Call For Book Proposals, Catholic Practice in North America



0 comments

From John Seitz, Fordham University

Call for Submissions
Catholic Practice in North America
Angela O'Donnell, Fordham University and John Seitz, Fordham University, Co-Editors 

About Catholic Practice in North America Series

This series aims to contribute to the growing field of Catholic studies through the publication of books devoted to the historical and cultural study of Catholic practice in North America, from the colonial period to the present. The series editors welcome submissions in a variety of disciplines and genres, including empirical investigations as well as creative analyses and explorations of the contours of American Catholicism.  

Please submit questions about the series to Angela O'Donnell or John Seitz.  

Proposals may be submitted to Fred Nachbaur. 

For more information, visit our webpage.

Emotive Cognition and Sensuous Devotion in Catholicism: Call for Discussants



0 comments
John Corrigan of Florida State sends along the following announcement:

²    C   O   N  N   E   C   T   I   C   U   T      C   O   L   L   E   G  E   ² 

  C A L L  F O R  D I S C U S S A N T S

E M O T I V E  C O G N I T I O N   &   S E N S U O U S  D E V O T I O N

²    I N  C A T H O L I C I S M    ² 

A CONNECTICUT COLLEGE SEMINAR DIRECTED BY FRANK GRAZIANO

FEATURING PRESENTATIONS BY

S I M O N  C O L E M A N

Chancellor Jackman Professor of Religion & Anthropology
University of Toronto

J O H N  C O R R I G A N

Lucius Moody Bristol Distinguished Professor of Religion
Florida State University

J E F F R E Y  F.  H A M B U R G E R

Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture
Harvard University

D A V I D  M O R G A N

Professor of Religion
Duke University

O C T O B E R   2 6 – 2 7 ,  2 0 1 2

v  Seminar Themes

Sensory stimuli (visual culture, tactile contact, silence and sound) and perception in relation to forms and experiences of devotion and to emotive cognition v ambient emotional cueing, including the ways in which material culture predisposes and informs religious affect and understanding v the influences of specific emotions (love, fear, guilt, joy, gratitude) on devotion, perception, and cognition v the effect of moods evoked by sensuous devotion on cognitive evaluation of beliefs, events, and memories v supernatural presence in statues and paintings, and interactive contemplation of these images v the living attributes (animation, bleeding, expression of emotion) and agency (performing miracles) of certain sacred images v mental imagery v emotive effects of architectural acoustics v sensory intuition of divine presence v empathetic identification with represented suffering v emotive cognition of liturgical discourse v individual and collective imagination (including traditions) as they pertain to emotive cognition and sensuous devotion v any other themes pertinent to the seminar’s field of inquiry.

v  Seminar Format

The seminar is comprised of sixteen participants; four are presenters, upon whose work the seminar is based, and the others are discussants. Five of the discussants are selected through a national call for participants, and the others are selected from the Connecticut College community. The seminar will take place on October 26-27, 2012. It begins informally on Friday evening, meets on Saturday, and concludes with a dinner on Saturday evening.

Rather than reading their papers during the seminar, the presenters submit the papers one month in advance of the meeting date. The papers are circulated to all seminar participants, who agree upon selection to read the papers prior to the seminar and to prepare questions and discussion comments.

Each presenter is allotted seventy-five minutes on the program. The presentations entail a fifteen-minute opening statement (to identify themes, build context, show slides, or introduce discussion topics) followed by questions and by discussion led by the presenter.

v  Discussants

Faculty interested in participating as discussants may apply by sending a brief letter stating the relevance of the seminar to research interests and a one-page biographical note or two-page curriculum vitae. The deadline for receipt of these materials is March 5, 2012. Decisions will be announced by the end of March. Please send your materials to Nancy Lewandowski, nflew@conncoll.edu, using “Discussant Proposal” as the subject line. Discussants are not paid an honorarium or travel expenses but upon arrival are guests of Connecticut College (including hotel accommodations and meals). Please address any questions to Frank Graziano, John D. MacArthur Professor of Hispanic Studies, fgraz@conncoll.edu.

v  Audience

The seminar meetings are open to the public without charge. To register, please send your name and email to Nancy Lewandowski, nflew@conncoll.edu. Please use “Seminar Registration” as the subject line.

v  Location

The seminar will take place on the Connecticut College campus in New London, Connecticut. New London is located on Interstate 95, approximately midway between New York City and Boston (two hours to either by car). At a one-hour distance to the north and south, respectively, are Providence and New Haven. There are Amtrak, bus, and ferry (from Long Island) stations in New London, and the closest airports are Providence (the most convenient airport) and Hartford, both about one hour from campus.

v  Sponsors

This event is sponsored by Connecticut College’s Dean of the Faculty. Additional support was provided by the College’s Information Services and the Departments of Anthropology, Art History & Architectural Studies, and Religious Studies.

Gods of Liberty: An Interview With Thomas Kidd



2 comments
Paul Harvey

I'm pleased to post this interview with
Thomas Kidd, prolific author of books on eighteenth-century American religious history and Professor of History at Baylor University. In the last couple of years, Kidd has published God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, and most recently Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots (some New England Patriots fans might think that Baltimore's errant field goal kicker Billy Cundiff is first among Patriots, but Kidd's book was already out). Kidd below reflects on his training, his choice of book topics, and his understanding of the role of religion in the American revolutionary era. 

PH: Tommy, you came up through a program, at Notre Dame, which seems to be producing a lot of younger stars in the field lately – including younger luminaries who have blogged here such as Darren Dochuk, John Turner, and Heath Carter (and obviously we could name many more besides). Can you say something about your training in a program that has become so notable in religious history in recent years? And while Notre Dame historically (for obvious reasons) has been and remains a center for Catholic history, many of the up-and-coming PhDs from there write first books on topics such as your own The Protestant Interest. So how did Notre Dame come to be such as center for the history of Protestantism in America?


TK: Notre Dame was a wonderful place to do my Ph.D., not least because of the large cohort of students working on American religious history there. Obviously, American Catholic history is a longtime strength at Notre Dame, but when they recruited George Marsden (my doctoral advisor) to the history department, it also became a major force in the study of American Protestantism, and evangelicalism in particular. That strength is continuing with the replacement of Marsden by Mark Noll, and the wonderful Ph.D.s they are producing.

PH: What inspired you to take up the project of a Henry biography, and what do you most hope 
that American religious historians will take from your work both in God of Liberty and in the Henry book?

TK: Henry appears in both my Great Awakening book and in God of Liberty, so a focused project on him was an obvious next step for me. Henry was the most outspoken Christian among the major Founders, and I was intrigued by doing a biography of a Founder about whom there is little question about the seriousness of his personal faith. We’ll never lose interest in the faith of deistic Founders such as Jefferson and Franklin, but Henry’s traditional beliefs were surely more representative of much of the rank-and-file of the Patriot movement.

I would hope that readers of these two books would see that in the Founding era, American faith was both vibrant and diverse. Evangelicalism had a major role to play in the religious culture of the Revolution, of course, but it was a role shared with more liberal Christians, skeptics, and deists. Perhaps in a small way I can help the popular debate over religion in America’s founding move beyond zero-sum games where the Founders are either ALL traditional Christians or ALL deists and Enlightenment skeptics.


PH: Your previous book, published in 2010, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution  outlines 5 broad tendencies, or “religious principles,” about religion and American society, that you believe united the revolutionaries and founders who otherwise disagreed with each other wildly on specific points of Christian doctrine. Can you say something about those principles?

TK: So much of the popular discussion of faith and the American Founding revolves around the personal faith of the major Founders. This is an interesting topic, but I don't actually think it tells us much about the role that religion played in the larger process of creating the American republic. So I sought to broaden the focus to the level of the public religious principles that helped unite the Patriots. These included religious liberty, the importance of virtue, the dangers of vice, the principle of equality by creation, and the role of Providence in human affairs. When you look at these principles, it is easier to understand why people of such sharply differing personal beliefs as Thomas Jefferson and the Baptist evangelist John Leland could cooperate so enthusiastically during the Revolution.

PH: As you know, historians have long debated the relationship of the Great Awakening to the Revolution, with some seeing the Awakening as a “democratizing” influence that fed directly into the same influence in the Revolution, while others insist that the Revolution was a political event which emerged for reasons apart from religious revivalism. Can you say something about your basic take on this debate?

TK: I don't think anyone would argue that the Great Awakening somehow caused the American Revolution, but I do believe that the revivals had a kind of conditioning effect on American culture that helped Americans get used to the experience of rising up against established authorities. The revivals also helped form an evangelical vocabulary of resistance that transferred easily to the rhetorical needs of the Patriot movement. But the most direct political result of the Great Awakening was the disestablishment of the state churches (outside of New England) and the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion. These were the greatest political accomplishments with regard to religion in the Revolutionary era.

PH: While there certainly has been a spate of biographies (to the extent that some dismiss it as “founders’ chic”) recently of Founding Fathers (and Mothers), Patrick Henry remains relatively unstudied, as you point out in your new book. Do you think this was because he was notably on the “wrong” side of two major issues – religious assessments (which he favored) and the Constitution (which he did not). Or is there some other reason? What, in particular, attracted you to write your book on Henry?
God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution
Thomas Jefferson (and to a lesser extent James Madison) has become so iconic in American pop historical memory that to stand against him almost seems like standing against American history itself. Henry and Jefferson developed a very bitter (at least from Jefferson's perspective) personal and political rivalry in the 1780s that culminated in Henry's opposition to Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom. Henry also became the leading Virginia Antifederalist, opposing Madison's Constitution. These positions certainly account for Henry's relative lack of celebrity among the leading Founders. But to me, they make Henry -- and the Founders themselves -- that much more fascinating. Although he joined Jefferson and Madison in promoting independence, their visions of how to implement and protect American liberty were starkly different.

PH: As you trace repeatedly through the book, Henry’s personal contradictions were pretty typical for the Virginia elite of his era – he was an indebted land-speculating slaveowner who hated debt and morally dubious speculation and was in theory opposed to slavery; he believed in religious freedom but supported a general religious establishment; he was an anti-Federalist who later became a Federalist and served Washington; and so on. It seems some of those contradictions follow him down to the present – although he remained a high-church Anglican, Henry is a hero to contemporary conservative Christians (including to the individual who recently founded Patrick Henry College). How do you explain this? Do the contemporary admirers of Henry, in your view, understand him correctly, or is there evidence of presentism or creating a “usable past” going on here?

TK: Henry is one of the most beloved Founders for evangelicals today because among the major Founders, he was the most outspoken Christian. He was also (like a number of the other major Founders) schooled almost exclusively at home, which makes him appealing to the burgeoning Christian homeschooling movement (a movement with which Patrick Henry College is closely associated). I think there are good reasons, then, for conservative Christians to appreciate Henry's role in the Founding. One aspect of Henry's career that conservative Christians – and political conservatives generally -- may not fully understand is his opposition to the Constitution. While many conservatives today have an almost religious veneration for the Constitution, Henry saw the Constitution as a betrayal of the principles of the Revolution.

PH: On a broader note, I’d like to ask a question about the religious history of early America. As I see it, there seem to be three major strands (at least – I’m oversimplifying hugely here) of scholarship: social/cultural histories which emphasize the wild diversity and religious conflict and violence in early America (as seen in books such as Jill Lepore’s In the Name of War Janet Lindman’s social history of early Baptists, which emphasizes notions of gender and embodiment); political/intellectual histories, including the books you have written, which tend to focus on a more traditional narrative of the major players involved in making the American nation-state; and then economic histories (such as Mark Valeri’s recent book), which often are about how major complexes of ideas (such as Puritanism) did or did not spur the economic explosion of the eighteenth century. Is there any way of synthesizing these vastly disparate historical approaches to early America, or do they just represent different philosophical views of history that cannot, and maybe should not, be “synthesized” into some kind of mush.

Perhaps these disparate approaches reflect a persistent reality about American religion: it always has been both diverse and thriving. I have tended to focus on evangelicalism's beginnings in colonial and Revolutionary America, partly because of my interest in the vitality of evangelical faith in America today. But viewed from other perspectives -- I would add Jon Butler's Awash in a Sea of Faith to your list above -- evangelicalism is just one thread in a very complex fabric.

PH: What are the projects that you’re currently working on? What kinds of books can we expect to see from you in the future?

I am writing a biography of George Whitefield that is due out in 2014 with Yale University Press, in time for Whitefield's 300th birthday.

More Football and Faith



3 comments
by Seth Dowland

Now that sportswriters interested in the intersection of football and faith aren't writing about Tim Tebow every day, other stories are coming to the fore. This week the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on a new wrinkle in college football recruiting: coaches going to church with their most prized targets.

In the regions of the country obsessed with college football (mainly the South, but also parts of the midwest and plains states), college football recruiting attracts considerable attention. I can remember seeing local-access shows in Atlanta dedicated to the latest whims of eighteen-year-olds who happened to be elite football players. Social media and the growth of college sports have accelerated the interest in recruiting, creating national websites and television programs dedicated to answering the burning question on minds of fans: which school is he going to choose?

The interest in recruiting is not surprising, as college sports have mushroomed into a multi-billion dollar business and coaches earn salaries that make us lowly professors weep (and occasionally gnash our teeth). Teams can succeed in the most competitive conferences only by attracting the top talent, and the only way (legally) to attract that talent is through recruiting. So coaches go all out to woo their favorite eighteen-year-olds, and fans spend an inordinate amount of time speculating about the thoughts of high schoolers. The whole process is bizarre, frequently slimy, and always controversial. Given the high stakes, it's no surprise that schools and coaches will go to great lengths (legal and illegal) to attract football stars to campus.

But I had never heard of a coach going to church with a recruit before. This story raises a raft of interesting questions. For starters, who is the object of worship in that service--the player, the coach, or God? (Note: congregants in parts of the country may conflate the latter two.) When the coach kneels in prayer, what is he asking for? What is expected of the coach with a $2.9 million annual salary when the offering plate passes by? The story reports that it was the deacons' idea to invite coaches to church -- and an elder suggested that University of Florida coach Will Muschamp might have donated a bit more than a crumpled $5 bill. (A note to churches struggling to make the budget: have the youth minister reach out to local football stars.)

National Signing Day -- when recruits sign "letters of intent" making their commitments official -- is this Wednesday. While those letters will answer questions about where the top recruits will matriculate this fall, plenty of other questions remain open. Who has power here? How fuzzy is the line between sacred and profane--if it even exists?

And, of course, what about next year's stars?

New World, New Jerusalem, New Orleans



2 comments
Emily Suzanne Clark

“I’m getting along alright I Just Be Praying and talking with the lord I have my service every night Preaching the bible and singing and Praying teaching the People about shurn the fire and Brimstone Rev. 21:8,” self-taught/folk artist and New Orleans street preacher Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980) wrote to a friend during her ministry in New Orleans. Morgan’s art and message were apocalyptic, and she blurred the boundaries between the new world, the New Jerusalem, and New Orleans.

After receiving multiple calls from God to preach the gospel, Morgan arrived to New Orleans in 1939, since she believed “New Orleans is the headquarters of sin.” In the 1960s and 1970s, Morgan – artist, musician, street preacher, and prophet – lived and ministered in the Lower Ninth Ward. She ministered at her home (the Everlasting Gospel Mission house), on the streets of the French Quarter, and at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Though her first revelations initially called her to ministry, her third revelation contained the most important message: God told her that she was to be the bride of Christ. Morgan began to wear all white to signify this relationship. She would later sign her artwork with signatures such as: Bride of Jesus, Bride of Christ, Lamb Bride, Nurse to Doctor Jesus, Missionary Morgan, and Your Boss’s Wife. It was also with this revelation that Morgan began to paint, and the apocalypse almost always permeated her work.

Two of her most popular subjects were images of New Jerusalem and her Revelation charters. Both have distinctive iconographies drawn from the apocalyptic texts of the Bible, popular religious imagery, and even more importantly, Morgan’s life and experiences. Her New Jerusalem paintings share visual elements that locate the biblical text in Morgan’s world. Morgan’s paintings of New Jerusalem always contain images of buildings that look strikingly like stacked shotgun houses. Though she took the city’s architecture with her to the new world, Morgan would not take the city’s sinners to New Jerusalem. Her painting Calling the Dry Bones commands local New Orleanians to “rise up from the beer tables card partys domino games to. God take no part with your worldy lust People whats wrong with you,” and the lower left corner of the painting includes a table of gamblers. Additionally, practitioners of the city’s non-traditional churches would not reach heaven; for example she condemns Spiritual church saint Black Hawk in multiple paintings, often connecting him to Satan. Though New Orleans architecture shapes Morgan’s New Jerusalem cityscape, its “sin” has no place.

Her Revelation images reveal Morgan’s literal reading of biblical text; however it is a unique literal reading. The coming New Jerusalem bears architectural similarities to New Orleans. Furthermore, she saw a distinctive role for herself in the coming apocalypse. In all of her paintings the most common element is herself, and her paintings placed her into the biblical text. Sometimes she played the role of John in the Book of Revelation, by calling herself prophet but painting her interpretation of his vision. Also, as the bride of Christ, she often painted images of her wedding with Jesus.

In addition to painting, Morgan sang and even recorded an album – Let’s Make a Record – consisting of various spirituals, gospel tunes, and largely original Morgan lyrics to the tune of her tambourine. She would also recite scripture and improvise short sermons throughout the tracks. Like her paintings, her music was largely instructional and included her own exegesis of particular texts. The apocalyptic urgency of her paintings is present in her music too; in her song “Power,” she sing/preaches:
Troubling people, don’t let ‘em rest, continue
Let them know they got a soul to save
Shake ‘em up and wake ‘em up
Yes lord, power, power
Yes lord, put their mind on the kingdom
You pay that prayer that power like kingdom come
Now they’re not prepared for the kingdom
They don’t believe in the kingdom, amen
Talkin’ bout everyone got to die, the church say amen.

Morgan stopped painting in 1974, following another revelation from God. She told one of her patrons, “Painting now? Oh no, I’m way too worried. Worrying about what time it is, and praying on people’s cases… You don’t have to look far these days to see fire and brimstone. No sir, it’s just like it was in the days of Noah, only it’s worse, because there’s more people. Tell em God’s wife told you that.” With the end times coming soon, Morgan turned her sole focus onto praying and preaching. Throughout her prophetic career, preaching the coming apocalypse remained her key task. Whether she was a new prophet John of Revelation or a modern-day Noah, Morgan believed we would soon cross into the new world foretold in the Book of Revelation.

By means of her cityscape, Morgan used New Orleans as a model for her images of New Jerusalem, and created her own religious message. She drew from her immediate environment, New Orleans, though she called it “a headquarters of sin,” as the visual template for her vision of the New Jerusalem. Though she looked to the future, her home at the Everlasting Gospel Mission shaped her new world dwelling. When she sang “I got the new world in my view,” that new world greatly resembled the sinful city she came to save.

The Antichrist and the Making of American Antiliberalism



0 comments
By Steven P. Miller

FDR, Hitler, Mussolini, Obama, Nicolae Carpathia . . . It’s hard to keep up with all of the possible Antichrists, past and present. We need someone to keep the record straight. More importantly for students of modern American history, we need someone to tease out the connections between eschatology and politics—specifically, between dispensationalism and antiliberalism. That’s where Matthew Sutton comes in. Readers of the New York Times op ed page and viewers of MSNBC know that Sutton is up to the task. His recent presentation at the American Historical Association provided another window into his eagerly anticipated (and NEH-supported) project, tentatively titled American Evangelicals and the Politics of Apocalypse (Harvard). Sutton’s forthcoming piece in The Journal of American History, “Was FDR the Antichrist? The Birth of Fundamentalist Antiliberalism in a Global Age,” shows how eschatology-fueled opposition to the New Deal laid the foundation for the rise of the Religious Right. As the final part of the title suggests, Sutton pays special attention to the inescapably global frame of politically attuned eschatology. Before the March issue hits the newsstands (or, rather, slides into your departmental mail slot), check out this fascinating podcast with JAH editor Edward Linenthal in which Sutton discusses the prophetic—and by extension, the political—implications of Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia and FDR’s National Recovery Administration. Beware the Blue Eagle . . .

New Book on Abolitionism and Moral Progress in History



2 comments
Randall Stephens

My colleague at ENC and Historically Speaking, Don Yerxa, has been working away on an edited volume for several years. That collection of essays--titled British Abolitionism and the Question of Moral Progress in History--will hit the shelves in March. This timely and illuminating book is the result of a 2007 conference on the topic held in London. I worked a little with Don on the program and created the website here.

The University of South Carolina Press, which is publishing the book, describes the project on its site:

The idea of progress may well be one of the most important products of Western civilization. Yet most historians avoid the subject, especially the notion that there has been significant moral progress over time, and favor contingency and human agency over teleology as the engines of contemporary historical inquiry. In this collection, an international cast of prominent historians uses the abolition of the British slave trade as a case study for exploring the larger interpretive question of moral progress in history.

Approaching their subject from the standpoints of social, economic, religious, scientific, and political history, the fourteen contributors explore connections between religious belief and social transformation, the material and cultural structures needed to translate altruism into successful political movements, and the measurements—if any—historians might use to denote moral progress. In taking up this inquiry, the essayists also broach larger questions of identifying what forces truly can be said to shape history and how one might delineate the capacity and limitations of historiography as a source for instructive philosophical lessons. The result is an illuminating conversation on abolition as a springboard for understanding the nature of historical knowledge in relation to authorial perspective, political and religious values, and postmodern philosophical claims of direction in the human experience. The work serves as a model for approaching the big questions of history with a goal, not of consensus, but of spirited debate and rich engagement.

The contributing authors include:

Eric Arnesen, Jeremy Black, David Brion Davis, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Peter Harrison, David Hempton, Bruce Kuklick, George Marsden, Wilfred McClay, C. Behan McCullagh, Allan Megill, Jon Roberts, Lamin Sanneh, Gary Walton, Donald Yerxa.

Rush out and pre-order your copy!

The Spiritual-Industrial Complex



4 comments
I'm pleased to introduce our new blog contributor today, whose inaugural post reviews Jonathan Herzog's new work The Spiritual-Industrial Complex: America's Religious Battle Against Communism in the Early Cold War (Oxford University Press, 2011). 

Mark Edwards teaches American history and politics at Spring Arbor University in Michigan.  He has published numerous articles, including in Diplomatic History, Religion and American Culture, and Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. His first book, The Right of the Protestant Left, is due out with Palgrave Macmillan in 2013.  He is currently at work on a related project, The Christian Origins of the American Century: A Life of Francis Pickens Miller. Welcome to Mark!

by Mark Edwards


The Last Temptation of Christ (1953) is communist subversion.  A President follows “God’s Float” into office.  Security analysts begin to stockpile WMRs (Weapons of Mass Re-enchantment).  Creation Science videos become mandatory viewing for over 200,000 GIs.  Twenty-five million Americans pledge a dollar apiece to build a “Freedom Bell” for West Berlin.  Radio-vangelists from Mars (the “red” planet, no less!) spark a global Christian groundswell, culminating in the collapse of the Communist bloc.  These stories and more are contained in Jonathan P. Herzog’s study, The Spiritual-Industrial Complex (2011).  The simple pleasure of the read notwithstanding, the real strength here is Herzog’s situating of Christian anticommunism within public and private institutions.  While the narrative of 1950s spiritual revival is a familiar one, no one has yet offered an empirical explanation for it.  Herzog shows convincingly how a myriad of elites manufactured civil religious consent as a “bulwarks” as well as battering rams against “secularism,” the firstfruits of international communism (8).

Herzog offers and carries through on at least two arguments.  First, he argues that the post-World War II revival was the result of series of undercover policy decisions.  While state and security personnel did draw upon earlier theological analyses of communism as a demonic faith, the Christianization of the burgeoning Military-Industrial Complex (Herzog focuses mainly on Christian influences) was nevertheless “conceived in boardrooms rather than camp meetings”  (7).  Herzog’s recovery of U. S. Information Agency (USIA) propaganda, the Fort Knox experiment in universal military training, and the joint government/business Religion in American Life (RIAL) ad campaign, among other richly detailed examples, more than justify his central claim and imagery.  He notes the paradox of a Christian crusade sustained by secular agencies (12).  Second, Herzog argues that the treasure trove of Jesus Junk produced by the Spiritual-Industrial Complex weakened public Protestantism in the long run.  This claim is less well developed than the first.  All the same, Herzog has led me to think about how the Supreme Court decisions against school prayer and Bible reading were consistent the Court’s earlier attack on the perceived excesses of the McCarran and McCarthy scares.
           
Millennial Dreams and Apocalyptic Nightmares The Cold War Origins of Political EvangelicalismHerzog’s thoughts on secularization possibly constitute a third argument.  At first, I felt the author was introducing unwarranted abstraction into his otherwise impressive empirical account.  However, it was refreshing to find someone finally drawing upon the insights of Christian Smith’s collaborative project, The Secular Revolution (2003).  As Herzog notes, Smith understands secularization as a product of inter-group struggles for influence (10).  One implication of this theory is that the religious right isn’t paranoid since “secular humanists” really are out to get them.  As Herzog ably demonstrates, though, Smith’s work places future study of secularization squarely in the hands of the historian.  The very existence of the Spiritual-Industrial Complex proves that secularization is not an irreversible process but rather a time and place specific phenomenon.  Conversely, “sacralization” (Stark’s and Finke’s term for the “reendowment of religion with perceived political, social, economic, or intellectual value”) can also be constructed and deconstructed through collective human effort (11).  It is hard to see what the materialism displayed during the Nixon-Khrushchev “Kitchen Debate” (1959) had to do with nuking the Spiritual-Industrial Complex, especially since celebrations of American abundance (“better fed than red”) had been crucial ingredients in anticommunism since Herbert Hoover.  Still, Herzog’s revisioning of secularization does ask us to set aside our typical condescension towards 1950s “faith in faith.”  Christian containment culture was remarkably sincere if also quite fragile.
           
God-Fearing and Free HARDCOVERHerzog’s book joins a number of wonderful recent works on postwar public religion, including (but certainly not limited to) Angela Lahr’s Millennial Dreams and Apocalyptic Nightmares (2007), Andrew Finstuen’s Original Sin and Everyday Protestants (2009), Jason Stevens’s God-Fearing and Free (2010), Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt toSunbelt (2010), and Kevin Schultz’s Tri-Faith America (2011).  Taken together, the net effect is to unsettle each other’s studies.  For instance, would Herzog’s Complex have become operative if it were not for the prior mainstreaming of premillennialism by Lahr’s evangelicals?  Or did mass-produced belief in the American Way of Life enjoy stronger sales than did fears of the apocalypse?  Similarly, what was the relationship between self-made re-sacralization and Protestant American anxiety, as explored respectively and respectfully by Finstuen and Stevens?  To what extent does Dochuk (as well as Steven Miller) force Herzog to admit that the Spiritual-Industrial Complex was a negotiation between “plain folk” believers, their preachers, and a spiritual power elite?  This is especially relevant since Herzog draws heavily upon Dochuk and Lahr when making his final claim that the Complex helped coalesce the postwar New Right.  Or, does Herzog’s evidence suggest that Dochuk (and Bethany Moreton, for that matter) rages against Thomas Frank in vain?  Finally, is the notion of an inclusive, monolithic Spiritual-Industrial Complex all that helpful given Kevin Schultz’s admirably nuanced narrative of religious-conflict-within-thin-consensus?  Certainly, my intent is not to blacklist any of these books.  Far from it; the questions arising from them beg for a fuller historiographical essay.
           
As a point of minor criticism, I did search Herzog’s work in vain for diversities of Christian anticommunism.  Herzog discusses the National Association of Evangelicals, but the much larger National Council of Churches is not mentioned.  The World Council of Churches is misleadingly referenced as a mouthpiece for Eisenhower, Dulles, and the USIA.  Herzog is obviously aware of the World Council’s early commitment to superpower “co-existence,” yet his approach leaves the impression of a religious conformity to Washington-Whitehall priorities that rarely existed.  Those shortcomings are part of a larger neglect of liberal anticommunism in general.  Does it really matter that Christian Americans used the Cold War differently, some to roll back New Deal social rights and others to advance them?  Probably.  At the very least, we need to remember that J. Vernon McGee and Carl McIntire are not America (yet).

Of course, Herzog’s intent was to establish the common institutional origins and nature of the 1950s religious revival, not explore its every political economic consequence.  In that purpose, Herzog has more than succeeded.  The Spiritual-Industrial Complex should be ideal for sparking undergraduate and graduate interest in a nation with the soul of a predator drone.     

In Heaven as It Is on Earth



0 comments

by John Turner

Samuel Brown's In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death is an unusual and remarkable book. Brown, a critical care pulmonologist, offers a rich and persuasive reinterpretation of Joseph Smith's most significant theological and ritual innovations.

I'm working on a fuller review of the book, so a brief encomium must suffice for now. No one working on Joseph Smith or early Mormonism will be able to ignore this work, challenging but rewarding in its careful analysis.

For starters, in his detailed contextualization of Smith's work, Brown moves beyond the existing interpretations of Mormonism's founding prophet (e.g., religious con artist, sincere fraud, magus, etc.):

Smith had a vision, a revelation ... and as his mind roamed over the conceptual landscape he inhabited, myriad phenomena came to speak of this great revelation. Smith was a translator rather than a parrot, an artist rather than a collator.

With his careful attention to the way Smith transformed the theological and philosophical beliefs he inherited and encountered, Brown offers fresh insights into a whole host of flashpoints within the study of early Mormonism: treasure-hunting, Smith's translations of ancient texts, the endowment ceremony, and plural marriage. Moreover, Brown frames all of Joseph Smith's work around the prophet-translator-seer's grief over the death of family members (especially his brother Alvin). Smith's ritual innovations offered himself and other Latter-day Saints the chance to confirm familial ties and also create an ecclesiastical family that would extend beyond the grave.

Brown's book makes much about early Mormonism make sense. Why did so many Latter-day Saints plunge into the muddy Mississippi River to be baptized for their ancestors in 1840? Why did church members nearly overwhelm Brigham Young in a stampede to obtain their endowments before the exodus during the winter of 1845-46? More so than most authors, Brown explains how what at first appear to be esoteric religious rituals held great appeal for (at least some) antebellum Americans living amidst the constant fear that death would separate them from their loved ones. Brown also helps explain the ongoing appeal of Joseph Smith's religious vision:

Ultimately, my impression of the legacy of Joseph Smith is that what matters is who we see beside us when we discover that we are in the precincts of death. Whether mortal or immortal, whether living or dead, what matters is who our companions are, to whom we have committed ourselves ... religion for Joseph Smith and his followers ... provided a company of Saints who could walk toward, and -- earnestly, anxiously -- through death with each other.

Eric Metaxas, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and the Uses of History



11 comments

I'm very pleased to post the following from my friend Carolyn Dupont, Professor of History at Eastern Kentucky University and author of a forthcoming, very important study entitled Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, a revision of her Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Kentucky. Oh, and in her spare time, she runs marathons. 

By Carolyn Dupont

A few nights ago, I heard prolific author Eric Metaxas talk about his new book, Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.   The book continues to garner glowing reviews and to sell briskly after reaching the top slot on the New York Times bestseller list last September.  Not surprisingly, Metaxas drew a large and friendly audience.  Funny, engaging, and openly evangelical, he recounted—to the extent possible in a one-hour lecture—the life, theology, courage, and final end of the German pastor who openly opposed the Nazi regime, joined a plot to kill Hitler, and paid with his life.  Metaxas argued that an increasingly secular society has buried such stories of faith-inspired heroism, and he has embarked on a mission of recovery. The audience clearly found the talk inspiring.

Metaxas emphasized Bonhoeffer’s willingness to engage hard questions and his devotion to rigorous thinking. Yet disappointingly, he did not invite his audience of conservative Presbyterians to a similar examination.  Instead, he offered a simple story of heroism that drew a straight and uncomplicated line from “real Christianity” to Bonhoeffer’s courageous deeds.  Against the knowledge that adherents of the Christian faith have eagerly abetted the very worst social injustices—material familiar to the readers of this blog—such a narrative requires interrogation. Explaining only that Bonhoeffer “believed the Bible was the Word of God,” embraced very “orthodox” beliefs, and criticized the liberal theology of his German coreligionists, Metaxas implied that his audience would recognize Bonhoffer’s version of the faith as much like their own.

Yet, little in the denominational history of the church where Metaxas spoke suggests their faith resembles the German pastor’s.  This communion, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), formed in 1973 when fundamentalist elements withdrew from the Southern Presbyterian Church. The personnel and institutions that created the new communion came largely from the Deep South, and many had engaged actively in resistance to the struggle for black equality.  Among them, Dr. Donald Patterson of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi chaired the steering committee that founded the new PCA.  Leaders of the Citizens’ Council (a grass-roots group devoted to white supremacy) enjoyed positions of power and responsibility in Patterson’s congregation; his church openly denied admission to black worshippers and had established a Christian school in 1965 to service the needs of whites when public school segregation collapsed under the demands of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Another important architect of the PCA, G. Aiken Taylor, labored prodigiously to undermine the quest for black equality as the Magnolia State writhed in turmoil in the mid-1960s.  Most noteworthy among these endeavors, he corresponded with Erle Johnston, head of Mississippi’s State Sovereignty Commission, feeding him information in an effort to sabotage civil rights activity and asking him to supply similar intelligence for use in articles in the conservative Presbyterian Journal.  Taylor especially sought material that might challenge the religious legitimacy of black Mississippians connected to the struggle.

Personal and institutional connections aside, the new communion enshrined a theology—a version of real Christianity, if you will—that had supported and serviced these believers well as they rejected black demands for equality and personhood.  Among the PCA’s most prized doctrines, they regarded the church as a spiritual institution that had no business “meddling in political affairs.”  In fact, this group regarded the new denomination as necessary to preserve their own more pure theology against the accursed “liberalism” and weak commitments to biblical inerrancy of the parent denomination.  This more liberal theology of the parent faith balanced of “spirituality of the church” with a notion of social justice based on the life and teachings of Jesus and had informed its support (belated though it was) of black Americans’ struggle for equality. 

Indeed, understanding the nature of “real Christianity” in times of social crisis becomes precisely the problem.  Never are arguments about the meanings of the faith more vociferous and salient than in times of extraordinary upheaval.  When on the cusp of dramatic alterations to the social order, people find themselves hotly debating the meanings of their faith—as in Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime, on the eve of the American Civil War, or during the American civil rights movement.  Not coincidentally, Christianity fragments in these times, as abstractions about the essence and implications of faith acquire the most concrete consequences. 

Drawing an uncomplicated line between Christian faith and Bonhoeffer’s heroism (Metaxas’s depiction) obscures a central problem: people deeply implicated in evil social systems from which they benefit find it difficult—nigh unto impossible—to identify the wickedness in these systems.  What, exactly, differentiated Bonhoeffer’s faith from the presumably counterfeit versions that sustain and defend heinous corporate crimes?  How exactly did Bonhoeffer, who “believed the Bible was the Word of God,” determine that God willed him to help assassinate the Führer rather than to “be subject unto the higher powers” as admonished in Romans 13:1?
.
A rich irony rang as this PCA congregation in Lexington, Kentucky, so committed to a theology that undermines social justice, celebrated Dietrich Bonhoeffer as one of their own.   Most of the sincere and decent people who worship there probably know little of their history, and they likely fail to appreciate their theology’s utter inadequacy for challenging systemic sin.  Perhaps congregations serious about discovering and living out “real Christianity” should entertain some of the questions above in order to discover why the faith so frequently fails to live up to its benevolent and ameliorative promise.  Given my understanding of the man, Bonhoeffer might have asked just these questions.

Places to Send Students in Search of Religion Blog Topics



0 comments
By Michael J. Altman

Per the request of Dr. Harvey, I present this cross post from michaeljaltman.net.

I gave a couple of talks around Emory last week about my experience teaching with social media last semester. In the wake of those I'll be posting some resources for folks looking to use blogging or Twitter in their classes. Here is a list of good sites I recommended to students for looking for articles/posts to write their posts about. While I didn't require them to use these, almost every one of them did and they had great results.

Religion Dispatches: http://www.religiondispatches.org

Religion in American History: http://usreligion.blogspot.com

CNN Belief Blog: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com

NY Times Religion: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/r/religion_and_belief/index.html?

Religion News Service: http://religionnews.com/index.php?/rnsblog

Reuter’s Faith World: http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/

Washington Post OnFaith: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith

Huffington Post Religion: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/religion/

USA Today Faith & Reason: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/index

Google News- Religion: http://news.google.com/news/section?pz=1&jfkl=true&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&csid=41b9657e37e26fc7&ict=ln

The Revealer: http://therevealer.org/

Killing the Buddha: http://killingthebuddha.com/

Warren Throckmorton: http://wthrockmorton.com/

Revolutionary Con(tra)ceptions: Evangelicals, Family Matters, and Presidential Politics



6 comments

by Carol Faulkner

For readers of Religion in American History, Saturday’s online New York Times juxtaposes several interesting articles. The first is a Room-for-Debate exchange on Newt Gingrich’s response to his ex-wife’s allegation that he asked for an open marriage (“False!”), which received resounding approval from a South Carolina audience this week. The second is a column by Mark Oppenheimer on how evangelical voters celebrate the large families of the Republican presidential candidates.  The third is an opinion piece on Gingrich’s marital revelations by Gail Collins. Collins and the other NYT writers all puzzle over the evangelical voters’ tolerance of hypocrisy and contradiction. These articles also present a unified portrait of the conservative evangelical vision of marriage and the family.

Gail Collins is funny and on-target, as always, writing:

South Carolina is probably not the ideal state in which to be accused of breaking the matrimonial bonds, then smashing them and jumping up and down on them until they’re just a pile of marital powdery dust. But Newt has framed his sexual history — the parts he isn’t totally denying — in terms of a redemption story. (“I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness.”) Everybody likes a story of the fallen man who rejects his wicked ways and starts a new life. Remember how well George W. Bush did with the one about renouncing alcohol on his 40th birthday? There is, however, a lot of difference between giving up drinking on the eve of middle age and giving up adultery at about the time you’re qualifying for Social Security. Cynics might suggest that Newt didn’t so much reform as poop out.

In Mark Oppenheimer’s article, Newt Gingrich’s other weakness might be his two children (his current opponents have 5-7 children each). According to Oppenheimer, for most of the twentieth-century, evangelicals viewed large families as undesirable: a sign of Catholicism, poverty, and/or backwardness. In more recent years, however, some evangelicals have embraced large families as God’s will.  An essential part of this worldview is the submission of women. Though not all (or even most) evangelicals share this view of contraception, Oppenheimer writes:

Today, however, even those evangelical Protestants who use contraception — the vast majority, it would seem — have developed a cultural respect, in some cases a reverence, for those who do not.

Oppenheimer refers to a book by Allan Carlson called Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973, which, according to Oppenheimer, argues that prior to 1920 American Protestants rejected the use of contraception as sinful and a violation of God’s order to be fruitful and multiply. After 1920, Carlson suggests, evangelicals fell away from this belief and quickly endorsed the use of contraception.

A brief glance at the book’s description indicates that Carlson is talking about evangelical leadership rather than lay people, but even so, his argument is somewhat puzzling for anyone familiar with the history of American fertility and birth control. American fertility rates began declining as early as 1760, and, in the well-known demographic transition, dropped steadily over the course of the 19th century. By 1900, American families had an average of 3.5 children. Susan Klepp’s excellent Revolutionary Conceptions shows why and how this decline happened (see my review of Klepp’s book here). What is very clear is that it could not have happened without the enthusiastic participation of Protestants, including evangelicals.  In addition, as historian Andrea Tone has demonstrated, even at the height of the Comstock laws, Americans—men and women, Protestant and Catholic—purchased and used contraception. Today, the numbers for contraceptive use are overwhelming: 99% of American women, and 98% of Catholic women (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cecile-richards/birth-control-coverage-a_b_1220668.html). 

 Today’s evangelicals who condemn contraceptive use are bucking three centuries of family limitation.
Devices and Desires - Andrea ToneThe Room-for-Debate exchange asks: If more people considered such openness an option, would marriage become a stronger institution — less susceptible to cheating and divorce, and more attractive than unmarried cohabitation?

The writer
Dan Savage points out that Americans, including South Carolina evangelicals, accept adultery as a sad fact of marriage: The lesson in Gingrich’s angry denial and the applause that greeted it: An honest open relationship is more scandalous, and more politically damaging, than a dishonest adulterous relationship.

W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project believes that tolerance for adultery is bad for women and children. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá hope that greater tolerance for different types of relationships will emerge, asking,
How many outspoken defenders of “traditional marriage” (whatever that is) must be exposed as adulterers before voters just roll their eyes at those two words? They also inform readers that “esposas,” the Spanish word for wives, also translates as “handcuffs.” Nice.

As Collins suggests, South Carolina Republicans may endorse Gingrich’s tale of marital redemption. In doing so, they are celebrating a gendered vision of marriage and the family in which the man reigns supreme.  It may be “traditional” in that this view of marriage harkens back to the cultural ideals of the nineteenth century. While the ideal wife was submissive and sexually chaste, not to mention economically, politically, and legally dependent on her husband, the husband had few restrictions on his sexual behavior (in or outside the marriage).  These conservatives might consider, however, that even in nineteenth-century Christian marriages, wives controlled their fertility.

CFP: Northwestern University Grad Conference in Religious Studies



1 comments
RELIGION AND THE TRANS…

Northwestern University Department of Religious Studies
Graduate Conference
October 12-14, 2012

CALL FOR PAPERS

The Religious Studies Department of Northwestern University invites graduate papers for a conference on “Religion and the Trans…”, to be held in Evanston, Illinois on October 12-14, 2012. We request abstracts by March 16, 2012.

This conference on “Religion and the Trans…” seeks to create conversations on the crossing of geographic and conceptual borders, as well as “the trans” as a fertile space within lived religions. Scholars in the humanities and social sciences have often studied borders as lines on a map that signify the limits between nations and beliefs. More recently, scholars in religious studies and other disciplines have begun to understand borders as sites of movement and flux, home to dynamic relationships involving conflict as well as collaboration. From the rise of religious terrorism that transcends or seeks to transform national identities to the migration of religious communities back, forth, and between cultural or political limits, to interfaith activism across the boundaries of belief, the traditional ways of imagining borders as stable and static are simply insufficient. A striking contemporary example of this was the “Arab Spring” of early 2011, wherein a series of protests and political transformations across the Middle East demonstrated clearly how divisions of faith, ethnicity and nationality can be conduits of change as much as limiting constraints. Our conference will focus on this new understanding of boundaries – whether they are geographic, political, social, or intellectual – as permeable and transformative. We will thus bring together scholars studying religion in relation to topics such as transnational communities, interfaith traditions, multi-cultural rituals, translatable customs, and transdisciplinary approaches to the questions that currently occupy religious studies.

All of these questions deserve thorough exploration in an interdisciplinary setting, and thus the Religious Studies Department seeks papers from across the humanities and social sciences. Broadly conceived, all the fluidities, polarities, and (in)stabilities of religion and the transnational, transcultural, transformative, transcendent, transfigured, transhistorical, transient, et cetera, offers a particularly rich point of discussion for graduate students who approach religion from a number of different fields, including philosophy, anthropology, history, gender studies, political science, sociology, and psychology.

Papers should not exceed fifteen minutes in length and may approach the topic from any discipline or methodology.

Please send a 500-word abstract, along with your name, institution, and year of study to NUreligiousstudiesconference@gmail.com by March 16, 2012.

New Books about Colonial Catholicism



4 comments
By Michael Pasquier

For those who study the history of Catholicism in early America, these are very happy times. I’ve been waiting years—YEARS PEOPLE!—for two recent publications that will definitely change the way we think about English, French, and Native American Catholicism in colonial America. They are…


Maura Jane Farrelly’s Papist Patriots: The Making of an American Catholic Identity (Oxford University Press 2012) and Tracy Neal Leavelle’s The Catholic Calumet: Colonial Conversions in French and Indian North America (University of Pennsylvania Press 2012)

Christine Leigh Heyrman says, “Maura Farrelly has a fresh and challenging perspective on the Americanization of Roman Catholicism, one that tracks its origins to early Maryland. Papist Patriots bears close reading by all students of American history and religion.”


Colin Calloway says, “With great detail and imagination, Leavelle brings a nuanced approach to conversion as cross-cultural practice, paying balanced attention to missionaries and Indians, analyzing behavior and action, song and speech, rituals and relationships, and considering plural conversions in the context of a volatile colonial world. One of the best studies I have read on the subject.”

Both books are a pleasure to read. They deserve our attention. Thank you Maura and Tracy.


Lilly Endowment ~ Congregational Studies Fellowship ~ Deadline Extended to February 1st



0 comments

Engaged Scholars Studying Congregations is a program of mentoring, networking, and study support funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. The Congregational Studies Team is pleased to announce the availability of Fellowships* to support scholars who are interested in disciplined inquiry into the life of local communities of faith. These 18-month fellowships include $18,000 in research support, plus $2000 for related travel. In addition, Fellowships include a program of mentoring by a senior-scholar coach and participation in two summer consultations that bring together the Fellows and coaches with the Team.

Applications are encouraged from scholars in a variety of disciplines — from practical theology to the social sciences, from history to biblical studies and contextual education — for projects that involve learning from and about living communities of faith. Fellows will explore avenues for making that knowledge available for the sake of those communities’ wellbeing, as well as developing strong academic contributions appropriate to their disciplines. Applicants should have completed their graduate work and be placed in a professional position at the time of application. We especially encourage early-career scholars to apply, but will consider applications from persons who have recently been tenured.


Note that the application deadline has been extended to 1 February 2012. For application information and instructions, visit www.hirr.hartsem.edu or contact the Engaged Scholars project office at Hartford Seminary (engagedscholars@hartsem.edu).

*This program is supported by a major grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. and is administered by the Congregational Studies Team: Nancy Ammerman, Anthea Butler, Bill McKinney, Omar McRoberts, Larry Mamiya, Gerardo Marti, Joyce Mercer, James Nieman (project director), Bob Schreiter, Steve Warner, and Jack Wertheimer.


The Life of Omar Ibn Said: New Edition



0 comments
Paul Harvey

From the latest edition of Choice, a quick review of a new edition of the indispensable short autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, together with a collection of essays on the history of Islam among American slaves; looks to be indispensable for your university library, so I'll reprint the review. Below the review is some more information about the book, from the University of Wisconsin Press website:

The cover of Alryyes's translation of Said is dark brown, with some Arabic script and an oval photo of Said.

Said, Omar ibn.  A Muslim American slave: the life of Omar Ibn Said, ed., tr., and introd. by Ala   Alryyes.  Wisconsin, 2011.  222p afp; ISBN 9780299249540 pbk, $19.95; ISBN9780299249533 e-book, $14.95. Reviewed in 2012feb CHOICE.
In 1966, Derrick Bell acquired an enormously important manuscript, the life of Omar Ibn Said, written in 1831. Said was a Muslim scholar captured in the transatlantic slave trade in 1807. Ala Alryyes (comparative literature, Yale) translated this Arabic text, described as "consisting of 23 pages of quarto paper, of which pages 6 through 13 are left blank." However, Alryyes does more than translate. He says that this "text is a critical study of the text and contexts." To frame this work are debates over its importance by scholars Michael Gomez, Allan D. Austin, Robert J. Allison, Sylviane A. Diouf, Ghada Osman, and Camille F. Forbes. Alryyes contextualizes the work in literary conversations of other slave narratives, general Muslim Qur'anic understandings of the suras used by Said, and 19th-century US literature. Omar Ibn Said's manuscript is of singular importance because it is the only extant autobiography written by a slave in Arabic in the US; it permits comparison with slave narratives by escaped slaves; it contributes to the multilingual history in all genres of American literature; and it offers an opportunity to analyze various ways of reading a text. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty. -- A. B. McCloud, DePaul University

From the book's website:

"Then there came to our country a big army. It killed many people. It took me, and walked me to the big Sea, and sold me into hands of a Christian man."
—Omar Ibn Said 

Born to a wealthy family in West Africa around 1770, Omar Ibn Said was abducted and sold into slavery in the United States, where he came to the attention of a prominent North Carolina family after filling “the walls of his room with piteous petitions to be released, all written in the Arabic language,” as one local newspaper reported. Ibn Said soon became a local celebrity, and in 1831 he was asked to write his life story, producing the only known surviving American slave narrative written in Arabic. 

In A Muslim American Slave, scholar and translator Ala Alryyes offers both a definitive translation and an authoritative edition of this singularly important work, lending new insights into the early history of Islam in America and exploring the multiple, shifting interpretations of Ibn Said’s narrative by the nineteenth-century missionaries, ethnographers, and intellectuals who championed it. 

This edition presents the English translation on pages facing facsimile pages of Ibn Said’s Arabic narrative, augmented by Alryyes’s comprehensive introduction and by photographs, maps, and other writings by Omar Ibn Said. The volume also includes contextual essays and historical commentary by literary critics and scholars of Islam and the African diaspora: Michael A. Gomez, Allan D. Austin, Robert J. Allison, Sylviane A. Diouf, Ghada Osman, and Camille F. Forbes. The result is an invaluable addition to our understanding of writings by enslaved Americans and a timely reminder that “Islam” and “America” are not mutually exclusive terms. 

“Expertly introduced, edited, and translated from the Arabic by Ala Alryyes, A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn Said offers the fullest historical, cultural, linguistic, and religious contexts for an understanding of this fascinating American slave narrative.”
—Werner Sollors, Harvard University 

Ala Alryyes is associate professor of comparative literature and English at Yale. He is author of Original Subjects: The Child, the Novel, and the Nations. He lives in Brooklyn.
newer post older post