Pondering the profundities of yesterday's Super Bowl and all its associated ballyhoo, I wiped the chicken wing sauce-dribble from my chin and thought of Mircea Eliade, J.Z. Smith, and the nature of metaphors. Not so much because the chicken wings, but because the "religion." Or, at least, what some might call religion.
There are always the religious athletes, the tattoos, and the pre-game prayers. But I'm talking about something different, something more second-order. Namely, the conceptualization of football in religious terms. Players, fans, commentators, and even academics. It's everywhere (and not just in football). Stadium-cathedrals. Umpire-priests. Fan-believers. Player-gods. Game-day pilgrimages. Various and sundry superstitious rituals. Game-chant liturgies. Prodigal-son-athletes. Rule-doctrines. Nacho-sacraments and whatnot. So let's do some abbreviated theorizing here.
Posted by Samira K. Mehta
Bruce Dorsey, Professor of History at Swarthmore College, received the 2015-2016 LGBT Religious History Award for his paper "Making Men What They Should Be: Male Same-Sex Intimacy and Evangelical Religion in Nineteenth-Century New England" published in the Journal of the History of Sexuality (September 2015).
Judith Weisenfeld, Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion at Princeton University, received an honorable mention for her paper, "'Real True Buds:' Celibacy and Same-Sex Desire Across the Color Line in Father Divine's Peace Mission Movement."
The formal announcement of their awards can be found here and a press release with descriptions of their respective work can be found here.
Congratulations to Bruce Dorsey and Judith Weisenfeld!
Dates: September 13-14, 2016.
Venue: Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.
Amongst the post-war Christian movements for renewal, revival or reform, charismatic renewal (sometimes known as neo-Pentecostalism or the ‘second wave’) has been highly significant. Expanding rapidly it displayed various denominational and national trajectories but also ecumenical and transnational networks. Its influence was felt within the historic ‘mainline’ Churches, where it became more or less welcome. It also resulted in new denominations and expressions of church, and in some places new theological, organizational and practical emphases. Taking root within both evangelical and ‘sacramental’ Christianity, its characteristics included Pentecostal experiences and gifts; ecumenical engagement; fresh expressions of worship, liturgy, music and creative arts; radical approaches to community life. From a contemporary vantage point, the movement has been transformative in a variety of denominational and geographical contexts: it has contributed to a fresh and vibrant stream of Christianity, including within global traditions such as Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.
Despite the historical importance of this diverse movement, relatively few historians of religion have engaged substantively with it. What has been meant by ‘renewal’ as an emic term and etic category? Indeed, was there a coherent charismatic renewal ‘movement’? What has been its relationship with society and culture? How did theologies and practices change over time? What was the significance of different leaders, organisations, networks or grassroots manifestations?
This conference invites historically-based research papers on all aspects of the charismatic renewal between c. 1950 and 2000. Possible topics might include its:
- Emergences and antecedents;
- Historiographies; hagiographies; narratives and ‘myths’;
- Relationships with Pentecostals/Pentecostalism, healing and revivalist movements;
- Denominational or ecumenical national and transnational networks;
- Trajectories within denominations (locally, nationally, and transnationally);
- Internal (e.g. Shepherding movement) or external (e.g. cessationist) controversies;
- Theologies and spiritualities; integration with rites and patterns of worship;
- Connection to indigenizing and synthesizing practices and theologies
- Embodiments and practices;
- Materialities; engagement with culture and the arts;
- Attitudes towards gender and sexuality;
- Use of aural and visual media.
Cost: £75/person (including food, accommodation), £50 for post-graduate students. Information on alternative rates available on request. Please send initial booking enquiries to John.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Religious Studies Department of Northwestern University invites graduate student papers for a conference on “Specters, Hauntings, Presences,” to be held in Evanston, Illinois on October 7-9, 2016. We request abstracts by April 15, 2016.
Through this conference, we aim to foster dialogue about religio-cultural forces that are as elusive as they are powerful. The central theme invites a variety of approaches and topics. We seek papers on presences invisible, otherworldly, esoteric, uncanny, monstrous, or mysterious. We also invite papers that explore the specters of politics, economics, and colonialism in connection with religion. Overall, the conference aims to question the concept of disenchantment—as method, as theory, as history. Some examples of possible paper topics include: Chinese hungry ghosts, “enchantment” in colonial modernity, Afro-Caribbean spirit possession, capitalism’s hauntings, golems in Jewish thought, presences in digital or mediated religion, and specters of the future (threatening or inspiring). Such diverse topics will bring together academic discussions about hauntology, neo-colonialism, critical race theory, transhumanism, modernity, identity politics, affect, materiality, mysticism, and popular culture. We seek burgeoning scholars from religious studies, cultural studies, literature and media studies, anthropology, performance studies, and history for this robustly interdisciplinary conference.
Keynote speakers: Arvind-Pal S. Mandair, Associate Professor and S.C.S.B Endowed Professor of Sikh Studies at the University of Michigan John Modern, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin & Marshall College Wonhee Anne Joh, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Submission: Presentations should not exceed fifteen minutes in length and may approach the topic from any discipline or methodology.
Please send a 500-word abstract, along with your name, institution, and year of study to email@example.com by April 15, 2016. Decisions will be communicated by the beginning of June.
Visit the Specters, Hauntings, Presences website for more information.
As I prepare to defend my dissertation, I thought it might be useful to share the tools I found helpful during the research and writing process. I enjoyed these kinds of posts when I was starting my diss. I hope this post will be helpful to others in the same place.
When I started the research process, I spent a lot of time scouring the web for suggestions on setting up good academic workflows. In particular, I was interested in programs that would help me acquire sources in the archive, organize the material in useful ways, and make the writing process more efficient. I wanted to have a process already in place to accommodate the large amount of archival material I expected to gather. I was looking for apps that were inexpensive (if not free) and easy to use.
Posted by Andrew McKee
Lately, maybe because I have a paper deadline soon, I have been thinking a lot about “New Religious Movements.” Among the tens of library books I have checked-out and pretended to read, nearly all reference UFO religions, but few give sustained looks at these movements. If ancient aliens has taught us anything, which (spoiler alert: it has) it is Americans love a good UFO conspiracy theory. Except when they don't. Except when groups invested in UFO theories enter the realm of the "cult." Perhaps the most famous group, at least of late, to be accused of being a cult, is Heaven's Gate, a group that while popular in NRM books, has received less analysis in many circles. Enter Benjamin E. Zeller’s Heaven’s Gate: Americas UFO Religion (New York Press, 2014), the first, and only, book-length treatment of the Heaven’s Gate movement.
Posted by Pete Cajka
Posted by Lincoln Mullen
In my last post I explained that historians of U.S. religion have barely begun to scratch the surface of the data (meaning, sources that are amenable to computation) that are available to them. To demonstrate this I gave the example of a single source, the Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
In this post I want to attempt a very preliminary taxonomy of the kinds of sources that are available to religious historians who wish to use mapping or quantitative analysis of some kind or another. Let’s call this a taxonomy instead of a catalog, because I’m going to list the kinds of sources that I’ve come about rather than try to give a bibliography of all of the sources themselves. I’d love to be able to list all the sources, but I haven’t done all that work yet. And let’s say this is very preliminary, because I hope this post is an example of the so-called Cunningham’s Law: “the best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question; it’s to post the wrong answer.” That is to say, if you know of a source or category of source that I don’t know about, I hope you’ll correct me in the comments. Finally, I should mention that I’m teaching a course this semester on “Data and Visualization in Digital History” where we are working on nineteenth-century U.S. religious statistics. I’m indebted to the excellent students in that course, who have already turned up many sources that I didn’t know about.
Enough throat clearing.
All U.S. religious statistics are divided into two parts, those from the Census, and those not from the Census.
Posted by Matthew Cressler
Matthew J. Cressler
Where to begin, where to begin... This semester I am teaching Religion in America (RELS 250 here at CofC) for the first time, if you can believe it. Up to this point it was the class I'd thought most about how to teach but had never actually taught. No longer! Now I'm wrestling in realtime with the dilemmas many of us share on the daily. What must I include? What can I cut? Where (oh, where!) do I begin?
Unsurprising to most (who read this blog), I began with requisite hand-wringing. What is the "religion" in American religion? What, where, and who is the "America" in religion in America? These questions are crucial for me. In a sense, these questions are what my course is about. I like opening all my classes on this meta-level, challenging students to challenge themselves (and the world around them) about what they assume they already know. Whether its a 101 intro or a 200-level African American religions survey, one of my universal objectives is for us to wrestle with the fraught history of words that might appear, at first glance, to be neutral, even innocuous: "religion," "nation," "race," "America."
The trick is how to get this to stick.
Posted by Arlene Sanchez Walsh
Posted by Cara Burnidge
From June 12-24, 2016, historians, religious studies scholars, artists, theologians, and pastors will meet in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Calvin College to discuss “Bodies of Christ: Visualizing Jesus Then and Now.” (applications for the seminar are due by February 15).
As part of the seminar, special guests will join the group to discuss their work, insights, ideas, and artwork. When I participated in a Calvin seminar on Religion and War, for instance, Jonathan H. Ebel (author of Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the Great War and G.I. Messiahs: Soldiering, War, and American Civil Religion) shared some of his research and was a highlight of our time. We are looking for individuals in the visual arts who would consider spending one or two days to share their paintings or sculptures or websites or anything else. Travel expenses, housing, and an honorarium will be provided.
Please send inquiries or a bio to firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Lauren Turek
There are a several upcoming national, international, and graduate student conferences for which readers/scholars of religion in American history might like to submit proposals. The two international conferences offer an opportunity for scholars of American Jewish history in particular, while the other three provide opportunities for presenting research on a range of American faith traditions or American religion more broadly. All of the following have deadlines within the next month or two:
Re-Framing American Jewish History and Thought: New Transnational Perspectives
Call for Proposals deadline: February 15, 2016
Conference Date: July 20-22, 2016
School of Jewish Theology, University of Potsdam
American Jewry, despite its size, cultural productivity, and influence on many levels, has hardly begun to develop as a field of scholarship outside the U.S. itself. Recently, however, the growing recognition of the interaction between American and other Jewries over time and into the present has sparked a novel wave of interest. European, Latin American, and Israeli-based scholars are beginning to add their voices to the scholarly discourse, complementing the dominant American perspective. This may presage a fruitful dialogue between American specialists and others. This conference aims to further encourage this development by bringing together younger and senior scholars involved in such research. We endorse an interdisciplinary approach that is open to historians, migration researchers, scholars of religion, theology, Jewish thought, and cultural and literary studies among other fields of knowledge.
We welcome papers on a broad range of subjects under the umbrella of the transnational approach. Those could include:
- The migration of people and institutions between various countries and North America, with an emphasis on Jewish communities and how they mutually affected each other
- The impact of the American or European backgrounds of individuals and groups on their Jewish activities in other communities
- The transfer, translation, and adaptation of texts, ideas, and practices, particularly in the context of the sociology of religion, cultural modernization, and Jewish global awareness
- Developments in Jewish theology within the American historical context and their relations to European models of religious thought
- The Holocaust and American Jewry, and the interrelations between American and other Jewries in its aftermath
- Comparative perspectives that place American Jewry in the context of the experiences of other modern Jewish communities
- Representations and ideas of “America” and other venues of Jewish life and their location within Jewish history as well as in the present and future
- Linguistic and cultural translations between languages and cultures as expressions of transformations through the encounter of American and other Jewries
I offered the option of an unessay to my students last semester for their final papers. I did not invent the unessay. It's important first to give credit where credit is due. The idea comes from some of our wonderful colleagues in English and Digital Humanities. I was introduced to the idea of the unessay by Ryan Cordell, an English professor at Northeastern University. In his awesome post "How Not to Teach Digital Humanities," he references this assignment. He expands on the idea for a class of his here. He also pulled the idea from a couple of others, namely Michael Ullyot and Daniel Paul O'Donnell. They center the unessay on a few characteristics: students choose their own topics, they present it in any way they choose, and we evaluate based on how compelling it is. The idea is to break open the corral of the traditional essay and encourage students to take a different approach to the assignment. It requires some creativity. (Cordell has posted some of his students' previous unessays here).
This kind of assignment intrigued me. Readers of the blog might remember that I assign faux primary sources in a couple of my courses. Last spring a Theatre major wrote and then recorded an mp3 of a Salvation Army hymn. The relative success of this assignment got me thinking: how else can I offer avenues of creativity for student assignments? This is where the unessay comes in. But it brings its own concerns: What about students who feel overwhelmed or intimidated by such an assignment? And how to heck do you assess such an assignment?
Posted by Charlie McCrary
Small denominations and institutions always have been a part of American religious life. However, many of these organizations fall through historiographical cracks. Denominational history is less common in our field than it once was, but there is much to be gained by focusing on institutions large and small. These histories contain fine-grain details and compelling stories that not only serve as valuable sources for other scholars but can point to larger trends, movements, and issues. Reimagining Zion: A History of the Alliance of Baptists (Nurturing Faith, 2015) is one such book. Today we have an interview with author, my friend and colleague Andrew Gardner, a PhD student at Florida State.
Thanks for doing this interview and telling people about this book. First of all, who are the Alliance of Baptists?
The Alliance of Baptists is a small Baptist organization founded as the Southern Baptist Alliance in 1987 in response to conflict within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This denominational group of fewer than 200 congregations was the first to break away from the SBC. Over the course of its history, the Alliance of Baptists has developed an identity that continues to seek to shed its former denominational affiliation while at the same time re-interpret that Baptist tradition. Adherents have reinterpreted ideas of evangelism and missiology in terms of justice and partnership as can be seen through the group’s long-standing partnerships with La Fraternidad de Iglesia Bautista de Cuba (The Fraternity of Baptists in Cuba) and other ministry organizations globally and nationally. The Alliance has also been a longtime advocate of female ministers and the rights of individuals identifying as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender. These characteristics among others help define the Alliance of Baptist as a liberal protestant tradition with a Baptist tinge.
What does the Alliance of Baptists tell us about the history of Baptists, evangelicals, and American religions more broadly?
Posted by Mark T. Edwards
at the University of Sydney. He’s also the author of the best single essay I’ve ever read on Reinhold Niebuhr. The following is a recent conversation we had about his important new book on ecumenical Protestants and foreign relations, For God and Globe: Christian Internationalism in the United States between the Great War and the Cold War (Cornell). Michael also shares some thoughts on post-World War II evangelical internationalism.
Posted by Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism
Posted by Elesha
CFP posted at the ASCH website, we would love to see proposals on:
- The Christian experience in Canada, in keeping with the meeting's location in Edmonton
- The history of Christianity in two or more countries (one of which may or may not be Canada)
- Interfaith relations and dialogue (e.g., Christianity's intersections with Judaism and/or Islam)
- Early, Medieval, and Early Modern history--time periods which are sometimes underrepresented at the Spring meeting
- Current issues in technology (teaching history online, digital humanities for historians, etc.)
The deadline for proposals is February 19, and you must be a current, dues-paying ASCH member to get on the program. Feel free to contact me with any questions.
We're back for another year of book preview lists! Like last year, I plan on posting three of these. This first one will cover books set to be published in January-April. Part two (posted in late April) will cover books published in May-August, and the last (posted in late August) will include those published in September-December.
The usual preface: I've listed the books in roughly chronological order based on the month of their tentative release date. Although I've tried to include as many relevant and interesting titles as I could find, I'm sure that I left out some deserving books. Sometimes this is because publishers don't have updated information on their websites, and sometimes it's because I just missed it. Please feel free to use the comments to add to this list and I can update the post as needed.
As for how I define what is "American" in American religion (to say nothing of what is "religion" in American religion), for the purposes of these lists I mostly follow Kathryn Gin Lum's response in this IUPUI RAAC forum. There, she articulated an understanding of "America" as the region that eventually became known as the United States. That definition does have problems, of course, which is why your contributions to this list -- contributions which envision "America" differently -- are more than welcome.
Now, on to the books! (after this collage to add some color to any social media links)
Posted by Janine Giordano Drake
Some of us are currently engaged in a fascinating and important debate about whether the apocalyptic theologies of premillenialism drove evangelicals into alliance with political conservatives. More particularly, did premillenialism drive evangelicals away from pro-labor politics? We have a number of heavy contenders in this debate (especially Jarod Roll and Kevin Kruse) whose work is not featured in this post, but hopefully will be in future posts. For now, let's think about this with some new books by Matthew Avery Sutton, Ken and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, and Tim Gloege. I lay out each of their approaches to this question and then comment on why this debate is so very important.
Posted by Christopher Cantwell
Interest in the study of what many call "digital religion"--or, more creatively, #DigitalReligion--has grown substantially over the last few years. Scholars, journalists, and even religious leaders are increasingly asking how digital technology is not only shaping the study of religion past and present, but also the very production of religion in a digital age. The last month has seen a number of new developments related to this emerging trend.
ITHAKA S+R, the research arm of the non-profit that brought you JSTOR, has begun convening a number of meetings related to the writing of a major report documenting the changing research practices of religious studies scholars. The principle investigators have an admirably capacious definition of the field, which should benefit the scope of the report's findings. Late last month they announced an impressive list of participating institutions. Keep an eye out for the final product on S+R's blog.
And in another recent announcement, New York University's Center for Religion and Media just posted that they received a second round of funding from the Henry R. Luce Foundation to continue developing a series of interdisciplinary conversations on the study of religion in a digital age. The funding supports a number of one-year postdocs for scholars interested in writing about religion for a wider audience by contributing to the publication of the Center's longstanding web magazine The Revealer. Interested applicants can find information on the postdocs here.
Hussein Rashid and I authored for the Social Science Research Council on the study of religion's digital futures titled Religion, Media, and the Digital Turn, was also published last month. Of course, this partially a shameless piece of self promotion. But I wanted to announce the report's release because in many ways it was a collaborative endeavor. Hussein and I surveyed over a hundred and fifty digital projects in the study of religion and talked to nearly two dozen project directors--many of them friends of the blog--in researching the piece. So while Hussein and I may have authored the report, it is really more of a narrative map of so much of the exciting work going on in the field today.
And from these other announcements, it sounds like there will be lots of exciting work to come as well!
Posted by Samira K. Mehta
Seth Dowland. Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015)
|Image courtesy of Liberty Christian Academy|
In the book I argue that such an approach to education emerged from a couple evangelical beliefs. First, evangelicals believed God had set up authority structures to govern society. Undermining authority went against God’s plan. Second, American evangelicals’ approach to scripture encouraged a robust faith in the determinative power of written texts. As Norma Gabler put it, “textbooks mold nations because they largely determine how a nation votes, what it becomes, and where it goes.” They worried that the pedagogical innovations offered by new textbooks went hand in hand with cultural relativism, and they determined to put the nation back on track by returning to old, didactic methods of instruction.
Posted by Jonathan
It's been my great pleasure to get to know John David Wilsey. John is an assistant professor of History and Christian Apologetics at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Havard School. He is also the associate Director for Southwestern's Land Center for Cultural Engagement, and he blogs at "To Breathe Your Free Air." He has been working on a project about "American Exceptionalism," and the resulting book--American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea--was just released late in 2015 by IVP Academic. I was glad to see that Mark Edwards has already given his recommendation of the book. Today we get to pepper John with 6 questions.
1. Exceptionalism is often treated as a dirty word among historians. What made you want to write a book about it?
Great point, and that is precisely one of the reasons I found the topic compelling. Exceptionalism is an ambiguous term that a lot of people use, but that can also have a lot of different meanings depending on context. And despite the fact that many historians and other academics do not find the term helpful, many of those same scholars continue to employ it.
I became interested in the intellectual history of exceptionalism while writing my dissertation on the Christian America thesis. In my study of Christian America since 1977, I found that American exceptionalism is entailed in the proposition that America was founded as a Christian nation. Despite wide disparity in how advocates of Christian America defined a “Christian nation,” those same advocates all agreed that America was normatively exceptional.
From whence came this need to assign theological significance to the American nation-state? What is the history of American exceptionalism as an idea? How has it developed in American history? What political, economic, social, and religious movements have shaped it over the years? What is the theology of American exceptionalism? Where do exceptionalism and Christianity conflict, and what are the ramifications? Can American exceptionalism be understood in non-theological terms? And is there any place for American exceptionalism in Christian civic engagement? These are some of the questions I brought to the project and am still interested in exploring.
Exceptionalism is, without a doubt, a dirty word among historians—and deservedly so, if we’re thinking of an exceptionalism that baptizes nationalism in Christian theology. But exceptionalism has a complicated history, and not every mention of exceptionalism means the same thing. It is an idea that is worthy of study, at least because it isn’t going away anytime soon.
Posted by Elesha
here, here, and here.) The discussion will continue at the Extraordinary Business Meeting scheduled for this Friday, January 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Marriott International Ballroom 2. All ASCH members who wish to receive information and give feedback on the subject of future annual meetings are encouraged to attend. No binding decision will be made at this meeting, but the ASCH council (of which I am a member) covets your input.
Other ways to participate in this discussion include:
- Filling out the ASCH membership survey, which Keith Francis has mentioned in several e-mails. (This survey is only available to ASCH members.)
- Attending the regular ASCH business meeting on Saturday, January 9, at 4:45 p.m. in the Marriott International Ballroom 4.
- Contacting any member of the ASCH council or leadership. We are listed at the front of every issue of Church History.
Hope to see you in Atlanta!
Cultivating Private Gardens of Inward Spiritual Development: How the Wesleyan Methodists Became Fundamentalists
Posted by Randall
|Wesleyan Church conference, ca. 1930s, Wesleyan Archives.|
Many on this side of the family were in the Wesleyan Church. They lived all over the country, but had mostly put down roots in places where the Wesleyans were active. Great uncles, aunts, and an army of cousins attended Wesleyan churches and colleges from Indiana to California. The church followed the westward, Yankee pattern of settlement. Quite a few of my kin went to Miltonvale Wesleyan College, a holiness outpost in the north central part of Kansas. The tiny hamlet was far removed from the dens of iniquity in Topeka or the saloons and brothels in Kansas City. The school closed in 1972 and merged with Bartlesville Wesleyan College. I wrote my masters thesis on MWC back in the stone age/dial-up modem era. My Jurassic word processing software had a bright blue screen with a chunky, jagged white font.
|Miltonvale Wesleyan College. From Ira Ford McLeister |
and Roy S Nicholson, Conscience and Commitment (1976).
One of the questions that sparked my interests had to do with how and why the Wesleyan Methodists had made a kind of religious and cultural pilgrimage from abolitionism, women’s rights crusading, and pacifism to conservative, quasi-fundamentalism. Like many historians working on evangelicalism I’ve been inspired by the work of Donald Dayton, Timothy Smith, Peggy Bendroth, Nancy Hardesty, and others who thought through related questions.
In the last couple of years I’ve been re-exploring this question of the so-called “great reversal,” meaning the change in evangelicalism that first began in the years after the Civil War. Sociologist David Moberg used the term as a title for a book on the topic. In the years after the Civil War, writes Mark Noll, “Protestants who had once guided national life retreated from efforts at shaping society in order to cultivate private gardens of inward spiritual development; and when potentially innovative religious convictions (Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish) were only inching toward broad public commentary on economic issues.” The nature of this conservative, inward turn was particularly interesting to scholars of evangelicalism in the 1970s, like Moberg and Smith, who looked back on their tradition's roots for some guidance on social justice. Steven Miller recently remarked that they were asking themselves, “What had happened to the abolitionist legacy of Charles Finney, the Tappan brothers, and the early administrators of Oberlin and Wheaton Colleges?”
One of my side projects (eventually to turn into a main project) is figuring out what can be done with historical data about religious groups in the United States. This ground is in some ways well trodden. The field has a very fine atlas in the form of Gaustad, Barlow, and Dishno’s New Historical Atlas of Religion in America, as well as an experimental Digital Atlas of American Religion for the twentieth century. Then too, the field has more or less decided that this ground is not worth treading anyway. There are a number of sophisticated critiques of the whole enterprise of dealing with religious statistics and mapping. If I can sum these up in a broad statement, the point is that numbers don’t tell us anything that the field actually wants to know. As Laurie Maffly-Kipp puts it in a well-argued review essay, “our dazzling new technologies and spatial theories” might only have “brought us back to much more circumscribed definitions of religious experience.”1 I recognize the weight of these arguments, and a full justification for dealing with religious statistics will eventually have to take them into account.
But not yet. I want to argue that historians of American religion have barely begun to take advantage of the quantitative data available to them. While we have to keep the theoretical arguments I alluded to in mind at all times, the pressing issue at the moment is one of basic research. Until we make a fuller attempt at using these quantitative records, we can’t really know whether we will find anything useful from them.
Here is the argument. Mapping and quantitative analysis of historical statistics about U.S. religion have been sorely limited by the kinds of data that have typically been used, namely county-level aggregates of Federal census data, and by the way that mapping has focused on general comparisons rather than the specifics of the data.
First, the kinds of data. Leafing through the New Historical Atlas it is apparent that, with the exception of a few colonial maps, most of the maps in that work follow the pattern of mapping the number of churches per county for three years (1850, 1890, 1950). If you look the data used in the encyclopedia, you’ll find that it all comes from federal censuses, which began asking a few questions about religion in 1850, and which took more detailed censuses of religious bodies in 1906, 1916, 1926, and 1936. The exact same data is used in the Digital Atlas for all years before WWII.2 Furthermore, both the New Historical Atlas and the Digital Atlas use county-level aggregates of the data. (By the way, the same county-level aggregates are available at the NHGIS. Once one has mastered the basics of making maps—it’s not hard—one could reproduce most of the maps in the Gaustad atlas.)
This data is extremely limited. The federal censuses that asked about religion occurred at most once a decade and didn’t start six or seven decades into U.S. history. Because of concerns about church and state, the questions about religion asked by the census were limited questions such as the number of churches, the value of church property and amount of seating, and in only a few years the number of adherents. Because the data is aggregated by county or (worse yet) the state, we are seeing data which has a very low geographic resolution. Furthermore, no real attempt has been made to get beyond the surface of the data to do diachronic calculations. For instance, neither atlas tries to connect individual counties to see how they changed over time. Nor has this data been connected to other kinds of data that are available. Knowing the number of churches per county just isn’t that interesting a fact, so it is unsurprising that the field remains unconvinced that this kind of work is useful.
Posted by Matthew Cressler
Author's Note: Have no fear, there are no spoilers here....but seriously, you need to go see the movie already!
Why? Well, I've known for some time that I'm due for an end-of-the-year RiAH post. In the throes of syllabusing (like Charles McCrary and so many of us this time of year), my initial instinct was to blog on course construction. Then Richard Newton, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College and fellow Star Wars overthinker, solicited essays on religion, religious studies, and Star Wars for Sowing the Seed (a student-scholar digital collaborative that hosts conversations on religion, culture, and teaching). Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted, I settled on the following topic: What would it mean to think about Star Wars as American religion?
What does that even mean, you might ask? Well, to restate the question, I've been wondering under what circumstances (by what parameters, for what purposes) Star Wars might be considered American religion. To put it yet another way, could I include Star Wars in my Religion in America (RELS 250) course this spring? These are the kinds of questions that awaken - I know, I know, that pun was a little Forced - when you rewatch the (original) Star Wars trilogy and see The Force Awakens (twice), all while writing your Religion in America syllabus....... See what I mean? The nerd is notched up to Ludicrous Speed.
My nerdiness notwithstanding, it strikes me that how one answers these questions could tell us quite a bit. Whether a teacher is willing to consider Star Wars as American religion has the potential to tell us how they define "religion" and how they conceptualize the purpose of a "religion in America" course.
We are a mere ten days away from the start of the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, which is taking place from January 7-10 in Atlanta, Georgia. This year's theme is "Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors," and scholars of religion in American history as well as world history have put together a wide range of exciting panels. A number of this blog's contributors are presenting and there are many American Society of Church History and American Catholic Historical Association panels on the program. As always, I lament that I can't be in two (or more!) places at once, as I have combed through the program and found lots of panels and roundtables I would love to attend. I have compiled a list of panels that may be of interest to readers—hopefully someone will be live tweeting them during the conference (click the panel title to read the abstract):
Posted by Charlie McCrary
’Tis the season for syllabus-writing. Next semester I will be teaching an upper-level course on American law and religion. I co-taught a version of it a few semesters ago with Mike Graziano (we blogged about it here and here.) That course focused on pluralism and free exercise, and we spent a lot of time giving a historical account of the Hobby Lobby case and decision. This time, I’m going to try something a little more abstract, by focusing somewhat less on law itself and more so on “freedom.” The topics aren’t fully nailed down, though, so this is post, while it offers some ideas, is just as much a request for suggestions.
Posted by Mark T. Edwards
Although the Watch Night ceremony began within Moravian and Methodist churches, it is perhaps most popular today within evangelical Protestant churches, especially African American denominations and congregations. This is because the Watch Night service has an additional significance within many African American religious communities. Sometimes referred to as Freedom’s Eve ceremonies, church services in many black churches not only mark the beginning of a new year and a fresh start, but also commemorate the end of American slavery.