Posted by Elesha
To outline the situation very briefly: Recent policy changes by the AHA will make it more expensive for members of affiliated societies (including ASCH, ACHA, and all of the others listed here) to attend the AHA annual meeting while also giving affiliated societies less control over their portions of the meeting--how many paper sessions they have, where those sessions meet, what kind of displays the societies can set up, and so forth. These changes seem to leave ASCH three basic options: (1) to keep meeting with AHA, though under less congenial terms; (2) to affiliate with a different scholarly society (or societies); or (3) to go it alone and plan its own, separate annual meeting, analogous to though larger than the current ASCH spring meeting.
A survey laying out these options in detail and inviting feedback from constituents will be available later this year. I'm helping draft the survey, and there are some things I want to think more about--and hear from more people about--to try to make sure we get the most useful information from all of the people with a stake in the ASCH's next move. So here are some of my big questions:
Posted by Heath
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Tim Gloege regarding his important new book, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (UNC Press), which led us into some larger questions having to do with the histories of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and capitalism in the United States. The book is available now and qualifies as a must read.
Posted by Laura Leibman
How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, Katherine Hayles notes the "shockingly small rate at which [academic] articles are cited (and presumably read)." The news is bleak enough for the sciences, in which 22.4% of all articles aren't cited even once within the first five years, but that unfortunate statistic pales compared to humanities articles, 93.1% of which fail to be cited even once five years after they appear in print. Regardless of the greater prestige given to books in our field, this is dismal news (Hayles 3-4). The story gets incrementally worse for those us not in the social sciences. As David Hamilton points out, "Within the arts and humanities (where admittedly citation is not so firmly entrenched), uncitedness figures hit the ceiling. Consider, for example, theater (99.9%), American literature (99.8%), architecture (99.6%), and religion (98.2%)" (Hamilton 1991, 25). Certainly things may have improved for the better since Hamilton's article appeared due to the rise of electronic databases like JSTOR and Project MUSE and the willingness of people to place offprints online on Academia.edu and Research Gate. Even so, given the amount of time and affection many of us put into writing academic articles, these statistics are more than a little depressing.
In some ways these paltry statistics belie my own experience: articles often influence my own thinking the most. Are there things we could (or should) be doing to make academic articles more visible in the circuit of ideas? Like most scholars, I focus my published reviews of other scholars' work on their books; hence I'd like to dedicate this post to a few articles that either I return to again and again, or (if the articles are recent) I expect to return to repeatedly in the future. I hope this list will not only lead others to these gems, but also encourage readers to present their own lists of favorite article in the comments or to review articles in future posts on RiAH.
Here is my current Top Five:
Posted by Cara L. Burnidge
The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church invites applications from individual scholars and academic and ecclesiastical groups for grants to support significant research, conferences, and publications relating to the history of the Church of England, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and Anglican and Episcopal churches in North America.
Grants are usually modest, generally $1,000-$2,000, though more or less may be awarded depending on number of awards and amount of funds available in any year. Typical grants include travel to archives, collections or resources, dissertation research, and seed money for larger projects.
The deadline for submission is May 1, 2015.
Applications must include:
- A statement of the subject and purpose of the project of no more than 500 words;
- A bibliography or reference list of the project, no more than a single page;
- A concise curriculum vitae;
- A projected total budget for the project and specific amount requested (with detail of how it will be used). If less than the total budget, it must be made clear how a grant would help and what other resources are available or being pursued;
- At least two letters of recommendation or support (in the case of a graduate student, we expect one will be from the project's main supervising professor);
- A sample of recent scholarly writing (an article, essay, or chapter of no more than ten pages).
To submit an application, send an email with all materials attached (PDF preferred) to firstname.lastname@example.org. If total file size is over 5MB, you may send the files as separate emails. If one file is over 5MB, contact the Director of Operations (email@example.com) for directions on how to submit.
Grant recipients are announced in July. It is expected recipients will make an appropriate submission to Anglican and Episcopal History.
A list of previous grantees can be found on the Society's webpage: http://www.hsec.us/grants/
Posted by Paul Harvey
Recently I wrote a thing on an excellent new book by Nancy Wadsworth,Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing. This work continues the ongoing discussion initiated by the important work Divided by Faith. Below is the beginning portion of my thoughts, and just click on the link at the bottom to follow the rest. Last year, by the way, our contributor Karen Johnson interviewed the author in a two-part series; you can find that here and here. (Note: a brand new piece for The Atlantic explores similar themes on evangelicals and racial politics, focusing particularly on Southern Baptists. Thoughtful piece and well worth reading for those interested).
Nancy Wadsworth’s stimulating new work on the politics of racial healing came to my attention just as news about national protests stemming from the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York took center stage in national news broadcasts. Social media buzzed with various reactions to the unprosecuted killings of unarmed black men, including numerous comments made by professional athletes. Just before a Monday night football game — and right after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson case — a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, Benjamin Watson, weighed in on Twitter: “So many thoughts on#Ferguson. My heart is full and I don’t know where to start. Lord help us. All of us. Black & White. Anger Fear Despair.” He then immediately followed up with a multifaceted facebook post which communicated his anger and frustration over the killings, connected them to experiences of African Americans through generations of American history, condemned violent responses to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, expressed empathy for police officers making split-second decisions, and looked for hope in the gospel of Christ. Watson’s words leapt to mind while I was reading Nancy D. Wadsworth’s Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing A key section of that post almost perfectly captures the ambivalence of the subtitle of Wadsworth’s book:
Continue Reading Here
Posted by Sonia Hazard
What’s so new about new materialism? New materialism is more than a buzzword or this Tuesday’s theoretical vogue. It’s a reconceptualization of material things—chairs, altars, books, robes, neurons—and how these chunks of matter move us, speak to us, and make incessant demands on our thought and practice. What is new about new materialism is its argument that things are agents, in their own rights, with
“trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own.” This is not a playful statement. Things and their powers are serious business.
For this year’s American Academy of Religion in Atlanta (November 21-24), I’ve been involved (with the indefatigable Karen Bray) in organizing a panel on new materialism in religion, called “Between Philosophy and a Phenomenological Hard Place: New Materialism as a Methodology in the Study of Religion.” It’s co-hosted by the Philosophy of Religion Section and the Theology and Continental Philosophy Group. American religionists will find much of interest in the panel: the point is to convey an expansive sense of what new materialism—not only as a philosophy but also as a method—can do throughout the various subfields in the study of religion, including American religion. The panel is designed not only for thing devotees but also the thing-curious.
I will open the session by offering a lively introduction to new materialism, drawn from an essay in Religion and Society. I’ll describe its stakes and its relation to more common approaches to materiality in the study of religion. Even in religious material culture studies, the generative power of things receives short shrift. Things tend to be regarded either as secondary symbols of human culture, or as the background against which human subjects conduct their activities.
Three panelists, each representing different subfields in religious studies, will offer remarks that enact the first panelist’s methodological provocation in concrete, case-based ways that speak to the concerns of their subfields. Hillary Kaell will be the first to engage new materialism’s methodological provocation in her ethnographic work on wayside crosses in Quebec. Her remarks are titled, “Seeing the Invisible: Ambient Catholicism on the Side of the Road.” Karen Bray, a philosophical theologian, will follow her, with a paper on “Material Laments: Things that Pray and Temples that Feel.” Then, Peter Anthony Mena, a historian of late antique religion, will offer a reading of Origen in his called “Noetic Bodies: Origen of Alexandria, the New Materialist.” Whitney Bauman will respond and John Modern will chair.
American religion will be very much a part of this conversation, both at the American Academy of Religion meeting and in new materialist scholarship in the future. It is our hope that the panel’s multidisciplinary approach will inspire in a diverse audience an excitement around these new theoretical and methodological tools, and embolden them to put such ideas into practice concretely. No doubt, there also will be vigorous debate.
Posted by Janine Giordano
How does the present-day climate of organizing around wealth inequality compare to that of the Gilded Age? According to Steve Fraser in his new The Age of Acquiescence, it does not even light a candle.
According to Fraser, while the first Gilded Age was full of militant workers who did not give up in the face of Pinkertons, labor injunctions and a legal system that benefited the upper-class, the present age has acquiesced. While the first Gilded Age boasted of popular writers like Henry Demarest Lloyd, Edward Bellamy, and Henry George, each of whom gave the working classes a language to analyze and protest wealth inequality and the ways it destroys the fabric of American democracy, the present day fetishizes businessmen as populist heroes. While the first Gilded Age honored working class clergy-heroes, like Edward McGlynn, and made room for Eugene Debs' claims that socialism was a Christian idea, the religious leaders of the present Gilded Age overwhelmingly promote the status quo.
Fraser's overarching thesis may or may not be overstated. As popular reviewers like Naomi Klein and Jon Wiener remind us, Fraser does not see the Black Freedom Movement nor the Women's Liberation Movement, nor the numerous grassroots movements which have persisted and grown since then, impacting the social consciousness of the mainstream with regards to wealth inequality. For, they ran alongside an era that glorified business leaders and oppressed discussions on wealth distribution and radical social equality. Fraser is probably shortsighted in his assumption that rules governing the workplace (rather than the point of consumption or reproduction) are the best ways to trace interest in topping wealth and social inequality.
Yet, Fraser also has a point that the success of these 1960s movements has not significantly transformed the production or distribution of American wealth. For, as Fraser expertly shows, in spite of the success of these movements, the "Second Gilded Age" has glorified the worker as a "free agent," allowed the destruction of the labor movement and the laws workers built to defend unions, and enabled the phenomenon of "limousine liberalism." Sure, there are present-day groups organizing in response to wealth-inequality. But, compared to the thousands of workers who went on strike for months and months, even in the face of Pinkertons and labor injunctions and real poverty, we have acquiesced. His point is that the obstacles workers faced in the late nineteenth century were every bit as bad, and worse, than they are in the early twenty-first century. Yet, the first era saw massive protest, and the second has not. This point is compelling.
Posted by Samira K. Mehta
Posted by Jonathan
With the on-going interest in Frederick Douglass (his Narrative made it to the Junto's 2015 Primary Source Documents Final Four! David Blight is writing a major biography of him!), I found Douglass making some very interesting comments in a much lesser-known work than his Narrative. In May 1859, Douglass addressed a primarily African-American audience at Shiloh Presbyterian Church to deliver a "Eulogy of the Late William Jay" (available via GoogleBooks).
Douglass had much to praise about Jay. He opened by stating that "In the death of WILLIAM JAY, the cause of Emancipation in the United States has lost one of its ablest and most effective advocates." Douglass suggested that Jay would be ranked alongside "the venerated names of WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, THOMAS CLARKSON, and GRANVILLE SHARPE," the leading British abolitionists. The only difference was that Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Sharpe had lived to see the fulfillment of their abolitionist cause and Jay had not. Nonetheless, Jay's character and work merited honor. "All that is commanded in virtue--all that is exalted and sublime in piety--all that is disinterested in patriotism--all that is noble in philanthropy...stand out gloriously in the life of William Jay."
Douglass praised Jay's contribution as a writer supporting abolition. In "Letters, essays, pamphlets, books, newspaper articles" Jay advocated for abolition. "The pen was the weapon of his choice, and the weapon of his power." Further, Jay's contributions were timely. "Mr. JAY...wrote precisely at the right time. No great occasion escaped him. He was ready for every emergency." In the constellation of abolitionist efforts, Jay's great efforts were devoted to using the moral suasion of the word to convince others of the evil of slavery.
Douglass also made much of Jay's early commitment to abolition. A leader, rather than a band-wagon joiner, Jay "was not behind the chiefest apostle of immediate emancipation." Further "impartial history" would give Jay "the credit of having affirmed all the leading principles of modern Abolitionism long before modern Abolitionism was recognized as a reformatory movement." Jay's commitment to abolition dated long before it was a large or popular phenomenon in the North. He was working for the cause when there were few laborers alongside him.
Douglass's eulogy mentioned two other important components of Jay's involvement in abolition. One was that Jay was part of a line of anti-slavery advocates. This began with his father John Jay, who as governor had signed into law New York's gradual emancipation act. It continued with William's son John, who as an active lawyer had dedicated himself to opposing slavery through legal means. On this point, Douglass exclaimed, "Abolitionism seems hereditary in the family!"
The other point was William's care for fugitive slaves. Not only concerned about them in life, in his will he had left $1,000 for promoting the "safety and comfort of fugitive slaves," many of whom passed through New York.
In response to a call for more book panels and historiography at its conferences, the American Catholic Historical Association convened a session on Catholics in the American Century: Recasting Narratives of U.S. History. The book features essays by Robert Orsi, Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas Sugrue, R. Marie Griffith, David G. Gutierrez, and Wilfred McClay. It’s the product of a conference convened in 2008 by the Cushwa Center of the University of Notre Dame. Cushwa asked historians who normally write about other topics (labor, cities, Protestant women, the nineteenth century self, ethnicity) to write essays on American Catholicism. The general goal of the volume is to present a case for why studying Catholics will help us to understand American History more deeply. A second goal of the volume is to make a few suggestions about how this task might be accomplished. In this blog post I offer two quick snapshots from the collection itself before summarizing points made at the panel.
Posted by Charlie McCrary
Continued from part I
Pacific history, particularly done from an American and/or European perspective, has a different history and historiography. These histories are situated in a long tradition of Western knowledge production about the Pacific, and are generally quite conscious of this fact. For over two hundred years, Americans and Europeans have used the Pacific as a site of knowledge production, including botanical, geological, mineralogical, zoological, and of course anthropological knowledge. These encounters have determined the shape of many narratives of Pacific history. British and French
|Louis-Antoine de Bougainville|
There are multiple venues for Pacific history. Here I will give an overview of a few, and at the end of the post I’ll provide a brief bibliography. My intended audience here is American historians who are largely unfamiliar with Pacific history but would like a short guide for where to look if they would like to incorporate it into their research and/or teaching.
Posted by Charlie McCrary
|Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, after Louis Choris, "Temple du Roi dans la baie Tiritatéa" (1822)|
First, of course, we have a thorny definitional question: What is “the Pacific”? Much work under the labels “Pacific studies” and “Pacific history” focus on the islands of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, although there are scholars who contest these categories. The divisions between Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, probably first made by Jules Durmont d’Urville in 1832, relied on essentially racial categories. Some scholars have defined the Pacific as a geological feature or ecological system, the “tide-beating heart of earth.” Islanders were mobile for many centuries before Europeans ever arrived, so determining how people got where they did is a difficult task for anthropologists. If the study of the Pacific is a study of Islanders, then there are many outstanding questions about classification and categorization, and many of the data needed to make these claims are beyond the realm of traditional historical study.
Posted by Monica L. Mercado
- What has and has not changed for women in the Church since the Second Vatican Council?
- What positions do women have and what roles do they play in the Church today?
- What is the future for women in the Church?
- What should be the agenda of engagement for the next half century?
At "Still Guests in Our Own House," scholars will address the issues raised by these questions. Please join us in what promises to be a lively exploration of the Council's history and impact on women by proposing a paper, panel, or roundtable.
Kruse, Kevin M. One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. New York: Basic Books, 2015.
One Nation Under God, Kevin Kruse’s new book on How Corporate America Invented Christian America, is a fascinating narrative of the connections between religion, big business, and patriotism and governance in the United States from the New Deal to Ronald Reagan. The book is justly receiving praise and widespread attention, including several reviews here at Religion in American History (by Michael Graziano and Darren Grem) and coverage in the New York Times and on NPR. Since there are a number of reviews or summaries of the book available, I am going to take for granted that you know the basic shape of the book. In this review I intend to cast the book’s argument into relief from the perspective of nineteenth-century American religious history in order to highlight the contribution that the book makes.
One Nation Under God is a history of how the idea that the United States is a Christian nation was deployed in the middle of the twentieth century. There were several possible historical moments when this idea could have arisen. One is during the revolutionary period: Kruse deftly “sets aside the question of whether the founders intended America to be a Christian nation and instead asks why so many contemporary Americans came to believe this country has been and always should be a Christian nation” (xiii). Another contender is the Cold War period. This book takes the Cold War into account, to be sure, but it offers an important corrective by tracing the idea of “one nation under God” to business opposition to the New Deal in 1930s and 1940s. As Kruse writes about the addition of that phrase to the pledge of allegiance, the change was “the result of nearly two decades of partisan fighting over domestic issues. The Cold War contrasts were largely a last-minute development, one that helped paper over partisan differences” (109). But there is a third contender for the origins of the Christian nation idea: the nineteenth-century United States. This critical period for understanding church-state concerns has been re-examined in recent years by scholars such as Sarah Barringer Gordon, Steven K. Green, and David Sehat.
Posted by Matthew Cressler
What we usually call "the religious" and "the political" have been practically inseparable in my course on African American religions this semester. After all, how can students think about practices, communities, institutions, and experiences born in no small part of involuntary migration and servitude - born of Atlantic world empire and slavery - without thinking about power, governance, and resistance? I would venture to guess that this is true of many (maybe most) courses on American religions and it carries special weight in African American religious studies. One way I tried to impress this upon my students was through a discussion of Eddie Glaude's "very short introduction" to African American Religion (Oxford, 2014). In it, Glaude argues that, if the category is to have any usefulness, the study of "African American religion" must be more than simply the study of the ways African Americans happen to be religious. Instead, Glaude draws on J.Z. Smith and others to insist that
"African American religion is the invention of scholars who, with particular aims and purposes, seek to describe, analyze, and theorize the religious practices of African Americans under a particular racial regime [white supremacy in the United States]" (8).Glaude's approach, as well as that of my course, thus "assumes that the political and social context in the United States is a necessary though not sufficient condition of any study of something called African American religion" (7). To this end, we have examined and entered into debates about the inseparability of Christianity, slavery, and slave revolt; imaginings of "Africa" and the construction of African American (religious) identity; and black churches as a counter-public sphere, among other topics. All this is to say that, for my students and myself, the realms of "the religious" and "the political" have never been far from each other.
Then we came to the Nation of Islam and these blurred boundaries were built back up in no time.
Posted by John L. Crow
Last month the Barna Group released the latest in its surveys regarding the use of technology in America’s Protestant churches. Entitled, Cyber Church: Pastors and the Internet, the report notes that an overwhelming number of pastors and church leaders are embracing technology in the church for both personal use and for ministry. Wanting to get a direct assessment of the use of technology in the church, I reached out to Phil Cannizzaro, president of InfoTank, an Atlanta technology services company. InfoTank serves the technological needs of many Christian institutions within the Atlanta-metro area. Clients include Peachtree Presbyterian, the largest church within P.C.(USA), having over 7000 members, North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, All Saints Catholic Church, Ambassadors for Christ, an Atlanta-based evangelical ministry, Women's Community Bible Study, and numerous Christian schools including Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta Youth Academy, and Whitefield Academy.
lists over 50 different software packages in the church membership management space. Varying in cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, these software packages attend to various needs within the church including membership management, accounting, tithe and donation management, sermon management, and attendance tracking. The more sophisticated software packages often have web server modules that allow members to directly access and manage their account, updating contact information and tracking church giving. As the Barna Group points out, the larger the church and the more financial resources it has, the more likely it is to adopt technology to offer services and solve problems. Cannizzaro notes that the churches that have greater economic resources are willing to invest in customizations to software packages whereas churches with fewer resources are more willing to use software as is “straight out of the box.” One last point Cannizzaro makes about church management software is that the software packages are generally three to five years behind in technology adoption. Even though the market is large for church management software, it has its limits and there is no incentive for being innovative. Only once a technology is ubiquitous in other areas of society, is it likely to show up in the church management space.
In a 2008 report about technology use in Protestant churches, the Barna Group found that two thirds of churches had large screen projection systems in the sanctuary. Cannizzaro notes that his Protestant church clients also have projection systems in their sanctuaries and will use it in a variety of ways during services. One note of contrast, however, is that his Catholic Church clients do not have screens or projection systems within the sanctuary and have no interest in getting them in the future. Another Protestant/Catholic differences he finds in is the streaming of church services. Most of the Protestant churches he services broadcast their Sunday services on the internet. None of his Catholic church clients broadcast their Masses, and he said you’d be hard pressed to find many that do. It would seem while Protestant churches are interested in getting their Sunday Services to anyone in any way, Catholic churches are more focused on getting members to physically attend Mass and not participate through the mediation of online streaming video.
Last week at the Cleveland Historical Society, a group of academic contributors to a forthcoming volume on the Jews of Cleveland met. Primarily historians and religionists from North America and Israel, we discussed our chapters-in-progess and the Jewish history of Cleveland.
For decades, scholars of the Jewish experience have sought to expand our gaze beyond the obvious centers of Jewish life in America. Yet, Ohio -- important as it has been in the history of Reform Judaism, and in terms of early 20th century Jewish population growth -- still gets short shrift. Cincinnati and Cleveland have significant Jewish histories
Our topics are varied and include Cleveland Jews and the Civil War, Orthodox Judaism in Cleveland, Cleveland Jewish family history, Jewish interracial neighborhood activism, the city's Jewish education offerings, Superman's Cleveland origins, Jewish urban flight, and the mid-twentieth century founding of Cleveland synagogues.
With the beginnings of Cleveland communal Jewish life in 1839, when a group of 19 Jew immigrated from Unsleben, Bavaria, the city included two large Reform synagogues by 1850. Like other major American cities, Cleveland felt the second phase of Jewish immigration to America as Eastern European Jews fled persecution in the last decades of the 19th century. It was in Cleveland's garment industry, second only to New York's in the early 20th century, where these Jews largely found work.
By the 20th century, as our conference presentations revealed, Cleveland's diverse population had begun to give the lie to a unified Jewish community, with various stripes of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews in coexistence. In her keynote address, historian Hasia Diner exhorted conference attendees to reconsider use of the term, "Jewish community" -- a phrase that many use interchangeably with "American Jews," but which often suggests a false consensus.
Diner also posed the question: why do we scholars choose our topics of study at a particular moment in history? Recalling that many cities and towns conducted community studies in the mid-twentieth century, in honor of the tercentennial celebration (1954) of Jewish life in America, Diner challenged us to think about what it is that we value about these local studies in 2015.
I thought back over the past two weeks of world news, which had brought reports and reactions to Israel's election. American Jewish responses were sundry. What I noticed along with this diversity of reactions was how important it felt to many Jews to make clear that they did not necessarily agree with other Jews. "Other Jews do not speak for me," has felt like a common theme in American Jewish reactions to current events, particularly those relating to the Middle East, over the past year. As a minority in the American population, Jewish anxiety about being lumped together with all other Jews seems realistic. I hear the reflexive assumption, in my classrooms, that all Jews, or all Mormons, or any member of a religious minority group, must think and act like other members of the group. Local studies such as this one about Cleveland remind readers that even the smallest groups contain diversity within. We just have to be willing to look for it.
Posted by Cara L. Burnidge
Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History could be forgiven for thinking that religion has not played a large role in the nation’s history. Most are more interested in seeing Dorothy’s ruby slippers anyway, but the stories told by the official repository of artifacts from United States history have largely steered clear of involving religion to any meaningful degree. This is about to change, thanks to the work of many prominent scholars of American religion. On March 20, NMAH hosted a symposium on Religion in Early America, organized by Stephen Prothero, to introduce the museum’s plans regarding religion and to discuss some major issues in its representation.
|Mormon sunstone capital from the original Nauvoo temple |
(currently on display at the National Museum of American History)
Photo by Charles Richter, 2015
In his opening and closing remarks, Prothero, who had initially been brought to NMAH on a fellowship following the God in America PBS series, described religion in America as “connected, contested, and complicated.” The challenge for the museum is to represent the interconnected nature of the stories of religion in America while also acknowledging the conflicts, not only between religious traditions, but also over the interpretations and definitions of religion itself. The exhibit and symposium both address three major themes: religious freedom, religious growth, and religious diversity.
How many times have you read something in the archives or in a primary source that made you smile, chuckle, or even lol? For some research topics, the answer might be never. But hopefully everyone finds topics for the classroom that allow us to think about funny things in American religious history.
This is on my mind because in both my courses last week, Religions in America and African American Religions, my students had primary source readings that made some of them (and me) chuckle. Last week in my African American Religions class, students read excerpts from the FBI's files on the Moorish Science Temple from the 1930s and 1940s. These are a great read for students because they reveal so much about how outsiders saw the Moorish Science Temple, the politics of monitoring raced religions, and still the files describe some elements of the Moorish Science Temple. As a class we commiserated over our frustration at what's blacked out in the declassified files. And the place of employment of one interviewee's brother made us smile. The interviewee's brother, who helped keep order at the meetings, worked in a "potato chip shop." Something about the idea of a store that specializes in and sells potato chips makes me smile. No, not lol levels, but still some amusing archives. After the jump break I share what's funny from my own current research—what I like to call seance snark.
Posted by Charlie McCrary
American religious history is going global. As many historians move away from the nation-state as a way to organize their objects of study and instead trace other themes—capitalism or environmental change, for example—they are taken beyond the geographic bounds of the United States. The upcoming Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture will feature sessions on “American Religion and Global Flows” and “‘Religion in the Americas’ as an Organization Program.” At the 2013 AAR meeting in Baltimore, a panel considered the theme “Placing the Subfield: North American Religions, Religion in the Americas and Beyond.” Those of us paying attention to the job market likely have noticed an increase in the number of calls focusing on Latin America, the Caribbean, and/or “the Americas.” Not all of this interest has to do with the decline of the nation-state. In fact, studies of religion and government are on the upswing, with “empire,” “American in/and the world,” and “foreign relations” all providing valuable frames for the study of religion. Even in cases where confining studies to the United States might make sense, there are ways that a global approach might be beneficial. Studies of American religious freedom, for example, often center on historical interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. But these stories are bolstered by discussions of global secularity, constitutionalism around the world, and the role of religion and secularism in international relations. In short, we do need to ask important questions about what exactly our subfield is about, and in what ways geography should define “American religious history” (or “American religions” or “religion in the Americas”.) In what networks do we plot “religion”? I do wonder about graduate programs changing to “the Americas”—why not “the world”? Or “global flows”? Should Brazil be more a part of our subfield than Canton? Or Tahiti?
So, after that introduction full of things everyone knows already, I’ll get to my real question: Where is the Pacific in American religious history?
Posted by Mark T. Edwards
|"Progress of Woman," Library of Congress|
Several years ago, Kelly Baker published a series of posts (here, here, and here) on favorite scholars of gender and American religion for women's history month. Inspired by her example, I decided to put together a special post for this month (though, really, every month is women's history month for me). In order not to duplicate Kelly's lists, I asked a group of colleagues to name their favorite book on women and American religion. While I stuck with "American," I tried to consult scholars with different specializations and time periods.
The scholars, and their choices, follow the break. Readers, I hope you will add your favorites, and tell us why, in the comments section.
Posted by Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism
The bibliography of Mark Granquist’s Lutherans in America: A New History, just published this January, attests to this. This book is the first comprehensive treatment since The Lutherans in North America, edited by E. Clifford Nelson and first published in 1975.* It contains many welcome improvements. Not only does Granquist cover the last forty years of American Lutheran history, but his single authorial voice yields a better narrative flow than his predecessor’s multi-author approach. He avoids getting bogged down in the intricacies of denominational politics, but does not shortchange American Lutheranism’s institutional, cultural, and theological complexity. Particularly commendable is his evenhanded analysis of recent Lutheran controversies: the conservative takeover of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the 1970s, the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the 1980s, and contemporary debates and schisms over such issues as ecumenism and sexuality. In short, Granquist’s book stands as the most complete synthesis of American Lutheran history currently in print.
Posted by Elesha
1. Many students struggle with what I would deem the book's pretty basic theological language. Granted, I have not taught undergrads at my current institution before, so I cannot make a longitudinal comparison. Still, I expected terms such as "Calvinism," "creeds," and "second person of the Trinity" to be, if not familiar, at least manageable in context. Not so, for about half of my students.
I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from such a small sample if it weren't for the same phenomenon cropping up among seminary students. Seminary colleagues of mine lament that some students begin an MDiv now needing what would have been deemed a remedial level of biblical and theological instruction 20 years ago. Surely this complaint has been raised for generations. Still, I feel like I do see effects of a widespread erosion of theological literacy (another topic Prothero has addressed) in the undergrad classroom, and these make my instructional task more difficult.
2. The near-absence of Muslims is really conspicuous. Aside from a few lines about the Nation of Islam in the "Black Moses" chapter, Islam makes only very fleeting appearances in the book. Efforts made by Hindus and Buddhists to interpret and appropriate Jesus get more attention. But because Western observers have waded so deeply into debates about "true" Islam since 9/11 and the onset of the War on Terror, it would be nice to see how Muslims have engaged in debates about Jesus. Who came before Reza Aslan?
Posted by Karen Johnson
For much of the twentieth century, many people in northern cities with large Catholic populations, people often asked one another where they lived with the question: "what parish are you from?" No matter if you were a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Jew, Catholicism, and its way of dividing up the faithful in geographic territories, pervaded the city.
There's a great body of literature on the relationship between Americans' faith, neighborhoods, and racial politics with one of the most well-known being John McGreevy's 1996 Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Urban North. McGreevy's book is comprehensive, and among other things, he demonstrates that we must account for religion when we consider racial change in America's northern cities. For teaching, though, I prefer to help students go deep in a subject, rather than wide. This semester in my American Cities and Suburbs, we're looking at one parish from a few different views as a window into race and religion in the city.
I'm using Eileen McMahon's What Parish Are You From? A Chicago Irish Community and Race Relations to help students explore the ways communities put boundaries around themselves, as well as how they have navigated the racial change that has been so central to the narrative of U.S. urban and suburban history. McMahon's book traces the changing notions of community in St. Sabina's parish. The book is accessible to students and, because it offers a case study, provides students with the opportunity to know a community at a deeper, more substantive level. It also complicates their notions of white flight as simply racist by showing how Catholicism shaped parishioners' experience of racial change.
Posted by Laura Leibman
|Rabbi Malcolm Stern,
Author of |
First American Jewish Families
Religion has played an important role in genealogy's rise in prominence. The Mormon Church's interest in baptizing the dead has encouraged the church to dedicate tremendous resources to mapping the past. Equally crucially, many of the early American documents desired by genealogists (including marriage and burial records) were often originally created and kept by religious organizations. Religious practice can also fuel the desire for knowledge about one's ancestors. In my own field, which covers both converso and early Jewish American families, people sometimes turn to genealogical research to make sense of their personal religious life stories. Furthermore, genealogy fever has helped channel vasts amounts of human and financial resources into digitizing early records that can help foster scholarship on American religious communities. God bless the genealogists! Genealogists make our scholarly lives easier; however, they also challenge us in productive ways to rethink our audience and create more interactive and accessible modes of history making.
Posted by Seth Dowland
excellent post on Rachel Hope Cleves' excellent new book, Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America, which details a 44-year marriage between two Vermont women, who lived together from 1807-1851. Having just finished teaching the book to students in my course, "Religion & Gender in American History," I wanted to return to this fascinating work, hopefully building on rather than duplicating Carol's post.
One of the book's most fascinating themes is the way Charity and Sylvia adopted conventional gender norms in their marriage. For historians of same-sex relationships, this isn't a new conclusion, but Cleves does a marvelous job demonstrating how overtly the two women embodied gendered roles. Charity Bryant, seven years older than Sylvia Drake, took on various masculine roles: she was listed first in property records, fixed furniture, shopped at markets, and acted as the disciplinarian for their nieces, nephews, and other children in the town. Sylvia cooked, cleaned, and comforted. One visitor to their home, Hiram Hurlburt (what a name!), said bluntly, "Miss Bryant was the man." Even so, Sylvia thought of herself as an equal partner in the women's tailoring business -- theirs was a gendered but not patriarchal relationship. This gendering helped Charity and Sylvia position themselves as a married couple.
The role of the church (both women were Congregationalists) in Charity and Sylvia's marriage is probably of most interest to readers on this blog. Sylvia and Charity were spiritual giants in their community by the time they reached middle age. Townspeople sent their children to apprentice with the two women, and not just because they were good seamstresses; the expectation was that time with such pious women would positively influence young souls. The ministers in town expressed deep regard for Charity and Sylvia. Several of Charity and Sylvia's ministers carried on lifelong correspondence with the two women, and one even referred to Charity and Sylvia as "my superiors." To be sure, Charity and Sylvia spent their entire lives thinking of their sexual relationship as deeply wicked, and Charity showed an aversion to attending church on Sunday. They could never speak openly of each other as spouses and lived in fear of judgment.
My class's most interesting conversations emerged as we considered the multi-faceted way Christianity intersected with Charity and Sylvia's relationship -- and the differences in how same-sex couples experience the church today. Charity and Sylvia lived in a world where same-sex marriage was not a political issue. As a result, their relationship was not "threatening." So long as they kept quiet about their sexuality, Charity and Sylvia were free to become spiritual giants in their community. Yet they always talked about themselves as "failed Christians" and never escaped the weight of their "wickedness," even as everyone around them praised their piety. This seems like a near inversion of the relationship many same-sex couples have with their churches today.
Posted by Phil