Fake Titles 3.0

Randall Stephens

You can never come up with enough fake titles. Someone has even created a fake title generator. (Here's what I got from the site: Oppressing, Representing, Protesting: Sexuality in George Orwell and the Cultural Ego of Relic in Animal Farm.) So, once again, here are a few fake titles in religious studies and American religious history. (I like to get some ideas from journal titles found on Project Muse.)

White Elephant Gifts of the Spirit: TV Preachers in the 1990s

The Prevangelicals: Pietists, Preachers, and Divinity
Pedlars in the Early Modern West

Local Weathermen and the Pornotropics of Doppler Iconography in Cleveland, Ohio, 1997-1999

"Broadminded is spelled s-i-n": The Theology of the Louvin Brothers

Stand Up and Shout It: Bible Quizzing, Performativity, the Politics of Affective Agency, and {Em}bodiment

Whorehouse Faith: The Lived Religion of the Painted Ladies of Chicago's Little Hell, 1880-1906

On the Road Again: Hobo Graphotheologies from Bangor, Maine, to Cave Creek, Arizona, 1929-1950

Raise Your Paws and Praise Him: Dogs at Worship and in Community

The Legend of the Great Salt Lake Mormon Merman, 1890-1902

Planet of the Apes, the Twilight of Scientism, and Dystopian Premillennial Predilections

Tinseltown Preacher Cowboys, Shirtless Suburban Gurus, and Hippie Pretindians of the Southwest: Baby Boomers working off Script during their Religious Quests, 1966-1973

Literature and Secularization: At MLA and in Print


by Everett Hamner

For any of you blog readers who might be at MLA (program is linked here) rather than AHA in a few days (gasp!), there's a session you won't want to miss. Several of the most provocative, insightful scholars at the intersection of religion and literature will be participating on a panel entitled "Literature and Secularization" (Friday, 3:30-4:45, WSCC 617). Facilitated by Susannah Brietz Monta (Notre Dame, and editor of Religion and Literature), this roundtable will feature Lori Branch (Iowa, author of Rituals of Spontaneity); John Cox (Hope College, Seeming Knowledge: Shakespeare and Skeptical Faith); Tracy Fessenden (Arizona State, Culture and Redemption); William Franke (Vanderbilt, Poetry and Apocalypse); Colin Lovell Jager (Rutgers, New Brunswick, The Book of God); and Michael W. Kaufmann (Temple, coordinator of recent Religion and Literature forum, "Locating the Postsecular").

While I'm in advertising mode, many of you--religious studies and history types included--might well enjoy Amy Hungerford's Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion Since 1960 (Princeton, 2010). I reviewed this for Religion and Literature recently (43.1, Spring 2011), and here's the opening paragraph:

At first glance, Amy Hungerford’s second book might seem literary criticism’s answer to Robert Wuthnow’s After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s, which shows how Americans have drifted away from institutional religious commitments and toward more informal, syncretistic spiritualities. However, Hungerford reveals not just a loosening and recombination of doctrines and practices, but the return of a “belief in meaninglessness” (xiii) rooted in transcendentalism and Romanticism. Postmodern Belief is an examination of faith without content, trust in the nonsemantic, belief as itself a form of ritual, all as discerned primarily through the work of writers rarely identified as religious themselves, but who still “live in oblique relation to the structures and discourses of institutional religion” (xvi). Rather than concerning herself with these authors’ theologies, Hungerford investigates their convictions about literature. In fact, “their literary beliefs are ultimately best understood as a species of religious thought, and their literary practice as a species of religious practice” (xvi).

The Genesis of Jesus Rock: An Interview with David W. Stowe

Randall Stephens

David W. Stowe is a professor of American Studies and Religious Studies at Michigan State University. He has written on jazz history, hymns, and rock music. Stowe is the author of a wide range of books and articles, including Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America (Harvard University Press, 1996); How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans (Harvard University Press, 2004); and, most recently, No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (University of North Carolina Press, 2011). Below I interview Stowe about his excellent new book and his insights into Jesus rock and the culture of conservative evangelicalism.

Randall Stephens: What drew you to the topic of the roots of Christian rock?

David W. Stowe: I was intrigued by the historical moment of the early Seventies—1971 to be exact—when it seemed popular music and youth culture were saturated in allusions to Jesus Christ: Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, several Top 40 songs with Jesus in their titles or verses. Why had the Son of God seemingly taken over U.S. popular culture at just that moment—when the countercultural energies of the Sixties were metamorphosing into something new? And did this music play some role in reshaping American culture during the Age of Reagan and beyond?

These struck me as questions worth trying to answer. There was a personal angle as well. I came of age during the Seventies and have always been fascinated by that decade, which I remember now as if it were some kind of dream. So Christian pop music—of which I was completely oblivious until about 15 years ago—was a lens through which to make sense of that strange interlude between Kent State and the Reagan Revolution.

Stephens: Why did a Christian analogue to rock music develop when and where it did?

Stowe: Like many forms of the Sixties counterculture, Christian rock first emerged in California. More precisely Orange County, the epicenter of what was dubbed the Jesus Movement. It was at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa where Chuck Smith famously teamed up with über-Jesus freak Lonnie Frisbee. Larry Norman came out of the Bay Area and had a major impact as well. But it’s important to note that the West Coast didn’t have a monopoly on Jesus music. The Rez Band (still in business) originated in
Milwaukee and made a very successful debut run across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. CCM guitar hero Phil Keaggy did a stint at Love Inn in upstate New York. [Check out the McCartney, Ram-esque Keaggy song in the youtube clip here.] So this Jesus Movement—and the music that went with it—was a national phenomenon.

Stephens: You focus quite a bit of attention on apocalypticism. How did end-times views shape Christian rock and, even, politics?

Stowe: Apocalyptic themes had bounced around in American pop music since early Dylan—“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”—and Barry McGuire’s surprise number-one hit of 1965, “Eve of Destruction.” A sense of living in end times tinged the late Sixties counterculture—a certain Cold War fatalism permeated American society for decades--so it made sense that an apocalyptic mindset would filter into the Jesus Movement. Among other things, it makes a catchy theme for a lyric. Witness Larry Norman’s most famous song: “Children died, the days grew cold/A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold/I wish we’d all been ready. . . .”

It didn’t hurt that these messages were being reinforced by the best-selling book of the seventies, Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth. Politically, end-times prophecy tends to work against social and political movements, reformist or revolutionary. What’s the point of transforming the world if God is going to bring the curtain down on the whole sorry human enterprise? So most of the Jesus Freaks—and the musicians they listened to—focused on saving as many souls as they could before the Rapture.

Stephens: By concentrating on artists who were crossover, or more mainstream performers—like Al Green, Bob Dylan, and Aretha Franklin—you extend what most people might think of as Christian music or Christian rock. I wonder if you might say something about the tensions that existed between those who reached a larger, mainstream market and those who were fairly fixed within the Christian genre.

Stowe: This tension was one of the most intriguing aspects of the Christian pop phenomenon. On the one hand, the Jesus Movement tried to cast a wide net and welcome as diverse a following as possible. On the other hand, its theology was quite orthodox. There was a deep suspicion of alternate spiritualities of the kind that were floating around pop music especially after the Beatles went off to the Maharishi’s ashram at Rishikesh. Many of the decade’s most successful artists, whose music invoked religious and Christian themes—the ones you’ve mentioned, but also Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, even Johnny Cash—weren’t embraced by the Jesus Movement. Jesus freaks pretty much ignored them. From a broader historical perspective, though, it was important to make sense of their relation to the baby boom evangelicals who were cutting their spiritual teeth in those years.

Stephens: Could you describe how you think Christian rock has changed since its early days in the late 1960s and early 1970s?

Stowe: It’s become both much more commercially slick and much more musically diverse. In the early days, Christian rock was mostly folk-rock, or just plain folk. Even hard rock was a bit of a stretch. Now one can find every genre of pop music represented in CCM: hardcore, hip-hop, punk, Goth, Norwegian death metal. CCM is now a very large and profitable market genre—outselling jazz and classical combined—so the promotion and production value of the music has gone way up. It’s theology tends to be much more eclectic as well. As I argued in the New York Times last spring, the innocently promiscuous mixing of Christian language in “secular” music doesn’t happen as it did during the early years of Christian rock; the secular/sacred divide seems to have hardened. Although, as is always the case when generalizing about a huge diverse culture form like popular music, important exceptions can be found.

Stephens: What projects are you currently working on?

Stowe: A short book on the varied forms Psalm 137 has taken in North America. That’s the one that begins, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. . . . How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” I call it American’s longest-running protest song. Its history stretches from the earliest Pilgrim psalters through adaptation to the American Revolution, abolitionist movement, Harlem Renaissance, civil rights movement, and the widely covered reggae version, “Rivers of Babylon.” It’s a good lens for thinking about the varied social and political uses to which a thirteen-verse Hebrew poem can be put, and the endless inventiveness of music to wrap itself around ideology.

Food and Spirituality in the South: Chick-fil-A and Bessinger Bros. BBQ

By Michael J. Altman
[Cross-posted at michaeljaltman.net]

A couple delicious articles crossed my plate just before the Christmas weekend and I didn't want the connections between them to sneak by. Over at the wonderfully put together museum of religion and spirituality with a hipster aftertaste, Frequencies, Darren "DEG" Grem has written a piece that dives into the spirituality of the Chick-fil-A sandwich. Meanwhile, in the [web]pages of New York Times Magazine I came across a piece from Jack Hitt on the barbecue feud that has torn apart the Bessinger  family of South Carolina in the past two decades. I have spent my whole life in the South. I've spent the past four years in Atlanta, where you can't throw a rock without hitting a white Styrofoam cup of Chik-fil-A lemonande, and before that I spent six years in different parts of the mustard based barbecue region of South Carolina. Reading Grem and Hitt reminded me of the ways food in the South partakes of the sacred, the political, and the domestic. Not that it doesn't do these things in other places, but in the South I can speak from the privileged place of an insider with experience.

That spirituality in the marketplace, or in the chicken sandwich, is both real and illusory at the same time--that it is always already revealing and obscuring--is Grem's strongest point. He writes:
We can’t take Chick-fil-A’s claims about its sandwich at face value because we lose something in the process. We lose the connection between spirituality and the people who make up the marketplace and the networks and chains that support contemporary capitalism. But we also can’t just dismiss these claims about the spirituality of work, of goods, of companies, of people—or stop with investigative exposés of how it has or has not filtered down to the bottom or up to the top of the corporate triangle. That doesn’t really dive into the messy endeavor to explain spirituality in the marketplace, either as a complicated and layered phenomenon or as an organized but diverse and divided movement.
Indeed, spirituality is messy. It is material. It is juicy and topped with pickles. And sometimes it  pays for bowl games. Grem challenges those trying to trace the role of spirituality in the market and the market in spirituality to go further than simply following the money, or the prayers, or the products. Where that leads I'm not completely sure and Grem doesn't completely reveal but I think the Lowcountry of South Carolina offers us up a case study.

Jack Hitt's article on the Bessinger brothers various chains of mustard sauced barbecue in the Lowcountry of South Carolina is worth a full read and, for me, served as a reminder of the shock I experienced when I first encountered yellow barbecue. Having grown up in North Carolina my tongue was trained on vinegar and I could never accept the Gospel of the mustard seed. Then in college I gave up pork altogether and so I took my place on the sidelines of the great barbecue debate--though I don't think that dry stuff  from down in Alabama ever stood a chance.

Hitt's article focuses on the fallout between the four Bessinger brothers, each of whom are in the BBQ business, in the wake of Maruice Bessinger's decision to raise the confederate battle flag over each of his Maurice's BBQ restaurants. This was Bessinger's response to the decision by the South Carolina legislature to remove the flag from the roof of the capitol building. (It has since been moved to a gilded pole in on the capitol grounds, a spot more visible than it ever was way up on the roof.) Maurice's older brother Melvin, who owns Melvin's BBQ in Charleston, avoided politics and has seen his fortunes improve as his brother's neoconfederate ideology continues to hinder his business. In some ways the whole story is a Cain and Able narrative but everyone has the meat in their offering.

What jumped out to me in the article and why it connected to Grem's piece was the following:
Maybe 200 people turned out at the post-rally barbecue at Maurice's bottling plant. He had set up a giant shed to seat 500, so the gathering looked like a failure. The machines were walled off by pallets of Maurice's boxes, each stamped with the word ''Kosher.'' Maurice, a lay preacher, began the long afternoon of speeches.

''This is our only hope,'' Maurice explained, pointing to the giant Confederate flag behind him. ''As the government gets more and more tyrannical, they will hand over more power to a world government. And then the Antichrist will just come in and say, 'Thank you very much.'''

Maurice is comfortable weaving religion with barbecue: there is a weekly Bible-study session at each of his pits. Later on, in the privacy of his office, he let slip a secret of his sauce. ''The recipe,'' he said, ''is in the Bible.''

''Does it start with Jesus' parable of the mustard seed?'' I joked. Maurice's eyes flared, as if I had correctly guessed that his middle name was Rumpelstiltskin, and he refused to discuss it further.

''You can just say that my Carolina Gold is a heavenly sauce,'' he said. ''I believe that after the rapture there will be a big barbecue, and I hope the Lord will let me cook.''
Hitt was tantalizingly close to getting at the spirituality of the barbecue. But he made the mistake about which Grem warns. He got flippant. He thought he could see through the Bible study to what was "really going on." And Bessinger clammed up. Neoconfederate ideology, conservative Protestantism, pork infused apocalypticism, and the faith of a mustard seed; how do these add up? I really want to know. The mess that Grem prods us towards has been quickly yanked back from Hitt. The connections between the spiritual and the material, and even the political, are there. But what are they?

What does the sacred taste like? Who brings the potato salad to Jesus's mustard based glory? What makes those chicken sandwiches so God blessed delicious? (And DEG, you forgot about he biscuits.) To find these answers we must resist the urge to make jokes. We must remain humble and quite. We must listen. Then maybe we'll find out what it will be like when Christ returns to bless the righteous and smite the tomato and the vinegar based.

Oh, and if you are looking for barbecue in South Carolina, I recommend Shealy's in Batesburg-Leesville. If you can't find it just ask anyone you meet west of Columbia.

Reappraising the Significance of Religion in the Modern U.S.: 2012 AHA Session

Paul Harvey

Some of you blog readers may be getting ready for the 2012 American Historical Association meeting in sunny Chicago Jan. 5-8 2012. Because the AHA meets in conjunction with the American Society of Church History and the Catholic Historical Association, there are really too many sessions on American religion to list usefully. So instead I'll feature a few sessions of interest that particularly catch my eye in the coming days here, and invite the rest of you to promote sessions of interest to you, either in the comments section or by sending me a guest post.

To start with, here's hoping you'll drop by our session, pasted in below, on "The Evangelical Century: Reappraising the Significance of Religion in the Modern United States." Details below.

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Kansas City Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Anthea Butler, University of Pennsylvania
World War II and the Birth of Modern American Evangelicalism
Matthew Avery SuttonWashington State University
Paul W. Harvey, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
Session Abstract
The twentieth century United States, according to the standard narratives, was defined by growing secularism and pluralism. Heavy immigration of Jews and Catholics in the progressive era, and of Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims since the 1960s, created what scholar Diana Eck calls “a new religious America,” one in which no single group has a monopoly on power. The members of this panel are not so sure. While there is no doubt that the United States is far more diverse today than it was in 1900, American evangelicals have nevertheless managed to shape the nation’s trajectory in important ways in the last one hundred years. Building on new archival research, these papers seek to reappraise the significance of American evangelicalism in the modern United States.

Alison Greene focuses on an important shift that began in the 1930s. Until the Great Depression, the nation’s established churches were on an upward trajectory in both numbers and influence. But the Great Depression crippled the Protestant establishment. At the same time, the economic crisis made room for evangelical and pentecostal churches that emphasized individual salvation and authentic religious experience. While the established churches struggled to maintain programming and participation, upstart evangelicals and pentecostals employed creative techniques and a core of committed volunteers to keep church operations afloat and expand membership. While it would be decades before evangelicals and pentecostals rivaled their established counterparts in numbers and national influence, the Great Depression marked the beginning of a gradual transition of power from the mainline to its upstart rivals.

Matthew Sutton's paper (revised since the original proposal) discusses the reaction of fundamentalists to World War One, tracing that era as one of the creation of a religious movement that grew to be hyper-patriotic and suspicious of government at the same time.

Steven Miller examines more recent expressions of evangelism. He argues that the growing prominence of Reagan-era evangelicalism produced two metaphors that profoundly informed subsequent discussions of faith and public life: Richard John Neuhaus’ “naked public square” and James Davison Hunter’s “culture war.” Neuhaus argued that secular elites had “systemically excluded from policy consideration the operative values of the American people, values that are overwhelmingly grounded in religious belief,” while Hunter described a conflict between “progressive” and “orthodox” forces in American society. In the end, neither metaphor could transcend a defining characteristic of late twentieth-century America: the complex, often ironic influences of evangelicalism on U.S. politics and culture.

Revival of Religion and American Culture Book Series from University of Alabama Press

Paul Harvey

Over the last few months, my friends Charles Israel (Auburn University) and John Giggie (University of Alabama) have been making plans to revive the Religion and American Culture series of books published by the University of Alabama Press -- in years past luminaries such as Wayne Flynt, Ed Harrell, and Edith Blumhofer edited this series. You senior scholars and graduate mentors out there, please keep them in mind to send promising dissertations-soon-to-be-book-manuscripts their way.

I received the following email from John recently, and got his permission to repost it here, as an advertisement for this series and as a call for those of you, junior and senior scholars alike, with book manuscripts that you're shopping around to contact the editors, who are aggressively recruiting authors for the series. Here's a bit more information; use the links above to contact Charles and/or John if you have a manuscript or a book project idea for them that you want to discuss:

I wanted to thank you again for agreeing to serve on the editorial advisory board for the new incarnation of the "Religion and American Culture" book series that is sponsored by the University of Alabama Press.
As you may remember, I am co-editing the series with Charles Israel and we are in the process of aggressively recruiting new work for publication in the series. We are preparing to formally announce the series launch in late 2012 and want to be able to make a splash with some very strong first titles. We're asking now for your guidance and help. If you know of any scholars who are working on promising projects that you believe we should consider, or of scholars both junior and senior who are looking for a home for their work, please be so good as to let us know. We're happy to follow up with them by email, phone, or otherwise to extend an open invitation to submit their work for publication consideration.

I want to emphasize that we have every assurance from the editor-in-chief at the University of Alabama Press, who sponsors the series, that we can offer contractual terms that are every bit as competitive as any other press in the country, both for first-time authors submitting revised dissertations and for senior scholars, accordingly. We're also in the favorable position of being able to offer advance publication contracts
when appropriate or necessary.

Announcing Coursekit

Darren Grem

Undoubtedly, most of y'all have put down your red pens and taken off your "instructor" hats for the winter break.  But if I could have your attention (Harvey! You! Yes, you! No fantasy football until I'm done talking!) for just one second, I'd like to invite you to take a look at Coursekit, the newest little teaching engine to come down the line.  I'm sure it's been talked about in other spaces, but since I don't remember it being talked about here, I figured I'd give it some free publicity.

Here's a take on where it came from, what it's about, and where it's planning to go:

A couple years ago, I sat in on a "Technology in the Classroom" course. We spent the early part of the day talking about new tools that were available. The discussion turned into a litany of complaints: IT policies that prevented the installation of new software, draconian site-blocking measures, thimble-sized storage allowances. At every turn, each new tool that a teacher wanted to try out would require a fight with administration. The frustration was palpable. "Why are the IT people making pedagogical decisions?" lamented one teacher, "Why do they get the final say about what does and does not happen in my classroom?"

Joseph Cohen, cofounder and CEO of Coursekit agrees. The problem, he says, is that most educational software is bought and sold at the enterprise level. The people deciding what to acquire are not the people using it and that disconnect has allowed unusable software to flourish. . . . [Thus,] On the product design side of things, Coursekit is focused on a user experience that is as simple and elegant as possible. This means that all the basics are there: a calendar, file sharing, submitting assignments, and grading work, but in ways that are stripped down to what Coursekit's user testing has shown them to be the essentials.

The "essentials" are teacher profile, syllabus, posting/comments module (similar to FB), assignments dropbox, and grading platform.  If you use Twitter or Wordpress in the classroom, then this streamlines that for you.  Additionally, it's 100% free since they've taken a"set up the site, monetize it later" business model.

Like all tools, it has its ups and downs.   If you want a more user-friendly interface (unlike BB), then it also seems to be worth considering.  I'm not sure if they're going to enhance the personalization of Coursekit soon by making it open to template modification (like Wordpress) or beef up some of the grading and watchdog tools (like Turnitin) that's a part of its competitors.  We'll also have to wait and see how it hooks up with other turns in the digital instruction world, such as the move toward digital textbooks, and the still-under-consideration move to see how smartphone apps and iPads might replace those big, gazillion-dollar "smart classrooms" some of the more money-flush colleges installed a few years back.  In any case, do know that there's another kid on the block for y'all to consider, especially if you've found (like myself) you're bombarding students with different digital platforms to use in class or for class projects.

The Lily of the Mohawks and the Boom in American Sainthood

by Kathy Cummings

When a friend of Flannery O'Connor's complained of sexism in the Catholic Church in the 1950s, the novelist dismissed the accusation, pointing out that "the Church would just as soon canonize a woman as a man."  A keen observer of Catholicism, O'Connor was uncharacteristically off the mark in this instance, as women make up only about one-fourth of the Church's canonized saints. This makes yesterday's announcement all the more remarkable: in authenticating a second miracle for Kateri Tekakwitha and for Mother Marianne Cope, Pope Benedict has essentially added two more female U.S. saints to the Catholic canon (a papal bull of canonization will almost certainly be forthcoming, most likely within a year).  At present there are nine canonized saints who lived in the United States or territory that later became part of the United States; five of them are women. The imminent addition of Tekakwitha and Cope tilts the balance of power heavily in women's favor, a phenomenon not often witnessed in Catholic circles.

            As Linford Fisher discussed in this space Monday, Tekakwitha has long been considered a patron saint of Native Americans and will be the first of their number canonized by the Catholic Church. She will also be the first American saint who was not a member of a religious community.  In this respect American saints do correspond with  universal patterns. Men and women religious are overrepresented in the canon of the saints for good reason; religious congregations have the personnel, the funding and the institutional memory to sustain a cause for canonization through the decades or even centuries it takes for a cause to succeed.

            U.S. Catholics began lobbying for a saint of their own in the 1880s.  Half a century later, the Catholic Church canonized the North American martyrs, eight Jesuit missionaries who were killed in New France in the seventeenth century. Two of those had died in territory that later became part of upstate New York, and thus they technically counted as U.S. saints. But most American Catholics held off from celebrating until 1946, when Frances Cabrini became the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. The first native-born saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton, was canonized in 1975, followed two years later by the the canonization of John Neumann, a Bohemian-born Redemptorist missionary and bishop of Philadelphia. Since then pace of canonizations has increased dramatically, with the canonization of Mother Rose Philippine Duchesne (1988) Mother Katharine Drexel (2000), Mother Theodore Guerin (2006) and Father Damien de Veuster (2009), who like Marianne Cope, served a leper community in Molokai.

            We can expect that Tekakwitha and Cope represent the beginning of an even more dramatic uptick in the total number of American saints. There are over fifty American causes at various stages in the process, and many of them made significant progress during the pontificate of John Paul II.  He canonized more people than all of his predecessors combined, in part by streamlining the complicated process. John Paul II was in particular committed to canonizing people from among national and ethnic groups that were without patron saints. This explains, in part, his decision to waive the required miracle for Kateri Tekakwitha, which paved the way for her 1980 beatification. John Paul II also made a concerted effort to canonize more lay people.  And while he is not often regarded as a hero to Catholic feminists, it is worth pointing out that roughly one-third of the 482 saints he canonized were women, lending, belatedly and perhaps fleetingly, a certain credence to Flannery O'Connor's observation. 

Choice Reviews Through the Storm, Through the Night


Paul Harvey

Pardon the self-promotion interruption, but you're used to it. Now and then I post reviews from the helpful library periodical Choice of books of interest in our field. Today I'm going to seize the blog to post this review of my new book Through the Storm, Through the Night, especially for those of you contemplating your book choices for next semester's classes. 

Harvey, Paul.  Through the storm, through the night: a history of African American Christianity.  Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.  217p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780742564732, $35.00; ISBN 9780742564756 e-book, $34.99. Reviewed in 2012jan CHOICE.

Books abound on the African American religious experience in the US, but Harvey's work is a welcome addition and succinct summary of its 400-year history. Typically in such short monographs, detail is sacrificed for brevity, but Harvey (history, Univ. of Colorado, Colorado Springs) packs great substance through insightful biographies and aptly summarized historical events. He argues against any uniform African American church or religious experience, as African Americans experienced varied contacts with Christianity and often mixed traditional African spiritualism and animistic beliefs. Unquestionably, religious beliefs infused the African American community with hope as they struggled through slavery, Jim Crow legislation, segregation, race-oriented violence, and the civil rights movement. Harvey concludes that though the church is still relevant and Christian denominations are still predominant in the African American community, 21st-century immigrants continue to challenge this narrative, as the Orisha traditions of West and Central Africans, Cuban Santería, Haitian Catholicism and Voodoo, Ethiopian Eastern Orthodoxy, and Islamic influences further heighten diversity. The author notes that clannish and local community traditions among these immigrants overshadow any presumed unity based on skin color. In summary, Harvey creates a broad panoramic of the African American religious experience and challenges future scholars to increase scholarly attention to this field. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. -- M. S. Hill, Gordon College

New Pew Report

Darren Grem

Quick post to draw your attention to the newly released stats from the Pew folks on "global Christianity."  The big takeaway:

A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion. Christians are also geographically widespread – so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.

In addition to a quiz that might be of use in the classroom, lots of handy tables and maps are available for teaching and reflection on historical trends, including this one:

A Step Closer to a Mohawk Saint

Linford D. Fisher

Amidst the hustle and bustle of this holiday season—and virtually guaranteed to be overlooked following the exodus of U.S. troops from Iraq and the death of Kim Jong II—a little extra Christmas spirit just emanated from Vatican City. Today Pope Benedict XVI certified the second miracle for Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), the “Mohawk Saint” from Kahnawake on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River near Montreal. All that remains to complete her long journey to sainthood (which began with her beatification in 1980) is an official papal bull, which is likely to come next year.

Tekakwitha’s interesting story was brought to a wider audience by Allan Greer’s Mohawk Saint (2004)—a terrific book for undergrads, by the way. Having just used this volume in a course this fall (the class included a non-Native student who swears his mother’s name is…wait for it…Kateri Tekakwitha; he said his grandmother was enamored with her life), and having spent a large amount of the class discussion on the various appropriations of her by North American Native Catholics and the ongoing attempts towards her canonization, this news feels especially timely, even if it is not entirely surprising. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile to ponder how the effects of colonial-era evangelism continue to play out in the present, sometimes in surprising ways. As is often the case, the papal certifications and forthcoming bull only give “official” legitimacy to a following that is centuries old. Tekakwitha will not be the first Native from the Americas to be named a saint, but she is perhaps the most important one, at least for North American Native Catholics. As Greer and others have pointed out, Tekakwitha has long served as the unofficial patron saint for Native Catholics.

Read more here.

"Connie" Hilton's Praying Uncle Sam

Randall Stephens

Conrad Hilton, or "Connie" as Don Draper calls him on Mad Men, was passionate about building hotels and securing America against the dual threats of atheism and communism. It was a patriotic-religious mix he shared with millions of Americans. Yet few had the influence or power of a Conrad Hilton.

I wasn't thinking about Hilton, his faith, or his political ideals when I was browsing Life magazine on Google books at the Norwegian National Library this last weekend. I was looking for adverts for a lecture I'll be giving over here called "Advertising the American Dream."

Still, when I saw the Hilton ad, posted here, Life (July 7, 1952), I was taken back. What's going on here with "America on Its Knees"? Uncle Sam looks strangely like Lincoln, had Lincoln not been shot, and lived to be 70, and taken on the role of Uncle Sam. Why the God-and-country-prayer as an advertisement for hotels? People like patriotism and prayer, I guess.

Annabel Jane Wharton writes of Hilton's specific anticommie views and his propensity for civil religion adverts in her Building the Cold War: Hilton International Hotels and Modern Architecture (University of Chicago Press, 2006). Says Wharton:

Hilton's belief that religious faith was critical in the battle against communism was also, quite literally, publicized. In 1956, an article in the trade magazine Sales Management: The Magazine of Marketing, noted 'The recent rise of Hilton International has coincided with Conrad Hilton's personal fight against Communism . . .' Indeed, Conrad Hilton regularly substituted prayers for advertisements. . . . Hilton was a passionate Catholic. He also had respect for other religions, working closely with Jews and Muslims. He abominated atheists and demonized communists . . . . [He] believed his hotels made a significant contribution to America's struggle against communism in the cold war (139-140).

So, there you have it. Knowing not too much about high-profile anticommunists (and what little I know coming from books on postwar conservatism and some research on the Midwest), I'm curious about how others might have used public venues to preach the anticommunist gospel. As Grant Wacker notes, Billy Graham was an intense holy cold warrior in his early career. The National Association of Manufacturers had its share of ardent anticommunists, one in particular who launched the John Birch Society. Where else did anticommunism and American Christianity link up?

An Interview with Owen Stanwood on The Empire Reformed: English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution

Randall Stephens

Owen Stanwood is an assistant professor of history at Boston College and a scholar of early America and the British Atlantic world. He has published in the Journal of British Studies, the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, French Colonial History. His wonderfully readable first book, The Empire Reformed: English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011) looks at "how fears of Catholicism galvanized and transformed Anglo-American political culture during the last decades of the seventeenth century."*

In the interview below I ask Stanwood about his research and writing on antipopery, the intersection of politics and religion in the 17th and 18th centuries, the workings of empire, and the state of the field.

Randall Stephens: You write about the significance of English antipopery in the 17th century. What impact did antipopery have on the political and social order of the age?

Owen Stanwood: Early modern antipopery was above all a language, a form of discourse. Protestants considered "popery" to be a binary opposition to their own, true religion, and thus used conversations about the nature of popery to define the contours and boundaries of their own faith. In the English context, this had both theological and political effects. In the church, different kinds of English Protestants, whether high church Episcopalians or Puritans, critiqued the other side by pointing out their similarities to Catholicism. These same debates often carried over into politics, since many people believed that the theology of popery usually coincided with tyranny and absolutism. So on a number of occasions, most notably the English Revolutions of the 1640s and 1680s, people justified overthrowing their kings by claiming that the monarchs intended to overthrow the true Protestant church. These charges, of course, were usually false, but they had great rhetorical power.

Stephens: Fears of Indian and Catholic plots in the late 17th century, you observe, fueled colonial anxieties. Did New England colonists see those as combined forces?

Stanwood: For most of the 17th century, they did not. Even as late as King Philip's War in the 1670s, most New Englanders saw Indians and Catholics as distinct threats. From the 1670s through the 1690s, an important transition took place. American colonists gradually began to conflate these dangers; they started to believe that Indians were not independent actors, but simply shock troops used by French papists to carry out their bloody schemes. This was important for a number of reasons. For one thing, it represented a molding of the European anti-Catholic tradition to fit conditions in America. And it ended up changing the way colonists perceived Indians. If they had earlier been targets for conversion, and possible allies against Catholic enemies, now they appeared to many English as unconvertible enemies debauched by Catholic superstition. In my mind, this led to new, even more poisoned relations between whites and Indians in the 18th century—and provided a key context for the political transformation that lies at the heart of my book.

Stephens: Could you say something about how militant Protestantism shaped the founding of the American colonies?

Stanwood: Militant Protestantism affected the colonies from the very beginning. First off, English overseas endeavors had a Protestant purpose from the early days of colonization, in that the English, along with the Dutch and French Protestants, wanted to provide a Calvinist counterweight to the Spanish and Portuguese, who dominated the New World. In time the English state stepped back from these religious motivations, but during the seventeenth century the American colonies became favorite refuges for any number of English and European radicals. The Puritans and Quakers are the most well known of these groups, but by the 1680s the colonies from New England to the Caribbean abounded with all kinds of Protestant rebels, from Scottish Covenanters to English Baptists to French Huguenots. Many of these people fled what they considered Antichristian tyranny in Europe, and made it their imperative to keep America Protestant. This is important to remember when we try to understand how imperial politics developed.

Stephens: You write that the “story of the making of empire must necessarily be both intensely local and transatlantic in scope.” How did the aims of London officials and the goals of New World colonists come into conflict? From your reading of the sources, how did empire “work” in the late 17th century?

Stanwood: During the 1670s and 80s officials and colonists feuded for a number of reasons. Essentially, the crown wanted to create a more streamlined, centralized empire to replace the hodgepodge of local arrangements that characterized the 17th-century empire. This reform stepped on a lot of toes, as many of those who had the most power in the colonies found themselves out of favor. It only became a popular movement, however, when ordinary people began to see imperial reform as something that threatened them. Many people started to see imperial reform as part of a massive Catholic plot—mainly because the main proponent of these reforms, King James II, was Catholic, and because people associated centralized power with the pope and Catholic rulers like France's Louis XIV. As people became more frightened and distrustful of their leaders, the empire hardly worked at all; in fact, it was laughably dysfunctional. What all of this suggests is the importance of political rhetoric in running an empire. During the 1680s, rulers were not speaking the same language as the people, and this doomed the first plans for imperial reform.

Stephens: Would you say something about how political unrest in London reverberated across the Atlantic?

Stanwood: The political unrest that most concerns me is the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688-89, when James II lost his kingdom to a popular rebellion led by the king's daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William of Orange. The effects of this revolution in the colonies were manifold. Many of James II's colonial governors were hard at work reforming the empire, and once colonists heard that the king had fled England for France, they believed that their leaders intended to betray them to the enemy. A series of outrageous rumors circulated from Barbados to Boston, telling of a coordinated design by the French, Indians, Irish servants, and James II's cronies to replace the English system with "popery and tyranny." False though they were, these rumors led to popular rebellions in three colonies, and also provided a language—that of paranoid antipopery—that future imperial leaders could use to keep the empire together.

Stephens: How do you think historians’ understanding of the religio-political milieu of early America has changed in the last 30 years?

Stanwood: There have been two very important transformations, both of which have influenced my research. First, historians of early American religion, like early Americanists generally, have moved away from a national narrative and turned toward a transatlantic one. They now understand that phenomena like Puritanism or early evangelicalism cannot be understood as purely American, but as global movements. In a linked development, historians of religion have turned much more toward popular or "lived" religion, an understanding of how the beliefs of ordinary folks had an impact on history. My book builds on both of these traditions, in that I show how the religious beliefs of ordinary people—in this case, regarding the evils of Catholicism—led to important political changes that altered the face of global politics.

The Origins of the Mormon Moment; or, How to Generate Your Own Such Moment

Christopher Jones

As a follow-up to Paul's post last week on "the Mormon moment in scholarship," and in an attempt to answer the questions posed by Elesha and Curtis in the comments of that post, I'll simply point readers to a post today ("2011: The Year of the Mormon") over at the Mormon blog By Common Consent. Embedded within that post, which surveys a number of individuals, events, and trends in pop culture, politics, sports, and scholarship that kept Mormonism in the spotlight all year long, is what appears to me to be a basic (if slightly complicated) formula for those interested in generating a similar moment for their respective religious movement/scholarly-subject of study/etc. With a giant tip-of-the-hat to the fine folks at BCC, then, here is my formula:

1. Aim for an election year (preferably a presidential election), and ensure that at least two of the candidates are of the specific faith community. If they represent divergent approaches to said faith, and maintain a personal and/or political rivalry dating back several generations, even better.

2. Politicians alone, of course, cannot create such a moment. They need to be buttressed by likeable star athletes that inspire hip-hop songs and videos, rock/pop music sensations that publicly proclaim their faith without coming across too condescending or annoying and incorporate elements of the religion's founding theophany in their music videos, and television programs portraying the more controversial elements of the faith tradition. For scholars of religion, it is particularly important that these figures not only be members of the religion, but also that their respective talents can be explained by alluding to, for example, Thomas Aquinas's theory of scripture. Landing these public figures on the cover of several prominent national publications doesn't hurt, either. Oh yeah, and if the guys behind South Park create the Broadway hit of the year about the religious community, that's just icing on the cake.

3. While loads of publicity may generate a "moment" for the religion, they do not automatically lead to a corresponding "moment" for scholarship on the subject. The key there, of course, is to keep researching and writing. The sheer amount of scholarship focused on Mormons and Mormonism over the past year (or that forthcoming in 2012) really isn't all that unique---historians, sociologists, and others have been generating volumes and volumes of scholarship on the subject for decades now. The key here, as I see it, is that the younger generation of scholars---folks like Pat Mason, Matt Bowman, John Turner, and Spencer Fluhman---are building on the work of their predecessors but also more directly engaging trends in larger fields (American religious history, religious experience, religion and politics, etc.) and demonstrating what the Mormon experience uniquely reveals about those larger subjects, trends, etc. It also helps if the institutional church in question decides to take an active role in that scholarship by expanding and publishing archival collections.

Looking forward to 2012, Paul may be right in wondering if "another mainline moment in being born." But just to be sure, someone may want to put in a call to the South Park guys.

WW II and Religion: CFP


The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience and the Department of Religion
Florida State University

“World War II and Religion”

November 30-December 1, 2012

Call for Papers

The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience and the Department of Religion of Florida State University seek paper proposals for a two-day conference in Tallahassee, Florida focusing on Religion and World War II. Conference organizers G. Kurt Piehler and John Corrigan seek papers that touch on the institutional, theological, and human impact of religion in World War II. We are interested in the global dimension of this conflict and encourage scholars whose work focuses on Africa, Asia, Latin America, Middle East, and the Soviet Union, as well as Europe and North America.

We are interested in addressing the ways that combatants and civilians drew upon religious ideals and institutions to sustain them in an age of total war, and especially how soldiers, sailors, and aviators behaved religiously in the course of their service. Additionally we solicit papers that consider the roles religious organizations and values played in fostering ethical conduct during the war, providing humanitarian relief, and protecting non-combatants and conscientious objectors, as well as analyses of various kinds of religious justifications for violence, including genocide. Among the questions we seek to address: did religious leaders and institutions foster a climate that encouraged rather than retarded the drift to total war? Are there really no atheists in foxholes? What was the legacy of the war for religious institutions and ideals, especially in the defeated Axis Powers? How did religious institutions discredited by their support of the Axis Powers seek to regain their legitimacy? What kinds of compromises did persons negotiate with their religious beliefs in wartime? In what way was pre-existent religious rhetoric deployed to characterize enemies as evil? How did the war diminish and exacerbate the perception of religious differences?

We encourage contributions from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The conference organizers hope to provide travel funding to graduate students and junior scholars to encourage their participation. Plans call for the publication of an anthology drawn from the conference proceedings edited by John Corrigan and G. Kurt Piehler.

Those seeking to participate in the conference should submit a 750 word abstract along with a short 3-5 page c.v. via Microsoft word attachment or PDF File to G. Kurt Piehler at kpiehler@fsu.edu by March 15, 2012. For further information about the conference, please contact John Corrigan at jcorrigan@fsu.edu or G. Kurt Piehler at kpiehler@fsu.edu

RD: Spirits of Enterprise

Darren Grem

James Lorusso -- a Ph.D. candidate in American religious cultures at Emory -- has a new post at Religion Dispatches on the "spirituality at work" movement and its relationship to free market capitalism.  He writes:

We might think of the workplace as an indisputably secular space, but over the last two decades, interest in what’s become known as “workplace spirituality” has grown from a fragmented smattering of unorthodox entrepreneurs and management gurus into a full-fledged movement.

Bringing spirituality into the culture of business, advocates believe, will not only enhance the quality of individual working lives, but also drastically alter the broader conduct of business across the planet.

Aiming at nothing less than a wholesale change in human consciousness, workplace spirituality has the trappings of a full-fledged religious movement—but whose religion? And what’s behind it?

The first round of scholarship on this movement -- David Miller's God at Work and Lake Lambert III's Spirituality, Inc. -- tended to be overly close to the sources.  Both tried to relate what the movement was about without being too critical of it.  Whether this was intentional or not is debatable.  Miller has a whole initiative at Princeton devoted to studying workplace spirituality and it certainly seems like he's in favor of it as a kind of "better" way to do business.  Lambert III's book likewise deems workplace spirituality as a type of "religious" experience worth serious consideration by scholars, but as Brittany Shoot's review of the book for RD noted, "capitalism [in Lambert III's treatment] is not examined as a potentially harmful system to some group of workers down the line."

Lorusso is a part of the second round of scholarship on this movement, one that -- as Dan Williams points out -- has been led by historical inquiries into evangelical contributions to contemporary corporatism.  In general, those in the second round are more critical, arguing that, at best, spirituality provides a kind of "psychological wage" for those working for self-described spiritual companies.  At worst, it fosters spirituality onto people's workaday life or provides a thinly-veiled cover for abuse.  Lorusso's forthcoming dissertation will undoubtedly add to this scholarship by redirecting our attention toward the spiritual capitalists and capitalism that Lambert III studied, albeit with a more critical lens and, hopefully, with an eye toward understanding religious/spiritual constructions, appropriations, and inconsistencies  inside companies as often dynamic and debated.

The Mainline Protestant Moment? Or Embattled Ecumenicists?

Paul Harvey

In the previous post about recent scholarship on Mormonism, Elesha wondered, in a facetiously self-interested sort of way, "what it would take to generate a mainline moment in scholarship" (earlier twentieth-century Protestantism being the topic she's working on). A cynic might flippantly say, "well, they had their 'moment,' and it lasted many decades," and I might say that we had a classic product of mainstream Protestantism (the UCC) run for President, and win, in 2008, and it produced not a "moment" but instead hysterical cries about the radical agenda. Can't wait for Round II of that next year.

But Curtis Evans answered more seriously and helpfully in the comments section, by by pointing to some significant moves in that direction, including David Hollinger's OAH Presidential Address, discussed with wonderful insight by David Stowe on our blog here.

And even more seriously, I'm starting to think the moment may be here, albeit focused more on the middle of the century, from the Depression through the Vietnam War, than the earlier part of the century which excellent younger scholars such as Elesha, Curtis, and Matt Hedstrom are investigating.

I was thinking this over as I recently read through Jill Gill's mammoth work of scholarship Embattled Ecumenicism: The National Council of Churches, the Vietnam War, and the Trials of the Protestant Left. Students: if you want to know how to mine the archives effectively, check out the footnotes to this doorstopper.

This is a work that deserves to be called “definitive.” Gill’s comprehensive study of the National Council of Churches and the Vietnam War covers the subject exhaustively. But more than that, the book is a re-examination and, in part, a rehabilitation of mainstream Protestantism in the middle years of the twentieth century. Historians recently have focused attention on close studies of the origins, rise, and politicization of the religious right. Gill’s work counters that trend with a sympathetic, although certainly not uncritical, examination of Protestants who were at once part of “the establishment” but increasingly distanced themselves from it because of the bitter disillusionment of the Vietnam War. Gill also explores the meanings and purposes of “ecumenism,” an ancient Christian ideal that the author finds worthy of a deep reconsideration. The irony is that ecumenism splintered in the face of a conflict where religious leaders managed to unite many mainstream Protestants against the war while serving as “generals without armies” (in the cynical but fairly accurate words of Dean Rusk) and being manipulated first by LBJ and then Nixon. The Vietnam War fractured the Protestant center-left, and helped pave the way for the rise of a resurgent religious right.

In some ways, Gill's book helps explain how we get from John Foster Dulles (a paragon of the mainline Protestant establishment in the 1950s), to the embattled ecumenicists of the 1960s -- in but no longer of the establishment -- to the prophetic but increasingly ignored or irrelevant voices of the 1970s, and the "radical preachers" which Obama-haters promise to resurrect from the dead in 2012, there to play a walk-on part in their war.

Reinforcing my view of a new generation of rising scholarship on the "mainstream," this evening I flipped through a recent edition of Reviews in American History, containing a really thoughtful exploration of William Inboden's Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment. Inboden's work is also reviewed nicely, closer to the time of its publication, here.

Pretty much unbeknownst to me, apparently the pages of the journal Diplomatic History and other scholarly venues have been full of debates about the causal links (if any) between "cultural" factors such as religion and foreign policy decision-making. The reviewer asks, "How does one demonstrate conclusively that cultural phenomena do more than merely condition, or provide context for, the actions of foreign policy-makers?" He cites some skeptics of the "cultural turn" in foreign policy studies, asking skeptical questions to that effect. He then suggests that "more adeptly than any other product of the 'cultural turn' in foreign relations history, Inboden's book demonstrates this causative link between religion and diplomacy." The father of containment, George Kennan, wasn't much for any of this, but once it took hold his idea quickly moved far beyond the intentions of its creator, much to his dismay and exasperation.

These are all works about the "mainstream" from the inception of the high period of the Cold War through the trials of the 1960s -- a period when mainstream Protestants (with considerable sprinkling of folks from other parts of "tri-faith America," of course) were, to a sizable degree, the people who ran everything. I might add that I've just skimmed through another recent work, The Spiritual-Industrial Complex: America's Religious Battle Against Communism in the Early Cold War, recently out with Oxford, in which the mainliners are the central actors. We'll have more extensive coverage of this book on the blog a bit down the road; in the meantime, click the link for interesting coverage and analysis of the book. The review linked above begins:

IN A LETTER to the Vatican in 1947, Harry Truman characterized the United States as a “Christian nation.” For Truman this was likely a statement of fact, an obvious description of what America was and would long remain. For Jonathan Herzog, Truman’s phrase explicates an entire epoch in American politics. The title of his book, The Spiritual-Industrial Complex, inverts Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about a military-industrial complex, suggesting instead a fusion of governmental power and religious zeal.

Darren Dochuk's piece for Perspectives, "Searching Out the Sacred in U.S. Political History," summarizes much of what I'm saying here. After a discussion of the plethora of scholarship on evangelicals and fundamentalists, he goes on to add that

But religion was not just for the downtrodden or embattled; at mid-century it still dictated the dreams of the political elite too. Perhaps no other subset of political history has undergone a more profound shift lately than diplomatic history. Rendered too conventional by some in the 2000s, diplomatic history has emerged in the 2010s as a dynamic field revitalized by new interests in gender, NGOs, globalization, "soft power"…and religion. One exemplary byproduct of this renaissance is William Inboden's Religion and American Foreign Power, 1945–1960, which argues that Protestant notions of liberty and freedom informed U.S. officials' efforts to construct a "godly" front against "atheistic Communism." Once Dwight Eisenhower molded them into a more inclusive, civil religion of American exceptionalism, these notions also came to inspire Jews and Catholics around the world in a broad offensive against the Red Menace. Such was the spiritual essence of U.S. containment strategies, and as Inboden, Andrew Preston, Jason Stevens, Mark T. Edwards, and others emphasize, America's most powerful emissaries never took this essence lightly.

In their minds, America's fight against foreign evils was God's fight against foreign evils, rendering any clean distinction between faith and international relations artificial. If public theology was a wedge for American hegemony abroad, it could also be a subversive influence at home, something historians now stress when talking about the civil-rights era. As Joseph Kosek has shown in Acts of Conscience, even while many public intellectuals championed American imperialism, some spoke out against the prevailing orthodoxy. Reconciliation and brotherhood rather than conquest grounded their creed, fusing their interests with a broader crusade for human rights. These same principles enlivened the "prophetic" strand of Protestantism that bound the southern civil rights movement together. Rooted in an Old Testament tradition that roused black and white activists alike, this prophetic theology, David Chappell shows in A Stone of Hope, sacralized self-sacrifice for social justice and paved the way for nonviolent revolt throughout the South. Chappell's conclusions are now being enriched by studies of civil rights activism in the West. Scott Kurashige, Shana Bernstein, and Mark Brilliant have all shown that multiethnic religious agencies in 1940s California helped trigger the assault on American apartheid.Inspired by this state's rich but contested religious pluralism, they helped marshal local resources and resolve for a nationwide war against Jim Crow and all its intolerances, one they would win in the 1960s.

So what say you, Elesha and others -- is there another mainline moment being born? Perhaps the center could not hold, but its few decades of remarkable power and then fragmentation mark mid-twentieth century American history in ways historians are still fruitfully investigating.

The Mormon Moment in Scholarship

Paul Harvey

Everyone is discussing the "Mormon moment" thanks to Romney and national politics, and Max Mueller's piece for Religion Dispatches discusses why non-expert pontificators feel free to pontificate on Mormonism's "weirdness" where they would do no such thing about other religious traditions. Don't miss his article.

But it may actually be more the Mormon moment in the scholarly world than anywhere else. Our own John Turner's biography of Brigham Young will be out in a little over a year or so (and scroll down for John's recent post on Joseph Smith's Journals), with Harvard University Press, and the big biography of Parley Pratt by Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow will be reviewed here at the blog in just a little while. And don't forget Patrick Mason's The Mormon Menace, reviewed here at the blog a while back. The world awaits J. Spencer Fluhman's forthcoming study of nineteenth-century anti-Mormon rhetoric, coming out next fall with the University of North Carolina Press; the parts I've seen represent scholarship at its best.

The efflorescence of scholarship in the field is pretty astonishing, keeping up with it impossible. For a little assistance in the latter, I recommend Ben Park's "2011 in Retrospect: A Look at Important Books and Articles in Mormon History," over at Juvenile Instructor. Here are Ben's personal award winners for the year, but go over to his post for a much fuller and more extensive discussion of the variety of recent scholarship in the field.

My picks for a handful of MHA’s awards are as follows. (Drumroll please…)

  • Best Book: Sam Brown, In Heaven as it Is on Earth
  • Best Biography: Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow, Parley P. Pratt
  • Best First Book: Patrick Mason, The Mormon Menace
  • Best Article: Stapley and Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism” (Stapley also gets recognition for “Adoption Sealing Ritual,” which is equally deserving of the award)
  • Awards of Excellence (2 Articles): Patrick Mason, “God and the People”; Chris Jones, “The Power and Form of Godliness”
  • Silver Award for Women’s History: Catherine Brekus, “Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency”

AAR Redux (Part 2) from Jeremy Rapport!

Here's part two of Jeremy's reflections on AAR, in which he discusses legitimation, spirituality, individuals, nature, appropriation and so much more. Part 1 is available here.

“Individuals, Communities, and Religious Authenticity: An AAR Redux”
Jeremy Rapport

The process by which adherents and potential adherents judge religious claims credible is of great interest to new religions scholars. The three papers on Sunday afternoon’s “Strategies of Legitimation in New Religions” focused on authoritative claims-making in three different new religions: a Chinese Buddhist new religion, Erik Hammerstom’s “The Heart of Mind Method”; a neo-pagan Asatru group, Carrie Dohe’s “Jungian Archetypes, Metagentics, and Kenniwick Man”; and a Christian new religion, Spencer Allen’s “Tony Alamo and His New Testament Brand of Christian Polygyny.” The issues these presenters discussed and the questions they raised about the ways discourses of legitimacy function are critical to understanding new religions as well as to thinking through the ways religions work in people’s lives. A community becomes credible and possesses religious legitimacy, all three of the presenters at least implicitly insisted, through a complex mix of appeals to cultural norms, religious traditions, and charismatic claims.

Monday morning I presided at “Religious Appropriations of Secular Culture.” In many ways, this was a fun-filled panel. Highlights included Darryl Victor Caterine’s paper, “Haunted Ground,” based on his recent book of the same name, which examined the role of nature in the gatherings of several metaphysical religions; Ann Duncan’s research on an Edgar Cayce inspired summer camp, “Summer Camp and New Paradigms of Sacred Space in New Religious Movements”; Shannon Harvey’s paper, “Eat Your Way Back to the Godhead” looked at ISKCON cookbooks; and Martha Smith Roberts’ and Jenna Gray-Hildenbrand’s “Hoop Spiritualities,” described their research on hula hoopers who believe the exercise inspires spiritual experiences. Despite the variety of the topics, it would have been impossible to miss the theme of people using conventionally secular forms to facilitate experiences they believe to be religious. Spiritual experiences are everywhere, if you know where to look.

The Sunday afternoon panel on Frequencies, an experimental project on spirituality developed by Kathryn Lofton and John Lardas Modern, was jam packed, despite starting late due to room arrangement problems. The project solicits short pieces on the diverse subjects that the authors think of when they think of the term, “spirituality,” and publishes them on its web site. For me, Frequencies is fascinating in much the same way that AAR is—as way to indulge rapidly one’s varied interests in sometimes ill-defined and/or poorly understood phenomena. Many of the essays on the web site are thought provoking examinations of their topics, and Sunday afternoon’s speakers, all contributors to the project, took to the spirit of the event and the project with full gusto. Julie Byrne performed her remarks on the project in an entirely appropriate, funny, confusing, and thoughtful spoken word piece. Susan Hardin spoke about the genealogy of Frequencies itself. Jeffrey Kripal pointed out the cool factor in the project and in the people involved in it. But what really struck me were Ari Kelman’s remarks. Kelman discussed the project’s apparent lack of the overtly religious (at least to date, contributions are still coming in). Kelman’s comments struck a chord. As much as I enjoy what I have seen of it, I worry that Frequencies is doing nothing to address an overly simplistic dichotomy in popular discussions of the religious and the spiritual, a dichotomy that misrepresents the complex relations among individuals, institutional religions, and cultures. In fairness, Martin Marty’s recent contribution to Frequencies addresses this exact concern, and pieces on more conventionally religious topics are now more commonly appearing. Nonetheless, it seems to me that Frequencies is in danger of metaphorically recreating the tropes and practices of a particular form of spiritual seeking in vogue right now and in the process also risks ignoring a vital reality of the more conventionally religious world, namely that many religious people do not think their lives are devoid of the immediacy and presence of something they understand to be spirituality. I really do not want a project that strikes me as both innovative and insightful to pigeon-hole spirituality as a concept limited to people who understand it to indicate the primary authority of individuals to mediate and create their worlds.

Our investigations of religion have been moving toward a greater interest in the individual’s expression of religious life for the past several decades, with the lived religion approach exemplifying the trend. While that shift toward focusing on the individual as the primary mediator of authentic religious life reflects previously overlooked factors in our study of religion and recent developments in American religious life and thought, scholars must remain cognizant of the vital role of community in religious life. Individuals may indeed be the primary mediators of religious authenticity, but they learn to do that mediation in the context of communities that shape them and how they understand the world.

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