviously contributed to her authority, and to the authority of her visions. Her emphasis on the Saturday Sabbath enabled believers to separate themselves from others, and also to raid mainline protestant groups for recruits. Both recruits and longtime members relished the perfectionist discipline that promised to bring them into close relationship to heaven. This dynamic allowed for reversing scorn visited on Adventists back onto others.

Spencer Fluhman asked the question, why was Ellen White reproached and vilified by people outside of her movement? Clues to the answer might be found in protestant narratives that instantiated the fiction of mainstream Christianity and used Adventism, like Mormonism, as a foil against which “American” Christianity could be defined. White participated in this dynamic with some enthusiasm, even as her self-proclaimed alterity exerted its own pressure on American society, and on protestant denominations, especially with respect to temperance, diet, and health.

The Ellen White Project, Portland Maine, October 22-25

Randall Stephens

Along with 75 religious studies scholars, historians, and others, I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a conference on Ellen White, chief founder of Seventh-day Adventism. We’re meeting this weekend in Portland, Maine. Participants are hashing out White’s life, theology, views about sexuality and food, and her work as it relates to Adventism. The organizers of the conference plan a book project, which they describe succinctly: “Ellen Gould Harmon White (1827-1915), cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist church, is a significant figure in American religion. To date there has not been a systematic scholarly examination of the full range and scope of her place in American history. A group of scholars is planning a working conference, bringing together for the first time specialists in Ellen White studies and specialists in her wider contexts.”

“The book," claim its editors, "is designed to be a valuable asset to the study of nineteenth-century American religion, and we also will include the interested general reader in our target audience. We hope the quality of our book manuscript and the marketing skills of Oxford University Press will gain wide readership for our book, but we do not anticipate royalty-generating mass market sales.”

I know so little about White and Adventism—something I found on further investigation that I share with other participants Spencer Fluhman, Peggy Bendroth, and some others—that I hesitated to take part at first. But the organizers hoped that those outside the field would ask broad questions about research and writing.
I rushed to my library to read Ron Numbers’s bio Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White. Yet, I only had time to crack the book. So, into the breach. The papers/chapters have been fascinating. I never knew how much White, and her contemporary Adventists, was wrapped up in sex reform, visionary mysticism, the shouting Methodist tradition, hydrotherapy, vegetarianism, creationism . . . and on and on. Panels have been asking about the 19th-century context of Adventism, the legacy and influence of White, and the role of emotion in religious experience.

So . . . for a little more on the this topic I sat down with Ron Numbers to ask some questions about White and the movement. (See the youtube clip embedded here.) For the uninitiated (meaning, almost everyone), Numbers offers some great insight.

Race/War/Genocide, U.S and Germany: The Role of Religion?


Paul Harvey

A mid-day "thinking out loud" post. I've just been talking with a colleague that I'll be team-teaching with next semester, an undergraduate course on Race, War, and Genocide in the U.S. South and Germany, 1865ish - 1965ish (dates are flexible on either end). This sort of started out as a "comparative genocide" kind of course (how's that for a cheerful semester for you), but we've narrowed it down somewhat, in part to our two specialties (the colleague is a German historian).

This is all exciting to think about, but now we're getting down to themes and readings for the course, which is always where a lot of good readings/ideas to pursue have to be jettisoned, given the constraints of the semester, how much one can ask students to read, etc.

We came at the course with a paradox and question. An observer looking at the U.S. South in the 1890s and Jews in Germany during this period might well have predicted that, if a genocide (I know the word would not have been invented yet -- just play with me here) were to come, it would surely be in the U.S. Lynching was a gruesome practice to a larger pogrom, of course, while in Germany laws liberalizing social strictures on Jews gave reasonable hope that German Jews would eventually be incorporated into German society in a way that must have appeared impossible for African Americans. In short, things were getting worse for blacks in the U.S. and better for Jews in Germany.

Fast forward 50 years -- what happened? That's a central question of the course.

One part of that question might involve religion -- obviously the case with German Jews, but clearly the case for black and whites in the U.S. as well. What might make a good reading exploring the influence of religion in the U.S. on the move from the proto-genocide of the lynching era (with all the religious imagery that went into lynching as a sacrificial act, as Donald Mathews has argued) to the stirrings of civil rights in the 1930s/1940s? Or what might be some good ways to frame the discussion for students? Just asking.

Rebirth of a Metaphor


Paul Harvey

In a recent issue of The Nation, Richard White reviews Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation, a new synthesis of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era that aims to be for this generation what Robert Wiebe's The Search for Order was for a previous one -- a synthetic text with a guiding metaphor. Lears's image is a religious one: spiritual regeneration. White writes:

Lears wants to swap metaphors: to replace a "search for order" with a "rebirth of a nation" (itself an inversion of the title of D.W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation). The consequence of Lears's shift of emphasis is clear in his book's opening sentence: "All history is the history of longing." The longing in question--a desire for spiritual, moral and physical regeneration--is deeply Protestant, and it is rooted not only in Protestant patterns of conversion but also in the country's secular saga of self-invention and transformation.

It takes great skill and talent to pull off this kind of sweeping cultural interpretation, and in large part Lears succeeds, but he makes two assumptions that are certain to be challenged. The first is that to understand how the United States changed between 1876 and 1920, it is largely the lives and longings of Protestants that are worth studying. Except as historical extras, there are fewer Catholics and Jews in these pages than at a camp meeting. Not only that but the cast of Protestants is a familiar one, including John Hay, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Theodore Roosevelt, Jane Addams, Ida Wells, Henry Grady (the father of the New South), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Woodrow Wilson, William James and Henry Adams. Lears makes a good case for concentrating on Protestants--a Protestant consensus, he notes, "dominated American politics from the Revolutionary Era into the twentieth century"--but his second assumption is more fundamental and probably more precarious. For Lears, rebirth and regeneration end up being more than metaphors. They are pervasive ways of thinking--habits of mind that shaped the public world of factories, banks, warehouses, battlefields and shop windows. Longing, not capital or political power, is in the saddle, and rides mankind. . . . . .
Regeneration was not exclusively racist, and cataloging its various forms is crucial to Lears's larger project. Everywhere he looks, Lears finds the language of regeneration: in patent medicine advertisements whose testimonials resembled Protestant devotional literature; in the literature of consumption--magazines, advertisements, product descriptions--that promised rejuvenation through the purchase and use of mass-produced goods; in the cult of the self-made man, which intertwined mastery of money and mastery of self. For Lears the search for rebirth and salvation was a constantly evolving phenomenon, yet each new form always seems to replicate the same internal dichotomy, like a new species always replicating a male and female form.

The Protestant center of American history makes a big comeback in this text, as well, a function of a focus on the "longings" of cultural elites and middle-class Americans in the era. American religious historians have been putting that center in the grave for a long time, but in these kinds of synthetic history it rises again.

Young Scholars Program, 2010-2012: Call for Applications


Paul Harvey

I'm just back from Indianapolis and the end of my tenure as one of the leaders of a Young Scholars in American Religion group, which went on from 2007-2009. I was privileged to work with Amanda Porterfield of Florida State, the senior mentor for this round. My group included blog compatriots Randall Stephens, Ed Blum, Matt Sutton, and Kathryn Lofton. The group also featured scholars whose work has been featured here in recent days, including Tisa Wenger (Yale) and Kate Carte Engel (Texas A & M). Additionally, we were fortunate to have four other amazing scholars: Darren Dochuk (Purdue), Spencer Fluhman (BYU), Rebecca Goetz (Rice), and Charles Irons (Elon College).

I'll have more to say about these two years later on the blog; suffice for now to say it was the best professional experience of my academic career, and a deeply affecting personal one as well.

The next group of Young Scholars will begin meeting next year, and the call for applications is up; I'll repost it here for those interested. I know many readers of this blog have applied before; I hope you'll re-apply. Some of the folks in my group were three-time applicants.

Young Scholars in American Religion 2010-2012: Call for Applications

The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture announces a program for early career scholars in American Religion. Beginning in October 2010, a series of seminars devoted to the enhancement of teaching and research for younger scholars in American Religion will be offered in Indianapolis. The aims of all sessions of the program are to develop ideas and methods of instruction in a supportive workshop environment, stimulate scholarly research and writing, and create a community of scholars that will continue into the future.


Session I: October 14-17, 2010
Session II: April 28-May 1, 2011
Session III: October 13-16, 2011
Session IV: April 26-29, 2012
Session V: October 11-14, 2012

Seminar Leaders:

Ann B. Braude is Director of the Women's Studies in Religion Program and Senior Lecturer in American Religious HIstory at Harvard Divinity School. In addition to directing the WSRP, she teaches courses on the religious history of American women. Her first book, Radical Spirits: Spritualism and Women's rights in 19th-Century America, is now in its second edition, and she is the author of Women and Religion in America, the first history of the religion of American women for a general audience. She has published many articles on women in Judaism, Christian Science, and American religious life, and served as co-editor of Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women. Dr. Braude's most recent book is Saints and Sisters: Women and Religion in America.

Mark Valeri is the Ernest Trice Thompson Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education. His areas of specialization include eighteenth-century American religion, religion and social thought in America, Puritanism, and Reformation theology and the social history of Calvinism. Dr. Valeri's works include Practicing Protestants: Histories of Christian Life in America, 1630-1965 (with Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp and Leigh E. Schmidt); Law and Providence in Joseph Bellamy's New England: The Origins of the New Divinity in Revolutionary America (Mackemie Prize, Presbyterian Historical Society, 1995); Global Neighbors: Christian Faith and Moral Obligation in Today's Economy (with Douglas A. Hicks); and, most recently, Heavenly Merchandise: How Religion Shaped Commerce in Puritan America.


Scholars eligible to apply are those who have launched their careers within the last seven years and who are working in a subfield of the area of religion in North America, broadly understood. Ten scholars will be selected, with the understanding that they will commit to the program for all dates. Each participant will be expected to produce a course syllabus, with justification of teaching approach, and a publishable research article. All costs for transportation, lodging, and meals for the seminars will be covered, and there is no application fee.

To Apply:

Applicants must submit a curriculum vitae with three letters of reference directly supporting their application to the program (do not send portfolios of generic reference letters) as well as a 500-word essay indicating 1) why they are interested in participating, and 2) their current and projected research and teaching interests. The deadline for applications is 15 February 2010. Essays, CVs, and letters of reference should be sent to:

Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, IUPUI
Cavanaugh Hall 417
425 University Blvd.
Indianapolis, IN 46202-5140

Study Grants at Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives


Lynn E. May, Jr., Study Grants
Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives

The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives sponsors a program whereby funds are made available for partial support of research in the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives. The grants provide a maximum of $750 per award. Annually, over $5000 in grants are awarded to researchers. The grants are in memory of Lynn E. May, Jr., who served as Executive Director of the Historical Commission from 1971 to 1995 and who was instrumental in the establishment of the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives. The deadline for grants for this year is April 1, 2010. Applicants will be notified before the end of April about the awards.

Research funds are available for support to those doing research in the field of Baptist history using the resources in the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives. Graduate students, college and seminary professors, historians, and other writers may apply. The grants are provided to assist in travel and research costs. Application information and forms are available at

The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives is a worldwide center for the study of Baptist history. The SBHLA is one of the major denominational collections in the nation and serves by assignment of the Southern Baptist Convention as the central depository and archives of SBC records. The Library and Archives is located on the fourth floor of the Southern Baptist Convention Building at 901 Commerce Street in Nashville, Tennessee. The library is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and other hours by special appointment.

Its resources include:

  • more than 40,000 books and pamphlets
  • 120,000 annuals of Baptist associations and conventions,
  • comprehensive files of Baptist newspapers, audio/video recordings, photographs, pamphlets, and 8000 linear feet of archival records and manuscripts,
  • approximately 18,000 reels of microfilm of Baptist historical materials,
  • significant collections relating to British Baptists and Baptists and evangelicals in Russia and Eastern Europe.
  • Additional information with access to the online catalog can be found at


The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives is available to all researchers. Some collections have access restrictions; therefore, it is good to contact our staff before your visit so your research needs can be met. Some findings aids are available for viewing or downloading from the archives guide or by searching the online catalog.

The research center contains photocopy machines, microfilm readers and reader/printers, a separate research room, microfilm scanner, an audio-visual listening and viewing room and three public access computers.

Researchers may bring their own computers or cameras for use in the research room. A break room is available to researchers and provides free coffee and tea; vending machines supply soft drinks and snacks. Free parking on the ground level of the SBC building is available to researchers in the SBHLA.

For more information on the Lynn E. May Study Grants contact: Bill Sumners, Director, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, 901 Commerce St., Nashville, TN 37203. Telephone: 615-244-0344. Email:

FSU Graduate Student Symposium CFP

The Florida State University Department of Religion’s 9th Annual Graduate Student SymposiumThe Florida State University Department of Religion’s 9th Annual Graduate Student Symposium has partnered with the Society for Women’s Advancement in Philosophy’s 6th Annual Conference to present an interdisciplinary graduate student symposium to be held February 19-21, 2010 .

Graduate students are invited to submit proposals that engage this year’s theme:
Sects and Sexuality: Issues of Division and Diversity

Because we feel that constructive collaborative efforts are important to the advancement of the academic community as a whole, we encourage submissions from graduate students in all fields and levels with interdisciplinary interest in the study of Religion and Philosophy. We also welcome a variety of methods and approaches, particularly in regards to

(1) Religion, Ethics, and Philosophy;
(2) American Religious History;
(3) Religions of Western Antiquity;
(4) History and Ethnography of Religions (specializing in Asian, African, Mediterranean, and Western European Religions); and
(5) Philosophy dealing with Race, Class, Sexuality, and Gender.

This is an Open Call for papers. Possible topics may include, but are not limited, to: Celibacy and Asceticism, Issues of Inclusion and Exclusion, Notions of the Forbidden, Sectarian Conflicts, and Community Identities.

Presentations should be 15-20 minutes in length and will receive faculty responses at the conclusion of each panel. The Leo F. Sandon Award will be given for the best paper of the symposium.

Proposal submissions are due December 1, 2009, and should consist of an abstract (up to 800 words) including a list of key terms for review and a CV. Final papers must be submitted by January 15, 2010.

Proposals should be emailed to Brooke Sherrard,

Please refer to the FSU Department of Religion website for more information.

American Saint

Paul Harvey

The boomlet in religious biography continues -- Joseph Smith, Aimee McPherson, George Whitefield, Dorothy Day, Walter Rauschenbusch, Henry Ward Beecher, W. E. B. DuBois, Catherine Tekakwitha, Richard Allen, Billy Graham -- all have received recent excellent scholarly biographical treatment from leading historians in the field.

Add to that list Francis Asbury, founder of Methodism in America, and the subject of John Wigger's new biography American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (Oxford, 2009). Down the road a bit we'll have a couple of folks put up their reflections on this text on the blog, but for now, just wanted to let everyone know of the book and also a session on the book at the upcoming AAR meeting in Montreal. Here's information on the session, for those interested:

Wesleyan Studies Group

Theme: Discussion of John H. Wigger, American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Tuesday - 9:00 am-11:30 am (Nov. 10)

Douglas M. Strong, Seattle Pacific University, Presiding

Theme: Discussion of John H. Wigger, American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (Oxford University Press, 2009)

Francis Asbury is one of the most important religious leaders in American history. He was largely responsible for creating the American Methodist church, the largest church in nineteenth century America and the foundation of much of the Holiness and Pentecostal movements. This session features a panel discussion of John Wigger's new biography of Asbury, American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists (Oxford University Press, 2009). Wigger's work considers previously unexamined and underappreciated aspects of Asbury's personality and style of leadership, showing how and why his tireless activity led to the church’s expansion into every state and territory. Growth brought financial prosperity and social respectability, ultimately undermining the church’s culture of discipline, which in the end seemed a bitter irony to Asbury. Under his leadership, Methodism exerted a powerful influence on American culture, but was itself transformed in the process, a pattern repeated again and again in American religious history.


Russell E. Richey, Emory University
Ian B. Straker, Howard University
Jane Donovan, West Virginia University
Richard P. Heitzenrater, Duke University

John Wigger, University of Missouri

Latter Day Taint

Paul Harvey

Earlier we posted a bit on Glenn Beck's connection to W. Cleon Skousen and the Mormon version of the paranoid style in American politics. Just a bit more to follow up here -- Chris Jones of Juvenile Instructor (whose summary post on all this is here), along with scholars such as Jan Shipps and Mike Quinn, are quoted in "Latter Day Taint," from the Boston Phoenix, which further explores these connections, as well as Beck's relationship to Ezra Taft Benson. A little excerpt:

. . . writing at the Mormon-history blog the Juvenile Instructor, Christopher Jones — a doctoral student in history at William & Mary — noted that Beck seemed to be plumbing the disturbing depths of Mormon millenarianism, and marveled at the press’s seeming disinterest.

Once the link between Beck’s faith and politics gets made, intriguing questions emerge. Without his unsettling brand of Mormonism, would Glenn Beck still be Glenn Beck? Should members of the LDS Church be cheering or lamenting Beck’s protracted moment in the spotlight?

Could Beck’s forays into stealth Mormon sermonizing make his conservative evangelical fans rethink their loyalty? And if Beck’s religiosity finally becomes a story, what might that mean for the lingering presidential hopes of 2012 Republican contender Mitt Romney?

And there's more still in Joanna Brooks (author of the great book American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African American and Native American Literatures), in her piece "How Mormonism Built Glenn Beck," from Religion Dispatches (a post that also contains some fascinating reflections on the socialization process in Mormon masculinity). The comments section of Joanna's piece is interesting too, to say the least -- anti-LDS paranoid polemics are alive and well it would appear.

This may be my last post on this subject. Since first bringing it up a while back, my fantasy football team has gone on a 4-game losing streak. Since I can't blame Canada, I'm going to blame Beck. You don't need a Weatherman to know which way to connect the dots.

In Guns We Trust


In Guns We Trust

by Jon Pahl

In a weird coincidence, I was teaching a class on The Bhagavad Gita and violence the day that Meleanie Hain, the Gita-reading, gun-toting soccer mom from Lebanon, PA was murdered by her husband in her kitchen. As Philadelphia Inquirer Monica Yant Kinney put it in her excellent column on the case: Hain "fancied herself a lioness protecting her cubs, with a baby on one hip and a holster on the other." Such a fantasy proved a tragic delusion. Her husband shot her, then turned the gun on himself. My conclusion: seeking security in weapons is a twisted version of "realism" that is in fact an American religious dogma: "In Guns We Trust."

The problem isn't gun owning. I come from a Wisconsin family of hunters. My grandfather owned a case full of rifles. But he didn't imagine that his guns would keep him safe. He used them to get food. The Second Amendment secures the right to bear arms because in the 18th century guns fed people. They were a necessary evil.

Similarly, guns can be necessary for a state to defend itself. That's the deeper reason for the Amendment. In the eighteenth-century, guns were required for a "well-regulated militia." They still are. But we're not talking about muskets anymore. American faith in weaponry is a perverse piety that masks a decadent fear of death.

The problem is bad religion; misplaced trust. Hain was a Hare Krishna, committed to a non-violent vegetarian diet. But apparently she had trouble reading the Gita in the context of the American civil religion.

As Drew Gilpin Faust and many others have suggested, American civil piety has often dealt with the trauma of death by trusting in various sanitizing discourses and practices, none of them more prevalent than "sacrifice." Hain apparently thought her trust in guns would keep her safe. The Gita, while counseling Arjuna to do his duty as a warrior and fight, if necessary, also suggests that trust in weaponry is ultimate illusory.

At least as Gandhi read it, the Gita is about renouncing the false security of faith in violence, and finding true security in love of God and neighbors--in weapons of the spirit. Hain was, by all accounts, a loving Mom. But her children had to endure the trauma of watching her faith in guns unravel as her husband shot her. They ran from the house screaming: "Daddy shot Mommy!" As Kinney concludes: "no civilized society should stomach" such a scenario

In the last chapter of the Gita, Krishna counsels Arjuna that in "the highest vision of light . . . selfishness and violence and pride are gone. . . . Beyond grief and desire one's soul is in peace. [One's] love is for all creation."(18:50, 53-54). Here's hoping that Hain's family--and especially her young children--can find some peace.

But such peace will be elusive as long as American civilization is warped with weapon-based religion. Some years ago, Ira Chernus pointed out, in Dr. Strangegod: On the Symbolic Significance of Nuclear Weapons, how trust in military might is a perverse piety held by many Americans. That macrocosmic piety gets mirrored in microcosms like the one in Hain's kitchen.

The problem is not intractable. In my own forthcoming work, Empire of Sacrifice: The Religious Origins of American Violence, I explore some of the contours of American faith in what I call "innocent domination" across constructions of age, race, and gender.

In my next work, I'll explore what I see as an emerging consensus across religious traditions, since Gandhi, that is beginning to disentangle faith from force in what I call a "coming religious peace."

Too often, even scholars identify violence only with the tip of the problem--with illegitimate physical force like a gunshot. But the roots of violence stem from religion--from misplaced trust that tries to build a mighty fortress against finitude by seeking to solve violence with violence.

Such "realism" is anything but realistic. Any conflict can only be solved over the long-term by a new instauration of trust. Fortunately, religious traditions specialize in fostering exactly this kind of social capital, in discourses and practices that build trust and promote more just, less violent, societies.

A good place to start in developing these resources around the globe would be with the source that Gandhi read daily, and that might have helped Meleanie Hain avoid her tragic fate: The Bhagavad Gita.

As the Gita puts its:

Freedom from fear, purity of heart, constancy in sacred learning and contemplation . . . non-violence, truth, freedom from anger, renunciation, serenity, aversion to fault-finding, sympathy for all beings . . . a good will, freedom from pride--these belong to [one] born for heaven.(16:1-3)

"In Guns We Trust" is a perverse American piety that offers the superficial solution of violence to the fears we all live with. Meleanie Hain's death at the hands of her prison-guard and gun-toting husband is a symptom of how misplaced trust in violence fractures families, just as it destroys civilizations. Perhaps this domestic tragedy can do what Columbine, Virginia Tech, and "the Global War on Terror" have been unable to do: surface for critical scrutiny a false American faith in weapons.

The Other Side of Evangelical Politics

Seth Dowland

This semester I’m supervising an independent study for James Lambert, a senior religion major at Duke. James is working on an article about progressive evangelicals and the debate over nuclear weapons in the early 1980s. Recently we read portions of dissertations by Brantley Gasaway (Ph.D., Religious Studies, UNC 2008) and David Swartz (Ph.D., History, Notre Dame 2008). Gasaway’s dissertation, “An Alternative Soul of Politics: The Rise of Contemporary Progressive Evangelicalism,” argues that progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis and Ron Sider privileged an emphasis on the common good and in so doing provided evangelicalism with an “alternative soul” of political engagement. Gasaway is currently revising the book manuscript for publication. Swartz’s work, “Left Behind: The Evangelical Left and the Limits of Evangelical Politics, 1965-1988,” points to the fact that a discernible evangelical left emerged almost a decade before the Christian right and contends that its absolutist rhetoric and contentious tactics actually prefigured the religious right. Swartz is working on a manuscript under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press.

After reading these dissertations, James formulated the following questions for the two authors. We sent these to Gasaway, now assistant professor of religious studies at Bucknell University, and Swartz, now a postdoctoral fellow at Notre Dame. I thought it would be interesting for Religion & American History readers to see their responses.

1. I think there is a rhetorical difference between progressive and conservative evangelicals. Progressives talk more about the "common good" whereas conservatives talk more about individual rights. Does this characterization seem accurate, and if so, do you think this rhetoric makes it hard for progressive evangelicals to connect with an individual-focused American culture?

BG: Yes, your characterization seems accurate. In promoting their public theologies, progressive evangelicals have adopted the language of “the common good” as a way of emphasizing that people have not only individual rights but also collective responsibilities. “Because our communal nature demands attention to the common good,” Ron Sider has written, “individual rights, whether of freedom of speech or private property, cannot be absolute.” He has thus argued that we must “balance personal rights with the common good.” Likewise Jim Wallis has insisted that “individual rights are always seen in the context of promoting the spirit of community.” Indeed, progressive evangelicals’ promotion of justice as the highest ideal of public life stems from their attempts to balance individual rights and the common good. “Justice identifies what is essential for life together in community and specifies the rights and responsibilities of individuals and institutions,” Sider has declared.

Progressive evangelical leaders themselves have regularly acknowledged that their ideals and rhetoric of community clash with the individualistic ethos of American culture. And, while their difficulty in “connecting” is hard to measure, public agendas prioritizing individual rights surely appear more winsome to most Americans than those promoting communal responsibilities.

2. What has hindered progressive evangelicals politically? Where (and when) have they found political success?

DS: With the possible exception of some political influence on issues such as anti-nuclear proliferation in the 1980s and school vouchers in the 1990s—which Ron Sider and the Reformed-oriented Association for Public Justice endorsed—progressive evangelicals have enjoyed very little political success. The “consistent life” ethic, borrowed from Cardinal Joseph Bernadin and many American Catholics, held the most promise for resonance with a broader coalition. It linked nuclear proliferation, human rights, and abortion in a “seamless garment” of life. But by the time the evangelical left began to champion this approach, the Right had already co-opted pro-life rhetoric solely for abortion. The religious right, also politicizing in the 1970s, enjoyed more success with a growing cadre of televangelists than the evangelical left did with its more cerebral style. The religious right’s populist style, aided by a receptive Republican Party, rapidly evolved from an apolitical to an activist conservatism, a process catalyzed by the issue of abortion. By the time folks like Sider, Jim Wallis, and others got around to embracing a pro-life stance in the early 1980s, they had been left behind by the Right.

The political Left, suspicious of the new coalition’s conservative theology, remained unimpressed and indifferent toward the evangelical left. Progressives in the postwar era, despite precedents of links between conservative religion and progressive politics, failed to recognize the diversity in evangelical politics. Met with apathy and hostility, when they were recognized at all, the evangelical left was held at arms length from the progressive coalition, which refused to make a case for progressive politics in the combination of moral and religious terms that would have appealed to evangelicals. The liberal coalition in fact seemed to go to great lengths—by promoting a libertine sexuality and giving a very prominent voice to activist secularists—to alienate a potentially helpful segment of theological conservatives. By the early 1980s pro-life Catholics and Protestants such as Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, and Jesse Jackson were forced into endorsing Roe v. Wade. Others were forced out of the Democratic Party altogether. Progressive evangelicals were left politically homeless, fitting neither in the Democratic or Republican parties.

BG: While agreeing with David that progressive evangelicals have had little direct political success, I want to suggest that they have nevertheless had a significant influence upon the broader evangelical movement over the past four decades. They have consistently challenged all evangelicals to think about issues of injustice, inequality, and suffering. To be sure, conservative evangelicals continue to disagree with progressives about both political priorities and the means for creating a just society. But few evangelicals still dispute that they have a religious responsibility to address issues such as poverty, racism, and hunger. Evangelical organizations ranging from World Vision and Compassion International to countless local ministries and faith-based organizations work to address social needs. Mainstream leaders such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels have championed campaigns to address poverty and HIV/AIDS. In 2004, the National Association of Evangelicals issued a document that urged evangelicals to address a broad range of issues that transcend partisan politics: “We call all Christians to a renewed political engagement that aims to protect the vulnerable and poor, to guard the sanctity of human life, to further racial reconciliation and justice, to renew the family, to care for creation, and to promote justice, freedom, and peace for all.”

Nevertheless, several factors have hindered progressive evangelicals’ political success. As David outlines, their devotion to a “completely pro-life” and multi-issue agenda has placed them on the margins of partisan politics. But on a practical level, progressive evangelicals have failed to build prominent institutions, promote popular spokespersons, and develop perceptible media. As a result, they have struggled to compete with the more conspicuous representatives of the Christian Right. How many evangelicals knew that Jim Wallis and Sojourners were offering an alternative public theology to that Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority? How many encountered the political priorities of James Dobson while remaining oblivious to those of Ron Sider? One need only compare the organizations and publications of Sojourners or the even smaller Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) to those of Focus on the Family to see how progressive evangelicals have struggled to match the institutional development of evangelical conservatism. While I agree with David (in his answer to question 3) that “significant cleavages within the movement” played a role in “subvert[ing] the potency of a coherent alternative” to the Christian Right, I also think that there is a yet untold story behind the greater financial resources of Christian Right organizations. Some scholar needs to take Deep Throat’s advice and “follow the money.”

DS: In addition to money, the religious right's promotional techniques have been much more effective than the evangelical non-right. So many in the evangelical left have been academics making their case in a nuanced, cerebral style. This print culture, while vibrant and influential in its own corner of the evangelical ghetto, simply hasn't fared well in broader circles when pitted against the media-savvy televangelists and radio kings of the right.

3. What major differences do you see between Jim Wallis and Ron Sider (and other leaders of progressive evangelicalism)? Is it problematic to lump them into the same movement?

DS: That’s a great question. It’s very problematic to lump them together, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Jim Wallis, a veteran of Students for a Democratic Society, has felt more comfortable with the prophetic posture and radical language of the New Left. Sider has always embodied a more liberal, centrist political approach. He read American history critically but less negatively than evangelical New Leftists. Holding policy positions in the mainstream of Democratic politics, he nurtured an instinct of reform rather than revolution. Most importantly, Sider spoke the language of mainstream evangelicalism. That’s why Sider, in many ways, was an ideal leader for the emerging evangelical left in the early 1970s.

Things have changed since then. Back in 1976 he was a virulent critic of Jimmy Carter for being a liberal sell-out. Now he’s a centrist and good buddies with Carter, Obama, and the Democratic mainstream.

There’s a larger point here about diversity within the evangelical left. In addition to the progressive-radical dichotomy, there were several other significant cleavages within the movement. Rifts between men and women, black and white, Anabaptist and Calvinist—and countless permutations—subverted the potency of a coherent alternative to the coming religious right. By the late 1970s women were cordoned off in the Evangelical Women’s Caucus, African-Americans in the National Black Evangelical Association, Anabaptist progressives in Evangelicals for Social Action, Anabaptist radicals in Sojourners, and Calvinists in the Association for Public Justice. Identity politics, a powerful impulse in American society more broadly, profoundly damaged the progressive coalition. Evangelicals’ engagement of diverse politics—including New Left, progressive New Deal, and right-wing politics, all since the early 1970s—suggest the volatility of evangelical politics and its susceptibility to co-optation, sudden shifts, and identity politics.

BG: Here is one area where it appears that David and I disagree a bit. I find it less problematic to see Wallis and Sider as part of the same movement, especially in the late 1960s and 1970s. To be sure, David rightly notes their very different backgrounds and Wallis’s more strident criticism of the United States. Yet the two became the most visible leaders of the movement to forge and to promote an evangelical public engagement that prioritized peace and justice. For more than thirty-five years, Wallis and Sider have supported each other’s organization, efforts, and writings. While they have not always agreed on particulars, they have consistently sung from the same hymnal.

Yet Wallis and Sider have developed very different styles and strategies. Perhaps this is what David had in mind by emphasizing how Wallis embraced a “prophetic posture” and “radical language” while the more irenic Sider “spoke the language of mainstream evangelicalism.” Wallis has preferred to work from the margins of evangelicalism, denouncing the perceived failures of the Christian Right and the calling the wayward (indifferent?) back to “faithful” public engagement. As a result, Wallis and Sojourners found allies among Catholic social activists and mainline Christians who agreed with their political agendas if not necessarily their theology. The publications of Wallis and Sojourners tend to mute evangelical distinctives in favor of more ecumenical and politicized messages. In contrast, Sider has intentionally sought to work from within the evangelical movement and to shepherd participants to embrace social justice as a biblical imperative (he and other leaders have consciously retained the name Evangelicals for Social Action).

I agree that there has always been diversity within the progressive evangelical movement. In addition to the “rifts” noted by David, fissures especially occurred as Sojourners, ESA, and The Other Side (the earliest progressive evangelical magazine that folded in 2004) wrestled with how to respond to abortion and homosexuality. Sojourners and ESA both adopted a “completely pro-life” position, though they differed with respect to criminalizing abortion. Likewise, both differentiated homosexual orientation from same-sex behavior, concluding on biblical grounds that God did not condone the latter. (Sojourners retreated a bit on this stance without renouncing it in reaction to the outcry among their constituency.) The Other Side, however, declared abortion a matter of deep ambiguity and refused the pro-life and pro-choice label. In addition, they welcomed and affirmed gays and lesbian Christians. While the progressive evangelical movement readily united against issues of racism, sexism, economic injustice, and violence, it could not escape the divisiveness caused by the “culture wars” issues of abortion and homosexuality.

DS: Brantley caught me overstating their differences. Sider and Wallis both clearly viewed themselves as part of the same evangelical left. That said, they also nurtured different political sensibilities in the early 1970s--in fact different enough that they and other evangelical left leaders had trouble keeping their nascent movement together. Sider has always felt comfortable calling himself a progressive. Wallis, however, most certainly would not have in the 1970s, though now he engages the Democratic mainstream.

4. How do progressive evangelicals explain the Old Testament in light of their strong anti-war stance? Do they ignore it or say everything changed with Jesus?

Interestingly, antiwar evangelicals did not address this question often in the 1970s. Mostly because they were preoccupied with the specific case of Vietnam, which evangelicals of all stripes could denounce on just-war grounds.

Principled pacifists generally argued that Christians cannot kill because Jesus instituted a new ethic of love, which precludes killing someone. Theologian John Howard Yoder would have agreed that “everything changed with Jesus,” that the example of Jesus ought to be central to Christian social ethics. Typically though Anabaptist evangelicals argued in universal terms that could appeal beyond their hermeneutic style. Sider—and Reformed evangelicals such as Richard Mouw, Richard Wolterstorff, and Jim Skillen—also opposed Vietnam (and many, if not most, American wars) on the grounds that it violated just cause, proportionality, and last resort demands of classic Augustine theory. Mark Noll for instance has suggested that even the American Revolution is nearly impossible to justify.

5. What is your perception of the scholarly literature on the evangelical left? How does your work fit into existing scholarship? And are there facets of the movement that you'd like to see other scholars explore?

DS: In the 1970s several works noted the emergence of a politicized evangelicalism on the left and center. Richard Quebedeaux’s Young Evangelicals and Robert Fowler’s New Engagement, while helpful and suggestive, mostly gossiped and blandly catalogued its parts.

For good reasons, scholarship coming out of the New Left or liberal academia has utterly ignored their evangelical “allies.” There weren’t enough evangelical progressives for them to notice. In addition, the chronology was disordered. Evangelicals on the left—from groups like Sojourners and the Christian World Liberation Front—didn’t really emerge until the late 1960s and early 1970s. And then they were bitingly critical of the contemporaneous New Left. They objected to its new openness to violence. They thought that SDS had abandoned participatory democracy in favor of the enforcement of an ideological conformity not unlike the “fascist right.” In short, there was some chagrin on the part of radical evangelicals, a wistfulness that they couldn’t join the earlier New Left represented by the 1962 Port Huron Statement. Just as some evangelicals began to adopt New Left critiques of “the man,” the New Left had abandoned its ideals of nonviolence and participatory democracy, both ideals that the evangelical left was unwilling to discard.

Brantley Gasaway’s forthcoming book (which you’ve read, I hear) about evangelical progressives and the “common good” should do a lot to fill the historiographic void.

BG: In addition to the works mentioned by David, Jason Bivins devoted a chapter to Sojourners in The Fracture of Good Order (2003) to demonstrate how progressive evangelicals—like the Christian Right— rejected the assumptions of classic political liberalism that religion must remain in the private sphere.

I hope that my and David’s complementary projects provide good starting points for future work on progressive evangelicals. While David’s work assesses the place of the evangelical left within the broader evangelical movement and the questions it raises about evangelical identity, I attempt to analyze the ways in which progressive evangelicals have translated their public theology into political agendas over the past four decades. Yet our focus on prominent leaders leaves unexplored questions about how “ordinary evangelicals” (in the language of Christian Smith in Christian America?) responded to and participated in the movement.

Rebels with a Cross – New Book: Eileen Luhr’s Witnessing Suburbia

Darren Grem

Coming back from a long, dissertation-induced hiatus, I thought I’d push a book I read over the summer, Eileen Luhr's Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture. From the publisher:

Witnessing Suburbia is a lively cultural analysis of the conservative shift in national politics that transformed the United States during the Reagan-Bush era. Eileen Luhr focuses on two fundamental aspects of this shift: the suburbanization of evangelicalism and the rise of Christian popular culture, especially popular music. Taking us from the Jesus Freaks of the late 1960s to Christian heavy metal music to Christian rock festivals and beyond, she shows how evangelicals succeeded in "witnessing" to America's suburbs in a consumer idiom. Luhr argues that the emergence of a politicized evangelical youth culture in fact ranks as one of the major achievements of "third wave" conservatism in the late twentieth century.

This is ground covered before by Colleen McDannell and Heather Hendershot. Yet, Luhr brings something new to the table, linking suburbanization, consumer culture, sexuality, post-modernism, youth culture, and evangelical politics. Luhr creatively reads her evidence, ranging from fan magazines to album covers to a Christian youth concert she attended in Orange County, California. Her take on Christian heavy metal—and how it fit into the sexual politics of the 1980s—is particularly provocative and a wonderful selection for courses in American religion and popular culture. (The picture of Robert Sweet, the drummer for Stryper, posing on the cover of Kerrang! magazine, proudly sporting chest hair and a NIV Bible, is worth the sticker price alone.)

As a whole, however, the book suffers a bit from repeating its points throughout the four main chapters and from not dealing with matters of religious consumption. Luhr offers little insight into how or why certain resources—from Christian punk fanzines to radio programming—were bought and used by suburbanites or how these products added to the religious identity of suburban youth. A point hinted at throughout, namely that race had a lot to do with the construction of suburbia and something to do with suburban forms of religious understanding, also should have been fleshed out more. It’s interesting to think of, say, CCM as a hyper-white brand of rock, ready for consumption by white suburbanites. Still, this is a solid addition to the growing body of literature on conservative politics and, more importantly, points us toward thinking of conservatism as both cultural practice and political impulse.

If only the Conservative Bible Project was out when she wrote the book…

"When the Word of God Says One Thing . . .": A Dispatch from the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Conference

Randall Stephens

Evangelicals, wrote Mark Noll in his 1994 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, had not distinguished themselves as thinkers. With souls to save, revival tents to pitch, and casseroles to bake there was little time for philosophizing or pondering the wonders of the world.

Critics took aim at god-fearing anti-intellectualism. In typical fashion an H. L. Mencken understudy threw all dunderheaded fundamentalists onto the trash heap of history: "The neurotic, God-ecstatic, sex repressed, epileptic soul of the Puritan has always found its vent hole in the camp-meeting."

Mencken’s crew specialized in hyperbole, but they were, sorta, onto something. Revivalism’s chief apostles won over eager audiences by thrashing godless Teuton professors and consigning over-civilized eggheads to lakes of fire.

Here’s Billy Sunday—spitting preacher and God’s teetotally awesome acrobat—on the life of the mind:

"Religion needs a baptism of horse sense."

"What do I care if some little dibbly-dibbly preacher goes tibbly-tibbling around because I use plain Anglo-Saxon words? Jesus was no dough-faced, lick-spittle proposition. Jesus was the greatest scrapper that ever lived."

"If by evolution you mean advance, I go with you, but if you mean by evolution that I came from a monkey, good night!"

"When the word of God says one thing and scholarship says another, scholarship can go to hell."

It’s a short distance from Sunday’s saw-dust-trail aphorisms to Bill Gaither’s soft Victorian fideism of the 1970s.

Over 40 years ago historian Richard Hofstadter argued that Sunday (that was his real name) embodied much of what was dangerous, preposterous, and anti-intellectual about conservative Christianity. Noll’s 1994 book took some cues from Hofstadter, but Noll was far more subtle in his analysis of that mindlessness. “The evangelical ethos is activist, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian,” Noll wrote. “It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.”

Last week’s conference at Gordon College—The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 15 Years Later—reconsidered some of the intellectual/anti-intellectual aspects of the movement. Presenters looked at where evangelicalism has been, where it is now and discussed what we might expect of evangelical intellectual life in years to come.

The conference was a great success, due in large part to the participants and attendees as well as generous support from Eastern Nazarene College, Gordon College, and the Lilly Endowment. And, it was fun to boot. (Just my kind of religious-history-nerd fun, that is.)

Marua Jane Farrelly conducted a public interview with Noll for our first session on Thursday night. A crowd of roughly 350-375 attended. Farrelly asked a number of pointed questions on Noll’s career as a historian and the intersection of faith and scholarship. Among other things, Noll commented on why he wrote the book and how it was received by a number of different communities: American and Canadian evangelicals, colleagues-at-the-time at Wheaton, and the academy overall.

The sessions on Friday were equally productive and provocative. I won’t say much about the roundtable that Karl Giberson and I did on conservative evangelical expertise on Friday morning. That might appear out of place, if not boastful, vain, and jerk-like. But, I will say that the comments of Jon Roberts and Jim Wallace were very insightful and helped us to rethink how we might conceptualize “expertise,” “authority,” and the nature of influence. After that, Noll delivered a thoughtful convocation in the Gordon chapel. He urged students, faculty, and others in attendance to embrace an intellectual calling.

In the afternoon David Hempton and Peggy Bedroth considered “Evangelicals and the Life of the Mind.” Hempton engaged a series of fascinating questions about evangelical “minds and mentalités”: “Why is it that American evangelicals are so resistant to scientific knowledge emanating from elite centers of learning? Why do many liberals and progressives have something approaching contempt for the evangelical mind, but a great deal of residual admiration for evangelical social praxis? . . . . What impact has the evangelical mind, or evangelical minds, on important public debates about the intellectual validity and social functions of religion raised by militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens?” Bendroth followed with her paper, “Women, Anti-Intellectualism, and Evangelical Identity.” I was intrigued by her discussion of the scope and limits of interpretation. She focused in on historiography, and the “various ways that scholars have conceptualized the relationship between women and evangelical religion over the past several decades. From some fairly humble beginnings in the late 1970s, when nobody seemed to want to talk about women and conservative religion, the conversation has become more and more theoretically sophisticated.”

The final afternoon session convened before Noll gave some concluding remarks. This last panel on “Evangelicals, Politics, and Global Engagement” mapped out the surprising political and intellectual activity of contemporary evangelicals. Dennis Hoover and James C. Wallace explored recent demographic and cultural trends with attention to the big picture. Wallace took us through some of his extensive research with Tim Shah on the emerging evangelical intelligentsia. Hoover asked: “have American evangelicals moved from being activists to internationalists?” He concluded by noting, “when we circle back to consider again the basic thesis of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, we should be careful not to suggest that holding a position that happens to align with militant internationalism is necessarily the result of intellectual failure, while holding a position that happens to comport with liberal internationalism is necessarily the outworking of a rigorous intellect.”

It was a special treat for me to interview Noll on the subject of history before the conference got underway. His books and articles have influenced my own research a great deal. In the Youtube clip here (in two parts) I speak to Noll about his work as an American religious
historian and his view of the field as it has developed since the 1960s and 1970s. Notice that Noll gives mad props (my word, not his) to early-career scholars, like Heather Curtis, Ed Blum, Rachel Wheeler, Charles Irons, and Wallace Best.

For the future . . . I hope to host other speakers at Eastern Nazarene College who will look at how evangelicals have engaged the world of ideas in other fields. From the papers that came out of the Gordon-ENC conference—and others to follow—I ‘d like to put together an edited volume. That’s down the road apiece. In the meantime, I have revival tents to pitch and tuna-noodle casseroles to bake.

Spiritual Machines


Paul Harvey

Immanent Frame has just put up an excellent interview with John Modern, author of an article we've blogged about here briefly before, "Evangelical Secularism and the Measure of Leviathan,"Church History, December 2008, and also author of Haunted Modernity: The Metaphysics of Secularism, forthcoming from University of Chicago Press. The interview provides a quick user-friendly guide to some of his basic ideas and approaches. A brief excerpt:

JLM: I see the threatening nature of my work sometimes in my students. I’m sure many religious studies professors will say that. We are historicizing religion and that can pose a challenge to students about the newness or integrity of their own piety. But more often, I’m attempting to threaten existing scholarship in American religion about the ways we tell the grand narrative of the past two or three centuries. Evangelicalism, liberal Protestantism, Catholicism, and so forth, are often seen as threads of a larger picture, but threads that are nevertheless distinct. What I’m really interested in doing is asking whether they have more in common with one another than not.
newer post older post