Posted by Heath
2011 is proving to be a challenging year for organized labor in America and yet also a year full of banner anniversaries. Just over a month ago I blogged about the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. This weekend, meanwhile, Chicagoans will mark the 125th anniversary of the notorious Haymarket Affair, which transpired at Randolph and Des Plaines Streets on 4 May 1886. The tragedy that unfolded that night had dramatic ramifications for the American labor movement, spelling the doom, of course, of the Knights of Labor. It had profound reverberations in the world of the religious elite as well, fueling Protestant nativism and a joint Protestant/Catholic backlash against anything that remotely hinted of radicalism. All this is well-attested in the literature. But we know much less about the religious dimensions of the Great Upheaval. The years prior to 1886 saw not only a dramatic spike in the incidents of strikes but also in working-class criticism of the churches, which wage earners perceived to be moving ever more into solidarity with capital. In late-nineteenth-century Chicago, notably, the working classes' critiques were often framed not in materialistic but rather distinctly Christian categories: Jesus was a carpenter and "the laborer is worthy of his hire" were two frequent refrains. More on this at some point soon, but in the meantime, here's an interesting NY Times article that discusses the anniversary in light of current controversies; and also a list of events that the Illinois Labor History society is sponsoring to commemorate the occasion, including Saturday's reenactment and re-dedication of the Haymarket monument in Forest Park, IL. If you know of other events in your area, please feel free to share in the comments section. Finally, for those who don't know about the excellent teaching resources available via the Chicago History Museum website, both the digital collection and Dramas of Haymarket are well worth a look.
Posted by Paul Harvey
CSRAC Hosts Second Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture
The Second Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture is slated for June 2-5, 2011, at the new JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis.
Sponsored by the Center and by Religion & American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, the purpose of the biennial conference series is to combine the insights of those working from different perspectives to help create new and better understandings of religion’s role in American life. The first Conference on Religion and American Culture, held in Indianapolis June 4-7, 2009, laid the foundation for the series, with a focus on recognizing disciplinary boundaries and exploring how scholars within those disciplines might learn from each other. Proceedings of those sessions are available for free on this website.
The overarching theme of this second conference will be “change.” Changing understandings of both religion and culture, as well as the effects these changes have on ways of thinking about religion’s role in American culture, will be the focus. “Most crucial is the change over the past few decades toward thinking about religion as it is expressed in everyday life, religion as lived experience,” said Philip Goff, Executive Director of the CSRAC.
“The conference will have three parts,” continued Goff. “Two opening sessions on changing definitions of religion and what this means for its study, four topical sessions where we play out this question in specific research areas, and then two sessions on what the future holds (or may hold). The 2009 conference was primarily about bringing together senior people from different disciplines to discuss the field broadly, and we succeeded. The meeting in 2011 is about bringing a similarly strong group together with much greater attention to what religion is coming to mean in America, and how this affects any effort to understand it.”
The conference will open June 2 with a reception in Osteria Pronto at the JW Marriott. The hotel, which opened in February, is Indianapolis’s newest and largest, with 1005 guest rooms in 34 stories and 104,000 square feet of meeting, banquet, and exhibit space. A special conference rate of $74.50 has been made available for a block of rooms, thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment. Once that block of rooms is sold out, the rate will be $149 per night. (Please note that you will be asked for a credit card to guarantee your reservation. The rate of $74.50 is available to registered conference participants only, one discounted room per participant, and will not be applied until you check in at the hotel. This is so whether you make your reservation online or by phone.)
Conference registration before May 5 is recommended; registration fees increase from $85 professional and $45 student to $110 professional and $65 student after May 5. Onsite registration will be $130 professional and $80 student.
"When baseball functions as a civil religion," observes Joe Price in Rounding the Bases, "its true believers--the passionate fans and players who shape their worldviews and daily routines around their devotion to the game--experience a kind of sacramental rejuvenation in the game itself." Joe makes it no secret that he is a "true believer." The book concludes with a thoughtful recollection of his own baseball "conversion" narrative. And this summer, as research for his next book, Joe will sing the national anthem at over 100 minor league baseball parks across the nation.
If you're interested in following along, check out his website , Facebook page, and blog. Joe's wife is also coming along for the ride (they're traveling in an RV), blogging on her side of the story.
Here's one of Joe's dispatches from Florida...
At St. Lucie, a twin pillared sculpture made from remnant steel at Ground Zero graces the entry to the ballpark and pays tribute to the victims of the Twin Towers’ attack. Created by Patrick Cochrane, the piece was donated by retired New York City firefighters who live in the St. Lucie area.
As I entered the ballpark to sing for Florida's Mets, the relic reminded me of the consummate performance of the national anthem by Daniel Rodriguez, then a New York City policeman, at Yankee Stadium shortly after the 9/11 tragedies.
While the crowd’s response to my anthem rendition in St. Lucie was enthusiastic, the most expressive gestures and comments came from Mets players and a vendor. As I walked the gauntlet past the Mets dugout right after I had sung, manager Pedro Lopez gave me thumbs up and said “Good job,” followed by third-baseman Richard Lucas reaching over the dugout railing to shake hands with me. A short time later, the vendor who was roasting pretzels over a charcoal fire near the backstop breezeway expressed great appreciation for the anthem itself. He offered that his wife, Laura Mercado, had auditioned a couple of days earlier to sing for the Mets and hopes to sing soon for one of the games.
A similar connection took place the following day in Jupiter while I was eating a delectable lunch at Le Metro in the Abacoa Town Center. Tiara, the waitress, recommended the broth-based mushroom soup and, as an entrée, grilled scallops, presented over tabouli, sliced tomatoes, and a fan of avocado slices dressed with an herbed balsamic vinegarette. I still savor that meal. When she asked what business had brought me to town, I indicated that I’d be singing for the Hammerheads a few hours later. “Wow!” she exclaimed and then recounted how some years ago when she had been living in Newport Beach, California, her daughter Nicole Gero had sung the national anthem for the Freedom Bowl game.
It’s quite simple: Anthem performances bring people together.
Posted by Paul Harvey
War, violence, and rituals of death have been central to American history, nowhere more so than among Native Americans. Here, just wanted to alert you to a couple of new works that advance new understandings of religious rituals surrounding war, violence, and death.
First, last week Historiann called my attention to a new book which I have yet to see but looks hugely promising, especially as a classroom-usable text. I'll quote from her here:
Erik Seeman’s The Huron-Wendat Feast of the Dead: Indian-European Encounters in Early North America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). From the book jacket:
Anyone who has poked around at all in The Jesuit Relations will recognize descriptions of the feasts of the dead in these documents to be some of the most immediately compelling and gripping (if, as always with the Jesuits, problematic) primary sources for 17th-century Native American religious practices. Weighing in a a svelte 176 pages, this book looks like an effort to use these kinds of sources in a way that opens them up and makes discussion of cross-cultural religious encounters in early America accessible for classroom discussion.
“Two thousand Wendat (Huron) Indians stood on the edge of an enormous burial pit… they held in their arms the bones of roughly seven hundred deceased friends and family members. The Wendats had lovingly scraped and cleaned the bones of the corpses that had decomposed on the scaffolds. They awaited only the signal from the master of the ritual to place the bones in the pit. This was the great Feast of the Dead.”
Witnesses to these Wendat burial rituals were European colonists, French Jesuit missionaries in particular. Rather than being horrified by these unfamiliar native practices, Europeans recognized the parallels between them and their own understanding of death and human remains. Both groups believed that deceased souls traveled to the afterlife; both believed that elaborate mortuary rituals ensured the safe transit of the soul to the supernatural realm; and both believed in the power of human bones.
Appreciating each other’s funerary practices allowed the Wendats and French colonists to find common ground where there seemingly would be none. Erik R. Seeman analyzes these encounters, using the Feast of the Dead as a metaphor for broader Indian-European relations in North America. His compelling narrative gives undergraduate students of early America and the Atlantic World a revealing glimpse into this fascinating — and surprising — meeting of cultures.
And here's a powerful new article of interest to many of you, by our friend and colleague Jennifer Graber, whose first book The Furnace of Affliction has received attention at our blog before.
The article, based on some outstanding research in the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, is "Mighty Upheaval on the Minnesota Frontier: Violence, War, and Death in Dakota and Missionary Christianity," Church History 80 (March 2011): 76-108.
The piece begins by asking "If . . . war is the norm rather than the aberration in American national life, how are we to understand the transformations experienced in 1862 by missionaries and Dakotas as part of a larger American story . . . [and how do we] understand how violence worked to reshape the participants' religious lives?" Graber considers the effects both on missionaries from the ABCFM and the Dakotas of the Dakota War in Minnesota in the late summer of 1862, a horrific outbreak of violence which resulted in the deaths of several hundred settlers and later the mass public execution of over 300 Indians, particularly focused on non-Christian Indians and "medicine men" who were thought to be the ringleaders of the revolt. Graber makes effective use of concepts of Christianity and violence drawn from Emma Anderson's Betrayal of Faith, Jill Lepore's The Name of War, and Harry Stout's "Religion, War, and the Meaning of America" (from Religion and American Culture, Summer 2009, 275-89).
In one section, Graber considers the religious responses of Dakotas to this signal event in their history, including the "conversion" of many of those awaiting execution. She provides a complex portrayal difficult to summarize here but well worth the read. Alongside this, Graber considers also the effect that the trauma of war had on the missionaries, and concludes that "these men underwent their own transformation. Their encounter with violence and devastation, punishment and incarceration caused them to mitigate and complicate the revivalist Calvinism they brought to the frontier. Their vision of missions made up of churches and schools became something else altogether, one of reservations and prisons that God used to make Indian converts."
Despite its short length, this sobering piece had me reflecting in ways which inspired some previous blogging about Emma Anderson's Betrayal of Faith. Highly recommended reading, especially after our last continuous decade of religion, violence, war, and death.
Posted by Randall
I'm serving on the program committee for the Southern Historical Association meeting, Mobile, Alabama, November 1-4, 2012. Paul tells me this will involve looking over an avalanche of proposals in a sealed bunker ten miles under the 2011 conference hotel. But he says it is fun, and I believe him. I'll do my utmost to get some good religion panels into the mix.
Here's the CFP:
The Program Committee invites proposals on all topics related to the history of the American South from its pre-colonial era to today. In addition, for the 2012 meeting in Mobile it extends a special welcome to proposals relating to:
* International, transnational, or comparative approaches
* 2012 as an anniversary of major historical events, publications, etc.
The Program Committee accepts proposals for single papers but encourages session proposals that include two or three papers. Individuals interested in using the SHA website to organize a session with complementary papers may send an e-mail to Sheree Dendy with their name, e-mail address, and proposed paper topic. She will post this information on the SHA website, which others seeking compatible co-panelists may consult. Click here to view current postings of those seeking related proposals.
According to SHA policy, no one who appeared on the previous two programs, those at Charlotte and Baltimore, can be part of the program in Mobile.
Those submitting proposals should include suggestions of people who would be appropriate as commentators/chairs but not issue invitations. The Program Committee will select and invite a chair and usually two commentators. Note: this policy is new for the 2012 program.
No two people from the same institution can be on the same session.
See instructions for submitting proposals online, click here.
The deadline for proposals for the 2012 program is September 1, 2011.
Proposals in Latin American and Caribbean should be submitted to the section sub- committees. Click here.
2012 Program Committee Co-Chairs: Don Doyle and Marjorie Spruill University of South Carolina
Posted by Paul Harvey
Winner, Lauren F. A cheerful and comfortable faith: Anglican religious practice in the elite households of eighteenth-century Virginia. Yale, 2010. 272p bibl index afp ISBN 0-300-12469-4, $45.00; ISBN 9780300124699, $45.00. Reviewed in 2011may CHOICE.
This study by Winner (Duke Divinity School) of the domestic religious life of elite families in Colonial Virginia both builds upon and modifies earlier work, including Dell Upton's Holy Things and Profane (1986). As Upton did, Winner focuses primarily on material objects as evidence; however, she deals not with public, male-dominated church buildings but rather with articles found in and around the home: needlework, baptismal bowls, prayer books, articles related to food preparation and consumption, and garments and rings worn in times of mourning. Winner's argues that although their roles were circumscribed, Anglican women nevertheless carved out a sphere in which they subtly contested the authority over religious matters claimed by clergy and male relatives and that their religious life, though not as dramatic as that of their Puritan counterparts, was an authentic appropriation of Anglican tradition in a Colonial setting. Winner's work is thoroughly and imaginatively researched, informed but not overwhelmed by theory, adequately illustrated, and accessibly written. This book is an important contribution to Anglican, elite, Colonial, material, and gendered dimensions of American religious life. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty. -- P. W. Williams, Miami University
Posted by Paul Harvey
Despite being a rare bright spot in an industry facing difficulties, music with explicit religious content has been largely segregated from non-religious pop music, both in terms of radio stations and audiences — so much so that it even has a name, contemporary Christian music.
But the church and its expansion into the East Village highlight a concerted groundswell of middle-class, professional evangelicals in Manhattan, an area many churches once shunned as an epicenter of sin. It is the place, many now believe, to reach the people who influence the world.
Though much attention has been paid to New York’s boom in immigrant churches, in recent decades the number of English-speaking evangelical churches south of Harlem has grown tenfold, to more than 100, said Tony Carnes, a researcher and founder of the online journal A Journey Through NYC Religions, who has studied New York churches since the 1970s. Without fanfare, the newcomers have created networks to pay for new churches and to form church-planting incubators, treating the city as a mission field.
So, too, Rob Bell is articulating the concerns of a generation of Christians schooled in toleration, whose neighbors and coworkers and siblings are Muslim or Buddhist or agnostic, a generation whose pluralist social commitments are at odds with theological commitments to limited salvation. Bell speaks for those Christians who take the Bible seriously but can’t imagine their secular friends aren’t going to heaven, too. He speaks for that woman in the pew who can’t bear the thought of spending eternity apart from her atheist brother. The tweeting gatekeepers of conservative evangelicalism may also share these concerns, but for them, the solution is to convert the unbelieving neighbor.
I'll wash his feet with my hair if he needs
Forgive him when his tongue lies through his brain
Even after three times, he betrays me
I'll bring him down, bring him down, down
A king with no crown, king with no crown
I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
But I'm still in love with Judas, baby
I'm just a Holy fool, oh baby he's so cruel
I am beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind
But in the cultural sense
I just speak in future tense
Judas kiss me if offensed,
Or wear ear condom next time
Lady Gaga's "Judas" is more than a pop anthem to loving the wrong guy: It's also the perfect excuse to examine infamous Catholic schoolgirl Lady Gaga's religiosity and the way she appropriates, inverts, and reworks Biblical allusions and images. Here's a serious, line-by-line analysis of the liturgical references in Judas from Luke 7:38 to John 13:27." They don't call her "Godga" for nothing ...
“I’ll wash his feet with my hair if he needs”
A reference to Luke 7:38, in which Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. In John 11:2 (and 12:3), she anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume and then wipes them with her hair. In some Christian traditions, Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are the same person; in other traditions, they are distinct persons. Either way, though, Gaga's take is slightly off: Hair is for wiping or drying feet, not for washing....
Posted by Randall
Mike Pasquier has been a busy guy. In addition to writing his rich study of Jesuits in late 18th and 19th century America, our fellow RiAH blogger has been collaborating with other LSU researchers who are studying the impact of the Deepwater Hoirzon oil spill. Ashley Berthelot at LSU Gold reports:
"To do this, it's necessary to look at oil from 'the ground up,' so to speak," said Pasquier. "I knew we needed to take a long and unbiased look at Louisiana's relationship with the oil industry, and by extension, its effects on the everyday lives of refinery and offshore workers, as well as the businessmen, teachers, farmers, fishermen, mariners, homemakers and others with direct and indirect ties to petroleum-based services."
Pasquier started his project by delving into a photo collection at the University of Louisville that showcased in detail how the industry fundamentally transformed the social and environmental landscape of Louisiana at mid-century. . . .
"As a native of Louisiana, I grew up in a family and in communities with deep stakes in the oil industry, so I already had my finger on the pulse of a people economically and culturally invested in oil. Now, what I wanted to do was to find a way to look behind the typical photos of a literally oiled landscape to see the faces of people who are directly impacted by even the most subtle of economic and environmental changes," said Pasquier. "When we look at the photos of oily pelicans or an oiled coastline, we should also be trying to understand the backstory that was there long before the oil spill. We should also be looking for the everyday human story that isn't drenched in oil." . . .
"This isn't about justifying our use of oil, or being pro-oil or pro-environment," Pasquier said. "It's about assessing the terrible consequences of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster by taking the time to focus on and understand the big picture, the realities that exist in everyday life for many Louisianans. This is about our history and our culture – this is about us and our future." read on >>>
Many of us heard Mike's preview of this tremendous work at the 2010 AAR. Can't wait to see the eight short documentaries that will result!
Posted by Paul Harvey
By chance a couple of fine pieces about David Foster Wallace passed my way over the past few days; and more than just about Wallace (and appropriate for the wide-ranging and philosophical/quasi-religious writer), they suggested to me an awful lot to reflect on about the nature of love, companionship, solitude, and the “endlessly interesting hazards of living relationships.”
First is David Masciotra’s “The Ferocious Morality of David Foster Wallace,” at popmatters.com (HT Scott Poole). The first part of this essay focuses on Wallace’s short non-fiction essays, where I have connected with him most, the fiction being just a little too bewildering for me to take in:
Wallace examines how the entertainment ethic is corrosive and destructive to an important, and perhaps sacred, part of the human experience. He did it with subtlety, humor, and complex insight. He wasn’t a fire-and-brimstone preacher, but it’s impossible to read [his essays] . . . without mourning the damage inflicted on sexuality, animal rights, and politics by the popular belief that nothing is intrinsically important, that nothing is sacred, and that everything is fair game for measurement according to the market-driven calculation of the lowest common denominator in the entertainment for entertainment’s sake world of decision-making.
Instead, I was moved, nearly to tears, by Franzen’s tale of secluding himself on the island far off the coast of Chile which inspired Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. What appears at first to be a light New Yorker comic adventure tale (novelist meets wilderness, pratfalls ensue, wilderness wins, novelist learns that wilderness not all cracked up to be) soon leads to some fascinating explorations of the origins of the novel, and the novel’s connections to both psychological solitude and group entertainment – “the self had become an island, and now, it seemed the island was becoming the world.” These reflections then take Franzen to grappling with his unresolved feelings and anger over how and why his novelist-friend Wallace “killed himself in a way calculated to inflict maximum pain on those he loved most.” Somehow, the three tales of physical, historical, and psychological solitude come together into a powerful whole.
Franzen makes sense of Wallace’s final act in part through thinking about the role of the devil in The Screwtape Letters (which, according to Franzen, was one of Wallace’s favorite works, a surprise to me), and also “The Grand Inquisitor” of Dostoevsky. Only the kinds of internal dialogues carried on by the part of Wallace that Franzen “distrusted” could have taken “the person away from us and made him into a very public legend”; and only “in the act of making that legend Wallace could satisfy his own self-loathing “hunger for career advantage”; and yet, “because it would represent a capitulation to the side of himself that his embattled better side perceived as evil,” the act further confirmed “the justice of his death sentence.” The terrible irony was that “to the extent that each of us is stranded on his or her own existential island . . . we gratefully seized on each new dispatch from that farthest-away island that was David,” even despite the “near-perfect absence, in his fiction, of ordinary love,” replaced instead by “characters scheming to appear loving.”
The first piece is a fine exploration of how, in Wallace's view, "everyone serves something" (his take on Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody."). The second piece chilled and moved me more than anything I've read this year, or just about in any year. Franzen's reflections on the part of his friend that he distrusted made me remember, sadly, these sentences, from a 2008 commencement address of Wallace's which got widely reprinted:
The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
A brief taste:
Still, I like to think my detestation of Rand’s novels follows from more than a mere disagreement over differing visions of the universe. What’s a universe here or there, after all? I prefer to think it’s a matter of good taste. For what really puts both Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead in a class of their own is how sublimely awful they are. I know one shouldn’t expect much from a writer who thought Mickey Spillane a greater artist than Shakespeare. Even so, the cardboard characters, the ludicrous dialogue, the bloated perorations, the predictable plotting, the lunatic repetitiousness and banality, the shockingly syrupy romance—it all goes to create a uniquely nauseating effect: at once mephitic and cloying, at once sulfur and cotton candy . . .
The OKC Bombing, the Millennialist Right, and Terrorist Realities and Phantoms in the work of Michael Barkun
Posted by Paul Harvey
Q: How did you get interested in government homeland security policy?
A: If we think of homeland security in the broadest sense, it goes back to the mid-1990s, the years of the armed standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, the growth of the militia movement, and the Oklahoma City bombing. The FBI had failed to grasp the importance of religion in the Waco standoff and was now trying to figure out how to factor religion into their decision-making process, an enterprise in which I was involved. In that period, of course, the emphasis was on domestic sources of violence, not foreign terrorism, a focus that didn’t change until 9/11.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Posted by Randall
Eating . . . and not eating. Since the post from the other day was about religion and weight gain, here's another about relieving world hunger and fasting for a cause.
NPR ran an intriguing story the other day about Former Congressman and director of Alliance to End Hunger Tony Hall, who "has joined dozens of religious leaders and thousands of supporters to protest budget cuts that they say will unfairly affect the poor." It reminded me of George McGovern's talk I heard at the University of Florida nearly a decade ago. The lecture was sponsored by the History Department. McGovern pondered his religious upbringing, discussed what the US could do to alleviate hunger around the globe, and spoke briefly about how the 9/11 attacks were changing America and its relationships with other nations. (I'm also thinking of activist and ag specialist Glen Fell who spoke at ENC the other day on his work training subsistence farmers around the globe in an effort to reduce hunger.)
Back to the NPR piece:
Pam Fessler, "Ex-Congressman Fasts To Protest Budget Cuts," NPR, April 17, 2011
Mr. HALL: I am the executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger.
FESSLER: He's also a former Democratic congressman from Ohio who made headlines in the 1990s by going on a 22-day hunger strike. He was protesting what he saw as congress's failure to address the problems of the poor. And today?
Mr. HALL: Well, I'm in my 18th day of a hunger fast. I started off as a water-only fast and now I'm doing liquids. And really what we're trying to do is raise awareness.
FESSLER: So far, he's lost about 18 pounds. But Hall says it's not so bad, especially when thousands of people around the world die each day of malnutrition and millions of Americans worry about their next meal. He worries what will happen if lawmakers accept proposed cuts in food stamps and foreign aid.
Mr. HALL: They have a moral obligation when they look at this budget not only to cut the budget but to cut it in a righteous way. . . .
Posted by Randall
I've been having the students in my Religion and American Culture class summarize news stories related to the course. One brought in a feature on an interesting study--presented at the American Heart Associations Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions in Atlanta. It reveals that young people who go to church regularly are more likely to tip the scales as adults than their non-religious counterparts.
Jeannine Stein of the Los Angeles Times reports:
An inactive lifestyle, watching TV and eating too many fatty foods are all to blame for many Americans being overweight and obese. We may have to add religion to that list. A study finds that young adults who regularly attend religious activities may be more prone to obesity by middle age than their nonreligious peers. . . . "It's possible that getting together once a week and associating good works and happiness with eating unhealthy foods could lead to the development of habits that are associated with greater body weight and obesity," said lead author Matthew Feinstein of Northwestern Medicine, in a news release. "We don't know why frequent religious participation is associated with development of obesity, but the upshot is these findings highlight a group that could benefit from targeted efforts at obesity prevention."
My one question . . . Why?
Posted by Gerardo Marti
While completing my manuscript on race and music in multiracial churches (more on that at a later time), I've had opportunity to focus on some intriguing contemporary developments among Evangelicals which has drawn the attention of a few people across disciplinary lines. As an outgrowth of this research, and thanks to a wonderful invitation from philosopher Jack Caputo, I spent much of last week at Syracuse University participating in The Future of the Continental Philosophy of Religion conference.
Most of us know that the spectacular success of Evangelicalism in the 1970s through the 1990s created a self-sustaining Evangelical world—and that these successes created a backlash. Evangelical leaders came to seek ways to overcome the churched/non-churched divide. But the journey hasn’t been smooth.
As Evangelicals became attentive to creating a closed “Christian culture,” many disaffected evangelicals left their churches, becoming critics rather than compliant members. Listening to criticism from outside, atheistic thinkers resourced their critique. There emerged a number of Christian readers of secular philosophy who were pleased to take up an aggressive questioning of the certainty, “truth,” and the resulting morality and politics that came with it. Much of the underlying tone of such criticism draws on a hermeneutics of suspicion with its post-Marx, post-Nietzsche, and post-Freud sensibilities. Notions and paradigms promoted by these new "Christian" writers and thinkers is buttressed and often inspired directly by Continental Philosophy.
Continental philosophy "works" because it involves thinkers whose work invokes a sustained social critique. Continental philosophy is concerned with structures, underlying structures of society (often drawn from Marxist orientations) and underlying structures of the psyche (often drawn from Freudian orientations). A pursuit of uncovering the working of underlying, non-conscious, structures, cultivates observations that eventually can move to practical efforts in what to talk to people about (preaching), what humans are to become (evangelism and discipleship), how community is to be lived together (ecclesiology and “loving one’s neighbor”), and how to act in the world (duty to God and others). These writings provide resources for being prophetic to the church and to the world.
These intra-Evangelical critics have been helped by the “religious turn” in Continental Philosophy and the greater availability of religious thinkers in this vein as primary and secondary works were made more available at the same time as the disaffection and pursuit of alternative frameworks happened among evangelicals. This includes writings from and about Jacques Derrida, Jurgen Habermas, Rene Girard, Jon-Luc Marion, Emmanual Levinas, Paul Ricoeur, Jean-Luc Nancy -- Slavoj Žižek,, Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Gianni Vattimo). Jack Caputos’s appropriation of Derrida, Levinas’s rejection of Heidegger, Marion’s religious reinterpretation of phenemenologists, and more emerge amidst this re-thinking, aggressively incorporating insights from philosophers who engage in distinctive readings of Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx, Freud, Husserl, and Heidegger.
In the conference, I dared to raise Peter Rollins to a more significant level by placing him in a broader socio-historical context. Trained in post-structural philosophy, with a PhD from Queens University in Northern Ireland, Rollins intellectually stimulating style of speaking, writing, and consulting fits efforts to flesh out Christianity in new ways that are sensitive to societal shifts and emerging sensibilities. In other words, the happenings around his person are a manifestation of changes across mainstream Christianity. So while Peter Rollins is an interesting person in and of himself, I moved away from assuming that compelling ideas from a single, charismatic leader initiates social change. Instead, Peter Rollins unique “ministry” (which I place in quotes) is an interesting and timely development of American Christianity that finds resonance in the cumulative contradictions of modern Evangelicalism.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Posted by Paul Harvey
Posted by Heath
While considerably smaller than the ASCH's joint meeting with the American Historical Association, this year's spring meeting in Grand Rapids nevertheless showcased a lot of exciting work, some from senior practitioners in the guild but much of it from up-and-coming scholars. The two panels that I attended on Saturday exemplified the trend.
The first was entitled "Religion, Class, and American Elites." Peter Williams, Distinguished Professor of Comparative Religion and American Studies at Miami University (Ohio), kicked things off with a learned paper on Episcopalianism and the "gospel of art" in the Progressive Era. Then followed two presentations by recent graduates of the history department at Notre Dame. Thomas Rzeznik, now an assistant professor at Seton Hall, revisited the Scott Nearing case, arguing that the economist's infamous confrontation with the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania in 1915 was about far more than academic freedom. The trustees dispensed with Nearing, Rzeznik contended, because his radical ideas challenged the moral and religious framework that helped elite Americans - including U Penn's benefactors - justify their disproportionate wealth. Finally, Timothy Gloege looked at how Henry Parsons Crowell, head of Quaker Oats, became not only a major player within the Moody Bible Institute at the turn of the century but also a key agent in the production of the Fundamentals. Gloege is now revising a fascinating dissertation on fundamentalism's early years, in which he highlights connections to big business, casting the movement not as an anti-modern backlash but instead as the theological handmaiden of emergent consumer capitalism. Overall, the panel left me wondering - as has my own work on Chicago - whether standard histories of this period overstate the significance and reach of the social gospel. More on that in a future post.
The second panel was entitled "Race, Religion, and Civil Rights." David Komline, one of my current colleagues at Notre Dame, delivered a paper examining the work of a German Jesuit who traveled through the United States in the immediate postbellum years, encouraging Germans and African Americans alike to establish their own parishes. Komline went on to complicate white-black binaries by considering the role that concerns about ethnicity played in the emergence of segregated Catholic churches. Karen Johnson, a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois (Chicago), then gave a very compelling talk on Arthur Falls and the roots of Catholic inter-racialism in Depression-era Chicago. I heard Johnson give a paper back in autumn, based on another chapter of what is shaping up to be a very impressive dissertation: her account underscores the power of the hierarchy with respect to racial questions but also highlights extensive and often countervailing activity on the ground throughout the long Civil Rights Movement.
All-in-all, then, a great meeting. The cherry on top: the 80 degree weather that made for a beautiful, windows-down ride back to Chicago on Sunday.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Larry Norman, whom I wrote about last month, could aptly be called the Bad Boy of Christian Rock, Marsha Stevens might be deemed the Problem Child—even “evangelical Christianity’s worst nightmare.” Yet it would be hard to find a figure who better reflects the continuities and contradictions of the Jesus Movement. Stevens cut her born-again teeth at age sixteen on the beaches of Orange County just when Calvary Chapel was attracting hordes of young people (and more than a few reporters). Like thousands of teenagers from across Southern California she was baptized in the Pacific at Corona del Mar.
Marsha, her sister Wendy, and their significant others formed Children of the Day, a classic Jesus music group that played gentle, folksy songs of faith. One of her songs, “For Those Tears I Died,” became a movement classic. Children of the Day created perhaps the first albums of what’s come to be called praise music, those easy-to-sing, sometimes-maligned anthems that have crowded traditional hymns out of a majority of American evangelical churches, mega- or otherwise.
Over the course of the Seventies, Marsha went from an icon of the Jesus Movement to a pariah. The constant demands of touring and recording took a toll on the Stevens’s marriage. Then she announced she was in love – with a woman. Divorce carried enough stigma in evangelical circles, but leaving one’s husband to take up with another woman—a different order of scandal altogether.
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Posted by Heath
I'm here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I'm attending the American Society of Church History's spring meeting, organized around the theme of "Christianity and Migrations." There are any number of interesting panels and I hope to post another update before all is said and done, but for now a brief report on Rachel Wheeler's stimulating plenary address this morning entitled, "Whose Story is American Religious History? The Parallel Lives of Daniel Boone and Joshua, the Mohican." Wheeler is an associate professor of religious studies at IUPUI whose work has come up often on this blog [those interested in reading up on her first book, To Live Upon Hope, might check out fellow blogger Lin Fisher's conversation with her back in 2009].
Her talk today engaged big questions about how we should narrate the story of European-Indian encounter in the Americas, which has ramifications of course for how we tell the story of American religious history. She argued that the life of Joshua, an Indian convert to Moravianism, highlights the difficulties with both triumphalist and revisionist accounts of conflict on the frontier. The problems with triumphalism, a view summed up in Horatio Greenough's mid-nineteenth century sculpture, The Rescue, need not be elaborated here. There is a reason why the statue, an image of which Wheeler incorporated into her talk, was removed from the steps of the U.S. capitol building in the late-1950s.
But Wheeler persuasively showed that Joshua's story also complicates the revisionist narrative, which lacks the categories to see his conversion as anything other than collusion with the oppressor; and lacks, moreover, the flexibility to allow for Moravian missionaries who - unlike some of their Protestant counterparts in the late-18th century - were not virulently anti-Indian but were in fact open to some of the ways that Indian converts made Christianity their own.
In elaborating the fascinating comparison between Boone and Joshua, Wheeler followed themes of migration, war, and conversion. All of these will be central to her next book, a biography of Joshua which will put him belatedly on more religious historians' radar (I confess that before Wheeler's talk I had not heard of him). If her second book makes the same kind of splash as her first, it may be that we'll all soon be required to take what she called the "Joshua test" - do our accounts of American religious history shed light upon the experience of this Mohican-Moravian martyr, or will we continue to relegate those like him to the margins? For the profession's sake, let's root for passing grades for all.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Beck said that Paul Revere “got off the horse point at some point and fought in the revolution and then he went back to silversmithing.” “I believe we’re heading into deep and treacherous waters,” Beck said about America”s future. He said he is developing other content for Fox for TV and other media. “I will continue to tell the story and I’m going to be showing you other ways for us to connect. But I have other things to do.
For a full-length analysis of this new development in religion, consumerism, and the media, I have only one question: Where have you gone, Kathryn Lofton, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you (and more seriously just for a second, the link takes you to a wonderful observer-participant reflection posted at Immanent Frame on K. Lofton's Oprah: Gospel of an Icon, by Daphne Brooks of Princeton University).
But back to our story, here is the video announcing Beck's change of plans:
For those who want a reprise of pretty much all of the major themes that Beck has followed in his pursuit of truth, you can find them here, channeled through Jon Stewart (ht John Fea):
Posted by Randall
Jonathan Walton (Assistant Professor of African American Religions, Harvard Divinity School) will give a public lecture on "The Preachers' Blues: Reclaiming Authority on Wax," Wednesday, April 13, 4:00pm, Shrader Lecture Hall, Eastern Nazarene College, Quincy, MA.
Walton, a social ethicist and African American religious studies scholar, is the author of Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of African American Religious Broadcasting (New York University Press, 2009) a groundbreaking study on religion, media, and theology. Cornel West (Princeton University) describes the book as "the best work we have on the complex dynamics of the Black megachurch phenomenon. Walton is a brilliant cultural critic and courageous prophetic voice!" James Cone (Union Theological Seminary) lauds Watch This! as "An important examination of the Black Electronic Church. Jonathan Walton brings new insights into the major TV evangelists in the African American community."
Professor Walton will speak at ENC on the history of the religious "race" record industry and the the cultural ethos and competing ethical values of black Christian communities during the 1920s and 1930s. Like all forms of mass culture, says Walton,
Posted by Mike Pasquier