Commemorating Haymarket

By Heath Carter

2011 is proving to be a challenging year for organized labor in America and yet also a year full of banner anniversaries. Just over a month ago I blogged about the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. This weekend, meanwhile, Chicagoans will mark the 125th anniversary of the notorious Haymarket Affair, which transpired at Randolph and Des Plaines Streets on 4 May 1886. The tragedy that unfolded that night had dramatic ramifications for the American labor movement, spelling the doom, of course, of the Knights of Labor. It had profound reverberations in the world of the religious elite as well, fueling Protestant nativism and a joint Protestant/Catholic backlash against anything that remotely hinted of radicalism. All this is well-attested in the literature. But we know much less about the religious dimensions of the Great Upheaval. The years prior to 1886 saw not only a dramatic spike in the incidents of strikes but also in working-class criticism of the churches, which wage earners perceived to be moving ever more into solidarity with capital. In late-nineteenth-century Chicago, notably, the working classes' critiques were often framed not in materialistic but rather distinctly Christian categories: Jesus was a carpenter and "the laborer is worthy of his hire" were two frequent refrains. More on this at some point soon, but in the meantime, here's an interesting NY Times article that discusses the anniversary in light of current controversies; and also a list of events that the Illinois Labor History society is sponsoring to commemorate the occasion, including Saturday's reenactment and re-dedication of the Haymarket monument in Forest Park, IL. If you know of other events in your area, please feel free to share in the comments section. Finally, for those who don't know about the excellent teaching resources available via the Chicago History Museum website, both the digital collection and Dramas of Haymarket are well worth a look.

Second Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture

Paul Harvey

Here's the announcement for the 2nd Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture in Indianapolis, June 2-4, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. The full program is here; it features luminaries in the field such as Robert Orsi, Ann Taves, Kathryn Lofton, Tracy Fessenden, Gerardo Marti, and many more. Blogmeister Kelly J. Baker will be there blogging away, as will I; the first of these biennial conferences got some blog play here courtesy of Linford Fisher, and the full proceedings from that conference, in 2009, can be freely downloaded here.

Announcement below; click here for registration, which includes 1/2 price rates ($75) at the new J. W. Marriott in downtown Indy.

CSRAC Hosts Second Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture

The Second Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture is slated for June 2-5, 2011, at the new JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis.

Sponsored by the Center and by Religion & American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, the purpose of the biennial conference series is to combine the insights of those working from different perspectives to help create new and better understandings of religion’s role in American life. The first Conference on Religion and American Culture, held in Indianapolis June 4-7, 2009, laid the foundation for the series, with a focus on recognizing disciplinary boundaries and exploring how scholars within those disciplines might learn from each other. Proceedings of those sessions are available for free on this website.

The overarching theme of this second conference will be “change.” Changing understandings of both religion and culture, as well as the effects these changes have on ways of thinking about religion’s role in American culture, will be the focus. “Most crucial is the change over the past few decades toward thinking about religion as it is expressed in everyday life, religion as lived experience,” said Philip Goff, Executive Director of the CSRAC.

“The conference will have three parts,” continued Goff. “Two opening sessions on changing definitions of religion and what this means for its study, four topical sessions where we play out this question in specific research areas, and then two sessions on what the future holds (or may hold). The 2009 conference was primarily about bringing together senior people from different disciplines to discuss the field broadly, and we succeeded. The meeting in 2011 is about bringing a similarly strong group together with much greater attention to what religion is coming to mean in America, and how this affects any effort to understand it.”

The conference will open June 2 with a reception in Osteria Pronto at the JW Marriott. The hotel, which opened in February, is Indianapolis’s newest and largest, with 1005 guest rooms in 34 stories and 104,000 square feet of meeting, banquet, and exhibit space. A special conference rate of $74.50 has been made available for a block of rooms, thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment. Once that block of rooms is sold out, the rate will be $149 per night. (Please note that you will be asked for a credit card to guarantee your reservation. The rate of $74.50 is available to registered conference participants only, one discounted room per participant, and will not be applied until you check in at the hotel. This is so whether you make your reservation online or by phone.)

Conference registration before May 5 is recommended; registration fees increase from $85 professional and $45 student to $110 professional and $65 student after May 5. Onsite registration will be $130 professional and $80 student.

Register for the conference.

Joe Price's Anthem Tour

Art Remillard

"When baseball functions as a civil religion," observes Joe Price in Rounding the Bases, "its true believers--the passionate fans and players who shape their worldviews and daily routines around their devotion to the game--experience a kind of sacramental rejuvenation in the game itself." Joe makes it no secret that he is a "true believer." The book concludes with a thoughtful recollection of his own baseball "conversion" narrative. And this summer, as research for his next book, Joe will sing the national anthem at over 100 minor league baseball parks across the nation.

If you're interested in following along, check out his website , Facebook page, and blog. Joe's wife is also coming along for the ride (they're traveling in an RV), blogging on her side of the story.

Here's one of Joe's dispatches from Florida...

At St. Lucie, a twin pillared sculpture made from remnant steel at Ground Zero graces the entry to the ballpark and pays tribute to the victims of the Twin Towers’ attack. Created by Patrick Cochrane, the piece was donated by retired New York City firefighters who live in the St. Lucie area.

As I entered the ballpark to sing for Florida's Mets, the relic reminded me of the consummate performance of the national anthem by Daniel Rodriguez, then a New York City policeman, at Yankee Stadium shortly after the 9/11 tragedies.

While the crowd’s response to my anthem rendition in St. Lucie was enthusiastic, the most expressive gestures and comments came from Mets players and a vendor.
As I walked the gauntlet past the Mets dugout right after I had sung, manager Pedro Lopez gave me thumbs up and said “Good job,” followed by third-baseman Richard Lucas reaching over the dugout railing to shake hands with me. A short time later, the vendor who was roasting pretzels over a charcoal fire near the backstop breezeway expressed great appreciation for the anthem itself. He offered that his wife, Laura Mercado, had auditioned a couple of days earlier to sing for the Mets and hopes to sing soon for one of the games.

A similar connection took place the following day in Jupiter while I was eating a delectable lunch at Le Metro in the Abacoa Town Center. Tiara, the waitress, recommended the broth-based mushroom soup and, as an entrée, grilled scallops, presented over tabouli, sliced tomatoes, and a fan of avocado slices dressed with an herbed balsamic vinegarette. I still savor that meal. When she asked what business had brought me to town, I indicated that I’d be singing for the Hammerheads a few hours later. “Wow!” she exclaimed and then recounted how some years ago when she had been living in Newport Beach, California, her daughter Nicole Gero had sung the national anthem for the Freedom Bowl game.

It’s quite simple: Anthem performances bring people together.

Rituals of Violence, War, and Death Among the Wendat/Huron and the Dakotas: Two New Studies

Paul Harvey

War, violence, and rituals of death have been central to American history, nowhere more so than among Native Americans. Here, just wanted to alert you to a couple of new works that advance new understandings of religious rituals surrounding war, violence, and death.

First, last week Historiann called my attention to a new book which I have yet to see but looks hugely promising, especially as a classroom-usable text. I'll quote from her here:

Erik Seeman’s The Huron-Wendat Feast of the Dead: Indian-European Encounters in Early North America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). From the book jacket:

“Two thousand Wendat (Huron) Indians stood on the edge of an enormous burial pit… they held in their arms the bones of roughly seven hundred deceased friends and family members. The Wendats had lovingly scraped and cleaned the bones of the corpses that had decomposed on the scaffolds. They awaited only the signal from the master of the ritual to place the bones in the pit. This was the great Feast of the Dead.”

Witnesses to these Wendat burial rituals were European colonists, French Jesuit missionaries in particular. Rather than being horrified by these unfamiliar native practices, Europeans recognized the parallels between them and their own understanding of death and human remains. Both groups believed that deceased souls traveled to the afterlife; both believed that elaborate mortuary rituals ensured the safe transit of the soul to the supernatural realm; and both believed in the power of human bones.

Appreciating each other’s funerary practices allowed the Wendats and French colonists to find common ground where there seemingly would be none. Erik R. Seeman analyzes these encounters, using the Feast of the Dead as a metaphor for broader Indian-European relations in North America. His compelling narrative gives undergraduate students of early America and the Atlantic World a revealing glimpse into this fascinating — and surprising — meeting of cultures.

Anyone who has poked around at all in The Jesuit Relations will recognize descriptions of the feasts of the dead in these documents to be some of the most immediately compelling and gripping (if, as always with the Jesuits, problematic) primary sources for 17th-century Native American religious practices. Weighing in a a svelte 176 pages, this book looks like an effort to use these kinds of sources in a way that opens them up and makes discussion of cross-cultural religious encounters in early America accessible for classroom discussion.

And here's a powerful new article of interest to many of you, by our friend and colleague Jennifer Graber, whose first book The Furnace of Affliction has received attention at our blog before.

The article, based on some outstanding research in the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, is "Mighty Upheaval on the Minnesota Frontier: Violence, War, and Death in Dakota and Missionary Christianity," Church History 80 (March 2011): 76-108.

The piece begins by asking "If . . . war is the norm rather than the aberration in American national life, how are we to understand the transformations experienced in 1862 by missionaries and Dakotas as part of a larger American story . . . [and how do we] understand how violence worked to reshape the participants' religious lives?" Graber considers the effects both on missionaries from the ABCFM and the Dakotas of the Dakota War in Minnesota in the late summer of 1862, a horrific outbreak of violence which resulted in the deaths of several hundred settlers and later the mass public execution of over 300 Indians, particularly focused on non-Christian Indians and "medicine men" who were thought to be the ringleaders of the revolt. Graber makes effective use of concepts of Christianity and violence drawn from Emma Anderson's Betrayal of Faith, Jill Lepore's The Name of War, and Harry Stout's "Religion, War, and the Meaning of America" (from Religion and American Culture, Summer 2009, 275-89).

In one section, Graber considers the religious responses of Dakotas to this signal event in their history, including the "conversion" of many of those awaiting execution. She provides a complex portrayal difficult to summarize here but well worth the read. Alongside this, Graber considers also the effect that the trauma of war had on the missionaries, and concludes that "these men underwent their own transformation. Their encounter with violence and devastation, punishment and incarceration caused them to mitigate and complicate the revivalist Calvinism they brought to the frontier. Their vision of missions made up of churches and schools became something else altogether, one of reservations and prisons that God used to make Indian converts."

Despite its short length, this sobering piece had me reflecting in ways which inspired some previous blogging about Emma Anderson's Betrayal of Faith. Highly recommended reading, especially after our last continuous decade of religion, violence, war, and death.

2012 Southern Historical Association Meeting

Randall Stephens

I'm serving on the program committee for the Southern Historical Association meeting, Mobile, Alabama, November 1-4, 2012. Paul tells me this will involve looking over an avalanche of proposals in a sealed bunker ten miles under the 2011 conference hotel. But he says it is fun, and I believe him. I'll do my utmost to get some good religion panels into the mix.

Here's the CFP:

SHA 2012, Mobile, Alabama:

The Program Committee invites proposals on all topics related to the history of the American South from its pre-colonial era to today. In addition, for the 2012 meeting in Mobile it extends a special welcome to proposals relating to:

* Mobile and the Gulf South
* International, transnational, or comparative approaches
* 2012 as an anniversary of major historical events, publications, etc.

The Program Committee accepts proposals for single papers but encourages session proposals that include two or three papers. Individuals interested in using the SHA website to organize a session with complementary papers may send an e-mail to Sheree Dendy with their name, e-mail address, and proposed paper topic. She will post this information on the SHA website, which others seeking compatible co-panelists may consult. Click here to view current postings of those seeking related proposals.

According to SHA policy, no one who appeared on the previous two programs, those at Charlotte and Baltimore, can be part of the program in Mobile.

Those submitting proposals should include suggestions of people who would be appropriate as commentators/chairs but not issue invitations. The Program Committee will select and invite a chair and usually two commentators. Note: this policy is new for the 2012 program.

No two people from the same institution can be on the same session.

See instructions for submitting proposals online, click here.

The deadline for proposals for the 2012 program is September 1, 2011.

Proposals in Latin American and Caribbean should be submitted to the section sub- committees. Click here.

2012 Program Committee Co-Chairs: Don Doyle and Marjorie Spruill University of South Carolina

A Cheerful and Comfortable Study of Colonial Material Religion

Paul Harvey

Since yesterday I mentioned Lauren Winner's essay in the Sunday Times book review, which reflected on Rob Bell and American conceptions of hell (and heaven), seems like a good time to showcase this review of her new book A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith, recently published by Yale -- the review is from Choice.

Winner, Lauren F. A cheerful and comfortable faith: Anglican religious practice in the elite households of eighteenth-century Virginia. Yale, 2010. 272p bibl index afp ISBN 0-300-12469-4, $45.00; ISBN 9780300124699, $45.00. Reviewed in 2011may CHOICE.

This study by Winner (Duke Divinity School) of the domestic religious life of elite families in Colonial Virginia both builds upon and modifies earlier work, including Dell Upton's Holy Things and Profane (1986). As Upton did, Winner focuses primarily on material objects as evidence; however, she deals not with public, male-dominated church buildings but rather with articles found in and around the home: needlework, baptismal bowls, prayer books, articles related to food preparation and consumption, and garments and rings worn in times of mourning. Winner's argues that although their roles were circumscribed, Anglican women nevertheless carved out a sphere in which they subtly contested the authority over religious matters claimed by clergy and male relatives and that their religious life, though not as dramatic as that of their Puritan counterparts, was an authentic appropriation of Anglican tradition in a Colonial setting. Winner's work is thoroughly and imaginatively researched, informed but not overwhelmed by theory, adequately illustrated, and accessibly written. This book is an important contribution to Anglican, elite, Colonial, material, and gendered dimensions of American religious life. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty.
-- P. W. Williams, Miami University

New York Rock Star Jesus Christ Opens Gates to Heaven

Paul Harvey

Today's NY Times features a cornucopia of religion for your Easter
Sunday. To start, our new contributor David Stowe's "Jesus Christ, Rock Star," looks at why religion was once part of popular music, how the divide between "rock" and "Christian" music happened, and why that divide may be in the process of lessening (plus just for fun a link accompanying the article takes you to Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction, a song that opens Todd Gitlin's capacious survey The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage):

Despite being a rare bright spot in an industry facing difficulties, music with explicit religious content has been largely segregated from non-religious pop music, both in terms of radio stations and audiences — so much so that it even has a name, contemporary Christian music.

This wasn’t always the case. For much of pop music history, religious themes had an uncontroversial place at the top of the charts, a presence most clearly felt in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But over the next decades, the politicization of faith, relying in part on the surge of youth into the country’s churches, turned religious themes into a forbidden zone for secular musicians.

Then you can hop over to John Leland (great name!), "The Evangelical Squad," which looks at evangelical entrepreneurs in some unlikely places in the NYC area, including the East Village. A brief excerpt, with a nod to Tony Carnes's Journey through NYC Religions which we blogged about here before:

But the church and its expansion into the East Village highlight a concerted groundswell of middle-class, professional evangelicals in Manhattan, an area many churches once shunned as an epicenter of sin. It is the place, many now believe, to reach the people who influence the world.

Though much attention has been paid to New York’s boom in immigrant churches, in recent decades the number of English-speaking evangelical churches south of Harlem has grown tenfold, to more than 100, said Tony Carnes, a researcher and founder of the online journal A Journey Through NYC Religions, who has studied New York churches since the 1970s. Without fanfare, the newcomers have created networks to pay for new churches and to form church-planting incubators, treating the city as a mission field.

"Because the institutions are new, Mr Carnes added, the city has become “like a Silicon Valley of church-planting. “You can come here, try new ideas, fail and start again,” he said. “It’s a hot area where failure isn’t a disgrace.”

Finally, our good friend Lauren Winner appears in the Book Review section, reflecting on all the recent brouhaha over Rob Bell's Love Wins. She writes of the long-lived yin-and-yang of exclusivity versus universalism in evangelical thought, including in the nineteenth century with Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Gates Ajar.

Lauren concludes:

So, too, Rob Bell is articulating the concerns of a generation of Christians schooled in toleration, whose neighbors and coworkers and siblings are Muslim or Buddhist or agnostic, a generation whose pluralist social commitments are at odds with theological commitments to limited salvation. Bell speaks for those Christians who take the Bible seriously but can’t imagine their secular friends aren’t going to heaven, too. He speaks for that woman in the pew who can’t bear the thought of spending eternity apart from her atheist brother. The tweeting gatekeepers of conservative evangelicalism may also share these concerns, but for them, the solution is to convert the unbelieving neighbor.

Lady Godga's Judas, Just in Time for Easter

What better than a little Lady Gaga for Easter? Welcome below our first contribution from new contributor David Stowe, whose new book No Sympathy for the Devil has received quite a bit of blogging attention here. Here, David analyzes Lady Gaga's new single and its place in the history of Christian pop and religious-themed musicals such as Jesus Christ Superstar.

Lady Gaga's Judas
by David Stowe

At this time forty years ago Jesus Christ Superstar the double album was near the top of the charts, with the musical slated to open on Broadway in the fall. Godspell was about to open off-Broadway, and Marvin Gaye's spiritually-infused What's Going On was being shipped to record stores.

Now we have Lady Gaga, whose just released single, "Judas," already has some eight million hits. It includes lines likes these

When he comes to me, I am ready
I'll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times, he betrays me

I'll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown

I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby
I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby

And also:

In the most Biblical sense,
I am beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind
But in the cultural sense
I just speak in future tense
Judas kiss me if offensed,
Or wear ear condom next time

New York magazine has published a detailed Biblical exegesis of the lyrics:

Lady Gaga's "Judas" is more than a pop anthem to loving the wrong guy: It's also the perfect excuse to examine infamous Catholic schoolgirl Lady Gaga's religiosity and the way she appropriates, inverts, and reworks Biblical allusions and images. Here's a serious, line-by-line analysis of the liturgical references in Judas from Luke 7:38 to John 13:27." They don't call her "Godga" for nothing ...

“I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs”
A reference to Luke 7:38, in which Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. In John 11:2 (and 12:3), she anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume and then wipes them with her hair. In some Christian traditions, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are the same person; in other traditions, they are distinct persons. Either way, though, Gaga's take is slightly off: Hair is for wiping or drying feet, not for washing....

Tim Rice meets Madonna. As Mary Magdalene sung so controversially 40 years ago:

I don't know how to love him
What to do, how to move him....
He's a man
He's just a man
And I've had so many
Men before
In very many ways
He's just one more.

Pasquier on the Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Randall Stephens

Mike Pasquier has been a busy guy. In addition to writing his rich study of Jesuits in late 18th and 19th century America, our fellow RiAH blogger has been collaborating with other LSU researchers who are studying the impact of the Deepwater Hoirzon oil spill. Ashley Berthelot at LSU Gold reports:

Michael Pasquier, assistant professor of religious studies and historian at LSU, has developed "Standard Lives: Visualizing the Culture of Oil in Louisiana." The goal of this project is to complement scientific investigations of the Deepwater Horizon disaster by documenting the cultural impact of environmental stressors on Louisiana's coastal communities.

"To do this, it's necessary to look at oil from 'the ground up,' so to speak," said Pasquier. "I knew we needed to take a long and unbiased look at Louisiana's relationship with the oil industry, and by extension, its effects on the everyday lives of refinery and offshore workers, as well as the businessmen, teachers, farmers, fishermen, mariners, homemakers and others with direct and indirect ties to petroleum-based services."

Pasquier started his project by delving into a photo collection at the University of Louisville that showcased in detail how the industry fundamentally transformed the social and environmental landscape of Louisiana at mid-century. . . .

"As a native of Louisiana, I grew up in a family and in communities with deep stakes in the oil industry, so I already had my finger on the pulse of a people economically and culturally invested in oil. Now, what I wanted to do was to find a way to look behind the typical photos of a literally oiled landscape to see the faces of people who are directly impacted by even the most subtle of economic and environmental changes," said Pasquier. "When we look at the photos of oily pelicans or an oiled coastline, we should also be trying to understand the backstory that was there long before the oil spill. We should also be looking for the everyday human story that isn't drenched in oil." . . .

"This isn't about justifying our use of oil, or being pro-oil or pro-environment," Pasquier said. "It's about assessing the terrible consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster by taking the time to focus on and understand the big picture, the realities that exist in everyday life for many Louisianans. This is about our history and our culture – this is about us and our future." read on >>>

Many of us heard Mike's preview of this tremendous work at the 2010 AAR. Can't wait to see the eight short documentaries that will result!

Ferocious Morality and the Infinite Jest of Solitude: Two Etudes on David Foster Wallace


Paul Harvey

By chance a couple of fine pieces about David Foster Wallace passed my way over the past few days; and more than just about Wallace (and appropriate for the wide-ranging and philosophical/quasi-religious writer), they suggested to me an awful lot to reflect on about the nature of love, companionship, solitude, and the “endlessly interesting hazards of living relationships.”

First is David Masciotra’s “The Ferocious Morality of David Foster Wallace,” at (HT Scott Poole). The first part of this essay focuses on Wallace’s short non-fiction essays, where I have connected with him most, the fiction being just a little too bewildering for me to take in:

Wallace examines how the entertainment ethic is corrosive and destructive to an important, and perhaps sacred, part of the human experience. He did it with subtlety, humor, and complex insight. He wasn’t a fire-and-brimstone preacher, but it’s impossible to read [his essays] . . . without mourning the damage inflicted on sexuality, animal rights, and politics by the popular belief that nothing is intrinsically important, that nothing is sacred, and that everything is fair game for measurement according to the market-driven calculation of the lowest common denominator in the entertainment for entertainment’s sake world of decision-making.

Wallace’s application and assignment of dignity was the polar opposite of big business, big government, and big media. The bathroom attendant’s life [in a short story collection] was boring, inglorious, and at times, humiliating, but it might benefit us to consider how his life may be more respectable that that of a brilliant millionaire. It’s a very Christ-like worldview that places someone that everyone walks by in a room built to hold and deposit human waste at the moral center and a contemporary superstar at the periphery.

But an essay that struck me with tremendous force is the piece by Jonathan Franzen in last week’s New Yorker, “Farther Away: ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ David Foster Wallace, and the Island of Solitude" (the link is just a short summary and a few nice quotes; you'll need to get the mag. to read the whole).

I’m not particularly a Franzen fan or follower, so I expected to skim this particular piece, be a bit amused and annoyed as I often am by his shorter pieces, and then move on, little affected one way or another.

Instead, I was moved, nearly to tears, by Franzen’s tale of secluding himself on the island far off the coast of Chile which inspired Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. What appears at first to be a light New Yorker comic adventure tale (novelist meets wilderness, pratfalls ensue, wilderness wins, novelist learns that wilderness not all cracked up to be) soon leads to some fascinating explorations of the origins of the novel, and the novel’s connections to both psychological solitude and group entertainment – “the self had become an island, and now, it seemed the island was becoming the world.” These reflections then take Franzen to grappling with his unresolved feelings and anger over how and why his novelist-friend Wallace “killed himself in a way calculated to inflict maximum pain on those he loved most.” Somehow, the three tales of physical, historical, and psychological solitude come together into a powerful whole.

Franzen makes sense of Wallace’s final act in part through thinking about the role of the devil in The Screwtape Letters (which, according to Franzen, was one of Wallace’s favorite works, a surprise to me), and also “The Grand Inquisitor” of Dostoevsky. Only the kinds of internal dialogues carried on by the part of Wallace that Franzen “distrusted” could have taken “the person away from us and made him into a very public legend”; and only “in the act of making that legend Wallace could satisfy his own self-loathing “hunger for career advantage”; and yet, “because it would represent a capitulation to the side of himself that his embattled better side perceived as evil,” the act further confirmed “the justice of his death sentence.” The terrible irony was that “to the extent that each of us is stranded on his or her own existential island . . . we gratefully seized on each new dispatch from that farthest-away island that was David,” even despite the “near-perfect absence, in his fiction, of ordinary love,” replaced instead by “characters scheming to appear loving.”

The first piece is a fine exploration of how, in Wallace's view, "everyone serves something" (his take on Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody."). The second piece chilled and moved me more than anything I've read this year, or just about in any year. Franzen's reflections on the part of his friend that he distrusted made me remember, sadly, these sentences, from a 2008 commencement address of Wallace's which got widely reprinted:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing

Civilization Teeters on Brink as Long-Feared Film Version of "Atlas Shrugged" Premieres

Paul Harvey

Just a brief note to recommend David Bentley Hart's hilarious take-down of the new Atlas Shrugged movie (high on my list of film-adaptations-of-novels that the world could best do without). Big HT to Janine.

A brief taste:

The world survived the filming of The Fountainhead (if only by the skin of its teeth), and it may yet survive this. And Ayn Rand always provokes a rather extravagant reaction from me, and probably for purely ideological reasons. For instance, I like the Sermon on the Mount. She regarded its prescriptions as among the vilest ever uttered. I suspect that charity really is the only way to avoid wasting one’s life in a desert of sterile egoism. She regarded Christian morality as a poison that had polluted the will of Western man with its ethos of parasitism and orgiastic self-oblation. And, simply said, I cannot find much common ground with someone who believed that the principal source of human woe over the last twenty centuries has been a tragic shortage of selfishness.

Still, I like to think my detestation of Rand’s novels follows from more than a mere disagreement over differing visions of the universe. What’s a universe here or there, after all? I prefer to think it’s a matter of good taste. For what really puts both Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead in a class of their own is how sublimely awful they are. I know one shouldn’t expect much from a writer who thought Mickey Spillane a greater artist than Shakespeare. Even so, the cardboard characters, the ludicrous dialogue, the bloated perorations, the predictable plotting, the lunatic repetitiousness and banality, the shockingly syrupy romance—it all goes to create a uniquely nauseating effect: at once mephitic and cloying, at once sulfur and cotton candy . . .

Continue reading here

The OKC Bombing, the Millennialist Right, and Terrorist Realities and Phantoms in the work of Michael Barkun

Paul Harvey

On a more serious note than the below, and in remembrance of a hugely significant day for my home state, today of course is the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, an event that didn't entirely surprise me (albeit the scale and destructive force were shocking) given the level of conspiratorial and hate-mongering rhetoric amongst the various far right groups that was prevalent in the state prior to that time (although the perpetrator was from New York, and his accomplice from Kansas, so not to overly provincialize the causation). Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in downtown OKC, the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is a terrific memorial site, largely free of the treacly sentimentalism that I feared would dominate. Instead, the memorial is simple, stark, and reflective, as good a remembrance as one could hope for.

Reflecting on the Oklahoma City tragedy, and its antecedent in the David Koresh and the Branch Davidian debacle at Waco two years previously, the religious studies scholar Michael Barkun produced one of the most thoughtful examinations of the subject, one that foreshadowed a good deal of the culture of fear that emerged after 9/11, in his essay "Reflections After Waco: Millennialists and the State," originally published in the June 2, 1993 Christian Century, and later reprinted in The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America Since 1945, edited by Phil Goff and myself.

In his essay, Barkun traces the tragic story of the misunderstanding between Koresh and the ATF, and how the inability of the ATF and other agents to understand Koresh's millennialism had the ironic and terrible effect of feeding further into that very millennialism, leading up to the conflagration at the compound and the deaths of the agents attempting to storm it. He wrote of how "the single most damaging mistake on the part of federal officials was their failture to take the Branch Davidians' religious beliefs seriously." Instead, the natural impulse was simply to result to the tag label of "cult": "The very act of classification itself seems to make further investigation unnecessary," made worse by the reliance on a network of so-called "cult experts": "Like many other law-enforcement agencies, the FBI hass relied heavily on this questionable and highly partisan expertise--with tragic consequences. It was tempting to do so since the hostility of those in the 'anti-cult' movement mirrored the authorities' own anger and frustration." The end result, according to Barkun, was that "the government's actions almost certainly increased the resolve of those in the compound, subdued the doubters and raised Koresh's stature by in effect validating his predictions."

Barkun furthered his investigation of millennialist groups on the right with his 1996 book Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, a study of the long history of the Anglo-Israelite movement which somehow wound its way down, in a somewhat bowdlerized but nonetheless potent form, to the latter-day militia movements and other groups who influenced Timothy McVeigh and others of his ilk. Barkun then went on to produce a far-ranging survey of A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America.

Today's UNC Press blog features an interview with Barkun about his new book (the first I had heard of this text) Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security Since 9/11. A brief excerpt:

Q: How did you get interested in government homeland security policy?

A: If we think of homeland security in the broadest sense, it goes back to the mid-1990s, the years of the armed standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, the growth of the militia movement, and the Oklahoma City bombing. The FBI had failed to grasp the importance of religion in the Waco standoff and was now trying to figure out how to factor religion into their decision-making process, an enterprise in which I was involved. In that period, of course, the emphasis was on domestic sources of violence, not foreign terrorism, a focus that didn’t change until 9/11.

Texans, Dinosaurs Walked the Earth at the Same Time

Paul Harvey

I'm an Okie by birth, so I'm declaring today beat up on Texans day.

Ok, not all Texans, but one-third approximately do think that our ancestors weren't bowling alone but were communing with dinosaurs, which seems a significantly high percentage (albeit a somewhat lower percentage than of all Americans who insist that "foreign aid" is a huge part of the federal budget, and we can solve our deficit by eliminating or reducing it). University of Texas professor David Prindle "says the results recall a line from comedian Lewis Black. 'He did a standup routine a few years back in which he said that a significant proportion of the American people think that the 'The Flintstones' is a documentary,' Prindle says. 'Turns out he was right. Thirty percent of Texans agree that humans and dinosaurs lived on the earth at the same time.'" It should be added that 41% disagreed with the statement, which is good; but 31% said "don't know," not so good.

Then, "The Sheepish Revolutionary" covers how a devout Southern Baptist state legislator who keeps her pastor on speed-dial to consult on votes insists that "I don't think you can say we've really taken away from education" of a House budget that sliced education funding by 18%. Or maybe that was not meant as a factual statement, but a faith-based one.

HT to Todd Moye for the above.

Food and no Food

Randall Stephens

Eating . . . and not eating. Since the post from the other day was about religion and weight gain, here's another about relieving world hunger and fasting for a cause.

NPR ran an intriguing story the other day about Former Congressman and director of Alliance to End Hunger Tony Hall, who "has joined dozens of religious leaders and thousands of supporters to protest budget cuts that they say will unfairly affect the poor." It reminded me of George McGovern's talk I heard at the University of Florida nearly a decade ago. The lecture was sponsored by the History Department. McGovern pondered his religious upbringing, discussed what the US could do to alleviate hunger around the globe, and spoke briefly about how the 9/11 attacks were changing America and its relationships with other nations. (I'm also thinking of activist and ag specialist Glen Fell who spoke at ENC the other day on his work training subsistence farmers around the globe in an effort to reduce hunger.)

Back to the NPR piece:

Pam Fessler, "Ex-Congressman Fasts To Protest Budget Cuts," NPR, April 17, 2011

PAM FESSLER: Meet Tony Hall. A few weeks ago, the 69-year-old might have been called a little pudgy. Today, he hikes up his pants before he sits.

Mr. HALL: I am the executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger.

FESSLER: He's also a former Democratic congressman from Ohio who made headlines in the 1990s by going on a 22-day hunger strike. He was protesting what he saw as congress's failure to address the problems of the poor. And today?

Mr. HALL: Well, I'm in my 18th day of a hunger fast. I started off as a water-only fast and now I'm doing liquids. And really what we're trying to do is raise awareness.

FESSLER: So far, he's lost about 18 pounds. But Hall says it's not so bad, especially when thousands of people around the world die each day of malnutrition and millions of Americans worry about their next meal. He worries what will happen if lawmakers accept proposed cuts in food stamps and foreign aid.

Mr. HALL: They have a moral obligation when they look at this budget not only to cut the budget but to cut it in a righteous way. . . .

The Scandal of the Evangelical Behind

Randall Stephens

I've been having the students in my Religion and American Culture class summarize news stories related to the course. One brought in a feature on an interesting study--presented at the American Heart Associations Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions in Atlanta. It reveals that young people who go to church regularly are more likely to tip the scales as adults than their non-religious counterparts.

Jeannine Stein of the Los Angeles Times reports:

An inactive lifestyle, watching TV and eating too many fatty foods are all to blame for many Americans being overweight and obese. We may have to add religion to that list. A study finds that young adults who regularly attend religious activities may be more prone to obesity by middle age than their nonreligious peers. . . . "It's possible that getting together once a week and associating good works and happiness with eating unhealthy foods could lead to the development of habits that are associated with greater body weight and obesity," said lead author Matthew Feinstein of Northwestern Medicine, in a news release. "We don't know why frequent religious participation is associated with development of obesity, but the upshot is these findings highlight a group that could benefit from targeted efforts at obesity prevention."

My one question . . . Why?

Evangelicalism, Continental Philosophy, and the Deconstructed Church

by Gerardo Marti

While completing my manuscript on race and music in multiracial churches (more on that at a later time), I've had opportunity to focus on some intriguing contemporary developments among Evangelicals which has drawn the attention of a few people across disciplinary lines. As an outgrowth of this research, and thanks to a wonderful invitation from philosopher Jack Caputo, I spent much of last week at Syracuse University participating in The Future of the Continental Philosophy of Religion conference.

The conference in Syracuse was quite an event, a gathering of around 300 philosophers from the US and UK who specialize in distinctive readings of Hegel, Kierkegaard, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Deleuze and the like along with more recent thinkers like Zizek and Meillassoux (you can check out the conference program). I was pleased to hear Catherine Malabou, Thomas Altizer, and Merold Westphol interacting in sessions. With Harvey Cox, Clayton Crockett, and Philip Goodchild in the mix, it was really quite an occasion.

I was invited to present in a session on Peter Rollins, what I called "the phenomenon of Peter Rollins," as a means to explore one development in the Continental Philosophy of Religion. When I was invited to present, my response to Jack Caputo was something like,"You realize I'm a sociologist and not a philosopher, right?" They were quite willing to introduce a multi-disciplinary dialogue that described not only with the ideas of Peter Rollins but what he may represent as actions and movements in our broader religious context. With thirty minutes to share, I tried to unpack my best understanding of how Peter Rollins lies along a long path of renegotiating conservative Christianity that has been brewing for almost two decades.

Most of us know that the spectacular success of Evangelicalism in the 1970s through the 1990s created a self-sustaining Evangelical world—and that these successes created a backlash. Evangelical leaders came to seek ways to overcome the churched/non-churched divide. But the journey hasn’t been smooth.

As Evangelicals became attentive to creating a closed “Christian culture,” many disaffected evangelicals left their churches, becoming critics rather than compliant members. Listening to criticism from outside, atheistic thinkers resourced their critique. There emerged a number of Christian readers of secular philosophy who were pleased to take up an aggressive questioning of the certainty, “truth,” and the resulting morality and politics that came with it. Much of the underlying tone of such criticism draws on a hermeneutics of suspicion with its post-Marx, post-Nietzsche, and post-Freud sensibilities. Notions and paradigms promoted by these new "Christian" writers and thinkers is buttressed and often inspired directly by Continental Philosophy.

Attention to "postmodern thinkers" complimented a broader surge of interest in “postmodern philosophy” among Evangelical seminarians and church leaders. Christian publishers are still catching up to this hunger, producing more books building on recent philosophical work (e.g., Philosophy and Theology series from Continuum / T&T Clark and Church and Postmodern Culture series from Baker Publishing Group). In practice, a growing number of evangelical church leaders are moving from simple “Bible Study” to openly engaging Continental Philosophy through their books and concepts in small gatherings. On my twitter feed yesterday, I mentioned Gianni Vattimo's work, and that initiated a stream of follow-up discussions with fellow tweeps who pay attention to theology and religion.

This engagement with such deeply intellectual work represents a significant shift. Mark Noll in his Scandal of the Evangelical Mind articulated the historical basis for anti-intellectualism among Ameircan Evangelicals. Now we are seeing more educated Evangelicals who are finding their religious frameworks “lag” behind the theoretical or epistemological/ontological sophistication of their schooling. They have fundamental critiques of what they see as “modern” ways of reading the bible (hermeneutics), organizing the church (ecclesiology), and assessing morality and devotion (spiritual formation) and are forming new types of Christian gatherings to express their developing values.

Continental philosophy "works" because it involves thinkers whose work invokes a sustained social critique. Continental philosophy is concerned with structures, underlying structures of society (often drawn from Marxist orientations) and underlying structures of the psyche (often drawn from Freudian orientations). A pursuit of uncovering the working of underlying, non-conscious, structures, cultivates observations that eventually can move to practical efforts in what to talk to people about (preaching), what humans are to become (evangelism and discipleship), how community is to be lived together (ecclesiology and “loving one’s neighbor”), and how to act in the world (duty to God and others). These writings provide resources for being prophetic to the church and to the world.

These intra-Evangelical critics have been helped by the “religious turn” in Continental Philosophy and the greater availability of religious thinkers in this vein as primary and secondary works were made more available at the same time as the disaffection and pursuit of alternative frameworks happened among evangelicals. This includes writings from and about Jacques Derrida, Jurgen Habermas, Rene Girard, Jon-Luc Marion, Emmanual Levinas, Paul Ricoeur, Jean-Luc Nancy -- Slavoj Žižek,, Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Gianni Vattimo). Jack Caputos’s appropriation of Derrida, Levinas’s rejection of Heidegger, Marion’s religious reinterpretation of phenemenologists, and more emerge amidst this re-thinking, aggressively incorporating insights from philosophers who engage in distinctive readings of Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx, Freud, Husserl, and Heidegger.

In the conference, I dared to raise Peter Rollins to a more significant level by placing him in a broader socio-historical context. Trained in post-structural philosophy, with a PhD from Queens University in Northern Ireland, Rollins intellectually stimulating style of speaking, writing, and consulting fits efforts to flesh out Christianity in new ways that are sensitive to societal shifts and emerging sensibilities. In other words, the happenings around his person are a manifestation of changes across mainstream Christianity. So while Peter Rollins is an interesting person in and of himself, I moved away from assuming that compelling ideas from a single, charismatic leader initiates social change. Instead, Peter Rollins unique “ministry” (which I place in quotes) is an interesting and timely development of American Christianity that finds resonance in the cumulative contradictions of modern Evangelicalism.

Overall, I suspect that Continental Philosophy is underpinning a profound reworking of theological questions including what is the church (ecclesiology), what it means to be human (anthropology), and how life is to be lived (ethics) -- at least for a significant segment of American Christians. Peter Rollins’s appropriation of Continental Philosophy fuels provocative practices in the form of preaching and new types of groups among those who resonate with his message. And it’s the practice of new religious gatherings (like "Pub Churches") that especially attracts the interest of this sociologist. If anyone can contribute any insight or corrections on this, I'm happy to interact on it.

God v. No God at Notre Dame

Paul Harvey

Our friend Nathan Schneider has a piece up at Religion Dispatches, and a related one at his own blog The Row Boat, about a "God debate" at Notre Dame between enfant terrible Sam Harris and evangelical philosopher William Lane Craig. The intro:

The University of Notre Dame had cause for its anxiety leading up to last week’s big debate between the New Atheist polemicist Sam Harris and the evangelical philosopher William Lane Craig. It’s said that all publicity is good publicity, but one needn’t strain too hard to find an exception—least of all in the history of God debates.

The rest is an interesting and fun account, which you can read here.

Nancy Hardesty (1941-2011) and Biblical Feminism


Paul Harvey

Julie Ingersoll has posted a very warm tribute to Nancy Hardesty (1941-2011), Founding Mother of Biblical Feminist Movement, at Religion Dispatches. Thank you, Julie; and thank you, Nancy, for a life of scholarship and activism. I did not know Nancy personally except for a few brief exchanges, but I'll always remember Nancy's wry look during an encounter I had at a conference years ago with Dorothy Patterson, the famously flamboyant Southern Baptist conservative and author of the statement about family roles and gracious submission in the Baptist Faith and Message Statement, who spent a few minutes at the Women and Twentieth-Century Protestantism conference in Chicago in 199? (can't remember the year now) berating my scholarly research and credentials to write about Southern Baptists (some of you regular blog readers were there, not to name any names Judith). Nancy got to spend a lot of time being berated by biblical anti-feminists, and she countered them both with her scholarship and with her everyday work. You may find a bibliography of her work here.

Tri-Faith America

Paul Harvey

Very happy to announce that blog friend and occasional guest contributor Kevin Schultz's book is now out, with Oxford Univ. Press: Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to Its Protestant Promise. A bit down the road we'll have a fuller exposition on the book and also an interview with the author; in the meantime, Kevin has a very short summary of some of his points, in "The Return of 'Christian America,'" up at the Huffington Post.

For a more substantively lengthy discussion of the material in his book, though, I would recommend also Kevin's article in the Journal of American History: "Religion as Identity in Postwar America: The Story of the Last SErious Attempt to Put a Question on Religion in the U.S. Census," Journal of American History(September 2006): 359-84. And, as blog readers may remember, Kevin and I had an article surveying the "state of the field" of American religious history, in last year's Journal of the American Academy of Religion, which I blogged about here. In the meantime, Kevin's short piece on "The Return of 'Christian America'" looks at the history of that idea, and in particular the ways Jews and Catholics interacted with that idea in the course of inserting themselves into the postwar tri-faith America.

ASCH Spring Meeting Wrap-Up

By Heath Carter

While considerably smaller than the ASCH's joint meeting with the American Historical Association, this year's spring meeting in Grand Rapids nevertheless showcased a lot of exciting work, some from senior practitioners in the guild but much of it from up-and-coming scholars. The two panels that I attended on Saturday exemplified the trend.

The first was entitled "Religion, Class, and American Elites." Peter Williams, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Religion and American Studies at Miami University (Ohio), kicked things off with a learned paper on Episcopalianism and the "gospel of art" in the Progressive Era. Then followed two presentations by recent graduates of the history department at Notre Dame. Thomas Rzeznik, now an assistant professor at Seton Hall, revisited the Scott Nearing case, arguing that the economist's infamous confrontation with the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania in 1915 was about far more than academic freedom. The trustees dispensed with Nearing, Rzeznik contended, because his radical ideas challenged the moral and religious framework that helped elite Americans - including U Penn's benefactors - justify their disproportionate wealth. Finally, Timothy Gloege looked at how Henry Parsons Crowell, head of Quaker Oats, became not only a major player within the Moody Bible Institute at the turn of the century but also a key agent in the production of the Fundamentals. Gloege is now revising a fascinating dissertation on fundamentalism's early years, in which he highlights connections to big business, casting the movement not as an anti-modern backlash but instead as the theological handmaiden of emergent consumer capitalism. Overall, the panel left me wondering - as has my own work on Chicago - whether standard histories of this period overstate the significance and reach of the social gospel. More on that in a future post.

The second panel was entitled "Race, Religion, and Civil Rights." David Komline, one of my current colleagues at Notre Dame, delivered a paper examining the work of a German Jesuit who traveled through the United States in the immediate postbellum years, encouraging Germans and African Americans alike to establish their own parishes. Komline went on to complicate white-black binaries by considering the role that concerns about ethnicity played in the emergence of segregated Catholic churches. Karen Johnson, a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois (Chicago), then gave a very compelling talk on Arthur Falls and the roots of Catholic inter-racialism in Depression-era Chicago. I heard Johnson give a paper back in autumn, based on another chapter of what is shaping up to be a very impressive dissertation: her account underscores the power of the hierarchy with respect to racial questions but also highlights extensive and often countervailing activity on the ground throughout the long Civil Rights Movement.

All-in-all, then, a great meeting. The cherry on top: the 80 degree weather that made for a beautiful, windows-down ride back to Chicago on Sunday.

Coming Out in the Jesus Movement

Paul Harvey

Recently we've blogged about David Stowe's new book No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Rock Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism, a history of the rise of Christian rock and pop that will interest many of you. David has a a new piece up (well, a couple of weeks old, sorry it took me a while to get to it) that tells us more about his subjects. On the UNC Press blog he has posted "Coming Out of the Jesus Movement: A Conversation with Marsha Stevens-Pino," about one particularly controversial musician he covers in the book. A brief taste:

Larry Norman, whom I wrote about last month, could aptly be called the Bad Boy of Christian Rock, Marsha Stevens might be deemed the Problem Child—even “evangelical Christianity’s worst nightmare.” Yet it would be hard to find a figure who better reflects the continuities and contradictions of the Jesus Movement. Stevens cut her born-again teeth at age sixteen on the beaches of Orange County just when Calvary Chapel was attracting hordes of young people (and more than a few reporters). Like thousands of teenagers from across Southern California she was baptized in the Pacific at Corona del Mar.

Marsha, her sister Wendy, and their significant others formed Children of the Day, a classic Jesus music group that played gentle, folksy songs of faith. One of her songs, “For Those Tears I Died,” became a movement classic. Children of the Day created perhaps the first albums of what’s come to be called praise music, those easy-to-sing, sometimes-maligned anthems that have crowded traditional hymns out of a majority of American evangelical churches, mega- or otherwise.

Over the course of the Seventies, Marsha went from an icon of the Jesus Movement to a pariah. The constant demands of touring and recording took a toll on the Stevens’s marriage. Then she announced she was in love – with a woman. Divorce carried enough stigma in evangelical circles, but leaving one’s husband to take up with another woman—a different order of scandal altogether.

Continue reading here < < < <

Please Come to LA, She Said Yes; Or, Looking for Love in Some of the Wrong Places

Paul Harvey

Via Ralph Luker, I forward a little fun and interesting reading for Sunday evening: Maggie Flynn, "An Agnostic Looking for Love in the Bible Belt," about one doubting skeptic's dating experiences in Nashville, and how after moving to LA "I feel like I've been saved, even if I haven't." I can't say it squares with my very long-ago dating experiences in Nashville, but then my general impoverishment and appalling disregard for personal appearance/hygiene probably explained a lot about my social life, or lack thereof, during the Reagan era.

An unbeliever's country song seems the right tune for this piece; where are the Dixie Chicks nowadays anyway? Their songs needed more cowbell, but otherwise seem apt here.

Whose Story is American Religious History?

By Heath Carter

I'm here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I'm attending the American Society of Church History's spring meeting, organized around the theme of "Christianity and Migrations." There are any number of interesting panels and I hope to post another update before all is said and done, but for now a brief report on Rachel Wheeler's stimulating plenary address this morning entitled, "Whose Story is American Religious History? The Parallel Lives of Daniel Boone and Joshua, the Mohican." Wheeler is an associate professor of religious studies at IUPUI whose work has come up often on this blog [those interested in reading up on her first book, To Live Upon Hope, might check out fellow blogger Lin Fisher's conversation with her back in 2009].

Her talk today engaged big questions about how we should narrate the story of European-Indian encounter in the Americas, which has ramifications of course for how we tell the story of American religious history. She argued that the life of Joshua, an Indian convert to Moravianism, highlights the difficulties with both triumphalist and revisionist accounts of conflict on the frontier. The problems with triumphalism, a view summed up in Horatio Greenough's mid-nineteenth century sculpture, The Rescue, need not be elaborated here. There is a reason why the statue, an image of which Wheeler incorporated into her talk, was removed from the steps of the U.S. capitol building in the late-1950s.
But Wheeler persuasively showed that Joshua's story also complicates the revisionist narrative, which lacks the categories to see his conversion as anything other than collusion with the oppressor; and lacks, moreover, the flexibility to allow for Moravian missionaries who - unlike some of their Protestant counterparts in the late-18th century - were not virulently anti-Indian but were in fact open to some of the ways that Indian converts made Christianity their own.

In elaborating the fascinating comparison between Boone and Joshua, Wheeler followed themes of migration, war, and conversion. All of these will be central to her next book, a biography of Joshua which will put him belatedly on more religious historians' radar (I confess that before Wheeler's talk I had not heard of him). If her second book makes the same kind of splash as her first, it may be that we'll all soon be required to take what she called the "Joshua test" - do our accounts of American religious history shed light upon the experience of this Mohican-Moravian martyr, or will we continue to relegate those like him to the margins? For the profession's sake, let's root for passing grades for all.

Friday Jesus on the Mainline Blogging

Paul Harvey

Thanks to blog reader Chip Callahan, a little musical joy for your Friday, via Ry Cooder and David Lindley, some live "Jesus on the Mainline," from the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 1994. Maybe it will restore a bit of your spirit as it has mine. When I call Jesus up to tell him what I want, I think it would be to have the House Republicans not shut down the government just because they want to deny health care to women. Is that too much to ask? (And, don't miss Heather Cox Richardson's narrative of a similar governmental shutdown debacle in 1879, again due to pet project riders, an unwelcome bipartisan tradition in Congress).

Glenn Beck and Paul Revere: The Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse Retire

Paul Harvey

I know many of you were SO excited last Friday when you saw that Glenn Beck had signed up to be a contributing editor here. Well, a lot has changed in the last week. As you doubtless know, Beck's show on Fox is coming to an end a bit later this year. But much more importantly than that, he is resigning from being a contributor to RiAH. So sad, but we'll wish him all the best. He sent along this explanation for both actions to the Wall Street Journal (sorry, not sure if this is a free link or behind a paywall, but here's the money quote):

Beck said he took a job at Fox News two years ago because he felt “if I could prove my case that something wicked this way was coming, something in America was wrong, America would listen, and they have.”

Beck said that Paul Revere “got off the horse point at some point and fought in the revolution and then he went back to silversmithing.” “I believe we’re heading into deep and treacherous waters,” Beck said about America”s future. He said he is developing other content for Fox for TV and other media. “I will continue to tell the story and I’m going to be showing you other ways for us to connect. But I have other things to do.

"Fox is one of the only places you'll find the truth. Spread the word," he said in concluding his remarks announcing the end of his show and the end of his RiAH contributions. Unlike Paul Revere and his Raiders, Beck is not actually returning either to silversmithing or to producing classic early 70s AM hits such as "Cherokee Nation," but reportedly back to other television shows, probably through his own network.

For a full-length analysis of this new development in religion, consumerism, and the media, I have only one question: Where have you gone, Kathryn Lofton, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you (and more seriously just for a second, the link takes you to a wonderful observer-participant reflection posted at Immanent Frame on K. Lofton's Oprah: Gospel of an Icon, by Daphne Brooks of Princeton University).

But back to our story, here is the video announcing Beck's change of plans:

For those who want a reprise of pretty much all of the major themes that Beck has followed in his pursuit of truth, you can find them here, channeled through Jon Stewart (ht John Fea):

Jonathan Walton Speaking at ENC

Randall Stephens

Jonathan Walton (Assistant Professor of African American Religions, Harvard Divinity School) will give a public lecture on "The Preachers' Blues: Reclaiming Authority on Wax," Wednesday, April 13, 4:00pm, Shrader Lecture Hall, Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, MA.

Walton, a social ethicist and African American religious studies scholar, is the author of Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of African American Religious Broadcasting (New York University Press, 2009) a groundbreaking study on religion, media, and theology. Cornel West (Princeton University) describes the book as "the best work we have on the complex dynamics of the Black megachurch phenomenon. Walton is a brilliant cultural critic and courageous prophetic voice!" James Cone (Union Theological Seminary) lauds Watch This! as "An important examination of the Black Electronic Church. Jonathan Walton brings new insights into the major TV evangelists in the African American community."

Professor Walton will speak at ENC on the history of the religious "race" record industry and the the cultural ethos and competing ethical values of black Christian communities during the 1920s and 1930s. Like all forms of mass culture, says Walton,

religious records served multiple purposes and were interpreted by listeners at varying registers. For many, religious recordings were spiritually edifying and liberating, just as they were wildly entertaining. Critics have show that these religious recordings contested the aesthetic values of the black middle class even as they reinforced bourgeois behavioral codes. By turning our attention to the shared interests of male preachers and the recording industry, I describe how sermons stressing personal piety and culturally familiar stereotypes shaped cultural debates concerning the style, content, and purpose of evangelical preaching in the 20th century.


by Charity Carney

A perfect Tuesday morning: a cup of coffee, Star Wars sampling, abstinence training, and white Christian rap. The "Christian Side Hug" has taken off and the group, Encounter Generation, looks oddly enough like The Basement (I have a forthcoming piece in Alabama Heritage's next issue on the 5000-member Birmingham youth group run by Matt Pitt). Aesthetically, that is. The "CSH" may launch the Encounter into mega-status or mega-scandal but either way it's wonderful entertainment. Enjoy:

Religion and Humor



Josh Paddison, American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellow at Indiana University, is an historian of religion in the American West. His manuscript, "American Heathens: Religion, Race, and Reconstruction in California," will be published by the University of California Press in the not-too-distant future. He is also the editor of A World Transformed: Firsthand Accounts of California before the Gold Rush (1999).

Like all scholars (I hope), Paddison does more than read, write, and teach. He also draws comics, in this case for the blog Occasional Religion, which serves as a kind of forum for "scholars and artists engaging the world." Paddison's latest installment in the series "Moments in U.S. Religious History" recounts a play performed by three Chinese immigrants at the Methodist Mission in San Francisco. You can see/read it here. In an earlier comic strip, Paddison portrays an 1859 interview between Horace Greeley and Brigham Young.

Good stuff! Thanks Josh!

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