The Evolution Inquisition: An Occultist’s Response to the Scopes Trial

John L. Crow

In January 1925 Effa Danelson changed the name of the magazine she edited from Psychic Power to The Occult Digest. She had long been involved in various occult and spiritualists circles in the Chicago area even publishing a book in 1904 entitled, Journeys Though Space: Experiences of Effa E. Danelson which is a collection of journal entries where she discusses Spiritualism, mediumship, her interpretations of Christianity and its teachings. In general she rejects fundamentalist Christianity and asserts that the only sin of man is ignorance and that humans lived their lives to grow spiritually. By changing the name of the journal, Danelson wanted to market it to a broader clientele, and also broaden her conversation with other aspects of occultism including astrology, palmistry, magic, mental healing, and much more. This desire to make the magazine as widely attractive was indicated in her magazine tagline, “A Monthly for Everybody.”

In the summer of 1925, Danelson published two editorials attacking the Scopes trial, Christian fundamentalists, and the position of Williams Jennings Bryan. Calling the trial “The Evolution Inquisition in Tennessee,” Danelson claims that the “religionists” were attacking progress and science. She based her argument on the separation of church and state, constitutional rights for the freedom of thought, and condemned fundamentalists for using the law to impose their theological views on the population. Her rhetoric is familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to the various issues that have been making their way through the state and federal legislatures and courts over the last few years. While I could summarize her arguments, I’ll let the rest of this blog post be her words. The first editorial is from the July 1925 issue of The Occult Digest and the second from the August-September issue. I have also included a number of cartoons that were published along with the editorials.

From Manuscript to Metadata

Delighted to welcome back here for a guest post Kate Carté Engel, Professor of Early American History at Southern Methodist University, and author of Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America, which we covered previously on the blog.

From Manuscript to Metadata
Kate Carté Engel

As an early Americanist, I love the periodic “know your archives” (and see also here) series that appears here, and I love the physicality and intimacy of working with centuries-old manuscripts.  Last month I spent a lovely week at Lambeth Palace Library in London, a place that met all my early modernist expectations of an archive:  quiet room, pleasant staff, antiquated finding aides that don’t quite match either the online catalogue or the actual documents, and incredible manuscripts.  To top things off, there is a fabulous coffee stand just across the street, overlooking the river.  My favorite part of the place, however, was passing through an incredibly charming door set in an old wall, through which one entered a courtyard surrounded by the ancient seat of the Archbishops of Canterbury.  A colleague asked if I ran into Archbishop Laud while I was there, but since I’m working on international Protestantism and the American Revolution, I was searching for Thomas Secker and Frederick Cornwallis.  Secker thoughtfully left exactly the document I was looking for, and I went home happy.

A.A. Allen: God's Man of Faith & Power

Arlene Sanchez-Walsh
43 years ago this month,  A.A. Allen died in San Francisco, of acute alcoholism allegedly surrounded by empty pill bottles.  Allen was a tent evangelist who hit his stride in the 1960s and 70s. Previous to that, he was converted in a Methodist church in the 1930s after a hardscrabble childhood, where by his own admissions, Allen was smoking, drinking, and “carousing” with women by the tender age of 12.  Allen became Pentecostal in the 1940s and joined the Assemblies of God, where after a few pastoral appointments, he settled in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Allen became a healing evangelist, and added in copious amounts of exorcisms along with prosperity gospel preaching. His falling out with the Assemblies, like most contestations that become history, depends on who you believe.

On the Road Again: New Encounters with American Religious History

Cara L. Burnidge

The first weekend in June I spent 14 hours in a car driving to Indianapolis for the Religion in American Culture Conference. Despite the long drive, it was well worth it as Emily's summary attests. Not getting my fill of road trips or summer conference season, I made another 14 hour drive ten days later. This time I headed straight up I-95 to Arlington, Virginia to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR). A relative newcomer to the Society this was my first meeting and it will not be my last. In addition to the lovely mid-afternoon coffee and snacks between sessions (you had me at "complimentary coffee break") and the dinner and dance Friday night (yes, that's right. There was a dance. I promise it did not resemble a middle school wallflower stand-in nor was it a Miley twerk fest), there were a number of panels and papers of interest to RiAH readers.

In the final panel of RAAC, "The Future of the Study of Religion and American Culture," John McGreevy listed three directions for the future of the field: 1. the category of "nones" (those claiming no religious affiliation) and, correspondingly, secularism; 2. global and transnational studies that place the United States in a global context and/or explorations of points of contact, fluidity, and movement between America and the rest of the world; 3. religion and political history. In identifying these three areas, McGreevy noted scholarship that exemplifies or encourages research in these areas, but he also asserted the increased importance of these three areas in years to come. After three days at SHAFR, however, I am convinced that McGreevy's future is here and scholars of American religion, especially the historians among us, have important conversation partners outside the AAR and within SHAFR.

Diplomatic History is the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations.
More information about it can be found at

An Interview with Yaakov Ariel: the "Unusual Relationship" between Evangelical Christians and Jews

Brantley Gasaway

I am pleased to publish this interview with Yaakov Ariel, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, concerning his new book released just this week: An Unusual Relationship: Evangelical Christians and Jews (NYU Press). Yaakov is the author of numerous articles on a wide range of topics regarding Judaism in America and beyond, Jewish-Christian relations, and evangelical Christianity and its attitudes towards the Jewish people and the Holy Land. His previous book, Evangelizing the Chosen People: Missions to the Jews in America, 1880-2000, was awarded the Albert C. Outler Prize by the American Society of Church History.

In addition to his outstanding scholarship, Yaakov is also an acclaimed teacher and outstanding graduate advisor. I was fortunate to have him as my mentor and dissertation director while at UNC--and thus I am especially pleased to highlight his new book.

1. What led you to write An Unusual Relationship--and how is this book related to your previous work in Evangelizing the Chosen People?  

The unusual relationship between evangelicals and Jews has fascinated me for a long time.  Throughout the years I have researched various aspects of the topic, but the new book goes a few steps further.  It tries to offer an overarching historical analysis of a long and complicated interaction between the evangelical and Jewish communities.

2. What types of sources did you draw upon in examining evangelical-Jewish relations?  For example, you have an entire chapter examining Yiddish evangelical literature distributed by Christian missionaries in Jewish neighborhoods throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.  

The sources detail and record the relations of evangelicals and Jews, and are therefore varied and rich.  They include theological tracts, sermons, biblical exegeses, articles in evangelical and Jewish journals, newspaper clippings, and archival material, which consist mainly of correspondence between activists.  It also makes use of plays, novels, and poems, as well as memoirs and autobiographies. Working with all these sources was overwhelming at times, but on the whole a pleasure.

My First but Hopefully Not My Last RAAC Conference

Emily Suzanne Clark

Shortly before the 2011 biennial Conference on Religion in American Culture hosted by the IUPUI, I read the published proceedings from the 2009 conference. I then wished Indiana was closer to Florida and waited for the 2011 conference proceedings to be posted. This year, a small contingent of #religinoles made the drive from Tallahassee to Indianapolis for the 2013 conference. It was a fantastic weekend full of good conversations. The in-the-round setup and small attendance gives the conference an intimate feel – almost like a conference panel meets a graduate seminar table. And, just as in 2011, I can’t wait for the proceeding to be published in order to go back and think more on weekend’s topics. Conference wrap-ups have been popular on the blog lately, so I’ll try to keep my reflections short and focused on a couple ideas.

New Books on Religion in New France

Michael Pasquier

I wanted to bring to everyone's attention two new books on the history of (among other things) religion in New France. I say "among other things" because these are not books with "religion" in the title. The authors don't go out of their way (as I likely would) to tug all-things-religious out of the rich depths of colonial America. Rather, the religious beliefs and practices of natives and newcomers are on full display alongside other social, cultural, and economic factors in a manner that draws attention to religion without the theoretical acrobatics of religious studies. What can I say... It's refreshing.

Sophie White's Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (University of Pennsylvania Press 2012) examines perceptions of Indians in French colonial Louisiana and demonstrates that material culture--especially dress--was central to the elaboration of discourses about race.

Brett Rushforth's Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France (University of North Carolina Press 2012) is about how French colonists and their native allies participated in a slave trade that spanned half of North America, carrying thousands of Native Americans into bondage in the Great Lakes, Canada, and the Caribbean.

In both books, White and Rushforth draw extensively from sacramental records and missionary observations to describe the intersection of Indian and European moralities in a highly volatile colonial world. Read alongside more critical reflections of religion in New France--I'm thinking of Tracy Leavelle's Catholic Calumet--and you've got yourself a party!

Religious Identification and the Framing of Terrorism

 (The following is a guest post from Caitlin Carenen, Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Connecticut State University and author of the highly acclaimed, myth-busting study, The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel.  Caitlin is now working on a book about religious responses to terrorism.) 

Walking through the West Bank town of Bethlehem many years ago, I was struck by the immense amount of graffiti covering the security wall on the Palestinian side. Most of it was in English and clearly directed to English-speaking tourists, NGO workers, and non-Palestinians in general. Much of

it drew comparisons to the infamous Nazi death camps (“arbeit mach frei” “welcome to Auschwitz” and the like) and was clearly intended to be provocative. What got my attention, however, was less the provocative nature of the graffiti but rather the fact that it was written in English. As historians reviewing primary sources, we always interrogate our sources in considering their intended audience and I realized, slowly and perhaps dimwittedly, that I was, in fact, the intended audience. This was confirmed every time I took a taxi ride in the West Bank and was informed by my drivers that I needed to return to the United States and tell Americans what I’d seen behind the wall. The Palestinians I spoke with wanted Americans to see them as the oppressed and the Israelis as the oppressors.
A few months later I watched a movie, The Devil’s Own, starring Brad Pitt as an IRA terrorist living in the U.S. and trying to raise funds for anti-British militant campaigns. The story line involved a do-gooder cop, played by Harrison Ford, who discovers what Pitt’s character is up to and tries to stop him. Yet Pitt’s Irish character was clearly intended to be sympathetic. He was handsome, likeable, and had integrated himself well into his host family and by the end of the film; the audience

couldn’t help but cheer for his attempted escape. I began to think, as the credits rolled, about how Americans view terrorism. What role do religion and ethnicity play in how we shape our popular and political responses to terrorism? We know that a large Irish-American Catholic constituency exists in the United States and has exercised considerable political clout in our approach to the conflict in Northern Ireland and we also know that a significant Jewish-American constituency works to shape American policy toward Israel and the Palestinian conflict. In the name of “Freedom Fighting” the IRA (and its many variations) and the PLO (and its branches) have committed acts of terrorism that have killed and wounded civilians, yet Americans tend to be more sympathetic to the Irish “freedom-fighting” cause. Is it a question of religious sympathies or religious hostilities, common ethnic ties, or the ethnic “other”? Later that year, back in the States, I had a conversation about this with an educated non-academic and posed the question: why do so many Americans tend to view Palestinians as terrorists, but not the Irish? The response startled me into my next research project: “Because they didn’t bomb us on 9/11.”

SHEAR for American Religious Historians

Carol Faulkner

The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) will meet next month in St. Louis, from July 18-21. I'll be at the annual conference, and I thought I'd offer a preview of panels that focus on religion (the complete program is here). These panels indicate some interesting trends, including new scholarship on early American Catholicism, religion and social capital, and, unsurprising in light of recent discussions on this blog, reason, irreligion, and secularism. RiAH's own Mike Pasquier will participate in the first of two panels on Catholicism, "Anti-Catholic America."

Teaching the Devil's Traxionary

David W. Stowe

An ambitious and consistently surprising patchwork of online music, The Devil’s Traxionary was created by Scott Michaelsen, an English Department colleague at Michigan State, and Anthony Shiu, a PhD in American Studies from MSU who now teaches at University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Beginning on 1/1/11, with the Bee Gees’ “I Started a Joke,” and continuing for more than two years, Michaelsen and Shiu posted a song a day (two on Saturday and Sundays). 1001 songs total.  Each with a pithy, sometimes densely theoretical critique that riffed in a few sentences on the interplay of lyrical content and sonic signifiers. Then, finding they couldn’t stop, Michaelsen and Shiu started up again in March, now posting songs every other day.

Readers of RiAH may find Traxionary entertaining if not useful in a number of ways. First, it will almost certainly expose you to a broader range of contemporary musics than you will have ever experienced otherwise. Second, it is well indexed and eminently searchable. You can search by song title here or by artist here. The songs are thoroughly tagged. So, for example, a search for “Christianity” turns up these:
“John Said He Saw the Number” (Arizona Dranes)
"Holy Ghost" (The Bar-Kays) [Don't miss this one!]
“I’m Working on a Building” (Carter Family)
“Holy War” (Blackhouse)
“Strange Things Happening Every Day” (Sister Rosetta Tharpe)
“The Beast” (Twisted Sister)
"Penitentiary Philosophy" (Erykah Badu)
"Working on a Building" (Cowboy Junkie)
 "With Arms Wide Open" (Creed)
"You Don't Know Jesus" (Mogwai)
“In the Beginning” (Aube) 
"Methodist Coloring Book" (The Dead Milkmen)
"I Am a Pilgrim" (Merle Travis)
“So Many Things Have Got Me Down” (The Search Party)
“The Lord’s Prayer” (Siouxsie and the Banshees)
"Gloomy Sunday" (Lydia Lunch)
"My Goddess" (The Exies)

“Iron Man” (Black Sabbath)
"Give It Revolution" (Suicidal Tendencies)
"Disposable Teens" (Marilyn Manson)
"Bye Bye Badman" (The Stone Roses)
“If I Had My Way I’d Tear the Building Down” (Blind Willie Johnson)
"Invasion of a Megaforce" (Eloy)
"Mirrorful" (Jawbox)
"Afraid to Shoot Strangers" (Iron Maiden)
"Undecided" (The Ames Brothers w/Les Brown and His Band of Renown)
"April" (Deep Purple)
"Exploration Vs. Solution, Baby" (90 Day Men)
"Couldn't Stand the Weather" (Stevie Ray Vaughan)
“Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (George Jones)

My MHA, more than AOK

Edward Blum

I only had the privilege of spending an evening and a day at Mormon History Association's annual meeting, but oh what a meeting it was. I arrived to fantastic news: Spencer Fluhman had won "best first book" and John Turner had won "best biography". Then, I heard some terrific papers on Mormon women and nineteenth-century reform movements, a project led, in part, by Matthew Grow.
Sarah Barringer Gordon kicking it off

Lunch was a "who's who" of young Mormon scholars. Ben Park to the left of me. Chris Jones to the right. Joseph Stuart announcing that he was headed to UVA to work with Kathleen Flake and their fantastic program (with Matt Hedstrom and Valerie Cooper). We all raised a glass of ... well, not beer or wine ... to huzzah the news. Conversation ranged from Lebron-hating to intense readings of Terryl Givens's works. I felt like a kid in a Mormon candy store.

Religion and Revolution: A Review of James Byrd's Sacred Scripture, Sacred War

Christopher Jones

Three weeks ago, I attended “The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the 21st Century,” a conference sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Intended to “identify new directions and new trends in scholarship on the American Revolution,” it featured four panels of pre-circulated papers, prepared comments to each paper by several experts in the field, and a Q&A with audience members. Each panel was centered on one of four unifying themes: “Global Perspectives, Power, Violence, and Civil War.” In his concluding comments at the conference’s end, Michael Zuckerman noted that the original CFP solicited papers on “Religion and Revolution,” but only two papers fitting that theme were submitted, and the organizers quickly scrapped the planned panel on religion and interchanged it for one on global perspectives.

It has now been nearly 50 years since the publication of Alan Heimert’s Religion and the American Mind, an ambitious attempt to draw a direct connection between the “Great Awakening” of the mid eighteenth century and the American Revolution that followed thereafter. Heimert’s book was widely met with not only skepticism but also sharp criticism. Twenty-seven years later, Jon Butler would proclaim the American Revolution, “at its heart … a profoundly secular event.” As scholarly interest in the Revolution has shifted in recent years and decades from the ideological origins of the conflict to wartime experience, comparative analysis, and a more explicitly “Atlantic world” framework, it appears that we are now in the midst of a renaissance of scholarship on religion and the American Revolution.

Building on several smart monographs (Dee Andrews’s The Methodists and Revolutionary America is a personal favorite) and insightful articles (Harry Stout’s 1977 WMQ piece on religion, communication networks, and the ideological origins of the Revolution comes to mind) published over the years, scholars today are working toward understanding the reciprocal relationship between religion and revolution in the eighteenth century. Thomas Kidd’s Religion and the American Revolution (OUP, 2010) is perhaps the most notable contribution to date. RiAH blogger John Fea is busily at work on a project examining the Revolution in the Mid-Atlantic colonies as a Presbyterian rebellion and Kate Carté Engel (whose paper was one of the two on religion at the MCEAS conference) is doing fascinating work on the Revolution’s impact on transatlantic Protestant networks.

Louis Armstrong was the First Man to Walk on the Moon . . . or Why You Should Do the AP Grading

Karen Johnson

Have you ever wondered who graded the essay portion of that AP history test you took way back in high school?
  While it may seem like the “invisible hand” of a distant computer or some “animal spirit” throwing nuts at a wall might have determined your score, this is one assessment that is graded the old-fashioned way: with real, flesh and blood people!  A vast group of high school teachers, graduate students, and college professors of history recently converged on Louisville, KY where I and 1200 of my closest friends worked for seven days to grade 1.3 million essays, written by 437,000 high school students. And just in case you’re wondering, that is just shy of 1,100 essays per grader!  Why, you might ask, would anyone in their right mind desire to do that, much less over their summer break?  I’ll tell you . . . and in the process, encourage you to apply to be a reader next year. 

To be honest, one of the strongest motivators for coming back for my second year of grading is  the money, plain and simple.  If you’re a graduate student, I know I’m speaking your language.  One week of grading paid me about the same as one month of my graduate student stipend.  Grading can help make the lean summer months much fatter.  Like an all-expenses paid working vacation, the College Board throws in your transportation, room and board.  Plus, Louisville is a great place to explore with a small stipend for two evenings eating out.

CFP: Religion and Politics in 20th-century America


"Beyond the Culture Wars: Recasting Religion and Politics in 20th-century America"

March 27-29, 2014
Washington University in St. Louis

The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics invites conference paper proposals from Ph.D. students working on the history of twentieth-century U.S. religion, politics, and society. "Beyond the Culture Wars: Recasting Religion and Politics in 20th-century America" will take place March 27-29, 2014, on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. Senior and junior scholars will present papers that address the conference's two main aims: (1) to take stock of recent advances and points of exchange in the historical study of U.S. religion and politics; (2) to introduce fresh, integrated scholarship that maps out new directions in this burgeoning field. Ph.D. students are invited to submit a short C.V. (2 pages maximum) and precis (1 page maximum) of their proposed paper, which should be drawn from original research. Applicants chosen to participate in the conference will be awarded a $500.00 travel stipend.

Please email application materials (C.V. and precis) as one attachment to by August 15, 2013. Successful applicants will be notified by September 15, 2013. Please direct any questions or concerns to Darren Dochuk at

Modern Summer of Love: On Secularism in Antebellum America -- the Finale

Editor's Note: Today concludes our week-long series on John Modern's Secularism in Antebellum America, including responses from five scholars given at last year's American Academy of Religion, and today with John's consideration of those responses. Thanks to all the participants! 

 Confessions of a genealogist
John Lardas Modern
11.19.12 [delivered]
American Academy of Religion * Chicago, IL

 Thank you for the avalanche of assessment, this heap of hard-nosed questioning. Chad, Finbarr, Katie, Chip, and Paul—I am lucky to have such attentive and capacious readers. There is no higher honor than having your book read and read well and read with such a generous spirit of critical engagement.  It is more, much more, than I could have ever hoped for.

Apologies from the get go—It is impossible to do justice to the whole of each of these critiques but I will try to address as many points and questions as I can—some directly, some indirectly. Given how many of the questions are questions of style, I thought it would be good to frame my response around the genre of storytelling known as genealogy. So here it goes.

Welcome to the History-Machines! On Secularism in Antebellum America, Part V of VI. Paul Johnson Responds

Editor's Note: Today is the last of our five responses to John Modern's Secularism in Antebellum America; tomorrow Modern will conclude the series with his own reflections on these responses.  Previously we featured responses by Kathryn LoftonChip CallahanFinbarr CurtisChad Seales, and an introduction by Amy Koehlinger.   Turn your radio on. 

Paul Johnson, University of Michigan
On Secularism in Antebellum America

History-Machines! Featuring the Pequod, the Nautilus, the Secularism Book, the Harrow, Mr. Spear’s Penetrator, and Other Astonishing Inventions

To gauge what this machine can do, I will try to engage its gears in various comparative tasks. I begin by lining it up alongside the same author’s earlier work of a decade prior. Modern’s first book, The Bop Apocalypse (2001), relied heavily on Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West as its prism, showing the Beat writers uses of, and responses to Spengler. Through Spengler’s text, Modern bent the Beats and the ‘50s back toward 1918, and the sentiment melancholy that followed the Great War.  That melancholy still lingered in the lives of the Beats. Their lifestyles and writing reflected a metaphysical quest created under the cloud of a different global threat, that of nuclear apocalypse and the Cold War, but one that echoed an earlier existential grip of radical contingency, namely the idea that you might cease to be, and at any time. 

Out of, and in part against that melancholy, the Beats forged an alternative vision to mainstream 1950s religion.  In place of a “Protestant, Catholic, Jew” version of 1950s American religiosity, the Beats’ practices were shambling and diverse, including at least Burrough’s Scientology, Kerouac’s Buddhism, and Ginsberg’s psychedelia—all of them “exceeding religion” in order to enact their “drama of ultimate consequences” (Modern 2001: 6). They sought and found that drama in the mundane world of life on the streets, on the back roads and in the freight yards, their eyes always scanning for new and unconventional sites and techniques of religious power.

Eventful 1851

That work foreshadowed the important present book, Secularism in Antebellum America (2011), which focuses on 1851 instead of 1950. Yet the two work together, and via a similar structure of pivoting off a key text—Decline, in one case, Moby Dick, in the other—to explore a historical juncture when “religion” was exceeded.

Modern Summer of Love: On Secularism in Antebellum America, Part IV of VI

Editor's Note: Continuing on with our series on Secularism in Antebellum America, today's contribution comes from Kathryn Lofton, newly tenured Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History, and Divinity at Yale University. Previously we featured responses by Chip CallahanFinbarr Curtis, Chad Seales, and an introduction by Amy Koehlinger.  

Kathryn Lofton

for a Panel at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion:

A Fabulous Rumor: Critical Interpretations of
John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America
(University of Chicago Press, 2011)

phrenology calipers and bust, circa 1825 []
There is a transaction that occurs in nearly every teen movie or cinematic mob solicitation.  Our heroine, usually somewhat on the margins of social acceptability, receives a Siren call to join the outsider fun.  Maybe it’s playing hooky, or getting into a tricked-out Oldsmobile, or maybe it’s participation in an international criminal conspiracy. Whatever the situation, the soliciting inquiry is the same: Are you in or are you out?
This question defines anyone’s inaugural encounter with the work of John Lardas Modern.  I first met John through this chapter when it was published in a preliminary form in a 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion as “Ghosts of Sing Sing, or the Metaphysics of Secularism.” That journal article begins:

Secularism is more than an ideology. It is a moral force, a connective tissue, a widely shared and massively intricate set of political and epistemological assumptions. And like anything in excess of ideology, secularism defies logic, particularly its own (Durkheim 1995). In antebellum America, for example, secularism structured the institutions of commerce, consumerism, and journalistic objectivity even as it affected the ways of church governance and the means of missionary outreach. (Modern 2007: 615)

This passage includes two hallmarks of Modern’s work. The first is the positioning of the secular within the religious, as Modern does when suggests secularism structured church governance and missionary work.  In a recent essay, Modern reiterates that “secularism [is] my shorthand for the discursive phenomena that go into making up the conceptual terrain of religion (and its antitheses).” (Modern 2012: 447) The latter may seem to be old hat in U.S. religious history, but it’s only recently accomplished, and Modern has been a central contributor to its argument, forcing scholars of religion in America to acknowledge the ways secular logics influenced the development and dissemination of American religions. You’re either in or you’re out: you either see that the secular constructs the religious, or you don’t.

The second Lardas Modern component—subtle here but preponderant throughout Secularism in Antebellum America, is the upending of common language games to disorient analytical presumptions.  Here I point you to the phrase that begins the third sentence of the above opener, when Modern writes, “And like anything in excess of ideology…” Modern’s writing is filled with these kinds of phrases, phrases which you might correct as a usage error (how can something be in excess of ideology?) in an undergraduate essay.  But if you made such a choice with Modern, you would be left behind as the Oldsmobile car squealed off.  You’re either in or you’re out: you either understand that nouns are newly definable, or you don’t.

Modern Summer of Love: On Secularism in Antebellum America, Part III of VI. Chip Callahan Responds

The Author of Lewis Henry Morgan’s Being
Richard J. Callahan, Jr.
for a Panel at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion:

A Fabulous Rumor: Critical Interpretations of
John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America
(University of Chicago Press, 2011)

John Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America is a beautiful book. I mean that in a variety of senses. It is conceptually beautiful, literarily beautiful, and physically beautiful. All of these beautiful pieces illustrate the care that Modern has put into this work. It is clearly the product of hard labor and great thoughtfulness. From the start the reader senses that Modern has voyaged out beyond the safe harbors of American Religious History and returned with a new vision. He is able to see Antebellum religious history with new eyes that were formed in his voyages through the lands of social theory, genealogy, anthropologies of modernity and secularity, and literary criticism.

It’s an itinerary not unfamiliar to contemporary scholars of Religious Studies, though its application to the study of American religion is still novel in a field that is so dominated by historians. He tells us that there were big, important changes to religion in the Antebellum period, which is a plot line with which we are familiar. But we have come to expect those changes to be narrated in terms of revivals, enthusiasms, Arminianism, and democratization. Instead, Modern presents us with a new story of Antebellum American religion, which is in fact a story of Antebellum American secularism. The two co-exist; more, they are co-constitutive. Modern paints the big changes in Antebellum religion in terms of a new way of understanding what religion is, a new type of religious subject and self that is bound up with the emergence (or production?) of the secular.

Modern Summer of Love: On Secularism in Antebellum America, Part II of VI. Finbarr Curtis Responds.

Continuing on with our series on the book Secularism in Antebellum America, today we feature the response by Finbarr Curtis, given at last year's AAR session dedicated to the book. Previously we've posted an introduction to the series by Amy Koehlinger, and a leadoff response by Chad Seales. 

Dropping Science like Galileo Dropped the Orange: John Modern’s Spiritual Boutique

Finbarr Curtis
Georgia Southern University

“Spirituality is just a word.”[1] So proclaims John Modern to open his chapter entitled “Toward and Genealogy of Spirituality.”  This is not to say that words are insignificant.  For a genealogist, words are never really just words.  As participants in projects of classification, words in Modern’s book mark an epistemic logic that delineates what sorts of things count as spiritual, or as religious, or as scientific.  In the Common Sense Realism that is the object of Modern’s inquiry, particular usages of words efface traces of their own history in favor of a confident representation of the world as it is.  Trying to locate the common sense of spirituality, Modern looks to antebellum America to uncover how the word spiritual has come to connote a sense of a free, creative, original, authentic and interior private experience that exists outside of institutional formations at the same time that the spiritual is called on to animate nurturing and sympathetic public space. 

In this post, I will ask questions about four interlocking words that demand special attention: secular, liberal, spiritual, and genealogy.  The first two are often run together, especially in postcolonial critiques of secular liberalism.  Modern’s book is indebted to but differs from many postcolonial scholars. 

Modern Summer of Love: On Secularism in Antebellum America, Part I of VI. Chad Seales Responds

For our responses to Secularism in Antebellum America, first given at the American Academy of Religion last year, our leadoff hitter is Chad Seales, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He will lay down the bunt single to get the run-scoring-machine started. Then beginning tomorrow we will each day post responses to each subsequent chapter of the book. 2nd at bat will be Finbarr Curtis (Georgia Southern University); then, Chip Callahan (University of Missouri). Cleaning up the bases will be Katie Lofton (Yale University and one of the first contributing editors of this blog); and finally, Paul Johnson (University of Michigan) will follow with the inside-the-park-home run. We will conclude with reflections from John Modern of Franklin and Marshall College, and the blog

As Amy Koehlinger just explained in her post earlier today introducing the series, the responses are posted in deliberate order, as each respondent takes on one particular chapter of the work. 

A Hint of Irony:
Evangelical Secularism 
The Picture Alphabet in Prose and Verse (New York: American Tract Society, n.d.)
What is evangelical about evangelical secularism?  This is my question for John.

I ask because the author writes of the difference between falsehood and irony:

For at the end of the day, evangelical secularism was anathema to evangelical understandings of how the world was in essence.  To be clear, this is not to accuse mid-century evangelicals of false consciousness.  I do, however, want to stress the ironies of evangelical practice, that is, how their flight from the mediating grasp of subjective bias and political institutions generated something like the imperial discourse of secularism – the atmosphere in and through which they recognized and conducted themselves as evangelicals.  And although evangelicals were not the only Americans who breathed in this atmosphere or dispersed it through their actions, they did develop a convincing ontology that made the recognition of secularism an unreasonable proposition.  The mediations of secularism, however, were as pervasive as they were incomprehensible (117). 

Evangelical secularism was anathema to evangelical understandings.  But, John argues in other parts of this chapter, evangelicals used secularism.  They used it with an “agenda,” and they used it as a “maneuver” (70).  They intended to use it to “reproduce religious life.”  And by John’s account, they succeeded.  But, I assume, they did not necessarily reproduce their religious life.  They formatted the conversation – all conversations – about (true) religion. 

And the mechanism of their particular making unmade them in the generalities of its universalism.  That which they possessed was no longer their possession.   Yet, this unintentional unmaking was not a function of false consciousness.  “At the end of the day,” evangelical intent was not misguided and evangelical self-consciousness of that intent was not false, despite the venial affect.  It was, instead, ironic.  Distinguishing falsehood from irony, John signals his disinterest in the faulty faculties of mental states and announces against that dismissal the intrigue of his subject: the discursive practice of their knowledge production, or what he calls evangelical secularism.

But he also writes this: 

Modern Summer of Love: Critical Interpretations of John Lardas Modern's Secularism in Antebellum America -- Introduction


A big pre-summer and pre-6th-birthday-of-this-blog treat for everyone: starting today and over the next several days we will be running a series of responses to John Modern's book Secularism in Antebellum America.We first covered the book with a review by John Turner; and over at Immanent Frame, Michael Warner had an extended and extremely lucid discussion of the bookLast year this book was the featured text for responses at the "Author Meets Critics" session of the American Academy of Religion, at the warm and cozy McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago (a locale which actually reminded me of one certain great white whale which also serves as one inspiration and guiding spirit for this book).

We'll begin with this introduction by Amy Koehlinger, Oregon State University, who presided over the session at the AAR. She will describe the entries to come later today and over the next five days.

Introduction by Amy Koehlinger

A Fabulous Rumor: Critical Interpretations of John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America (University of Chicago Press, 2011)

The 2012 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion featured a provocative and well-attended session on John Lardas Modern’s
Secularism in Antebellum America.  While book panels are often framed as author-meets-critics, this book session was a bit different, billing itself as “an experimental panel for an experimental book.”  Since Secularism in Antebellum America moved through what John describes as a “scenic rather than synthetic” assortment of topics arranged in four chapters and an epilogue, the panel was organized to reflect the narrative scenery of the book, with each panelist focusing her or his commentary on a specific chapter. The experimental format of the panel was an attempt to create a scholarly conversation that engaged with John’s book in a usual forum (then the AAR, here our beloved Religion in American History blog) without flattening its intellectual edges or undermining the provocative way it opened new ways to think and write about the matrix of bodies and culture, technologies, imaginings and hauntings that shaped how religious people were able to know themselves and “true religion” in antebellum America.  

The entries of this series will thus proceed in the same way, as a progression of scholarly meditations on specific chapters of Secularism in Antebellum America.  With the blog as with the book, don’t be lulled by the format of partition into a perception that each entry/chapter functions as a discrete integer in a tidy mathematical description of secularism: 1+1+1+1+1=5.  Rather, as each chapter of Modern’s book is an evocation, an act of conjure that tries to draw forth for historical examination the elusive, spectral presences that haunted the antebellum American psyche, the better to understand the forces that conditioned what Modern calls “the metaphysics of the secular,” so each of the scholarly entries that follows engages with the intellectual specters from a single chapter of Modern’s book in an attempt to sharpen the clarity of otherwise elusive manifestations.

Sacred Borders

by John Turner

I'm adapting the following review from a recent post on The Anxious Bench, partly because my mind is recovering from post-Mormon History Association haziness and laziness and because the below book is one of my favorites in recent years:

Until recent decades at least, nearly all Americans have believed in an unchanging God, "the same yesterday, today and forever." If God does not change, does God's manner and rate of revelation change over time?

Typically, those who have wrestled with the issue of canon in the history of American religion have made only crude differentiation among different groups. In colonial America, there were the Quakers and nearly everyone else. In antebellum America, things became a bit more complex, but there were Shakers, Mormons, and a cluster of prophets on the one hand and "Bible alone" anti-creedal evangelicals on the other extreme. Toss in Emerson and Thoreau.

Enter David Holland's eloquent and intelligent Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America. For anyone who teaches in the field of American religious history, this is essential reading. It should assume a venerable place on graduate school exam lists.

Holland's argument is extended and detailed; it eludes simple summary. The subtitle of the book points to its breadth. He brings into conversation and contest both those whose belief in ongoing revelation threatened (sometimes mildly, sometimes obviously and severely) a closed biblical canon and those who answered such threats and policed the canon's borders. What I realized while reading Sacred Borders is that many, if not most, Christians believe in at least enough continuing revelation to pose some sort of threat to a strictly closed canon. At the same time, nearly all who challenged the closed canon maintained some sort of belief in canonicity; indeed, many pulled back from the logical conclusions of their ideas out of a traditionalist respect for the Bible. Along the way, Holland engages the early Puritans, Quakers (from George Keith to Elias Hicks), deists, Jonathan Edwards, prophets (such as Nimrod Hughes), Swedenborgians, Shakers, Mormons, Adventists, Unitarians, Transcendentalists, and more.

The Image of Mormons

First, a note to congratulate the one, the only, J. Spencer Fluhman, whose book A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in 19th-Century America, won the best first book award at the just-concluded Mormon History Association. And congratulations to Christopher Jones, winner of Best Article Award for his piece Mormonism in the Methodist Marketplace: James Covel and the Historical Background of Doctrine and Covenants 39-40" in BYU Studies Quarterly. Also, congrats. to our contributor John Turner, whose biography of Brigham YOung won the Best Biography award.

And, a note from Jared Farmer, whose wonderful and pedagogically rich e-book Mormons in the Media, 1830-2012 we blogged about last year. 

Dear fellow followers of Mormon (and/or Utah) history,

Please excuse the impersonal nature of this note. I simply want to call your attention to a newly launched website that serves as the permanent home for my two (!) free e-books:

• Mormons in the Media, 1830–2012 (revised edition, now in iBooks format as well as PDF)
• The Image of Mormons: A Sourcebook for Teachers and Students

Feel free to share this link with anyone who might be interested.

OAH Lecturers and American Religious History

Randall Stephens

Some readers might know about the Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lectureship Program.  In 1981 OAH president Gerda Lerner launched the initiative as "a speakers bureau dedicated to American history."  Participants traverse the US, speaking at universities, high schools, libraries, and community centers on subjects ranging across time and place. 

In the past few years quite a number of the lecturers appointed happen to work on some aspect of American religious history.  I was fortunate enough to be named a lecturer starting this year, along with fellow blogmeister Paul Harvey, and some other scholars in the field: Angela D. Dillard, Darren Dochuk, Kevin M. Kruse, and Melani McAlister.  (Shameless pitch: Invite us to your college or university!)

Maybe the number of those with a religious focus is a reflection of the current popularity of religious history, and a sign of the growing number of scholars who study religion.  Six years back, James O'Toole wrote a piece for Historically Speaking about the rising stock of the subfield.  (I included that in a short book I edited for the University of SC Press.) Writing about the "Post-Ahlstrom" era, O'Toole observed:

Religious Pluralism at the Newberry: A Public Lecture

By Chris Cantwell

Just a brief announcement to let everyone in the Chicagoland area (or, #Chicagolandia as it's come to be known) that noted religious studies scholar Diana Eck will be speaking at the Newberry Library on June 26, 2013 at 6:00pm. Eck, as many of the readers probably know, is a Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University who has written extensively on Hinduism in India. She is also the founding director of Harvard's renowned Pluralism Project.

It's this latter focus on America's religious diversity that will be the subject of Eck's lecture at the Newberry. The talk is the final public program of the "Out of Many: Religious Pluralism in America" program I run at the Newberry and is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities' Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges initiative. We hope to be able to record and publish the talk as a podcast, as we did with Martin Marty's lecture last summer. The project also has a couple of forthcoming digital projects that promise to be wonderful teaching resources, so stay tuned.

The talk is free and open to the public, and will be held in the Newberry's Ruggles Hall. Find all of the details on the talk here.


Paul Harvey
[Lucinda Williams, "Blessed"}

Our blog is almost at its 6th birthday! Ok, June 21 technically, but close enough. With so much coming up on the blog this month -- more on that below -- today happened to be a good day to celebrate.

We're blessed to have entered a new era on the blog this year, with a new redesign and a roster of regular contributors who have given generously of their time and energy to post each day. And you all are blessed that our regular contributors cover so many of the days of the month that I post very infrequently now, and am getting close to my ideal of phasing myself out entirely (I mean, Manu Ginobili knows it's time to stop flopping and call it quits, and that seems a good model to follow after I watch our contributors lead us to the championship).

Further, we are blessed to have as one of our newest contributors Kate Bowler of Duke Divinity School, whose book Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel has just been released by Oxford! Those of you who have met the author, or followed her contributions here, will recognize the qualities of razor-sharp prose and wit that she either imported from The Great White North or learned from her academic advisor, the legendary raconteur Grant Wacker (or both). Those qualities are plenty in evidence here as she explains how "the prosperity gospel articulated a language of aspiration that spoke of materialism and transcendence in a single breath." What is notable here, also, is how the prose and the analysis never descends to condescension, in describing a movement where parody tends to be the easiest go-to option.

We''ll have more to say about this down the road once we have a chance to read it all the way through, so for the moment here's a bit more about the work.

Kate Bowler's Blessed is the first book to fully explore the origins, unifying themes, and major figures of a burgeoning movement that now claims millions of followers in America. Bowler traces the roots of the prosperity gospel: from the touring mesmerists, metaphysical sages, pentecostal healers, business oracles, and princely prophets of the early 20th century; through mid-century positive thinkers like Norman Vincent Peale and revivalists like Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin; to today's hugely successful prosperity preachers. Bowler focuses on such contemporary figures as Creflo Dollar, pastor of Atlanta's 30,000-member World Changers Church International; Joel Osteen, known as "the smiling preacher," with a weekly audience of seven million; T. D. Jakes, named by Time magazine one of America's most influential new religious leaders; Joyce Meyer, evangelist and women's empowerment guru; and many others. At almost any moment, day or night, the American public can tune in to these preachers-on TV, radio, podcasts, and in their megachurches-to hear the message that God desires to bless them with wealth and health. Bowler offers an interpretive framework for scholars and general readers alike to understand the diverse expressions of Christian abundance as a cohesive movement bound by shared understandings and common goals.

And finally, a little preview of coming attractions: starting next week on June 12th, we'll be running a six-day series on John Modern's Secularism in Antebellum America, featuring five responses to the book at last year's "author meets critics" session in the North American Religions section of the AAR. The responses will be from Chad Seales, Finbarr Curtis, Chip Callahan, Paul Johnson, and Katie Lofton, and then we'll wrap it up with reflections on the responses by John Lardas Modern. And yes, that is pretty much the all-star team of Religious Studies, so get ready to rumble with some pretty hefty essay blog posts coming up. 

Then just a bit later on this month and through the summer, we'll have a lot of reviews of new and newish books, including Christopher Jones's look at James Byrd's new book Sacred Scripture, Sacred War, and Jonathan den Hartog on some new books in earlier American religious history, and much else besides. 

Finally, we are blessed to have you all out there, reading, commenting, and sending along your feedback. Long may you prosper.

Know Your Archives: American Antiquarian Society Edition

By Jonathan Den Hartog

Those readers who have followed this blog for a while know of a regular feature called "Know Your Archives." I did a quick search and discovered that one of these posts had not yet been devoted to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. If I missed it, please let me know--and link it in the comments.

I'm spending June at the AAS, so I'm not thinking about too many other academic topics beyond getting into the archive and working hard daily. (Now, thinking about other things, like moving my family halfway across the continent, yes. But that would be a different post.) As a result, I thought it would be great to connect the AAS with resources for studying American Religion.

Place, Space, and Movement in Historical Research

Trevor Burrows

I want to use my post today to ask an admittedly broad and open question of this blog’s readers and contributors.  The journal Religion has posted an intriguing preview of a forthcoming issue on the theme of “urban Christianities.”  In the introduction, "Urban Christianities: Place-Making in Late Modernity," James Bielo points to Robert Orsi’s seminal collection on urban religion, Gods of the City, as a jumping-off point for the issue, wherein six authors will consider the theme as presented in a variety of locales ranging from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Lagos, Nigeria.  Considering some of the recent posts here that have touched on questions of space, place, and movement - I’m thinking especially of the wonderful posts around Michael Pasquier’s edited collection, Gods of the Mississippi - the issue promises to be of interest to many RiAH readers.

Based on their descriptions, most of the articles appear to deal with more contemporary subjects.  There is nothing wrong or even surprising about this, of course, but it did get me wondering about specifically historical studies that deal especially well and creatively with similar themes.  A number of the essays in Orsi’s aforementioned collection also considered more recent or contemporary subjects (with several notable exceptions, including Orsi’s own contributions and Diane Winston’s work on the Salvation Army).  Over the last several days, I've been chewing on a pretty basic question: which historians, or what texts, have dealt productively with these themes in explicitly historical scholarship?  (I should admit that I'm thinking about this with somewhat selfish intent as I am considering how my own research, which deals with matters of religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue/collaboration in primarily urban settings, might benefit from more attention to these types of questions.)

Happy Book Birthday

Quick happy birthday to The Right of the Protestant Left: God's Totalitarianism by RiAH blog contributor Mark Edwards. It turned one this week and the Journal of American History decided to sing it a song with a review from Matthew Avery Sutton.
(colorized version of Paul Harvey's first birthday party)

It's Not Me, It's You

Professor reading own reviews to the assembled.
By Kate Bowler
The sweet summer cannot fully begin until the season of self-hatred is at an end. It's student evaluation time and by now they should be on your desks, your laptops, or your wastebaskets wetted with tears. Every year I hear professors casually trade wisdom about the act of reading and processing student evaluations. So today I thought I'd categorize the comments that have felled even the mightiest American religious historians among us followed by the best advice I've heard so far.

You Didn't Talk About...
 Alas, this student is not really interested in what you said. After 13 weeks with you, they are very disturbed by what you didn't say. Most likely, they are listing nationalities, religious minorities, or events in American history and adding a question mark. American Taoism + the Vietnam War? Ukrainian Catholics + the Great Depression? These question marks are there to remind you that if this course was a survey or had dates in the title of any kind, your failure to recognize these realities has probably ruined the course. The result can be endless paranoia about the perennial question of coverage.
newer post older post