Religion and the Founding of Virginia

Randall Stephens

Rebecca Goetz and Lauren Winner have convinced me that historians have long had some ahistorical assumptions about the role of religion in colonial Virginia. (And, when many are teaching on a subject that is well out of their field--me included--they tend to dust off the old fables and retell them as fact.)

Of course, there are glaring differences between the Mass Bay Colony and Virginia. When you look at the number of churches per colonist in the 17th-century North and South, things take on a different cast. What about devotional reading? Baptismal records? The training of ministers? Reading from a range of institutional evidence, historians have tended to downplay religion in 17th and early 18th-century Virginia. Virginians were not all that interested in God or piety, so it goes. They left pious fancies to Puritans and Pilgrims, Yankees in the making, up north. Virginians cared about making a profit and maintaining their aristocratic order. That echoes Louis Philippe's famous 1835 letter to Charles Gayarre:

I do not wish to be a prophet of evil, but you, as a people, have conflicting interests and ambitions and unappeasable jealousies. You have the Puritans in the north and the Cavaliers in the south, Democracy with its leveling rod, and Aristocracy with slavery raising its haughty head in the other section and creating a social elegance, a superiority of breeding, and race, which must incite the intense hatred of your antagonists. Hence deadly conflicts, political convulsions and social transformations.

The June issue of Historically Speaking, now up at Project Muse, features an essay by Lorri Glover on "Faith and the Founding of Virginia." It's instructive on the matter and has helped me rethink religion in the Old Dominion. (I especially like that one of the questions behind all this is "what counts as religious?") The first migrants to the Virginia Colony, says Glover "were not as pious as their New England neighbors (although they were far more religious than scholars typically acknowledge)," writes Glover. A couple of interesting, longer passages well illustrate Glover's argument:

But certainty about God’s omnipotence imbued the early modern English worldview. Most 17th-century English men and women believed that God and the devil operated in the world. To these early moderns, a place perceived as dangerous—like Bermuda—was logically diabolical. Likewise, safety and bounty were gifts from God. For the castaways, it only made sense to see their situation in that providential context. Moreover, Protestant faith—and its corollary, virulent anti-Catholicism—had suffused the fundraising campaigns of the Virginia Company from its inception. Promotional writers in the employ of the company and ministers who saw Virginia as the main chance to beat back Catholics in the New World sounded the same note. They promised “adventurers”—the term designating both those who wagered their lives and those who staked their fortunes—that their efforts would bring true religion to the Native Americans and glory to their God and nation. . . .

Most historians have either ignored the role of faith in England’s earliest westward forays or dis- missed it as cynical campaigning for investors and migrants. But the language of religious conviction in the sources, particularly after word of the survival of the Sea Venture voyagers reached London, is simply too widespread and too forceful to dismiss. And this religious discourse inspired people to risk their lives and fortunes. Hence the religious dimension says a great deal about English values.

To discount the role of providential thinking and of religious faith in these choices is to miss a vital part of the story. Few today would believe that God orchestrated the hurricane, the wreck on Bermuda, or the meeting of De La Warr and Gates. But the evidence from the era—the private writings of Virginia Company leaders, the reminiscences of castaways, colonists’ letters, sermons, broadsides, and promotional tracts—is convincing on one count. A significant proportion of men and women engaged in Atlantic colonizing saw the hand of God in their endeavors. To substitute our perceptions for theirs is flawed on a myriad of levels and ignores what we all know as historians: that it does not matter what is so, it only matters what people believe is so. read on>>>

I'm looking forward to reading Jon Sensbach's forthcoming book on religion in the colonial South. Now, how can I make all this seem coherent enough to students?

The Costs of Secularism

Janine Giordano Drake

To follow up on my story from a few weeks ago, the University of Illinois' Faculty Senate responded to the poor media attention and spontaneous protest among alumni and students about the firing of our adjunct professor, Kenneth Howell. They decided to re-hire him. The Faculty Senate resolved that it was the relationship with Newman that was the problem. Said Professor John Prussing of the faculty senate, "We thought the basic problem was a structural one, having nothing to do with Mr. Howell per se. When one has two employers, the missions of each may not always agree." Prussing went on to say the relationship was "pretty much an anachronism that goes back 40 years." Howell will be hired by the university as an adjunct in Catholic Studies, and paid $10,000 per semester to teach one course in Catholic Thought. The local newspaper article does not consider whether he will be issued any other courses, because Newman supported him to teach more than the one class. It doesn't sound to me like a professor with two PhDs, seminary training, and over two decades of teaching experience and publications would want to take an adjunct position with the option of teaching only one class. What I learn from this story is not how magnanimous the University turned out to be but how hard it must be to get work when you are a theologian interested in engaging with public school students about big ideas.

I am glad that not only our university community but people all over the country have been discussing this story as a philosophical question of secularism in higher education, and surely this firestorm was partially generated by our blog. Inside Higher Ed put together an excellent story about this which came out the same day as my piece in Religion Dispatches. My point a few weeks ago was that theology (even confessional theology) is an important, worthwhile area of study, but it is extremely expensive when not subsidized by either religious institutions or public schools. As I complete my dissertation at the boundaries of US political history, "lived religion," and the history of theology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I find myself wishing every day that I had more access to theology courses taught by theologians. I study belief in the working class Religious Left of late nineteenth and early twentieth century--how, why, and to what extent, working class Catholic and Protestants changed the way they understood wealth accretion and the sin of materialism within the practice of Christianity. I do not believe that the history of theology has all the answers to my historical questions, but my project is deeply enriched by studies in theological history. This area of intellectual history, though made popular again by scholars like George Marsden and Mark Noll, is so rarely touched by public school historians. Many of us public school historians are probably like me--never trained in the subject because we attended militantly secular public schools all our lives. (My high school did not allow the mention of Christmas.)

And yet, this version of secularism that has prevented schools from providing courses in theology has been changing, even noticeably, over the course of my 27-year lifetime. Contrary to the sentiments of our Faculty senator, it is quite the opposite of "anachronistic" for public school funds to support religious institutions. It is true that this practice is old. According to Andrea Turpin, historian of secularism in higher education who commented on my Religion Dispatches article,

"The plan of inviting diverse theological institutions to offer classes on public university grounds dates back to Thomas Jefferson’s original design for the University of Virginia—a self-consciously secular institution. He believed this plan would maintain the neutrality of the state institution while providing the services desired by students. In my own research I have encountered the same plan pursued in the past to varying degrees at the University of Michigan, the University of Toronto, and the University of California, the latter of which touted its secularism very highly. Other examples may exist as well."

But on top of the fact this system has been around since the inception of American liberal arts education, recent constitutional debates over school vouchers affirm that religious institutions can be educators in a liberal democracy. As of 2002 in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the courts established that public funds could be invested in private, religious institutions as long as those institutions' aim was education and passed a particular set of guidelines. As Stanley Fish said in his op-ed, "Is Religion Special?" for the New York Times this past Monday, the establishment clause has been "pretty much rendered null" in areas of public education. Religion is now understood as one set of perspectives on the world--“just another discourse, no different from any other.” Fish challenges us to consider whether this is a fair category to place what is sometimes a totalizing belief system that affirms “a fidelity to an authority and to a set of imperatives that exceed, and sometimes clash with, what is required by the state.” His points here are excellent and the article could serve as a very useful launching pad for discussions about what religion is.

However, I would still argue that theological studies courses, even those taught by confessional theologians and sponsored by religious institutions, can do a lot of good in fostering a pluralistic model of cultural, philosophical and religious literacy. As the scholarship in US Religious History trends more toward "lived religion," those of us training at public schools stand to suffer an incalculable loss. This country is profoundly religious and Glenn Beck's popularity should remind us that there is a profound ignorance about what, exactly, religious people believe. The University of Illinois just invested $10,000 into one course called the Introduction to Catholic Thought. It's a shame we cannot do better than that.

Gender Me, Gender Religion

Kelly J. Baker

It's summer, which means fiction and sunshine, but I am teaching summer session. This means less fiction and sunshine, and more of a focus on my own teaching style and what I cover. These days I find myself more and more concerned with how to teach gender in American religious history. Every semester, I teach gender as a crucial point of analysis for religious studies, American studies and American history. This should not be surprising and/or novel. As my current students note, most of their humanities classes at least have a section or sub-section on gender (which is a post for another day altogether). When I first started several years ago as a graduate student, I didn’t feel like I was a revolutionary, rather, I feared that my students were “so” over emphases of gender and race. We debated what gender is/was, its construction and its deployment in larger culture. Moreover, I pointed out how religion constructs and reconstructs gender and places important emphasis on men’s and women’s bodies. Religion also defined our gendered ways in private and public—who could preach or could not? Who could lead? Who was more spiritually pure? Who has divine support and who asks for divine support? Who we can marry or cannot?

Religion defines men and women in intimate and powerful ways. But, class debates and my lectures on gender theories don’t always make these topics approachable for students. Gender emerges as something academic and distant rather than something personal and tangible. Ann Braude noted the still potent and important fact “women’s history is American religious history.” But, how can you convince students that gender matters historically and today in interpretations of religion and American culture? I assign excerpts from Robert Orsi’s Thank You, St. Jude and Marie Griffith’s God’s Daughters, which showcase the power of gender relations and the complicated place of the divine. Yet again, I wonder how “real” this seems to students. My teaching approach to gender and religion has become much more personal and face-to-face. No, I don’t recite my own spiritual autobiography, which is terribly dull, nor do we sit together and talk about our experiences with gender. Instead, I make myself into a guinea pig.

My approach to gender is an adoption of Amy Koehlinger’s approach to gender in her undergraduate classes. It is deceptively simple: she allows students to “gender” her. She bravely stands in front of the room while students sometimes politely, and occasionally not, point out how well she performed gender. Perhaps because I am a masochist or perhaps because I thought I could handle this, I became a guinea pig for my classes. Amy warned me that this exercise was not for the faint of heart, but my confidence outweighed my common sense. With some poking and prodding and a tiny bit of introduction, I let my students “gender” me. That first class in which I allowed critiques of my gender “performance” is unforgettable. (Please note how much I rely on Judith Butler here, but I also employ Erving Goffman, too.)

Students shouted comments ranging from flattery to obscenity at me, and frankly, I am amazed that I continued to do this teaching practice. It truly is not for the faint of heart. Most people don’t have their gender performances scrutinized by 50+ students, at least not in such an open and obvious way. And I still have to gird my confidence before I present myself to my classes. (I also make it easier for them through costume and makeup—a pencil skirt rather than pants, high heels as opposed to my favorite sandals, a bold floral print top, jewelry and accessories and more make-up than I tend to wear. One student from this semester stated very nicely that I didn’t quite look like myself.)

Comments range from my masculine glasses to my (then) long hair to my obviously un-feminine outspoken and sarcastic nature. A student, several semesters later, would claim that I couldn’t be feminine because I didn’t show “enough” skin. What I didn’t realize was how much I would learn about gender from my students. Gender, it seems, was also fairly abstract to me until confronted by their analysis of my way of being in the world. Gendering me allows my students (hopefully) to “see” the place of gender in the religious movements and people we study. It also makes clear that cultural assumptions that run rampant about what it means to be feminine and/or female in America. My students usually pin me as “girlie,” which has some truth, and “outspoken,” which tends to be synonymous with more masculine. Often, the commentary runs along the line of “you look feminine but act masculine.” Though with more frequency than I am comfortable with, students seem to place me firmly in the feminine range.

While it usually takes a couple of days for my ego to recover, the “gender me” approach seems to make gender as a category of being and as a category of analysis more apparent to my students. Some might just find this to be a fun way to get out of lecture. I remain hopeful that they agree with the significance of gender in our day-to-day lives, but more importantly, that there is something at stake in how a person is gendered by society and religion. Our contact with the divine, or lack thereof, also reflects the intimate ways we adopt gender but also how we are gendered my larger forces. If critiquing my gender performance gives students more tools to interpret Orsi and Griffith, then my ego can take it. But my ego can also take it, if they have a bit of pause about what they wear, why they wear it or what it communicates about them. Gender impacts religious history. The sacred is not gender neutral, so knowing how religion defines the world between women and men and other categories of gender is important. Again, I am not a revolutionary just a guinea pig with a penchant for American religious history, Judith Butler, good shoes and pixie cuts.

Anthony Stevens-Arroyo on Catholics and the Tea Party

Randall Stephens

Over at the Washington Post's On Faith blog Anthony Stevens-Arroyo offers an interesting historical take on Catholicism and contemporary politics. For those faithful who are ready to pitch their tent with the Tea Party, he points to a 16th-century counter example: Jesuit priest Juan de Mariana (1536-1624). Stevens-Arroyo contrasts the radicalism of Mariana with Tea Party anti-statism. He also asks Catholics to consider whether the Tea Party "contributes to a culture of violence." I don't think Stevens-Arroyo's guilt-by-innuendo works here. Still the article is food for thought.

Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, "Taxes, tyranny and a Catholic Tea Party," On Faith, July 28, 2010.

Can a Catholic be a member of today's Tea Party? There are many versions of the Tea Party in the United States today but what they have in common is how they link taxation and tyranny. It may surprise some that the justification to rebel against taxation and tyranny is found in the writings of the 16th century Jesuit priest, Juan de Mariana (1536-1624). This first of the Catholic Tea Partyers, however, could teach the current movement a thing or two. read on >>>

Heidegger and the Quandary of Insider/Outsider Roles in Religious Research: A Methodological Note

Gerardo Marti

This week afforded me a bit of reading and reflection through Heidegger’s Being and Time as part of my ongoing attempt to grow in my scholarship.

As an ethnographer, I regularly immerse myself in religious communities both short and long term -- see a recent post at Duke Divinity blog about a recent church visit -- and as such am regularly confronted with what was introduced to me as “the insider/outsider problem of religion.” The dilemma centers around a core question: Who is best able to understand religion, the committed or the agnostic? More important, what are the challenges and solutions for achieving a satisfactory understanding of religion (not just for scholars, but for everyone) considering one’s stance? My first attempt to answer this question is printed in an extended appendix of my first book A Mosaic of Believers. But reading that now, and continuing to think on the issue, I’m finding my framing of both the problem and the answer to be much too glib.

My methodological answer there was essentially that immersion in a religious community along with a simultaneous immersion in a scholarly community allows scholars enough “distance” to reasonably comment on issues and concerns of scholars without being unredeemably caught up in the interests and pretensions of any particular religiously committed sphere. It’s a serviceable answer, passes muster for the pragmatic work most social scientists do every day.

Yet I continue to find the issue to be important, not the least of which is that I consider myself to be a religiously committed person. I am not entirely comfortable with the notion of a self that is caught in a back-and-forth motion, swinging between two blatantly idealized communities, and sustaining an assurance that I am able to not only keep these things in check but to truly believe that the doing of such a thing accurately represents our lived experience as researchers.

Looking back on my experience in doing the work of two ethnographies in the past ten years, I find my resonance, my “affinity,” to the churches I studied to contain more complexity than I usually have the time or the patience to consider. Not only did my stance as a sociologist create some tensions with in first study of Mosaic, but then my later relationship to the energetic Prosperity/Word of Faith church Oasis in Hollywood Faith (another article here) produced entirely new ambiguities as many aspects of the religiosity found there does not entirely lie with all my religious sympathies. Especially at Oasis, the boundaries of being an “insider” became so fluid (usually in considering all aspects of figuring out to what degree am I part of these people) that I no longer found the neat division between “insider” and “outsider” I wrote about in my appendix to be so helpful – and that perhaps my articulated stance is dangerously misleading to my scholarship.

This week I’ve been taking a trip through Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time (with help from Magda King) and am once again captured by his articulation of “authenticity” or “owned-ness” of our selves. Heidegger sees our humanity as ever-always caught up in the doing-of-things as we continually project ourselves into the world. But Heidegger’s important nuance is that we “fall” into the world by being so-easily enrapt in the an everydayness among fellow beings such that we don’t ever stop to consider the wider implications of what we are doing (descriptive) or, especially, the possibilities of who we may become (prescriptive) should we grasp onto our available limits within our finitude.

His point is especially important to me as a researcher. Looking back at my initial answer to the question of the “insider/outsider problem,” Heidegger suggests that I may be leading a dis-owned, inauthentic existence in my methodological approach because I merely “fall” into the ways of being within these two communities. On the one hand I take on the lifeways of a religious community, and on the other hand articulate, translate, commiserate with the lifeways of a scholarly community, with my work constantly going back and forth across the in-between void in my person juxtaposing two seemingly “isolated” positions in an endless array until a satisfactory product (Book! Tenure! Career!) resolves itself -- which then propels into a new cycle.

It’s Heidegger’s notion of authenticity and “owned-ness”/"disowned-ness" that’s got me. He’s profoundly right that our normal day-to-day life, even as highly self-aware scholars, is to be caught up in our ways without question. It’s one of the liberating aspects of being historians and sociologists – we come to see through distance how embedded human beings are in the structures of their world without their being conscious of it. And it is the privilege of scholars that we self-consciously reflect on ourselves and our various apprehensions in order not to "fall" easily prey to facile pretensions of what we think we know. I strongly value this primary privilege of scholarship, the ability to embrace our self-reflexivity in productive ways, and I fear that my first answer to the study of religion misleads the earnest task of becoming a more-wholly-self-possessed person who is accomplishing the uniquely human task of carefully considering all the potentialities for yielding insights and knowledge in our world.

Heidegger's point becomes even more salient when I consider the dominating aspects of institutionalization – that human beings ritualize ways of being and knowing in such easy, non-problematic ways. I come to this: If religious scholarship is simply learning to engage the institutionalized spheres of “religion” on the one hand, and then articulate them within the institutionalized spheres of “scholarship” on the other, then we “fall” into highly ritualized ways of being that radically limit the potentialities for our work. Here I will quickly mention Courtney Bender’s wonderful new book The New Metaphysicals (see current dialogue at Immanent Frame) which thoughtfully engages the issues of institutionalization in religious life and in scholarship in a fresh way. The book has got me thinking about a lot of things (It is a wonderful conversational read), and it seems to fit this particular dynamic well. Her focus on “practices” is strategic, and it is perhaps this approach I must absorb even moreso since it appears to allow Bender to be far more “self-possessed” than I feel at the moment.

In the end Heidegger stimulates my courage to consider how it is that I regularly constitute my world not merely in my role as "scholar" but as a full person. I no longer wish to maintain a pretense of bounded areas which do not touch one another, especially when I am fully aware that it is “me” (the “I am”) who is engaged in my whole life. Rather than "fall" into a false sense that I am merely receiving and recording on the one end, then resolving and reporting on the other, knowledge in such simple-minded ways, I'm thinking that f I am to continue to grow as a scholar I must take much better possession of my own self and extract whichever awareness with accompanying conceptualizations as best I can so as to more fruitfully participate in truly authentic dialogues with my colleagues and other "beings" around me. It is hopefully taking the best aspects of the best conference sessions with the most stimulating, original, and engaged minds which I've witnessed at conferences and seminars over the years and accentuate that to a much higher degree into my work with friends, neighbors, and (dare say) even my own self.

So, with more historians of American religion engaging in ethnographic practices I thought it might be worthwhile sharing these few preliminary thoughts here. Whether it is Heidegger or the resources from the historian’s craftbox or somewhere else I'm missing, I am in need of a much different conversation on the ability to sustain an “owned” scholarship of religion that respects our ongoing engagement with the world that maximizes the creative potential of our as-yet-unyielded insights.

Crossposted at my Praxis Habitus blog.

Meditations on a Classic, or, American Religious History in the 21st Century

By Michael J. Altman

As I've mentioned before, I'm spending the summer working through that wonderful mid-Ph.D-program rite of passage: studying for qualifying exams. I've also just finished another rite of passage for students of American religious history. I read Sydney Ahlstrom's A Religious History of the American People, all 1096 pages of it. Halfway through Ahlstrom, though, I took a day off to re-read Thomas A. Tweed's edited volume Retelling U.S. Religious History for a summer reading group. Then I picked Ahsltrom back up and finished. It was an odd pairing.

I'm not here to write a review of the 38 year old Ahlstrom book or the 13 year old Tweed title. Rather, I want to make a few observations about both books from my position here and now--in 2010--as a young student of American religious history and propose what might be the next step beyond Ahlstrom and Tweed. If this post seems rambling and pointless please indulge me. This is an exercise in writing out thoughts ignited by the exam reading.

To begin with, I think it's important to note that both books, throughout my training at least, have been more than books. They've been symbols. Ahlstrom's text stood as the symbol of the greatest attempt at a master narrative. It was the greatest of the "old-school" surveys of American religious history. Before I actually read the book, A Religious History represented a mostly male, white, Northern, mainline, Protestant master narrative. Having finished it, the main story I remember is one of mostly white, Northern, mainline, Protestants. Well, that and Puritans. As Sidney Mead put it, Ahlstrom was possessed by the Puritans. Similarly, the Tweed book symbolized the anti-Ahlstrom. First of all it was multivocal--an edited collection--so it destabilized the unified narrative voice. Second, it wasn't a narrative at all. It was a mix of theoretical musings and case studies. Finally, the eight essays covered anything but white, Northern, mainline, Protestant, men. It symbolized all that was sexy and fun about the study of religion in America in the past two decades.

More importantly, Retelling, was my kind of religious history. I had been assigned parts or the whole of the book in at least two classes I've taken in my eight years of grad/undergrad study. I had taken a seminar with one of the contributors and read articles or books by most of the others. These were the scholars I "grew up with."

All this is to say that I went into my reading of Ahsltrom with a somewhat belligerent and skeptical attitude, knowing that in a few days I'd get to stop and enjoy re-reading and discussing Tweed with like-minded grad student friends. So, like a toddler whose told that the carrots are good for him and that he can have some cookie if he finishes them, I jumped into Ahlstrom.

I was surprised. Up front Ahlstrom admits the need to broaden the narrative beyond white liberal Protestants: "I do not belive that the necessary illumination can be provided by "church history" in its classic forms...So a broader stance, a wider conception of the "rule of charity," is essential and, and this sympathy must be extended far beyond the explicitly Judeo-Christian traditions. Not least it much include the propensity of Americans to view the state itself in a religious light." In his attempt to account for the "varied religous movements" of American history he lays out four guidelines. First, the need to place religious history within world history. Second, the need to extend "religion" as a category to account for "'secular' movements and convictions, some of which opposed or souht to supplant the churches." Third, attention to radical diversity of religions in American history. And finally, the social context, namely the "demographic, economic, politlcal, and psychological dimensions."

This isn't old school, is it? Broadening beyond church history, a focus on diversity, thinking in terms of world history--or what we would call trans-nationalism, accounting for secular/cultural/civil religion and keeping things in social context? This all sounds quite familiar. In his introduction, Tweed notes the need for narratives of American religious history to account for "contact, boundary, and exchange" as well as various social and geographic sites. Ahlstrom's four guidelines seem to at least attempt to move toward Tweed's retelling. My point here is that the two books have much more in common than I was ever led to believe.

Beyond their similarities, reading both of these books in 2010 offers another reminder of the ways history cannot escape its present moment when it reflects back on the past. Ahlstrom argues that "each generation can only say that a different portion of the past is open for its examination, that is angle of vision is altered, and that new standards of explanation and relevance prevail. A new present requires a new past." Tweed is not as obviously concerned with the needs of the present, but he is aware of "many stories to tell, man sites from which to narrate them, and many motifs to order the plots." His book provides "interesting angles of vision on the history of religion in the United States." Ahlstrom was writing at the end of the 1960s. A series of cultural explosions, the new emphasis on difference (to be followed in later decades by its sexier French cousin "differance"), and a radical decentering of religious cultures in America led to a giant monograph trying to wrap all of these eruptions and disruptions up into a single story--albeit a Puritan story. Likewise, in the 1990s, with the ideals of multiculturalism, a new comfort with difference, and the contingency that comes with postmodernity, Tweed's book eschews the unifying narrative, challenges the historian to find more stories or tell the old ones differently, and calls for an awareness of the historian's positionality. Both books answer questions and concerns emerging in their particular moments. They both offered a new past to a new present.

What's now? It's been over a decade since Retelling and almost four decades since A Religious History. What narratives or retellings do we need now, as we head into the second decade of the century. In a recent (and popular) post at the SSRC Thomas Bender argued that public historians, "begin with a common concern, explore the resources our discipline provides for us, and we return with a narrative interpretation, full of interdependent variables and contingencies that implicitly or explicitly point to nodes of possible political intervention. Today, I believe, we can serve the public best by providing historical understanding of the relation of society to the history of the state and our largest non-state institutions, particularly the corporations that dominate our economy and politics." For religious historians, I think this means pushing further than Ahlstrom and Tweed went. This means constructing narratives that account for the "religious" in the relationship between society and the state/non-state institutions. Such projects will follow Ahlstrom's guidelines but push them further than he did, especially in taking seriously the religious qualities of "secular" phenomenon like corporations and the state.

While, like the authors in Retelling, we need to continue to find new ways to tell American religious history, we also need to evaluate the multiple popular and academic stories we already have. The step beyond Retelling U.S. Religious History is performing an archeology of American religious history. Where do our stories come from? Who do they serve? How does power work in and through their construction? The authors of Retelling do some of this, but their main focus was on new angles and new positions from which to tell the stories. Since Retelling, we've seen 9/11, two wars against Muslim countries, George W. Bush and the GOP's mobilization of the values voter, the first black President, the rise of the Tea Party, the emergence of the New Atheism, and the continued discourses of secularization, science versus religion, and the Christian Nation--to give a short list. Popular and academic narratives about religions in America--what they are, where they fit, what they mean, how they function--abound. We now need to begin the process of evaluating them, not on some measure of historical accurary (though that is important), but on the measure of their politics. Each of these narratives about religions in America's past are also narratives of power. They are about what counts as "religion" or "American."

Sydney Ahlstrom used the trope of the Puritans to tie the fraying loose ends of American religions together and in the process he documented the explosive diversity of religious culture in the United States. Tweed and his contributors told new stories from new locations that included new motifs and characters in the narratives of American religious history. Since then, more and more individuals and groups have told stories about religious culture in the U.S. As I see it, though the recuperative goals of history are not done, more stories can and should be found, it is time to begin a process of evaluation and genealogy. It's time to find out where these stories come from and how power works in and through them. As Jean Baudrillard wrote:

"Any movement which stakes everything on the liberation, the emancipation, the resurrection of a historical, collective, or speaking subject, on a raising of consciousness if not of the unconscious, individually and collectively, is blind to the fact that it is conforming to the system, whose goal at the present time is precisely the overproduction and regeneration of meaning and utterance."

We need a religious history that probes this system of overproduction to find the horizons of meaning at work in the diverse narratives of religious history at our disposal. In short, the next stage of American religious history is not a unifying narrative or a series of retellings, it is an account of power in the stories being told.

Baptist Bishops

Paul Harvey

Thanks to Jon Walton, "Evangelicals Embracing Ecclesial Elitism?", for calling my attention to this story, from the Boston Globe, about the crowning of the well-known black minister in Boston John M. Borders III as a Bishop. Nothing unusual there, except that Borders is a Baptist. I got a call from the reporter who did this story a while back, and had since forgotten about it, but she alerted me to the increasingly common practice of making well-known church leaders into Bishops. Borders was consecrated so by the International Bishops Conference USA, which I had not heard of before but appears to be a sort of support group for well-known and respected pastors of large congregations who have earned the honorific.

The story begins:

The Rev. John M. Borders III approached the pulpit at Morning Star Baptist Church on a recent Sunday wearing his usual suit and tie. He adjusted his glasses, as he often does, and proceeded to deliver to the packed sanctuary a thunderstorm of a sermon on a theme from Revelation: “No more delays!’’

In the pews, some sobbed. Some shouted, “Yes, Lord!’’ Some just breathed, until Borders concluded with a hushed prayer.

The only outward sign that something was different was the new ring on the pastor’s finger, a thick gold ring with a purple stone. It symbolized his recent elevation, in a ceremony in Memphis two weeks before, to the position of bishop.

The title of bishop, accompanied by such emblems of authority, was uncommon among hierarchy-spurning Baptists until recently, but it is being adopted by a growing number of Baptist pastors, most of them African-American. Borders and other new bishops have acquired some of the ceremonial garb — croziers (pastoral staffs), zucchettos (skullcaps) and chasubles (robes) — that their spiritual forefathers left behind when they broke from the Church of England in the 17th century. Some, including Borders, have even embraced the doctrine of apostolic succession — the belief in an unbroken line from Jesus’ apostles to today’s bishops.

Walton is skeptical, to say the least, of this move:

One has to wonder if the recent rise of Baptist bishops and evangelical charismatic authorities (think Joel Osteen and Rick Warren) represents a cultural reversal. Over the past three decades, aristocratic corporate cronyism, skyrocketing executive pay, and oligarchic elites have concretized the boundaries of American mobility and existence. It makes sense, then, that many “successful” religious leaders would embrace and spiritualize this power-grabbing culture.

I see his point, for sure, but given this is primarily an honorific, sort of like an ecclesiastical honorary doctorate, I worry less about Borders than the non-bishop megachurch icons who come closer to all-powerful CEOs than to guys like Borders who genuinely have put their bodies on the line in tough urban situations.

Or maybe it's just that all organizations bureaucratize over time. Sects become churches, and churches develop hierarchies, and hierarchies become more elaborate. Thank God that sort of thing never happens to universities.

Incidentally, I'm thinking about becoming a Blog Bishop. Can someone please loan me the headgear?

God Didn't Make Me No Monkey Man: An Evolutionary Biologist and a Humanist Discuss How to Discuss the Scopes Trial at 85

Paul Harvey

Readers of my entries on this blog (those of you who are still awake, at any rate) will know of my previous career as a biology major (and thanks a lot, Physics 201, for making me see that perhaps History was a better way for me to go), and my literary love of Darwin's Origin of the Species, which I've blogged about before.

HNN this week is featuring a great set of responses and reflections on the Scopes Trial and the issue of the tortured discussion of evolution in public discourse. No other scientific "theory," even those which would appear to pose major challenges to certain genres of biblical interpretation, invokes such passion and furor. There is no equivalent, in chemistry or molecular biology or even in physics for god's sake, to the various "Creationist" institutes and museum dotting the landscape. That fact has long puzzled me.

David Reznick's "An Evolutionary Biologist's Reflections on the Scopes Trial," notes that "A peculiar attribute of evolutionary biology is that, even though it is an arcane science, many people have opinions about it, much more so, I think, than any other science. Why?" He then goes on to detail some possible reasons, and at the end to ask for the help of humanists:

"Some historians and philosophers have helped by articulating how evolution fits in to the development of science, but also by dealing with the relationship between science and religion as a topic for the humanities classroom, rather than the science classroom. We need the help, so I encourage my colleagues in the humanities to expand these efforts."

Everett Hamner provides precisely that help in his terrific piece "A Humanist's Reflections on Evolutionary Biology." Our faithful blog readers will recall that just a bit ago Everett posted his reflections on William Brown's The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder.

In today's piece, Everett calls for classroom discussons to distinguish between science and scientism, to humanize scientists engaged in discovery, to "question bifurcations between the religious and secular," and to cultivate more careful readings of scriptures (plural), not their dismissal.

I would add that it wouldn't hurt humanist students to be required to take some more science classes (and, yes, vice-versa) so they can engage this discussion more knowledgeably, but that's just me.

On the latter point, the importance of cultivating careful readings of scriptures, Everett writes the following: To encourage this shift is merely to appreciate that setting the writings of an amazingly resilient ancient Near Eastern tribe or of a sixth-century Meccan revolutionary against a product of Victorian science is to compare apples and oranges. When people grasp the differences in purpose between the Bible, the Qur’an, and The Origin of Species, major stumbling blocks on the path to consilience begin to dissolve.

Yes, and yes -- another way of saying that we should help students cultivate a true historian's sense of the past.

And finally, I leave you with some unforgettable music: Eli Framer's God Didn't Make Me No Monkey Man, a country blues/string band classic you can listen to while reading Origins or taking a look at Jeffrey Moran's excellent article "Reading Race Into the Scopes Trial: African American Elites, Science,and Fundamentalism," from the Journal of American History 90 (December 2003) (access to History Cooperative or J-Stor required).

The Soul Destroying Poison of the East; or, Why I'll Assume the Savasana Posture while Watching Mad Men


Paul Harvey

I’ve been meaning to get back to doing some yoga, something I did in years past, as a supplement to my normal exercise diet of web-surfing, Netflix-watching, fantasy-football-playing, and martini-glass-lifting. Every time I think of doing so, however, the same chilling thought comes to mind: what will Matt Sutton say? All the trash talk sure to come my way via my gmail from said Sutton should I announce my resumption of yoga as my spiritual discipline and complaining about how I can’t even hold the “Warrior Pose” for more than five seconds, pins me to my chair.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m lazy and would rather just stick to my normal exercise diet, as described above. I report, you decide.

Yoga, and the nexus of yoga with religion, physical fitness, commerce, and sex in America has received much attention lately, probably due to the appearance of a number of recent books detailing the history of the yoga

phenomenon. In this week’s New York Times Book Review (which, startlingly, actually had a number of well-written and engaging reviews which dealt at length and seriously with the subject matter at hand by people who knew something about the subject beforehand -- if only this would be more the norm), Pankaj Mishra reviews Stefanie Syman’s The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, and Robert Love’s The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America. Barbara Spindel also has a nice review of both works together here. Love focuses more on Pierre Bernard, described by Mishra as one of the first of many indefatigable charlatans who popularized yoga.” Read the reviews for more fascinating detail on yoga’s Elmer Gantry.

Syman’s work follows a broader track, beginning with the influence of Indian philosophy on the Transcendentalists:

Both Emerson and Thoreau admired the “Bhagavad-Gita”; Emerson’s Oversoul resembles the Brahman, the all-inclusive, all-pervading Self of the Upanishads. However, neither Emerson nor Thoreau knew much about the physical-fitness side of yoga. The earliest Indian vendors of spirituality, like Swami Vivekananda, who lectured on Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, looked down on the asanas, or poses, of hatha yoga as a defective path to yoga’s goal: the union of the individual self with the divine Self.

Syman then follows the appearance of Indian religious figures at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893, the struggles of yoga teachers and practitioners through the era of immigration restriction, and finally to the post-1945 recovery of yoga in America and its explosion with the counterculture and intense commercialization afterwards.

The story may appear to be a familiar one: the marketing of yet another religious tradition, and its watering down into a convenient calorie-burner for people on the go. Or at least for people who can tune out and turn off long enough to do so.

That’s certainly part of it, but Mishra points out that religious traditions, no matter how ancient, are always more mixed up than this, and that contemporary Americans were hardly the first to bring together religion, exercise, commerce, and sex:

The image of incorrigibly individualist and materialist Americans rummaging through ancient cultures in search of eternal youth, beauty and self-gratification has long provoked scorn. “Yoga in Mayfair or Fifth Avenue,” Carl Jung sternly declared, “is a spiritual fake.” But such a fetish of the “authentic” assumes that people in the country of yoga’s origin have upheld a timeless and unchanging yoga rather than practicing what Wendy Doniger, the distinguished historian of Hinduism, calls the world’s greatest “have your rice cake and eat it” religion.

It was in India that the tradition of Tantrism first exalted the human body as the source of this-worldly liberation. The generation of semi-Westernized Indians who brought about the renaissance of yoga in the early 20th century were themselves syncretists, combining ideas from both East and West. Even the physical aspects that dominate yoga today are partly reimports from the West. T. Krishnamacharya (the South Indian teacher of Indra Devi), B. K. S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois borrowed from gymnastic postures introduced to India by British colonialists.

Reading all this may be just enough to get me back into the bikram studio just down the street (everyone, promise not to tell Sutton). For now, it’s time to assume the savasana (corpse) posture on my lounger, take the first previous sip of an appropriately dry martini, and fire up some Mad Men. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Ted Haggard: He's Baaack!

Paul Harvey

Ted Haggard is back with a new church (as we blogged about here before). To no one's surprise, it has outgrown its original "barn" and has moved to downtown Colorado Springs for the time being. OUr local paper, with Mark Barna on the religion beat, reports on this (with my own usual "state the obvious" commentary) here, and there's video via CNN here. Barna's blog updates us here on the first service at the Pike's Peak Center downtown. Haggard is quoted as saying:

“This feels a bit like the Clampetts,” Haggard told his congregation, referring to the family in the old sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies” that moved from the Ozark Mountains to a California mansion. “We just got out of the barn and now we’re downtown.”

My only question is, in this scenario, who gets to play Jethro? And will there be a Mr. Drysdale?

In The Footsteps of William James: Conference Announcement


Paul Harvey

Matt Hedstrom of the University of Virginia send along this information about a conference on William James. For fuller information on this conference, click

In the Footsteps of William James

A Symposium on the Legacy – and the On-Going Uses – of James's Work

Organized by the William James Society and co-sponsored by the Chocorua Community Association and the
Houghton Library at Harvard University

August 13-15, 2010: Chocorua, NH

August 16, 2010: Cambridge, MA


Friday, August 13: Chocorua, NH
• 4:00 - 6:00 pm: Registration at Chocorua Public Library
• 5:30 - 7:00 pm: Welcoming reception at Runnells Hall
• 7:00 - 8:30 pm: Speaker

Saturday, August 14: Chocorua, NH
• 7:30 - 9:00 am: Breakfast and registration at Chocorua Public Library
• 10:00 - 11:30 am: Speakers
• 11:30 am - 1:00pm: Lunch (not provided) and seminar conversations
• 1:00 - 2:50 pm: Speakers
• 3:00 - 5:00 pm: Shuttle Bus from Runnells Hall to a guided tour of James-Peters Home
• 5:00 - 8:00 pm: Dinner (not provided)
• 8:00 - 10:00 pm: Concert at Chocorua Community Church, 40 Deer Hill Road (a few doors from Runnells Hall): "A Night To Remember… William James" featuring New Hampshire storytellers, folk musicians, and period music played by the Chocorua Cornet Band

Sunday, August 15: Chocorua, NH
• 8:00 - 9:00 am: Breakfast at Whittier House
• 9:00 - 10:00 am: Speaker
• 10:30 am - 12:20 pm: Speakers
• 12:30 - 2:00 pm: Lunch (not provided) and seminar conversations
• 2:00 pm - evening: Free time
Afternoon activities available: Self-guided tours of Tamworth and Chocorua, hiking on Mt. Chocorua, canoeing on Lake Chocorua, and NH story-tellers, folk musicians, and artists in Chocoura

Monday, August 15: Cambridge, MA
• 9:00 - 10:00 am: Registration in Houghton Library entrance
• 10:00 am - noon: Houghton Library Exhibit Opening, Linda Simon (Guest Curator)
• Noon - 1:20 pm: Harvard Faculty Club lunch (at site of former James family home)
• 1:30 - 3:20 pm: Speakers
• 3:30 - 5:00 pm: Tour of James's Cambridge
• 5:00 - 6:00 pm: Closing reception

The Sherrods and the Charades

Paul Harvey

The last day or two, it's been hard to avoid the ugly story of the pseudo-"journalist" Andrew Breitbart's use of and/or manipulation of a bit of heavily doctored video relating a series of events from 25 years ago to slander Shirley Sherrod (he claims he "only" meant to slander the NAACP -- whatever).

Normally such a typically dishonest smear against an employee of the Department of Agriculture (and the Dept. of Agriculture administration's unfortunate haste to act in response to the falsely manufactured story) would not by itself initiate a post here at a blog dealing with very different matters. Except that Shirley Sherrod happens to be married to Charles Sherrod, a person of great interest to civil rights historians and religious history scholars alike.

Over at HNN (a precis of a piece from Salon), Joan Walsh properly calls attention to the career of Charles Sherrod. As a seminary student, he was deeply involved with the Albany project and matters of justice in Southwest Georgia more generally. He's not nearly as well known as some other figures of that time in the history of civil rights, but researching my book Freedom's Coming I was taken with his writings from that period of struggle, and particularly with the work of the Student Interracial Ministry, a group of students from Union Theological Seminary (maybe other places as well, I would have to look that up again) who served in some of the darker corners of the South. Update: see the comments section where Ralph Luker provides a bit more explanation of and firsthand account about the SIM program.

Of the Ministry and Sherrod, I wrote:

Working within the “ideological arm of the southern way of life” could lead only to complete frustration or total compliance. Impetus for change would have to come from the outside. The Student Interracial Ministry offered to free churches from their straitjacket. In this three–year retrospective, Sherrod reported some halting progress:

I have seen the church moving, surging and falling, struggling to breathe, eager to learn the truth; I have seen it in stinking jail cells packed with people, singing and sweating people, brought before the Pilates of this day; I have seen the church under the stars praying and singing in the ashes of a burned down church building, in the winter shivering under a tent in the open country, in a home where people cried together without speech but with a common understanding; I have seen the church in a pool room. I have seen with my eyes whites protecting blacks with their bodies and blacks bleeding to shield whites from whites. I have seen ministers lead their congregation from Sunday service to the City Hall to condemn the state. I have seen ministers with three grades of education put Ph.D.s to shame.

As you can see from Sherrod's work here, anti-white racism is a terrible problem affecting us today, and it's wonderful of Breitbart et al to stand up against that malignancy. More seriously, if this fiasco helps resurrect and bring to light the careers of folks like the Sherrods, perhaps at least some things can work together for good -- even faux stories broadcast for politically manipulative purposes.

Wandering Souls in Pre-Civil War America

Paul Harvey

Earlier I had posted a notice about a new book by Scott Rohrer, Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865. Sometime later we're going to feature a fuller and more extensive look at this work here at the blog, but in the meantime, to continue our early America series of posts this week, here's a review just up at Choice. The author's blog post about his work, which reflects on the material in the book and his family's own migration history, is here.

Rohrer, S. Scott Wandering souls: Protestant migrations in America, 1630-1865. North Carolina, 2010. 312p bibl index afp; ISBN
9780807833728, $39.95. Reviewed in 2010aug CHOICE

Rohrer (independent scholar) presents a persuasive case that the religious motivations for migration in American Protestantism have not been adequately studied, and proceeds to argue that a clearly symbiotic relationship exists between religion and migration. The wider American cultural environment of wanderlust was an open invitation for Protestant seekers to pick up and leave in their search for spiritual fulfillment, their quest for Christian community, or their thirst for social reform. Rohrer examines motivations for migration (including the role of internal dissent, persecution, and utopianism) and patterns of migrations (westward from New England, southward from Pennsylvania, and northwesterly from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia). Specific migrations include the 17th-century migration of Puritans under Thomas Hooker, the 18th-century migration of Virginia Anglicans under Devereux Jarratt, and the 19th-century migrations of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Moravians, Methodists, dissenting Baptists, Inspirationists, and Mormons. The result is a book that both widens and deepens readers' understanding of American Protestantism and the motivations of migration in shaping it.Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers/faculty. --B. M. Stephens, emeritus, Pennsylvania State University, Delaware County Campus

Constructing Lives at Mission San Francisco

Paul Harvey

Apparently this is religion in early/colonial America week here at the blog! Recently I had occasion to re-survey some of the literature about the California missions, especially one of my favorite recent works of scholarship, Steven Hackel's Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850, for my money the most thorough scholarly study of the subject, full of painstakingly constructed data sets from mission records -- the book is reviewed at length, and quite thoughtfully, here.

Religious studies scholar Quincy Newell's new book on native life and religious practice at a California mission is now out, and it came to my attention via the Choice review reprinted below. Her work brings ethnographic and religious studies methods to bear on the subject, and zeroes in on one mission in particular. Another longer and more extensive review may be found here; the money quote there, for our purposes here: "She postulates that many Native people chose baptism and mission life over continued residence in their traditional villages in order to enhance their spiritual power within their society and maintain the prestige of ever-weakening kinship networks. This interesting and thoughtful analysis lends new a perspective to the literature."

Below is the review from Choice. Be sure also to check out Quincy Newell's contributions at the blog Religion in the American West.

Newell, Quincy D. Constructing lives at Mission San Francisco: Native Californians and Hispanic colonists, 1776-1821. New Mexico, 2009. 267p bibl index afp; ISBN9780826347060, $39.95. Reviewed in 2010aug CHOICE.
Despite the passage of 175 years since the last Spanish California mission was secularized in 1834, these Hispanicized Indian communities continue to provoke contentious scholarly debate regarding the nature and intent of the Franciscan missionary enterprise more generally. With cultural critique all the rage, it is no wonder that indigenous voices have been lost in the fray. By contrast with earlier such treatments, religious studies professor Newell (Univ. of Wyoming) delivers a culturally nuanced, meticulously researched, and thought-provoking narrative treatment for contextualizing voices silenced in earlier works regarding Native lifeways in the California missions. Newell's narrative delivers brilliant insights and exceptionally fine-grained readings of both Costanoan Indian and Hispanic colonial perceptions, beliefs, and cultural norms. Deploying a narrative approach borne of historical fictions and the reconstituted life histories of such memorable Costanoan converts as Pismote, a disaffected though perceptive young female left to ponder the contradictions of both the Spanish empire and the Catholic faith, readers ultimately learn to "see" the surreal world of the Costanoan people and the Hispanic Catholic colonists with whom they held court. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Al levels/libraries. -- R. G. Mendoza, California State University, Monterey Bay
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