From our friends at Religion and Politics, a couple of great reads.
First, historian Alison Greene takes on Mississippi, once described as "the closed society," and finds it a lot more open, and certainly more complex in its relationship of religion and politics, than commonly perceived. A little excerpt:
Why didn’t pundits, politicians, and activists stop to ask how they had been so wrong about the voters in Mississippi? The answer is that when Mississippi doesn’t hew to simple narratives, Americans no longer know how to talk about it. In the national imagination, Mississippi is the state of extremes: the poorest state, the fattest state, and the most conservative state. But especially when it comes to Mississippi’s place as America’s most religious state, there is rarely room, it seems, for a more complex narrative. The Personhood amendment’s unexpected failure demonstrates that there are complicated social and political realities in Mississippi, realities that are not captured in political prediction models that assume that exceptionally high rates of church attendance and professions of faith redound to knee-jerk social conservatism in the voting booth.
Second, Judith Weisenfeld takes on the "post-racial America" myth with an analysis looking at the complex interplay of race and religion in American history:
The complex tangle of race, religion, and citizenship requires more nuanced analysis than the reductive binary that post-racial or not post-racial provides. Without question, this is a difficult cluster to disentangle—if such a thing is even possible—made so by the fact that race, religion, and national identity have been bound up together in complicated and shifting ways across American history. Religious beliefs have contributed to the production of ideas about race in American history by helping to interpret inconsequential physical differences through a moral lens and, at times, conferring divine authority on racial hierarchy. Similarly, ideas about race have contributed to evaluations of the religious possibilities and faith claims of differently racialized peoples in American history. These intertwined constructions of race and religion have developed in a context in which contribute to ideas about American national identity and citizenship. Declarations of post-racial achievement obscure the multidimensional operations of racial thinking in American history as well as the rich spectrum of approaches that people of African descent (who most often bear the burden of “race”) have taken to understanding the relationship among race, religion, and Americanness.
And finally (and unrelated to the above, but this is a grab-bag of good reading post so what the hell), I've been following a graduate student at Duke on Twitter, A. T. Coates, but somehow hadn't gotten to his blog until today. Coates writes excellent posts reflecting, in "quick hit" fashion, on new scholarship in the field, like I would do here if I was less lazy and therefore reliant on linking to good stuff written by others. (And for you graduate students, this is great oral exam preparation technique here, wish we had this stuff back in my day, but back then we barely had writing implements). Most recently, he has posted a summary and his thoughts on Matt Sutton's article on FDR and the birth of anti-statist Fundamentalism, from the Journal of American History, and on John Modern's Secularism in Antebellum America. I've linked him to our blogfavs now to remind me, and the rest of you, to check over there periodically for fresh reflections on work in American religious studies.