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 Reources 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: 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 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.

The ASCH: Coming to Minneapolis

Jonathan Den Hartog

In the spirit of Cara's recent post, I'm happy to point out that the American Society of Church History's Spring 2015 meeting is coming to Minnesota. I copy the full CFP below.

Let me preface it with 3 thoughts.

The Cathedral of St. Paul
1. As a Minneapolis resident, I'm delighted to invite people to the Twin Cities. By April, Spring will have arrived, and issues with snow will be minimal. The Cities (i.e., Minneapolis and St. Paul, together) are a great urban area generally, with lots of green space, high culture, and terrific restaurants. The Cities also offer an opportunity to witness a great deal of religious diversity. There are plenty of Christian sites to visit, from the Cathedral in St. Paul built by Catholic bishop John Ireland to the Basilica in Minneapolis to William Bell Riley's First Baptist Church to Bethlehem Baptist Church, recently pastored by John Piper. In recent decades, the Cities have also seen a great increase in religious diversity, bringing mosques and Hindu Temples to join older synagogues (including the one featured in the Coen Brothers' film, A Serious Man). The Cities are also home to many religiously-inspired institutions of higher education, including, among others, Luther Seminary, the University of St. Thomas, Concordia University, the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, Bethel University, and North Central University. Finally, simply by journeying to Minnesota you'll be encountering the land where, in Garrison Keillor's words, "All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

2. I heartily concur with Paul that this conference is a great time to expand our consideration of religion in the Midwest. Midwestern history generally is ready for expansion, and Midwestern religious history is a wide-open field (to use an apt metaphor). Perhaps we can generate a "Minnesota Moment" in scholarship.

3. I'll be at the conference, so if anyone is looking for a chair or commentator for a panel, especially for early American topics, please let me know!

Call for Papers
ASCH 2015 Spring Conference

The Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History will be held April 16-19, 2015, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Program Committee invites ASCH members and others to submit paper and session proposals on any aspect of the history of Christianity and its interaction with culture.

The primary theme of the conference is Contact and Exchange among Religious Groups.  We are interested in papers exploring interactions among groups brought on by processes such as migration, immigration, resettlement, exile, and diasporic dispersals across geographic areas and time periods.  Papers that focus on religious groups in conversation with one another, examining influences, hybridity, missionization, conversion, reconversion, cooperation, or other themes or processes, are welcome.

Given the location of this meeting in Minneapolis, we also encourage papers addressing contact among religious groups in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, including but not limited to immigrant groups arriving in the nineteenth-century, such as Eastern Christians and Copts; those arriving in the early twentieth-century groups, such as Latin Americans; and those arriving in the late twentieth-century immigrants such as Hmong, Somali, and other East Africans. Papers addressing contact and exchange between Native Americans and religious groups are also encouraged.

Chaplains of the Spiritual

Michael Graziano

I've recently had a chance to start working my way through Winnifred Sullivan’s new book, Ministries of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law (Chicago, 2014). It’s a thought-provoking project, and I wanted to offer some early reflections. 

When thinking about hot-button issues in American religion and law, chaplaincy programs probably don’t come to mind. Chaplains are as ubiquitous as they are uncontroversial. And, in a sense, this is Sullivan's starting point. While a great deal of ink (pixels?) has been spilt decrying/celebrating the Hobby Lobby decision, Sullivan sees chaplaincy programs as important precisely because they go largely unremarked upon. Sullivan looks at a variety of chaplains in a number of settings in the contemporary United States, including (but not limited to) chaplains working in the military, healthcare, and prisons. Drawing on Foucault's idea of pastoral power, Sullivan also notes that while these settings may have unique qualities, they also have more than a little in common. 

Chaplains, in Sullivan's telling, inhabit a peculiar legal space. They embody the compromises—at times quite awkward, arbitrary, and unclear compromises—that populate "ordinary law," the law lived out in everyday situations below the level of the Supreme Court (13).  The widespread and self-evidently appropriate reliance on chaplains in, say, the United States Army, local hospitals and—last but not least—the Maine Game Warden Service is in some sense the result of America's peculiar history—halting, reversing, sputtering—with disestablishment.

Sullivan employs the metaphor of the "broker" to describe the role of chaplains in contemporary settings. Chaplains sit at the intersection of the secular employers that regulate them, the religious hierarchies that train and certify them, as well as the individuals with whom they work—who in many cases have their own ideas about the role and functions of the chaplains ministering to them. Sullivan demonstrates how this attention to the "spiritual" components of human life—rather than the "religious"—provide chaplaincy programs with legal space in which to maneuver. Such assumptions about the universal spiritual nature of people enable different metrics of spiritual care and assessment, a theme Sullivan takes up throughout the book.

Guest Post: Sonic Religion and Urban Space

As is the case with many of my scholar-friends, I first met David Krueger on Facebook, through some mutual friends and a shared interest in civil religion. This past summer, we finally talked in person at the meeting of the Society for Values in Higher Education, held at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. This was a familiar landscape for David, a native of Minnesota who now lives in Philadelphia. Additionally, he writes about his home state in his forthcoming book Myths of the Runestone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America. As David explains on his website: "This book examines the popular enthusiasm for the myth that Vikings explored what was to become Minnesota prior to the journeys of Christopher Columbus. The myth was inspired by the discovery of an inscribed stone tablet in a Swedish immigrant’s farm field in 1898. The artifact, which became known as the Kensington Rune Stone, has been declared a hoax by most scholars. Yet many Midwestern residents have tenaciously clung to the belief that the stone is authentic and dates to the year 1362." Needless to say, I am very eager to read this book. And David has already agreed to talk with me over at Marginalia Radio. Meanwhile, in the following guest post, David shares some thoughts on another book featured at MRBIsaac Weiner's, Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism. So without further delay...

When I first arrived in North Philadelphia as a community volunteer in the mid-1990s, I was struck by how noisy the place seemed to me, in contrast to my upbringing in rural Minnesota. The windows of my brick row home rattled and buzzed with the passing of cars blasting the salsa rhythms of Me Tengo Que Ir and the pulsating bass of Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize. During the warm summer months, outdoor worship services added to this acoustic cacophony. It was a common practice for area Pentecostal churches to set up amplifiers and speakers on street corners, particularly in locations known for the sale of heroin. The multi-hour services included dozens of coritos sung by exuberant vocalists (often singing significantly off-key) and accompanied by electric guitars and tambourines. Following the music, a flamboyant preacher called all of those under the spell of his microphone to repent of their sins and follow Jesus. The drug dealers on the corner did not welcome such sonic interruptions to their narcotics sales and they turned up their stereos even louder. As the worship service reached a fever pitch prior to the altar call, this aural contest would reach ear-splitting levels.

For the Pentecostal street preachers, turning up the volume was the means by which they proselytized the community. In this instance, it wasn’t the content of the religious speech that was most important. The services were conducted in Spanish, but most of the youth targeted by the church members spoke only English. Nonetheless, the church’s occupation of the sonic landscape (sonicscape?) for a few hours on a summer evening symbolized to many the presence of God.

As Isaac Weiner points out in Religion Out Loud, making noise is not merely a vehicle for religious groups to convey their messages. Rather, for some, it constitutes religious expression in and of itself. Civil authorities in the U.S., however, have not typically embraced this understanding of religion, especially when religious sounds made by some intrude on the preferences of others. Weiner describes the case of a Jehovah’s Witness named Samuel Saia, who in 1946, affixed a loudspeaker to the roof of his Studebaker and positioned it in a public park in Lockport, New York. He permitted preachers to amplify their sermons to a crowd of picnic-goers. Chagrined by this auditory intrusion, Lockport residents contacted the police, who arrested Saia for operating loudspeakers without a permit. Saia managed to get his case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and claimed that the Constitution’s guarantees of religious freedom ensured his right to make noise. The Supreme Court sided in favor of Saia on the grounds that the city of Lockport did not have a consistent policy on issuing permits for public speeches. However, the decision said nothing about Saia’s claims about the free exercise of religion. The court understood the Witnesses’ sermons to be no different than any other form of public speech.

Daylight Savings Bonus Post: CFP and Conference Announcement Round Up

RiAH has been receiving a number of conference announcements and calls for papers that may be of interest to readers. Since we've got an extra hour in our weekend, why not an extra post? Here's a round up of the latest. Unless there is a link, the full Call For Papers can be found after the jump.

Conference Announcement: Religion and Politics in 21st Century America, November 6, 2014 at Southern Methodist University (Sponsored by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis and SMU Center for Presidential History)

CFP: "Religion and Politics: Governance, Power, and the Sacred," 8th Annual Religions in Conversation Conference at Claremont Graduate University, February 27-28, 2015 [Proposal deadline November 14, 2014] Full CFP after jump

CFP: Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Annual Conference, June 25-27, 2015 at Renaissance Arlington Capitol View in Arlington, Virginia [Proposal deadeline December 1, 2014] Full CFP here.

CFP: "Resistance and Religion," Florida State University Department of Religion 14th Annual Graduate Student Symposium, February 20-22, 2015 [Proposal Deadline: December 15] Full CFP here.

CFP: Tanner Humanities Center, The Specter of Peace in Histories of Violence, August 14-15, 2015 [Proposal Deadline: December 15]. Full CFP after jump
CFP: California American Studies Association Annual Meeting, April 24-25, 2015 at Cal State Fullerton [Proposal deadline: January 15, 2015] Full CFP here.

Conference Announcement: How Do We Study Religion and Emotion?: A Conference at the National Humanities Center, February 19-20, 2015 [Sponsored by the American Academy of Religion and Florida State University] More details after the jump

Reading List in the History of Religion and Capitalism in the US


Lincoln Mullen

This spring I’ll have a chance to teach a graduate readings seminar on the history of religion and American capitalism. This a course I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and for a number of reasons I think it is worth doing.

The first reason is that the field of American religious history is shot through with (mostly unexamined) economic metaphors. The most obvious of these metaphors is that there was a “marketplace” of denominations or religions in the United States. As a field I don’t think we’ve yet reckoned with theoretical work like Leigh Schmidt’s groundbreaking but infrequently cited essay, “Practices of Exchange: From Market Culture to Gift Economy in the Interpretation of American Religion.” Then too, too much thinking about religion and capitalism boils down the idea that religion supports (or should support) capitalism or opposes (or should oppose) capitalism. If the “line separating good and evil passes … right through every human heart,” it seems to me that promotion of and resistance to capitalism runs right through most religious groups. I hope this class will be a chance to examine, and perhaps discard, some of these ways of talking about the field.

Second, the class should be a way of integrating disparate streams of American religious history. As I’ve written elsewhere, what I think our field needs most is synthetic work that brings together the rich but fragmentary studies of different groups. There are many ways to attempt this, but to the extent that capitalism is the water in which all these denominational fishes swim, examining how various groups have interacted with capitalism seems like an obvious way to attempt integration.

Both Black and Catholic (?)

Matthew J. Cressler

My post today falls in the "shameless plug" category.  I am due to lecture at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana on Monday, November 10th.  The title of my talk is "Black Catholics from the Great Migrations to Black Power," something I have thought quite a bit about for the past few years.  Nevertheless (or, perhaps precisely for this reason), I've been struggling to capture the full significance of this story in just 45 minutes.  So my post today offers some of the musings that have been running on repeat in the back of my mind as I prepare to share this story.

What has it meant to be both Black and Catholic in the United States?  The tension between - or, better yet, the inseparability of racial and religious identities in the U.S. was felt acutely by Black Catholics in the middle years of the twentieth century.  The period I have referenced in shorthand as "the Great Migrations to Black Power," roughly 1940 through 1970, was an era of unprecedented growth and transformation among Black Catholics across the United States - especially in the urban industrial centers in the North and West.

The Century Old Rhetoric of Bill Maher, Reza Aslan, and Cornel West

John L. Crow

Recently the social media sites have been abuzz with the debate about Islam, especially focusing on Bill Maher’s interlocutors taking center stage. It would be excessively repetitive to point out how both sides of the debate are simplistic and prone to generalizations. Instead, I would refer you to Steven Ramey’s post on the Culture on the Edge blog. For this blog post, I want to focus on a speech that took place over a century ago, one presented at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. I want to focus on this speech because, by looking it, we can see how the conversation about the nature of Islam took place over a century ago mirrors the conversation about Islam today.

Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb was the only representative for Islam who spoke at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. Though Webb was raised a Christian, he lived his life as a seeker as pointed out in the biography A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb by Umar F. Abd-Allah (Oxford 2006). One significant influence on Webb was Theosophy, and it was through this influence he went searching for a new religion. He was appointed Consular Representative to the Philippines at the U.S. office at Manila and while in the Philippines in 1888 converted to Sunni Islam. From that time forward, he became an outspoken proponent for the tradition, establishing the American Muslim Propagation Movement in New York and an English based newspaper called Moslem World. It was in this context that he spoke at the World Parliament in Chicago.

Webb opens his speech pointing out the bias against Islam present in the West, especially America. He states, “There are several reasons why Islam and the character of its followers are so little understood in Europe and America, and one of these is that when a man adopts, or says he adopts, Islam, he becomes known as a Mussulman [i.e. Muslim] and his nationality becomes merged in his religion.” Webb continues, “If a Mohammedan, Turk, Egyptian, Syrian or African commits a crime the newspaper reports do not tell us that it was committed by a Turk, an Egyptian, a Syrian or an African, but by a Mohammedan. If an Irishman, an Italian, a Spaniard or a German commits a crime in the United States, we do not say that it was committed by a Catholic, a Methodist or a Baptist, nor even a Christian; we designate the man by his nationality. … But, just as soon as a membership of the East is arrested for a crime or misdemeanor, he is registered as a representative of the religion his parents followed or he adopted.”

In a recent debate between Reza Aslan and CNN reporters, referring back to what Aslan said to Bill Maher, Aslan argued that the monolithic representation of Islam loses its national and regional character. When Maher and reporters characterized Islam in different ways, Aslan responded “which Islam?” For instance, when asked about the treatment of women in Muslim countries, one reporter asked, “[in Muslim countries] for the most part, it is not a free and open society for women in those states.” Aslan replied, “It certainly is in Indonesia and Malaysia. It certainly is in Bangladesh. It certainly is in Turkey. I mean, again, this is the problem is that you're talking about a religion of 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes very easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush by saying, well, in Saudi Arabia, they can't drive and so therefore that is somehow representative of Islam.”

Crossings and Dwellings: Mundelein College and the Legacy of Catholic Women's Higher Education in Chicago

 Monica Mercado

Mundelein, the "Skyscraper College" (undated).
Women and Leadership Archives,
Loyola University Chicago.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to head back to Chicago for a long weekend of Catholic history. The conference I attended, Crossings and Dwellings: Restored Jesuits, Women Religious, Amercan Experience, 1814-2014, was held in conjunction with the closing weekend of the exhibition of the same name at Loyola University Chicago. In between conference panels, I ducked into the exhibition galleries, which featured room after room of breathtaking Catholic objects on loan from around the Midwest (I highly recommend the multimedia feature "5 Galleries, 5 Iconic Objects," crafted by Loyola's talented public history students). I was captivated by pieces chosen to illustrate the history of Catholic women's education, including a rare 1860s "Young Ladies Sodality" banner from Holy Family Parish on Chicago's West Side and a portrait of a young Catholic girl that hung for decades on the walls of Jane Addams' Hull House.

I was especially excited to see one of the exhibition's galleries devoted to the history of Mundelein College, an unmistakable Art Deco landmark on Chicago's Sheridan Road. While conference co-organizer Kyle Roberts--who has written here about the Jesuit Libraries Project--will recap the "Crossings and Dwellings" weekend in future posts, I wanted to draw attention to an important theme of the weekend: recognizing the contributions of sister-builders. As I draft a syllabus for my Spring 2015 course on women's higher education history at Bryn Mawr College, I've been thinking about how my students should understand the world of women's education that extended beyond the so-called "Seven Sisters." Why might we still care about Mundelein, which opened in 1930 and merged with Loyola in 1991, or other now-defunct Catholic women's colleges whose missions have been folded into coeducational institutions?
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