Sanctifying Social Struggles: From New Contributor Heath Carter

Paul Harvey

I'm very pleased to introduce our newest contributor, Heath Carter. Heath is a Ph.D. student at the University of Notre Dame, where he's working under Mark Noll and John McGreevy on his dissertation "Scab Ministers, Striking Saints: Christianity and Class Conflict in Chicago, 1865-1914." One piece from this, which I was privileged to read in manuscript, has been published recently: "Scab Ministers, Striking Saints, and Class Conflict in 1894 Chicago," American Nineteenth Century History 11, No. 3 (September 2010): 321-49. For his first contribution, Heath reflects on a panel he just attended at the 2011 AHA.

Sanctifying Social Struggles Panel
by Heath Carter

As Randall and others have noted, this year’s AHA more than made good on its theme, “History, Society, and the Sacred.” The conference schedule was packed with an unprecedented number of panels showcasing the latest scholarship on American religion. On Friday morning I attended one – entitled “Sanctifying Social Struggles across the Mid-Twentieth-Century South” – that tackled a theme near to my heart (and dissertation!): the relationship between religion and class. Chaired by Lisa McGirr, the panel featured papers by Alison Greene, Jarod Roll, and Elizabeth and Ken Fones-Wolf, names that will be familiar to many readers of this blog. Both Greene and Roll recounted 1930s episodes in which religious ideals motivated social protest, with she focusing on tenant farmers in the Mississippi Delta and he on the fascinating figure of Claude Williams, who was at once a fundamentalist preacher, economic radical, and racial progressive. The Fones-Wolfs’ presentation underscored the strategic importance of religion on both sides of post-WWII labor battles, and included a riveting discussion of how corporations like Westinghouse and General Electric enlisted local preachers in their union-busting campaigns. The panelists earned well-deserved praise from commentator James Green, an eminent labor historian, who gracefully acknowledged having been remiss in neglecting religion in his own work. It was McGirr, meanwhile, who asked perhaps the most challenging question. She wanted to know whether the panelists thought their papers exposed the need for an overhaul of labor history as we have known it, or whether their arguments merely embellished older storylines. Far from settled, this line of inquiry should continue to generate much invigorating debate going forward. (Those interested in exploring some of these issues in further depth might start with the spring 2009 issue of Labor, which was devoted to the intersection of religion and class; also, be sure not to miss Roll’s prize-winning Spirit of Rebellion, published by U. of Illinois in 2010.)


Randall said…
Heath: That was one of the sessions I really wish I could have made it to. Thanks for the summary.

I read an eye-opener of a book on labor and religion back in grad school: Jama Lazerow, Religion and the Working Class in Antebellum America
Alison said…
Thanks for the write-up, Heath. It was a fun panel, and I too was impressed with both Jim Green and Lisa McGirr's thoughtful comments. I'm glad your post also draws attention to Spirit of Rebellion, Jarod's wonderful book on religion, race, and labor!