11th Annual Graduate Student Symposium
February 17-19, 2012 • Tallahassee, Florida
The Florida State University Department of Religion is pleased to announce its 11th Annual Graduate Student Symposium to be held February 17-19, 2012 in Tallahassee, Florida. This year we are pleased that Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at FSU will be co-sponsoring the Symposium.
Last year’s symposium was a huge success, allowing over forty presenters from over twenty universities and departments as varied as Religion, Geography, Psychology, and Philosophy to share their research, learn from one another, and meet many of their peers and future colleagues.
This year’s symposium will be centered on the theme “Beyond Borders: Constructing, Deconstructing and Transgressing Boundaries.”
Dr. Manuel A. Vásquez, of the University of Florida, will deliver this year’s keynote address. His lecture is tentatively titled “Beyond the Fetishism of Commodities? Hyper-Animism and Materiality in the Present Age.” Also, we are pleased to host Dr. Kathryn Lofton of Yale University as a guest respondent.
Due to our commitment to collaborative scholarship, students from all fields with interdisciplinary interests in the study of religion and at all levels of graduate study are encouraged to submit paper proposals.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to: Building and Maintaining Identities; Communities, both Local and Global; Scholars Manufacturing Subjects; Strategies of Empowerment and Subjugation; Limits of Embodiment; Political, Ethical and/or Gender Conflicts; Discourses of (In)Justice.
Presentations should be approximately 15 to 20 minutes in length and will receive faculty responses. In addition, every year respondents select the best graduate paper to receive the Leo F. Sandon Award, an endowed award named for the Religion Department's former chair.
The due date for proposals has been extended. Proposals including an abstract of approximately 300 words, a list of key terms, and a one-page CV should be submitted by December 10, 2011 for review. Final papers must be submitted by January 15, 2012. Please send proposals to Michael Graziano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your interest. We look forward to hearing from you or your students and seeing you at the 2012 Graduate Student Symposium at Florida State University.
Note: The following sad news came to me today via Linn Tonstad, Professor of Christian Theology at Southern Methodist University, concerning the passing of her friend Sarah Ruth Hammond, a recent PhD. from Yale University who was teaching most recently at William & Mary.
Update: the New York Times religion writer Mark Oppenheimer has posted his memorial tribute on his blog, here. At Religion Dispatches, Sarah Morice-Brubaker reflects on her meeting Sarah as a freshman in college and knowing her as recently as rooming together just a week and a half ago at the AAR. An official announcement and memorial from the Provost at William & Mary is here.
Sarah Ruth Hammond
by Linn Tonstad
Sarah Ruth Hammond, a brilliant young scholar of American religious history, died this weekend. At the time, she was working as a visiting assistant professor at the College of William & Mary. Sarah received her PhD from Yale’s Religious Studies department in 2010, for a dissertation entitled, “‘God’s Business Men’: Entrepreneurial Evangelicals in Depression and War.” Sarah received numerous fellowships during graduate study, including a Mellon fellowship, a Franke fellowship, and a Lake Fellowship from the Center for the Study of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Sarah received her BA from Yale University in 1999. Her first book was under contract with the University of Chicago Press, and her article, “‘God Is My Partner’: An Evangelical Business Man Confronts Depression and War,” had recently been published in Church History (September 2011). Sarah was 34 years old when she died.
Others will be better qualified than I to assess the loss her death represents for the future of American religious history. I do know that Sarah was one of the smartest and most vivacious people I’ve ever known, and that there is little question that, had she lived, she would have been a central figure in the next generation of American religious historians. I first met Sarah at the orientation for incoming PhD students in religious studies at Yale in the fall of 2003. We quickly became close, and accompanied one another through many of the vagaries of graduate study, romantic entanglements and disentanglements, and other various challenges of spending significant portions of your twenties and thirties training to read and interpret texts rather than people. Sarah loved music, and (remember, we met in 2003) she would bring stacks of CDs over to my apartment and we would spend hours talking while exchanging albums from Steve Earle and Warren Zevon, and obsessing over the excellence of the band Pulp. (We heard Jarvis Cocker play a concert in New York once, at which he did not indulge us with a single song from Pulp days, yet all was wonderful anyway.) Sarah was a passionate runner and an activist for many Democratic and progressive causes, overcoming her natural shyness to canvass door to door and work in phone banks when issues were particularly exigent. Her devotion to excellence at Scrabble was legendary, extending to the point of photographically recording the board after games. Her cats, Gandalf and Thea, assisted greatly in the writing of her dissertation by destroying staplers, knocking over stacks of research, and disappearing at the whisper of a stranger’s entrance.
Colonial North America. The Department of History at Washington State University in Pullman seeks to fill a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in Colonial North American history beginning August 2012. The department welcomes applications from historians with a strong potential for excellence in research relevant to any specialization in Colonial North American history, but is especially interested in a scholar whose work focuses on trans-Atlantic colonial or North American borderlands history. The teaching assignment of the successful candidate will include courses on Colonial North America and the American Revolution. Duties include maintaining an active research program, participating in service, and teaching (the normal teaching load is currently two courses per semester). Ph.D. in history is required by time of appointment. Preference will be given to candidates with demonstrated teaching ability and an established record of scholarship.
Here is the link: https://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=43870
Posted by Paul Harvey
Part II of Locavangelism in America
by Rachel Wheeler
History and Definitions
The Born Again Experience
The hallmark of evangelical piety – the born again experience – was the defining feature of the First Great Awakening in the colonies, itself part of a larger transatlantic Protestant evangelical awakening. The born again experience essentially speeded up the conversion process that 17th century New England Puritans had made the basis of church membership. Early Puritan leaders faced the challenge of establishing ecclesiastical structures in a radically different religious and physical environment from what they had known in England. If church membership was not to be a matter of birth to Christian parents, but conferred upon the visible saints of God, then the church needed a means of establishing who was among the elect. Full church membership was thus granted to those who were able to deliver in front of their minister and other church members a compelling account of spiritual journey toward Christ. A pattern soon emerged, termed by Edmund Morgan the “morphology of conversion” marked by the stages of “knowledge, conviction, faith, combat, and true, imperfect assurance. . . .
A number of prominent environmentalists were raised in evangelical and fundamentalist traditions: John Muir, often credited as being the grandfather of the American environmental movement in the 19th century, was raised in a strict Calvinist household; Dave Foreman, who founded the radical environmentalist movement EarthFirst! in 1979, was raised in a fundamentalist church and had once considered becoming a preacher. (Although, I won’t go into it much here, Foreman’s philosophy is fascinating as a sort of Calvinist environmentalist apocalyptic millennialism – Foreman is deeply convinced of human depravity and that our environmental sins are leading us quickly toward an apocalypse in which Mother Nature will meet out justice). . . .
All of these environmentalists, as different as they are, have in common that they renounced the Christian gospel of their upbringing and became ministers of the green gospel. But it is not only those who have evangelicalism in their family tree that become environmental evangelists. Below, I’d like to look at various shades of environmental evangelism, from current and former evangelical Christians and to those with no direct link to evangelicalism.
The lecture by the Mad Vegetarian Cowboy I mentioned at the beginning conforms perfectly to the form, if not the substance, of the evangelical conversion narrative: the Christian content has been vacated and an alternate model of righteous living substituted in its place. I have not been able to find out about Lyman’s religious background, but odds are good that someone raised in ranching country in the 1950s belonged to an evangelical church. Like Lyman, Julia Hill was set on the path toward environmental by a medical disaster. When she was 22, the car she was driving was struck by a drunk driver and she was nearly killed. During her recovery, which took nearly a year, she came to realize, “that my whole life had been out of balance…The crash woke me up to the importance of the moment, and doing whatever I could to make a positive impact on the future.”
Like Lyman, the trauma didn’t prompt an immediate conversion, but set her on the path toward a new life. It would be some years before she found her “Jesus,” but writing in retrospect, she felt she was being called by the one true power, the power of Creation. On a whim Hill headed west, scarcely recovered from the accident, and when she first sets foot in a redwood forest, she feels: “these majestic ancient places.. are the holiest of temples, [and] hous[e] more spirituality than any church…”
She stumbles upon a disorganized activist camp trying to save the ancient forests from the chainsaws. In her depiction, the would-be activists are too caught up in petty bickering to do the work of activism. Hill volunteers and one night becomes more than two years. During that time, Hill is transformed by the tree she comes to call Luna.
Political conservative and Christian author Rod Dreher admits that he used to mock lefty eating habits until a friend offered his family their week’s share from a CSA (explain Community Supported Agriculture) and he was converted by the cauliflower. Presbyterian pastor Craig Goodwin’s conversion was prompted by his purchase of a “Spa Factory Color Sparkle Custom Nail Mix Studio” as a present for his 7 y.o. daughter to bring to a friend’s birthday. It was the height of meaningless consumption, and came in the aftermath of the Christmas season, and in the midst of the 2008 financial meltdown. After the crisis, he and his wife resolved to spend a year living by four rules: local, used, and homemade (the fourth rules was Thailand – they would buy goods from Thailand, which enabled them to keep their coffee).
Beavan came to speak at my university in Indiana last year, and in a lecture hall packed with about 500 students, I had the same feeling I’d had hearing Lyman years earlier: here is a modern day itinerant minister of the environmental gospel. In his chatty, self deprecating hipster way, Beavan exhorted his listeners to change their lives. While Beavan did not invoke a higher power directly, his message implied a faith that individual actions do matter, and that individuals can find the power to do the seemingly impossible. He also implied that the way to righteous living is a matter of common sense apprehension of “truth,” and this raises a second feature of evangelicalism: the belief that there is a source of truth and that it is available to all.
This approach to the Bible is readily apparent in the writings of Christian environmentalists, even though conservative Christianity and environmentalism have long been seen as antithetical. For example, Joel Salatin grounds his farming philosophy in his religion: he finds in the Bible a clear account of God’s order of creation, and the charge to humans to steward His creation. In an interview, Salatin explained: “I am a Christian, and I think that the Judeo-Christian ethic calls us to realize that we are stewards of creation – that we are not to just rape it, pillage it, whatever, we are to steward it – and lays down certain principles of growth.” He continued to explain, “When God made [the earth] in Genesis, the plants were to reproduce after their own kind. And genetic modification doesn’t make plants produce after their own kind. So, you know, even to that point, [there is a] template there to live by.” Salatin’s farming philosophy is rooted in his reading of the Bible: farming practices must enhance, not hinder, animals’ and plants’ ability to express their God-given nature. In this view, corn fed beef is heretical, and even sinful.
Don Colbert, a graduate of Oral Roberts University (Pentecostal), and a practicing doctor, draws even more directly on the Bible in encouraging his readers to reform their diets. Colbert begins his 2002 book with the question from the title: What Would Jesus Eat? He expects that his readers as Christians have attempted to model their lives on Jesus’s, but rarely when it comes to food: “we seek to follow Jesus in every other area of our lives, why not in our eating habits?” The bible, believes Colbert, offers a clear path that will lead to physical and spiritual health and so when we eat, we should ask ourselves: “Why am I eating this? And “Would Jesus eat this?” If we ask these questions, he suggests, we will have to face two truths about the way we live: “most of what we eat flows from ill-founded, unwise, and mostly unconscious food choices” and 2) “Most of what we eat in a given day may not be what Jesus would have eaten if He were walking in our shoes.”
Secular environmental evangelists also proclaim a truth that is plain for all to see, often turning to nature itself as source of wisdom and truth. Among contemporary environmentalists, Julia Butterfly Hill expresses this idea most clearly in her resolve: “ I was no longer going to live my life out of fear..I was going to live my life guided from the higher source, the Creation source.” Through her relationship with Luna (the tree), Hill comes to realize: “that what I was feeling was the love of the Earth, the love of Creation. Every day we, as a species, do so much to destroy Creation’s ability to give us life. But that Creation continues to do everything in its power to give us life anyway. And that’s true love.” Hill had accepted Luna as her personal savior and guide for her life.
One could hardly imagine anyone farther apart culturally and ideologically than Don Colbert, a politically conservative Pentecostal, and Michael Pollan, a politically liberal secular Jew, yet in his 2008 book, In Defense of Food, Pollan sounds a note remarkably like Colbert’s. Instead of Jesus, however, Pollan invokes the wisdom of grandmothers: “Most of what we need to know about how to eat we already know, or once did until we allowed the nutrition experts and the advertisers to shake our confidence in common sense, tradition, the testimony of our senses, and the wisdom of our mothers and grandmothers.” Pollan’s prescription?: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” Pollan’s truth is a common-sensical truth.
Spreading the word:
Having found salvation, and a new gospel, the enviro-evangelists all feel compelled to spread the word. Here I’d like to start with the seemingly most un-evangelical of the group: Michael Pollan. Pollan is of Jewish background, but apparently non-practicing. His writing is the epitome of rational discourse, hardly the fire and brimstone of the evangelist. But yet, his works are in fact exhortatory and not entirely unlike that most famed example of fire and brimstone preaching: Jonathan Edwards’ infamous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” a sermon more often despised (or praised) than it is read. Edwards was a careful student of the Enlightenment, and the power of the sermon comes from the clinical, precise dissection of sin and its consequences. Likewise, Michael Pollan’s work dissects our environmental (food) sins and the consequences to individual, communal, global, and environmental health. Pollan’s equivalent to “Sinners in the Hands…” is his “Letter to the Farmer in Chief,” a letter to the newly elected President Obama published in the New York Times in January 2008, in which he argues that arguing that Obama must make “reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration.” If we continue on our current path, Pollan argues, our destruction is assured. And just as Edwards spelled out the precariousness of the sinner’s state, as a spider dangling above the pit of hell, held up only by the slenderest thread of God’s grace, yet deserving of damnation unless the sinner reforms, Pollan describes in great detail the ways that our food choices are clogging arteries, polluting the environment, driving up health care costs, and destabilizing our economy. His program of reform includes everything from supporting farmer’s markets, doing away with agricultural subsidies to big business, establishing a grain reserve, establishing mandatory gardens at primary schools and creating a new School Lunch Corps whose mission would be to change children’s “food culture.”
Joel Salatin, the Christian libertarian capitalist lunatic farmer, was spreading the word of redemption through agriculture long before he was discovered by Pollan. Salatin devotes much of his time to spreading the green gospel. The farm’s website announces: “Believing that the Creator’s design is still the best pattern for the biological world, the Salatin family invites like-minded folks to join in the farm’s mission: to develop emotionally, economically, environmentally enhancing agricultural enterprises and facilitate their duplication throughout the world.” . . .
Ragan Sutterfield makes a similar point in his book, Farming as Christian Discipline, “My hope is that Christians will come to see one of their tasks as staking out claims for God's Kingdom by redeeming land from the margins and using that land to create gardens that offer not only good food but also community development and hope.” While Barbara Kingsolver has moved on from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to other writing projects, her website continues to serve as a site of almost religious witness: there is a page filled with reader-submitted pictures of lush gardens and happy children accompanied by testimony of the transformative power of communion with home-grown (or at least locally grown) tomatoes.
Like the temperance and bible tract societies of the nineteenth century the locavangelist movement tends to operate on the conviction that the path to the millennium will be paved by the conversion of individuals: if enough people make the choice for salvation the Kingdom of God will be achieved. And for this, the movement, especially Pollan, have come in for criticism. One reviewer, Laura Shapiro, criticizes Pollan for preaching a doctrine of “individual dietary purity,” which reflects “his religion – the holy, catholic, and apostolic church of food, where only martyrs and lost souls have to shop at Safeway.” According to Shapiro, Pollan alienates the unconverted, because, she write, “he can’t quite bring himself to take us seriously unless we can prove we’ve been born again.” Only time will tell if Shapiro’s critique proves justified, or if the movement gains the momentum and organization to seek systemic change.
Posted by Randall
Over at the New York Times, Kevin Boyle reviews two books on the Klan. Fellow blogmeister Kelly Baker's Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 is one of them along with Thomas R. Pegram's One Hundred Percent American: The Rebirth and Decline of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.
The authors take different tacks. "While Pegram builds his book up from the experiences of ordinary Klansmen," writes Boyle, Baker "builds out from the Klan’s official declarations of religious devotion drawn from K.K.K. newspapers and magazines." What did the Klan's rise and fall mean? Was it an anomaly of the era or did it represent something darker, more continuous with America's past?
"Yes, the Klan had a very short life," says Boyle. He goes on:
These books and Boyle's review bring up some weighty issues within American historiography.
How do historians and religious studies scholars generally see these episodes within the context of the arc of American history? Whig historians, of one variety or another, view them as bumps or potholes on the road to freedom and greater equality. Prigs look at them as something more, throwing the whole idea of progress up into the air. (Of course there are all sorts of opinions on the spectrum, shading from one end to the other. Historians need not even be aware of their own views on the subject. See Christopher Shannon's critique of the profession, which we published in Historically Speaking some months ago.)
Take Slavery. How does it fit into the narrative of US history? In 1980 historian John David Smith wrote in the Journal of Negro History that "The importance of slavery in the racial thought of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been vastly understated by scholars. Yet slavery held an unusual attraction for historians, popular writers, editors, and polemicists in these years." His piece marked a trend in the field. Slavery, historians now wrote, should be taken seriously as integral to the economy and to life in the 19th century. The PBS series Africans in America: America's Journey through Slavery spelled out this theme for a wider audience and included talking head historians like Eric Foner, James Horton, and Nell Irvan Painter. Says Foner, "Slavery was an immense political power in the country, as well as an economic power. The three-fifths clause of the Constitution gave the slave South far greater representation in Congress, and a far larger number of electoral votes, than their white population really would have been entitled to. So the South really had an iron grip on the federal government, down to the middle of the 19th century."*
Other historians have been grappling with the issue of religious freedom/intolerance in ways that parallel Baker's approach. How does one chart the story of religious pluralism and religious bigotry? On this matter David Sehat sees a bleak side to America's past. "What if U.S. religious history was not a history of progressive and unfolding freedom?" he asks in his The Myth of American Religious Freedom. "What if, instead, it was a history of religious conflict? And what if that conflict involved extended periods of religious coercion and the continual attempt to maintain religious power and control?"
On the 19th century Protestant establishment an essay by Ronald P. Formisano and Stephen Pickering sheds some light (or, I guess I should say darkness?): “The Christian Nation Debate and Witness Competency,” in the Journal of the Early Republic. Most importantly, they note:
Of course, one generation's dark moments are another's beacons of truth. From where we stand in 2011, we judge and think about the past in ways that are profoundly different from the perspective of historians and religious studies scholars half a century ago. (Think Mircea Eliade.)
If we pull back and gauge the whole, what is American history in general or American religious history in particular about? Do either have a direction or a larger point? What if--as Paul Harvey asked in his review of the PBS documentary God in America--"American religious history [is] about coercion and authority? . . . [W]hat if we make coercion, establishment, and repression as central to our narrative as freedom, disestablishment, and expression? What if this is a show in which Americans’ self-understanding as derived from Exodus is more critically examined than celebrated?"
Posted by Paul Harvey
Eating as Spiritual Practice: Locavangelism in America
by Rachel Wheeler
Then in 1979, Lyman became paralyzed from a tumor on his spine. His doctors said they could operate to remove the tumor, but chances were he would remain paralyzed, or worse, die during the surgery. Lyman made himself a promise that if he survived, he would devote his life to what he believed was right. The surgery was successful: Lyman not only survived, but he was once again able to walk. At the time, Lyman was 300 pounds (135 kg), and he suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. True to his word, he changed his life. He became a vegetarian, dropped to a healthy weight, and started un-doing all the “improvements” he had implemented on the family’s ranch. He became a lobbyist on Capitol Hill against factory, feedlot farming and even found himself being sued for libel by the beef industry. He became president of an organization named: EarthSave, whose motto is “healthy eating for a healthy planet.” Today he runs an organization called “Voice for a Viable Future.”
Though I cannot know for sure, I am willing to bet that the vast majority of the people in the audience that evening counted themselves as despisers of “organized religion” (the Northwest being the least-churched region of the country, and Reed College students being the second most un-religious students in the whole country) and that they perceived nothing at all religious about the evening. But I couldn’t help but feel I had just attended a religious revival. Lyman’s talk had all the hallmarks of a revivalist sermon, minus any mention of God or Jesus. He had told of the sinful ways in his youth, his arrogance and his disregard for the wisdom of tradition. He recounted the crisis sparked by illness, a miraculous cure, and the epiphany that allowed him to see the error of his former ways. He then chronicled his path of righteousness. The lecture ended with what felt like an altar call, as Lyman exhorted listeners to renounce the sinful ways of the world and follow the narrow path of righteous eating.
In the dozen years since I heard the Mad Vegetarian Cowboy, a lone voice in the wilderness has turned into a loud chorus; and a cultural shift seems to be under way with food front and center. You can scarcely open an American newspaper or magazine today without finding a story that in some way mentions the locavore movement. The term “locavore” was coined in 2005 to mean someone who eats food that did not travel far to reach the plate. The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary declared “locavore” the word of the year for 2007. The Girl Scouts now offer a badge that can be earned by preparing a meal of locally grown food. The movement is far from monolithic: it is possible to find a wide range of belief and practice, from the casual practitioners who occasionally frequent farmer’s markets to augment their supermarket shopping, to those who might be termed fundamentalist locavores, who will not eat a morsel at a restaurant without knowing how far the food traveled, and how the animals were housed and fed. The locavore movement, made up largely of the college educated and reasonably well off, has created a mini-publishing industry, and a flurry of books recounting experiments in extreme locavorism or eco-living has rolled off the presses in recent years: some of the titles include: the bishop of locavangelism, Michael Pollan’s, In Defense of Food, Collin Beaven’s, No Impact Man, Barbara Kingsolver’s, Animal Vegetable Miracle, Kristen Kimball’s, The Dirty Life, and my favorite title (though I confess I haven’t read the book), by Vanessa Farquarson, Sleeping Naked Is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days.
There is an equally voluminous output by Christian publishers, though it has gone largely un-noticed by the mainstream media. Presbyterian pastor Craig Goodwin recently published, A Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living, and Ragan Sutterfield, founder of a farm-school for disadvantaged youth, published a collection of essays entitled, Farming as a Spiritual Discipline. Rod Dreher, a Methodist turned Catholic turned Eastern Orthodox, has written about conservatives who embrace what are usually seen as liberal issues in his book: Crunchy Cons: Or How Birkenstock Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party); and one of my favorites, Don Colbert’s, What Would Jesus Eat?
One of the most prominent voices today bridges the Christian and the secular, lefty realms and belongs to Joel Salatin, who calls himself a “Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic,” or sometimes, just a “lunatic farmer.” Salatin first came to national prominence through the writings of Michael Pollan, who featured Salatin in his 2006 Omnivore’s Dilemma, which has become the bible of the Locavore movement. Salatin is a 1979 graduate of Bob Jones University (a fundamentalist Christian university), who runs a farm in Virginia. He writes on the farm’s website: “We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.” What the “mad cowboy” and the “lunatic farmer” both mean of course, is that they are far from crazy. Like Wendell Berry before them, who often wrote poems as “the Mad Farmer,” they mean that they are the ones who perceive reality most clearly, and who are willing to be seen as crazy by the world in order to proclaim their truth. Consciously or unconsciously, these authors are invoking the trope of the “fool for Christ;” the believer who challenges societal norms in order to follow a higher calling, and, they hope, lead the way to salvation.
This recent food “madness” begs for interpretation. Is it simply the latest health craze destined to meet the same fate as the Atkins diet, or aerobics? or is there something deeper going on? I think indeed there is something deeper going on, and I believe there are profound resonances with deeply rooted elements of American religious culture. But I think what is most fascinating of all is that the movement has gained substantial momentum among two groups who rarely care to be associated with each other: evangelical Christians and secular liberals. And I think this convergence offers some hope (Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street to the contrary) that the chasm between right and left may in fact bridgeable. . . .
What locavores on the left and right seem to have in common is their emphasis on the importance of practice. It seems to me to be a commentary on what many now see as the superficiality of the 1990s. Both sides are seeking ways to realize their beliefs through actions. It is telling, I think that the environmental movement is growing not by more people heading for escape to a pristine wilderness, but through rediscovering the ancient traditions of agriculture, a turn that seems eminently more practical in a precarious world. As Ragan Sutterfield writes, “the problem with our role in creation is that we don't remember it. In our fallen state we have forgotten our place, both within God's will and love and also in our love and care for creation. We need to be reminded of who we are and what we are about. Practices and disciplines are our primary way of learning to remember, of being recollected to our place and call as creatures. I would like to offer farming, done well, as one of those disciplines.”
I find it fascinating, that a predominantly Protestant country has suddenly discovered “practice.” I don’t know quite what to make of this: it could be a response to the broader political and cultural forces, or it could suggest the assimilation of important religious ideas and practices from other religions. Americans are clearly hungry for practical guidance: Michael Pollan’s prescriptive book Food Rules, was quickly vaulted to the top of best-seller lists. Americans seem to want to be told what to do and many are finding new spiritual rewards in practicing the discipline of eating according to Pollan’s rules. Locavorism may well be the new Kosher, but it is being embraced with evangelical fervor.
[to be continued]
Posted by Paul Harvey
Today, however, a new breed of young intellectual historian is aiming to integrate the spirit of “history from below” with an approach that doesn’t chop American history off at the neck. Young intellectual historians, scholars at the conference were quick to emphasize, have fully absorbed the lessons of the profession’s increased attention to questions of race, class and gender, without losing hold of the premise that ideas matter, even in a culture that still considers “intellectual” a term of abuse.
“We still want to talk about ideas, but we see ideas everywhere,” said Andrew Hartman, a professor at Illinois State University and president of the newly formed Society for U.S. Intellectual History, which sponsored the conference. “Big ideas affect everybody. It’s not elitist to talk about them.”
The conference hardly neglected high culture, with papers on the artists Robert Rauschenberg and Barnett Newman, the philosopher Stanley Cavell, and the history of the reception of “Moby-Dick.” . . .
But the lineup tilted markedly toward postwar political history, with discussions of charged topics like the economist Friedrich von Hayek’s writings on the rule of law, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s infamous 1965 report on the black family, and the art-historical theories of the evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, who has been much in the news in recent months because of his supposed influence on Michele Bachmann.
Posted by Paul Harvey
Posted by Paul Harvey
For you colonial America/Puritan New England/David Hall fans out there, here's a brief review, from Choice, of David Hall's newest, sure to be on oral exam reading lists soon if not already. More info is at the book's website.
Hall, David D. A reforming people: Puritanism and the transformation of public life in New England. Knopf, 2011. 255p index ISBN 0-679-44117-4, $29.95; ISBN9780679441175, $29.95. Reviewed in 2011dec CHOICE.
|Whenever Harvard Divinity School professor Hall, one of the premier scholars of American Puritanism, writes books and articles, those interested in early American history and culture should pay heed. This lucidly written, clearly organized work on New England "social practices and the workings of politics" from 1630 to 1650 argues convincingly that the members of New England's founding generation "brought into being churches, civil governments, and a code of laws that collectively marked them as the most advanced reformers of the Anglo-colonial world." The chief comparison is with English puritan reform efforts during the same era, concluding that the American Puritans nearly succeeded in implementing the Leveller program for transforming society and politics, hence the subtitle. The argument develops by describing the application of such concepts as participation, consent, and equity to practical questions of land distribution, legal procedures, church governance, and political action. Hall considers all New England colonies and uses Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a local illustration of both successes and tensions. This nuanced analysis of the Puritan reform impulse avoids both liberal and authoritarian stereotypes of Puritanism. As expected, a fine book. Summing Up: Essential. All academic levels/libraries.|
Posted by Paul Harvey
The project invites proposals from scholars in all disciplines for studies that will enhance knowledge of the social, cultural, psychological, and cognitive dimensions of prayer, and of its origins, variations, and correlations in human life. Approximately twenty to twenty-five research grants, ranging from $50,000 to $200,000, will be awarded. Both individual and collaborative projects will be considered, and a small number of journalism grants, of up to $50,000 each, will also be awarded. All grantees will be asked to participate in a series of interdisciplinary workshops, conferences, and online initiatives organized in conjunction with the project. The SSRC has issued detailed requests for proposals from both researchers and journalists.
See more: here and here.
While we are all aflutter over this weekends' American Academy of Religion, I would ask us to take a moment and turn our attention to another scholarly society--the American Society of Church History. Earlier this month the ASCH launched its very own blog that is open to contributions from any of its members (ahem, AAR are you listening?) So far there has been some quite interesting content covering Christian history in America. Yesterday's post from W. Clark Gilpin, "Wanted: A New Chronology of American Religious History," especially caught my attention.
Gilpin points out that one of the central tasks of the historian is to track change over time and this requires some sort of chronology. How one builds that chronology, though, will depend on what one sees as the engine driving change.
In no small measure, decisions about periodization depend on the issues that a given author or group of authors have identified as the principal engines of change. Historians who link American religious history to immigration are likely to produce a different chronology from historians focused on the intersection of religion and politics, or the history of religiously motivated movements of social reform. And yet, a moment’s reflection will also suggest that these three sets of concerns display interesting chronological convergences, for example, with changes in U.S. immigration law and movements for civil rights during the 1960s.The entire post is worth a read, but this point was especially interesting to me. As we think about the narratives we tell about religion in America, what are the engines driving our chronologies? What do they allow us to see? Where do they give us blindspots? For my current work I'd have to say "religious difference" drives the narrative. Gilpin names immigration, politics, and reform. Lately on the blog we've been talking a lot about the market. Are there other engines we've yet to put to use? Where could they take us?
Posted by Kelly J. Baker