Watch Night



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Paul Harvey

It's Watch Night -- time for all to hear Bessie Jones's rendition of Yonder Comes Day (disk one, track 17).

Read more about it in "Singing and Shouting in Moving Star Hall" (J-STOR access required; it's from Guy and Candace Carawan, "Singing and Shouting in Moving Star Hall," Black Music Research Journal 15, Spring 1995, pp. 17-28).

Happy 2009 to all. Like Col. Potter used to say, may it be a damn sight better than the last one.

New Book: Encounters of the Spirit



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By John Fea

I am just finishing up a review of Rick Pointer's excellent monograph, Encounters of the Spirit: Native Americans and European Colonial Religion (Indiana, 2007). The review will appear at some point in Fides et Historia. Here is the book's jacket blurb:

Historians have long been aware that the encounter with Europeans affected all aspects of Native American life. But were Indians the only ones changed by these cross-cultural meetings? Might the newcomers' ways, including their religious beliefs and practices, have also been altered amid their myriad contacts with native peoples? In Encounters of the Spirit, Richard W. Pointer takes up these intriguing questions in an innovative study of the religious encounter between Indians and Euro-Americans in early America. Exploring a series of episodes across the three centuries of the colonial era and stretching from New Spain to New France and the English settlements, he finds that the flow of cultural influence was more often reciprocal than unidirectional.

Since I am reviewing the book elsewhere I will not elaborate any further except to say that I have yet to see a book that does a better job at integrating the "New Indian History" with colonial religious history. Here is a draft of the last two sentences of my forthcoming review:

It is not an exaggeration to say that Encounters in the Spirit should force us to rethink everything we know about early American religious life. After reading Pointer’s work it is hard to think about Catholics, Puritans, Anglicans, evangelicals and Quakers in colonial America without also reflecting on the Native Americans who influenced their spiritual sensibilities.


ASCH Sessions in New York City



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Paul Harvey

Hope everyone going to the AHA and ASCH in New York City has a great time. My first AHA was in New York in 1991; in those days it was held right after Christmas, which ruined my Christmas holiday for lo-those-many-years-wandering-through-the job-market wilderness, but that year I went early for a hotel deal, and spent Christmas day before the AHA ice skating in the park, visiting Ellis Island, and soaking up the history in my front row seat in a little corner slice of heaven (i.e., the Village Vanguard).

Here are three ASCH sessions of interest coming up Saturday, one about one war and religion in American history, another on Holiness/Pentecostalism and the migration of AFrican Americans, and another on politics during the 2nd Great Awakening. I'll miss the intellectual ferment; I won't miss the job market. Good luck to those on it. Make sure you read Tenured Radical, because she gives great advice on academic job interviewing at the AHA and many other things besides; check the most recent posts there. Bon chance.

America's Wars and American Religion
American Society of Church History
Saturday, January 3, 2009: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Liberty Suite 5 (Sheraton New York)

Official:Melanie McAllister, George Washington University
Chair: Kenneth P. Minkema, Yale University

King David in Colonial America: Spiritual Valor and Military Heroism in Eighteenth-Century War Sermons: James Byrd, Vanderbilt University
The Cross of War”: Religion, National Sacrifice, and a New Foreign Policy in 1898: Matthew McCullough, Vanderbilt University
St. Charles the Lost: The Great War, Civil Religion, and the Martyrdom of Major Charles Whittlesey: Jonathan Ebel, University of Illinois
The Rhetoric of Religious Violence in Early America: Andrew Murphy, Valparaiso University
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From the Delta to the City: Holiness and Pentecostal Religion in the Great Migration

American Society of Church History
Saturday, January 3, 2009: 9:30 AM-11:30 AM
Madison Suite 2 (Sheraton New York)

Official: David Daniels III, McCormick Theological Seminary
Chair: David Daniels III, McCormick Theological Seminary

Speakers:
Wallace Best, Princeton University
Anthea Butler, University of Rochester
John M. Giggie, University of Alabama at Montgomery
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RETHINKING RELIGION, POLITICS, AND THE SECOND GREAT AWAKENING
American Society of Church History
Saturday, January 3, 2009: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Madison Suite 3 (Sheraton New York)

Official: Margaret N. Abruzzo, University of Alabama
Chair: Terry Bilhartz, Sam Houston State University

Campaigning for Converts: Mormons and the 1844 Presidential Election
John G. Turner, University of South Alabama

Bridging the Divide: Presbyterians, Interdenominationalism, and Nationalism in the Early Republic
Harrison Taylor, Mississippi State University

The Church in the Wilderness: William Miller's Sectarian Ideal in the Second Great Awakening
Matt McCook, Oklahoma Christian University

You Too Can Own a Piece of Paradise



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by Matt Sutton

Good news for the atheists, agnostics, and Religion in American History Blog editors out there. According to a new Pew poll, the vast majority of Americans, American Christians, and even American Evangelicals believe that there are multiple paths to eternal salvation. Jesus may have said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” but apparently most Americans think that he didn’t really mean it. Of course the blog editors’ salvation is all premised on the fact that God is a democrat (note the little ‘d’—I don’t want a bunch of angry responses from folks who mistakenly think I am calling God a big ‘d’ Democrat. The Almighty actually votes Green Party). So, if God cedes to majority rule, we are set. I wonder if there are in fact cheeseburgers in paradise?

Fessenden on Clark, Masterless Mistresses; and More on the American Society of Church History



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Below I'm posting an upcoming review and thoughtful critique of Emily Clark's work, blogged about here before, by Tracy Fessenden. The review is in the December issue of Church History. This is the kind of quality work that you'll find in the journal, published by the American Society of Church History. You should join now, and if you want to see what's on the upcoming program at the ASCH's joint meeting with the AHA starting next week in New York, here it is.

After the review, I'm pasting in one particularly interesting ASCH session from the upcoming program, on a topic related to the book: Religions Along the Mississippi River.
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Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834. By Emily Clark. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007. xvi + 288 pp. $59.95 cloth; $22.50 paper.

Reviewed by Tracy Fessenden

In Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834, Emily Clark has given us a deeply imagined, beautifully written, and thoroughly researched account of the earliest order of Catholic sisters in what is now the United States. “Masterless” in the book’s title refers to the Ursulines’ resilient autonomy in relation to the various forms of patriarchal authority (civil, familial, administrative, ecclesiastical) they encountered in New Orleans during the first century of their founding. “Mistresses” refers, additionally, to their status as slaveholders. To her great credit, Clark never flinches from recording the full participation of the New Orleans Ursulines in the system of slavery, including their failure ever to speak against it, and their managerial care in profiting from the human property they owned, traded, and bred. Rather than facilely condemn, Clark takes the more difficult path of attempting instead to see the institution of slavery in New Orleans through the European nuns’ eyes. This is tricky terrain by any measure, and indeed the deeply felt historical sympathy that contributes such narrative richness to the book also accounts for some acutely unsettling moments in Masterless Mistresses.

General and specialist readers alike will be grateful to Clark for the vivid story she tells. The tale officially begins in 1727, with the transatlantic journey of twelve Ursuline nuns from their convent in Rouen to the port of New Orleans, where the few other women of European parentage they encountered were likely to be French émigrés of prostitutes and petty thieves. But Clark is finely aware as well of the prehistory of that founding in the conduct of their Order in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France and later New France, and of the transnational contexts of their life in New Orleans under French control until 1767, Spanish control from 1767 to 1803—which brought Cuban nuns into their ranks, in prickly co-existence with French and now French Creole sisters—and United States control shortly thereafter.

Clark has plumbed a massive archive with a keen eye for the telling detail. A gifted historian can coax notarial documents, sacramental registers and the like to speak; Clark makes them risk and reprove, surprise and cajole. In doing so Clark also pulls off a historiographical coup, putting the Ursulines at the center of a transnational American history that defers neither to the New England story nor to the “parallel colonial narratives” (1) that have come to serve as freestanding supplements to that resilient origin tale. Clark’s method instead is to “relate to one another . . . multiple colonial pasts” (1) and multiple genealogies of power—racial, spiritual, regional, economic, gendered, national, ecclesiastical, hemispheric—as these converge on the terrain of the Ursulines’ improbably sturdy foundation in New Orleans.

In Clark’s telling, Catholic New Orleans in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was a place where “white male authority and control” were weakly staged and minimally enforced (5). The Ursulines’ shrewdness in dealing with the company of the Indies who sponsored them proved formidable. Contracted to offer nursing services in the fledgling colony, the nuns largely evaded the hospital work they found distasteful and focused instead on teaching literacy and Christian doctrine to women and girls of all ranks, including new arrivals from Europe and its colonies as well as Indians and slaves—a remarkable accomplishment, and one that contributed much to the city’s growing stability and to the richness of its cultural life. The Ursulines came to wield their impressive power thanks not only to their skills as educators and business women, Clark suggests, or to the considerable charity they administered, but also to their “confounding” status as slave mistresses unconstrained by marriage (5).

As much as the Ursulines’ status as slaveholders is central, not peripheral, to the story she tells—a centrality announced in the book’s very title—Clark wants also to take the nuns’ side. She does this by adopting her subjects’ gaze as her own, as far as possible. Thus even in recounting the affront of the Ursulines’ “aggressive inclusiveness” (130) to the aristocratic Cuban nuns who arrived under Spanish rule, and whose predecessors in the cloister had not compromised their social standing by teaching or nursing, Clark reports through the eyes of the elite choir nun unaccustomed to contact with those below her in standing. She speaks, for example, of the “distasteful forms of intimacy with social inferiors” (131) to which such a nun would be subject, or the “veritable rabble of women and girls of all ranks” she might be called upon to instruct. At the same time, Clark repeatedly makes the inclusiveness of the Ursulines’ teaching ministry a kind of moral counterweight to their enjoyment of the privileges of rank, among them the holding of other humans in bondage. “It was beyond the power, and indeed the intention, of the Ursuline apostolate to delay or oppose the development of a society increasingly looked into rigid structures of race, ethnicity, and class,” she writes. “But, when they were within the convent walls, women temporarily escaped that paradigm for a community that revealed alternative possibilities for the ordering of human relations” (160).

The world of the convent was “subversive of many of the processes by which social hierarchies were maintained” (129), according to Clark, because there differences of rank and slave status were accommodated, and the “poor . . . not segregated from the middling and the wealthy” (150)—at least not always, or not overtly. The “subversive” power of such an arrangement assumes that occasions for social contact across classes and races and between slave and free were “rare in the lives of most inhabitants” of New Orleans, where women in particular could expect no more than a “fleeting encounter” with diversity (150). But for whom were such encounters truly rare? Nineteenth-century travelers’ accounts of New Orleans, for example, give rapt attention to the mingling of ranks, races, and nationalities that distinguished the city’s gathering places. Such settings were perhaps least familiar and least available to women of high social standing whose slaves and servants saw to their interests in the crowded public square, but even these women shared intimate domestic space with their servants and slaves.

Clark typically refers not to the Ursulines’ slaves but instead to their “enslaved boarders” or “enslaved servants” and more generally to “enslaved persons of Indian and African descent”; the index entry for “slaves” directs the reader to “enslaved people.” This convention is meant perhaps to affirm the humanness of those in bondage. But it also suggests a false equivalence between slaves and others with whom the Ursulines had dealings, and exaggerates the agency they could or did extend to those they held in bondage. A “boarder” might elect to board elsewhere; a “servant” retire from service. The nuns themselves, moreover, had no illusions as to the wretchedness of slavery, a point Clark makes clear in detailing the forms of their devotional practice. In describing the Ursulines’ distinctive piety Clark goes to considerable lengths to present a medieval spirituality focused on renunciation and mortification in its best lights. Pain, sacrifice, and exhaustion willingly undertaken as forms of Marian devotion, she suggests, far from signaling their subordination to patriarchal control in the Church, instead allowed the nuns to claim equal prerogatives. (“Ursulines made the simple, yet revolutionary argument that apostolic life could not be denied to women because a woman beyond human reproach had originated it” [90].) At the same time the analogy of nun to slave became a new marker of virtuosic piety, centered on the body (100). Obituary notices recorded by the Ursulines commend the extreme mortification practiced by sisters who of their own volition ate only what the Order’s slaves were given to eat (104). There’s an unseemliness in the way Clark makes the nuns’ knowledge of the depth of slavery’s deprivations a salutary part of their spirituality, insofar as they modeled their own mortifications of the flesh on the conditions they maintained for those whom they themselves enslaved. “Action was central, but the nuns continued to honor the older tradition of bodily sacrifice amplified in Louisiana by the presence of the enslaved” (104).

Or again, Clark finds much to praise in the Ursulines’ carrying out of their rule when teaching “not to put girls of rank next to the most poor and ill groomed, in order not to disgust them” (151). On the basis of this directive, which enjoined that the separation be carried out “with discretion, so the poor will not think themselves scorned, but give to both sorts equal care and equal affection, not excepting any person,” Clark discovers a thrilling “rhetoric of human equality” all the more remarkable for its appearance not in the records of an “experimental fellowship” like the Quakers, Methodists, or Baptists but instead in those of “an integral part of the largest established branch of Christianity” in the West (154). (The rule was originally given in the 1705 Règlemens des religieuses de la Congrégation de Paris and adapted by the New Orleans Ursulines to accommodate slave status to its specifications.) Whom does such a celebration of the nuns’ “discretion” in separating their students not shortchange? More concertedly (if unevenly) egalitarian Christian communities whose histories are given here as marginal? Catholics, black and white, asked to see a glaring incidence of separate-but-equal in their own history as instead a radical strike against prejudice? The poor and black students who evidently required the nuns’ gentle ruses to conceal from them the offense of their very existence?

Throughout Masterless Mistresses Clark grasps hopefully at “the potential of women not bound by duty to husband or loyalty to family to abandon the cause of exclusion that marred the polity in antebellum America” (264). To the degree that it was beyond the intention of the Ursulines to do more than benefit from the slave system, however, the alternative relational possibilities they were able to model or offer within convent walls were decidedly constrained by that system. For example, the Ursulines encouraged their slaves to marry; in service to this ideal, they banished from their community slave women who bore children out of wedlock, the latter —this point is Clark’s—the “tangible proof” of the “vices, licentiousness, and bad conduct” of their mothers. Nowhere do the nuns consider, nor does Clark raise, the possibility that the children of unmarried slave women might as likely have come by violence, or that slave marriage by itself did nothing to undermine slavery’s structural denial to its subjects of all legitimate sexual agency or consent.

In the end Clark’s claim that the Ursulines’ status as masterless slaveowning women “usurped the role of the white patriarch and dangerously disturbed the racial order of antebellum America” (263) rests tenuously on the evidence, however compelling, that even as they never acted to oppose or undermine slavery, their teaching apostolate benefited slaves and free people of color. Clark does note that during and after the Civil War their slaves and former slaves “told the nuns in the stark language of rejection that slavery on any terms was unacceptable,” and guesses that “on some level, perhaps, [the Ursulines] knew that the moral universe that dictated the enslaved should be full beneficiaries of the graces of Catholicism also ordained their liberty” (191). This is a keen insight, rendered with Clark’s characteristic narrative authority and grace. The book might more powerfully have stayed with it longer.

Instead the book shrinks from the sting of its own conclusions by casting the Ursulines, finally, as victims. After detailing over several chapters the Ursulines’ varied affronts to “normative culture of British North America that prevailed in the young republic” (1) Clark shifts focus to the Ursulines’ diminished authority vis-à-vis that normative culture once New Orleans became a part of the United States. The book’s coda links the burning of the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1834, one of the “most spectacular acts of mass violence against a group of women in American history” (258) to a decidedly less incendiary episode of administrative one-upsmanship whose result was to remove a group of orphans from the New Orleans Ursulines’ care in the same year. The move was orchestrated by the city’s rising Protestant elite, but even white Catholic men in New Orleans supported the children’s transfer from the Ursuline convent to the establishment of a Protestant philanthropist, Clark suggests, as a means of assuming the prerogatives of white masculinity denied to them by a church numerically dominated by women, white and black. The New Orleans Ursulines, Clark concludes, “openly flaunted the choreography of gender meant to preserve the power and authority of white men. That was a mortal sin in antebellum America, and the nuns' coreligionists endured a penance for it in the magnification of anti-Catholicism it produced” (264).

The orphan episode is meant to shore up Clark’s point that after the city’s passage into the United States in 1803 the Ursulines were perceived as increasingly hostile to the interests of power in a gradually “Americanizing” New Orleans because they vexed the racial and gender arrangements that had safeguarded the authority of white men in the Protestant republic. One might object that—thanks in part to the Ursulines—the Americanization of New Orleans was always uneven and incomplete, that the city has ever resisted the impress of Protestant reform, and that Anglo-Protestant arrivals (including those who gladly sent their daughters to the convent to be educated) entered into its mix without radically transforming it. Or that, to the degree that their flouting of Protestant gender norms indeed played a role in antebellum anti-Catholicism, men in Catholic religious orders were as troubling to Protestants as women in this regard. (“Were they allied to us by family and ties of blood, like the ministry of all other denominations,” Lyman Beecher warned of Catholic priests in his vitriolic Plea for the West, “there would be less to be feared.”) Or that Clark’s herding of “white male authority” under a single rubric contrasts markedly with her attention throughout to the variety of women to whom the Ursulines opened their doors, and to the import of their differences in nationality, age, social standing, race, and slave status.

But even granting Clark’s point that there was “no comfortable place for the Ursulines” in a de facto Protestant republic (223), one is struck by her failure to wonder why, in their confrontation with radical change, the Ursulines found Protestantism all but fatal when they had earlier found slavery such a boon. “Please do not be scandalized,” a young Ursuline novice wrote of the Order’s practice of slaveholding in a letter to her father in France, where slavery was unknown. “It is the custom of the country” (161). Why was their adaptation to the “custom of the country,” slavery, so very easy, to republicanism so apparently fraught?

Clark has edited and translated a selection of letters and other sources and published them separately as Voices from an Early American Convent: Marie Madeleine Hachard and the New Orleans Ursulines, 1727–1760 (Louisiana State University Press, 2007). Together the two books make a vital, original, and lingeringly discomfiting contribution to transnational United States history.

Tracy Fessenden
Arizona State University
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Related ASCH Session:

January 2, 1 - 3 p.m., Madison Suite 3, Sheraton New York Hotel, New York City.


Roundtable on Religions along the Mississippi River: Region and Space in American Religious History

Jon Sensbach, University of Florida, Chair

Mapping the Gods and Monsters of the River: Sovereignty, Cosmology, and Contact along the Mississippi, 1680-1743
Sue Ann Marasco, Vanderbilt University

River Crossings: Cultural Currents and Religious Geographies on the Middle Mississippi, 1673-1763
Tracy Leavelle, Creighton University

Re-centering American Religion through the Louisiana Purchase
Richard Callahan, University of Missouri-Columbia

Robert Baird, John Gilmary Shea, and the Mapping of the Church History of the Mississippi Valley
Michael Pasquier, Louisiana State University

The River Pilgrims: Fluidity, Stability, and Religious Practice alongside the Waters of the Mississippi Valley
Arthur Remillard, St. Francis University

Jon Sensbach, Comment

Warren-ology



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Editor's Note: Our contributing editor Gerardo Marti returns with his reflections on Rick Warren and his presence in American public religious life.

Warren-ology – Filling in the gaps on Rick Warren and his church
by Gerardo Marti

With Pastor Rick Warren’s inaugural prayer and the debate surrounding President Obama’s invitation for him to give it, I am reminded of how little people really known about Rick Warren or his Southern California church. Warren’s abrupt appearance on the political stage have various commentators sweeping this successful church leader into rants reflecting old culture-politics against the Religious Right mingled with a smattering of stereotypes about “megachurches.”

First and foremost—and despite popular opinion— domestic politics are not the major emphasis of Rick Warren and his pastoral team. With all the attention he is receiving in the past few months, this may seem surprising. But for the most part politics are kept off the main agenda.

To give a bit of background, here’s my quick attempt to fill in a few gaps.

In the 1980s, the suburbs of Orange County expanded southward as developers sought more profit and families sought cheaper (and bigger) housing. Residents moving to “South Orange County” were not long-entrenched, well-traditional, multi-generational dynasties. These were highly mobile folk who moved from the Midwest or other parts of the southland. They were attracted to (or maybe just used to) the American dream of independent housing complete with a fenced-in lawn and two-car garage with grocery stores, shopping malls, and multi-plex theaters within easy driving distance. New schools promised better education, new streets promised better traffic, and new churches promised better religion.

The young Rick Warren built a ministry focused on the private lives of these parishioners. At the same time that most evangelicals were aggressively drawn into the Religious Right with the expectation that church leaders aggressively mobilize their churches to the straight ticket of “Voter Guides,” Saddleback for the most part kept plowing away at preaching, counseling, child care, recovery ministries, and small groups. That helped the church retain it’s “easy access” profile, but it also alienated the church from other conservatives in the region who believed the church lacked “depth.” It was only much later that Warren began to speak publicly about certain political stances, expanding the ministry into new (and more delicate) arenas. Saddleback’s extensive work in Africa was the boldest move. Domestic politics, even today, are still not the main agenda. And Warren is still considered by more fundamentalist-leaning Conservative Christians to be too light on doctrine and undemanding on personal discipleship.

Rick Warren is Southern Baptist, one that puts the saving and ministering of souls above mere “tradition.” He began his Saddleback Community Church going door-to-door asking local residents about what they like and hate about church. Based on his personal “survey,” Warren initiated his ministry at a time when the economics and demographics of Southern California most favored an easy-to-access church. The notion of an “easy-access church” (just my phrase, Warren and others use “seeker sensitive”) is to remove any obstacles that might keep people from committing to a church.

In a region that had no historical roots, creating an “effective” church meant setting aside Bible-church ministry dogma and creating a congregational culture that actively welcomed strangers. Appreciating the distinctiveness of these South Orange County migrants, Saddleback cultivated its ministry style in part from the phenomenal successes of nearby entertainment industries. The local movie theaters regularly bring strangers into community (as the Los Angeles region still has one of the highest movie-going populations in the world). And the conglomeration of nearby amusement parks (Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, and a host of subsidiary tourist attractions) draws thousands of daily. Disneyland is king of all these industries, setting the standard for capturing attention, crowd control, and keeping attractions continually fresh. The saturated experience of Disney affected many businesses in Los Angeles and eventually the rest of the world. Innovative ministries like Saddleback integrated these paradigms and technologies earlier than most.

So, his church accommodated intentionally for turnstyle attendance, and it worked. Saddleback Community Church mixed a church-planter’s ambition to build a dynamic church for the “unchurched” with an ability to transform streams of visitors into a cohesive congregational community. Designing their parking, greeting, seating, and responding to attenders with this mindset allowed for lots of people who did not know each other to fit together comfortably—comfortably enough for a spiritual message that would legitimately challenge their family, finance, and faith life. Amidst the rapid rise of attendance, the earliest members were not only loyal but also committed to further growth of the church.

Like many notable preachers in Los Angeles and nationwide, Warren crafted a persona for mass consumption not as a sham but as a response to the contingencies of the region. Saddleback has attracted over 10,000 attenders for well over a decade. Gifted pastoral assistants and talented church staff are both attracted and recruited to the expanding congregation with one of the most dynamic and interesting set of ministry programs in the country. Rick Warren and his team hosted successful church growth conferences for thousands of church leaders years before he set it down in a bestselling book titled The Purpose Driven Church. And the great success of that book is what eventually led Warren to personalize his message to individuals on a broad scale, the book that became The Purpose Driven Life.

In the wake of his success, Warren has proved to be an affable spokesperson to voicing a mainstream evangelical view of God and society. And while it is impossible to ignore the political views of this conservative evangelical—an innovative and quite open conservative evangelical—the crafting of a church for the broadest audiences from the ground up should give us pause regarding the resonance many feel to his approach to the church management and his articulation of the Christian faith.

Five Dancing Deans, and Merry Happy to Our Anonymous Fans



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Paul Harvey

Merry Christmas ya'll -- yes, even to you, "anonymous # 1" and "anonymous # 2." Just a little hint for you -- if you use the same IP address, it kind of makes you look like the same person, so go to an internet cafe or a library or something when you want to give voice to your multiple personalities. That way, too, you can be more successful in harassing some other harmless blogger. Flame on.

For a little great and good Christmas cheer through this season of imminent financial catastrophe for a lot of universities, check out Tenured Radical's instant classic, "The Twelve Days of Christmas, University Cutbacks Version."

On the fifth day of Christmas, my provost gave to me:
Five dancing deans!
Four online courses, three insurance hikes, two cancelled searches
And a memo that was budgetary.

Betrayal of Faith



1 comments
Paul Harvey

Holiday time always seems to be "catch up with my reading" time, a task never completed but always enticing. Lately I've been reading some books on earlier periods of American religious history, including Understanding Jonathan Edwards, as blogged out before. More recently, I've finally had the chance to take up Emma Anderson's Betrayal of Faith: The Tragic Journey of a Native Colonial Convert, winner recently of the AAR Best First Book in the History of Religions award. The book is reminiscent in many ways of Allan Greer's unforgettable work Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits, published a few years ago. Both works are exquisitely sensitive and nuanced portrayals of the French missionary Catholic encounter with natives -- Innu in the first case, Mohawk in the second -- in the early to mid-17th century. Neither invokes a history either of romanticism or of demonization, and each shows how much the Recollets, the Jesuits, and the natives were all undergoing religious transformations in their own worlds that played into their encounter in ways both creative as well as tragic. Both involve young converts, taken from their own world religiously but unable ultimately to live in either world, the French or the native. This was certainly the case with Pierre-Antoine Pastedechouan, the young Innu convert taken to France and later closely observed by the most famous of Jesuit chroniclers, Paul Le Jeune. The Innu, in all likelihood, consented to Pastedechouan's travels in their quest to learn as much as they could, economically and diplomatically, about this European people who served as an ally in their struggles against the Mohawk; the French missionaries, of course, saw the young man as a son of the forest whose personage would be instrumental in their fundraising efforts to extend their missions abroad.

I'm very pleased that the author of this beautiful work, Emma Anderson, will be guest posting for us sometime in the near future. In the meantime, here's a description of the work, and for further reading here's a very provocative interview with the author. Assessing the role of Paul Le Jeune, she says, "Paul Le Jeune is a complex figure whose teenage conversion to Catholicism during the French wars of religion represented the strongest possible repudiation of his Protestant family. Like Pastedechouan, the young Native American who is at the center of my book, Le Jeune had thus experienced dramatic religious transformation which redefined his identity and his relationship to his family and community. I believe that the intensity of the two men’s relationship during the last four years of Pastedechouan’s life was rooted in their shared experience of dramatic conversion. Just as Pastedechouan’s life was arguably transformed by his relationship with the older and irascible Jesuit, so Le Jeune’s experiences in New France were fatefully shaped by his relationship with the younger Pastedechouan, whom he wished both to exploit for his linguistic abilities and whom he longed to bring back into the Catholic fold.
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The Betrayal of Faith
The Tragic Journey of a Colonial Native Convert
Emma Anderson

2008 Best First Book in the History of Religions Award, American Academy of Religion

Emma Anderson uses one man's compelling story to explore the collision of Christianity with traditional Native religion in colonial North America.

Pierre-Anthoine Pastedechouan was born into a nomadic indigenous community of Innu living along the St. Lawrence River in present-day Quebec. At age eleven, he was sent to France by Catholic missionaries to be educated for five years, and then brought back to help Christianize his people.

Pastedechouan's youthful encounter with French Catholicism engendered in him a fatal religious ambivalence. Robbed of both his traditional religious identity and critical survival skills, he had difficulty winning the acceptance of his community upon his return. At the same time, his attempts to prove himself to his people led the Jesuits to regard him with increasing suspicion. Suspended between two worlds, Pastedechouan ultimately became estranged--with tragic results--from both his native community and his missionary mentors.

An engaging narrative of cultural negotiation and religious coercion, Betrayal of Faith documents the multiple betrayals of identity and culture caused by one young man's experiences with an inflexible French Catholicism. Pastedechouan's story illuminates key struggles to retain and impose religious identity on both sides of the seventeenth-century Atlantic, even as it has a startling relevance to the contemporary encounter between native and non-native peoples.

Best of Times, Worst of Times



1 comments
Darren Grem

What happens to religion when the economy goes belly-up? Apparently, it results in a boom for evangelical churches:

“It’s a wonderful time, a great evangelistic opportunity for us,” said the Rev. A. R. Bernard, founder and senior pastor of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York’s largest evangelical congregation, where regulars are arriving earlier to get a seat. “When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors.”

This excerpt comes from a recent NYT article, and, it stands alongside this one and this one and this one to make a general, albeit anecdotal, answer to the question. Some quick googling reveals some more perspectives, like this one and this one and this one and, of course, our homespun ones here and here.

The economic fallout has also already affected holiday sales, seriously undercutting our "consumer rites" and spurring the first few rounds of gesturing about the "true" meaning of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. The commodification of Festivus, it seems, is going smoothly despite the economic downturn. Festivus Pole sales are pushing 4,500 since 2004.

So, what does it all mean? Which groups or individuals will benefit most from the economic crisis? Which will take a hit? Economic panics have been instrumental in shaping American religious life before, but what about this one?

Maybe those questions are too speculative. But hey, speculation got us into this problem. Maybe it ain't all bad.

Matthew Sutton on Mountain Meadows



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by John G. Turner

The December 30 Christian Century has Matt Sutton's review of Massacre at Mountain Meadows, which almost certainly was the 2008 bestseller in Mormon history until the appearance of the first volume of the Joseph Smith Papers. Sutton allows that Massacre provides a good narrative of the events leading up to September 11, 1857, and makes a compelling case that [Brigham] Young did not order the massacre." He laments, however, the decision of the authors (Ronald Walker, Richard Turley, and Glen Leonard) to concentrate solely on the events leading up to the massacre and the massacre itself, saving the "aftermath" for a second book:

They deal solely with the crime, ignoring what they call the punishment, which was in fact a horrifying lack of justice in Young's Mormon-dominated Utah and gravely inadequate efforts by the church in most of the decades since to deal forthrightly with the controversy.

Sutton attributes this decision to the authors' position as believing Mormon historians:

They are certainly good historians, but they are also faithful Mormons. They probably could not find any way to tell the rest of the story without sacrificing one of these two commitments—either they would compromise historical integrity or they would anger their church.

This is a huge and complex topic, and I hope some of our readers will share their thoughts and expertise. My hesitant opinions on the massacre can be found here. My response to Matt's concern in a nutshell: If the authors made a compelling case about the culpability for the massacre, why presume they could not write an equally compelling account of its aftermath?

Readers looking for a detailed discussion of Walker, Turley, and Leonard's book should investigate this post at By Common Consent. Those interested in the dynamics of faith in Mormon History may enjoy this recent discussion at Juvenile Instructor.

Alan Wolfe on What Rick Warren's Acceptance of Obama's Invitation Really Means



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Crossposted, with a few minor edits, from The Way of Improvement Leads Home

By John Fea

Alan Wolfe is optimistic about a future progressive turn among American evangelicals.

Writing in today's New Republic, Wolfe sees Rick Warren's acceptance of Obama's invitation to pray at the inauguration as a sign that evangelicals are moving out of their own secluded subculture and into the mainstream of American (political?) culture. Despite what many liberals and members of the LGBT community seem to think, Wolfe argues that Warren's willingness to accept Obama's invitation is more important than Obama offering it. Warren's acceptance of Obama's invitation, according to Wolfe, will (and has already) resulted in backlash from the more conservative wing of American evangelicalism. Wolfe's hope is that "Obama's election will lead the more extreme right-wing Christians to purge their ranks of people such as (Richard) Cizek (sic)--and Warren. Maybe we should encourage them to do so, for this will weaken them politically by drawing them even further from the center."

I am struck by four things about Wolfe's short piece.

First, Wolfe understands, unlike much of the recent press coverage, that Warren, despite his opposition to gay marriage and support of California's Proposition 8, is indeed a different kind of evangelical than those who associate with the Religious Right. Warren represents evangelicals concerned with cultural and political engagement in a way strikingly different from folks like Dobson, Falwell, and Robertson. He represents evangelicals concerned with the poor, global suffering, health care, and climate control. Warren does see eye-to-eye with the Religious Right on gay marriage, as most evangelicals do, but he stands more for the future of the movement than its past. This may seem like splitting hairs, but the difference is important. It goes a long way toward explaining why Warren accepted Obama's invitation.

Second, I think Wolfe, who seems somewhat giddy about the way that Warren's acceptance of Obama's offer to pray has divided evangelicals, is overly optimistic about evangelicals changing their minds about gay marriage and other social issues. Wolfe has studied evangelicals, but I am not sure he really knows them. The Christian college where I teach (a place where Wolfe will be visiting in the spring) has recently been addressing the question of Christian homosexuals. In fact, there have been some members of the student body who have been open about their homosexuality and have been interviewed for a feature story in the college newspaper. But despite these isolated cases, most college students I encounter at my particular Christian college (a Christian college often accused by conservative evangelicals of being too "liberal") still uphold traditional views of marriage and would be opposed to thinking about this social institution any other way.

Third, I DO think that Wolfe's accomodation thesis has some merits. Evangelicals, remember, are Protestants. And ever since the Reformation Protestants have felt free to change their interpretation of the Bible on a whim. Evangelicals have made this an art form. Wolfe, in other words, has evangelical history on his side. The story of American evangelicalism has always, as historians such as Nathan Hatch and Mark Noll have suggested, been one of cultural accomodation. (I make a similar argument, drawing from Noll and others, in The Way of Improvement Leads Home). I just think, as I argued in the previous paragraph, accomodation on gay marriage is going to take a lot longer than Wolfe projects.

Fourth, Wolfe writes as if Rick Warren, as an evangelical pastor, is breaking new ground by accepting Obama's invitation to pray. "Warren's decision to accept an invitation from a liberal president," Wolfe notes, "is as clear a symbol of the entry of evangelicals into mainstream culture as one can imagine." If this is the case, then what does Wolfe make of Billy Graham's decision to pray at both of Bill Clinton's inauguration ceremonies? (Graham was also a part of Lyndon Johnson's inaugural festivities). Clinton may not have been as "liberal" as Obama, but he was certainly pro-choice, pro-gay, and, if I remember correctly, drew intense heat for it from the evangelical community.

Honor and Evangelicalism, Now and Then



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Randall Stephens

Welcome to our guest blogger, Robert Elder. Robert is a Ph.D. candidate in the history department at Emory University. His dissertation, titled “Sacred Honor and the Southern Saints: Honor, Evangelicalism, and the Self in Sou
th Carolina and Georgia, 1800-1860,” reevaluates how the South’s honor culture influenced the rise of evangelicalism and places this reevaluation in the context of changing conceptions of selfhood in the nineteenth-century world. Below he offers some insights on how history comes alive in the present.

“Honor and Evangelicalism, Now and Then”
By Robert Elder

It’s unusual for me, working as I do in the field of nineteenth-century history, to see a headline that evokes the feeling I get in the archives when my eye lights on a key word or phrase, but yesterday it happened. On December 15, 2008, a local news channel in Jacksonville Florida ran the odd story of divorcee Rebecca Hancock and the trouble she was having with her church. Titled “Woman Says Church Threatening To Make Sins Public,” the story relates that Grace Community Church recently sent Hancock a letter informing her that on January 4 of next year they will announce her sexual relationship with her boyfriend to the congregation, despite the fact that she is no longer a member there (she left because of “harassment” over the issue). “I’m basically run out,” Hancock says, “I’m the church harlot.”

There are a couple odd things going on here. First, a church is taking it upon itself to make one of its recent member’s sins public, and second, Hancock decided to one-up them and go to the local news channel, disarming her church but assuring that millions of people will read about her situation after Matt Drudge picked up the story yesterday. I was surprised to see this story in the twenty-first century, but I’ve seen it before countless times in the nineteenth, doing research on evangelical churches in the American South.

Honor and shame are underused terms these days, but I’m convinced they are useful in trying to understand this story, as well as in trying to understand how evangelical churches operated as communities in the past (and, perhaps, the present), and how a combination of time, place, and a particular view and use of the Bible occasionally gives new life to these aged values in southern communities.

A whole body of biblical scholarship has revealed the influence on the biblical text of a culture in which honor and shame were touchstone values. Matthew 18:15-17 instructs believers to confront a wrongdoer privately first, and then to make it an increasingly public affair until finally, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.” This, of course, is exactly the passage that Hancock’s church cites to justify its actions. It is a passage written in a culture that valued personal honor and feared shame. The crucial point, what made the difference between repentance and apostasy, had to do with which community an individual viewed as legitimate. In fact, David deSilva has argued that one of the main tasks of the book of Hebrews is to get believers to reject the judgment of one community, which would try to use shame to bring converts back into line with societal norms, and to look instead to the church as the true community and alternate court of opinion.

Fast-forward two thousand years. Historians of the American South, especially Bertram Wyatt-Brown, have long argued that honor and shame remained powerful well into the nineteenth century, long after their influence faded in the North and elsewhere in the world (except, interestingly, in Islamic cultures). Thus, as evangelical religion, with its emphasis on the scripture, spread across the South in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Southerners may have been more suited to some aspects of evangelical Biblicism than we thought. Especially, it could be argued, they may have been suited to methods of community maintenance such as the one outlined in Matthew, formulated to take advantage of a cultural sensitivity to shame.

Countless times in the records of southern evangelical congregations from two centuries ago I see sins being announced “in the public manner,” before the congregation, and it could be argued that the dynamics of discipline in southern evangelical churches were as rigorous and potentially explosive as they were because of a cultural sensitivity to honor and shame. Indeed, Hancock’s church is following a lengthy historical and biblical precedent in its effort to reclaim a wayward member by threatening to announce her sin before her family and friends. The church’s view of the Bible led them to apply a method of community maintenance fashioned two millennia ago in an entirely different culture. But, judging from comments of Grace Community Church leaders, it still has some vitality.

And that might be the end of it… Except that Rebecca Hancock one-upped her church. By turning to the local television station, Hancock made it clear that she rejected her church’s legitimacy and appealed instead to a wider community that she rightly judged would see her church’s actions as strange, even cruel. She, in effect, attempted to shame them. In doing so, Hancock also revealed the continuing interplay of the same forces that formed the biblical text, influenced evangelicalism in the American South two centuries ago, and will, perhaps, lead to a very uncomfortable morning at Grace Community Church on January 4.

'Tis the Season...of New Books



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by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Thumbing through a University of California Press catalog I received in the mail yesterday, I noticed some new books relevant to recent posts here at Religion in American History. So, since this is the season of giving, here they are.

Posts on religion and globalization have appeared more frequently this year, so I'm looking forward to seeing Thomas J. Csordas's collection of edited essays titled Transnational Transcendence: Essays on Religion and Globalization, due out in March. Globalization, as the essays argue, is much more than economics. Here's a description of the book:

This innovative collection examines the transnational movements, effects, and transformations of religion in the contemporary world, offering a fresh perspective on the interrelation between globalization and religion. Transnational Transcendence challenges some widely accepted ideas about this relationship—in particular, that globalization can be understood solely as an economic phenomenon and that its religious manifestations are secondary. The book points out that religion's role remains understudied and undertheorized as an element in debates about globalization, and it raises questions about how and why certain forms of religious practice and intersubjectivity succeed as they cross national and cultural boundaries. Framed by Thomas J. Csordas's introduction, this timely volume both urges further development of a theory of religion and globalization and constitutes an important step toward that theory.

Another book that caught my eye was Eileen Luhr's Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture. It appears Luhr's analysis includes an investigation of the evangelical rock music of the 1980s, so this may provide an answer to Randall Stephens' recent query. Plus, I've always wanted to read more about the ultimate 1980s Christian hair band, Stryper. Here's more:

Witnessing Suburbia is a lively cultural analysis of the conservative shift in national politics that transformed the United States during the Reagan-Bush era. Eileen Luhr focuses on two fundamental aspects of this shift: the suburbanization of evangelicalism and the rise of Christian popular culture, especially popular music. Taking us from the Jesus Freaks of the late 1960s to Christian heavy metal music to Christian rock festivals and beyond, she shows how evangelicals succeeded in "witnessing" to America's suburbs in a consumer idiom. Luhr argues that the emergence of a politicized evangelical youth culture in fact ranks as one of the major achievements of "third wave" conservatism in the late twentieth century.

In other book notes, with Kathryn Lofton's review and John Turner's recent post, the field of Du Bois and religion seems to be "in Blum." Paul Harvey mentioned this a while back, and like him I'm looking forward to The Souls of W.E.B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections, due out in January with Mercer University Press. Ed Blum and Jason Young edit what I think will be a stellar collection of essays.

Also, literary scholar and college administrator Brian Johnson recently published W.E.B. Du Bois: Toward Agnosticism, 1868-1934 with Rowman & Littlefield. I've enjoyed reading about Du Bois the agnostic in light of understanding Du Bois as an American prophet. Interested readers may also want to take a look at Johnson's previous book, Du Bois on Reform.

The Tricky Business of Drawing a New Morality Map



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Art Remillard

President-elect Obama’s decision to have Pastor Rick Warren deliver the inaugural invocation has drawn criticism from gay rights groups, who object to Warren’s support of California’s gay marriage ban. I’m not surprised that the Saddleback pastor opposes gay marriage. But his recent comments on the social gospel did catch me off guard. In an interview with Beliefnet (where—not to add fuel to the fire—he said that divorce is a greater threat to the American family than gay marriage), Warren remarked…

Historically evangelicals and mainline Protestants were all in one group. Along about the beginning of the 20th century there were some protestant theologians who started using the term “social gospel.” What they meant by that was you don’t really need to care about Jesus’ personal salvation any more. You don’t really have to care about redemption, the cross, repentance. All we need to do is redeem the social structures of society and if we make those social structures better then the world will be a better place. Really . . . in many ways it was just Marxism in Christian clothing. It was in vogue at that time. If we redeem society, then man would automatically get better. It didn’t deal with the heart. So they said we don’t need this personal religion stuff.

I wasn’t the only one surprised by Warren’s dismissive tone. Coming to the defense of the social gospel was none other than Paul Raushenbush, the great-grandson of Walter Rauschenbush.

There Rick Warren goes again proving that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. . . . Warren apparently read an essay on the evils of the social gospel when he was young and has been mislead and misleading people about it ever since. My guess is that his shrill denunciations come out of a fear that his new found interest in social issues might cause some in the evangelical world to brand him as a social gospler. He has cause to worry. There is deep suspicion of this kind of activity (by that I mean helping the poor and working with AIDS) among evangelicals and Warren has to be careful to shore up his Jesus credentials lest he be tarnished by those who questions his Christian commitments.

Rauchenbush probably didn't give Warren enough credit. Warren did say that both modernists and fundamentalists have something to bring to the table. “I think you need them both,” Warren maintained. “I think it’s very clear that Jesus cared about both the body and soul.”

Nevertheless, the exchange shows that the effort to redraw the evangelical morality map by Warren and others is a tricky affair. The new map expands into the land of poverty and global warming, a space occupied largely by the inheritors of the social gospel. But the old map puts solid boundaries around abortion and gay marriage, and some folks don’t want to add new territory. Moreover, displacing the values of old risks expulsion from evangelical country. Not convinced? Consider the recent controversies surrounding Richard Cizik, a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals. Dobson, et al. have been weary of Cizik for some time, critical of his advocacy of “creation care” (see Cizik’s interview with Bill Moyers [strike one]). Still, attempts to ouster Cizik have been unsuccessful. Then, in early December, a door opened during an interview on NPR (strike two). Responding to a question about gay marriage, Cizik confessed, “I'm shifting, I have to admit. In other words, I would willingly say I believe in civil unions. I don't officially support redefining marriage from its traditional definition, I don't think” (strike three, four, five….). Cizik resigned shortly after, a sign that the old morality map is still a standard in the evangelical atlas.

Roger Williams Conference on Religion and the State



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Roger Williams Conference on Religion and the State

Roger Williams University is named after the founder of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the first established with guarantees of separation of church and state.

We seek papers for oursecond biennial conference on religion and the state, to be held at the university April 24-26, 2009. Our theme this year is "Religion and the State in Islam and the West," a theme intended to include points of contact, cooperation, and conflict between Western and Islamic cultures as well as scholarship that addresses religion/state matters in either of these cultural areas individually. Researchers are invited to submit from any academic field, especially, though not exclusively, from history, political science, literature and religious studies. Paper proposals can cover all time periods, ancient through contemporary, and can reflect all geographic areas.

Please send a 250 word proposal and a one page CV to:

Joshua Stein, Department of History, Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI 02809o, by January 5, 2009.

Conference website:http://departments.rwu.edu/history/religionstate.html
Responses will be mailed out by January 26, 2009.

Friends Historical Collection Fellowship Opportunity



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Research Fellowship in Southern Quaker Studies

The Seth and Mary Edith Hinshaw Fellowship provides up to $2,000 for research using the resources of the Friends Historical Collection at Guilford College to study an aspect of southern Quaker history. The fellowship is sponsored by the North Carolina Friends Historical Society to encourage research and use of the Friends Historical Collection. The recipient will be asked to present his/her research and findings at the Society’s annual meeting.

The Friends Historical Collection, located in Hege Library, is the center for the study of Quaker history in the Southeast, with particular emphasis on North Carolina. The collection is open to Guilford students and faculty, Friends, visiting scholars, and genealogical researchers. The collection includes the written records of Carolina Friends from 1680 to the present, printed and microfilmed copies of other Friends records, personal and family papers, the college archives, printed materials by and about Friends worldwide, and sources for the study of Quaker family history.

The Fellowship

We invite applications from a range of backgrounds: dissertation, post-doctoral, and non-academic. We anticipate that the most competitive applications will involve innovative projects of the many concerns to which Friends have turned their attention, including literature, women's issues, family history, and race relations, as well as religious doctrine and controversies. Applications will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

• demonstrated understanding of the applicability of our particular holdings to the anticipated project.
• probability that the project will result in a product that will advance the worlds' understanding of the multiple dimensions of religion.
• evidence of the applicant's prior familiarity with and effective use of similar collections. How to Apply

DEADLINE: February 15, 2009

Applicants should send the following materials to Gwen Erickson, Friends Historical Collection, Guilford College, 5800 West Friendly Avenue, Greensboro, NC 27410:

• a three-to-five page statement of research goals, including what progress has been made to date; a statement of how this project will further greater understanding and/or scholarship by placing Southern Quaker history in the context of your subject area, an assessment of how Guilford's materials can further its progress, and an estimate of when the project is expected to be completed.

• a current vita or resume

• if applicant's background does not include published work, include a writing sample

• the names and addresses of three references who are familiar with both the field in which the applicant proposes to work, and with the applicant's work. Please inform your references that they could be contacted.

• permanent and any temporary addresses (e-mail and postal) and phone numbers

Gwen Gosney Erickson Friends Historical Collection Guilford College 5800 West Friendly Avenue Greensboro, NC 27410

Visit the website at http://www.guilford.edu/about_guilford/services_and_administration/library/fhc/NCFHS.html

Lofton on Blum's W. E. B. DuBois



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Paul Harvey

That omnivorous reader Kathryn Lofton reviews Ed Blum's W. E. B. DuBois: American Prophet, in Books and Culture's "book of the week" series. As with her previous review of Tracy Fessenden's Culture and Redemption, we have here a meeting of the minds between compelling book and extraordinarily interesting reviewer, so be sure to check it out. A little excerpt:

Yet perhaps Blum's most important contribution is not a religious remapping for Du Bois but rather an academic reimagining of religious biography. A myopic modernism has informed a generation of Du Bois biographers. Blum's accomplishment is to lasso a widely scattered body of evidence showing that when it comes to religion, biographers of Du Bois (and, we fear, others) are routinely tone-deaf to subjects sacred. May Blum's biography stand as the necessary rejoinder, inspiring future writers to find ways between the drily agnostic and the inevitably sacrosanct Du Bois.

Newsweek and the Problem of Hermeneutics



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by Matt Sutton

For those of you who have missed the controversy, Newsweek’s Lisa Miller wrote a cover story on the religious case for gay marriage. To make her point, she essentially tried to debunk the more conservative interpretations of Pauline texts such as Romans 1 (“And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet”). To nobody’s surprise, she did not convince the anti-gay marriage crowd to rethink how they read their Bibles. Instead, she enraged them. Who is she, they asked, to be telling them how to read their scriptures?


They are right. Journalists don’t have the right to tell any community how to interpret their sacred texts, whether they are Jews, Muslims, or evangelical Christians. Asking conservatives to rethink Romans 1 and other controversial passages based on some scholar’s analysis of the “true” cultural context is futile. It would be more helpful to engage with the conservatives in a discussion of their own hermeneutical principles.

In true post-modernist style, I prefer to enter the evangelicals’ hermeneutical world. Once I have granted their interpretive presuppositions, I begin asking questions based on those presuppositions. Rather than deal with gay marriage head on, I want to know what the Bible says about marriage in general. Of course the evangelical understanding of marriage begins with Genesis 2: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” What is this “one flesh”? And when can it be re-divided? According to the ultimate authority, Jesus, a marriage can only be dissolved in the case of adultery. In the book of Matthew, Jesus preached, “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”

Yet how many evangelicals welcome divorcees into their churches? Even more important, how many ministers freely officiate over heterosexual re-marriages? Almost all of them.

If conservatives really believe that allowing homosexuals to marry is going to undermine God’s immutable laws and therefore wreak havoc on American society, they need to deal first with the problem that is closer at hand and FAR more prevalent—divorce. Until they fight to make church policy and American law reflect Jesus’ teachings on divorce, their efforts against gay marriage will continue to look much more like a crusade of hate than a legitimate response to the teachings of their scriptures. We need to either throw out the divorcees and the gays, or welcome them both to the altar. I prefer the latter.

There is No "Them" -- A Tale of John Woolman's Visit to Our Century



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Editor's Note: I'm very pleased today to post an imagined historical visit from John Woolman, courtesy of Thomas Slaughter, author of the new biography The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman. Thanks to Prof. Slaughter for sending us this guest post based on his new book.
____________________________________________________________

Our world, a True fable.
by Thomas Slaughter

Imagine you are at home one evening and there is a knock at the door. When you answer it, you recognized the guy as someone you know by name but not well. He comes into your living room and over the course of the next two hours, he lays out to you much information that you already know, but perhaps not in the precise detail he gives you. You know about global warming, the horrendous working conditions under which many of the household items and clothing you wear are manufactured, although you didn’t know specifically how, where, and under what conditions each of them was made. He tells you the exact problem by looking around and examining labels. He explains to you the argument for buying only products, and especially food, that are locally produced. He details the impact of your consumption of energy and the creation of waste products from you way of life and makes a particularly strong case against computers, televisions, cars, and air conditioning. Again, you’re a good person, environmentally and ethically conscientious, and try to recycle to the best of your ability. You know you do a better job than most of your neighbors and most of the people you know. You are a good and responsible person.

Nonetheless, you are hit hard by the specificity of his indictments of your possessions and the contents of your refrigerator and trashcan. You are appalled to know that the actual shoes you are wearing, the belt, trousers, and shirt you have on were made under conditions that exploited the workers and then were transported across the world at great cost in fossil-fuel use. You resolve to buy locally-produced cheese, locally-grown vegetables, and to stop eating beef. And yet, over the course of the evening your are moved even further. This man actually convinces you to give up your car, computer, and television, and you do the next day; he convinces you never to fly again. What is it about him that moved you so far past the compromises that good people, conscientious people in our society make every day? It’s the presentation, not just the details, the arguments that you have heard before in one way or another and that you have chosen to keep vaguely outside the realm of your specific knowledge about how you live. If you hadn’t the guilt would have kept you awake at night.

The man’s plea is emotional, but not accusatory, which is why you didn’t become defensive. He cried, but not because of the horrors he describes or because of your social sins. No, he cried because he felt so personally complicit in the devastation that humans wreak upon the earth. He was there to confess, to indict himself, to take on the burden of all the problems that modern life creates. And, he did this despite the fact that, as you know, he does not own a car, a tv, or a computer, wears only clothes that he makes or that are made locally, buys what he cannot grow in his own organic garden only directly from local producers, never flies, and disposes of no trash at all. He doesn’t use air conditioning at all and heats only to keep pipes from bursting, choosing instead to wear sweaters home-knit from local, un-dyed wool. When he leaves, you are moved beyond the knowledge, past your feelings of guilt, and have overcome the sort of alienation that has always led you, as it does the rest of us, to throw up our hands in dismay that we cannot personally change the world.

This man is John Woolman (1720-1772) or, at least, a modern, fictive version of him. In his day, he changed people’s behavior, led them to take action against their economic self-interest and the comforts of life. He taught them that they lived in a world that had, as ours does, an integrated, global, market economy. If you bought tea or cloth from India in the eighteenth century, the cost was subsidized by other goods that travelled on a ship that may have started its journey in England, stopped next in the Mediterranean before proceeding to Madras, and then hit the coast of Africa and the Caribbean on its way to Philadelphia or Boston before completing the circle. The slaves that you never saw, who were transported on one leg of that trip, and the workers in Calcutta who were paid starvation wages to produce the cloth and harvest the tea, were linked inextricably to the rum or Irish linen or nails that you bought from the ship’s cargo.

So, Woolman tried very hard to extricate himself from the web of an international market economy and the injustices immediately around him. He eventually wore clothing made only of un-dyed wool; he wore shoes without buckles; and he decline to take even public transportation because he believed that teamsters treated their horses harshly in order to make unnecessarily fast journeys. He refused to drink from a silver cup or use silver-based coins because silver was mined in Central America by Indians enslaved by the Spanish. He walked up to the houses of otherwise good people who owned slaves and convinced them that even if they were exemplary masters, even if the slaves had been born on their farms, they were complicit in the horrors of the slave trade. And he did this, not by preaching to people that they were evil, but by lamenting his own complicity and his own failures to live a life that was free from the horrors, the abuse, and by convincing people that we are just as responsible for people we have never met on the other side of the world as we are for the nuclear family that lives in our household. He was not a liberal, and not convinced that he or anyone among us is truly improving the world one step at a time, by buying energy-saving light bulbs or a more efficient refrigerator or turning off the lights when we leave a room or checking email only once a day or putting newspapers in a re-cycling bin collected by our town and then not re-cycled at all. No, Woolman said, we are all guilty; it is not “them” who started the war, or exploited the laborers, or profit greedily from the production of fossil fuels and inflating the price of drugs that poor people need or bought a car that used more fuel than ours. And this is only partly because the stock of companies that do ravage and exploit are in our retirement portfolios, unbeknownst to us because we choose not to know. No, it is all about us, all of us; there is no “them” at all.

Thomas P. Slaughter, author of The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman, Apostle of Abolition (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008).

Professor of History
University of Rochester
tslaught AT mail DOT rochester DOT edu

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?



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By Randall Stephens

"We Are the World," "Hands Across America," "Do They Know It's Christmas?" We remember the songs. We recall the big-haired celebrities with bolo ties passing the baton from one line to another. So much sincerity. So much feeling.

But, does anyone remember this forgettable Christian tune that followed the trend? What's going on here? That's what I kept thinking as I watched this three time in a row. (Don't know why. It draws me in, vortex-like. Forgive "the worst" bit embedded on the screen.)



As I grew up listening to Christian music I was very aware that most God rock bands were meant to sound like their secular counterparts. Think Phil Keaggy=Paul McCartney; 2nd Chapter of Acts = Queen. The question "Why should the Devil have all the good music?" answered itself.

I wish a new generation of scholars would take a hard look at evangelicalism, in particular its cultural manifestations. Material Christianity deserves a fresh new look. Is their a distinct aesthetic of evangelicalism? What is it? Puppet shows and Mimestry? Who are/were the chief taste-makers? Thomas Kincade and Russ Taff? Francis Schaeffer and Frank Peretti?

Practical Matters -- CFP



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David King, a graduate student at Emory and Associate Editor of the journal Practical Matters, sends me this call for papers:

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: PRACTICAL MATTERS

Practical Matters, a new online peer-reviewed journal designed to ask and provoke questions about religious practice and practical theology, is now accepting submissions on the theme of Youth for our Spring 2009 issue.

We are a multimedia, transdisciplinary journal out of the Emory University Graduate Division of Religion, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. We invite submissions that describe and analyze the religious practices of young people, past and present: their ritual lives, patterns of belief, forms of community, transformational experiences, meaningful relationships, sources of inspiration and areas of struggle. We particularly encourage submissions that engage religion in light of the broader contextual realities of children and adolescents. We also invite submissions on the ways that religious communities engage with young people, looking at the practices through which they shape and form youth as well as the ways in which youth stretch, critique, and lead their religious communities.

Possible themes to explore might include: rituals marking adolescent transitions; religious and social influences on young lives; youth-centered religious experiences such as youth groups, summer camps, mission trips, service projects, etc.; contemporary and historical theories and/or theologies of youth; as well as many others.

We invite submissions by scholars, teachers, practitioners, and youth from a wide range of disciplines and religious traditions, and in any international context. We encourage creative and collaborative submissions, such as scholars working dialogically or in conversation with practitioners, as well as adults submitting work together with youth. We also welcome submissions that highlight exemplary practices or provide resources for use by practitioners in religious communities.

Practical Matters is an academic journal with a diverse audience. We are looking for submissions in three categories: (1) scholarly work on the issue theme for peer-review; (2) content on the issue theme, such as reflections, essays, field notes concerning pedagogical topics or issues of concern to religious practitioners; 3) reviews of recent books, films or conferences on youth or broader topics in religious practices or practical theology.We especially encourage the submission of multimedia scholarship, for peer review or as featured content. This might include film, video, soundscape, new media, photography, art or performance, among other possible media. Do note that although exploring the possibilities of multimedia scholarship is part of our mission, we also are committed to working with scholars of varying levels of technical proficiency.

The submission deadline is March 1, 2009. For more specific instructions on possible forms of submissions, more information on our peer review process, or more details about the issue theme, please visit our web site.

More on the Beautiful Soul of John Woolman



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By John Fea

If you did not see it, this weekend Book TV aired a great lecture by Thomas Slaughter on his new book, The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman. It is about one hour long, but I would recommend watching the first ten minutes and then go and read the book.

Porpoise Driven Life



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By Randall Stephens

Hat tip to the two Darrens (Dochuk and Grem) for circulating this wonderful parody of Christian consumerism (Jesus junk in Colleen McDannel's words). Having spent some time in a couple of Christian megastores back in Kansas a few weeks ago, this almost seems believable!

___ Bless America and Avengelicalism



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By Randall Stephens

Representative J. Randy Forbes (R, VA) and Senator Jim DeMint (R, SC) were up in arms about Washington’s new Capitol Visitor Center. It was Godless. Conservative Christian historian David Barton called it a $621 monument to political correctness. At the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section David Waters writes: “Normally, I'm for keeping church and state out of each other's business as much as humanly possible. . . . But lately, I'm beginning to think that evangelical Christians who are complaining about the ‘War on God in America’ have a point.” And at the National Review John J. Miller blasts “Washington, P.C.” and the planners of the center for their shaky grasp of history and their naked secular agenda.

On one level I’m thrilled by this debate. What better way to get students engaged in history battles than to use a current skirmish as an example? I’m also intrigued by the whole thing because of the current research I’m doing on this subject.

And then, I also wonder if evangelicals have a point. Is there something to the culture of grievance that is such a significant part of the faith? (See other examples of scrubbing God from history in the above essays.) That grievance bit is a larger conservative phenomenon that goes back at least to Goldwater’s campaign. (See Rick Perlstein’s wonderful 2006 article in TNR, “What is Conservative Culture?”) I know that conservatives, whether evangelical or not, don't have a corner on the embattled market. But I do think the seige mentality works better in conservative circles.

A letter to the editor that appeared in USA Today a couple months back illustrates that chip-on-the-shoulder worldview pretty well: “Those of us old enough to remember life under a predominantly liberal worldview . . . remember with pain the complete marginalization and denigration of evangelicals. . . . We remember our essay papers being marked down by teachers intolerant of any worldview other than the liberal one; we remember family members calling us ‘cultists’ and peers mocking us openly for our faith. Christians developed an ‘underground’ mentality, removing ourselves from the public forum.”

Is there a real chip on that shoulder or is it just a rhetorical one?

More Authentic Fakes



6 comments
Art Remillard
Professor, former Marine, marathon finisher, father, son, husband, and now... Dudeist priest. It was a difficult road. To those of you who were with me all along, may the Dude be with you.

Arthur Remillard

December 11, 2008

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