American Christianities: A History of Dominance and Diversity



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Paul Harvey

Over at the blog of the American Society of Church History, Catherine Brekus and W. Clark Gilpin adapt a bit from the introduction to their recent, impressive edited collection American Christianities: A History of Dominance and Diversity. and post about the philosophy informing this collection of twenty-two essays about American Christianities. Below is a brief excerpt, and click here for the rest.

Dominance and diversity—these are not words that are usually associated, but in the case of American Christianity they belong together. A Christian accent frequently inflects American political debate, advocacy for social reform, and proposals for the renewal of public education, even when that accent is unrecognized or unacknowledged. As a result, the sizeable diversity of Christianity in America is not neatly contained under the steeples of its churches or the governing bodies of its denominations but has, in addition, extended out into other sectors of society. If Americans do not always recognize the Christian influence on their culture, it is because its omnipresence has made it virtually invisible.


And while you're clicking to some links here about American Christianities, check out this interview, at the Teaching United States History blog, with Thomas Kidd, whom we also interviewed recently here at the blog. An interesting excerpt below:

If you had to select only one or two primary documents from the revolutionary period to use in the classroom, which would they be?
Reverend Haynes
I’m tempted to say Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech because I enjoy Henry so much, but I would probably settle on Lemuel Haynes’sremarkable text “Liberty Further Extended,” in which Haynes, an African American evangelical pastor, employed the Declaration of Independence shortly after July 1776 to make a Christian argument for ending slavery in America. African Americans such as Haynes immediately recognized that if America was to fully embrace the notion that “all men are created equal,” liberty would have to be “further extended” to people of color and slaves.

And while we're on the topic of "dominance and diversity," it's instructive to compare the interview with Kidd with this review of Amanda's Porterfield Conceived in Doubt, and then that alongside our extensive interview with David Sehat, author of The Myth of American Religious Freedom, and then, as the ping-pong match continues, with Chris Beneke's work, including his edited collection, The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America, which John Turner summarizes here. Let the dialogue continue. 

Charles Redd Center Awards



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The Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at BYU offers a number of awards each year, many of which are open to scholars from across the country:

Fellowship Award in Western American History
Provides up to $3,500 for scholars to come to BYU to use HBLL Library Special Collections.

Independent Research and Creative Work Award
Provides up to $1,500 to individuals who are not connected to a college or university as a faculty member or a student who are researching some aspect of the Intermountain West.

John Topham and Susan Redd Butler Off-Campus Faculty Research Award
Provides up to $3,000 to faculty members at any college, university, or academic institution. Research may be conducted at any location.

Publication Grant (Presses Only)
Provides up to $3,000 to presses to assist in the publication of scholarly books dealing with the Intermountain West. (Applications accepted and funds available at any time during the year.)

Summer Award for Upper Division and Graduate Students
Provides up to $1,500 for research support to college or university students, which can include theses and dissertations. Research may be conducted at any location.

Visiting Scholar Program
Provides funds for faculty, independent scholars, freelance authors and other public intellectuals for a 2-4 month in-residence program.

Young Scholar Award
Provides a $3,000 annual salary stipend and a $5,000 annual support award to Assistant or Associate professors (subject to other limitations) to promote significant scholarship in western American studies.

There are no religious restrictions on these awards. I received a Visiting Scholar award to facilitate my summer research on Brigham Young, which enabled me to not only use resources at BYU but also to spend considerable time at the LDS Church Archives in Salt Lake City (and several other repositories). Thus, anyone working in the field of Mormon History who needs to arrange time in Utah should consider applying for this grant. I found it extremely useful to have both library privileges and a summer office.

Deadlines for many of the awards are March 15.

Tonight (2/28): Jeff Sharlet at UT



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Kelly Baker

Tonight, University of Tennessee's Religious Studies Department is hosting Jeff Sharlet, author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, which I blogged about previously. The event is at 7 pm EST at Cox Auditorium in the Alumni Memorial Building on campus. I've included the press release in this post.

For those not in Tennessee, some of my students and I (@kelly_j_baker) will be live-tweeting Jeff's talk, "The Noise of Democracy: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between" under the hashtag (#sharletUT). Please feel free to follow our tweets and join in conversation about this event.

Leading Author on American Religion to Speak at UT Feb. 28
KNOXVILLE — Author and professor Jeff Sharlet will discuss the intersection of religion and politics in America at the second annual David L. Dungan Memorial Lecture at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 28, in the Cox Auditorium of the Alumni Memorial Building at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Sharlet's lecture is titled "The Noise of Democracy: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between," and is presented by UT's Department of Religious Studies.
"It is an honor to have Jeff Sharlet speak on campus," said Rosalind Hackett, department head of Religious Studies. "Jeff is a major voice in discussions about religion in the public sphere."
Sharlet, who teaches creative nonfiction at Dartmouth College and is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone and Harper's, will discuss what he describes as the "cacophony choir" of religion in the United States and the tension between the American belief in the liberty of conscience and the problem of its practice.

"The sound of democracy isn't perfect harmony but cacophony, many voices together and apart," Sharlet writes.

Sharlet is the author of the best-selling book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, an expose of a secretive Christian community in Washington, D.C., that ministers specifically to members of Congress. His latest book of essays is titled Sweet Heaven When I Die.

After the presentation, Sharlet will participate in a question-and-answer session, and a reception and book signing will follow.

Both events are free and open to the public. Public parking is available in the University Center parking garage.

Sponsors include the Department of English and the UT Issues Committee.

Columbia Guide to Religion in American History Podcast



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Paul Harvey
Evidently this is official "podcast" week in my life. In the post below Art mentions his podcast with me for  the Journal of Southern Religion. Then, at Books and Culture, editors John Wilson and Stan Guthrie were very kind to record a podcast, about 5 minutes, in which they discuss our new volume The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History, co-edited by myself and Edward J. Blum. You can listen to the podcast here, click on the link at the top of the page (or go directly to it here). Thanks to John and Stan for their work on these podcasts and this kind one in particular. 




The podcast mentions several of the essays in the book, but let me point out three others not specifically mentioned there, all of which really invigorate the volume:

Ira Chernus, "Religion, War, and Peace," maybe the most provocative essay in the book.

Anthony Petro, "Religion, Gender, and Sexuality," an outstanding piece on an exploding field of study.

Linford Fisher, "Colonial Encounters," a gem of an essay which should make all of you want to read Lin's soon-to-forthcome book The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Natives Cultures in Early America (Oxford, 2012).

We blogged previously, too, about the interviews that Ed has conducted with Lin over at the Teaching U.S. History blog, Part I here and Part II here. Here's a little excerpt below from Part II of the interview, where Lin discusses a point developed much further in the book, the connection between religion, consumer goods, and Native practices in colonial New England:

In terms of religion, one of the biggest ways we can trace the effects of this influx of consumer goods is through funerary objects in Native graves. One of the most poignant examples of this comes from a late seventeenth century grave at Mashantucket, Connecticut. In a young teenage girl’s grave, amongst the more traditional funerary items such as a pestle and beads archaeologists in 1990 found a medicine bundle that contained fragments of a Bible page and a bear paw. I wrestle with the meaning of this a bit in the introduction to my book, but it seems to me it is a clear example of how the physical presence of the Bible and the teachings contained in it had become part of funerary practices and—perhaps equally as important—one additional potential means for providing in the afterlife or a deceased relative. But even more broadly, the educational and evangelistic efforts made by the colonists in Native communities meant that in churches and schools Natives were presented with an astonishing array of new material goods, such as all kinds of books and primers, inks and quills, eyeglasses (for reading), benches and tables, and European clothing and foods.  

Introducing...the JSR Podcast!



3 comments
Art Remillard

The Journal of Southern Religion keeps moving forward, making the most of our online format.  Thanks to our new webmaster, Lincoln Mullen, the site will soon have a new look.  We'll also be Twittering in the coming weeks, and we're already on Facebook.  [2-27 Update...we're officially on TwitterAnd this past Friday, I had the pleasure of recording the first JSR podcast, an interview with our own Paul Harvey about his new book, Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South.  Lincoln is working on getting us on iTunes, but in the meantime, you can download the podcast here. The revamped site will a podcast section as well.  (Also, we'll have a section for donations, so if you like the podcast and everything else that we're doing, please consider offering your support--I work at a Franciscan university, so I see no shame in begging.)

Paul and I covered a range of topics, from his experiences at the Lamar Lectures in Southern History at Mercer University, to his unique collection of sources.  (He recently uploaded some of the book's folk art images to his website.) We also discussed his decision to frame the book as a "throwback to an earlier kind of religious history that centered on Protestantism and marginalized other traditions."  Long story short, it's a "throwback" only insofar as it examines the evangelical majority.  Otherwise, as he explains, this "center" is quite complex, particularly on matters of race.  Despite his nuanced response, I pounced on the opportunity to shamelessly self-promote my own book, which does examine "other traditions." But I don't claim that they were on equal footing.  That would be, as Paul put it, "flat not true."

So we hope that you enjoy the podcast.  With any luck, there will be many more in the future!          

Of the Persecuted and the Politics of Patronage



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Two New Books on Colonial New England and Reconstruction North Carolina
By Edward J. Blum

Bean was the smartest person on the earth and in the heavens. One of the genius children who helped humanity win the Formic War against the “buggers” in Orson Scott Card’s famous sci-fi novel Ender’s Game (1985), Bean eventually got his own spin-off novels. The first was Ender’s Shadow and the second was Shadow of the Hegemon. They narrate how Bean rose from a puny, persecuted street kid (who had to align with a bully who enacted his power by eating bread from the hands of starving children as they offered it to him) to a brilliant military general (all before he was fifteen years old). At one point, while trying to gain information from a bigger child without offending him, Bean sheepishly says, “Don’t be mad at me.” Bean knew that when a “little kid” implored a “bigger kid” this way, the bigger one would feel silly and relent. Bean learned to use his brilliance and his slight build to his advantage. Bean’s adventures came to mind as I recently read two new and terrific books in the ever-growing list of wonderful monographs in American religious history. (do any of the rest of you think we’re in a Durkhemian collective effervescence of scholarship where the number and quality of books is so outstanding that we have entered a new phase in the profession? I do!)

The first is Adrian Chastain Weimer’s Martyrs’ Mirror: Persecution and Holiness in Early New Martyrs' mirror : persecution and holiness in early New EnglandEngland. Following in David Hall’s tradition of focusing on the literary cultures and imaginations of New Englanders, Weimer shows that notions of persecution were central to self-identities and struggles in early New England. Congregationalists, for instance, had legal, political, and religious power yet styled themselves as a “church of the oppressed.” They even viewed minority challengers like Antinomians, Quakers, and Baptists as the persecutors (rather than as we typically think of them as the persecuted). For good measure, these groups countered by presenting themselves as persecuted. The Separatists had an especially intense “martyr-based identity,” and Weimer shows some of these tensions beautifully in her discussion of the debate between Cotton Mather and Roger Williams over who was persecuted most. Weimer’s book is a delight. Whether discussing the reading habits of colonists and their love-affair with Foxe’s Book of Martyrs,(which was conveniently (providentially? :) ) reissued in 1632 to performances of “cheerful suffering,” Weimer takes us from discussions of high theology to instructions for children in the New England Primer. 

Perhaps one of the most important arguments of Martyrs’ Mirror is the point that sensitivity to persecution had an unintended result of softening Congregational power. Over time, religious tolerance grew, in part because Congregationalists respected, nay revered, the rhetoric and performance of persecution. This also led to attempts to conceptualize suffering Native American Christians as martyrs and thus somehow a holy part of the community. Colonial America is not one of my primary fields, but this book certainly convinced me of the various rolls concepts of persecution played in colonial New England.

The second book that has recently drawn my attention is Gregory Downs’s Declarations of Dependence: The Long Reconstruction of Popular Politics in the South, 1861-1908. If you have met Greg at a conference, then probably two things have jumped out at you: his infectious smile and his golden “CCNY” pin that sits on his suit lapel. If you then speak with Greg, you’ll quickly realize how thoughtful he is. And if you read Declarations of Dependence, and you are anything like me, then you’ll conclude that you’ll never be able to teach Reconstruction or talk about American political development as you did before.

I know that many of the blog readers don't consider Reconstruction a hot topic. It seems to have no particular contemporary cache (like the new right) or a small-but-earnest clientele longing for a history (like the white evangelical left). But Reconstruction has a lot to offer. It had a sexy ministerial scandal (what was Reverend Beecher doing, exactly, with Mrs. Tilton? Had prayer ever felt that good?). Reconstruction had a shoe-salesman-turned-evangelist riveting the nation, with Supreme Court justices sitting on his revival stages and former Confederates presented to northern audiences as friends and brothers. Reconstruction had waves of African American church exoduses in the South that were so fascinating that Reginald Hildebrand could use the quote “the times were strange and stirring.” Joshua Paddison has shown that religion played a crucial and diverse role in California during the years, and the time even has Mark Twain ... and if you don't like Twain, then I hope you dislike my posts because I long to be in his company.

Declarations of Dependence is a study of North Carolina from the Civil War to the emergence of the progressive era (although there is a coda that pushes into the Great Depression) and how everyday citizens interacted with political figures. Downs looks at how Tarheels forged dependency into a political style. Rather than claim their yeoman or republican “independence,” white and black Tarheels deployed the “politics of dependence” where they wrote as “suffering” women and men in need of help from the “superior” political leaders. Downs claims that this was a political system and sentiment of patronalism – where the citizen-state relationship was boiled down to one of an embodied patron. Everyday people prostrated themselves to government officials, such as Zebulon Vance who beautifully performed this politics, and political leaders dolled at favors and gifts to those in need. As Downs shows, this was a brilliant way for government to deal with the “sometimes delusional expectations” of the citizens for help. They could give to some and not to others, but be seen as benevolent by all.

Front CoverStated the above way, the argument may not seem that novel. But it is. For instance, if Reconstruction is understood as defined by the political culture of patronalism, then the end of Reconstruction was neither the political compromise of 1877, nor the rise of reunified white supremacy. The killer of this Reconstruction was Progressivism!!! As Progressives endeavored to rationalize state governments, as they endeavored to create a government that was dispassionate and abstract, they freed the state from being obligated to listening to individual’s particular needs or wants. Maybe someone else has argued that Progressivism killed Reconstruction, but I’ve never seen it and in Downs’s book, it seems almost plausible. If may not launch a thousand ships of essays or books, but it should get some scholarly attention.

Religion factors heavily in Declarations of Dependence, but again for ways we would not necessarily expect. Typically we think of Reconstruction as an era of religious autonomy making. As African Americans created their own churches, schools, and institutions, religion seemed to function toward independence. Yet, as Downs shows time and again, religious language was crucial to dependence. Everyday women and men supplicated in ways that transformed mercy and grace from simple and personal virtues into obligations of the state.

There’s more in both of these marvelous works that I could focus upon, but when I think back to the hero Bean, I can’t help but realize how effectively he played the persecution game and dealt with problems of being a patron. Neither of these books addresses contemporary politics or society, but certainly we can hear echoes from how many groups seem today to want to play the oppressed minority card to how dependency is an accepted fact of American legal culture that is wrestled with as much as independency. 

Mormon Proxy Baptisms



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John Turner


As the fate of Mitt Romney (and, for those of us in Mormon History / Studies, yet another golden age of national attention surrounding all things Mormon) hangs in the balance, Mormon-Jewish relations have dominated religious news coverage over the past two weeks.

The Mormon practice of "proxy baptism" or "baptism for the dead" typically strikes outsiders as odd, but it offends some. For nearly twenty years, a variety of Jewish groups have complained about proxy baptisms done by Mormons on behalf of Holocaust victims, and the Catholic Church has also expressed concerns about the practice.

Many good essays and posts have appeared over the last ten days that place this ritual in its historical and theological context and attempt to mediate between Mormon and Jewish concerns. In particular, see Jana Riess's Religious News Service blog post and Samuel Brown's Huffington Post piece.

I chime in here. I can certainly understand the complaints of non-Mormons that proxy baptism violates the memory of their ancestors.

Still, in my mind there are primarily two ways to understand the rite. For Mormons, proxy baptism is a sacred task of bringing their ancestors into celestial glory, of rebuilding family connections that will persist for eternity. The church is attempting to provide an opportunity for the departed to respond to the gospel in the afterlife. From the earliest days of the ritual (which Joseph Smith introduced in 1840), Latter-day Saints have not always been content to provide for their own ancestor's salvation. Early Mormons were baptized for George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and the explorer Zebulon Pike. If memory serves me correctly, Latter-day Saints were baptized for deceased American presidents, with understandable delays for Martin Van Buren and James Buchanan. Technically, though, all of the recipients of proxy baptism are non-Mormons, whether related to Latter-day Saints or not.

For non-Mormons, all of this is nonsense. While historians and pundits continue to debate whether the Founding Fathers were Christians, no one believes they were Mormons. Same for Adolph Hitler and Anne Frank. I would be amused, not offended, to learn that Mormons had been baptized for my grandparents (one of whom, technically a step-grandfather, was Jewish). If one doesn't believe that proxy baptisms in the basements of Mormon temples actually provide a opportunity for those gone to the spirit world to posthumously obtain salvation, then there really is very little cause for concern.

Schoolmaster of the Movement



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Paul Harvey

<SPAN STYLE= "" >Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement</SPAN> Randal Jelks, Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement (University of North Carolina Press), is just coming out this spring with the University of North Carolina Press. I had the opportunity to read the manuscript -- actually multiple versions of the manuscript! -- and am really happy to see this excellent and long-awaited work come to fruition.

Mays stands as one of the most critical, and unknown, black educational leaders of the twentieth century, and in his biography Jelks gives the man his due. Mays is best known for his long presidency at Morehouse College, where he mentored Martin Luther King as a young college student and steered the institution through the civil rights era. Jelks also details May's younger years in a way that no other author has done.

Two interviews with the author -- at Inside Higher Education, and at the UNC Press Blog -- are a quick way to introduce yourself both to Mays and to the main themes of this excellent book. Here's a little excerpt from the Inside Higher Ed interview.


A forthcoming book says Benjamin Elijah Mays's presidency at Morehouse College helped shape the future of the country's only historically black all-male institution and the nation as a whole.
University of Kansas professor Randal Maurice Jelks follows the civil rights leader's life from his childhood in rural South Carolina to his long tenure at Morehouse in Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement, to be released this spring by the University of North Carolina Press.
Jelks looks at Mays's lifelong desire to compete with the best students -- black and white -- and empower a younger generation of black men to do the same. The son of former slaves and a mentor to the civil rights movement's most iconic leader, Mays worked his way off a cotton farm in South Carolina to Bates College in Maine and eventually the University of Chicago, where he earned two graduate degrees.
Mays was an ordained Baptist minister who left the pulpit for the classroom but whose deep faith was central to his time as dean of the Howard University School of Religion and his presidency at Morehouse.
Jelks agreed to answer some questions from Inside Higher Ed about his book.
Q: It’s hard to overstate the importance of Mays’s role as a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr. But you point out that Mays’s contributions extend well past his role in shaping King. What do you see as Mays’s legacy both to the country as a whole and to the education system in particular?
A: Mays’s legacy shows what a committed educator can do! When Mays returned to Morehouse in 1940 it was in dire straits financially and on the verge of being taken over. Through a lifelong commitment to the institution (27 years), he helped preserve it as a men’s college (for black men), an institution of higher education that continues to benefit the United States today. If you look at the alums of Morehouse, they are a who’s-who in America. That's a claim that only a few elite institutions of higher education can lay claim to, and all of those institutions are 40 times richer than Morehouse.
Q: Mays was an ordained Baptist minister. Though he left the clergy for academe as a young man, you argue that his religious background helped shape his philosophy as an educator and administrator. Do you think Mays would have been as well-positioned to guide leaders like King without that religious training?
A: We will never know. What we do know is that the black Baptist Church and American Protestant institutions gave Mays a chance to receive an education. He chose to be a clergyman and a theologian. He saw the study of Christianity as being intellectually important to his oppressed black community and an area of study where he could make a contribution. He believed in the goodness of black-led institutions, e.g., black churches, and saw his role as being intellectual force within it. If Mays had not earned a Ph.D. in theology, he would have still turned out a King. A committed educator and a leader can develop all kinds of students. Mays’s students, who admire him even today, are doctors, journalists, lawyers, religious leaders, scientists, businesspeople and teachers.  His genius was to instill a philosophy and confidence in all his students.

Historical Heroes and Villains: John Fea's Encounter with the Culture Wars



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Paul Harvey

How's this for your week: get named a finalist for the prestigious George Washington Book Prize (in the company of co-finalists Benjamin Irvin's Clothed in Robes and Maya Jasanoff's Liberty's Exiles -- some high company to keep) -- and then find yourself the victim of a media-induced cyber mob thanks to an article in Glenn Beck's Blaze attacking you. So, while respected historians are considering John Fea of Messiah College, my friend and first "contributing editor" who signed up for this blog, for a prize that (aside from the $50,000 you win!) recognizes the depth and quality of his scholarship, a nation of Beck trolls has left him vicious emails, phone messages, and frantic calls to the school administration demanding his head on a platter (apparently it's not enough that John says, "I do not agree with many of Obama's policies," and frequently blogs in defense of historic and time-honored conservative positions on the importance of the community over the liberal emphasis on the individual). Yes, I too thought Beck had vanished for good, but no such luck.

The cyber-mob has met its match in John, though, who responds with grace and with important words of the role of history in our democracy:

How can democracy flourish without civility, respect for those with whom we differ, and a sense of mutual understanding?  I continue to believe that the answer lies in education, particularly in history and the other humanities.  It is these disciplines that have the potential to bring meaningful change to the world because they are rooted in virtues such as intellectual hospitality, empathy, understanding, and civility.

My Christian faith and my vocation as a historian remind me that we are human beings, created in the image of God, and thus worthy of respect.  My Christian faith and my vocation as a historian calls me to listen to those with whom I might disagree and perhaps even learn something from them.  To do otherwise is a failure to love my neighbor (Mt. 22:39--I did not feel much love from my Christian brothers and sisters who wrote to me today).  



My Christian faith and my vocation as a historian teaches me humility and reminds me that sometimes I may need to sacrifice my own deeply held convictions for a better opinion.Democracy does not require us to abandon our most cherished beliefs.  Far from it.  Democracy implies that we bring our cherished beliefs to the public arena (and the Internet) with vigor.  A democracy offers the opportunity to debate others with whom we differ and try to convince them--rationally and civilly--to come over to our point of view.  As Christians, we are required by God to love our enemies, but in the process we might even learn something from them.  The cultivation of this kind of democratic culture is America's best hope.


If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Dixie



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Paul Harvey

Over the last several years, the Southern Baptist Convention has considered changing its name, reflecting a more national identity it has worked to develop since World War II and perhaps escaping the implications of a name associated with its 1845 origins in a controversy over slaveholders serving as missionaries. A task force set up to consider the change reported back last night, and decided to keep the legal name. But churches were given the option of identifying with a new name, one with no legal meaning but a spiritual one: Great Commission Baptists.

I reflect on the meaning of the name "Southern" Baptists in this piece just posted here at Religion Dispatches. The pragmatic legal and financial  reasons for keeping the name were decisive, and changing the name of a big organization is always a risky and expensive proposition. But the "southern" identity has meanings beyond this, both geographic and in terms of contemporary politics (points I develop in much greater detail in Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South, out and ready for you to check out of your university library as soon as you tell your univ. librarian to get it!). A little taste of the piece:

While recognizing the name “Southern Baptist” was a “strong name that identifies who we are in theology, morality, and ethics,” former SBC president Jimmy Draper said,
“we also recognize the need that some may have to use a name that is not associated with a national region as indicated by the word ‘Southern.’ We want to do everything we can to encourage those who do feel a name change would be beneficial without recommending a legal name change for the convention.”
But it is precisely in “theology, morality, and ethics” that the official name—Southern Baptist Convention—matches the key role of the SBC in guiding the white South on its long transformation from the era of segregation, through the turmoil of the civil rights struggle, and into the era of Baptist Republicanism.
Read the rest here. And while you're doing that, a little Hank Williams Jr. theology from the 1980s would be good to go out on. Yes, his recent history of comparing Obama to Hitler was, umm, an ill-advised career move, shall we say. And yes, his best tune -- and I think one of the greatest and most cleverly cunning country tunes of all time -- is "Family Tradition." But "If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Dixie" provided both the soundtrack to endless college hours wasted losing quarters to the jukebox at the local gourmet establishment (Pizza Hut) as well as the inspiration for my piece. (this one goes out to Margaret Martin -- she'll understand).


Call for Papers: Progressive Evangelicalism



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by Brantley Gasaway

In light of the responses to Ray Haberski's excellent question--"Where is the Historiography of the New Religious Left?--over at U.S. Intellectual History blog and cross-posted here a few days, I wanted to post the call for papers below. I am guest-editing a special issue devoted to "Progressive Evangelicalism" of Religions, an international and interdisciplinary open access journal published online.

As Janine Giordano noted in her comment, there are many young(er) historians who are completing book manuscripts or dissertation projects on different aspects of the more recent religious left--and several of these are already lined up to contribute to this special issue of Religions. Here is the call for papers:

Although the Religious Right has represented the popular face of American evangelicals' political engagement since the late 1970s, a minority of politically progressive evangelical leaders have promoted an alternative public agenda over the past four decades. Representatives such as Sojourners' Jim Wallis, Evangelicals for Social Action's Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo have insisted that Christians have a religious responsibility to prioritize reforms of injustices and inequalities in their political participation. In recent years, progressive evangelical leaders have increasingly captured the attention of evangelical audiences, journalists, politicians, and scholars. In the process, they have reinvigorated debates within American evangelical circles about the nature and priorities of Christians' social and political activism. 

Yet socially and politically progressive evangelicalism is neither a recent nor uniquely American phenomenon. Thus this special issue of Religions explores both historical and contemporary expressions of progressive evangelicalism, not only within the United States but also in international contexts. Scholars are invited to contribute articles from a broad range of methodological approaches that analyze progressive evangelicals and their efforts to confront social injustices and inequalities.

Please see here for more information and instructions--including the first abstract from Shawn David Young regarding a paper from his work on Jesus People USA.

Spread the word to those whose work is relevant. I'm looking forward to gathering some of the most recent scholarship on the evangelical left in this special issue.

Tim and Eric's Awesome Parody, Great Job!



2 comments
Randall Stephens

OK, y'all. This is not standard fare for the RiAH blog. But, for those with a certain sense of humor, it is lunatic funny. (I'm pretty sure that the good people who are producing Portlandia have been taking some cues from Dada, bad-quality, VHS comedians Tim and Eric.)


In the clip here--which is offensive and grotesque on about 35 different levels--Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have some unwholesome fun with schlock televangelism, TBN, new age loopiness, self-help sadness, and more. (These two have been whipping up their misanthropic hilarity on cable for several years now with Tim and Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!) It makes complete sense that Bob Odenkirk has had a hand in Tim and Eric's bad-video-tracking, low-budget, weirdo antics. (Back in the day, Odenkirk and David Cross did their ridiculous send up of TBN with Mr. Show's "Hail Satan, Our Lord.")

For those who missed the NYT's remarks on Tim and Eric Awesome Show and its cult status, here's a little of that praise from ye olde Grey Lady.

Lovingly described by its architects as “the nightmare version of television,” “Awesome Show” (which returns to the Cartoon Network’s after-hours Adult Swim lineup Sunday night for its third season) revels in an aesthetic of awkwardness. It favors quick sketches about pathetic office workers and desperate on-air pitchmen, and music videos for scatological songs. It elevates people recruited from the streets of Los Angeles to the status of celebrities and treats the celebrities who appear on the show as unwanted extras.

If, as its creators argue, there is humor in aberration, then “Awesome Show” is their vision of a nonstop laugh riot. “You know you’ve got something great,” Mr. Heidecker said, “when it makes you say out loud, ‘Why is this on TV?’ ”

Since meeting as film students at Temple University in the 1990s, Mr. Heidecker and Mr. Wareheim, both 32-year-old Pennsylvania natives, have noticed that their comedic sensibilities differed greatly from societal norms. At college they created short films that anticipated their “Awesome Show” milieu — e.g., a sloppily edited promotional trailer for a cat film festival — and eventually grew brave enough to send their reel (and an invoice for $50) to the comedian Bob Odenkirk, the co-creator of the influential sketch series “Mr. Show With Bob and David.”

Enjoy the clip. And . . . you're welcome, America!

Book of Mormon Girl Meets Review of Baptist Guy



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by Paul Harvey

What a pleasure it was this weekend to very temporarily stop the endless rounds of academic duties – job searching, juking some assessment stats, grading (and then some), survey reporting, ad infinitum – and sink a little while into Joanna Brooks’s engaging memoir/war stories/reflections on her life, The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith. This came out electronically originally, and has just been published in print.

Scholars will know Brooks as the author of the field-defining work American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literature (Oxford University Press), as well as The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, an incredible feat of scholarship that I recently relied heavily upon in writing a bit about Native American Christians in the colonial era. I previously blogged about that work appreciatively. You scholar-geeks out there-- check out the annotations and footnotes to that book, and be humble.

But while teaching first at UT Austin and now San Diego State, where she chairs the English department (and delivers wise advice to some of us who face the burden nightmare  tedious task  wonderful opportunity of chairing soon), and writing frequent and always insightful blog entries for Religion Dispatches and for her personal blog/advice column Ask Mormon Girl, Joanna has more recently turned to a new calling – to write for a more general public on growing up as a Mormon, confronting the LDS Church as a feminist and liberal, and learning to appreciate her story and struggles even while dealing with the pain of her struggles. 

The Book of Mormon Girl is a book of stories, taking us through childhood scenes (where she was a "root beer among Cokes" in Southern California), adolescent struggles, and then on to college, where, rather than (as she expected) meeting her long-awaited husband, she ended up tearing up her diploma in protest. She then tells about her “years in exile” from the Church, and her more recent (partial) reconciliation with her past and her faith. I’m not going to try to describe the stories; you just have to read them in her original and very powerful voice.

Further, the book is getting discussed reviewed extensively in the "Mormon archipelago" of blogs, including this piece at Common Consent, and all of these are by people with the firsthand experience and knowledge to judge, appreciate, and critique the work, as well as to compare their own personal experiences. In terms of comparing stories, I yield to their greater experience. 


 Rather, throughout I kept comparing them to my stories, if I were to ever write a “Stories from an American Faith” of growing up Southern Baptist (and don’t worry, that ain’t going to happen). So many of the scenes she relates here were like amped-up versions of times I remember from younger years. While Joanna and 15,000 teenage Mormons rocked around the clock in the Rose Bowl in 1985, a story told in a wonderfully entertaining chapter, I gathered with 10,000 other Baptist kids from across Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere in what was (so we were told) the largest religious youth assembly in the country, Fall’s Creek, in Oklahoma, and sat remarkably patiently through stifling southern Oklahoma summer heat while charismatic preachers orated emotionally and memorably and scores of youths came to the altar tearfully. I even played in the band (trumpet -- and execrably bad) so that I could sit in the front (and flirt with the flute players, of course) and not have to arrive an hour early to get a “good” seat in the hard outdoor tabernacle pews. And that was just one week. Fall's Creek in those days annually went on for 5 weeks, with a different set of 6,000 - 9,000 kids a week. That's a lot of Southern Baptist youth. I always envied the kids from the big city churches, with their strappingly athletic volleyball teams, seemingly cosmopolitan young women, and excellent musicians.

 And while Joanna tore up her BYU diploma in protest against the purge happening in those years, some of us at Oklahoma Baptist University (around 1979-1981, at the inception of the so-called "conservative resurgence" in the Southern Baptist Convention) wore T-Shirts that said "Heretic" in defense of professors who were being secretly taped by fundamentalist youth who reminded me of Nazi youth -- that was my perception then, and it remains my perception now for that matter. And the purge of Mormon feminists, related in this work with the pain that Joanna still so obviously feels, can be likened to the purge of female scholars at Baptist seminaries for a certain time in the 1980s and 1990s (and for that matter more recently, in the case of a female Hebrew professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that was so despicably handled that even some Baptist conservatives spoke out against it)

 And yet, all the way through, I kept thinking, no matter what story I can think of, Joanna has one that is ten times better, like growing up evangelical, only on steroids. Evangelicals had family times together, but not like Mormon families. We had visionary experiences, but they were safely kept at a distance. We talked sometimes of being embattled in a culture, but the fact of the matter is we were the culture, too busy drinking cokes to even know there were root beers (I think I was unaware that actual Mormons existed until the year BYU beat my beloved Sooners in football -- 1980 something, I think it was). Some of us might get made fun of occasionally (and in my youthful self-righteousness, god knows I deserved that), but we didn’t have tracts, books, and anti-Southern Baptist evangelists specifically out on the hustings attacking everything about our faith. On the contrary, we were the ones attacking others. It was Friday Night Lights meets church on time.

We had plenty of missionaries, of course, but for god's sake those were special people called by God; the idea that it would be normally expected of all Baptist male youth would be unthinkable.

 And then I found the explanation in the chapter “Mormons v. Born-agains: Dance-Off, Rose Bowl, 1985” (by the way, by 1985, I was much more likely to be found at the Greek Theater Bowl in Berkeley or Yoshi's in Oakland, at a Stevie Ray Vaughan or King Sunny Ade or Joe Henderson concert, than at a religious meeting, but that’s a story for another day).

Joanna relates a massive gathering of Mormon youth in the Rose Bowl, where they sang

Shall the youth of Zion falter
In defending truth and light
While the enemy assaileth
Shall we shrink or shun the fight?
True to the faith that our parents have cherished
True to the truths for which martyrs have perished.


Wow, just some years before at Fall’s Creek I remember singing a lot of tunes such as “God is Watching is Over me,” with a sing-song tune and incredibly simple and reassuring lyric. We didn’t have any martyrs who had perished, and so therefore “everything is going to turn all all right.” We weren't spitting in the wind; we were enjoying the fruits of generations of Southern Baptist laborers who had created a remarkably comfortable, mostly happy religious world in which to grow up.

But then Joanna writes (reproducing her 13-year old thoughts in first person): “I’d like to see the born-agains pull this off. I’d like to see them muster this degree of regimentation. . . .What did these people know about discipline and commitment”?

Hold on just a minute there, I thought; I saw an awful lot of discipline, commitment, and regimentation at Fall’s Creek, and among adults in the literature about the “Bold Mission Thrust” that I remembered from my high school years, and the annual and incredibly effective Lottie Moon Day offerings, and in the denominational machinery which pumped out literature for the 15 million and more Southern Baptists across the country. So, Joanna, I’ll see you and raise you one, I thought.

But then she continues (still in first-person thirteen-year-old voice): 


Did they go to church at six a.m. every morning before school like Mormon kids did? . . . Had they drilled the stories and teachings of four – that’s right, four—books of scripture into their heads. No, just one, just the Bible. 
   Had they carefully sealed up tins of rice and textured vegetable protein against the great and final days? Were they ready to live through the end times? No, while they dreamed of being transported up into the clouds like Star Trek, we were ready to live out the nuclear winter that would follow the second coming of Christ, to rebuild a kingdom from the charred timbers of leveled forests. 
   Those born agains could never do what we did. Cross the plains. Track down and baptize our dead ancestors by the millions. Fan out all over the globe two by two, knocking doors. Precision coordinate 15,000 teen-aged dancers. What it all came down to was this: those born-agains were soft.

Yep: game, set, match.

She concludes the scene:

“We waved our pompoms for Godon Jump, calico bonnets, and Bachman Turner Overdrive, and against The Godmakers [an anti-Mormon film] and the anti-Mormon stand up comic in his rumpled khakhis. . . I waved my pompom because I was not afraid of polygamy, sacred underwear, or the idea of eternal godhood, and neither were the 15,000 youth in flammable sateen outfits moving in majestic precision on the field around me. I was not the only one who believed in worlds as numberless as the stars in the sky. Why not? Why the heck not?”

You win, Joanna – we were soft. And you win, too, in producing a collection of memories and stories with imagery that will linger long with me.  

There will be other books of Mormon stories, and born-again stories, and memoirs from every tradition, and there will be light and happiness, and there will be blood. Joanna’s is one experience among many – but one told with a power, grace, and humor that you will not forget.

The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers



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Paul Harvey

Any day the New York Times covers the Louvin Brothers in the book review section is a good day. Sunday's review section features the new autobiography/memoir Satan is Real: The Story of the Louvin Brothers, in which the surviving Louvin, Charlie, tells the story of the brothers' amazing career as one of the premier singing duets of the twentieth century (until his brother Ira died in a car crash in 1965 -- the normally drunken Ira that night being sober, but killed by another drunk driver).

A brief excerpt from the beginning, in which Charlie captures the brothers' eerie but unforgettable harmonizing:

By Charlie Louvin’s own account, people who saw the Louvin Brothers perform were mystified by the experience. Ira Louvin was a full head taller than his younger brother, played the mandolin like Bill Monroe and sang in an impossibly high, tense, quivering tenor. Charlie strummed a guitar, grinned like a vaudevillian and handled the bottom register. But every so often, in the middle of a song, some hidden signal flashed and the brothers switched places — with Ira swooping down from the heights, and Charlie angling upward — and even the most careful listeners would lose track of which man was carrying the lead. This was more than close-harmony singing; each instance was an act of transubstantiation. “It baffled a lot of people,” Charlie Louvin explains in his crackling new memoir. “We could change in the middle of a word. Part of the reason we could do that was that we’d learned to have a good ear for other people’s voices when we sang Sacred Harp. But the other part is that we were brothers.”

The review of the new book reminded me to plug (as I have done before here) the great essay "High Lonesome Theology," from 2001, reprinted at Killing the Buddha.


And of course we have to go out with a little from one of the classics:

Where is the Historiography of the New Religious Left?



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Editor's Note: Ray Haberski just posted this query over at the U.S. Intellectual History blog, and gave his consent for it to be crossposted here. Responses can be posted here or over at the U.S. Intellectual History blog.  

Where is the historiography of the New Religious Left?
by Raymond Haberski

In light of the comments on my post on John Courtney Murray and John Ford, and Tim's poston Rick Santorum's Catholicism, I thought of all the various books I have read and read about and skimmed through having to do with the rise of the Christian Right. Having just completed a book that deals with debates over war among religious intellectuals, I realized how lopsided the scholarship seems to be on recent American religious history. And so, I have a query for our community: what books, essays, lectures capture this history of the religious LEFT since the 1970s?

Let me provide some context for my question. I have referred in the past to a comment that Martin Marty made on Krista Tippet's APM show (now called 'Being') in which he suggested that rarely had a religious group given up so much power with so little resistance as the liberal Protestant establishment had in the post-WWII period. Marty illustrated his point by explaining that when he began to write for the Christian Century in the late 1950s he was told to avoid saying much that was positive about Catholics, yet by the early 1960s, that editorial policy had been reversed as the U.S. slid into an ecumenical awakening. As Robert Wuthnow documented in his useful history, The Restructuring of American Religion, by the early 1970s, the liberal religious establishment no longer had coherence and in its wake a conservative surge had taken its place.

We have had many fine examples of scholarship on the rise of the New Christian Right, among such works are those by Dan Williams (a participant at the S-USIH conference), Bethany Moreton, Darren Dochuk, Lisa McGirr, Kim Phillips-Fein, Patrick Allitt, Michael Lienesch, and even Gary Wills, to name just a few. There are books by leaders of the Christian left--Stanley Hauerwas, Jim Wallis (pictured above being arrested), William Cavanaugh, Cornel West--that serve as examples of their critique of the right, of the nation-state, of war, but were are the historical assessments of their work? James Davison Hunter has recently produced a book,To Change the World, which I have not yet read and it seems to survey and critique Hauerwas's position on issues of church and state interaction, but I consider Hunter as much a participant of the era he surveys as anything else.

Again, where are books about the religious left that are comparable to those on the religious right?

Martyrs' Mirror



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Martyrs' mirror : persecution and holiness in early New England 
Paul Harvey

From Choice, a review of interest of a book also discussed here.

 Weimer, Adrian Chastain
.  Martyrs' mirror: persecution and holiness in early New England Oxford,    2011.  218p index afp; ISBN 9780199743117, $55.00. Reviewed in 2012mar CHOICE.

Weimer (history, Providence College) argues that martyrs are central to the self-understanding of New England's Puritan orthodoxy and their Antinomian, Baptist, and Quaker opponents in the 17th century. Tracing New England's concern with martyrs to the Elizabethan era, when John Fox published his Acts and Monuments to glorify the sufferings of Protestants under Queen Mary, Weimer posits that Protestantism's use of martyrdom has always depended on a carefully established balance between persecuted and imperial faith. Claiming that stories of martyrs are deployed to justify believers' suffering and political power, Weimer presents a new model for understanding the Puritans' reliance on a mythology of persecuted faith, even when persecuting members of other faiths. Weimer demonstrates how competing religious groups equally relied on historical martyrdom to justify their cause while creating new stories of persecution and suffering to advance their cause, a process that accommodated a range of persecutors, including Puritan legalists and Wampanoag warriors. Despite some minor redundancies, Weimer's book offers a valuable contribution to the study of transatlantic Protestantism by complementing such works as Theodore Dwight Bozeman's To Live Ancient Lives (CH, Feb'89, 26-3436) or Janice Knight's Orthodoxies in Massachusetts (CH, Nov'94, 32-1478). Summing Up: Recommended. All academic levels/libraries.

The Indian Great Awakening: An Interview with Linford Fisher at the Teaching United States History Blog



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Paul Harvey

Job searches, grading, and University of Colorado business: well, there goes this week. So you faithful blog readers are going to to have to wait until this tsunami subsides next week for the blog to get back on its game.

Until then, Ed Blum and Kevin Schultz are tearing it up over at the Teaching United States History blog. A few days ago Ed posted extensively on his reflections on teaching the Salem Witch trials, and preceded that with thoughts on Revelations from Salem. 

This week, Ed and Kevin are posting a two-part interview with our blog contributor Linford Fisher, Professor of History at Brown and author of the very-soon-to-forthcome The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America, coming out with Oxford this summer. I read this in manuscript last year and this work is without a doubt going to be one of the most significant works of colonial religious history to have been published in quite a while. We'll have much more about it on the blog down the road.

For now, here's a taste of the interview, and click here for the rest. Part II to come Friday.

David Hall discusses the “enchanted worlds” of colonial Americans. Did those enchanted worlds change during the eighteenth century and did Native Americans participate in those enchanted worlds?

Front CoverAlthough I love Worlds of Wonder, I have long found that colonial Americans continued to live in enchanted worlds, despite the apparent breakdown in the sharedness of this world in the early eighteenth century between educated elite leaders and the people in the pew. Even more, history has a funny way of moving in cycles; fast forward another hundred years and, immediately following a supposedly “secular” phase of American history—i.e., the decade or so immediately following the American Revolution—suddenly you have massive revivals breaking out in Kentucky, Virginia, and eventually New York and New England. I increasingly believe that there have always been portions of American society who live in “enchanted worlds” – both in the eighteenth century and now (the rise of global Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement attest to the ongoing power of enchantment today, I think). In the colonial period, many Natives fell in the “enchanted world” camp. Some of this was due to their pre-contact beliefs and practices that lent themselves to reading divine or supernatural causes to illness, weather changes, and other inexplicable events (much like the worlds of wonder Hall describes). 

Diagnosing History



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I'm pleased to host this guest post today from Samuel Brown, a physician, biomedical researcher, and (to boot) a talented historian, and author of the fascinating new study In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (Oxford University Press, 2012). Below, he reflects on his work as a physician and a historian, and the nature of the "calling" of these two enterprises.

Diagnosing History
by Samuel Brown

In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of DeathWhen I started college in 1990, I was filled with excitement about scholarship in the humanities. I particularly loved the idea of Classics, with its mix of language and ancient history. But as the first semester wore on, I couldn’t escape the feeling that God had a different path in mind for me. I had no desire to be a physician, saw it as selling out the life of the mind, something upper-middle-class people did in order to be self-employed. But the call to medicine seemed undeniable to me, so I ultimately relented. I did, in a bit of homage to the biblical patriarch Abraham (Genesis 18:20-33), negotiate with God over the structure of my undergraduate career and ended up majoring in Chomskyan linguistics en route to medical school. Even as a linguistics major, I considered a PhD in religious history several times near the end of college, but I always grudgingly heeded the call back to medicine. (I finally wanted to be an academic physician in my second year of medical residency, much to my relief.)

I have great admiration for professional historians, for their discipline, their rigorous empathy for their subjects, their love of ideas and narrative and method. I often experience holy envy when I converse with friends ensconced within the traditional humanities academy. But I am happy in my career as an academic physician, researching cardiovascular physiology and caring for patients with life-threatening illnesses. I prefer the stress of life-or-death decision-making at the bedside to the ennui of untangling undergraduate prose when I am not actively researching physiology.

My main job and chief priority is quantitative research on the ways the heart, lung, and blood vessels interrelate in order to maintain life in the face of severe infection. In this biomedical research, I think constantly about causal inference and association, confounding and counterfactuals. Skepticism is natural and vital to these endeavors, and I feel great satisfaction in my career as a biomedical researcher.

It is hard, though, having once imagined myself as an academic humanist, to practice medicine and research physiology without wondering about the big issues. Not just ethical problems with the distribution of medical care but reflections about the human struggle to maintain (or is it create?) sanity and to make sense of the world. I wonder about the ways we as patients and physicians create narratives to interpret lived experience. Perhaps most powerful and frightening for me as a young physician were the emotions that arose when individuals, despite our best efforts to the contrary, finally passed from life. I wondered what people thought of their religious systems at those moments, watched the ways those systems often failed to provide the support I hoped they would. And from those ruminations—combined with my awareness that Mormon angels were not traditional angels—came a book project that grew over several years into In Heaven as It Is on Earth. The book reinterprets early Mormonism and explores beliefs about death in early national America, especially in the groundswell of anti-Calvinism that encompassed fringe groups like Mormons and increasingly mainstream groups like the stunningly successful Methodists. The book also reflects my conviction, broadly sympathetic to the Lived Religion school of social history, that religion is most interesting when it is most relevant to participants, when they apply it, test it, stretch it.

I find that my experience as an academic physician provides both advantages and disadvantages as I approach cultural history. I know that cold exposure does not cause pneumonia and emotional stress or ambition does not itself cause early death. But I must remind myself that historical subjects believed that these common problems were causally connected. I know that in general association is not causation, but I must remind myself constantly that historical actors constantly developed and followed inaccurate causal models. In many respects the responsibility of the historian is to elaborate the details of these causal models without necessarily dismissing them as epidemiologically groundless. Skepticism is not always the correct response to a particular document or set of documents, not if the goal is understanding the people who created them.

I believe in the vital symbiosis of biomedical research/practice and cultural history. Different participants will have complementary skills to bring to bear on problems of relevance to all.  My medical work is enriched by my relationships with historians and their craft, and I hope that my historical work is enriched by my experiences as a physician and researcher. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to know and respect scholars across a variety of disciplines.
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