Book Culture and the Rise of LIberal Religion


Paul Harvey

Not too long ago, we ran a two-part interview with Matthew Hedstrom, whose book The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century was recently published by Oxford

Aside from the interview, here's a great way to get a bite-sized taste of Matt's work: "Book Culture and the Rise of Liberal Religion," published yesterday at Religion and Politics. A little excerpt:

The pluralist turn of American religious print culture by the 1940s further enhanced the importance of these alternative spiritualities. This story, then, is an ironic tale of initial resistance yet ultimate complicity in the transformation of American religious culture from Protestant dominance, in spite of sizable and significant minority traditions, to a much more open, democratic, even chaotic spiritual environment. The psychologically and mystically rooted cosmopolitanism that came to characterize much of American religion and spirituality after World War II first emerged as a popular reality from the liberal Protestantism and book-buying consumerism of the interwar years—but ultimately took on a life all its own.

The whole piece is a great introduction to his book; highly recommended. 

The Strange Theosophical Connection to the U.S. Civil Rights Movement

John L. Crow

Last week most of the nation celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. It was also the day of President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, and for many, an opportunity for community service. In reflecting on the historical events that led to this day, King’s involvement in the civil rights struggle, and the changes it brought forth, I also began thinking about the strange connection Theosophy had in helping the cause of civil rights, both in the United States and in India. Now it may strike one as odd to assert Theosophy has a connection with civil rights, but in fact, the Theosophical Society had an important role in setting civil rights in motion in India, and the American civil rights movement through the person of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi .

Gandhi grew up relatively secular. It was while attending college in England that he encountered two Theosophists who asked him if he had read the Bhagavad Gita. Sheepishly, he replied no. They invited him to read a copy, as it held a central place within Theosophy. Gandhi did begin to read the Gita, and he attended Theosophical classes. In a biographical essay about Gandhi in The New Yorker, Indian writer, Ved Mehta, relates, “It was actually thanks to his Theosophist friends that Gandhi started learning about his own religion, by reading the Bhagavad Gita, which he was ashamed of never having read, either in the original Sanskrit or in a Gujarati translation, and which he now tackled eagerly in Sir Edwin Arnold’s popular English translation. In time the Bhagavad Gita became the most important book in his life.” At one point Gandhi met with Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant and they discussed Theosophical doctrine and Hinduism. Gandhi also read Theosophical literature such as The Key to Theosophy, and maintained a constant contact with the Theosophical Society and Besant while in South Africa. Thus it was through Theosophy that Gandhi discovered Hinduism, and in particular, the Gita, a text he found so central to his life.

Watching Joel Osteen

Paul Harvey

And hey, while we're on the subject of smooth-talking prosperity gospelers (see the post on Creflo Dollar below) make sure to check out Arlene Michele Sanchez-Walsh's latest at Patheos, "Watching Joel Osteen." A little excerpt:

Why do people like Joel? Why do Latinos/as really seem to like him? What is it about him?  Let me take a guess–Joel offers a “soft” prosperity wrapped in the genteel therapeutic remnants his father’s zealous Pentecostalism. . . .  He genuinely seems happy, content, and sees his mission as preaching a beatific vision of joy—but not simply an ethereal vision–but a temporal vision where you win–all the time. For people whose collective historical experiences in the evangelical/Pentecostal church has been marked largely by division, de facto segregation, and disempowerment–Joel seems like a guy who’d never think of uttering a negative or hurtful word–and by extension–seems to offer the inclusive warm hospitable environment many African Americans and Latinos/as have been looking for for decades. . . . 

 I am looking at Joel as the “end of Pentecostalism” as we know it–he’s effectively burnished off the hard edges, he’s elevated it beyond its legalistic tendencies, and continued its unmooring from its emphasis on a hierarchy of spiritual gifts–Joel is the perfect 21st century bookend to Pentecostalism’s century as a global phenomenon. So, Mark Driscoll, and a host of other evangelicals don’t like him–I am willing to say that such negativity doesn’t wipe the smile off Joel’s face–and neither does it seem to deter the millions of people who find spiritual solace at Lakewood.

My Search for Creflo Dollar

Paul Harvey

Thanks to Ralph Luker for pointing me towards this remarkable piece, "My Search for Creflo Dollar," by Emily Raboteau, whose father Albert Raboteau will need no introduction for the audience of this blog. A little excerpt below, which points to Emily's book Searching for Zion: The Search for Home in the African Diaspora, now definitely on my to-read list:

By shilling money as the thing that mattered most, men like Creflo Dollar, I complained to Victor, were cheapening our rich history of liberation theology, messing with the prophetic kind of faith that drove the Civil Rights Movement, our nation’s proudest moment. My father taught a seminar on the religious history of that movement and these were themes he’d discussed with me for as long as I could remember. He’d grown up during that ennobling period. He was nearly the same age as Emmett Till would be if he hadn’t been bludgeoned to death and dumped in a Mississippi river at age fourteen for talking to a white woman. This was the backdrop against which my parents met at a Catholic university in Milwaukee in the 1960s. There my father helped organize a student movement that pushed for more minority faculty hires and student enrollment. Along with two roommates, he led a protest that shut down the university for two weeks.

My search for Creflo DollarPerhaps, like many children, I had a romance with the time of my parents’ youth. Their heroes were Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day, whose Catholic Worker offered a moral critique of the country’s drive for wealth and comfort. Wealth was a spiritual hazard that flew in the face of social justice. And didn’t my hero, Bob Marley, say more or less the same thing? A belly could be full yet hungry. A full stomach didn’t ensure a full heart or a full life.
But Victor only laughed. “What’s so funny?” I asked him.
“Darlin’, I love you. I do. But you have the most convoluted way of trying to know your father.”
“I’m not talking about my father,” I insisted. “I’m talking about the problem of Creflo Dollar.”
“Okay,” Victor humored me. “Why should black people be holier than anyone else just because we’ve suffered? Why shouldn’t we want the same comforts everybody wants, in the end? A mortgage, a car, a retirement plan?”

Seminar on Religion and US Empire


We're reposting this to alert everyone to this exciting opportunity - note the due date of February 1

Call for Participants: Seminar on Religion and US Empire (2013‐2015)

We invite applications to participate in a three‐year series of research seminars on the history of
religion and US empire from the formal inception of the US as a nation‐state to the present. The
central aim of this project is to establish a major scholarly assessment of the linkage between
religion and American empire. We plan to address the relative inattention of scholars of religion to
the powerful impact that the establishment of empire has made on religion in the US. 

Muscular Christianity 32.0

By Mark Edwards

For anyone looking for a new research project in religion and gender, or you just want to sample some techno-fied Muscular Christianity, here's a place to start.

(Conservative) Evangelicalism: Still Embattled, Still Thriving


by Brantley Gasaway

Evangelical defenders of God's truth are once again under assault in America's culture wars and are increasingly unwelcome in the public sphere--that is, if you believe the narrative coming from many conservative evangelical leaders in reaction to Louie Giglio's withdrawal from participating in President Obama's inauguration ceremony this past Monday.

Louie Giglio
Giglio, an Atlanta evangelical pastor best known for his leadership of the Passion conferences for college students and campaigns against human trafficking, had originally been chosen to give the benediction at the inauguration. Yet the liberal website Think Progress publicized a sermon that he gave in the 1990s in which he identified homosexuality as sinful and encouraged gays and lesbians to seek "the healing power of Jesus." The Presidential Inauguration Committee faced criticism for inviting Giglio, especially since evangelical leader Rick Warren had refused to step down from serving in the same role four years ago after facing similar criticism from gay rights activists. On January 10, Giglio issued a statement in which he "respectfully" withdrew since "my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration." (Read Christianity Today's account here.)

Hiking in the Garden of Eden

By Emily Suzanne Clark

Garden of Eden sign; photo from
Florida State Archives,
As a historian of religion in America, I'm familiar with Missouri's Garden of Eden. According to Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, the garden was is the United States. And he's not the only one to have claimed that the biblical Garden of Eden resided within the borders of the continental US. In the 1950s, Elvy Edison Callaway (a lawyer who was raised Baptist) opened the Garden of Eden Park near Bristol, Florida in the panhandle. After paying $1.10, visitors could walk through what Callaway said was the biblical Garden of Eden. The park is now a free hiking trail maintained by The Nature Conservancy. And it's fairly easy to get to - simply take I-10 in the Florida panhandle and exit about 25 miles west of Tallahassee; then take highway 12 into Bristol, Florida. You'll turn right on Garden of Eden Road, but look for the sign; it can be easy to miss. If only the 1950s sign was still there. (And yes, I totally hummed and maybe sang this while hiking up the ravine.)

Petrochemical [Religion in] America


Michael Pasquier

My children and I enjoy looking at picture books. They usually take us places we will never go and introduce us to people we will never meet. Petrochemical America is different. It’s a book of photographs and maps of our home in Louisiana. It’s also not a children’s book.

“Hey, I’ve been there! I’ve seen that!” My six-year-old daughter is pointing at a photograph of the ExxonMobil Refinery taken from the observation deck of Louisiana’s state capitol building.

“They have those round things by the zoo!” My four-year-old son is pointing at a photograph of a mobile home situated next to natural gas tanks in Norco, Louisiana.

“Look, Jesus!” My son is proud of himself. “And dead people.” My daughter adds. “And those things.” My children don’t know the word “refinery,” but they know it when they see it.

Petrochemical America is a book “about how oil and petrochemicals have transformed the physical form and social dynamics of the American landscape.” It focuses on “Cancer Alley,” the highly industrialized corridor of the Mississippi River that runs from Baton Rouge and New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s by a photographer—Richard Misrach—and a landscape architect—Kate Orff.

Petrochemical America isn’t required reading for scholars and students of religion in America. And it’s probably safe to say (though I could be wrong) that Misrach and Orff aren’t reading things like Darren Dochuk’s article “Blessed by Oil, Cursed with Crude: God and Black Gold in the American Southwest.” We like our disciplinary silos. We’re comfortable in them. We sometimes brag about our multidisciplinary methodologies, but we rarely stray from the safety of the humanities umbrella. 

**I'm not saying we should extend our methodologies beyond the humanities**

But what if we did? What happens when we do? We can take an example from two pages of Petrochemical America. They include two maps of Taft, Louisiana—one before and another after Union-Carbide bought and developed property near this River Road town. 

The caption reads: “This photo is of the former site of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. The church was built just after the Civil War in 1877, and in 1963, it moved to Hahnville. The town fabric was replaced with the industrial footprint of Union-Carbide (later bought by Dow Chemical). While everyday neighborhoods like Taft have been largely obliterated, corporations often donate funds to preserve stately plantation homes. Literally and figuratively, they elevate one history and sublimate another.”

For those of us who study religion, we want more. We need more. We know there's more.

Orff concludes Petrochemical America with the observation that “the collective places that once defined regional identities have been leveled, leveed, denuded, and replanted.” She’s right. But there’s more. This is where the humanities can come in. This is where the poetics and politics of photographs and maps can join the stories and artifacts of flesh-and-blood people barely present in archives and rarely within reach of university campuses.

Or we can just rest with the book. It’s a damn good book.

CFP: North American Hinduism Group: AAR 2013


Since I've taken on the role of co-chair of the North American Hinduism Group this year I'm using the blog to promote our little program unit. Pardon the self-promotion. --MJA
The North American Hinduism Group seeks proposals on the topics listed below for the 2013 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Please contact the listed organizers if you wish to contribute to the following themes:

2013 Lilly Fellows Program Book Award

The 2013 Lilly Fellows Program Book Award

The biennial Lilly Fellows Program Book Award honors an original and imaginative work from any academic discipline that best exemplifies the central ideas and principles animating the Lilly Fellows Program.  These include faith and learning in the Christian intellectual tradition, the vocation of teaching and scholarship, and the history, theory or practice of the university as the site of religious inquiry and culture.
Works considered for this year's award addressed the historical or contemporary relation of Christian intellectual life and scholarship to the practice of teaching as a Christian vocation or to the past, present, and future of higher education.  Authors and editors cannot nominate their own works.  Single authored books or edited collections in any discipline published in 2009 to 2012 are eligible.
Single authored books or edited collections in any discipline, published in 2009 to 2012, are
A Prize of $3000 was awarded at the Lilly Fellows Program National Conference at theUniversity of Scranton, October 17-20, 2013.    
The committee will receive nominations of academic faculty, clergy, and others. Authors or
editors cannot nominate their own works.
The deadline for nominations is March 1, 2013.
To download a copy of the 2013 LFP Book Award announcement, click here.  To see past winners, click here.
For further information, please contact the Lilly Fellows Program. For more information on the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts, click here..

How Mormons and Evangelicals Became Republicans

Paul Harvey

Mark Silk of the Greenberg Center of Religion and Politics (whose blog is here) sent me this link to his provocative piece, an extended version of a talk at the Sunstone Symposium last year, and part of a project he's considering for a short book-length work in the future. He considers the revival of restorationism in contemporary evangelical life, its influence with Mormonism, and its impact on the evangelical and Mormon place within contemporary conservative politics. A little excerpt here, and Silk is interested in reactions and other ideas.

Why have evangelicals and Mormons become the GOP’s most devout supporters?

With respect to the evangelicals, the usual answer is that the embrace of civil rights by the national Democratic Party after World War II drove white Southerners—who constitute a large portion of the evangelical vote—into the GOP. But while Southern evangelicals did come to feel alienated from national Democratic tickets, it was not until 1980 that they began to turn to the GOP at the state and local level, and by that time overt race-based politics had become a thing of the past.

As for the Mormons, the answer is that they are simply conservative folks who would naturally flock to the Republican banner. But that begs the question. Through the 1970s, the Democratic banner was planted well to the left of where it is now, yet many Mormons retained their allegiance to the party of Bryan and FDR.

For a sufficient explanation, it is necessary to recognize the importance of the idea of restoration in contemporary conservatism.

During the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party became committed to taking America back to an imagined past of traditional moral, economic, and political values. How this happened and why it proved so appealing to evangelicals and Mormons cannot be understood apart from the restorationism embedded in both religious communities.

In the broad sweep of Christian history, there have been various times when reformers sought to reanimate the faith by fostering a return to the days of the Apostles or of the Early Church. The Protestant Reformation, especially, was committed to such a vision, doing away with what were considered unwarranted Catholic accretions to the faith.

King at Riverside

David W. Stowe
King at Riverside Church, April 1967

In place of holiday cards, a friend of mine who teaches at CUNY sends out original cards on Martin Luther King Day. To get one you need to complete her survey:

Yes, I make you fill this out every year, even if you haven't moved. It's part of the fun. Please submit your address to make sure you get your 2013 MLK day card. Then go sign up to volunteer somewhere...  Oh, and let me know how you're doing. I miss you!

What are you doing for MLK Day? *
  •   Volunteering
  •   Waiting by the mailbox for my card
  •   Reading a lesser known MLK speech
  •   Watching an MLK speech on Youtube
  •   Thanking a teacher, community activist, friend, etc. for their work for social justice
  •   Thinking about what I can do to participate in creating a more just society everyday!
  •   Participating in some anti-gun violence initiative
  •   Attending a community event
  •   Other:   
King answers questions after his Riverside speech
Not a bad menu of choices for readers of RiAH. Listen in on one of the twentieth century's great jeremiads, delivered from that citadel of the liberal mainline, Riverside Church, exactly one year before King's asassination:

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I'm in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together:Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." And that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam....

We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage,    but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."

If King were still alive he'd be 84; what would he say to Barack Obama at today's inauguration?

Some New Lights for Old Souls

by Edward J. Blum

It will forever be the panel that got away. It had everything: water, schoolbooks, gangs of New York (oops, I mean landscapes of New York), and a shout out to Belinda Carlisle. I was so upset that I missed this panel that I tried to meet with each presenter so I could hear about their projects. What I encountered, I think, is a group of PhD students who are and will transform studies of religion in the nineteenth century. I interviewed two of them: Dana Logan of Indiana University and Caleb Maskell of Princeton to find out what they are up to and where they see their fields going.

Catholics in the American Century


by Karen Johnson. 

What if historians of American history placed Catholics, their world, and their institutional Church at the center of their histories?  Or if not at the center, at least in a place well inside the margins?  How would that change our narratives?  After all, about one fourth of Americans are Catholic.  Shouldn't we account for their role in American history?

Fortunately, these questions are exactly what the essays in Catholics in the American Century: Recasting Narratives ofU.S. History, co-edited by Scott Appleby and our own Kathy Cummings, seek to explore.  They expand on a "historiographical heresy" Jon Butler proposed in 1991: to think about American religious history from a Catholic, not a Protestant perspective.  These scholars take this heresy into American history, not just American religious history.Six scholars play with the question using subjects from the 1960s to the history of sex and gender to Latino immigration.  Five of these scholars admit that they have not, in their past books, seriously engaged with Catholicism.  (Confession, as Appleby points out in the conclusion, is good for the soul.)  

Robert Orsi (who clearly had no need to confess he had ignored Catholics in the past) interrogates how distinctive Catholics are from other Americans.  He argues that to understand U.S. Catholic history, we have to realize that Catholics have lived at an angle askew to American history.  But if we take seriously this "askewness," as he calls it, we can begin to ask new questions that challenge our old narratives such as, “How have Catholic saints been agents of U.S. history?”

Manti Te'o and the Imaginary Mormon Girlfriend

by John Turner

Struggling to explain how Manti Te'ocould have fallen for an elaborate hoax, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports offers this possibility:

It would take a remarkable level of naiveté to be sucked in by the perpetrators of this hoax, but Te'o could be that guy. At the risk of stereotyping, I'll offer this conjecture: Te'o is a Mormon, and there are a lot of LDS members who lack significant romantic experience when entering young adulthood. Courtship might have been a novel and/or highly idealized concept. Physical interaction might not have been at the top of his relationship wish list.

Most people seem shocked at the Te'ohoax story. I was not. I knew several young Latter-day Saint men during my years at Notre Dame. They all had imaginary women. One had an out-of-state girlfriend who suspiciously never visited campus. Another claimed to have a wife and kids (marriage at such a young age -- it did seem a bit strange). One classmate, who claimed to be a "true follower of Joseph Smith," told us that he had several wives and a passel of children. Something about doing the works of Abraham. At the time, we were reading books about the social construction of race, gender, and most everything else. With a certain amount of exposure to epistemological skepticism through rigorous courses in intellectual history, it was difficult for us to separate truth from fiction. The Calvinists among us, inclined toward common sense realism, told us that if one could see and touch a girlfriend or wife, we could presume that she existed. Most of us, however, were simply confused and fell for LDS whoppers hook, liner, and sinker.  When the truth came out, we couldn't believe we had been duped so easily.

Evangelicals at (Another) Political Crossroads?

By Heath Carter

Having enjoyed several days in the sun on this blog (see here, here, and here), David Swartz's excellent new book, Moral Minority, has also received much favorable attention elsewhere (including reviews in publications as various as the New York Times and Christianity Today; you can read my review over at the Christian Century).  Swartz tells, of course, the story of the evangelical left that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Over at The Immanent Frame, meanwhile, a conversation is now unfolding that carries some of his themes and questions into the present day.  A provocative lead essay by Marcia Pally, entitled "Evangelicals Who Have Left the Right," argues that "where there was once the appearance of a monovocal evangelicalism there is now robust polyphony."  The piece builds on her book, The New Evangelical Left: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good.   Pally's article is worth reading and, while you're at it, be sure not to miss the incisive comment by our very own Arlene Sánchez-Walsh at the bottom of the page.  David Gushee and Joel Hunter have already posted responses, and there are more coming in the days ahead, including one by John Milbank, so stay tuned.  

"Homosexuality Getting Worse"

“Homosexuality Getting Worse” at the Religion and Culture Web Forum
 Heather White

Peale, Norman Vincent. “Answers to Questions.”
Look Magazine, December 11, 1956.

Don’t let the title confuse you. The Religion and Culture Web Forum, at the Martin Marty Center for the Study of Religion at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, has hosted a discussion forum on Rebecca Davis’ recent essay, titled “’My Homosexuality Is Getting Worse Every Day’: Norman Vincent Peale, Psychiatry, and the Liberal Protestant Response to Same-Sex Desires in Mid-Twentieth Century America.” An excerpt from the essay is posted on the forum (the full essay is available in Gilpin and Brekus’American Christianities) with responses from Kathryn Lofton, Amy DeRogatis, and me.

In this essay, Davis reflects on a rare archival find: a file of over a hundred letters written to Peale in response to his advice, published in his nationally syndicated newspaper column, to a young man who asked for advice about homosexuality.  The year was 1956.  Here is the request and Peale’s response from the column:

Peale, of course, was the well-known pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York and an influential contributor to the genre we would today call self-help spirituality.  Peale was one of many postwar liberal Protestants who brought therapeutic insights from the disciplines of psychiatry and psychology into Christian spiritual practice. The letter writers who responded to Peale advice, as Davis shows, offer a remarkable picture of the lived experience of men and women who struggled to makes sense of their same-sex attractions during the postwar years.  Davis’ essay insightfully analyzes these letters and traces the ambiguous influence of Protestant therapeutic culture on both conservative and liberal views of the moral value of homosexuality.

Choice Announces the Year's "Best of the Best"

by Emily Suzanne Clark

In January's issue of Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, the Choice "Outstanding Academic Titles" for 2012 were announced. This year's list includes 644 titles, which were selected from the 7,230 books reviewed over the year, and that number doesn't include the other nearly 20,000 titles submitted to Choice  not reviewed. (That's a lot of books!) The books that make the grade to be labeled "Outstanding Academic Title" are less than 3% of all the books submitted to Choice. Thus, Choice calls its Outstanding Academic Titles the "best of the best."

If those books are the best of the best, then our blog must be too, for Kelly J. Baker's The Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK's Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 and Paul Havey's Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity both made the list. Congrats to Kelly and Paul!

Other noteworthy texts in American religion on the list include Hugh Urban's The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion and Timothy Matovina's Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America's Largest Church. Feel free to post shout-outs in the comments for more of Choice's choices.

According to the Choice website, the following criteria are used to determine what makes an "Outstanding" book:
  • overall excellence in presentation and scholarship
  • importance relative to other literature in the field
  • distinction as a first treatment of a given subject in book or electronic form
  • originality or uniqueness of treatment
  • value to undergraduate students
  • importance in building undergraduate library collections
Three cheers for two of our BlogMeisters! (and that globe-trotting Randall Stephens ain't no slouch either!)

Place Your Right Hand: The Religious and Material Culture of the Inauguration Ceremony


Today's post comes from our newest contributor. Cara L. Burnidge is a doctoral candidate in American Religious History at Florida State University. Currently, Cara is an Assistant to the Editors for Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture and a Lecturer at Florida A&M University. Her dissertation examines the relationship between religion and U.S. foreign policy in the early twentieth century by examining the life and career of President Woodrow Wilson. 

Place Your Right Hand On….?
by Cara L. Burnidge

 As the Beltway prepares for President Obama’s second inauguration, several news organizations are investigating the ceremonialism of the swearing in process. The conversation seems quite relevant to RiAH readers—and not merely because it’s about religion-in-general.  
Focusing on this one-day event we can see the shifts in the American religious landscape relevant to much of our scholarship and, I imagine, to our students’ questions about religion in United States. Take for instance, the issue of the benediction (setting aside for the moment the question of why one must be given at all….I’m looking at you civil religion scholars). The inaugural committee has already come under fire for selecting Reverend Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA. Not long after it became clear this evangelical pastor was the lead contender, the inaugural committee received major criticism because of statements Giglio made in the 1990s against homosexuality, insisting that homosexuality was “anti-Christian.” He is no longer slated to give his benediction. Trying to avoid the criticisms of 2009, in which Rick Warren offered a benediction despite his public stance against homosexuality, the committee is currently looking for a replacement. The Huffington Post’s Religion Blog has offered its own list of contenders and rightly asks “Who Can Pray for America?” This is, of course, not to say that I endorse any of the benediction candidates, but rather to emphasize the fascinating public debate over who’s religious beliefs are acceptable in the public square.

The Vagaries of Religious Freedom

Today's guest post comes from Eric McKinley, who is finishing his Ph.D. in German history at the University of Illinois. Eric posted this originally at the blog The Everyday Historian; it is reposted with permission here. Here, Eric uses his research in German history to comment on an issue of contemporary significance in American religious history.

The Vagaries of "Religious Freedom"

by Eric McKinley
This is a story of two fabricated scandals. The first is that religious freedom in the United States today is being violated through the mandatory inclusion of contraception in health care packages. The villain is not only Obamacare, but the notion that the structure of the healthcare law provides the state with undue authority to intervene in religious matters. The second is historical. It involves a legal redefinition of marriage in nineteenth century Germany. The law indicated that all marriages needed to be registered civilly. Some interpreted this to mean that civil servants would then have the power to marry monks to nuns, nuns to priests, or any other combination of two avowed celibates. The villain was the state and its intrusion upon religious authority. In both, the relationship between church and state is the central issue. 
In 1875, the German governing body debated the implementation of obligatory civil marriage for the entirety of the newly unified German Empire. The separation of church and state and the protection of religious liberty were two of the most pressing issues in the debate because the law transferred the regulation of marriage from religious institutions to the state. In decrying such an infringement on religious liberty, some dismayed German Catholics postulated on a few of the nefarious consequences the law would have. They were right about them. Of course the state would marry a priest to a nun. Unspoken but all important, however, was that of course nuns, monks, and Catholic priests self-regulate their celibacy and vows not to marry. Obligatory civil marriage meant that it was compulsory for those who desired to marry; it didn’t make marriage, civil or otherwise, mandatory for citizenship. I suspect that any county clerk in the United States today would also knowingly allow a nun to marry; unsurprisingly, the issue doesn’t come up.  

Occupying the Vatican

By Heath Carter

What do the pope and the Occupy movement have in common?  No, this is not the beginning of a stale 2011 joke; and yes, I am referring to the same Benedict XVI whose reproach of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and whose traditionalism on issues such as birth control and homosexuality, has alienated many progressives.  The fact is that Benedict has hewed to the traditional Catholic line on economic concerns as well, which is to say that, while he won't likely be mistaken for one of the "occupiers" any time soon, he has been persistently critical of global capitalism.
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