Ben Sasse, Donald Trump, and the Beginning and End of the Religious Right: (Mostly) A Repost

Charles McCrary

Last week at the Republican National Convention Donald Trump officially became the Republicans’ nominee for president. There is much to say about what Trump—and, probably more importantly, Trumpism—means, what effects his candidacy has had, and so on. We have a number of theoretical tools and historical examples from which to draw some conclusions. In recent months there have been lots of bad pieces about Trump and some good ones. (I’ve especially appreciated the analyses from Kerry Mitchell, Elijah Siegler, and Finbarr Curtis.) Trump’s place in American religious history is unclear to me, other than as a reaffirmation that white nationalism must remain a key part of our narratives.

A number of commentators noticed the RNC’s lack of social conservatism and talk of the “family values” of the Religious Right, including reproductive issues. Maybe the culture wars—or, as Peter Thiel put it during his RNC speech, the distracting “fake culture wars”—are over. Maybe the Religious Right has lost so much power, by ceding it so totally to one party, that their influence is basically nil. I admit that this conclusion does seem plausible. But we’ve heard premature pronouncements of the Religious Right’s death before. Many times. Now, here I could say something about how “the evangelicals” don’t exist, or we could parse “social conservatism.” Instead I’ll just say that it’s probably true that most people don’t care what James Dobson has to say anymore, but it’s also very unlikely that social conservatism is dead, even as it probably cannot be the primary calling card of a successful national politician. Recently, “religious liberty” has become, in popular discourse and in legislation, social conservatives’ chosen method of opposing cultural and legal changes regarding sex and gender. It is noteworthy, I think, that the most effective opposition to civil rights advances for minority groups (LGBT people) is to reframe the matter as an impingement upon the rights of a different “minority” group (evangelicals or social conservatives.) At any rate, though, these issues probably aren’t going away any time soon, and to whatever extent the “Religious Right” survives, it likely will be as a self-consciously oppositional, reactionary force.

Which leads me to today’s repost. Jesus wasn’t the only important Republican missing from the RNC last week. Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a key leader in the #NeverTrump movement, opted to skip the convention and instead “take his kids to watch some dumpster fires.” I wrote about Sasse on this blog a couple years ago, before he had won his Senate seat and before anyone thought Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee. I’ve reposted that piece here. I think it worth revisiting because Sasse locates the origins of the Religious Right in a self-consciously oppositional politics, a movement that defined itself against its opponents. When I wrote the piece, I was thinking about the Tea Party and the obstructionist strategies of the Republicans in Congress, who seemed to lack a coherent ideology or program other than opposition to President Obama. But now, two years later, we might have other things in mind. Throughout the RNC, speaker after speaker told us very little about Donald Trump and very much about his opponent and her faults. In his speech Trump advanced almost no policy ideas or plans for the future, but he did say a lot about what he opposes, what we should fear, and the dangers from which only he can save us.

OK, without further undercooked ado, here is the piece. I’ve left it unedited, save for a few typo corrections.

Sportianity at Forty: Rereading Frank Deford's Series on Religion in Sport

Paul Putz

In 1976 Frank Deford wrote a three-part series for Sports Illustrated on "Religion in Sport." Deford focused special attention on what he called "Sportianity." This world of sports-specific evangelical ministries included the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes In Action, Baseball Chapel, and Pro Athletes Outreach, and was represented in Deford's piece by coaches and athletes (Roger Staubach, Alvin Dark, Tom Landry), sports chaplains (Billy Zeoli, Tom Skinner), and organizational leaders (Arlis Priest, Dave Hannah).

Although Deford also discussed Catholics, Muslims, and Jews, his digressions into non-evangelical groups were usually meant to serve as a contrast to the deficiencies of the Sportianity style. In Deford's view, the leaders of Sportianity were so obsessed with the "competition for dotted-line converts" that they ended up captive to the world of big-time sports. They were, Deford concluded, "more devoted to exploiting sport than to serving it."

Mainstream media, including the New York Times, had taken note of the prominence of evangelicals in athletics before Deford, but no major journalist had so thoroughly dissected the phenomenon. The series caused a stir, especially among those associated with evangelical sports ministries. NFL linebacker-turned-evangelist Bill Glass, for example, opined that Deford's series was "the biggest pile of garbage that has ever been perpetrated on the American public." Others took a more sympathetic view. Gary Warner, editor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' monthly periodical, thought that Deford may have been unfair in some of his characterizations, but that many of his critiques hit the mark.

I was talking about Deford's series recently with Art Remillard (hey, did you know Art is writing a "religious history of sports in America" and is also blogging about it?). Art pointed out that this year is the fortieth anniversary of Deford's essays. So, in the spirit of arbitrarily commemorating things in ten-year increments, I decided to go back and reread the Sports Illustrated series. Here are four things that caught my attention.

Of Turkish Politics and Texas Charter Schools

Elesha Coffman

I am not going to pretend to understand what's going on in Turkey right now, but the attempted coup has turned a media spotlight on cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived for many years in exile in the Poconos. Gulen might or might not have anything to do with the coup; he denied any involvement and suggested that Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might have staged the whole thing to tighten his hold on power. Gulen is, however, more clearly linked to an extensive charter school network in the United States, including Harmony Public Schools, the largest charter network in Texas. The schools generally advance a STEM-focused curriculum and are not accused of religious indoctrination, though they have aroused concerns related to financial transparency and preferential treatment of Turkish teachers and contractors. (Some Fethullahist schools outside the U.S., by contrast, are overtly religious.) Additional concerns about the American schools surfaced earlier this summer, when the Turkish government lodged a complaint with the Texas Education Agency.

Given my research background, I look at this story and think, Americans United for Separation of Church and State should be all over this! This is exactly the kind of scenario the organization was founded to combat! AU is not, in fact, all over it, though religion in public schools, government subsidies of religion, and school vouchers are three of the group's top 10 issues. AU did mention Gulen once in a 2012 piece on charter schools. That AU isn't taking particular notice of this story is a useful reminder of how mobile the "wall of separation between church and state" has been over the years, even for the most prominent organization devoted to bolstering it.

Fear, Florida, and Faith-Based Prisons

Today's guest post comes from Brad Stoddard. Brad is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at McDaniel College. He is currently revising his dissertation, an ethnohistory of Florida’s faith-based correctional facilities. 
Brad Stoddard

Roughly three years before his 2006 arrest and subsequent conviction for accepting illegal kickbacks as head of Florida’s Department of Corrections (DOC), James Crosby shocked the correctional world and beyond when he announced that Florida’s DOC was going to convert Lawtey Correctional Institution into the nation’s first faith-based prison. Several states, including Florida, already operated faith-based correctional dormitories, but Crosby wanted to create something bigger and bolder. An entire faith-based prison would be that something.

As a graduate student researching my dissertation on Florida’s faith-based correctional facilities, I wanted desperately to interview Crosby, who has been somewhat reclusive since he was released from prison. When he agreed to the interview, I asked him what motivated him to create a faith-based prison. His answer surprised me, but in hindsight perhaps it shouldn’t have, as it echoed a sentiment I’d heard several times before in the course of my research.

Religion and the War of 1812

Jonathan Den Hartog

As part of our 4th of July celebrations, my family and I went to a local historic site (Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, for those interested in the Upper Midwest).  As part of the day's festivities, costumed reenactors staged a mock battle of a skirmish from the War of 1812. The connection to the site itself was loose, and I was left wondering if the audience was able to place the events being acted out in anything beyond "people in old-timey costumes fire at other people in old-timey costumes and the Americans won." Having some sense of the War of 1812 has become even more important to me, as that topic has dominated my research and writing this summer.

For this blog, I thought I might also share some reflections on religion in the War of 1812 and what more could still be said.

First, we need to point to the "standard" work on the subject--William Gribbin's The Churches Militant: The War of 1812 and American Religion. Gribbin published the book in 1973, and it seems like this would be a great topic to revisit, now 40 years later. With our greater knowledge of so many things from the Early Republic, it would seem a terrific time to revisit the subject.

We know more about the politics of the Early Republic and party ideals and functioning. We have had better works on the War of 1812, itself, thinking of books by Alan Taylor, Donald Hickey, Nicole Eustace, and Paul Gilje. We have a better sense of religion in the early republic and how it impacted both Democratic-Republicans and Federalists. And, we have so much greater access through digitization projects that a wealth of material would be more readily available and richer than Gribbin was able to pull together. With these resources, the space would seem to be wide open for greater consideration of religion in the War of 1812.



This is a guest post from Craig Gallagher. Craig is a PhD candidate at Boston College whose work focuses on religion in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Atlantic world.

Any scholar of Early American history who has earned their Ph.D. in the last half-decade has had to contend at some point with Perry’s Miller’s declension model for New England Puritans. Miller’s model held that Puritanism hit its intellectual height in the mid-seventeenth century in the Massachusetts Bay colony, before entering into inevitable decline as New England modernized in the eighteenth century, even as they left a lasting philosophical legacy that laid the foundations of the American nation. Despite the first of his seminal works that put forth this model – The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Harvard UP, 1939) – having been published in the first half of the twentieth century, most graduate students still find themselves debating its merits in historiography classes today, even when discussing religion in colonial American regions outside of New England.

Religion and American Foreign Relations: Reflections on the 2016 SHAFR Annual Meeting

Lauren Turek

I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), which convened at the beautiful Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego.

The stunning Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice
I am happy to report that, as Andrew Preston noted while commenting on one panel, the range of papers included in this year’s program makes clear that “religion is now a standard topic in diplomatic history,” something that would not have been true even a decade ago. Indeed, SHAFR offered up numerous panels and individual papers of interest from established scholars as well as from graduate students working on cutting edge research for their dissertations.

I would like to share a brief overview of the exciting work that scholars presented on the history of religion and foreign policy. As is the case with all great conferences, each session boasted multiple panels that I would have liked to have attended, but since I (sadly) can only be in one place at once, I will not be able to offer a full accounting of each panel that addressed religion in some way. Instead, I will discuss two of the panels I attended and then, at the end of this post, I will provide a list of all of the papers that pertained to religion and perhaps other attendees can fill in the gaps in the comments section. This will also serve as a snapshot of some new and forthcoming work in the field.

Weddings, Religion, and the Universal Life Church: An Interview with Dusty Hoesly

Charles McCrary

Wedding season is upon us! If you attend a wedding this summer, you might notice that the officiant is not a professional clergyperson but a friend or relative of the couple. In preparation to officiate a wedding this summer I, like millions of other non-clergypersons, was ordained by the Universal Life Church. (In closely related news, send your congratulations to Cara Burnidge and Mike Graziano!) But what is the ULC? And how does it fit within the landscape of contemporary American religion? To find out, I turned to Dusty Hoesly, a PhD candidate in American religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His article “‘Need a Minster? How About Your Brother?’: The Universal Life Church between Religion and Non-Religion” provides a helpful overview to and insightful analysis of the ULC. Today, RiAH welcomes him for an interview that might be just the wedding-season prep scholars of religion need.

Hi Dusty. Thanks for doing this interview. Let’s start with some history. How did the Universal Life Church begin? In what context did it arise?

Thank you for inviting me to share my work with you and the RiAH readers.
The ULC logo

Kirby Hensley (1911–1999) began “Life Church” in his home garage in Modesto, California, in 1959, then incorporated it as the Universal Life Church in 1962. Although he was illiterate, he had served as an itinerant minister and church planter for Baptist congregations and then the Assemblies of God, working in North Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma, California, and other states. However, his views were seen as too idiosyncratic, so he did not remain at any church for too long. Frustrated with theological orthodoxies imposed on him by denominational authorities and congregations, he decided to create a church that would allow anyone to believe whatever they wanted. The ULC’s sole creed became “to do that which is right,” as each determines for themselves what that means. Hensley also sought to ensure First Amendment freedoms for all people. If everyone has their own religion, as he claimed, then everyone should benefit equally from religious liberty protections and enjoy the same benefits accorded to more established religions and to their clergy. Thus, the church ordained anyone for free and for life, with no theological commitments required. It became the most famous and the largest mail-order ministry in America, ordaining over one million ministers by 1971 and spawning thousands of charter churches under its auspices. It also held mass ordinations on college campuses, organized annual national conventions, and published periodicals and other materials.

Making Pauli Murray's Home a National Historic Landmark

Paul Harvey

Just a quick intervention here to post this important message, sent to me originally by Ann Little (aka Historiann) on twitter (and here is the facebook post about it):

We have just been told that the deadline for letters of support is JULY 1st. Visit the link below to learn more about the national impact of Pauli Murray’s life and the historical significance of her family residence.
Please send your letters of support by JULY 1 to Mr. Paul Loether, Washington Office, National Park Service, addressing them to with a blind copy to with “Pauli Murray NHL” on the subject line, and a U.S. Mail copy to The Secretary of the Interior, Ms. Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington DC 20240. Thank you! If you have questions or other comments, they should also be sent to the same addresses.
Here's the link where you can learn much more about this effort, about Murray's life, and also about some very important recent books about her life:

The Arrival of Television in US and Italy: A New "Holy Crusade?"

January, 1954 cover of Information
[This month's Cushwa post is courtesy of Federico Ruozzi of the Department of Education and Human Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (Italy) and the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies, Bologna (Italy). We hosted him last summer and loved hearing about his fascinating research on the Catholic Church and the news media, so we asked him to take this year's final travel grant research report post. Looking forward to this summer's crop of new arrivals -- and hope you are all enjoying your research and writing time!]

Federico Ruozzi

A reporter once asked Bishop Fulton Sheen if he thought Christ would use Television were He on earth today. The bishop said: "yes, for television is just a means of transportation. Christ used the most modern means of transportation in His day when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey."

Looking for Religion in "Boys Among Men"

Paul Putz

Over the past few months I've settled into that ABD mode where nearly everything I read is filtered through a dissertation-colored lens. Since my dissertation is focused on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the cultural history of the "Christian athlete," this has done a number on the excessive amount of sports journalism that I consume. Not even Jonathan Abrams's new book could save me.

Abrams has worked for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, but it was with ESPN's Grantland (RIP) that he became the writer whose pieces were heralded on twitter with their own hashtag (#AbramsAlert). His oral histories became particularly important sports internet events, especially after his piece detailing the "Malice at the Palace" – the 2004 brawl involving the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, and more than a few fans. With a reputation for snagging insightful interviews and turning them into fascinating in-depth features, Abrams had a sizeable audience waiting in anticipation this year for his first book project, Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution.

Boys Among Men lives up to its hype as the definitive story of the "prep-to-pro" era in NBA history. Initiated in 1995 when Kevin Garnett elected to skip college and enter the NBA directly from high school, it effectively ended in 2005 when the NBA instituted an age minimum of 19. The prep-to-pro era saw both new superstars emerge from high school (Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dwight Howard, among others), and also cautionary tales: players like Korleone Young, Leon Smith, and Robert Swift who entered the league before they were ready (or so the typical narrative went) and squandered their bright futures. It was the highly publicized presence of the cautionary tales that gave NBA executives public cover to change their rules and end the prep-to-pro pipeline.

Abrams brilliantly narrates the stories of the well-known prep-to-pro successes and failures, as well as those who were stuck somewhere in between. If you consider yourself a basketball fan, this is a book you should add to your summer reading list immediately. But this is a blog about religion, not sports journalism, and I am writing a dissertation about "Christian athletes" not prep-to-pro players. As I read the book I looked to see what, if anything, religion had to do with Abrams's story.

Social Activism and Gender at Joel Osteen's Church: Part 2 of an Interview with Phil Sinitiere

Karen Johnson

Phil Sinitiere recently published Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity. With 40,000 attenders each weekend, Lakewood is America's largest mega church, and its pastor's reach extends well beyond the weekend service, with best-selling books, podcasts, and sermons on satellite radio and cable television.  Phil argues that if we want to understand American evangelicalism today, we must account for Osteen and Lakewood Church. Last month I posted the first part of an interview Phil and I conducted that discussed race and class at Lakewood (for Arlene's interview with Phil, go here).  This month, I'm posting the second part of the interview, which addresses social change and gender at Lakewood.

KJ: Joel Osteen preaches a message of personal transformation and second chances.  How is it typical of American evangelicalism?  How is it different?  I was also surprised that despite the individualistic nature of Osteen's message, members of his congregation are working to fight human trafficking and participating in marches for social justice.  How did that happen?

PS: Osteen’s message of second chances connects to the history of Pentecostalism and the myth of American identity that promises the possibility of remaking oneself. At the same time, the idea of a spiritual second chance—if I can term it that way—is perennially Christian as well. My interest in the book does not consider this question in a theological perspective; rather I explore the historical roots and cultural meaning of Osteen’s prosperity gospel. Rooted in 19th century New Thought as Kate Bowler’s Blessed expertly documents, as the prosperity gospel intersected with Pentecostalism and later neopentecostal the message of starting over resonated culturally in the U.S. and gave the movement wider resonance. At Lakewood, and especially the context of Houston that some journalists and observers have described as a second chance city, the discourse of a spiritual makeover became extraordinarily popular. 

To Be or Not to Be ... an ASCH Member

Elesha Coffman

Those of you who are, or who have been, ASCH members should recently have received an e-mail from ASCH president Ron Rittgers, urging you to pay your 2016 dues if you have not already done so. "The ASCH is currently facing unprecedented financial challenges on a number of fronts," the e-mail indicated, "and your membership dollars have never been more important to the Society. Revenue from membership dues is significantly behind where it should be at this time of the year, and the shortfall is making it difficult to plan and provide the kind of high quality annual meeting that we all value so highly, among other things."

I've written before about the tense relationship between ASCH and AHA, and about affordability in academic guilds. There's an ASCH council meeting scheduled later this month, and I expect it to address both the AHA-ASCH relationship and the affordability of our annual meetings. Going into the discussion, I would love to know what any of you think about either of these topics.

If you are an ASCH member, or if you are not a member, why? No judgment, I'm just really curious how people in different sub-fields, institutions, and stages of their career view ASCH membership. Who, and what, is membership for?

If you attend the AHA/ASCH winter meeting, do you attend sessions sponsored by, and interact with members of, a variety of represented societies (AHA, ASCH, the American Catholic Historical Association, others) or do you mostly stick to one group? How important is it, to you, that all of these historians are meeting together? Do you prefer big, multifaceted conferences or small, focused ones?

Whether you belong to ASCH or another academic society, what does that society do for you? What do you wish it did more or less of? How would it affect you if the society ceased to exist?

If you'd rather contact me personally than post your thoughts here, feel free to email me at Thanks!

Outsiders in a Promised Land: Interview with the Author

Janine Giordano Drake

In a well-researched account of religious activism in the Oregon Territory from the late nineteenth century to the present, Dale Soden's Outsiders in a Promised Land (also reviewed by Paul Putz, here) draws several meaningful conclusions. He shows that despite the fact that the region has always had a reputation as the least "churched" region in the country, religious activists have had an outsized influence within the region. For, as outsiders, they have frequently seen themselves as leaders in renewal and reform.  In casting an historical glimpse over the long period from the late nineteenth century to the present, Soden illuminates the long-term repercussions of both Victorian and Social Gospel work in the region.
I "sat down" with Soden over email and asked him a few questions. As you'll learn by the end of the interview, Soden was one of Paul Harvey's history professors!

Modern Fitness; or, The Origin of the Species

Adam Park

A curious thing has recently taken hold of the American health and fitness scene. It's been around for a while, to be sure. But it's really really around now. Foreword-thinking exercise and diet theories look backwards for inspiration. Pursuant that ubiquitous muscular Christian logic, Americans have forsaken modern "civilization" for love of prehistoric "nature." And in so doing, modern health and fitness culture has reverently articulated a most great and wonderful story of human origins, of human purpose.

Here's the academic rub to all this barefoot running, kettlebell swinging, gluten hating stuff. In Charles Taylor's terms, this move back to nature serves as a "recovery of transcendence." For the betterment of their visible selves, Americans are getting something invisible. Not only is "nature" the metric by which many Americans measure the legitimacy of health trends, but such Americans locate "nature" within themselves. Humans embody a kind of evolutionary imperative, so it goes, in which our created-ness is manifest. Our bodies "know." The larger significance of this nature, then, is that it salvages overcivilized bodies and provides buffered, overcivilized minds with a meaningful account of themselves. A lot of this collective nostalgia has to do with an "ethic of authenticity," as the idea is that an un-self-aware population has to be brought back to their more natural state. Our early hominid ancestors had it right. Overly domesticated Americans with all their overly domesticated things are but sad derivatives, decrepit and unnatural. Modern (meta)physical culture is engaged in a quest for the ancient real.

In the Beginning Was the Word (Part 2)

Jonathan Den Hartog

With posts falling on June 6, I have tried to keep a World War II-theme--see here and here.

This month, though, I wanted to continue thinking about Mark Noll's In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783. Even after finishing my piece last month, I found there were still more points I wanted to make. So, with that in the background, let me jump right into additional observations about Noll's book:

First, I'd like to commend Noll's attention to and careful delineation of the intersection of the Bible and slavery in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Noll traces how the impact of the Scriptures actually "Deepened" through its Great-Awakening-inspired transmission to slaves throughout the Atlantic World. Noll contends this movement was particularly marked by its taking up and personalizing of the biblical text. Recognizing and building on other scholars such as Vincent Carretta and Jon Sensbach, Noll calls this development the formation of "The Biblical Black Atlantic" (211). Noll traces biblical themes both in well-known figures such as Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano and lesser known figures Jupiter Hammon, John Marrant, David George, and Quobna Cugoano. In these figures, Noll connects biblically-rooted language among Africans and African-Americans in the American colonies, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa. Noll's recognizing this public usage of the Bible is important and expands our vision of the place of the Bible for all levels of society, in many different places, in the eighteenth century.

Next, it's worth noting several of the other interesting by-ways that Noll illuminates.

For example, Noll helpfully points out the significance of versification of the Bible. Although chapters had been marked previously, verse numbers were inserted for the first time in the Geneva Bible (1557) and then, with further significance, in the King James Bible. Noll sees versification as significantly democratic: individuals could now point to single points in the Scripture as reference, rather than draw broad allusions to extended passages. Any literate person could read or find a passage. At the same time, versification allowed for proof-texting and the assembling of, in an empirical fashion, texts scattered throughout the Bible. Thus the Scriptures could be enlisted into "engineering projects" (123) of systematization and programmatic endeavors. Even the verse markings themselves, then, created a certain flavor of biblicism in British North America.

Noll also reminded me that no English-language Bibles had been printed in the colonies. Royal monopolies had guaranteed that all Bibles had to be printed in England and then shipped to the colonies. Native American language Bibles could be printed, such as the Algonquian translation done by John Eliot, but English Bibles had to come from England. This observation helped make more sense of the Bible produced by Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken. It actually was a revolutionary act when Aitken published an "Authorized Version" in America in 1782. The significance of the Aitken Bible lay, then, not in that Congress endorsed it (though it did), but in the fact that it represented the new nation's ability to produce Bibles for a spiritually-hungry population.

Lessons from a Year on Fellowship

Hunter M. Hampton

Twelve months ago, I started my fellowship year to work on my dissertation. I was equally excited and nervous. Nothing to that point in my academic career, from preschool to comprehensive exams, had prepared me for a year without teaching, grading, or deadlines. I started looking around for any guide or advice on this year, but little appeared. I am certainly not an expert on the field of sabbaticals or fellowship years, but I hope these lessons are helpful for my comrades fighting to finish their dissertation or tenured professors working on their last book.

1. Make a schedule
This I know seems obvious. Everyone has some sort of schedule each day, even on days when you say you don’t have anything to do. That being said, a year with literally no regularity or rhythm is a different monster. The best advice I received on this is to treat your day, week, month, quarter, and year, like a business.  Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art – a must read for any writer – calls this “incorporating yourself.” In “real corporate jobs,” bosses set your to-do list with short, intermediate, and long-term goals (or so I am told.) Adopting that same strategy into a writing schedule is incredibly helpful. I did this with daily word counts, weekly word counts, a specific date to finish chapters, and a total sum of work to accomplish by the end of the year. Checking off something everyday from my to-do list gave me the tiny sense of accomplishment necessary to keep plugging along. A second part of making a work schedule is building in off time. Just like other jobs, I quit working at 5pm each day, only worked on the weekends if I didn’t hit that week’s deadlines, and enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas break. These breaks allowed me to stay fresh and sane (for the most part) throughout the year.

Chicken Chaplains: A Business Made in Heaven

Andy McKee

At the end of a short video about Tyson Food's chaplaincy program, Dr. David Miller, identified earlier in the same video as "Princeton University Project Director Center for the Study of Religion and Author" states, "If I could give you a little pill that you could put in the water at the cafeteria, the canteen, everyone have it, and that pill would make everyone be a little bit more loyal, a little bit more engaged, have a little bit higher loyalty, be a little more creative, a little bit more absenteeism, and assuming there are no negative side effects, would you take that pill?" "Well of course!" Miller states, all while having an apparent conversation with himself. If one is hesitant about any potential repercussions about using metaphors about drugging your employees, you need not worry because as the video fades out, Miller gives us his gotcha moment: there are no real drugs at play. Instead, "well we've just described workplace chaplaincy."

For Tyson and others, however, this pill or program can't keep workers from using the restroom, and recently big chicken has been making headlines undergoing fire from groups bringing to light the horrible conditions of poultry workers, highlighted by the routine denial of bathroom breaks. And this isn't the first time. Coupled with recent legislative bills anti-whistleblower, or ag-gag laws passed in various states across the country, and the fact that four companies – Tyson, Pilgrim’s Perdue, and Sanderson Farms – control roughly 60% of the poultry industry and employee some 250,000 workers. This is not a small issue. Coupled with concerns over claims of animal cruelty, polluting the environment, and bankrupting contract farmers, the chaplaincy program sidesteps these issues by tying into some apparent universal construction of spirituality.

American Catholic History: A Media Round-up


 Pete Cajka

American Catholic historians have been active out in the field as of late, doing interviews, panels, and lectures. We have an embarrassment of riches! Thankfully the material is available online. Here are a few recent endeavors. This media round-up includes Robert Orsi, Daniel Williams, Timothy Matovina, Eugene McCarraher, Kristy Naban-Warren, Leslie Woodcock Tentler, Samuel Moyn, John McGreevy, and Thomas Sugrue. American Catholic historians (and American Catholic history) have appeared at the John C. Danforth Center on American Politics at the Washington University in St. Louis, Religion and Politics, the Cushwa Center at Notre Dame, the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, and the Journal of American History podcast. Our thanks go out to all these institutions and publications.

A Tribute to Mother Emanuel

Photograph by Delane Chavez, June 20, 2015, Charleston, South Carolina*
Matthew J. Cressler

Horror and heartbreak were in the air when I arrived at the College of Charleston ten months ago. The city remained in the shadows of the Mother Emanuel massacre. Each time I saw the church it seemed a new bouquet of flowers greeted passersby, a new memorial made. Signs were still posted, t-shirts still sold in September when I joined Charleston's Days of Grace march and rally. Eventually, though, the wreathes came down and the church facade became a front door once more (albeit one photographed frequently by visitors). 

Photograph by Brandon Coffey, June 29, 2015
The material culture of memorialization accumulated for months in front of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church. It was overwhelming, as you can imagine. Hundreds of prayer shawls, blankets, and textiles. Boxes of correspondence. Artwork, stuffed animals, pieces of plywood covered with signatures. Fire hydrants and trees coated with messages in permanent marker. Not to mention thousands of emails. Mother Emanuel leaders reached out to city representatives and professional preservationists to help manage this excess of condolence. The Charleston Archives, Libraries & Museum Council aided in the formation of a Memorabilia Sub-Committee. Volunteers moved material out of the heat and heavy rains and into climate-controlled storage. Visitors replaced the flowers and crosses and candles quicker than they could be archived. By the end of August 2015, the collection already filled two rooms and it continues to grow.

How could this outpouring - physical traces of the ways tragedy ripples endlessly outward - be preserved for posterity? What would happen to everything once the media spotlight shone elsewhere? One answer is this online tribute, "A Tribute to the Mother Emanuel Church."

Exporting Freedom: Paths Towards Future Research

This is the final post in our review forum of Anna Su's new book, Exporting FreedomYou can read earlier entries by Michael GrazianoJeffrey Wheatley, and Mona Oraby

Chase L. Way

In Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power (2016), Anna Su argues that the concept of religious freedom became enshrined in a “transnational legal regime” that aided and abetted the rise of American imperialism (3). Beginning her account with the US’ possession of the Philippines, and ending with its recent misadventures in the Middle East, Su marshals a series of case studies to illustrate the US’ often well-intentioned – but nearly always problematic– attempts to impose its ideas regarding religious freedom on the “other.” Further, Su makes a highly original contribution to the scholarly literature on this topic by demonstrating how Americans’ understanding of the international nature and purpose of religious freedom evolved in lockstep with its domestic experience of faith.

My colleagues on this blog have done a fine job of engaging with the details of this study over the last several weeks. I thus think it best for me to conclude this review forum by sharing some suggestions about how future scholars may wish to expand on the research vein Su has helpfully opened up in Exporting Freedom.

First, Su’s work would be enriched by a more extensive treatment of the relationship between American theological trends and its campaign to inculcate transnational legal protections for religious freedom. For instance, Su underscores how the popular notion of the “White Man’s Burden” worked in tandem with the idea that American believers had a duty to spread “Christian civilization” worldwide; in turn, she explains that both concepts were employed to justify the US’ imperial experiment in the Philippines (11-35). Presumably due to limits of time and space, however, Su does not have the opportunity to fully contextualize the “White Man’s Burden” and “Christian civilization” tropes within the broader discourse of late 19th and early 20th century progressive Protestant theology. Thinkers like Shailer Mathews, William Newton Clarke, and Walter Rauschenbusch did much to popularize an interpretation of Protestantism that held the ideals of international progress and social redemption at its center. The lack of a nuanced history that explains how such a theological culture might be harnessed in the name of white, Christian “duty” – and, in turn, used to morally justify the US’ intertwined pursuit of religious freedom and imperial power –necessitates further research.

Second, Su’s narrative would be imbued with further depth by a complementary historical account that explored cases where American ideas concerning religious freedom did not advance the nation’s imperial intentions. For example, my current research traces how domestic American religion shaped US attitudes towards Iran. The dysfunctional foreign policy relationship between these two states certainly possesses many examples of how the US attempted to extend its Cold War version of empire, both practically and ideologically. Yet I have thus far found little evidence that the US’ general promotion of religious freedom played any critical role in its relations with Iran until, perhaps, the Carter administration (but stay tuned for updates). So what factor, or constellation of factors, led American leaders to promote religious freedom for imperial ends in one situation and not another? Su’s text shows the potent utility of religious liberty to influence and even reconstruct other states, increasing the likelihood that they would be both morally righteous (at least to American eyes) and supportive of American power. Given its tremendous usefulness, then, it is unclear why the US’ strategy of promoting freedom of faith was employed – as best we can tell from current research – haphazardly.

Third, Su’s study could be put into even sharper perspective were it interwoven with a narrative explaining how the idea of “empire” itself evolved in tandem with American domestic culture. Su is compelled, for example, to compress the bulk of her discussion of the Eisenhower administration’s strategic use of religion during the Cold War into a single paragraph (114-115). Although I assume this elision is again the consequence of inevitable limits on time and space, she mentions in passing that “President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state John Foster Dulles consciously recast communism as a kind of faith – a dangerous religious creed – and thus set the stage for the framing of the Cold War as a modern-day holy war” (114-115). It makes sense that the start of this “holy war” might coincide with a deepening of America’s self-conception as, say, a messianic crusader nation. Yet the impact of Eisenhower-era America’s developing imperial identity on its use of religious freedom to gain global power is left to the reader’s imagination. Fleshing out such episodes would do much to expand scholars’ understanding of this historical epoch.

Coming full circle, Su should be praised for the thought-provoking and insightful contributions in her work. The fact that Exporting Freedom has such an impressive ability to inspire further research projects is a testimony to the richness of her topic. I look forward to reading Su’s future contributions, and also to seeing how this area of study develops as a result of the scholars she has inspired.

Chase L. Way is a Ph.D. candidate in Religion at Claremont Graduate University, where she recently won the school’s Transdisciplinary Dissertation Award. She specializes in the history of American religion and foreign policy, particularly towards Iraq and Iran. You are welcome to follow her on Twitter (handle: @ChaseLWay).

Teaching with Primary Sources: Religious Freedom and U.S.-Vietnamese Relations

Lauren Turek

In her two most recent posts for this blog, Emily Suzanne Clark spurred vigorous and productive discussions about teaching with primary sources. [1] Much like Emily, I assign many primary sources in my classes, as I agree with her that they "illuminate conflict and show moments of creative tension in American history. They show how the past can be a foreign country and they reveal how the past is not so different from today." [2] In my courses on U.S. foreign relations, I find that primary sources that address religion in some way or that use explicitly religious language can help my students think more deeply about the role that ideology has played in shaping and restraining past U.S. foreign policy decisions. Such sources also allow my students and I to consider Christian nationalism and internationalism, civil religion, and a host of other interesting themes as we discuss the history of American foreign policy. Additionally, these documents can sometimes illuminate the historical context for contemporary foreign policy challenges.

Given Emily's recent posts, I thought I might start to (occasionally) share some of my favorite primary sources from the history of religion and American foreign relations, with the hope that readers might find them useful for teaching or that they might suggest similar sources they have found helpful in their own work or classrooms.

Since President Obama made a historic trip to Vietnam this week, I would like to start off by sharing a document I have assigned in my classes that addresses the religious dynamics of U.S.-Vietnamese relations before and during the Vietnam War.

Exporting Law, Exporting Freedom

The third post in our ongoing review forum on Anna Su's new book, Exporting Freedomcomes to us from Mona Oraby. You can read earlier entries by Michael Graziano and Jeffrey Wheatley. Look for our final post in the series next week.

Mona Oraby

Exporting Freedom complements a recent spate of scholarship that queries the timelessness and neutrality that is often attributed to the right to religious liberty. Drawing on historical case studies that span twentieth century U.S. foreign policy, Anna Su charts the emergence and promotion of religious freedom first as natural law, and subsequently as a human right enshrined in national constitutions and international law. Su argues that American religious freedom promotion abroad is part and parcel of U.S. global ascendancy.

The book is a significant contribution to our understanding of how “the malleability of religious freedom enabled its invocation abroad to be articulated and made salient within particular historical and institutional contexts” (4). Su not only excavates the political and intellectual milieu in which American discourse on religious freedom took shape. She also explains the modes through which this discourse figured into three U.S. military incursions: the Philippines following the Spanish-American War, post-World War II Japan, and Iraq after the 2003 invasion. By foregrounding the interstice between discourse and imperial power, Su opens up a productive inquiry into religious liberty’s distinctly American provenance.

If Exporting Freedom casts religious liberty and American power in a new light, it falls short of articulating a broader claim about the centrality of law to the U.S. export of both Protestant values and secular liberalism. After all, religious liberty was not exclusively deployed as a discursive tool, but as a legal instrument that curtailed preexisting power structures and reorganized local religious traditions. In all three case studies mentioned above, the career of religious freedom promotion followed a categorically legal course. American officials drafted constitutions as a means to achieve occupation goals. They increasingly sought to codify the disestablishment of church and state first in order to civilize subordinate populations, but always to secure U.S. material and moral interests. To her credit, Su demonstrates that religious freedom protections became entrenched in national constitutions and the panoply of international legal instruments we are familiar with today. However, she does not theorize the significance of this multi-jurisdictional spread of religious freedom as law. How, we might ask, has the constituent relationship among law, religion, and freedom changed over time?

The U.S. colonial experiment in the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century points to the imbrication of these concepts early on in Exporting Freedom. Using a constitutional framework, the U.S. government sought to promote religious pluralism and simultaneously limit forms of religious worship it deemed antithetical to its civilizing mission. The U.S. colonial administrator of the Moro Province, John Wood, remarked that Filipino Muslims and Catholics practiced “an unruly amalgam of local customs” (32). Su further tells us that “[a]lthough Wood believed in religious freedom, it was freedom that came in a particular shape and size. He praised Jesuit missionary work in the Moro Province…because he considered the principles of the Christian religion conducive to the observance of law and order and respect for authority” (32). Given that the book provides rich historical evidence for a robust theory of what law does in the context of military occupation, it is curious that Su asks but never answers whether it is significant that religious freedom is law (161).

Viewed from this perspective, U.S. ascendance is characterized by the global propagation of law and constitutionalism, American-style, of which religious freedom promotion is but one component. The histories of the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) and the post-2003 Iraq Transnational Administrative Law (TAL) are cases in point. As Su explains, “[b]y enacting the IRFA into law and ensuring that adequate religious freedom guarantees were written into the Iraqi TAL, the U.S. government brought together its old and new ways of promoting international religious freedom” (157). The old way consisted of unilateral standard setting, often by military force. The new mode interprets and implements these standards, which are supported by a variety of domestic and international legal mechanisms.

This line of thinking extends to other realms in which law’s productive capacity is used to legitimate U.S. projects of global domination. Prisoner abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, Baghram Air Force base outside of Kabul, and Guantanamo Bay are haunting examples of how U.S. officials have bent legal definitions of what constitutes torture in order to sanction harsh interrogation techniques and extraordinary rendition. And just two years ago, the Obama administration expanded the scope of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force law to justify the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. The point here is that it is no coincidence that American discourses on ‘defending religious freedom’ and ‘eradicating terrorism’ are tied to national security interests. Such interests are being realized through the force of law with alarming frequency.

The ongoing centrality of law to American power thus casts considerable doubt on Su’s assertion that “the slow realization of religious freedom is and should be a profoundly political act, one that is built on continuing deliberation, contestation, and mutual recognition” (162). Exporting Freedom may be “[f]irst and foremost a cautionary tale [that] illustrates the ambitions and limits of what religious freedom promoted as law by an external actor can achieve,” (10) but the book’s elite-centric view does not suggest how the ideal of religious liberty can be instantiated otherwise.

Mona Oraby is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University.

Book Challenges as Primary Sources in the Study of American Religion

Today's guest post comes from Meredith Ross. Meredith is a doctoral candidate in American Religious History at Florida State University. She holds a Master’s degree in Library and Information Studies, also from Florida State, and her research focuses upon religion and information, particularly mid-20th century church libraries. You can contact her at or on Twitter @Memo_Ross.

In 2011 Jonesboro, Arkansas, concerned adults asked that the critically acclaimed novel The Kite Runner be removed from the high school curriculum of the Valley View School District. Why? Because, they argued, the book “may cause some students to question the validity of our ‘one nation under God’” through its “presentation of Islam as a viable and genuine religion.”

Challenges like this one – the first step in officially banning a book from a school or library – are tracked carefully by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). The OIF’s numbers show that, between 1990 and 2009, 688 challenges were issued to books on the basis of their so-called “religious viewpoint;” challenges citing concerns that books espoused the “occult/Satanism,” which the OIF lists separately from “religious viewpoint” challenges, totaled 1,044 during this same time. These challenges have helped scholars illuminate concerns about the supposed “occult” nature of youth media – particularly as related to the “Satanic panic” and the attempted banning of the Harry Potter series.

Less considered, however, has been the capacity for official book challenges in schools and libraries to provide clear insight into some Americans’ perceptions of the religious other and the place of religion in the public square – especially when, as in Jonesboro, the title in question features Muslim characters or themes.

Photographing "Father Ted"

Hesburgh with donors at a Challenge Rally fundraiser, 1961
 [This month's Cushwa post is by Todd C. Ream, who is Professor of Higher Education at Taylor University. Todd's current research is on the life and writings of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952-1987. While he has several projects ongoing, we asked him to offer some thoughts on the rationale for and method of a book of photos of Hesburgh that he's currently assembling. We're illustrating the post with three of these photos drawn from the ND archives, with thanks to archivist Charles Lamb for his help in obtaining these versions.

Speaking of Hesburgh, we'll announce the first round of grants for research in his papers shortly. Since this is a new opportunity, we're still trying to widely circulate news of their availability. If you're interested in religion in/and American higher education, and/or in any of the governmental commissions Hesburgh participated in, the papers are particularly rich sources and we encourage you to apply for research support.]

Religious Activism in the Pacific Northwest

Paul Putz

Kevin Kruse's One Nation Under God and Matthew Sutton's American Apocalypse are both blockbuster books on conservative American Christianity. But that's not the only trait they hold in common. Both books also prominently feature Christian leaders who operated out of the Pacific Northwest. Sutton uses Seattle's Mark Mathews, pastor from 1902-1940 of one of the country's largest Presbyterian churches. Kruse features Abraham Vereide, also based in Seattle, who combatted socialism by reaching out to businessmen and civic elites in the 1930s. Vereide's efforts led to the prayer breakfast movement, which eventually made its way to the halls of power in Washington D.C.

I had not thought much about the shared home region of those two figures until I read Dale Soden's Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History (Oregon State University Press, 2015). In Soden's text both figures appear, working alongside numerous other religious leaders in the region that Patricia Killen has aptly described the "None Zone."

With Outsiders in a Promised Land Soden provides an account that stretches from the late-nineteenth-century to the present, describing the ways in which "religious activists, in this least-churched region of the country, have shaped the struggle to define the nature of public life" (p. xiii). For Soden, "religion" mainly comes in the Catholic/Protestant/Jew formula. But if his selection of subjects follows a traditional path, the setting in which they operate provides a unique frame. Rather than the standard "anxiety over lost prestige" as a motivating factor for religious (mostly Protestant) activity, Soden's religious activists -- whether conservative or liberal -- viewed themselves as outsiders in a hostile culture. For them, there was nothing to "take back" in the land of the religiously unaffiliated, only new ground to be gained.

The Last Time Methodists Split: A Primary Source

Elesha Coffman

The United Methodist church may be heading for a split over LGBTQ inclusion and the interpretation of Scripture. American religious historians might remember that this church split before, in 1844, over the issue of slavery. In poking around the 1844 history, I ran across the General Conference speech of the man at the center of that crisis, Bishop James O. Andrew of Georgia, who had become a slaveholder by marrying a widow who had inherited slaves from her previous husband. Northern Methodists pressed for a resolution that no slaveholder should serve as bishop; Southern Methodists deemed this move a galling overreach. Andrew's speech complicates the true but perhaps overly stark picture of slaveholding Christianity that one gets from, say, the relevant documents in R. Marie Griffith's American Religions reader (Frederick Douglass, from Narrative of the Life of an American Slave; Angelina Grimke, Appeal to the Christian Women of the South; and George D. Armstrong, from The Christian Doctrine of Slavery). The speech appears in many Methodist sources, including this one, but is not, I think, well known elsewhere. Some highlights:

"Strange as it may seem to brethren, I am a slaveholder for conscience' sake. I have no doubt that my wife would, without a moment's hesitation, consent to the manumission of those slaves, if I thought proper to do it. I know she would unhesitatingly consent to any arrangement I might deem it proper to make on the subject. But how am I to free them? Some of them are old, too old to work to support themselves, and are only an expense to me; and some of them are little children: where shall I send these, and who will provide for them? But, perhaps, I shall be permitted to keep these; but then, if the others go, how shall I provide for these helpless ones? and as to the others, to what free state shall I send them? and what would be their condition? ... I believe the providence of God has thrown these creatures into my hands, and holds me responsible for their proper treatment."

Adventures in Religious Materiality

Sarah E. Dees

Adventures in teaching religious materiality, that is. I'm currently leading students through an intensive, three-week (crash) course on religion in museums, which I am teaching at the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee. I’ve used museums in my teaching before in a class focused on religion, race, and ethnicity (and written about it here); the present course focuses specifically on material religion and the relationship between religious studies and museums studies. In addition to introducing students to the ways in which religions were historically represented in public spaces—including fairs, exhibitions, and museums—the purpose of the class is to acquaint students with how contemporary museums display objects of religious significance and to help students understand important conversations surrounding these practices. How have museums acquired their collections? Who decides the value that objects hold? What is the relationship between the academic study of religion and the display of significant objects? What can objects tell us about American religious history?

Graduate Student Conference on Constructing National Identity in US History, Northumbria University, September 9th, 2016

Randall J. Stephens

Regular readers of this blog may be interested in a graduate student conference that will be held here at Northumbria University on Friday, September 9, 2016.  A PhD student I've worked with here, Megan Hunt, is organizing it.  Looks like the conference will be a rewarding and fascinating experience. 

Historians of the Twentieth Century US (HOTCUS) Annual Postgraduate Conference: "Winning Minds and Hearts: Constructing National Identity in US History."

Friday 9th September 2016, Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Keynote speaker: Dr Simon Hall (Senior Lecturer in American History, Leeds University)

On 1 February 1943, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asserted that "Americanism is a matter of the mind and the heart." Just a year after he approved the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, FDR’s statement about the inclusiveness of American identity highlights one of the key questions scholars face when writing the history of the United States: What do we actually mean when we talk about US national identity?

The distinction between what is and isn’t American has dominated the history of the twentieth century United States, from the Hollywood Blacklists of the 1950s and protests in the streets of Selma, Alabama in 1965, to clashes between construction workers and Vietnam War protesters in New York City and debates over U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. In these instances and many others, the process of defining national identity remains central to our understanding of U.S. history.

This conference will explore the constructions and limitations of American national identity in the twentieth century. Panels and twenty-minute paper proposals are invited from postgraduate students and early career researchers on the constructions and manifestations of Americanism in the last century.

Topics for papers or panels might include:

Exporting Freedom and the Power of Religious Freedom

The second post in our ongoing review forum on Anna Su's new book, Exporting Freedom, comes to us from Jeffrey Wheatley. You can read the first review here.

Jeffrey Wheatley

Anna Su’s book Exporting Freedom is a timely contribution to scholarship interested in state power, international relations, and religion. Arguing that religious freedom should not be analyzed as a mask for other interests, Su examines religious freedom as an American ideology, by which she means that religious freedom served as both a legitimation for American intervention and shaped the goals and processes of intervention. Religious freedom, understood by Su’s subject to be essential for democracy, has been both an element of American political morality and American self-interest abroad. She examines this ideology at work in policy deliberation and codification through six historical case studies, beginning with the US occupation of the Philippines in the early twentieth century and ending with the US occupation of Iraq in the twenty-first century. 

What I find compelling about Exporting Freedom is how colonialism, global warfare, and military occupations were the contexts that bound together the book’s six chapters. Within these contexts religious freedom, as understood by American policy-makers, was a tool of pacification and securitization, both associated with democratic nation-building. But how and why, exactly, did American officials imagine religious freedom to pacify and secure? And what assumptions are embedded in such a view? Chapter 1, which examines the Philippines, and Chapter 4, which examines post-WWII Japan, provide some of the deepest analyses and are productive sections to consider these questions. 
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