Walking the City

We conclude our roundtable review on Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham with a reflection from the author himself. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the conversation, and please do chime in below to continue the dialogue.

What a genuine pleasure it has been this week to have four thoughtful scholars of American religion share their journeys through Evangelical Gotham. I can’t think of better traveling companions. I have admired their scholarship and benefited from their conversation over the past decade. As with the best walks through a city, they have allowed me to point out the sites that most interest and excite me and, in return, have shared my enthusiasm, asked for clarification, and drawn my attention to things that I have missed.

This book began as an excuse to get off the Amtrak at Penn Station during my regular commute in graduate school between Boston and Philadelphia. The books that intrigued me the most at that time (and which helped me while away the six-hour train ride) were the new histories of evangelicalism that sought to understand not only what evangelicals did, but why they did it. What would make an enslaved woman join the Moravian Church? How did a slaveholder reconcile his need for independence with the conversion of his wife and slaves? How could a “crazy” itinerant melt hearts?  With notable exceptions, these new histories were often stories of camp meetings in the rural hinterland, of circuit preachers riding to an early grave. What happened to evangelicals when they went to the city? 

On Maps, Faiths, and Works

This next post in our ongoing roundtable review of Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham comes to us from Christine Croxall. A scholar of the religious histories of the Mississippi River Valley at the dawn of the nineteenth century, Crozall is a postdoctoral research associate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Her post is also the last in this series. Kyle Roberts' response will come tomorrow.

by Christine Croxall

Old St. Peter's Catholic Church
Huzzah for visuals! In Evangelical Gotham Kyle Roberts not only gives us woodcuts, drawings, and paintings of the meetings houses that dotted early Manhattan, but he also provides seven maps plotting New York houses of worship for the years 1790, 1810, 1823, 1828, 1834, 1845, and 1856. These maps and the series of congregation and membership tables in the appendix, I suspect, will become definitive data for early New York religion.

 The final chapter of Evangelical Gotham is, in my mind, the key to the entire project. The question it considers is not so much why did the stakeholders of a dwindling Methodist congregation come to fisticuffs in the street in 1856? but instead, what does the church's history tell us about evangelicalism's role in the expansion of New York City? Roberts traces how the members of John Street Methodist Episcopal Church rebuilt their meetinghouse in lower Manhattan, not once, but twice in the early 1800s, and then opted—after their public tussle—to stay rooted there rather than moving uptown with their Presbyterian and Baptist neighbors. In Roberts's telling, the John Street church is an exception that illumines a broader trend. By mapping congregations' proliferation and dispersal and contextualizing New York's church growth in relation to the city's economic and demographic expansion, Roberts offers a generative interpretation of religious developments in early New York.

Mapping the Women of "Evangelical Gotham"

We continue our series on Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham with a post from friend of the blog and assistant professor of history at Colgate University Monica Mercado. Where prior posts honed in on the how cities and spaces fit into Robert's analysis, Mercado highlights the ways in which these concepts both mask and reveal gender.

by Monica L. Mercado

During the first weeks of my lecture course “Women in the City,” I introduce my undergraduate students to the complex geographies of lower Manhattan, or what the historian Kyle Roberts calls Evangelical Gotham. Sitting in a classroom in upstate New York, our windows facing the hills and valleys that made up the nineteenth century’s infamous “Burned-Over District,” we scrutinize early engravings of Five Points and other images of men and women navigating urban space in antebellum America.

The Five Points
With Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860, Roberts reminds his readers that late eighteenth and nineteenth-century evangelical Protestantism -- so often understood as the rural camp meeting, a world away from the imagined depravity of the crowded, congested, “godless” city – was actually an urban phenomenon, deeply rooted in changing ideas of space and place. “Evangelicals,” he writes in the book’s Introduction, “positioned themselves well for the spiritual marketplace by rethinking what made space sacred and experimenting with new kinds of religious places.” Those places often lacked a steeple or set of pews -- recognizable markers of religious architecture in the expanding city grid. Instead, Roberts argues, his actors understood the sacred “to come not from the physical space itself but from the actions of believers.” Storefront churches, publishing houses, hospitals and orphanages could be, in Roberts’ words, reclaimed and reformed by men and women with evangelical agendas. (8)

The Places of "Evangelical Gotham"

Today we continue our roundtable review of Kyle Roberts' Evangelical Gotham with a post from longtime RiAH blogger Lincoln Mullen. You can see the rest of the posts in this series here. 

by Lincoln Mullen

New York's churches 1845
from Roberts, Evangelical Gotham
 In his elegantly written account, Kyle Roberts takes his readers on a tour of Evangelical Gotham. The book has a strong chronological through line, explaining how evangelicals went through three distinct periods in bringing their message of conversion and reform to New York City (10--11). While the spatial organization of the book is less obvious from its table of contents, Evangelical Gotham is a book that is fundamentally organized around place. This may seem like an obvious point to make about a book that focuses on a single city, but my aim is to show how Roberts uses spatial concepts.
Evangelical Gotham is explicit in its debt to the concept of "crossing and dwelling" articulated by Thomas Tweed. Roberts makes this clear in his first chapter, where he writes about spiritual autobiographies at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. He takes a fresh approach to this topic by giving conversion narratives a meaning both in geographic and spiritual space. Evangelicals crossed religious boundaries by converting, but many of them did so at the same time that they were crossing the ocean or moving to the city. And once they arrived in New York, these newly converted evangelicals had to dwell not just in the city but also had to find a church or "community of faith" (27).

Geographic and spiritual space were thus experienced in mutually constitutive ways. This conjunction becomes a key to understanding much of the book, as does the emphasis on conversion. Conversion and other themes such as benevolence or reform recur throughout the book because they were perennial evangelical concerns. A real contribution of the book is the way that Roberts sets those concerns in relation to other questions such as denominational affiliation and worship practice. A key sentence comes in the conclusion, where he writes, "As denominational and sectarian choices proliferated, evangelicalism's appeal lay in the ease with which its small core of common principles could be incorporated into the matrix of beliefs and practices provided by them" (254). As any number of studies have told us, evangelicalism is a transdenominational movement focusing on conversion. Evangelical Gotham shows how people who held those evangelical convictions had to live them out in different churches competing within a single city. If most studies of evangelicalism are weighted towards crossing, then this book gives due emphasis to dwelling.

A Roundtable on Roberts, "Evangelical Gotham"

Cities have long haunted this history of American evangelicalism. They are sites evangelicals either fear or feel the need to control. But in Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860 (University of Chicago Press, 2016), Kyle Roberts highlights the ways in which evangelicalism was uniquely suited to urban forms of expression. Roberts, an associate professor of history and new media at Loyola University in Chicago, has long been a friend of the blog. He's written at length about his digital project on the development of America's Jesuit university libraries. So for this week, we're turning RiAH over to a roundtable reflecting upon Roberts' new book.

Our first post comes from Catherine O'Donnell, an associate professor of history at Arizona State University. In her post, O'Donnell lays out what's at stake in writing an urban history of evangelicalism. Future posts throughout this week will hone in on other matters. And on Friday, Roberts himself will respond.

by Catherine O'Donnell

Lewis Tappan
 What a marvelous idea it was to explore evangelicals, a big and messy group, in New York City, a literal and bounded space. Drawing on a range of sources across a number of decades,  Kyle Roberts shows us buildings rising, filling with worshippers, and falling into disuse; pamphlets being printed, read, and set aside; and congregations forming and coming apart.  Like time-lapse photography, Gotham offers a view of historical change that feels both intimate and grand.

Roberts starts, as historians love to do, by telling us we’ve got something all wrong. New York City was not a godless place, he explains, nor was evangelicalism a rural phenomenon. Instead, evangelical congregations, benevolent societies, and printing enterprises flourished in New York City and helped to create its physical and cultural landscapes. Roberts may understate the extent to which historians such as Anne M. Boylan have, by exploring women’s benevolent work, already helped us to see evangelicalism in an urban context. Nonetheless, his work is invaluable. Gotham provides  a careful accounting of the growth of evangelicalism in absolute and relative terms, Roberts’ precision offering a welcome reminder of scholars’ need to count as well as read. Yet  -- mirabile dictu! -- Roberts reads brilliantly, too, both texts and architectural blueprints; he wants not only to demonstrate that evangelicalism flourished in Gotham, but to explain why it did. He attends to instrumental uses of religion – it creates community services – and its intangible ones.  “Unsure of their place in the world and no longer able to rely on the security of their place in tight-knit communities,” he argues, evangelicals needed “a faith not of adherence but of active piety” (18).  Roberts also contends that New Yorkers valued evangelicalism because of “the premium it placed on personal discovery of an individuated experience” (19). His analyses of individual evangelicals such as Elizabeth Palmer movingly demonstrate the way faith spurred anxiety and achievement, creating and unsettling relationships and institutions as it did.

Police and American Religions

Charles McCrary

How can scholars of American religion incorporate police and policing into our narratives? I have been kicking around this question for a while, and I have a few very preliminary ideas and suggestions. In recent years the field of American religious studies has continued to expand the purview of what counts as data. So, I doubt many readers would say that police and policing do not fit within our narratives. But the question remains—as it does with so many other topics—how to bridge these questions and data sets with our existing frameworks and narratives. What follows are some disorganized thoughts about what a sustained conversation about police and religion might look like.

Scholars often study the police within the context of surveillance studies. Foucault’s ideas about policing have of course been influential here. I recommend Andrew Johnson’s piece on Foucault, the police, and neoliberalism. Johnson shows how Foucault moved from understanding the police as a state institution “isomorphic with the prison, both employing disciplinary techniques to control a free population and part of a carceral continuum” (5) in Discipline and Punish to, in the Security, Territory, Population lectures, “a ‘secret history of the police’ where greater attention is paid to public health, social welfare and regulating the marketplace than investigating and arresting criminals” (6). We can see how this tracks with the shift toward governmentality. This is one of a number of ways we can uncover the pervasive power of policing, though I wonder if an overly expansive definition of “police,” while probably advancing fruitful lines of analysis, might also distract from efforts to incorporate new characters into our narratives.

Many scholars of American religion have turned their attention recently to surveillance and related topics like intelligence and security. Sylvester Johnson and Steven Weitzman’s new edited collection The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security before and after 9/11 offers various perspectives and case studies related to the FBI, and a number of scholars (some of whom are included in the volume) are at work on forthcoming projects related to the FBI and other agencies of domestic surveillance and intelligence. For a long time, scholars of new religious movements have studied the FBI, ATF, and other agencies, particularly in light of their violent encounters with NRMs. Also, scholars have studied American Muslims after 9/11 and, more recently, in light of targeted bans and rising Islamophobia (including anti-sharia legislation, for example). I’m particularly interested in how more attention to “religio-racial identity” might help us study the role of religion in the surveillance of racialized bodies (I have in mind here Simone Browne’s Dark Matters, especially the chapter on the TSA). Surveillance and intelligence gathering are of course not only domestic security practices, but that the United States and other imperial states have often used religion as a category of (colonial) governance, as a way to understand, control, and influence populations. With these questions in mind, scholars like Mike Graziano have turned our attention to the OSS and CIA and their uses for “religion” (and academically produced discourse on “world religions”). All of this is great work, and it certainly contributes to whatever nascent discussion we might organize around “religion and police.” The line between police and military is becoming ever hazier, but, still, what about local police and sheriff departments?

Call for Submissions for new Book Series Religion in American History

The following comes from Chris Beneke and Christopher Grenda, editor of a new book series for Lexington Books. -- PH

Lexington Books invites submissions for Religion in American History, a new book series that focuses on colonial and U.S. religious history, especially the history of religious tolerance, religious intolerance, and church-state relations. Monographs and edited volumes relating to all aspects of American religious history are welcome, provided they are written in an accessible and engaging style. Those that examine episodes of conflict, patterns of cooperation, and the evolving relationship between religion, state, and society will receive particular consideration.

Series Editor(s): 
Chris Beneke (Bentley University, cbeneke@bentley.edu)
Christopher S. Grenda (CUNY, Bronx Community College, csgmd1@aol.com)

Series Editorial Contact: 
Brian Hill, Lexington Books (bhill@rowman.com) 

Christian Nationalism in American History: A New Series

Mark Edwards

Just a quick word to check out a recently completed series on Christian nationalism at Religions.  The eight marvelous essays cover topics ranging from the Native American preacher William Appess, Federalists, and West Point, to Richard Mouw, Donald Trump, the ecumenical movement, evangelical internationalism, and religious pluralism.  I'd like to thank all the contributors and reviewers for this collection.  We're also grateful for the wonderful support from the Religions editorial staff.  Happy reading, everyone!

The Catholic News Archive

Catherine R. Osborne

While admittedly sometimes the very last thing I want is more sources -- there are so many sources, I lament as I trim redundant quotes out of my current manuscript -- I also can't help but be excited by how many digitization projects are out there. One with incredible potential, I think, is the Catholic News Archive, a project of the Catholic Research Resources Alliance.

Compassionate Conservatism, We Hardly Knew Ye

Elesha Coffman

The recent Christianity Today story "Evangelical Leaders Challenge Trump's 'America First' Budget" immediately made me think of three things.

One, so much for "compassionate conservatism," a phrase popularized by President George W. Bush. This old talking points sheet unpacks some of what he meant by it:

"It is compassionate to actively help our citizens in need."

"We do not believe in a sink-or-swim society. The policies of our government must heed the universal call of all faiths to love our neighbors as we would want to be loved ourselves."

"Compassionate conservatism places great hope and confidence in public education."

"It is compassionate to increase our international aid."

That was 2002, folks. Even the recent past is a foreign country.

Two, the roster of signatories to the letter opposing Trump's budget provides an interesting look at what constitutes "leadership" in American evangelicalism. This is a big question when you're talking about a movement that tends to eschew denominational structures, looks askance at cultural elites, and engages in a constant internal battle about its own boundaries. ("So what is an evangelical, for the love of God, and why does it even matter?" asked Jonathan Merritt in The Atlantic a couple of years ago.) This list of folks that the "evangelical flagship" magazine Christianity Today dubs "evangelical leaders" includes a bunch of Catholics, heads of several parachurch organizations, pastors, a smattering of academics, denominational figures from a pretty wide range of traditions, and several musicians, notably (to this child of the 1980s) Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Overall, the list strikes me as a useful window into the institutions and various forms of cultural capital that pertain in the evangelical world--unless these folks aren't actually "leaders" in the sense of having followers.

Who gets a seat at the table?: New entrees to historiography

The blog is pleased to welcome this post from guest contributor Dr. Michael Skaggs. Michael Skaggs recently defended his dissertation, "Reform in the Queen City: Religion and Race in Cincinnati in the Era of Vatican II," in the Department of History at the University of Notre Dame. He vastly prefers Glier’s goetta over Queen City and Skyline over Gold Star. He hopes you’ll reach him at skaggsmichaela@gmail.com or on Twitter @maskaggs.

I've had occasion to read more broadly since defending my dissertation in December. I've also been grateful for the opportunity to reflect on my research interests and where they might fit into broader conversations moving forward.

In the roundtable on food history published in the December 2016 Journal of American History, Mark Padoongpatt's observations on the pertinence of "the debate over whether food is valuable because it serves as an 'entrée' into more important themes in American history or if it is inherently valuable" intrigued me. The roundtable interested me not because of my own research but because of what I've previously thought to be an outside interest: what food means and what our eating of it means to us. Yet as I made my way though Padoongpatt's generous article - his contribution to the roundtable is the most evenhanded in its evaluation of academics' and more popular food writers' contributions to the field - I realized that it would not be difficult to substitute "religion" for "food" throughout the series and still have a coherent, thought-provoking set of essays.

Consider these further sentences from Padoongpatt, this time with the substitution: "How is the story of [religion] and immigrant identity formation different from histories of immigrant identity formation through music or sports? Why does American history even need [religion] as a framework? Does it allow us to interpret and understand significant turning points and historical change in original ways? Are we merely covering old ground, only entering through a different door? Paying more attention to and integrating the intrinsic elements of [religion]...can expand historical narratives while highlighting the validity of [religion] as a way to interpret the American past."

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