Posted by Randall
RiAH friend and contributor John Fea was recently featured on C-Span's Book TV. Fea appears on a March 18 panel on The Founding Fathers and Religion. He speaks about his new book Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox, 2011). Check the video out here. (Sorry, can't embed it.) Here's the summary:
Authors talked about their books on the American Revolution and role played by religion in the founding of the United States. They also responded to questions from members of the audience. Tatiana van Riemsdijk moderated. The participating authors were: Barbara Clark Smith, author of The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America; John Fea, author of Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?; and John Ragosta, author of Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution and Secured Religious Liberty. "Founding Fathers and Religion" was a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, held in the City Council Chambers on Friday, March 18, 2011.
Posted by Paul Harvey
In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled released time a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments in McCollum v. Board of Education, but the Court partially reversed itself in 1952 inZorach v. Clauson, which held that schools could release students for religious instruction provided that the sessions took place off of school property.
Corcar made emphasized that, at least initially, released time was a mainline Protestant practice, but one which was adopted by Catholics and later by evangelicals. For the former, it allowed an inroad into an overwhelmingly Protestant public school system (it was for this reason, Corcar reminded his audience, that Catholics wanted their own parochial schools). But both Catholic and mainline Protestant organizations mainly stuck to either religious or progressive social lesions, whereas by the 1980s evangelical groups were teaching biblical creationism, a matter foreseen by Felix Frankfurter, the author of the McCollum decision, when he predicted evangelicals would roast him over the fire.But how will evangelicals react, Corcar wondered, if and when other religions, specifically Muslims, requested their released time?
Kevin Schultz, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago, then discussed the critique of secularism expounded by William F. Buckley, deeply rooted in Catholic critiques of Protestant domination of education but utilized by both Catholics and Protestants. Both groups argued (and continue to argue) that a secular education provides an incomplete education, as it omits the importance of God, religion, and tradition in a child’s upbringing.
The program, however, was not a panacea—it was implemented in a city with a very small black population, and a few black teachers and students were unthreatening to white residents and the white power structure. As the town became increasingly diverse, the Springfield model began to fracture.
Jonathan Zimmerman made a few broad remarks at the end, raising questions about how much critical thinking, centered around the notion of critique, took place as a result of the Springfield project (were there some claims, like the inherent equality of the races, that progressive educators left uncontested?) and wondered if released time was at heart a pluralist impulse rooted in the needs of the various Protestant and Catholic religious communities. On the other hand, John Dewey was a fierce critic of released time because he felt it undermined democracy. One wonders, said Zimmerman, what he’d say about the heavy evangelical presence in released time today.
Posted by Kelly J. Baker
By Kelly Baker
And the beat goes on (and on and on). As I continue to put together the list of my favorite scholarship/scholars on gender, women's history, and masculinity for NWHM, I find that hesitate more and more about my choices, their inclusivity/exclusivity, and what they say about me as a scholar: What have I read? What do I need to read? What do I leave out? Why do I like Protestants so much? (That one has an easy answer). What is my lingering fascination with American Catholics? How might I find the good gender scholarship beyond my own research interests?
As commentators have noted, my list is primarily filled with scholarship about white Protestants and Catholics, which is certainly true. I write primarily about white Protestant men and women, so my list does skew that way. This does not give me a free pass, but our readers should know that the list is my favorite hits in gendering American religious history, and thus, it is not a universal, or even close to canonical, list nor should it be viewed as such. These are works that I have deeply respect, admire and even love. They urge me to be a better gender historian. Their questions become my lingering questions. As I write about masculinity and femininity, I reflect on these as lessons on how to do gender analysis, as models for emulation, and as nourishment and encouragement in my own attempts to make gender a primary category of analysis within my religious studies training. Overall, the series functions for me to highlight what I consider to be good work on gender and religion (often Christianity) and encourage you to enjoy the scholarship I list.
What this means is that I hope our readers will continue to list their choices in the comments section. Several folks have already contributed via comments and email, so THANK YOU! I will post your suggestions as an addendum to the Gender and the American religious historian series (available here and here). Please continue to list your favorites or email me your picks.
11. Tracy Fessenden is one of my favorite American religious historians, hands down. Her Culture and Redemption was an inspiring work that challenged the secularization thesis by showcasing how secular can functions as “stealth” Protestantism. She is also the co-editor of the The Puritan Origins of American Sex. In my classes, I assign her “The Convent, the Brothel, and the Protestant Woman’s Sphere,” from Signs, in she argues that anti-Catholicism functioned as tool to maintain the Protestant domestic sphere, so enforcing boundaries on nuns and prostitutes became a way to preserve pure, white womanhood.
12. Marie Pagliarini’s “The Pure American Woman and the Wicked Catholic Priest: An Analysis of Anti-Catholic Literature in Antebellum America,” from Religion and American Culture documents how analyzing gender helps us understand historical practices of intolerance. Moreover, religious intolerance works best when historical actors seek to protect innocent womanhood from some dangerous, religious threat. I cannot wait to read her article entitled, 'And the Word was Made Flesh': Divining the Female Body in Nineteenth-Century American and Catholic Culture" in the same journal.
13. Julie Byrne’s O God of Players is a cultural history of Catholic women’s basketball, which emphasizes the physicality and joy of play for these Catholic girls. The Immaculate Mighty Macs negotiated their identities as young Catholic women in the physicality of the sport but also understood the game as a Catholic enterprise. Byrne’s work showcases the fluidity of religious identity as well as the ways in which basketball problematized as well as reinforced notion of Catholic womanhood. I’ve blogged about the book previously here.
14. Heather Hendershot’s Shaking the World for Jesus is not only a good primer for those of you interested in evangelical use of media, but also contains one of the best interrogations of evangelical chastity programs for teens. Using Focus on the Family’s teen magazines for boys and girls, Hendershot shows the dangers of “eruptive” male bodies and “contained” female bodies, and importantly, documents how teens negotiate chastity in their own lives. Chastity events prove to be some of the only co-ed excursions, but the emphasis on purity for teenage women is a larger burden to bear than their male counterparts.
15. Kristy Nabhan-Warren’s The Virgin of El Barrio appears often of my Religions in the U.S. syllabus. It is an ethnography of Estela Ruiz, her vision of the Virgin Mary, and her activism and missionizing. Nabhan-Warren documents Ruiz to showcase not only her life and her visions, but also the blending of Catholicism and evangelicalism in Ruiz’s ministry. Moreover, Nabhan-Warren doesn’t shy away from gender dynamics of the ministry, and she illuminates the complicated relationship between Ruiz, the Virgin Mary, and her family.
16. Margaret Bendroth’s Fundamentalism and Gender was one of my earliest endeavors into understanding the relationship between Christian women and fundamentalism. Her work traces the idea of female subordination in fundamentalist practice, and she demonstrates how the idea of subordination, which seems so necessary to fundamentalism, oscillates between a mandate placed upon all women to loosely enforced dictate, especially when women are needed to fulfill quasi-leadership roles. Moreover, she stresses the fundamentalist attachment to masculinity as necessary to the Christian doctrine as well as the masculine nature of recruiting. This book was one of the first to make me realize how gender is a necessary category of analysis in religious studies. In addition to this work, she is also the co-editor of Women in Twentieth Century Protestantism and the author “Why Women Loved Billy Sunday: Urban Revivalism and Popular Entertainment in Early Twentieth Century America” in Religion in American Culture.
17. Janet Moore Lindman’s “Acting the Manly Christian: White Evangelical Masculinity in Revolutionary Virginia” in William and Mary Quarterly is an excellent discussion of how white evangelical men in the South redefined masculinity in Christian terms. Southern manhood did not necessarily fit with the evangelical norms of piety, and thus, these evangelical men redefined themselves as suffering saints rather than gambling toughs. Evangelical manhood was defined in negative terms, in the ability to abstain rather than give in to worldly pleasures. Moreover, Lindman documents how evangelicalism, however, embraced the hegemonic power of white manhood despite the emphasis on suffering and Christian soldiers.
Also, on another NWHM note, go check Historiann's review of Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower. Here's an excerpt:
White and her contributors explain the many struggles that black women faced as they began to enter the profession in the 1960s and 1970s–the obligation placed on many to serve their communities rather than their intellectual ambitions; the scoffing and disbelief they faced in white and black male mentors who were mostly hostile to their interest in women’s history; the stresses of entering work environments in which the other people who look like them are all secretaries or janitorial staff; the racism and sexism of students who walk out of their classes and refuse to recognize their intellectual and professional authority; the cluelessness or plain old racism of overwhelmingly white feminist scholarly communities; and the never-ending suspicion of other historians that black women’s history can never be “objective” if it’s written by black women.
I thought I would pass this ad for a position in the department of religion from my own institution. It is currently posted in the AAR Job Openings at aarweb.org. Please pass it on to anyone who might be interested in applying. The department and College values and supports excellence in classroom teaching and a successful program of professional development and scholarship.
European or American Religious History
HAMPDEN-SYDNEY COLLEGE invites applications for a three year, non-tenure track, position in Religion at the Visiting Assistant Professor level, commencing in August 2011, with primary specialization in European or American Religious History. Ph.D. or Th.D. required; previous teaching experience preferred. Candidates should be qualified to teach introductory courses in Religion, courses beyond the introductory level in European or American Religious History, and courses in an interdisciplinary College-wide program in Western Culture. Teaching responsibilities include seven sections per academic year. Hampden-Sydney College is a selective private liberal arts college for men located in south-central Virginia and enrolling about 1050 students. (College website: www.hsc.edu) Hampden-Sydney expects and supports excellence in classroom teaching and a successful program of professional development and scholarship. Send letter of application, vita, and three letters of recommendation to Dr. Robert G. Hall (email@example.com), Chair, Department of Religion, Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney VA 23943. Review of applications will begin April 10, 2011. Hampden-Sydney College is an equal opportunity employer.
Posted by Heath
By Heath Carter
Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of NYC's Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, a sweatshop blaze that consumed the lives of nearly 150 women in what still stands as one of the nation's worst industrial disasters. Interest in this solemn occasion has only been intensified by the current controversies involving unionization and collective bargaining, which have been discussed at some length on this blog and around the web.
Many of the women who died were Jewish, and New York's Jewish community has taken a leading role in the public remembering. This Sunday, for example, several groups are sponsoring a procession in which 146 persons, one for each of the victims, will march from the site of the fire to the Eldridge Street Synagogue. For more on that event, you can peruse The Triangle Walk's blog.
If you are interested in reading a brief history of the fire, as well as finding out about some of the other commemorative events happening around the nation this weekend, you might check out WNYC's site as well as the Labor and Working-Class History Association's (you have to scroll down a little ways on the latter).
Posted by Kelly J. Baker
Today's guest post comes Charity Carney, a religious historian at Stephen F. Austin State University. She received her doctorate from University of Alabama in 2009, and her book, Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South (Louisiana State University Press), will arrive on book shelves in October. This book provides a much-needed look at the place of masculinity in Christianity, particularly among ministers. Her post today engages the "problem" of single pastors and the roles of minister's wives in the contemporary period. Please welcome, Charity!
Single Pastors and Unpaid Helpmeets: The Problem of Marriage and Evangelical Leadership
In yesterday’s NY Times article, “Unmarried Pastor, Seeking a Job, Sees Bias,” journalist Erik Eckholm examines the lives of single pastors (particularly those belonging to more conservative evangelical denominations) and the obstacles they face in finding employment. Most churches want to have “family men” (the subtext here is not gay and not interested in getting into the panties of the females in the flock). While the article is interesting, what it posits is not new. It mirrors a debate that has received little attention but has plagued evangelical religious figures since the Christmas Conference or Cane Ridge. Should pastors be single or married? Today, that question has some addendums: single or married? man or woman? straight or gay? But for conservative churches, the social narrative arc has remained surprisingly the same even as church policies have changed. First, a bit of the article [emphases added]:
Like all too many Americans, Mark Almlie was laid off in the spring of 2009 when his workplace downsized. He has been searching for an appropriate position ever since, replying to more than 500 job postings without success.
But Mr. Almlie, despite a sterling education and years of experience, has faced an obstacle that does not exist in most professions: He is a single pastor, in a field where those doing the hiring overwhelmingly prefer married people and, especially, married men with children.
Mr. Almlie, 37, has been shocked, he says, at what he calls unfair discrimination, based mainly on irrational fears: that a single pastor cannot counsel a mostly married flock, that he might sow turmoil by flirting with a church member, or that he might be gay. If the job search is hard for single men, it is doubly so for single women who train for the ministry, in part because many evangelical denominations explicitly require a man to lead the congregation.
Mr. Almlie, an ordained evangelical minister who lives in Petaluma, Calif., has also had to contend with the argument, which he disputes with scriptural citations of his own, that the Bible calls for married leaders. “Prejudice against single pastors abounds,” Mr. Almlie wrote in articles he posted on a popular Christian blog site in January and February, setting off a wide-ranging debate online on a topic that many said has been largely ignored.
Some evangelical churches, in particular, openly exclude single candidates; a recent posting for a pastor by a church on Long Island said it was seeking “a family man whose family will be involved in the ministry life of the church.” Other churches convey the message through code words, like “seeking a Biblical man” (translation: a husband and a provider).
“I’ll get an e-mail saying ‘wonderful résumé,’ ” Mr. Almlie said in an interview. “Once I say I’m single, never married, I never hear back.”
Mr. Steen later married and for family reasons moved to Long Island, ultimately leaving the ministry. He now markets accounting services to churches.
Some religion experts suggested a less charitable reason for the marriage requirement: the expectation that a pastor’s wife will provide unpaid labor, perhaps leading the choir or teaching Sunday school.
“Sometimes, parishioners have an unspoken preference for a happily married male with a wife who does not work outside the home,” Cynthia Woolever, research director at U.S. Congregations, wrote in a 2009 article. “She also volunteers at the church while raising ‘wholesome and polite children.’ ”
Mr. Almlie notes that during the first 1,500 years of Christianity, “singleness, not marriage, was lauded as next to godliness.” Martin Luther, in his break with Rome, preached against mandatory celibacy and got married himself.
As he searches for a job, Mr. Almlie is also looking for a life partner. He has tried Christian dating services and even eHarmony, but nothing has clicked. He says that he understands the desire to have a model family, but that he faces too many myths and fears.
“Ultimately, I do begrudge not being hired,” he said.
Noble of Almlie, but some early evangelical minister might have begrudged churches, just for very different reasons. In the early 19th c. bachelorhood was viewed as the norm for Baptist and Methodist preachers, even though communities worried that single ministers would engage in inappropriate relations with young or even married women. Their single status also led to an image of "effeminacy" (subtext here may not be gay, but definitely not "manly" enough). Despite these social concerns, church leaders impressed upon ministers (especially circuit riders) the need to be single and celibate because the work was hard, there was little pay on which to subsist, and a wife and child may distract them from God’s work. The Virginia Conference in 1809 was termed the "Old Bachelor Conference" because there were so few married men in it. The denominational narrative has obviously shifted, but the social fears of congregants (who largely determine the direction of churches nowadays) remain the same and evangelical churches have bowed to cultural prescriptions once again. [See Heyrman, Southern Cross, of course, regarding young ministers’ image in southern society especially]
I also take interest in the role of women in this story—not simply the female pastors who are fighting their way into ministerial positions but the wives of the men who seem to be having more luck getting those jobs. The role of “helpmeet” has held a precious place in evangelical culture and women have played an important role in evangelical religion in America [Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture, still holds here]. In some of my own research, I have run across very early debates over the role of Methodist ministers’ wives (most of these sources are dated late-antebellum as more ministers married—including the infamous debates surrounding James O. Andrew’s marriage and the pursuant denominational break in 1844). One of my favorite examples is an account of a minister’s wife’s experience that appeared in 1859 in the Southern Methodist Itinerant. Several women in one church practically persecuted their pastor’s spouse for neglecting her duties, not attending all church meetings, and attending to things that did not contribute to her husband’s ministry. Some of the “leading ladies” in the community went to the woman and told her that she needed to either teach Sunday School or join the Missionary Society if she wanted her husband’s church to prosper. The wife’s response is classic: if the church would like to pay her, she would be happy to serve but since they hired her husband and not her, they had no special claims to her time and energy. She said: “That the minister’s wife is expected to keep her house and clothe her children upon the lowest range of income, that will not allow her competent help” is work enough without having to “spend half of her time in gossiping among the idle or well-to-do ladies of the congregation—take part in their sewing circles, and attend all their various meetings for good or doubtful purposes.” This response is certainly not typical, but it does demonstrate the pressures placed on minister’s helpmeets from very early on.
What may have contributed to the persistence of this gendered vision of the holy household is actually the very commercial imagery of husband and wife preaching teams that invade our televisions on networks like TBN and advertise on billboards alongside the smiling insurance agents. In my current town of Nacogdoches (East Texas), a Baptist church hired a young pastor and the billboard denotes his position as “Head Pastor” and his spouse as “Wife,” an official title for an official (and officially unpaid) church role. For nationally recognized couples like Joel and Victoria Osteen, Creflo and Taffi Dollar, the Hagee clan, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, the patriarchal dynamic is retained even if the wife has a larger role in the ministry. Single women like Joyce Meyers and Paula White (the “messed up Mississippi girl”) who have carved out a space still speak in sexed terms about faith and living one’s religion. Thus the debate continues (married/single, man/woman, straight/well, straight) with mainline evangelicalism—a page taken out of the past and pasted in the Times.
Posted by Randall
Today we'll be discussing Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz's The Kingdom of Matthias (Oxford University Press, 1994) in my Forging of an American Nation (1783-1865) class. As most readers of RiAH know, the authors tell the story of a strange religious group and its even stranger prophet, Matthias. The tale of Matthias's Kingdom--rife with "free-lovism," violence, and mystifying, anti-Finneyite beliefs--became front-page news in the 1830s. Early reports from those in my class who have already dug in are positive. One said it seemed a little like a 19th-century E True Hollywood Story.
I picked up a collection of essays, State of Mind: A Boston Reader (1948), at Commonwealth Books here in town last week. It includes wonderful material from the 17th to the mid 20th century. One selection--"The Newness" by Robert Carter, an essay that appears in the November 1889 issue of the Century Magazine--would be a good primary source item to read alongside The Kingdom of Matthias. Carter's sarcastic romp through the reform decades does not deal directly with the hirsute prophet Matthias, but an oddball cast of other wide-eyed dietary, dress, social, and anti-slavery reformers make an appearance in "The Newness." The essay can be read as a local color, skeptical, post-Civil War remembrance of the failures and naivete of reformism.
I include a few passages here:
By the "Newness" I mean a very singular intellectual and spiritual movement which broke out like an epidemic in New England some forty years ago, and ran its course for about ten years, when it subsided and disappeared almost as suddenly as it arose. I call it the "Newness," because that was the most distinctive term applied to it, and the one by which it was most frequently designated by those engaged in it, though in fact it had no authentic or universally accepted appellation. By outsiders it was generally called Transcendentalism, and its disciples Transcendentalists, and to some extent and at certain periods those terms were used by the disciples themselves. . . .
I have noticed the influence which Unitarianism, Abolitionism, and the study of German literature had in producing the "Newness," and I have mentioned 1835 as about the date of its manifestation. The republication in this country of Carlyle's Sartor Resartus in 1836, and the appearance in the same year of Emerson's Nature, followed rapidly by his other works in the same vein, may be said to have brought the movement to a head, and it soon culminated in the issue of the magazine called "The Dial," in July, 1840, and, shortly after, in the establishment of the Community or Association of Brook Farm, near Boston. . . .
Brook Farm, however, was not the only community which was founded by the disciples of the " Newness." There was one established in 1843 on a farm called Fruitlands, in the town of Harvard, about forty miles from Boston. This was of a much more ultra and grotesque character than Brook Farm. Here were gathered the men and women who based their hopes of reforming the world, and of making all things new, on dress and on diet. They revived the Pythagorean, the Essenian, and the monkish notions of asceticism, with some variations and improvements peculiarly American. The head of the institution was Bronson Alcott, a very remarkable man, whose singularities of character, conduct, and opinion would alone afford sufficient topics fora long lecture. His friend Emerson defined him to be a philosopher devoted to the science of education, and declared that he had singular gifts for awakening contemplation and aspiration in simple and in cultivated persons. He was self educated, but had acquired a rare mastery of English in speech, though his force and subtlety of expression seemed to fail him when he wrote. His writings, though quaint and thoughtful, are clumsy compared with his conversation, which has been pronounced by the best judges to have been unrivaled in grace and clearness.
Mr. Alcott was one of the foremost leaders of the "Newness." He swung round the circle of schemes very rapidly, and after going through a great variety of phases he maintained, at the time of the foundation of Fruitlands, that the evils of life were not so much social or political as personal, and that a personal reform only could eradicate them; that self-denial was the road to eternal life, and that property was an evil, and animal food of all kinds an abomination. No animal substance, neither flesh, fish, butter, cheese, eggs, nor milk, was allowed to be used at Fruitlands. They were all denounced as pollution, and as tending to corrupt the body and through that the soul. Tea and coffee, molasses and rice, were also proscribed,— the last two as foreign luxuries,— and only water was used as a beverage.
Mr. Alcott would not allow the land to be manured, which he regarded as a base and corrupting and unjust mode of forcing nature. He made also a distinction between vegetables which aspired or grew into the air, as wheat, apples, and other fruits, and the base products which grew downwards into the earth, such as potatoes, beets, radishes, and the like. These latter he would not allow to be used. The bread of the community he himself made of unbolted flour, and sought to render it palatable by forming the loaves into the shape of animals and other pleasant images. He was very strict, indeed rather despotic, in his rule of the community, and some of the members have told me that they were nearly starved to death there; nay, absolutely would have perished with hunger if they had not furtively gone among the surrounding farmers and begged for food. . . .
Brook Farm exploded in 1847 and Margaret Fuller went to Europe, I think it had very little distinctive existence in New England. The aspiring youth of New England seem now to be contented with making their way in the world very much as other people make it, without seeking for any fundamental change in the established order of society.
Me: So while reading your chapter on the beginnings of the women’s rights movement, I was surprised to learn that there was actually a split in ideology when it came to religion…
Sehat: Exactly. The women’s movement was not monolithic. Henry Ward Beecher, who was the most famous preacher in the last half of the nineteenth century, was in the branch that thought that God had created women to be more inherently moral. So women needed the vote and greater participation in public life in order to increase the moral tone of public life. Beecher thought that women were crucial to upholding communal moral standards.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, on the other hand, believed that the notion of women’s inherent moral superiority was a ruse to keep them isolated and in the home. She thought it excused a lot of philandering on the part of men (because their moral deviance didn’t matter as much as women’s). She concluded that women needed first to be seen as individuals, rather than matrons or mothers or ciphers of morality to society at large, in order to reform society in a just way.
Me: Which is why she also took on marriage?
Sehat: Right. She thought marriage law was the linchpin that held together Christian patriarchy. When a woman married, she lost control of nearly everything when women surrendered her legal identity and then couldn’t get out of the marriage because it would upset society’s morals.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Posted by Paul Harvey
Along the way, Mr. Carnes, with three part-time assistants and other freelance helpers, is posting his findings online tonycreligion.info, his “public square,” he called it, where people can read about “the sizzle of religion in New York — the kosher sizzle! The halal sizzle!”
Mr. Carnes is in search of every church, cathedral, synagogue, shtiebel, mosque, temple, zendo and ashram. His crew gathers information by asking for it, in person. By the end of 2011, they will have driven every street in New York.
Posted by John L. Crow
Wednesday evening the ARH graduate students at FSU had its monthly colloquium and during the lively discussion, the issue of fraud and charlatanism came up. In particular, how do we address the beliefs and practices of the historical actors we study? What about claims of healing and medicinal products? When a religious leader sells a product, such as a patent medicine or an herbal remedy, which they claim cures diseases, do we assume they believe in the product, or can we question whether their beliefs are true, raising the possibility of fraud? What if they claim they can heal by the laying on of hands, or from afar? Should we mention this possibility of fraud when there is no direct evidence?
Yesterday afternoon, in a seminar discussing the Sehat and Sullivan volumes Emily Clark blogged about, we discussed the relationship between the courts, religious intolerance, term definition, and the precarious position courts are in when they have to make judgment calls regarding religious belief and practice. While having this discussion, the previous question about charlatanism came to mind and putting these two issues together, I remembered the 1944 Supreme Court case of United States v. Ballard. While this case was not mentioned in Sehat, it would have fit his narrative well, especially in the chapter where he discusses the Supreme Court’s “radical” shift in the 1940s when “the court entered an entirely different world…[b]y acting as a guarantor of rights” (226).
Guy and Edna Ballard, along with their son Donald, were the heads of the “I AM” movement founded in 1930. According to Guy Ballard, while he was hiking on Mt. Shasta in California, he encountered the ascendant master Saint Germain. With roots in Theosophy, Ballard claimed that Beloved Saint Germain, the current master overseeing the Earth, chose Ballard and his family to be the mouth piece for the “I AM” movement. Through the Ballards, the masters, including Jesus, dictated new teachings which would grant immortality to those who accepted the teachings. The masters also claimed their wisdom would save the United States from destruction. Most importantly, because of his special position as the spokesperson of the masters, Ballard had attained a supernatural state of immortality. This enabled him to heal disease and conquer death and old age. He claimed he could do these things for others both in person and from afar if the followers sent the Saint Germain Foundation love offerings via mail. Ballard made these claims in printed literature created by the Saint Germain Press, on radio shows, which had a broad audience, and through correspondence courses.
Ballard unexpectedly died in 1939 causing a crisis within the movement. His death obviously refuted his claims of immortality. A number of his former adherents and students used this opportunity to challenge the movement and complained to the federal government about Ballard’s statements. In 1941, the United States filed a lawsuit against Edna and Donald Ballard, claiming that they were guilty of mail fraud, accepting money for products and services which they knew were fraudulent. Eighteen counts were brought against the Ballards. These claims of the Ballards included:
- That the Ballards had attained a supernatural state of self-immortality, which enabled them to be entirely free from ailments common to man and to conquer disease, death, old age, poverty and misery, and that they could and would transmit that supernatural state to others willing to pay therefor.
- That the Ballards had, by reason of supernatural attainments, the power to heal persons of ailments, diseases and injuries and the power to cure persons of diseases normally classified as curable and of diseases normally classified as incurable, and had in fact cured hundreds of persons.
- That the Ballards had a divine and supernatural ability to bring forth from a supernatural state money, riches and other things necessary to mankind and could transmit that ability to others willing to pay therefor.
At the end of the case, both Edna and Donald Ballard were found guilty of twelve counts of fraud. The significant thing about the case, though, is that the district court judge gave certain instructions to the jury to not consider the religious claims made by the Ballards. The language of the judge is so specific I quote the passage in full:
Now, gentlemen, here is the issue in this case: First, the defendants in this case made certain representations of belief in a divinity and in a supernatural power. Some of the teachings of the defendants, representations, might seem extremely improbable to a great many people. For instance, the appearance of Jesus to dictate some of the works that we have had introduced in evidence or shaking hands with Jesus. To some people that might seem highly improbable. I point that out as one of the many statements. Whether that is true or not is not the concern of this court and is not the concern of the jury. As far as this court sees the issue, it is immaterial what these defendants preached or wrote or taught in their classes. They [the jury] are not going to be permitted to speculate on the actuality of the happening of those incidents. The issue is: Did these defendants honestly and in good faith believe those things? If they did, they should be acquitted. If these defendants did not believe those things, [if] they did not believe that Jesus came down and dictated, or that Saint Germain came down and dictated, did not believe the things that they wrote, the things that they preached, but used the mail for the purpose of getting money, the jury should find them guilty.When the case was appealed (Ballard et. al. v. United States, 138 F.2d 540, (C.A. 9 1943)), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the ruling, claiming that the judge should not have excluded the issue of religious belief. The majority wrote, regarding the claims of meeting the masters and the powers of healing, “Whether such representations were false or true was a question which should have been submitted to the jury.” The case was appealed to the Supreme Court which sided with the district court and overturned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The significant point is that this opinion established the precedent that the United States government is not in the business of deciding which religious claims were true and which were false. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion states:
The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects, of the violence of disagreement among them, and of the lack of any one religious creed on which all men would agree. They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views. Man's relation to his God was made no concern of the state. He was granted the right to worship as he pleased and to answer to no man for the verity of his religious views. The religious views espoused by respondents might seem incredible, if not preposterous, to most people. But if those doctrines are subject to trial before a jury charged with finding their truth or falsity,then the same can be done with the religious beliefs of any sect. When the triers of fact undertake that task, they enter a forbidden domain. The First Amendment does not select any one group or any one type of religion for preferred treatment. It puts them all in that position.With the Supreme Court’s decision, the Ballards were retried. This new case also went to the Supreme Court (Ballard v. United States, 329 U. S. 187 (1946)) and was vacated because in the second trial women were illegally excluded from the jury. The end result was that Edna and Donald Ballard were never convicted of fraud.
In looking at the case of the Ballards, one might wonder how nineteenth century religious figures such as Andrew Jackson Davis would fair. After Davis was visited by Swedenborg and Galen while in a mesmeric trance and given his staff of healing, he then claimed to be a trance medium and that he could heal people. Phineas Parkhurst Quimby and Mary Baker Eddy also made claims related to curing disease. Healing is a significant aspect of various Christian movements, including Pentecostalism and Primitive Baptistism, to name just a couple. As scholars of religion, how do we engage the issue of fraud? Is it fraud only when remuneration is involved? Or is it only a problem when the alleged cure fails to work? Many say that as historians of religion we should adopt the stance of the Supreme Court and assert we are not in the business adjudicating any religious claims regarding belief and practice.
The United States v. Ballard set a precedent that, as Winnifred Fallers Sullivan points out, is impossible for the United States courts to follow. In a detailed study of Warner v. Boca Raton (1999), Sullivan shows that the court is routinely placed in the position of deciding what is a religion and thus protected belief and practice under the establishment clause in the Constitution. She notes, “legal protection for ‘religion’ anywhere demands a definition of religion” (151). I think we, as scholars of religion, are more aware than most about the difficulty of defining religion, and all the implicit and explicit baggage that comes with definition. But this, then, brings me back to my first question, how do we address the beliefs and practices of the historical actors we study? Of course there is no one answer and scholars must decide based on the data and claims of the historical actors. But what these books and court cases demonstrate is that our discipline is not alone in the struggle to answer these questions.
Posted by Kelly J. Baker
By Kelly Baker
This is my humble attempt to document those scholars who use gender as a category of analysis in American religious history. The first four on my list were the scholars whose work has most deeply influenced my own. The rest of my list includes scholarship I love as well as scholarship that I need to know (and you do too!). My current goal is to list 31 scholars for the 31 days of NWHM. Let's see if I can do it!
So, the list continues on:
5. Catherine Brekus, the editor of The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past and author of Strangers & Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845, is one of the strongest voices about the inclusion of women in American religious history. Her introductory piece to The Religious History of American Women pulls no punches. She writes:
More than thirty years after the rise of women's history alongside the feminist movement, it is still difficult to 'find' women in many books and articles about American religious history...[M]any seem to assume that women's stories are peripheral to their research topics, whether Puritan theology or church and state. They do not seem hostile to women's history as much as they are dismissive of it, treating it as a separate topic that they can safely ignore. Since 'women's historians' are devoted to writing women's history, those who simply identify themselves as 'American religious historians' can focus on topics that seem more important to them (1).
Brekus makes it clear that American religious history needs to attend to gender and her contributors showcase how studying the lives of women change the tenor, strategies and narration of American religious history. I reread her introductory essay, whenever I need a kick in the pants to do good gender analysis as a method to improve my scholarship. Women's history is not just the purview of women's historians.
6. Evelyn Higginbotham is the author of Righteous Discontent:The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church: 1880-1920(1993). While I am not the most familiar with her work, I should be. Harvard University Press describes this ground-breaking and award-winning work:
In her account, we see how the efforts of women enabled the church to build schools, provide food and clothing to the poor, and offer a host of social welfare services. And we observe the challenges of black women to patriarchal theology. Class, race, and gender dynamics continually interact in Higginbotham’s nuanced history. She depicts the cooperation, tension, and negotiation that characterized the relationship between men and women church leaders as well as the interaction of southern black and northern white women’s groups.
Righteous Discontent finally assigns women their rightful place in the story of political and social activism in the black church. It is central to an understanding of African American social and cultural life and a critical chapter in the history of religion in America.
7. Amy Koehlinger, a contributor to The Religious History of American Women, the author of The New Nuns: Racial Justice and Religious Reform in the 1960s (2007), and one of my mentors, helped me wrestle with Judith Butler's Gender Trouble as well as informed my approach to 1920s Klan femininity and masculinity. Amy's work on Catholic nuns and their struggles in the Civil Rights movement analyzes race and gender in tandem and demonstrates how nuns negotiated their new roles during the advent of Vatican II. Her new project, titled Rosaries and Rope Burns, explores importance of boxing for Catholic men as well as examines how the sport influenced performances of masculinity. This isn't first time she's tackled masculinity. Her essay, "Let Us Live for Those Who Love Us': Faith, Family, and the Contours of Manhood among the Knights of Columbus in Late Nineteenth-Century Connecticut" in the Journal of Social History, takes to task Mark Carnes's work on fraternities in the Victorian era for focusing solely on Protestant men's attempts to move away from domesticity. The Knights of Columbus, on the other hand, imagined their fraternal work as an extension of their family life.
8. Lynn Neal is the author of Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction (2006) and a co-conspirator when it comes to all things religious intolerance. Romancing God explores the relationships of evangelical fiction to evangelical romance novels, and Lynn takes seriously the piety and devotional reading of these Christian women. Rather than disparage the romance novel, she explores the complicated relationships evangelical women have with the books that they read and how this genre influenced their practices of Christianity. (I've blogged about Lynn and Amy's work long ago.)
8. Kathleen Sprows Cummings is the associate director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, author of New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholicism in the Progressive Era (2009), and contributor to The Religious History of American Women. Kathy also blogs at with outr much beloved crew at Religion in American History. Her work employs case studies of Catholic women to demonstrate how debates over Catholic identity during the Progressive era were also negotiations of gender roles. She has written deftly about the place of women religious in Catholic infrastructure.
9. Anthea Butler, who I follow at Religion Dispatches, is the author of Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (2007). Butler's work engaged me as soon as she cataloged the fashion of the women of COGIC and discussed the ways in which fashion cleared up the problem of sanctified women's bodies. Here's what I said about her book at the Journal of Southern Religion:
Moreover, fashionable dress might present a gender-confused body. For members, "the Spirit could not move into a body that was 'confused' about its gender identity," which meant that women policed the clothing of other women to guarantee one could become sanctified (79). Additionally, dress was the preferred method of controlling men's sexual behavior. By dressing modestly, COGIC women differentiated themselves from prostitutes and appeared "respectable" (80-81). For Butler, dress is also the signal for changes within the denomination. Restrictions of dress emphasized the importance of self-sanctification, and the embrace of more fashionable attire signaled the engagement of church mothers with the larger world. To become civically engaged, these women had to retire plain dress and be "a smartly dressed, well-coiffed and well versed church mother with a vocabulary steeped in scripture yet attuned to the social realities on earth, rather than heaven" (136). The evolution of the Women's Department from 1911 to the 1960s could be traced sartorially. Their dress signaled their spiritual concerns, and their clothing shifted from a material artifact representing inner purity to smart clothing that symbolized a concern with the larger world. For Butler, by the 1970s, clothing had been stripped of much of its religious meaning, and well-dressed women were no longer engaged, but submissive to the commands of male leadership.
Her careful attention to the sartorial and the complexity of gender performance for COGIC women makes this one of my beloved examples of Pamela Klassen's assertion that the history of religion is a history of clothing.
10. Bret Carroll's article on the mediumship of John Shoebridge Williams is one my favorite academic articles, which is not a title I pass around lightly. Carroll uses the diaries of Williams to show how the medium faced conflicting norms of masculinity in Spiritualism but also larger 19th century American culture. Williams had a peculiar dilemma, in that he believed he was growing breasts because his daughter, Eliza, possessed him. I recently taught this article in my gender seminar, and my students were a bit flabbergasted. Yet, the complexity of masculinity, femininity and the problem of androgyny appear in this well-written and humorous article about one male medium's struggle with his gender performance. Feel free to rush to JSTOR for your reading pleasure.
Note: The University of North Carolina press is not influencing my choices with any monetary gains. They just rock when it comes to gender scholarship in American religious history.