On Why You Should Change Your Gluttonous Holiday Ways; Or, Three Things You Should Know About Muscular Christian History, and Don’t

Today's guest post comes from Miles Adam Park, a PhD Candidate at Florida State University. With today's post, Adam continues to contribute material related to muscular Christianity, health and wellness, and gender to RiAH readers.

Miles Adam Park

First thing: Progressive era muscular Christians were multiculturalists.

“Japanese things are in fashion nowadays,” claimed one 1904 periodical. But “where does Japan get her muscle and pluck?” The Japanese are “an intelligent, wholesome people; strong, clean and moral.” Indeed, Americans would be served best “to take a few lessons from them, especially in the thoroughness with which they carry out anything they undertake”; and “this feature of thoroughness is strikingly manifested in their system of physical training [i.e. jiu-jitsu].” With the prevalence of hysteria, dyspepsia, feebleminded overbreeding, excessive whiskey consumption, tobacco poison, spermatorrea, and urban squalor in America, poor American health was in need of alleviation. Muscular Christians needed an exemplary—in martial arts as well as in life—and it was not themselves. With regard to physical culture, in Progressive era America, Japan led the way.

Touted because “a comparatively weak man, if he is thoroughly versed in its mysteries, can easily overcome and kill, if he please, an opponent greatly his superior in strength,” jiu-jitsu was seen as the pinnacle of skillful display, of brains over brawn. Theodore Roosevelt, who trained in different styles of wrestling, boxing, and savate (i.e. a French style of kickboxing), was probably the most vocal and high profile proponent and practitioner of Japanese martial arts; and he was not alone. Muscular Christian health reformers took on the Japanese cause.

“Although men of very small stature,” a 1904 Christian Advocate article exclaimed, the Japanese “are among the strongest in the world.” Fortunately, about a half an hour is “a long enough time to devote to jiu-jitsu,” and, “any boy of fourteen or fifteen who will faithfully practice their system of producing strength will find himself, at the end of a few months, able to cope in the feats of power with the average man of twenty-five, and all this without the dangerous practice of lifting very heavy weights.” Americans could be (and should be more) like the Japanese. The overall point of the article was that the Japanese simply breathe healthier; they have learned to take air better than Americans. An article from the Christian Observer that same year echoed this critique of American health culture, saying that “the Japanese have taught Europeans and Americans a lesson and quenched in some degree the conceit of Caucasian in his superior capacity to do all things.” It went on: “The Japanese are allowed to be among the very strongest people on the earth. They are strong mentally and physically.” And it is their diet “which enables them to develop such hardy frames and such well-balanced and keen brains.” The Japanese ate better. Even their women were better. Japanese women were more physically and mentally robust, less susceptible to hysteria and overwhelming nervousness than their Western counterparts. Not to be confused with the American woman who is easily shaken with a tendency to “rage inwardly at first,” a 1905 article in The Ladies’ Home Journal touted “the wonderful self-control of Japanese women”; it went on: a Japanese woman “is gentle and quiet, takes adversity without grumbling, makes the best of things, and has no nerves.” Better physical strength, better food, better air, better female psyches—all thanks to Japanese physical culture and jiu-jitsu. For further refinement of their gospel of health and fitness, Progressive era muscular Christians looked eastward.

Second and third things:

On my 20th Anniversary at the American Academy of Religion


Arlene Sanchez Walsh

Warren Felt Evans
Twenty years ago I presented my first conference paper at the American Academy of Religion held in Chicago. I presented a fairly good paper on 19th century religious eccentric Warren Felt Evans and his Swedenborgian influences. I love religious eccentrics. I remember walking through some very crowded and stuffy hallways to get to the room where I was supposed to present, my lucky egg nog latte in hand. I also remember that I knew almost nothing about the American Academy of Religion (AAR) or the group that I was about to meet for the first time, a special session on Swedenborg comprised mostly of devotees. I wasn’t nervous so much as wanting to get it over with since it was miserably hot in that hallway.

The point of the story is not to laud my accomplishments at presenting at the AAR while I was a first-year graduate student. Though trumpeting one’s accomplishments is certainly not unknown in this business. The point of the story is that this was the first and last time I presented on 19th century “ American” religion.  My mentor, the director of my dissertation, and for the last 20 years, my oracle/friend, thought my presentation was great. She was very happy that it was accepted, but she also told me that it would probably be the last time it would ever happen.  Why?  Because as a Latina, any hopes I had a breaking into the field of American religious history would have to include talking about, reading about, and eventually writing about my people. My mentor told me the chances of getting a job in American history, religious or otherwise were next to nil unless I wrote about some aspect of Latino/a religious life.  So, with that bit of reality sinking in, I put my 19th-century religion files away.  All my xeroxed copies of Evan’s books, pages and pages of his musings on Swedenborg, Hinduism, Buddhism and hashish, the dude was fun!  All locked away in my file boxes. I would be able to re-visit Evans if and when I received tenure at a respectable institution and then and only then would I be able to pursue what the academy viewed as a “personal” piece. The “one and done” article or monograph on Evans that would only be acceptable once my other work on Latino/a religion established my street cred as a legitimate scholar. My fascination with Evans was a hobby. The academy, my mentor, assured me, would view any product on him coming from me as a hobby, an oddity that detracted from my otherwise strong and rigorous “research agenda.”

Missions, Media, and Global Capitalism: A Review of "The Tailenders" (2005) by Adele Horne

Lauren F. Turek

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Recently, as part of its 2014-15 Religion and Politics Film Series, the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis held a film screening and discussion of The Tailenders (2005) with filmmaker Adele Horne. The documentary follows missionaries from the Global Recordings Network (GRN), an organization founded in Los Angeles in 1939, as they travel to the Solomon Islands, Mexico, and India to produce gospel messages in as-yet-unrecorded languages. According to their website, the GRN has recorded Bible stories in over 6,000 languages. They estimate that there are over 8,000 languages or dialects spoken in the word, more than half of which exist in just eight countries. The Solomon Islands, Mexico, and India are home to 769 different languages. In an effort to spread the gospel to all people in their native languages, GRN travels to remote areas or to migrant worker communities to record Bible messages in these “tailender” languages—some of the last, they claim, to be reached by missionaries and recorded.

Mapping the Western Sephardic Diaspora in the Caribbean

Laura Arnold Leibman

Deep in the Surinamese jungle lies the ruins of what was once the prospering plantation town of Jodensavanne--Jew's Savanne.  Just past the bricks that made up Beracha ve Shalom ("Blessings and Peace") synagogue, are two early cemeteries--one Jewish (below), one African.  Deeper into the forest lies a third cemetery, the Cassipora Jewish cemetery.  All three cemeteries harken back to the sepulchral traditions of ancestral homelands even as they adapted to changes in what it meant to be Jewish. As such they are a good example of both religious continuity and change within American religion.
View of Jewish Cemetery, Photo by L. Leibman 2008
Sephardic Pyramid Stones in 
the Jewish cemetery near Cassipora Creek, Suriname
Historic photo ca. 1860 from the
Jodensavanne Foundation Archives
Whereas the Creole cemetery employs what some have argued are African symbols (below), the Jewish cemetery of nearby Cassipora Creek (right) features pyramid-shaped tombstones that echo those found in the Sephardic cemeteries of London, Amsterdam, Hamburg, as well as medieval Spain.  Indeed though they are separated by a jungle and ocean from their European analogues, Jodensavanne and Cassipora's Jewish cemeteries share many of their key features with Europe's Western Sephardic cemeteries.  Both Cassipora and Jodensavanne's Jewish cemeteries for example feature the striking symbol of the Hand of God, cutting down the tree of life. This symbol can also be found not only in the Western Sephardic cemeteries of London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, but also in those in Paramaribo, Jamaica, Barbados, and Curaçao.

“Getting” Religion and Saving Sex: Conversations at the Crossing of Evangelical Studies and the History of Sexuality


This is the final essay in our three-day series on Amy Derogatis's new book, Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism.  Heather R. White is a Research Scholar and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the New College of Florida, where she teaches courses in religious studies and gender studies. She was also, most recently, a Coolidge Fellow at Auburn Theological Seminary and a Burke Scholar in Residence at the theological library of Columbia University. Her first book, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, is forthcoming from the University of North Carolina Press (her work is featured in a recent must-read article at the Huffington Post).  The review essay Heather mentions below can be found at Notches.

Heather R. White

As the third and final contributor to the discussion about Amy DeRogatis’ Saving Sex, I’d like to situate the book within a simultaneous conversation taking place in the history of sexuality. The publication of Saving Sex coincides with state-of-the-field reflections by historians of sexuality occasioned, most recently, by remarks made by John D’Emilio, who reiterated an ongoing encouragement that historians of sex need to “get” religion. As a consequence, Notches, a history of sexuality blog, is doing some soul searching. They are publishing a state-of-the-field review that identifies important and overlooked work in this field while reiterating D’Emilio’s call for more.

DeRogatis’ Saving Sex is certainly part of the more. This book joins a growing body of scholarship that investigates the fruitful intersections between sexuality and the study of American evangelicalism. That prior work includes ethnographic studies—most notably, Lynne Gerber and Tanya Erzen’s work on ex-gay ministries and Christine Gardener’s recent study of faith-based abstinence ministries. Rebecca Davis’ history of marriage counseling also includes conservative Protestants, and Heather Hendershot’s work on evangelical media also substantially addresses sexuality. And these names are hardly an exhaustive list. Taken together, this scholarship suggests there is now an extensive response to a question posed six years ago by historian Bethany Moreton, “Why is there so much sex in Evangelicalism and why do so few historians care about it?” What is clear: sexuality is a robust area of inquiry in the history and contemporary study of American Evangelicalism.

Amy DeRogatis on Saving Sex

Samira Mehta

In talking to Amy DeRogatis, I wanted her to explore the question of genre and of the role of both teaching and community outreach in Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism. I had spoken with her previously about some of the joys and challenges of writing for a broader audience and wanted to ask her to reflect publicly on those challenges. She was gracious.

What audience did you hope to reach?

My hope is that I reach a wide audience of my peers and the interested general public.  Two aspects of my professional life and my institutional context have shaped me as a scholar and informed my writing of this book.  I have taught at Michigan State University for 16 years and during that time I have primarily worked with undergraduates.  As I wrote this book, I kept them in mind, reflecting on the types of books that work well in my classroom and the lessons I have learned from my students about presenting challenging material and initiating fruitful discussions.  I hope I have written the kind of book that will engage undergraduates and inspire meaningful conversations and further research.  The second important aspect of my professional life is that Michigan State is a land-grant university and outreach to the community is an important part of my job.  Over the years I have devoted a considerable amount of my time to speaking with local religious and non-religious groups, translating my research to interested members of my community.  I’ve enjoyed these opportunities and valued the responses I have received from the general public.  These interactions have made me a better scholar and writer and I hope that I have provided a useful service to my community.  Both of these aspects, that I primarily work with undergraduates and that I have devoted a lot of time to outreach, came into play as I thought about the type of book I wanted to write.  I would like conversations about my book to happen in classrooms and coffee shops.  I hope that I have struck the right balance between addressing some significant scholarly issues about American evangelicalism and sexuality and offering my own unique contribution while at the same time inviting interested non-specialists into the conversation. 

Evangelical Sexuality: From Margin to Center


The following is the first entry of a three-day series on Amy DeRogatis’s new book, Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2014).  See also Amy's website for several reviews, including her interview in Emma Green's Atlantic article, "The Warrior Wives of Christianity," which Seth Dowland wrote about a week ago.  Lynne Gerber is a Visiting Researcher at the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). Tomorrow, RIAH's own Samira Mehta interviews Amy about the writing of her book.  On Monday, Heather R. White situates Saving Sex among other new work in the history of religion and sexuality.

Lynne Gerber

Like many American subcultures, evangelicals are stuck in an identity dilemma. On the one hand they identify deeply with American culture, its history and its perceived mission. On the other they are deeply critical of the turns that culture has taken, particularly since the socio-cultural changes of the 1960s. As a result they often seem unable to decide if they represent culture or counter-culture, center or margin. Sexuality is one arena where this dilemma is most vividly felt. Not wanting to be perceived as prudes, evangelicals participate vigorously in American discourse about sex and sexuality, but wanting to take a stand for distinctive Christian beliefs such contributions are also frequently framed as critiques of that discourse. Are Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar of 19 Kids and Counting, for example, counter-cultural for their conservative beliefs and resultant large family? Or does their celebrity, and their willingness to court and profit from such celebrity, make them quintessential Americans?

This tension pervades many of the fascinating sexual projects discussed in Amy DeRogatis’s Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism. The book is a tour of sorts through a carefully selected set of sites in evangelical sexual culture. It begins and ends with two ostensibly similar but critically different versions of purity culture, one prevalent among white evangelicals and the other among African American Christians. In between the book takes us through the explosive market for Christian sex manuals that promise daring novelty while offering standard therapeutic fare, the world of deliverance ministries that use modern biology, as they understand it, to argue for the literal presence of demons in sexual fluids, and many variations on the theme of celebrating reproduction, which seems to frequently be paired with celebrating female submission in marriage, sexual and otherwise. It considers sites that fit squarely within the evangelical mainstream carefully explicating, for example, the range of purity literature aimed at children of different ages, while also attending to those which criticize that mainstream in the hopes of creating a purer Christian culture. DeRogatis is an able guide, making the distinctions between margin and center clear while pointing to some of the continuities between each.

Cushwa Center Grants and Spring Events

With the end of the fall 2014 semester rapidly approaching (yikes!) I want to take this opportunity to publicize some upcoming grant deadlines, calls for papers, and spring events that will be sponsored by the Cushwa Center, so you can mark your calendars now if you're within traveling distance. (If you'd like reminders of these events as they approach, you can either write to us at cushwa -at- nd.edu and ask to be put on our mailing list, or follow us on Facebook.)

Speaking of traveling distance: if you don't live down the block, but would find research in Notre Dame's extensive archival collections useful for your scholarship, we encourage you to apply for one of our Research Travel Grants, which fund travel to South Bend to work in the Notre Dame University Archives; projects should relate to the study of Catholicism in America. We also administer the Hibernian Research Award, which supports the scholarly study of the Irish American experience. The deadline for all applications is December 31. If you'd like to get a sense of the kinds of projects we sponsor, you might check out our two most recent Q&As: with Suzanne Krebsbach, who came to do research on black Catholics in Charleston, SC, and with Herbie Miller, whose work concerns an 1837 debate between the leader of the Disciples of Christ and the Catholic bishop of Cincinnati.

In other Catholic-centric research grant news, the Mary Nona McGreal OP Center for Dominican Historical Studies at Dominican University is making $2500 research stipends available for essays for an upcoming book project on Dominicans in the 19th and 20th century United States. Deadline for brief proposals is December 1; you can read more about the project here.

If your research on Catholic history has reached a more developed state, please consider submitting a paper or panel proposal to the Spring Meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association, which will be hosted by the Cushwa Center and held at Notre Dame from March 26-28, 2015. You can read more about the conference, and submit a proposal (by January 15) via the above link.

Also on the Cushwa Center's spring docket are two exciting events: first, a lecture on "Art, Architecture, and Liturgical Space in Postwar America" by Gretchen Buggeln of Valparaiso University, on February 23.

And finally, for those of you whose appetites have been whetted by Michael Hammond's recent review on this blog, please plan on joining us at Notre Dame for the Seminar in American Religion on Saturday, April 11, when Grant Wacker will discuss his new book, America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation (Belknap Press, 2014). Also commenting will be Richard Bushman, the Gouverneur Morris Professor of History emeritus at Columbia University, and Christian Smith, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame.

We would be delighted to see any of you at any of these events, and please feel free to share the calls for papers and calls for grant applications widely.

Religion in the American West: New Books Update

Paul Putz

The first session of the official, permanent Religion in the American West AAR group will be meeting in a couple days. What better way to celebrate than by highlighting two interesting new books in the field?

The geographic area of focus for the first book would certainly meet with Paul Harvey's approval. In Capture These Indians for the Lord: Indians, Methodists, and Oklahomans, 1844-1939 (University of Arizona Press, 2014), Tash Smith centers his study on Indian Territory/Oklahoma, examining the "interaction and shared history of the Southern Methodist Church's white and Indian members" from 1844 until 1939. His is a book about the complexities and tensions of the missionization process, Missionaries thought of themselves as altruistic even as they sought to obliterate Indian culture; Indians adopted or affiliated with the Christianity of whites even as they used it to protect, preserve, and promote the religious traditions that the white missionaries were seeking to eradicate.

While Smith frames his book to fit in with prominent recent themes in the study of Christian missions and the encounter between Native Americans and European Christians, he also argues for the usefulness of a narrower denominational scope. Just as it is important to "avoid the monolithic or essentialized idea of 'Indians,'" Smith writes, "it is equally important to discern denominational differences...and avoid the larger monolithic terms of 'Christian' and 'Protestant.'" Thus Smith studies one specific denomination, the Southern Methodist Church, and its Indian mission efforts, which were concentrated in Indian Territory/Oklahoma. This specialized focus enables Smith to zero in on what, exactly, the "it" was that Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws, Kiowas, and Comanches in Oklahoma used to their own ends: the institutional structures created by the Southern Methodist Church.

Smith's narrative depicts the twists and turns of the Indian Mission Conference, created in 1844 (right before the North/South Methodist split), as it developed over the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In Smith's telling, Methodist leaders created the IMC with assimilation in mind. They believed that by giving frontier, Indian-dominated territory the status of an official conference, it would encourage Indians (most of whom had been forcibly relocated in the previous couple decades) to live up to the behavioral expectations of white Methodists.

Religious Press and Print Culture Conference

Elesha Coffman

I wrote this post early, because today I am at Johann Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, for a conference on Protestants and the religious press. Logical place for such a conference, don't you think?

The conference, part of a larger project on "Pluralism, Boundary-Making, and Community-Building in North American Religious Periodicals," features a mixture of European and American scholars. Keynotes will be offered by David A. Copeland (Elon University), David Paul Nord (Indiana University), Gisela Mettele (Friedrich Schliller-Universitat, Jena), and Candy Gunther Brown (Indiana).

I was thrilled to be invited to this conference, both because I've never been to Germany and because I thought the organizers were asking really great questions in their conference description:

"How do we best approach religious print matter, what questions can such studies answer, and which new perspectives might they open up? ... What roles play individuals like editors, writers, and financiers in religious print culture? What structures underlie and what networks facilitate the religious press? What can we learn about the internal workings of religious groups? How do religious identities emerge and how are they maintained? How is the religious described and communicated? What strategies are employed to draw boundaries or unite disparate movements? How do different genres function within the context of the religious press? By what strategies are events explained and defined and do they impact the larger culture? What is the interrelation and meaning-exchange between a society and a religious subculture?"

Catholic and Quaker Interracial Activists

Karen Johnson

There's a fantastic body of literature on race and religion in American history for which many of our blog contributors are responsible.  While Americans' faith has both reinforced and torn down racial hierarchies, when historians search for white heroes regarding race, we often cite the Quakers, especially their earlier opposition to slavery.  But little has been written on Quaker efforts for civil rights in the 20th century.  Allan Austin's Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950 fills that void.  Austin traces Quaker-led American Friends Service Committee's various efforts to promote greater equality in the United States.  As I was reading, I became fascinated with the comparisons and contrasts between the AFSC's activism and that of the Catholic interracial activists I study.  I've written more on that below, but first, a brief summary of the history of Quaker-led activism.

Online Resources for the Study of Native American Religions

I'm happy to introduce another one of our new regular contributors: Sarah Dees. Sarah is a lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her dissertation examines the scientific study of Native American religions undertaken by a Smithsonian research office in the late-nineteenth century. In addition to conducting historical and ethnohistorical research on scientific articulations of religious and racial difference, she's interested in questions about the appropriation and commodification of Indigenous spiritual and medical practices. Sarah participates in the research seminar on Religion and U.S. Empire and teaches courses on American and Native American religions. We are happy to have her contributing posts that will reflect these research and teaching areas!

Sarah E. Dees

One of the classes I am teaching this semester focuses on problems in the study of Native American religions. We have examined ways in which colonialism, missionization, and restrictive federal Indian policies have impacted Indigenous religious practices. In guiding students through the process of crafting research papers, I have noticed, first, that many of my students (unsurprisingly) turn to the internet for research, and second, that they have trouble finding sources that reflect Native American perspectives. While I plan to draw on my university’s fantastic teaching museum for next semester’s iteration of the course, I am working to develop a list of online resources on Native American religion, history and culture. And, as November is Native American Heritage Month, I thought I would share a few resources today.

Journal of Southern Religion releases Volume 16

Emily Suzanne Clark

It gives me great pleasure to announce the publication of Volume 16 of the Journal of Southern Religion. Volume 16 features two full-length articles. University of Mississippi Ph.D. student Kari Edwards examines Tennessee's 1973 "Genesis Bill" and creationism in "'Equal Space with Adam and Eve': Tennessee's 'Genesis Bill' of 1973 and the 50th Anniversary of the Scopes Trial." In this article Edwards adds a fascinating chapter to the story of antievolutionism in the South by focusing on the strategies used by creationists in Tennessee. Danforth Center Associate Director Rachel McBride Lindsey explores the activism of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching in her article "'THIS BARBAROUS PRACTICE': Southern Churchwomen and Race in the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, 1930-1942." Even though southern women did not advocate for anti-lynching legislation, Lindsey's article shows us how the ASWPL used education to rally women to the anti-lynching cause. Former JSR Book Review Editor Art Remilard reflects on how he arrived at the project that became Southern Civil Religions: Imaging the Good Society in the Post-Reconstruction Era. All of our research projects can have unexpected starts and take unexpected turns, and Remillard introduces us to how Southern Civil Religions developed. And fourteen book reviews on recent book in the field round out the issue.

The new volume of the JSR can be found at our new url: jsreligion.org. Editor Doug Thompson of Mercer University writes about the new url and other recent changes at the journal in his editor's note: Technology and the Journal of Southern Religion. This was Doug's first issue as JSR Editor, and clearly, he's off to a good start. With this issue and the move onto the new url and server, web editor Lincoln Mullen will be stepping down. We are grateful for all his work bringing the journal fully into the 21st century. This is the first issue with our new Book Review Editor Carolyn Dupont of Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to welcoming Carolyn to the team, this is also the first issue for the JSR's new copyeditors Charlie McCrary and Adam Brasich, both Ph.D. students in American religious history at Florida State University.

So click on over to jsreligion.org and read the new issue. Share your thoughts on twitter. Tweet us your thoughts on the issue at @JSReligion or use the hashtag #southernreligion

Religion and Politics in 21st Century America

Today's guest post is written by Brian Franklin, Associate Director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. In this post Brian recaps the recent Religion and Politics in 21st Century America conference co-sponsored by the Center for Presidential History and the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. Interested readers will want to stay tuned for more to come out of this conference: C-SPAN will broadcast the conference and there is a forthcoming edited volume in the works. 

Brian Franklin 

On November 6, sixteen scholars and hundreds of Dallas-area residents came together at Southern Methodist University for "Religion and Politics in 21st Century America," a conference featuring a keynote address by Senator John Danforth. The conference was co-sponsored by the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Thanks to the editorial leadership of Darren Dochuk and Matthew Sutton, we will soon see the fruit of these presentations in a publication with Oxford University Press.

The limits of time and space prohibit me from doing justice to every presentation from the day. You can view the complete lineup here, and soon, C-SPAN will be broadcasting the conference in its entirety.  For now, allow me to highlight three themes that the stood out amongst the sixteen presentations.

Warrior Wives and Evangelical Gender Norms

Seth Dowland

Over the weekend, The Atlantic published a fascinating piece on the “Warrior Wives” of evangelical Christianity. The title grabbed my attention immediately, as it connected the normally masculine warrior ideal with women. Such a connection is not totally surprising; evangelicals have employed militaristic metaphors for decades, if not centuries. It turns out, as well, that Atlantic editors were merely taking their cues from one of the more popular evangelical women’s blogs, Warrior Wives. But I still found it curious. When is it OK for a woman to be a warrior? How do evangelicals simultaneously hold gender norms that assign men and women to complementary roles alongside a rhetoric that enjoins everyone—man or woman—to fight?

The Atlantic piece rightly placed gender norms at the center of evangelical understandings of marriage and sexuality.  Author Emma Green repeatedly turned to Amy DeRogatis, whose excellent new book Saving Sex shows (among other things) how evangelical women have recast the feminist ideal of empowerment in the realm of sexuality. Women can wield power by withholding sex before marriage and by indulging their husbands’ purportedly stronger sex drives after the wedding day. Chaste evangelical women also claim power by avoiding the “sexually transmitted demons” that plague the unfaithful and the promiscuous.

The Devil's Music

Paul Harvey

Just a quick note to point you to this great interview on BBC Ulster with RiAH contributor and former blogmeister Randall Stephens about his forthcoming work The Devil's Music: Christianity and the Rock Since the 1950s (which Harvard U. Press will publish sometime down the road a bit). The book "will delve into the sometimes productive, sometimes tumultuous relationship between so-callsed sacred and profane music from the days when Elvis first made it bit to the modern era of the multi-million dollar Christian music industry. The interview nicely intersperses the music with the Randall interview segments.

The link takes you to a post from the American Studies program at Northumbria University (in Newcastle, England) about the work and the interview.

Prudence Crandall's Legacy

Paul Harvey

Here's a book to recommend to you all because it tells you about something you think you know about, but it turns out most likely you probably don't, really -- except for you, Carol Faulkner, since this hits your bailiwick.

The book in question here is Donald Williams, Prudence Crandall's Legacy: The Fight for Equality in the 1830s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education.  

This book definitively tells the amazing story of Prudence Crandall, the woman whose “School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color” in Canterbury, Connecticut led to a series of social conflicts over black citizenship rights. From her fledgling (and short-lived) attempt to educate young black women comes a direct line to court cases starting in Connecticut with Crandall v. State but soon leading to the Amistad  case, the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, and eventually Brown v. Board. The dramatis personae of this book is incredible – nearly all the leading abolitionists, but especially Crandall’s ally William Lloyd Garrison, play important roles, as does a local lawyer and legislator named Andrew Judson who prosecuted and fought Crandall for years and denied that the Constitution afforded citizenship rights to blacks, only to later (and shockingly to President Martin Van Buren) issue a ruling for the defendants  in the Amistad case. Crandall survived more outrageous misfortune than seems humanly possible, including an eventual marriage to a mentally troubled man, but at the end of her financially straitened life had an offer from Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) to purchase her former home for her use. More than that, it seems like just about everyone of note in antebellum America interacted with Crandall, her friends, or her tormentors at one point or another. 

Crandall's long life and legacy take up most of the book -- the Brown v. Board part is a sort of epilogue. What I found most compelling here is just the wealth of detail of the day-to-day struggles of Crandall provided by the author, and the astonishing persistence with which local legal authorities pursued and basically persecuted her through the 1830s leading up to the court case State v. Crandall. It's no surprise that life for free blacks (and their allies) in the antebellum North could be incredibly difficult, but this story illuminates it in ways that will give you a new appreciation for the era. 

Review: America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation, by Grant Wacker


America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation. By Grant Wacker. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014. 413pp. cloth. $27.95.

It is not easy to imagine life in post-World War II America without Billy Graham and the evangelical movement. Students of American Christianity can recite the significant turning points in Graham’s public life: Los Angeles in 1949 and “Puff Graham;” New York City in 1957; Truman, Ike, JFK, and LBJ; Nixon, Watergate, and the White House tapes; over 1 million at one Korea Crusade meeting; Johnny Cash and the born again 1970s; the USSR in the 1980s; Central Park; and so on. Crafting a fresh look at Billy Graham is not an easy task, largely due to his high profile public life and the abundance of existing works devoted to telling his story. In America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation, Grant Wacker provides the new standard for interpreting Billy Graham as well as an essential look at the evangelical movement in the latter twentieth century. Neither an apologist nor an opponent, Wacker’s tenacious pursuit of accuracy is done first for the sake of good history, but also as a service to Graham himself. Getting the story right is a tribute to Graham’s life and work. Wacker examines exhaustive evidence and cites many historians by name to acknowledge their good work on Graham.

Wacker asks three framing questions for interpreting Billy Graham. He wonders how Graham became the “least colorful and most powerful preacher in America.” Further, he asks how Graham brought evangelical ideas into everyday life, and simultaneously shaped American culture while it was also shaping him. Wacker suggests a simple answer for all three inquiries: Graham consistently appropriated cultural trends for evangelistic and reform purposes. In doing so, he always kept a moderated political stance that pleased presidents and powerful leaders around the world. His longevity was a testimony to his restraint on controversial matters, and also his refusal to accept many of the lucrative offers to take on additional roles other than his public ministry. He was above all an evangelist, or “America’s pastor,” as President George H. W. Bush called him. The result of this appropriation of culture was that American evangelicalism pulled away from the fundamentalist movement, then matched and eventually surpassed mainline Protestantism in terms of cultural influence. It requires a deep exploration of Billy Graham’s work to chronicle that development over his 65-year public life. Wacker deconstructs the public image of Graham into eight roles that provide the chapter organization for the book. Within each of these studies, Wacker breaks down various roles into specific categories, boundaries, beliefs, practices, and other details. This precise analysis and organization, along with Wacker’s eloquent voice, make for a compelling read. 

Redeemer II

Edward J.  Blum

Below is part II of our fall round table on Randall Balmer’s Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter. Although most of us know Balmer as a correspondent for The Christian Century's "Then and Now" blog, he also, on occasion, writes longer pieces. :) For the fascinating first RIAH review by Elesha Coffman, see here. There are a host of other great reviews, too. The Christian CenturyWashington Post; Wall Street Journal; New York Times. The one below comes from James K.Wellman, Jr. Professor and Chair, Comparative Religion Program, Jackson School of International Affairs, University of Washington.

James K. Wellman, Jr.

Randall Balmer’s beautifully written book is above all a joy to read. Balmer’s writing has always been elegant and insightful, and he is at his best in this loving portrait of someone who seems to embody his ideals and hopes for American religion, politics and culture. Balmer is perfectly suited to explicate and outline the full flavor of Carter’s religious life and how it shaped and profoundly impacted his political career. For Balmer, Carter is the quintessential progressive evangelical: favoring women’s rights, equal rights for all, human rights overseas, compassion for the poor, all the while carrying a deep sense of piety and purpose in his faith in Jesus Christ. I was struck by Carter’s dedication to his faith. Carter meant it when he said he was Christian. Even as President, Carter taught Bible studies, attended church and clearly sought political policies that reflected his faith: the belief in the family; care for the environment; nuclear disarmament; peaceful solutions for foreign policy conflicts—indeed, the last president under whom we haven’t gone to war.

Digital Religious Studies @ AAR 2014

By Chris Cantwell

UPDATE: Just confirmed the final workshop will be Omeka. Updated the note below

Just a few brief announcements for those of you planning on attending the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting in sunny San Diego at the end of the month. There are a couple of fantastic panels, workshops, and sessions that focus on how technology is rapidly changing the study of religion. So if you're planning on attending, consider adding some digital humanities to your conference schedule.

First, I wanted to let everyone know about a late addition to the AAR program that may be of interest to many of our readers. On Saturday, November 22 at 12:30pm the Social Science Research Council is sponsoring a roundtable I am leading titled "New Media, New Audiences: Making the Study of Religion Online." The roundtable is a part of a report Hussein Rashid and I are writing for the SSRC on the study of religion's new digital landscape and will feature the directors and curators of some of the most innovative born-digital projects out there. Our stellar line up includes:

Secondly, as I've announced so many times before, the AAR is hosting its second annual THATCamp--or The Humanities and Technology Camp--on Friday, November 21 from 9am to 5pm. I'll save you my usual spiel that unlike regular conference meetings THATCamps focus on practical, hands-on discussions of technology's role in the study of religion over individual presentations of research. I'll also save you the pitch I typically make on the way campers have significant impact on a camp's program by proposing--beginning next week!--what sessions will run at THATCamp.

But I did want to let everyone know that just a few slots remain, so if you're interested in attending head over to the THATCamp AAR 2014 blog and register now. It's free, and you're by no means obligated to stay the whole day. But you may want to because I can also now confirm the workshops featured at this year's camp. A number of sharp scholars have generously donated their time to come lead campers in how to use a variety of tools. You can get the full abstract for these workshops over at the blog, but as a teaser I can tell you that:
Like last year, this year's THATCamp promises to be a lot of fun. So make sure to follow the THATCamp AAR 2014 blog for the latest news!

Book Review: Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage, and Fatherhood


Samira K. Mehta

Keren McGinity.  Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage, and Fatherhood. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014)

Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage and Fatherhood, Keren McGinity’s second book on marriage between Jews and non-Jews, tackles the deeply underexplored topic of Jewish men in marriages to women who were not born Jewish. McGinity’s work seeks to explore the experiences of intermarried Jewish men, both as husbands and, more importantly, as fathers. To do so, she assembles a range of historical and cultural sources and conducts in-depth interviews with these couples and families. McGinity’s specific labeling of the women as “not born Jewish” is an important distinction.  It flags her consideration of couples who remained interfaith, as well as those in which the wife converted to Judaism before or during the marriage. She points out that if, for instance, a couple decides not to have Christmas in their home, the wife may deeply miss her own childhood traditions at that time of year, whether or not she has formally converted.  McGinity’s study analyzes both groups in order to claim that many of the dynamics of an interfaith marriage remain, regardless of conversion, across the spectrum of these families.  These issues include ambivalence about Christian traditions sacrificed in order to establish or maintain a Jewish home, as well as negotiation of the extended family. McGinity’s analysis foregrounds the interplay of gender, parenting, and religiosity, and provides often insightful observations about the potential for Jewish men to shape their children’s religious identities.  In doing so, she does not combat the sociological reality that women do the bulk of childrearing, including many Christian women raising Jewish children. She does, however, explore how men understand their own commitment to Judaism and how it does, and does not, translate into direct action.

newer post older post