Pause. And Begin Again. Tracy Fessenden on Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion

Tracy Fessenden delivered this comment at the 2016 AAR meeting in San Antonio on Jason Bivins's work Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion, The first comment, from Paul Harvey, was previously posted here.

A Pedagogy of the Not-ShockedTracy Fessenden

Jason Bivins’s Spirits Rejoice! is inspiration and solace to me I contemplate what pedagogy and scholarship might look like in the months and years to come, what either might include.  Those of us who hoped for a different result on November 8 fall roughly into two groups. Call these groups the shocked and the not-shocked: those for whom the energies that drove and delivered this outcome feel painfully new and strange, incomprehensible, and those for whom they feel painfully familiar.  On November 9 educators in Arizona began to work to ensure that our state’s 2000-odd undocumented college students be afforded “arrangements for the continuation of their degree programs” in the event of their promised “arrest, imprisonment, and deportation” under the coming Administration.  

[Repost] CFP: Religions Texas: Mapping Diversity A Consultation

Back by popular demand and for a signal boost, this is a re-post of a CFP for Religions Texas: Mapping Religious Diversity, A Consultation. The deadline was extended. You may send proposals in by the end of the week. 

Call for Proposals:
Religions Texas: Mapping Diversity
A Consultation

Maps are useful tools for giving meaning and coherence to space. They identify patterns that illuminate the relationship between space and place and create a picture of a landscape. They can illustrate proximity and introduce a reader to her or his neighbors. They play a role in imagining communities. Yet, a map is not territory. And far from neutral, the process of map-making, or representation, reflects the interests and biases of the mapmaker, the scholar. In mapping religions, this often means that points on the map may reflect dominant, majority groups deemed significant and privilege groups that can be easily identified and counted. However, in the field of religious studies, current scholarship is moving away from simplistic definitions and representations of religion and towards more nuanced approaches to religion. Approaching mapping digitally offers resources for confronting these challenges. Digital maps allow for far more layers than the traditional print map, such as representations of change over time and the inclusion of narratives and multimedia data.

The University of Texas Department of Religious Studies and the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life are planning an extensible public humanities project to digitally map and document the religious diversity of Texas, a fast-growing, new immigrant destination with evolving dynamics of diversity. To kick off this initiative, we are convening a consultation on January 26-27, 2017 to bring together scholars of religion and culture to generate a broad conversation about documenting and mapping religions and develop the conceptual foundation for a publicly accessible, engaging, and sustainable digital resource on religious diversity in Texas.

We invite proposals for one of four roundtables that address the following or related questions:
  1. Mapping and Delineating Religious Diversity
    What are some best approaches for documenting and mapping religions and diversity? What are the theoretical challenges? What normative assumptions are implied in our methodological choices? How do we draw boundaries and define traditions, communities or groups?
  2. Documenting Religion and Digital Humanities
    What are resources and models for best practices in digitally documenting religion or culture? How can digital tools facilitate gathering cultural information? What is the relationship between the data and the digital tools? How does this affect the collection and interpretation of data?
  3.  Taking a Regional Approach to the Study of Religions in Texas and Beyond
    What new insights come to light when studying religion regionally? What can the study of religion in Texas tell us about this geographic, social, and cultural place? How do religious and cultural identities shape the place that is Texas and the subsequent civic identities associated with it?
  4. Public Humanities and Religious Literacy
    What are the civic benefits and pedagogical outcomes of mapping religious diversity in terms of public education and professional development? What role can digital humanities play in the public understanding of religion in the United States? What are best practices for creating engaging and accessible public humanities projects?
Each presenter will give a ten-minute or less presentation and then engage in a dynamic, productive moderator-led conversation. Proposals should be 250-500 hundred words. Send submissions to both Tiffany Puett: and Chad E. Seales: by November 15, 2016. Please identify your topic and include a brief biographical statement.

Editor's Note: RiAH readers are encouraged to send CFPs and other professional announcements directly to Blogmeister Cara Burnidge, 

CFA: Inquiry on Religion and Migration


During the academic year 2017/18, the Center will hold an “Inquiry on Religion & Migration.” The human species has been a migrant one since its evolution out of Africa. In an era of forced migration, this phenomenon is now of global concern. Religion is a key factor in the movement of peoples and the study of migration. What do religious traditions look like when seen through the lens of migration? In what ways do religious communities influence the immigrant experience? How should religious actors respond to what Saskia Sassen has called emergent migrant flows, including unaccompanied minors, religious minorities, and those fleeing war zones and despoiled habitats? To what extent can religions make a normative contribution to public debates on migrants and refugees? How can ecumenical, comparative, and interreligious theologies take migration into account? The Center invites applications from scholars in theology, religious studies, migration studies, the humanities, and social sciences with projects that will inform the wider inquiry.

The Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) convenes leading thinkers in an interdisciplinary research environment where theology makes an impact on global concerns. The Center offers its resident community of scholars optimal conditions for research, including spacious studies, furnished housing, and access to world class libraries. Scholars in CTI’s program welcome its terms of membership: working daily at the Center alongside fellow members; meeting weekly in a Colloquium to discuss work in progress and emerging questions; and participating in Symposia with visiting scholars, addressing questions of migration in relation to globalization, refugees, Islamic Law, biblical texts, world religions, and local case studies.

Symposium speakers include Saskia Sassen (Columbia U.), David Hollenbach (Georgetown U.), Anver Emon (U. of Toronto), and John Ahn (Howard U.) in the Fall Semester. Peter Phan (Georgetown U.) will lead a Spring Semester series on the impact of migration on religion.

Applications should be made for one or both semesters: Fall Semester, mid-August to mid- December, 2017; Spring Semester, mid-January to mid-May, 2018. CTI members are required to live in the Center’s housing in Princeton in order to take an active part in the interdisciplinary exchange with fellow members in the Inquiry. The Center will offer a limited number of stipends for one semester to offset additional living costs (including a monthly housing fee of $1,000 plus utilities), but scholars must secure funding from their home institution or external sources.

Apply online at The deadline for receipt of applications for resident membership for 2017/2018 is January 16, 2017, 11:59 pm EST. All queries about the Inquiry or application process should be sent to the Application Manager:

Review of Christine Leigh Heyrman’s American Apostles: When Evangelicals Entered the World of Islam

Lauren Turek

I recently received a copy of Christine Leigh Heyrman’s newest book, American Apostles: When Evangelicals Entered the World of Islam, which came out late last year with Hill and Wang publishers. Most readers of this blog will likely be familiar with Heyrman's previous Bancroft Prize-winning work, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt, so I thought I might share a review of her new monograph here.

American Apostles tells the fascinating tale of three American evangelical missionaries—Pliny Fisk, Levi Parsons, and Jonas King—who left their New England homes to spread the Christian Gospel throughout the Middle East during the early 19th century. As these founding members of the “Palestine Mission” traveled through Ottoman Turkey and the Levant, they chronicled their encounters with Muslims, as well as Jews, Catholics, and other Middle Eastern Christians, eager to gather information about the Middle East, its peoples, and its religions. Fisk, Parsons, and King sent these accounts back to the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) for publication in newspapers and Christian periodicals in the United States. In addition to their official journals, each man also kept private diaries. Heyrman notes that archivists have only recently managed to find the full body of Fisk’s private writings, and her incorporation of these documents allows her to examine the story of the Palestine Mission anew. Her careful reading of these diaries, and the information these diaries captured that the official journals omitted, reveals how each of these men encountered Islam, how they “invented” and reinvented Islam for their American audiences through their descriptions of these encounters, and how they reshaped and redefined evangelicalism in the process. (16).

A Surplus of Brilliance: On Spirits Rejoicing Through This Apocalypse

Paul Harvey

At this year's just-completed American Academy of Religion, I was privileged to participate in a session on Jason Bivins's work Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion. Other participants included Tracy Fessenden, Kathryn Lofton, and Joseph Winters. I'm posting in my comments below for anyone's interest, and also because, as I said at the session, I was delighted to participate in a panel about a book that I love, written by a brilliant scholar and man that I also love. A shout-out to Jason and his work, which Jason himself posted about previously here and here. I also recommend a post of his at the Oxford University Press blog, here, where he focuses particularly on Coltrane's Love Supreme.

A Surplus of Brilliance: On Spirits Rejoicing Through This Apocalypse

During the 1980s, while in graduate school, if people asked me if was “still religious” or “still went to church,” I often replied, with studied sardonic intonation, “sure, I got to Yoshi’s regularly.” Yoshi’s was a jazz club, then on Claremont Avenue in North Oakland, which featured a regular roster of the jazz greats passing through town, often on their way to Japan. Having been raised a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma, I spent my nearly decade-long sojourn in Northern California in part as a spiritual “seeker.” Evidently I missed the “find” part of seek and ye shall find, as nothing concrete or tangible emerged from the seeking. But when I left Yoshi’s or any other venue of music that reached spiritual heights, I often felt that I had been part of some communal ritual of struggle, cleansing, and release. It felt "religious."

On another occasion, in the midst of struggling through the Dissertation Blues, I was felled one Friday by a migraine headache the likes of which I had never had before, and thankfully never since to that degree. The auras accompanying it were there; the orishas were absent. Somehow, on Saturday night I struggled out of the house and made it to Koncepts Cultural Gallery in downtown Oakland, for reasons I no longer remember. What I experienced was a quartet (
led by Henry Threadgill, I now remember, but I was not familiar with him at the time) – a tuba, a piano, a sax, and a guitar – that ripped through and riffed off African American musical history from the spirituals to the 1980s in an hour and a half of some of the most astonishing music making I have ever seen. I was exhilarated; I was healed by the ritual. The incantations had worked their magic. But a day later I could not reproduce what I had heard; it was all over but the shouting. 

RiAH and Digital Futures

Cara Burnidge

As Chris Cantewell mentioned earlier this month, he and Kristian Petersen organized a stellar panel on the Digital Futures of Religious Studies. As an AAR Wildcard Session, they have planned a panel that is, in Chris's words,  "robust and expansive, with discussions about digital research projects, online publications, and new media teaching methods." With a baker's dozen sitting on the panel, the session promises to offer a variety of perspectives and consideration of an array of digital technologies.

As a part of the panel, I'm representing Religion in American History. To frame my thoughts on blogging and the role of RiAH, I've prepared a slideshow. As a preview for those who will be at the panel and as a way to bring more people in to the conversation, you can scroll through it here. Clicking through is worth if for nothing else than the picture of the one and only Paul Harvey. My thoughts can be summarized pretty simply: rather than conceptualizing blogs (especially this blog) as a part of the traditional professional triad of teaching/research/service, I think we should think of it instead as the glue that holds those pieces together. Blogs can serve in any of those three roles, depending on the blog and how contributors or readers use it. And each blog is different. For some, it might make sense to make a case that their blog contributions "fit" as research, but for others that isn't necessarily the case (and that can be okay). At this blog, I see contributors and readers use it for research, teaching, and service, but also a fourth important aspect of scholarly activity: community building. This aspect of blogging is essential for any field because it helps to create the network of peers who shape the field.

Those are my thoughts it brief, but I'm interested in hearing yours. Readers are welcome to fill out this brief survey to let us know what you think works and doesn't work at the blog. And, if you're at AAR, feel free to stop me and let me know your thoughts in person. You can find me at one of the Religion in America panels I've outlined here. By the way, does anyone know how to be in two places at once? Asking for a friend....

Which One Is "The Speech"?

Elesha Coffman

As I tried to lecture about 1980s conservatism on Tuesday, I admitted to my students that I no longer knew what to say about it. Before the election, I had a narrative that worked. After the election, I didn't. As just one small symptom of my distress, I spent the minutes before class madly googling Reagan speeches that I'd never paid much attention to before.

In my old narrative--shaped, no doubt, by the fact that I received my degree from a religion department rather than a history department--Reagan's key speech was his National Affairs Briefing in Dallas on August 22, 1980, where he famously told an audience of conservative evangelicals that he endorsed them. You can find a video and abridged text here, the pre-circulated text (which lacks the endorsement line) here, and an article by Steven P. Miller that emphasizes the importance of the speech here. It's still a big speech, but its celebration of "traditional Judeo-Christian values" seemed completely out of step with the GOP candidate in 2016, which made me wonder if a different narrative, starting with a different speech, would have more explanatory power.

The Author Responds

We conclude our series on Parish Boundaries with a response from the author himself. In today's post John McGreevy, the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts & Letters and Professor of History at Notre Dame, responds to the contributors of this city while also reflection how he thinks Parish Boundaries has aged the last twenty years. 

By John McGreevy

It’s a pleasure and honor to be here.  Thanks to Tim Gilfoyle for organizing the panel and to this distinguished group of colleagues for their willingness to participate and for their shrewd comments.  I’m especially grateful to Jim Grossman, whose red pen, in the long-ago days before track changes, improved the manuscript. I first met Jim in his office at the Newberry Library a few blocks from here, 23 years ago. I was thrilled when he and Kathleen Conzen accepted my unwieldy dissertation into the then just starting urban history series at  University  of Chicago press. I knew he and Kathy would make my dissertation much better and so they did.

So how did I get to that dissertation, entitled, as Lila Berman noted, “American Catholics and the African-American migration, 1919-1970”? It’s a short story. I wandered into graduate school, as we might say, without a “research agenda.” I wavered between high school teaching and college teaching and in fact I  ended up teaching for a time at Hales Franciscan high school, an African-American Catholic high school on the south side of Chicago. At Stanford I loved the coursework and enjoyed working with superb and generous faculty such as David Kennedy and George Fredrickson, ultimately the first and second readers on my dissertation. But I agonized over a dissertation topic.  I did a seminar paper on 19th century populism in California. I did one on draft resisters in California and even wrote a dissertation proposal on the topic.[i] I finally settled  on Catholics and race after reflecting on my own life and that of my parents, very much  raised in a Catholic milieu, with both of my parents having gone to Catholic grade school, high school, college and, for my father,  medical school and then both working in catholic hospitals for much of their professional lives. This Catholic milieu – roughly 25% of the US population and a standard topic in, say, German history --  seemed absent from the literature on United States history.

Not How High but How Close

This is the fourth post in a series commemorating the twentieth anniversary of John McGreevy's book Parish Boundaries. The post comes from Wallace Best, a professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University. The author of Passionately Human, No Less Divine (2007), Best has also completed a religious biography of poet Langston Hughes.

By Wallace Best

I have two confessions to make.  First, I wrote a dissertation and book about black southern migrants in Chicago and only mentioned “black Catholics” once – briefly and in passing.  When called upon this late in my research and writing 1990s, I justified it by saying – “they have their own story.  The story I’m writing is a Protestant story, and I couldn’t do justice to the one about Catholics.”  I was dodging, of course, but I was also convinced that I was correct.  Second confession, I did not read John McGreevy’s magisterial Parish Boundaries carefully enough as a graduate student.  I realize now that had I read it closely enough, I would have noted some crucial and critical thematic intersections, and it would have enhanced and perhaps reshaped some of my own assertions about black Chicago in the early decades of the twentieth century.

I have the opportunity now to note some of those intersections with regard to the issues facing black southerners in Chicago during this period and to think about what ways a more careful reading would have enhanced my work on Chicago in particular and how it has shaped how I now think generally about black religion in urban contexts.

The Boundary between Past and Present

This post is the third in a series on John McGreevy's Parish Boundaries, written on the occasion of the book's twentieth anniversary. Today's post comes from Chris Cantwell, an assistant professor of public history and religious studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. See all of the posts from this series here.

By Chris Cantwell

There’s an old joke about Southern Baptists my grandfather used to tell—a joke that in all likelihood could be told about any religious faith. “How many Southern Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb?” he would ask. And the answer, for those of you who don’t know, is six. One to call for the formation of a Light Bulb Modernization Committee; another to second the motion; three more to make a quorum; and one church member to stand up and yell “HOW DARE YOU CHANGE THAT LIGHTBULB! MY GREAT-GRANDDADDY INSTALLED THAT LIGHTBULB IN 1902 AND ALL THIS CHANGE IS A SIGN OF HOW FAR WE’VE FALLEN FROM THE FAITH!”

Cleveland's Italian Catholics Celebrate Columbus Day, 1938.
I was reminded of my grandfather’s sense of humor while re-reading Parish Boundaries for it speaks to what I have come to appreciate the most about McGreevy’s magnificent book. When I first encountered the text as a new graduate student in 2003, I initially read it as an exploration of the impact race and the urban landscape had upon the formation of religious communities. The “Great Migration” of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north, McGreevy argues, rent American Catholicism in two as clergy and laity alike split over the church’s response to their new neighbors. While some church members saw the tenets of Catholic social teaching as a mandate to join black Southerners in their search for justice, others saw the arrival of African Americans as a threat to the stability of parish rolls or property values.

Parish Boundaries: Perish, Boundaries!

This post is the second in a series on John McGreevy's Parish Boundaries. Published twenty years ago this year, the book was the subject of a roundtable at the Urban History Association's recent biennial meeting. Today's post comes from another roundtable participant Lila Corwin Berwin who is the Murray Friedman Chair of American Jewish History, the Director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University, and the author most recently of Metropolitan Jews. In her post, Berwin reflects on the impact McGreevy's work has had upon the study of urban religion more broadly.

By Lila Corwin Berwin

This past summer, as police shootings of young black men filled headlines, as Black Lives Matter put forward a platform that, among other planks, described Israel as pursuing genocidal policies, as the occupation in Israel neared its fifty-year mark, and as presidential electoral politics traded in cynicism and xenophobia, Liel Leibovitz, a Jewish social critic wrote an open letter to American Jews. “Dear Social Justice Warriors,” it began, “Your religion is progressivism, not Judaism.” To anchor his claim that theology must not act in the service of politics, he turned to early and mid-century American Protestant theologians, summarily arguing that these men knew better than to consign theology to political whim and that, more generally, hardy American religious groups knew to maintain the distinction. As I reread John McGreevy’s book, a book I first encountered in 1999—my first year of graduate school— and then reread several times as I assigned it to students and wrote about urban religion, his illustrations of the interpenetration of religion and politics stood in sharper relief for me than they ever had. He makes it hard to imagine extricating one from the other, as Leibovitz seems intent upon doing.

I want to focus these brief remarks—and appreciations—on the line between religion and politics. I do so because for me the central contribution of McGreevy’s work is its assertion that the boundary itself is a puzzle. Far from giving us a solid place to stand—to be able to say, here rests religion, and over there is politics—Parish Boundaries suggests the instability of the boundary. In doing so, it gently exposes a big lie of common sense American political thought: that religion is separate from the state, and that politics is separate from religion. Thus, the parish boundary may be precisely that boundary that must perish when we think about lived religious space and lived political space: the two, it seems, overlap in confounding and unexpected ways.

"Parish Boundaries" at 20: A Roundtable

Today's post is the first in a series dedicated to John McGreevy's classic text Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth-Century Urban North. Inspired by a roundtable held at the Urban History Association's biannual meeting in Chicago, the series brings together scholars of both religion and the American city to assess the legacy of McGreevy's work on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. The first post comes from Amanda Seligman, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The author most recently of Chicago’s Block Clubs: How Neighbors Shape the City (Chicago, 2016), Seligman is an urban historian by training and her post reflects upon the impact McGreevy's book had upon the study of the American city. Posts from the roundtable's other participants will follow every day this week, and the series will conclude with McGreevy's response. 

Incoming UHA President Timothy Gilfoyle, who convened the
roundtable, kicking off the proceedings.
 As an urban historian, it is an honor to have the opportunity to reflect on John McGreevy’s Parish Boundaries for a religious history blog. Along with Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto and Thomas Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis, Parish Boundaries was one of the three most influential books that I read in graduate school. That trio of books set the basic parameters for my research in the early part of my career, encapsulating what we knew about the making of racial segregation in the urban north and pointing the way to unanswered questions.

The posts in this series reflect the richness of Parish Boundaries. Because each of us identifies distinctive themes, it is worth spelling out what I understood to be McGreevy’s central argument: white American Catholics had a bifurcated response to the growing numbers of African Americans in the urban north in the 20th century. This was not a split between the clergy and laity. Rather divisions occurred within each of these groups, and the divisions combined differently in different places. McGreevy traces increasing racial liberalism among American Catholics in the 20th century, which allows him to provide an optimistic ending. Without saying so explicitly, McGreevy suggests that white Catholic hostility to African Americans was rooted in conceptualizations of the importance of property and property ownership, and that racial liberalism was rooted in careful reading of Catholic doctrine.

THATCamp & Religious Studies at the 2016 AAR/SBL

THATCamp & Religious Studies at the 2016 American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting

The advent of digital technology and social media has not only transformed how today religious communities function, they have also changed how scholars teach about and conduct research on religion more broadly. If you are interested in how technology is changing—or can change—the work of religious studies scholars, then we invite you to attend the THATCamp SBL & AAR 2016 unconference!

THATCamp stands for “The Humanities and Technology Camp.” They exist to bring scholars and technologists of every skill level together to learn how to integrate digital technology into their teaching and research. This means the format is not your typical conference proceedings.

THATCamps are “unconferences,” which means sessions are built around hands-on workshops and collaborative working groups rather than formal presentations. Participants are encouraged to Propose Sessions they would like to attend in advance of the meeting on the THATCamp SBL & AAR website Topics we could cover include academic blogging, social media in the classroom, social media in religion, digital research methods, web-based class projects, online publishing, and countless others.

Sessions largely take one of four formats.
  • Talk Sessions offer the chance for a group discussion around a topic or question.
  • In Make Sessions, someone leads a small group in a hands-on collaborative working session with the aim actually making something–software, best practices document, a syllabus, etc.
  • In Teach Sessions, an individual leads a hands-on workshop on a specific skill or software tool.
  • In Play Sessions, anything goes. You can suggest literally playing a game, or spending some quality time exploring existing tools and resources for digital work.
If you have not already done so, please add THATCamp to your SBL or AAR conference registration. Attending is only $15 and the fees are used to offset the costs of the AV systems and refreshments. In fact, most of the costs of the unconference are covered by our Sponsors. For more information about proposing sessions, visit the Propose Session page of this site. All new session proposals will be posted to the Sessions page. If you will be attending, please be sure to check out the Sessions that you would like to participate in! If you’d like to make a comment about a session to be posted on the website, please use the session submission form. The Final Schedule will be determined during the first session of the day, so be ready to vote for your favorite session ideas on November 18th. The main meeting room for the first session can be found on the Location page on the website. Coffee and tea will be available upon arrival. Lastly, don’t forget to follow @THATCampAAR on Twitter and use the hashtag #thatcampaarsbl when posting about THATCamp SBL & AAR this year.

For those who have not already registered, we hope you’ll join us for THATCamp this year. For those nearly 100 attendees who have already registered, we look forward to your session proposals and seeing you at 9:00 AM Friday morning, Friday the 18th in San Antonio!

THATCamp SBL & AAR Organizers:
John L. Crow, Florida State University
Michael Hemenway, Iliff School of Theology
Candace Mixon, University of North Carolina
Eric Smith, Iliff School of Theology

Federalist #68. The founders intended this.

Janine Giordano Drake

I'm shocked. You may be too.

I wrote a review essay on Mennonite and evangelical silence, and complicity, with anti-union regimes.  But, I can't finish it right now.

All I can think about right now is how Donald Trump won the US presidency. How did the South elect a descendant of Eastern European immigrants, a robberbaron, a New Yorker, an impolite rake?

How did the rustbelt Midwest elect an industrial tycoon, an arch-capitalist, a friend of Vladimir Putin?

How did the formerly communitarian kingdom of Utah elect a man who drinks, carouses, and extorts?

Yesterday, I lined up to vote at the county fairgrounds in my post-industrial city in Montana. Dozens of elderly Native Americans stood in line ahead of me, voter identity cards in hand. Two African American veterans stood behind me, voter identity cards in hand.  A tall man in a business suit and a red tie walked in confidently. Neither he nor I had our voter identity cards, but we didn't get hassled. While I remembered the power of my white privilege, I was also moved by fact that so many of us  showed up at the polls, even as we knew how likely it was that Montana was going to Donald Trump. Those men in suits, I thought, had as many votes as the tribal elders who passed me by.

And then I woke up this morning.

I saw that Hillary Clinton won roughly 152,000 more votes than Donald Trump.

But, Trump took the electoral college.

And then I remembered that this is what the founders intended. This is what Alexander Hamilton intended.

Look at Federalist #68.

Like the whole thrust of the Federalist Papers, this essay in defense of the Electoral College articulates why it is so important to withhold power from the masses.

Hamilton defends our convoluted system wherein states, rather than people, elect the president. He defends a system which requires white, men with property to vote for more statesmanlike white men with property who will themselves cast votes for the president. He defends a system wherein a clear majority from the populace at large seems unlikely and even dangerous. (He presupposes that there are no political parties to organize a clear majority in electoral votes.) He talks of the importance of a "majority" of electoral votes, not a majority of votes.  As Hamilton puts it,
But as a majority of the [electoral] votes might not always happen to centre in one man, and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided that, in such a contingency, the House of Representatives shall select out of the candidates who shall have the five highest number of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.
It is safe to say that Alexander Hamilton--that lover of industry, banking, and personal glory--hoped that the unwashed masses would not determine the outcome of presidential elections. He didn't even make any room in the Federalist papers to consider that a majority of votes could center on anything other than a man.

We like to celebrate the myth that our Constitutional framers wanted to build a republic which empowered poor people to be equal, before the law, to the rich. Our history textbooks proclaimed this hogwash since Woodrow Wilson's administration. For, in the First World War, in the Second World War, and in the Cold War, the United States had to come up with a good reason for intervening into the affairs of sovereign nations. The idea that we are the "arsenal of democracy" helped rationalize our foreign policy--our quest to acquire colonies, and/or economic spheres of influence, around the world. But, though these textbooks made some of us feel better about our country for a few generations, they didn't change the Constitution. They didn't change the past. They didn't change the fact that the people do not elect the president in the United States.

I've been teaching Ed Baptist's book in my US survey class, and I'm reminded how thinly the federalist principle held together the nation in the early years of the republic. The Constitution provides that the states, not the people, help govern the nation. The Progressive era offered a little bit of change to this, but the fundamentals of our 1780 compromises are still intact. The rural states and the former slave states continue to determine our nation's future.

The Digital Futures of Religious Studies: AAR Wild Card Session

By Chris Cantwell

For those of you planning on attending the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting in San Antonio next week, I'd like to call your attention to a special "wild card" session on the program. It's designated as a "wild card" because the AAR accepted the session without the sponsorship of a program unit. But it is also a "wild card" in that it will break with the traditional conference format. In place of formal presentations from a few scholars, the session will feature short five minute provocations on digital methods for religious studies from over a dozen panelists. To further encourage discussion over presentation, the session will even make time for an open mic so audience members can talk about their own work.

The Catholic Idea of Conscience in American Presidential Elections: A Very Brief History


The results of a 2014 Pew Survey. 
The Catholic teaching on conscience appeared in the 2016 election when candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine both invoked the idea in response to a question about abortion. The Huffington Post took note of the language, and explained its appearance by citing a 2014 Pew Survey.   Pence and Kaine, the paper’s research uncovered, did not invent a language out of the blue, or even punt on the moderator’s query. The survey revealed that 73% of Catholics look to conscience for “guidance in major moral decisions.”  It would seem to make sense then that Pence, a former Catholic, and Kaine, a Catholic formed by the Jesuits, would invoke conscience when questioned about important moral decisions.

But we should note that conscience language is political, not just personal. Indeed, though conscience is a crucial term in the Catholic moral imagination, invoking conscience serves a political purpose as it harmonizes candidate and constituency. Kaine portrays himself to be like any member of the faithful who uses his or her conscience to make important moral decisions. Mentions of conscience connect the Catholic candidate (or a former Catholic candidate who wants Catholic voters) to his or her Catholic base.  To explore this phenomenon, it may be helpful to recall a moment, just after a divisive presidential election, when Catholic politicians joined other Catholics in invoking conscience.

The use of conscience language to mobilize a Catholic constituency has origins in the immediate aftermath of the 1968 election. Just five days after Nixon’s victory, Eugene McCarthy (the democrat’s “antiwar candidate”) and Jane Briggs Hart (a founding member of the National Organization of Women) appeared at a rally of 5,000 Catholics near the Washington Monument, where Catholics pressured their own bishops to recognize the freedom of conscience. The Bishops were gathering for their annual meeting just two days later, and some of the faithful wanted the rights of conscience affirmed in the debates about contraception and conscription. McCarthy and Hart headlined the event, joining the crowds in making the case for the importance of conscience.

From left to right: Eugene McCarthy, Jane Briggs Hart, and Rev. John Corrigan.

CFP: FSU Religion Graduate Symposium (Feb 2017)

Michael Graziano

If you're a graduate student in the academic study of religion looking for an opportunity to present your work, the Department of Religion at FSU hosts an annual symposium that might be of interest. There's always a strong American religious history component to the conference, so readers of this blog will feel right at home. (I can also personally attest that it's a great conference with great people!) The CFP is below.


Call for Papers:

The Florida State University Department of Religion
16th Annual Graduate Student Symposium 

February 17-19, 2017 • Tallahassee, Florida

The Florida State University Department of Religion is pleased to announce its 16th Annual Graduate Student Symposium to be held February 17-19, 2017 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Last year’s symposium allowed over 60 presenters from over 15 universities and departments as varied as History, Political Science, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Classics to share their research, learn from one another, and meet many of their peers and future colleagues.

This year’s symposium will be centered on the theme “Religion & Conflict

Dr. J. Kameron Carter, of Duke University, will deliver this year’s keynote address.

producing american religious freedom like you mean it

Andy McKee

Finbarr Curtis’s Production of American Religious Freedom is an excellent exploration of an freedom and its boundaries. As Mike Graziano and Sarah Dees have already noted, this book is an assembly of essays about the pieces of American religious freedom. Curtis uses these fragments pulled from a broader American religious frame to highlight “the work it takes to produce religious freedom” within ever expanding free markets, the increasing power of privatization, and systems of surveillance and control. Curtis argues, “Conflict is not what happens when already formed religions bump into each other in public life; conflict makes religions” (2). Curtis assesses the apparent naturalness of producing american religious freedom to point, I think, less towards its deceptive qualities and more towards its contractions and absurdities.

CFA: New Doctoral Fellowships at SMU’s Center for Presidential History

Lauren Turek

For those who know promising undergraduates, masters students, and others who work at the intersection of religion and politics or religion and foreign policy, and who are interested in pursuing a PhD (despite all the usual caveats and warnings), there is a new fully-funded program for them to consider. The William P. Clements Department of History at Southern Methodist University has recently announced new graduate student and doctoral fellowships in the history of the presidency, American politics and foreign policy. Working primarily through SMU's Center for Presidential History, and under the guidance of Professors Jeffrey Engel and Thomas Knock, admitted students are eligible for up to five years of full funding, including generous living and research stipends. For more details see the full-sized version of the flyer after the break.

Are You Talking to Me? A Reflection on the Field

Charles McCrary

Certain hackles were raised last month by an article on the website of the evangelical organization The Gospel Coalition. The article, “Top Biography Recommendations from 12 Christian Historians,” featured twelve white Protestant men suggesting, for the most part, biographies of white Protestant men written by, well, you can probably guess. Of the twelve historians, many were prominent members of what scholars of American religion might consider “our field.” Thus, many scholars on social media were upset by the list as a bad representation of our field. However, as Mike Altman asked on Twitter, “Why should scholars of religion think that TGC reflects our field at all?”

We and a few other scholars had an interesting exchange about this, and it raised a few important questions. In this post I want think very broadly (but, I hope, also clearly) in order to address “our field.” What is it? How is it defined? What do we study? Which scholars are included? My argument is that our field—which I prefer to call “American religious studies”—addresses a public or number of publics that exist in discursive spaces often defined by institutions.

Book Review: "To Come to a Better Understanding: Medicine Men & Clergy Meetings on the Rosebud Reservation, 1973—1978"

[This month's Cushwa post is devoted to a book review by recent research travel grant recipient Jason Sprague, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa. (You can see a brief interview with Jason about his dissertation, “‘The Shadow of a Cross’: Odawa Catholicism in Waganakisi, 1765–1825," here.) Speaking of our research travel grants, please start making your plans to apply for one now! The Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism gives annual grants for travel to the University of Notre Dame to use its archives and library. The application deadline is December 31; you can find out more about both the grant criteria and application procedures here.]

by Jason Sprague

To Come to a Better Understanding: Medicine Men & Clergy Meetings on the Rosebud Reservation, 1973—1978. By Sandra L. Garner. University of Nebraska Press, 2016. 210 pages. $45.00.

To Come to a Better Understanding provides a refreshing exploration of Native American activism in the 1970s. Sandra Garner offers an alternative point of view to a historiographical narrative dominated by the American Indian Movement (AIM), and demonstrates how cultural encounters and exchanges between Native and non-Native groups reflect long-standing Native traditions seeking understanding between disparate groups. The titular meetings, a series of 84 formal meetings between the Medicine Men's Association (MMA) and Jesuit priests from the St. Francis Mission, took place on the Rosebud Reservation between 1973 and 1978. Prior interactions between these two groups, who both operated as ritual specialists within the Lakota community, had typically been on unequal footing because of the Jesuits’ complicity in settler-colonial oppression. The MMA, Garner argues, used these meetings as a form of activism to critique and combat these historically ingrained and imbalanced relationships.

Not Your Father's CFH

Elesha Coffman

Sixteen years ago, when I was the editor of Christian History magazine and just barely beginning to think about grad school, I attended a Conference on Faith and History biennial meeting out in San Diego. As I recall, I was one of a handful of women (literally, I think I could count them on the fingers of one hand) and a hardly larger contingent of attendees under age 40. I enjoyed the conference, but it didn't strike me as an event to prioritize in the future.

As we all know, history is the narrative of change over time, and the CFH has definitely changed. This year's conference theme, "Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity," attracted an especially diverse roster of presenters and presentations. Not all diversity is evident just from looking at a list of names and institutions, but a glance at the program shows lots of women, grad students, and early career scholars, as well as a promising increase racial and ethnic diversity. The percentage of scholars hailing from the CFH's traditional base in evangelical colleges, meanwhile, has dropped. This is not the trajectory I thought the organization was on back in 2000, and I'm really, really glad to see it.

Because the conference starts tomorrow, it's probably too late for any of you who weren't already planning to attend to stop by. But, if CFH hasn't been on your radar, I encourage you to look at the program and reconsider for 2018. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Mars Hill, Fight Club, and the New Mark Driscoll

Adam Park 

Fighting has deeply human roots, think some. Instinct, competition, aggression, evolution, and all that. And, think some, those roots have been divinely planted. In our DNA, God bequeathed us bellicose proclivities. The teleology of a closed fist. For the faithful, so goes the logic, fighting reveals our Created-ness. A long-time voice in the wilderness crying out said logic is Mark Driscoll. Much more than words, however, Driscoll loved a good scrap. Here's a brief rundown of his past bouts, and his present fighting condition.

The founding of Mars Hill was conducted "in the Spirit of Fight Club," William Wallace II (a.k.a. Mark Driscoll) wrote in the winter of 2000. Clearly enamored by the recent release of Fight Club, Driscoll labeled his emergent church mission "Operation Backlash." By then, he had gathered his space monkeys and established an administration, purchased a location, and drafted the church rules. The Operation's purpose was singular: to remedy the "pussified nation" that we all live in, comprised of men "raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee." Indeed, Mars Hill/Fight Club was a much needed solution to the sit-style peeing pandemic of the late-90s.

Driscoll and his followers sought to cultivate their "inner Fight Club" as revolutionary counterpoint to the Dawson's-Creek watching, emotion-talking, crying "homo Promise Keepers" that pervaded American culture. Titillated by the thought of a forthcoming 21st century crusade, Mars Hill members rallied. For the lost, a "Rev. Tyler Durden" zealously theologized, "the most graceful thing we can do for them is tell them they are pussified and we will continue to beat their ass until they stop." A Carlisle of a different sort. Beat the man, save the soul. Driscoll puffed:
I love to fight. It's good to fight. Fighting is what we used to do before we all became pussified. Fighting is a lost art form. Fighting is cheaper than medication and more effective than counseling. Fighting always wins over compromise. 

American Religious Freedom: Always Already Vexing

Sarah E. Dees

Finbarr Curtis’s The Production of American Religious Freedom doesn’t offer a comprehensive introduction to the conception and importance of religious freedom in U.S. history. It doesn’t outline a straightforward historical genealogy of the concept of American religious freedom. Curtis doesn’t propose suggestions for how we might best define “American” or “religious” or “freedom.” The case studies that he presents—nodes in a complex web that transcend time, space, points of view, and specific social concerns—are themselves impossible to neatly tie together. Yet the book does offer a compelling contribution to the conversation about religious freedom in America, a contribution that uniquely highlights economic structures and concerns, notions of personhood, aesthetic and affective works and workings, and ideas about private property and public good. Furthermore, The Production of American Religious Freedom—with its analysis of data at the micro and macro levels and its focus on how particular beliefs structure actors’ engagements with others—exemplifies the unique type of interdisciplinary research that is possible within the field of religious studies.

As Curtis notes, religious freedom has long been a popular topic in academic and public discourse, and numerous scholars have recently turned a critical eye to this topic. Curtis’s book complements recent scholarship that challenges the unreflective valorization of religious freedom, including Winnifred Fallers Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (2005), Tisa Wenger’s We Have a Religion (2009), David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom (2010), and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s Beyond Religious Freedom (2015). Curtis would agree with these scholars in that he does not think it is possible to articulate one form of religious freedom, and he demonstrates that different actors have drawn on or deployed ideas about religious freedom to support divergent goals. Yet Curtis complicates the notion of religious freedom in a distinct way by focusing on social economies that produce religious freedom. While the texts above are largely concerned with political and legal approaches to defining religious freedom, Curtis seeks to expand this discussion to other, wider spheres of cultural production and power.

7 Questions with Robert Elder: The Sacred Mirror


 Robert Elder is an assistant professor of history at Valparaiso University. His research focuses on the cultural and religious history of the South in the 19th century. I interviewed him about his recently released book, The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Identity, and Honor in the American South, published with the University of North Carolina Press (2016). He is now working on a book about John C. Calhoun. Next year he will serve as the University Research Professor at Valparaiso as he works on his new project!

PC: The narrative of the rise of evangelicalism in the South before the Civil War is usually told as one of opposition to culture, accommodation to culture, and then dominance over culture. It’s also part of a larger narrative about the role of evangelicalism in the rise of modern individualism. The Sacred Mirror introduces the argument that evangelicalism in fact rose out of important harmonies with Southern culture, particularly honor culture, and always had a considerable communal bent. Why is it important to make this shift?

RE: Several really great histories of southern evangelicalism over the last couple decades have contained this narrative of a pristine early southern evangelicalism that challenged slavery and honor culture only to accommodate and eventually defend them in the antebellum period. Most of the radical potential that historians have seen in early evangelicalism stems from the more individualistic and autonomous ways of constructing the self that evangelicalism represented (this was the connection between its challenge to slavery and its challenge to patriarchy). It’s a powerful narrative arc, but I think this narrative has obscured the ways that early southern evangelicals were deeply rooted in the cultural assumptions of their world, and consequently it has obscured the much more complex ways that honor and evangelicalism interacted in the South throughout this period. I originally studied honor, and instead of how evangelicalism sold out to southern culture I was interested how the language, structure, and assumptions of evangelicalism might have resonated with southerners from the very beginning. In the earliest stages of the project I was influenced by the old Marxist critic Raymond Williams, who described what he called “oppositional” and “alternative” movements within a dominant culture. According to Williams, oppositional describes “someone who finds a different way to live and wants to change society in its light,” while alternative forms of culture describe movements that cause real disagreement but do not “in practice go beyond the limits of the central effective and dominant definitions.” My argument would be that, culturally speaking, southern evangelicalism was always more the latter than the former.

William and Mary Quarterly "Doubles"

Jonathan Den Hartog

With the baseball post-season upon us, I think there's still time to work in a line to lead off--readers may enjoy the religious history "double" in the July issue of the William and Mary Quarterly (paywalled, but abstracts here). Although this might seemed delayed analysis, it's still worth taking stock of.

Keeping up the theme from last month of finding religion in the era of the American Revolution, the WMQ had two very interesting, religious history articles that deserve notice. Further, applause is deserved for WMQ publishing two fine pieces of scholarship.

The first article comes from Michael Breidenbach (Ave Maria University) and is entitled "Conciliarism and the American Founding." Breidenbach reexamines Catholic political thought in America in the era of the American Revolution. This is useful for consideration, since many American patriots nourished a Protestant-inspired anti-Catholicism that viewed Catholicism as hostile to liberty. Yet, alongside that rhetorical reality, actual Catholic leaders like John and Charles Carroll of Maryland functioned quite well, supported the Revolution, and were accepted as full American patriots. How might this occur?

Breidenbach's answer is to recover the conciliarist theory as undergirding the Carrolls' efforts. Breidenbach reaches back into early modern European theological debates to trace Catholic voices that questioned papal infallibility and denied the popes had any temporal power outside of Rome. In the later 18th century, these positions were defended by English Jesuits and people like Rev. Joseph Berington at the Jesuit college in Liege. When the Carrolls advocated for these ideas, they took a transatlantic journey to root themselves in revolutionary America. By advocating against the temporal power of the pope, American conciliarists defused the chief suspicion held by many republicans.

In telling this story, Breidenbach sheds light on American Catholicism in the revolutionary era. He demonstrates a path for American Catholics to make their way in an independent, Protestant-dominated America. To further that, the Carrolls also came to advocate full religious liberty in Maryland, the better to guarantee the full exercise of their faith. Breidenbach sees those two points as related: that conciliarist principles fully supported full religious liberty.

Finally, Breidenbach helpfully brings in yet another stream of thought informing the American Revolution. In contrast to reductionistic accounts of the Revolution that privilege one viewpoint over all others (say, Lockean liberalism), Breidenbach is right to point out how revolutionaries drew on multiple intellectual and even religious streams to pull for independence. And that, it seems to me, is a helpful reminder for our general understanding of the Revolution.

As if that weren't enough, turning one more page gives us yet another religious history article, this time by Kirsten Fischer (University of Minnesota). Fischer's article is on "Vitalism in America: Elihu Palmer's Radical Religion in the Early Republic." Fischer makes an interesting investigation into Palmer, who was regarded as one of the chief free-thinkers ("infidels") in the early republic--he was occasionally named as their "high priest." Palmer was thus, from one perspective, in the same camp as Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and other Deists and Skeptics. Yet, Fischer wants to suggest that Palmer was more radical still for his advocacy of "Vitalism."

5 Questions with Theresa Keeley

Lauren Turek

Theresa Keeley is Assistant Professor of U.S. and the World in the University of Louisville history department. She earned her Ph.D. in history from Northwestern and also has a background in human rights activism and law. An expert in the history of U.S. foreign relations, religion, and gender, she is currently revising a manuscript, Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: Catholicism and U.S.-Central America Relations, based on her doctoral dissertation. In June 2016, Keeley published an excellent article entitled “Reagan’s Real Catholics vs. Tip O’Neill’s Maryknoll Nuns: Gender, Intra-Catholic Conflict, and the Contras” in Diplomatic History. The following is a brief conversation we had about her research, which straddles several fields and promises to provide the basis for an exciting, important book.

President Reagan with Tip O'Neill in the Oval Office, 1985.
Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library.
Q1. Can you tell us a little about your current book project?
I’m in the midst of revising my manuscript, Reagan’s Gun-Toting Nuns: Intra-Catholic Conflict and U.S.-Central America Relations. The book’s pivotal event is the rape and murder of three U.S. nuns and a lay missionary by members of El Salvador’s National Guard in December 1980.  I argue that the women’s murders brought to the fore long-simmering debates among Catholics over the Church’s direction.  Liberal Catholics described the women, who worked to combat structural inequality, as human rights advocates living out the spirit of the Gospel.  They were martyrs whose deaths symbolized an immoral U.S. foreign policy that trained and armed the Salvadoran security forces.  But to conservative Catholics who supported U.S. Cold War foreign policy, these women were agents of class conflict who furthered the Gospel according to Karl Marx. As I contend, this intra-Catholic debate intensified as conservative, anticommunist Catholics played instrumental roles in crafting Ronald Reagan’s policy to fund the Salvadoran government and the Nicaraguan contras.  At the same time, liberal Catholics protested against this U.S. policy.  At their heart, these intra-Catholic debates were about who could fight the Cold War, who could shape U.S. foreign policy, and who could define what it meant to be Catholic.

4 Questions with Tom Kselman

[This month's Cushwa post is dedicated to a short interview with Thomas Kselman, Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, who is retiring at the end of the year. While Kselman is a distinguished Europeanist, he has also written on Marian piety in American Catholicism, and is one of my favorite conversation partners on 19th and 20th century Marian iconography, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask him a few questions about the past and future of religious history-writing--his own and others'. It's still a bit far away, but you can also mark your calendars: on March 9, 2017, Kselman's former graduate students will gather for a symposium and dinner in his honor.]

ASCH/AHA Annual Meeting Registration Tips

Elesha Coffman

This is just a quick note to remind ASCH members of the Annual Meeting registration procedures, which have changed in recent years.

ASCH no longer manages Annual Meeting registration or housing. Instead, you need to register at the AHA. If you are presenting at an ASCH session, you must be an ASCH member, but you do not need to be an AHA member. You may register at the "Speaker Nonmember" rate, which is the same as the AHA member rate ($167.00). You will also need to pay an additional fee ($70.00) for the ASCH sessions. No, that doesn't make a lot of sense, and yes, the ASCH council is still working on it. Suffice to say, at this point, without the extra fee, the ASCH would lose a lot of money on the meeting.

To present at an ASCH session, you do need to be an ASCH member for the year in which the meeting is held. Membership fees are changing in 2017 to reflect the different income levels of the society's members. Graduate students joining the society for the first time can get their first two years of membership free. (For reference, I wrote about the cost of both conferences and membership back in March.) It is now also possible to renew your membership for multiple years, saving $5 on a 2-year membership or $10 on a 3-year membership, or to set up a recurring payment, which prevents the hassle of remembering to renew each year. All of these moves reflect the council's attempts to keep overall costs down, shift those costs to the members most able to bear them, and keep enough money flowing to sustain the society.

I hope to see many of you in Denver!

Invitation to a Digital Dugnad

Hilde Løvdal Stephens

If you’re like me, money for research is tight and any digitized archival material that is easily accessible online is priceless. So, I invite you to be part of a digital dugnad in an effort to gather a list of online primary sources on American religion.

So what's a dugnad? A Norwegian term, dugnad is something like voluntary, unpaid community work.

But it’s so much more. It’s about connections and about being useful. A dugnad is a collective effort. Any kind of association—churches, sports clubs, scouting groups, and neighborhood organizations—rely on the dugnad to raise money and to keep the day-to-day things up and running.

And then, of course, there’s usually coffee and cake. (Home-made cake, that is. A store-bought cake is, well, frowned upon.)

Sans coffee and cake, let's start the digital dugnad. Let’s dig up our favorite primary sources that can be useful for both research and teaching. Give us your online gems in the comment section.

Michael Altman listed some useful collections here. There's also some useful material in the comments.

Anyway, here's my contribution:
A big cheer for all the hard working archivists out there who have made all this available!
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