Students in the Archives

Emily Suzanne Clark

I have my classes spend a lot of time with primary sources. Readers of the blog are probably already aware of this. Sometimes my students and I chuckle at things we find. Students in my American Christianities classes also write 2 faux primary sources over the course of the semester. Both my American Christianities class and my African American Religions class have a primary source reader that we read from a lot during the semester.

This post is a sort of sequel to my post last month about the faux primary source assignments. Earlier this month my American Christianities class spent a week with the archives of the Jesuits of the Oregon Province (which covers the Pacific Northwest and Inland Northwest). Gonzaga is lucky to be the host of these archives, and so having class is the archive is easy. (That, and the collection has the coolest archivist around!) The assignment was not a full research project, but there are still valuable lessons that undergraduates can learn in a couple of days in the archives. Recently in The American Scholar, Anthony Grafton and James Grossman wrote about how archival research is good for undergraduates. "When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self." Granted, my students did not have a lot of time to form their scholarly selves. But I hope that process began.

Crow Indians with priests, image from Foley Library
I split the classes up in 6 small groups, and the archivist and I brainstormed 6 groupings of sources. One grouping focused on ceremonial life and included banners, vestments, photos and descriptions of feast processions on Native reservations. Another group focused on the art of conversion and perused a fascinating collection of dictionaries, grammars, and hymnals that the Jesuits in the region translated into Native languages. One table had documents and photographs illuminated sacramental life and how the Jesuits captured personal and community timelines in their baptismal, marriage, and death records. Another grouping focused on the administration of the Jesuits and included instructions to priests, critiques of fellow Jesuits, and, much to the excitement and entertainment of the students, rules for dating that the Jesuits wrote back in the 1950s. This group and the next took students behind the scenes and into the more practical and business side of the Jesuits. The fifth group had a collections of business documents: financial records, fundraising documents, budgets, and the old Jesuit order cattle brand (this was the West after all). Finally the sixth group dove into the records of St. Aloysius, the parish here on campus named after the university's namesake. This included scrapbooks and photographs of the building over time - all documenting parish life. Each group will be responsible for a write-up on their small collection of materials that analyzes what the materials tell us as a whole.

Racial Reconciliation in Princeton

Elesha Coffman

The national wave of student efforts to confront campus racism touched Princeton University last week, with calls to reconsider the legacy of Woodrow Wilson. As reported in the New York Times, the university president responded quickly, promising to address the issue on campus and in discussion with trustees. Meanwhile, a less-reported story of racial reconciliation unfolded just up the street from campus, a story that affirms the value of public church history.

Though located well off the Mason-Dixon Line, Princeton was thoroughly segregated in the early 19th century. "Colored" residents, slave and free (New Jersey began gradual emancipation in 1804 and freed its last slaves in 1865), were restricted to the balcony at the First Presbyterian Church. The church burned in 1835, after an Independence Day rocket landed on its roof, and when the congregation moved into its new building (part of the current Nassau Presbyterian Church), it did so without its African American members. The Nassau website attributes this development to a "continued ... separation," while the website of the church formed by the split, Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, reports that the colored members were "dismissed." Whatever its precise origin, the division persists, with the two churches standing a mere 0.3 miles from each other. They did, however, symbolically move closer together last week.

American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion

Mark Edwards

Books and articles on civil religion continue to abound.  In his recently released work, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion, John Wilsey offers a genealogy of thought about god and nation.  Wilsey has also written on this subject here at the blog.  I have not read the book in its entirety but still wanted to recommend it and to make a few observations.

Wilsey sees American exceptionalism as part of civil religion, which
he defines as "a set of practices, symbols and beliefs distinct from traditional religion, yet providing a universal values paradigm around which the citizenry can unite" (20).  Wilsey traces exceptionalist thinking from the Puritans to the Reagan era.  Along the way, he posits a divide between "open" and "closed" expressions.  As he writes:

American exceptionalism is not a monolithic concept to be either totally rejected or devotedly embraced.  It is not a signpost with only one side.  As an element of civil religion, exceptionalism is a coin with two sides.  Closed exceptionalism, as one side of the coin, must be faced down to avoid idolatry; open exceptionalism must be faced up to foster human flourishing.  The closed side is exclusive; the open side is inclusive.  The closed side limits freedom to some; the open side expands it to all.  THe closed side is self-satisfied, because it is based on determinism.  The open side is never satisfied, because it is reaching for an ideal based on natural law and rights theory as well as historical contingency.  The closed side denies America can do wrong; the open side acknowledges America's flaws and endeavors toward improvement.  The Christian gospel chastens closed exceptionalism, to keep the nation from becoming an object of worship.  Open exceptionalism chastens sectarianism, encouraging the advance of religious freedom (19).

At times, it is hard to tell if Wilsey is reporting, narrating, preaching, or a combination of the three.  To be sure, Wilsey is mainly writing within and for a particular Christian community--positing an "open exceptionalist model for civic engagement" in his conclusion.  Still, his work deserves a wider audience for the several ways in which it engages with broader stories of American history.

For instance, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion immediately reminded me of a book on the "long 1960s" that I use in classes, Simon Hall's American Patriotism, American Protest (2010).  Hall effectively counters neoconservative arguments that the "days of rage" were somehow un-American.  In fact, Hall finds that the civil rights movement, women's liberation, gay civil rights, and even black power drew upon historically patriotic images when confronting narrow conceptions of American citizenship.  Wilsey's "open" exceptionalists do the same.  Readers will rightfully wonder about the racialized nature of the exceptionalist debate Wilsey uncovers: It seems closed exceptionalists were predominantly white (Reagan, John Foster Dulles) while their challengers (W. E. B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X) were persons of color.  In any case, there is much great food for thought in Wilsey's volume.  Be on the lookout for an interview with Wilsey sometime next month.

5 Questiosn with Emily Conroy-Krutz

Cara Burnidge

I am delighted to share 5 Questions with Emily Conroy-Krutz, author of the new book Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic. Emily is an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University. She is a historian of nineteenth-century America specializing in the global history of the early American republic. Her book is a part of Cornell Press's wonderful The United States in the World series edited by Mark Phillip Bradley, Amy Greenberg, David Engerman, and Paul Kramer. She is also an associate editor of Scribner’s America in the World, 1776 to the Present, a supplement to the Dictionary of American History. In addition to this interview, Emily was recently featured on John Fea's Author's Corner and Liz Covart's Ben Franklin's World podcast. She has also written a thought-provoking H-Diplo State of the Field essay on "Empire and the Early Republic." I encourage you all to check it out.

1. Christian Imperialism "tells a new story about the way that Americans understood the role of their nation in a global context in the years before the Civil War." Tell us about how Americans understood the role of their nation and how your story can (should?) shift the way we think of the Early American Republic.

We’re used to thinking of the early republic as an era that was primarily focused on the North American continent. Yet this is also a period that sees the birth of a significant foreign mission movement that by the 1840s sends American missionaries all over the world. That movement was premised on the idea that American Christians had the right, and the duty, to go just about anywhere in the world to spread the gospel of American Protestantism and Anglo-American civilization. We have here a group of Americans who understood their country to be a Christian nation, and believed that status to require a particular engagement with the world. They wanted America to emulate aspects of the imperialism of Great Britain, but with a deeper commitment to evangelization. The story of foreign missions, then, should help us to think about some of the ways that the questions of what the US should be, and particularly how it ought to relate to the rest of the world, was not yet set in the early republic. This was a period of contest over the meaning of empire and the role of religion in defining American identity, and foreign missions are a great window into that.

 2. Your book employs two terms, "Christian imperialism" and "hierarchy of heathenism." Can you explain these terms to RiAH readers?

“Christian imperialism” is my term for the vision that missionary supporters had of how Christian nations ought to engage with the rest of the world. According to this, Christian nations (as US missionaries considered both the US and England to be) had a duty to fulfill the Great Commission to spread the Gospel throughout the whole world through their foreign relations. For Americans in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British Empire and US commercial expansion seemed to suggest that they now had the ability to physically get to what they call the “heathen world,” and accordingly, they had the duty to do it. They saw empire as, at its best, a tool in this work of global evangelization. My book looks at what happens when that imagined conception of empire meets the reality of actual geo-political empires.

The “hierarchy of heathenism” describes the process by which missionaries figured out how to do that work. Their ultimate goal was to convert the entire world to Protestantism. But the world is a big place, and missionaries understood that they needed to be selective about where to prioritize. Over the course of the first several decades of their work, you see a process of selection repeated again and again as they gathered information about different parts of the world and tried to decide where to focus their resources. The most important thing in making that decision had to do with how “civilized” they believed a place was, and therefore how likely its people were to convert. That tended to be based on proximity to Anglo-American imperial projects. Missionaries effectively were trying to measure how likely a place was to convert to Anglo-American Protestant culture. As they debated whether to work in Asia or North America, or whether to go to Africa at all, you can see this hierarchy and the ways that it structured their thinking about the rest of the world and America’s place in it.

3. From the description of the book, and our conversations about it, it seems like you see evangelization and commercial trade as closely related (explaining how the ABCFM, for example, "exported" Protestantism. How do you see religion relating to the commercial interests typically associated with imperialism?

Yes, there are some really important connections. It’s no coincidence that when we map American missions and Anglo-American commercial and imperial projects, we see significant overlap. Trade creates the physical possibility of the American entry into foreign missions: you can’t go out and convert the world if there isn’t a boat that will take you there. So on that material level, commerce matters. But it also matters in the ways that Americans imagined the rest of the world. The entry of objects from foreign places into US markets was important for American understandings of foreign peoples, their “civilization,” and so on. Texts, too, circulated through these trade networks and sparked the missionary imagination. Trade and empire tended to be the deciding factors for which places Americans learned about, and which they didn’t. 

As important as the existence of commercial networks was for the existence of missions, this does not mean that missionaries were enthusiastic supporters of commercial imperialism. In fact, they could be quite critical, particularly when they thought that a government was more interested in commercial gain than saving souls and spreading civilization. Such critiques arose when nations did not live up to the missionaries’ Christian imperialism ideal (for example in Liberia, India, and the Cherokee Nation).

4. As a work of religion in American history, your book looks well beyond the United States and its citizens. You include American encounters in India, the Cherokee Nation, Hawaii, Liberia, and Singapore. Is this a reflection of the way you understand American history more generally (or the way you teach it)?

This is definitely a global story, and I had a lot of fun tracing the missionaries as they went all over the world. The wide geographic scope and the unlikeliness of their project at such an early date drew me in and got me asking questions about the early republic that I hadn’t been thinking about before. Who were these Americans in India, Liberia, and Singapore? What did they think they were going to accomplish in the 1810s, ‘20s, and ‘30s? The project has absolutely shaped my thinking about American history more generally and helped me to think about the ways that US domestic events were in conversation with global events. It has found its way into my teaching, particularly when I teach colonial or Revolutionary America, and US and the World.

5. Now that you've told this story, what story are you looking to tell next?

The next book project is going to look at women in transatlantic religious and benevolent reform. I’ve been fascinated by the discussions I saw for this project about missionary marriage and the role of women in American and British missions, and I’m starting to look at the ways that those conversations were part of a larger discussion about women’s position in benevolent and reform movements before 1840 in the US and Great Britain. It has been a lot of fun so far to be getting back to the archives and women’s history.

Sounding the Mass

[This month's Cushwa post is by Jennifer A. Callaghan, a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University. She visited the Notre Dame archives recently on a Research Travel Grant, a number of which are awarded annually to scholars making use of the archives' collections of Catholic Americana. This year's deadline for all Cushwa-sponsored grants is December 31; further information on the grants and application procedures may be found here.]

Jennifer A. Callaghan

I study U.S. Catholics by studying the Mass.  In one way, this is awfully narrow: Catholics are certainly much more than what they do (or don’t) on Sunday mornings.  It’s also awfully broad: the Mass is an obligation, and it emphasizes a universal requirement made by an institutional authority instead of the personal work that religion so often involves.  My archival work slips between these two awful approaches to counter the related analytical imprecisions: that surveys can calculate Catholicism by counting the number of times Catholics went to Mass, and that the institutional Church is the ultimate arbiter of Catholicism. 

I study the Mass, in part, because doing so makes the defects in those two narratives so visible.  I also study the Mass because it operates simultaneously within so many different fields. Let me give an example.

CFP: Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History

Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity:
The 30th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History

October 19-22, 2016 at Regent University in Norfolk, Virginia

Plenary Speakers:
Kate Bowler (Duke Divinity School)
Thomas S. Kidd (Baylor University)
Verónica Gutiérrez (Azusa Pacific University)

Call For Papers

The General CFH Conference chair, Beth Allison Barr, has issued a call for papers for the Fall 2016 Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History at Regent University in picturesque Virginia Beach, Virginia. The deadline for submission is March 15, 2016 for the General Conference (October 20-22) and April 15, 2016 for the Student Research Conference (October 19-20). The conference theme will be “Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity,” but papers on any topic will be considered.

In today’s political and social climate, issues of race, gender, and identity continually polarize much of public discourse and historical scholarship. As Christian historians, our challenge is to address these contentious issues in ways that responsibly deal with contemporary events, with the past, and with our faith. We seek to bring our research and our faith into engagement with our culture, an often complicated and contentious pursuit. As historians, what is our responsibility in addressing current discourses and debates over race, gender, and identity? What are the ways in which our work and our theology should shape our engagement in the present? In what ways should today’s debates over race, gender, and identity shape our research and our teaching?

Here is a non-exhaustive list of ideas you may want to consider for paper and panel sessions:

*Christian Historians’ Responsibility to the Church concerning Gender Roles
*How Christian Intellectuals Have Engaged Race and/or Gender
*Engaging Issues of Race, Gender, and/or Christian Identity in Global history
*Christian Historians’ Response to Issues of Race and/or Gender within the Academia
*How Race and/or Gender Impact Religious History
*The Role of Public Historians in Addressing the Challenges of Race, Gender, and/or Identity
*How Theology Shapes Understandings of Race and/or Gender
*Christian Historians’ Response to the Treatment of Women and/or the Challenges of Diversity in the Professional Academy
*Teaching Women’s History and its Significance as Christian Historians
*Teaching about Race as Christian Historians
*Writing Gender History
*Engaging Race and/or Gender in Survey Courses
*Christian Historians and Engagement with Political Debates on Race, Gender, and Identity

If you have ideas for sessions, individual papers, or panel discussions, please send them to Beth Allison Barr ( at Baylor University or Josh McMullen ( at Regent University.

John Kasich is Not a Laicist: A Brief Case Study in Secular Rhetoric

Charles McCrary

On Tuesday, John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio and candidate for U.S. President, proposed a new government agency designed to promote “Judeo-Christian values” around the world. Unsurprisingly, he has received considerable opposition to this proposal. One camp of critics complains that Kasich, in expanding the size of government, is not really conservative. Others, most of whom see the creation of government agencies as not such an affront to our republic, are troubled by Kasich’s apparent breach of secularism. But is governmental promotion of “Judeo-Christian values” anything new? Or is Kasich just saying the name of something that is supposed to go unnamed? Put more strongly, is Kasich violating American secularism or pulling back its curtain?

In The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (2008), Elizabeth Shakman Hurd makes a helpful distinction between two models of secularism: “laicism” and “Judeo-Christian secularism.” Laicism, or laïcité, upholds a “strict” form of separation not just between church and state, but between religion and the government. This model results in a variety of intended and unintended consequences, one being the secular state’s necessary definition of “religion” itself—and thus its interaction or intermingling with its negatively defined and co-constituted realm. As C.S. Adcock has written, “the secular state operates to define, constitute, and regulate religion; far from a contradiction in terms, the secular state invariably interferes in religion” (24). Laicist nations, such as France and Turkey, rather than taking an equal-opportunity approach to public religious display, attempt to keep things religious as far from things public as possible.

Spirits Rejoice at Notre Dame

David W. Stowe

No question that our colleague Jason Bivins brought down the house during a session devoted to his book at the fall Seminar in American Religion hosted by Notre Dame's Cushwa Center earlier this month. Cushwa clearly kicked out the jams for his appearance, going so far as to hire a local quartet to play jazz standards after the Friday night dinner. Those who have read all or part of Spirits Rejoice! know that few have the writing chops to capture the ecstatic supercharged impact of so much of the music he writes about; and Jason doesn't flag at all when it comes to spirited colloquies of a scholarly variety.

The seminar's well-worn format is to assume everyone has read the book (partly by sending out copies in advance), invite two speakers to offer commentary, give the author a chance to respond, and then open for general discussion afterwards.

The commentaries were nearly as heartfelt and expansive as the book itself. Stephen Schloesser, a Jesuit polymath from Loyola University in Chicago, played five Youtube clips of French organ improv music as a way of extending Jason's argument about the spiritual essence of jazz to Schloesser's particular love: 19th-century French organ music. The historian, whose field is modern European intellectual history, pressed questions of abstraction and time in relation to improvisation, and wondered about the historical narrative suggested by the book's material, mainly avant-garde jazz since World War II. Does Spirits Rejoice! privilege musical abstraction while undervaluing melody? It's hard to argue that it doesn't.

The second, by Notre Dame theologian and dean Hugh Page, Jr., connected Jason's book to the vernacular music Page plays locally: the blues. He focused on a particular performance last summer in South Bend of the Willie Dixon song first recorded by Muddy Waters, "Hoochie Coochie Man." Page recalled it producing a moment of sublime transport in which he felt himself clearly in the presence of the transcendant. Stressing that we badly need new paradigms for thinking about race and religion, and reflecting on his own recent classroom experience teaching Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Page wondered how to leverage the possibilities of such epiphanic moments within sometimes inhospitable institutions like the church and acadamia.

Religion on Display: Exploring Museums in the Study of Religion, Race, and Ethnicity


Sarah E. Dees

This semester I developed a new course, "Religion, Race, and Ethnicity: Exhibiting Race and Religion," which has focused on the role of historical and contemporary cultural exhibition and museum practices in promoting ideas about race, ethnicity, culture, and religion. The course grows out of my research on historical American anthropologists' examinations of Native American religions as well as my interest in contemporary collaborative museum practices. Broadly, I’m concerned with historical museum practices that sought to reinforce notions of essential human difference as well as contemporary efforts to decolonize museum spaces—as members of the communities once on display now articulate their history, culture, and identity on their own terms.

For the purposes of this course, a junior level course offered by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, my primary goal has been help students engage with these historical and contemporary issues through readings, discussion, museum visits, and related research projects on topics of their choosing. I designed the course as something of a pre-seminar, with assignments intended to allow students to develop and hone  research, discussion, and presentation skills.

I chose readings that would offer a theoretical framework for the categories we would be examining and a historical overview of exhibition practices beginning in the nineteenth century, including “human zoos,” international expositions, world’s fairs, and museums. At the beginning of the course, we discussed essays on the categories “religion,” “race,” “ethnicity,” and “culture” from a few edited volumes: Mark Taylor’s Critical Terms for Religious Studies, Philip Goff and Paul Harvey’s Themes in Religion and American Culture, and Willi Braun and Russell McCutcheon’s Guide to the Study of Religion.

Religion and Economy at the AAR

Daniel Vaca

At next weekend's annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta (Nov. 21-24), we will be convening a session entitled "Spirits of Capitalism: Exploring Religion and Economy." The panel will consider issues that this blog's contributors regularly write about, and it will feature scholars familiar to this blog's readers (including Pamela Klassen and Kathryn Lofton). But I bring the panel your attention because it is not an ordinary panel; it is an "exploratory session" for a proposed AAR program unit entitled "Religion and Economy." Both the panel and the proposed unit seek to promote interdisciplinary conversations among scholars whose work conjoins concepts of religion, economy, and economics. And there are at least two ways that I'm hoping you might help us begin this initiative.

First, we need your support. We not only would value your presence at the panel itself (Sunday, Nov. 22, 5-6.30pm) but also would be grateful for your support of our program unit proposal. The AAR requests brief letters of support from members who endorse the proposed unit's potential work. Letters should be sent directly to, by December 1.

If you already are planning on attending the AAR, and you have scanned the program, you might have noticed that a few program units have organized panels related in part to matters of economy. But this does not undermine the rationale for a new program unit; to the contrary, the modest proliferation of related panels at the past few annual meetings of the AAR both evidences interest and demonstrates the potential for more sustained conversations about the varied ways that systems of economy not only orient religious life but also take shape through fields of thought, activity, and resistance that the "religious" helps bring into view.

Second, we hope that you will consider participating, either by attending the exploratory panel or proposing submissions in response to future calls for papers. Our program unit would cultivate conversations that span religious traditions, historical time periods, and methodologies. By bringing together historians, anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, critical theorists, and textual scholars, we would aspire to identify and explore common concerns through conceptually broad but topically focused analysis. In addition to addressing questions that have proven central to the contemporary study of religion, these conversations would speak to pressing social problems.

If you have any questions about the panel or proposed program unit, please feel free to contact me ( or my co-organizer, Elayne Oliphant ( Information about next Sunday's panel follows.

Exploratory Sessions
Theme: Spirits of Capitalism: Exploring Religion and Economy
Sunday - 5:00 PM-6:30 PM
Marriott-International 6 (International Level)

An exploratory panel for a program group on "Religion and Economy," this panel will explore the relationship between religion and economy through interdisciplinary conversation. While theorists including Marx, Weber, and Durkheim all pointed to the entanglement of religion and economy at the inception of the social scientific study of religion, this panel seeks not only to revive classic questions but also to advance current trends in the study of religion. Inviting scholars of religion to address how economies and economics limit, inform, and take shape through religious activity, this panel and proposed program group will identify common sites of inquiry through comparative analyses. Bringing together scholars trained in critical theory, anthropology, and historical modes of analysis, this panel will ask how religious ethics can inform and contest inequality, how economies operate as systems of value, and how religion serves as a mode of exchange and reproduction.

Daniel Vaca, Brown University, Presiding

Pamela Klassen, University of Toronto
George Gonzalez, Monmouth University
Elayne Oliphant, New York University

Kathryn Lofton, Yale University

Book Review: Homiletics Gurus

Laura Arnold Leibman

I will admit it: I love sermons.  Not only have I devoted many scholarly hours to reading and analyzing early Native American and Jewish American homilies, I also like listening to and watching contemporary sermons in my free time.  When my children were too young to go to synagogue, I would pester my husband and Sabbath lunch guests to repeat what the rabbi said during his drash.  This love of hearing people preach might make me possibly the ideal parishioner, if it weren't for my penchant for listening too hard.  Rather than letting myself get swept away, I often find myself analyzing how the speaker is creating his or her magic.

Yet sadly, apparently not all sermons are magical. I have been reading a lot of how-to homiletics books on in preparation for my "Art of Speech" class next term, and at least from a listener's point of view, there seems to be some shockingly bad advice out there.  While I love the attention certain sermon gurus give to how to rigorously close read the Bible and chart your ideas in preparation for giving a sermon, my main response is often wow--you could create some incredibly boring sermons using this approach.  And frankly if someone who loves complex sermons in antiquated language feels that way, the average listener doesn't stand a chance (see meerkat below).  

Yet meerkats everywhere would rejoice if they read Andy Stanley and Lane Jones' Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication.  Stanley and Jones provide some of the best advice I have seen for how to write and deliver sermons that people might actually want to hear.

Religion in the PNW: A KKK Imperial Wizard in Tacoma

Seth Dowland

Yesterday I went on a bit of a historical detective hunt that spurred me to add an entry to my long-dormant Religion in the PNW section. The stories in this post came as a surprise to me.

I’m teaching an honors course called “Religion and Violence” this semester—it’s a delightful group of students, and we’ve read some excellent scholarship by Mark Juergensmeyer, Jonathan Ebel, Jennifer Graber, and Lynn Neal, among others. Yesterday I assigned the second chapter of Charles Marsh’s fabulous book God’s Long Summer. The chapter examines the theological worldview of Samuel Bowers, who founded and served as Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during the 1960s. In 1964, Bowers orchestrated the murders of Micky Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman. The White Knights dropped celebratory pamphlets from a plane over the Neshoba County fair two months later, declaring the three civil rights workers were “Communist Revolutionaries, actively working to undermine and destroy Christian Civilization.” In January 1966, Bowers again ordered a “number four” (a killing) on civil rights activist Vernon Dahmer, who died of smoke inhalation after members of Bowers’ organization firebombed his house. Bowers survived four state trials in the 1960s for the Dahmer killing, as each trial ended in a hung jury. Another Mississippi jury failed to convict him for the 1964 Neshoba County murders. But the federal government—which Bowers loathed—caught up with the Imperial Wizard in 1967. He was convicted of conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, and was incarcerated in the federal penitentiary at McNeil Island, Washington, in 1970.

As I was re-reading Marsh’s chapter this week, I perked up at this final detail: McNeil Island is visible from the west side of Tacoma, one of the few islands in the Puget Sound without scores of houses perched on cliffs. It was a federal penitentiary from the late 19th century through 1984 and served as a Washington state prison for another quarter century after that, closing as the oldest prison facility in the northwest in 2011.  I became even more intrigued when Marsh noted that Bowers completed his bachelor’s degree through a prison theology program offered by Pacific Lutheran University, where I currently teach. According to the alumni magazine, Scene, PLU began offering prison courses in theology in 1968, thanks to a connection between the prison chaplain and the Religion Department. In 1972, a new prison superintendent negotiated an agreement whereby PLU would offer five courses a semester at the prison, in a variety of disciplines. Scene boasted that Bowers’ 1975 graduating class “represented the second group in the nation to receive degrees at a prison commencement ceremony and to complete all requirements for a bachelor’s degree while behind prison walls.” Three of the four bachelors’ graduates also attended PLU’s graduation ceremony that year; I’m not sure if Bowers was one of them or if he remained in confinement. PLU Professor Emeritus Ken Christopherson, Bowers' primary instructor in prison, gave an interview to Marsh about his work with Bowers. Christopherson remembered Bowers as "very bright" and his writing as "exceptional;" Cristopherson actually copied one of Bowers' exam answers as a model for other students. By all accounts, Bowers was a well-behaved prisoner. He was released in 1976 and made plans to head back to Mississippi.

But Bowers wanted to make one stop before he left the northwest: the campus of his alma mater, PLU. To find out more, I spoke by phone yesterday with PLU Religion Professor Emeritus Paul Ingram, who taught in the prison program in the late 1970s. Paul told me that he visited McNeil Island weekly for a year, and that he enjoyed it save for the one week when a missing prisoner triggered a lockdown that lasted until 2:30 a.m. (The prisoner was eventually found in the warden’s office.) Professor Ingram also remembered Bowers, who was never his student but did make a memorable appearance at PLU. Upon his release in 1976, Professor Christopherson brought him to the faculty house to talk about what he learned from PLU’s theology program. As Paul told me this story yesterday, I was in my office, about thirty feet away from the site where an Imperial Wizard of the White Knights of the KKK once gave an informal lunchtime talk to PLU faculty. All of a sudden, Tacoma didn’t feel so far away from Mississippi.

Bowers was mostly unreformed, though there is no evidence he rejoined the Klan when he returned to Laurel, Mississippi. When Marsh interviewed him in 1994, he asked Bowers what he had learned at McNeil Island. “The only thing that happened to me at McNeil Island was that information was gained and then applied to my theological and political ideas,” he said. “I’ve been about this task for a long time.” Bowers had a mystical experience during a 1972 Easter service at the prison, but it hardly changed his racist theology. While he said the experience eliminated his “anger … [and] murderous desire for the heretic,” he maintained a belief in a need to eliminate the heretic. “I returned to my cell that afternoon,” said Bowers, “feeling certain that I could never again condemn heresy from the standpoint of rage, but from a vigorous orthodoxy, from reason, as best I can.”

Bowers’ theology, as presented to Marsh in 1994, drew heavily on readings of Martin Luther that authorized vigorous resistance to religious authority. As Marsh put it, “Bowers understood the German reformer to claim that when any outside authority calls the Christian away from Jesus, that person is authorized to take matters into his own hands.” For Bowers, the priesthood of all believers meant that true believers like him could enact priestly purification rituals—violent murders, bombings, and harassment—on anyone they deemed heretical. Bowers took what he learned in McNeil back to Mississippi, where he served as a Baptist Sunday School teacher from 1976 until 1998, when a jury finally found him guilty of ordering the murder of Vernon Dahmer. Bowers was serving a life sentence when he died in prison in 2006.

In my Religion and Violence course, we have repeatedly come across figures like Bowers, who concoct rigorous theological worldviews that authorize or even mandate violence. These worldviews often seem quite distant and even psychotic. But Bowers’ brief interlude in the Pacific Northwest, during which he became my department’s most infamous graduate, reminded both my students and me of how close the racial violence of the past is to our present. It also reminded us of the complex motivations that fuel religiously inspired violence. 

THATCamp AAR/SBL 2015 Website Update


THATCamp AAR/SBL is just next week. Now is the perfect time to propose sessions and get the conversation going. We are currently booked in A601 on the Atrium Level in the Marriott, but check the online program book, the mobile app, or the new website to make sure it hasn't moved.

Did you notice the new website address? We have had serious problems with the Wordpress site (and many of you have been emailing and tweeting your frustration with it too). Rather than bother with trying to get that server and website to work, we have created a new one just for this conference: If you have an idea for a Make, Talk, Play, or Teach session, you can do one of two things:
  1. Go to the website, register and post there.
  2. Email your session proposal to 
A note about option 2: Everything you put in the email will be posted to the website. Additionally, you will not be able to edit it, nor receive any kind of notification of comment to your proposal. Finally, there will be a delay from when you send the email and when it is posted. This method is only recommended for those who have a technical problem with registering for the website. We strongly recommend registering and posting your proposal directly. Posting instructions are on the website.

Call for Applications: Bodies of Christ: Visualizing Jesus Then and Now

Bodies of Christ: Visualizing Jesus Then and Now
Directed by: Edward J. Blum (San Diego State University),

with host: James Bratt (Calvin College) 

June 12-24, 2016

Funds provided by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship with funding by Lilly Endowment, Inc.

Seminar Description
Bodies of Christ: Visualizing Jesus Then and Now addresses a fundamental dilemma of Christianity: how to represent God's Son. This is particularly important in the twenty-first century. Issues of race, gender, and sexuality animate debates in church, state, and society. Considerations of bodies and body images dominate personal lives. And new technologies allow for the creation and distribution of images as never before. How we "see" Jesus Christ plays a vital role in how we see ourselves, our communities, our churches, our nations, and our societies.

We will begin with history. How have peoples of the past represented Jesus Christ? What has animated debates ranging from heresy discussions to the Protestant Reformation? How has American history, its triumphs and tragedies, altered the terrains of conversation? Then, we will address the present and future. How can we represent Jesus Christ to best serve the kingdom of God? How can we address displays of Jesus in popular culture and media? How can we engage our sisters and brothers to deepen their commitments to Jesus Christ through their own visualizations?

We look forward to a diverse group of historians, religious studies scholars, artists, theologians, and pastors to discuss and debate these topics.

Application Information
This seminar is designed for scholars of religious history, particularly in the United States, and individuals involved in full-time ministry, especially those working in the arts and media. The application deadline is February 15, 2016 by 11 pm EST.

Evangelical Fundamentalism and the Command-Supply Chain: A Short Historiography of the Retail Revolution

Janine Giordano Drake

A few years ago, I read an outstanding book that helped me understand how and why Walmart products were so cheap and big-box stores were impossible to competete with. Nelson Lichtenstein's The Retail Revolution articulated how Walmart cut out the "middle man" within production and distribution and extracted the maximum labor from their employees. It was easily one of the best books I ever read. Yet, I still wondered: how does Walmart really get empoyees to be willing to part with their labor so cheaply? How did it sell so many Americans on the idea that "cheap goods" are part and parcel of the good life?

Another outstanding book quickly came along to answer these questions. Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Walmart articulated how evangelicalism fostered a culture of selfless, undercompensated Christian service, particularly among women. Its upper South/ Populist roots also fostered a near-religious belief in the value of bulk-buying and in the economic waste of "middle men." Moreton showed direct connections between the supporters of Sam Walton and evangelical Populists within the rural South and Midwest. We learned that evangelicalism helped foster the rise of the supply-command chain that made Walmart successful. This book, too, weas so outstanding that it left a cliffhanger: How and when did evangelicals fall in love with cutting-out-the-middle-man? How and when did the love for bulk buying compute to a love for big business?

More books have already come along to help answer these questions. I want to briefly illustrate two of them here, and elaborate on each in coming posts. Both of these new books are not only excellent, but they build off the work of their predecessors remarkably. Considering the books currently in the pipeline which add to this conversation, I would call all this a veritable subfield in "Evangelicalism and the Retail Revolution."

The Inscrutable Spirit of Louis Sullivan

Isaiah Ellis

Today's guest post comes from Isaiah Ellis, a Ph.D. student in religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ellis's research focus on religious expressions and inflections in urban environments in the West, and he is currently exploring these interests through the anthropology of neoliberalism, urban geography, architectural history, and the phenomenology of place. In this posts, he reflects upon the religious history of famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan.
In the beginning, I say, was the architek—without form, and void, and darkness was upon it. And the Inscrutable Creative Spirit moving through the darkness said: Let there be light—and Imagination was that light. And the Great Spirit found it good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 
- Louis Sullivan, Kindergarten Chats (1902)
Louis Henry Sullivan
Louis Henry Sullivan (1856-1924) is perhaps one of the more puzzling figures in American architectural history. Between his innovative construction and ornamentation, his pioneering of the American “commercial style,” and his mentorship of Frank Lloyd Wright, his influence approaches the incalculable. Indeed, the maxim Sullivan popularized, “form follows function,” figures centrally in common portrayals of modern architecture as a “functionalist,” rationalist, and presumptively secular enterprise.

Though architectural historians have commented extensively on his turbulent personal and professional life, his writings and public speeches have defied summary as a unified and clear corpus of thought. Their flowery, poetic language and obvious religious inflections seem to belie their prominent place in such journals as Interstate Architect and Builder and The Engineering Magazine. Two interlocked and seemingly-contradictory lineages in Sullivan’s writings are driving my current work as well as my belief that Sullivan should interest religious historians: his obvious Transcendentalist influences, and his fascination with the modern American metropolis as a site for nationwide spiritual transformation.

Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority: An Interview with Zareena Grewal


Samira K. Mehta

Zareena Grewal. Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority. (New York: NYU Press, 2013)
SKM: Professor Zareena Grewal, thank you so much for agreeing to join me on the Religion in American History Blog. I so enjoyed your book and am looking forward to teaching it in the next couple of weeks. I wanted to start by asking you about your method and format. You very deftly weave history and ethnography together with vignettes from your own experience. How did you come to the decision to include your own narrative?

ZG: I have to admit the decision to write about myself was a tortured one and over the years I wrote versions of the book that did not have any elements of memoir. My hesitance and my ultimate decision to include my own story alongside the stories of the American Muslim seekers came out of grappling with the reality of the book market since September 11th and the demand for first person accounts of Muslim women who look and sound like me but who have very different political commitments than my own. If you walk into any bookstore in the US, Canada, Europe or Australia and you find the Islam section you will undoubtedly find several best-selling memoirs written by brown and black women who identify as either former Muslims or “recovering” Muslims in which their first person account confirms all the same, predictable racist tropes and Orientalist fictions: Islam is pathologically violent, misogynistic, regressive, a pre-modern relic. In other words, these authors use memoir to a particular political effect; as a victim of an abusive father or husband or cleric these authors posit they are really victims of Islam-with-a-capital-I and, therefore, experts on Islam. Since I was writing a book about religious expertise and debates about Islamic authority, I wanted to borrow the conventions from these political memoirs and turn them on their head. 

SKM: Can you give me an example of how you played with the genre of political memoir?

ZG: The book starts out in very familiar territory with an anthropologist’s arrival scene in Dearborn, Michigan, with allusions to my childhood growing up in that area and only later you find out that Dearborn is not the field site as you might have expected it to be and that my authority claims are not based on my personal experience or even the letters behind my name. My claims as a scholar are not immune to scrutiny. The conventions of memoir allow me not only to destabilize my own authority and to caution readers that I, for one, do not claim to speak for Islam or all Muslims or eve all American Muslims and to ask why we expect a book to do that. So it is also a challenge to the authority of this genre of women’s memoirs-that-are-really-manifestos and to reveal the very conservative, often war-mongering and xenophobic politics underneath the seemingly liberal call to reform Islam.    

Henry Dunster, Puritans, and Early Baptists

Jonathan Den Hartog

To complete a Puritan trifecta this fall (after this and this), I wanted to focus on a figure that I find fascinating: Henry Dunster.

Henry Dunster would seem to be a prototypical Puritan. He earned his M.A. from Cambridge University and came to Massachusetts Bay in the Great Migration, arriving in 1640. His recorded testimony of conversion, given before Thomas Shepard's Cambridge congregation, fits the typology expected for church membership. He participated in the on-going transatlantic debates in which Puritans in England and America took part.

Harvard's Dunster House remembers Dunster's service.
His greatest contribution to Massachusetts Bay was the leading role he took in helping the fledgling Harvard College succeed. Although there had been a previous master, he had mistreated the students before absconding with school funds. Dunster's arrival must have seemed a godsend (literally!) to colonial leaders. Dunster demonstrated intellectual acuity and organizational acumen which rescued the school from oblivion. He also earned a reputation for piety and for counseling his young charges--many of whom went on to be pastors themselves. The promotional piece New England's First Fruits reflects Dunster's leadership at Harvard. As part of the Massachusetts Bay elite, Dunster mingled with John Winthrop, John Eliot, and other leading ministers.

And then, something changed.

Sometime between 1651 and 1653, Dunster's opinion on infant baptism shifted. He became convicted that adult believers only should be baptized, and so he refused to bring his newborn to the baptismal font. To have such a challenge to Puritan church life come from Harvard, of all places, shook up the colony.

When Dunster's pastor failed to change his mind, Dunster was summoned to a public conference in Boston. There, he defended his position against eleven other pastors and elders who were arguing in favor of infant baptism. Dunster grounded his claims in the explicit teaching of the Scriptures and the logical positions that flowed from them. In this mode, even as he disagreed with Puritan orthodoxy, Dunster demonstrated his Puritan credentials, his desire to reform church and society through the application of scriptural authority.

5 Questions with Karine Walther

Cara Burnidge

Recently I had the opportunity to send 5 questions to Karine Walther about her new book Sacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921. Karine is an Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown Univeristy's School of Foreign Service in Qatar and fellow participant in the Religion and US Empire Seminar. She holds a PhD in history from Columbia University, a Maîtrise and Licence in Sociology from the University of Paris VIII and a BA in American Studies from the University of Texas, Austin. She is currently working on her next manuscript, entitled The American Mission: God, Oil and Modernity in the Arabian Gulf, 1889-1950, which is also under contract with UNC Press and you'll get a chance to read about below.

1. Sacred Interests draws attention to long-standing interactions between the United States and Islamic nations and territories. You focus on the history of American Islamophobia and how it has affected U.S. foreign policy. Can you explain this central idea?

Whether we like it or not, in the last few decades, many of us who work on American relations with the Middle East and other Muslim-majority areas have had to “talk back” to Samuel Huntington’s influential, yet controversial theory of a “Clash of Civilizations,” which he first published as an article in 1993.  According to Huntington, international relations in the post-Cold War world would be driven by this alleged “Clash of Civilizations” between a simplistically defined “Islamic Civilization” against an equally simplistic construction of the “West,” broadly understood as Euro-American civilization.

As a graduate student in New York City witnessing the American response to 9/11, I was particularly struck by how Huntington’s arguments rose to prominence both in public discourse, and even amongst some academics. Indeed, the Bush administration’s “Global War on Terror” borrowed heavily from such theories to explain its emerging ideological conceptualizations. And yet, having previously worked on the history of European Orientalism, I was struck by how much Huntington’s theory – and much of the public discourse that emerged after 9/11, recalled so powerfully nineteenth century Orientalist tropes about the Islamic world. 

In my first year of graduate coursework, we had also been asked to read Daniel Rodgers brilliant study, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age, which analyzes the intellectual and cultural exchanges between Europe and the United States in the period between 1870 and 1945. As a result, I put these two intellectual currents together to think about how ideas about Islam had “crossed the Atlantic,” to shape American understandings of the Islamic world. What I realized in researching this topic, however, was that although Europeans played an important role in shaping American ideas about the Islamic world, American attitudes about Islam and Muslims were also deeply shaped by its own historical contingencies and its understandings of domestic minorities.

For this reason, my work has also been deeply influenced by the “cultural turn” in American diplomatic history, which has led scholars to focus on how domestic ideas about gender, race, and to a more limited extent, religion, have shaped American foreign relations abroad.  This new focus has also pushed scholars to examine the roles played by non-official actors, including American missionaries, religious organizations, academics, and business interests in shaping American foreign relations. As a result, in addition to understanding how European Orientalism(s) shaped American ideas about Islam and Muslims, my book engages with both official and non-official actors in thinking about the impact of domestic ideas about religion and race on American  Islamophobia and American foreign relations in the long nineteenth century. 

2. You trace a history from the Greek War of Independence to the establishment of the mandate system. How has this transnational and international history shaped American perceptions of the world and of the U.S. nation?
As I argue in the book, we must reinsert the United States within the larger global history of the nineteenth-century, including the global history of empire. Moreover, in order to understand the history of American Islamophobia, we must study the exchange of transnational discourses about Islam and Muslims between Americans, Europeans, and Islamic nations and territories themselves, while also recognizing the domestic particularities that distinguished American discourses from those of European powers.

Call for Papers: African Religions in the Americas Conference

Call for Papers
African Religions in the Americas Conference
University of Chicago Divinity School
May 20th-May 22nd, 2016

Like its disciplinary ancestors, twenty-first century scholarship on African religions in the Americas continues to grapple with the relationship between its two geographical and cultural referents and the role of religion in that complex set of associations. This conference will explicitly and critically address these topics by turning its gaze to the field itself.  Thus, we seek papers in which participants use their own research to answer questions such as:
  • Does the field of “African religions in the Americas” actually exist?  If so, to what should it address itself?  By what methods, theories, themes, and concerns is it bound and how might those boundaries be in need of re-location?
  • What constitutes the “African” in African religions in the Americas?  
  • How does “Africa” figure as historical reality, religious symbol, and/or an actual or mythical homeland for African religions in the Americas?  
  • What is distinct about the religions of the African diaspora in the Americas?  Can they be studied in the same ways and to the same ends as other religions of the Americas?   
  • How has the study of African American religions in the United States complicated the field?
We welcome papers that focus on any number of methodologies, geographies, and traditions, provided that they explicitly address the issues highlighted above.  We are especially interested in papers from advanced graduate students and new scholars. Please note that all participants selected for the conference will be provided with a minimum stipend of $300.

For those interested in applying to the conference, please submit paper abstracts of 400-500 words and a CV to by December 15, 2015.   Applicants will be notified of the selection committee’s decisions by January 1st, 2016.

This conference will be held at the University of Chicago Divinity School on May 20th to May 21st, 2016. Sessions will take a workshop format in which all selected papers will be read in advance of the discussion, with a brief, informal response offered at the beginning of the session to incite conversation.  In addition, two moderated roundtable discussions about future directions of the field (for which there are no pre-arranged readings) will be held on the evenings of May 20th and 21st.  In keeping with the collaborative structure of the conference, there will be no keynote speaker.

Call for applications: Timothy Gannon Post-Doctoral Fellow in Religion And Grad Symposium


FSU: Now with even more opportunities to come hang out with me in always sunny Tallahassee. 

Timothy Gannon Post-Doctoral Fellow in Religion 

The Religion Department at Florida State University seeks candidates for a two-year post-doctoral research and teaching fellowship in American religious history with a focus on issues of race, ethnicity, and identity. Applications from candidates working in the areas of African American and Hispanic religious history are especially welcome. 

The appointed fellow will be expected to teach two courses each semester. Applicants must expect to have their doctorate in hand by August 10, 2016 and must have earned their doctorate no earlier than August 1, 2010. The fellowship comes with a small travel/research grant. For full consideration, a cover letter, curriculum vitae, statement on research, writing sample, and teaching dossier must be submitted (in one pdf file) by January 15, 2016 at (Job ID 39445). 

Three confidential letters of reference and an unofficial graduate transcript must also be submitted by that date to Candidates must be able to show valid U.S. work authorization at the time of hire. An equal opportunity employer, the Florida State University is committed to hiring and supporting faculty who can contribute to our development of a culturally diverse community through teaching, research, scholarship, and service. Florida State University is a Research I University of over 40,000 students located in Tallahassee, Florida. 

And for those still in graduate school: get your papers in for the 2016 Graduate Student Symposium by December 12, 2015. This year will feature a keynote address from Dr. Kathryn Lofton titled "The Status of Celebrity in the Study of Religion," the best receptions this side of the AAR, and a roundtable discussion featuring Chip Callahan and John Lardas Modern. 

CFP: Boston College Biennial Conference on the History of Religion, April 1-2, 2016


Boston College Biennial Conference on the History of Religion, April 1-2, 2016

Reminder: Proposals (panels or individual papers) are due in just under two weeks!

The official deadline for submission is November 15.

Race and White Supremacy in the Construction of "American Catholicism"

Matthew J. Cressler

It's October the 31st, so you all know what that means... Just twenty-one days until the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting kicks off in Atlanta! (It also means my daughters will soon be Nemo and Marlin, but that's a post for Facebook.) As you sit down and start planning out your time in Atlanta I want to call your attention to a roundtable conversation I'm especially excited about. Yes, I'm excited about it because I organized it, but I know it's something many of you will be interested in as well. I want to invite you to join me and a group of stellar scholars for a roundtable conversation on "Race and White Supremacy in the Construction of American Catholicism" at 9AM on Monday, November 23 (Marriott L-405-406).

What will we be talking about? Well, here's the short version. On the morning of Monday the 23rd, Emma AndersonShannen Dee WilliamsFelipe HinojosaKristy Nabhan-Warren, and M. Shawn Copeland will join me to think through at least two questions. What would the study of Catholicism look like if it included a sustained consideration of the ways race and white supremacy have shaped the very idea of "American Catholicism"? What consequences would such a consideration have for Catholic studies? Full disclosure: I think it would have far ranging consequences not just for the study of Catholics, but for the study of American religion writ large.
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