Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh on Jesús



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Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh is associate professor of Latino church studies at Azusa Pacific University. She is the author of Latino Pentecostal Identity: Evangelical Faith, Society, and Self (2003) and numerous essays on Latino faiths.

My first encounter with Jesus was with Jesús, a darkened figure with blood streaming from his head looking upward. It was a partial re-production of a more famous portrait, “Crown of Thorns”  by Pieter Paul Rubens, this one hung in a frame above the mantle in my great-grandmother’s house. There were leftover Christmas lights strung around the mantle and around the picture, so as an inquisitive 8-year old, I was not sure what this mixed signal meant--was it a happy Christmas for Jesús? He seemed to be in pain that was clear. 

I stared at that picture from December through the middle of January every time I went over to visit,  until the lights came down and then Jesús just looked sad--forlorn, forgotten.  I am reminded of things like the smell of velas (candles), home cooking,  and I hear my great-grandmother praying the Rosary in Spanish everyday as I ran through the house afterschool on my way to watch tv.  On occasion, I stopped to listen to her, as she finished--she patted my head, told me that El Señor (the Lord) was watching over me and then went outside to smoke a hand-rolled cigarette--she did not let me go with her--since it was muy mala (very bad).

That picture is still up at my great-grandmother’s house, my parents still live in the back house, and every time I visit, I hear the whispers of Rosary, the smell of canela (cinnamon), and remind myself that the material culture of the Mexican Catholicism that surrounded me when I was a child never really leaves me--and I can never simply pack it away like many of my Latino/a Pentecostals do--I can’t separate the “stuff” of faith from faith itself--and I am sure that I don’t ever want to do that--because that means that I’d have to take that picture down, since its dour, suffering Christ is de riguere in my Pentecostal circles--for me Jesús looking lost, feeling the suffering of humanity, and the bittersweet irony of being surrounded by Christmas lights is the Jesus that I can relate to--the one my great-grandma told me about--the one that watches over me.

Faces and Places of Christ: An Introduction



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Looks Matter: Reflections on the Faces and Places of Christ

Edward J. Blum
Martin at 14
Looks can kill, and looks can sell. Just ask two young men from Florida: Trayvon Martin and Tim Tebow. The media frenzies surrounding them put on display the power of looks and looking. When Barack Obama weighed in on the Martin case, he drew attention to physical appearance. “If Trayvon was my son,” the president intoned, “he’d look like Trayvon.” Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum spat in response. Obama was playing “the race card” and he wouldn’t have spoken out if Travyon looked “white.”

As some reporters went south, others moved from west to east following the Tebow mania train. As the newest New York Jet, Tebow left his mile high domain for the bright lights and big city. The New York Post immediately joined Tebow’s looks to Tebow’s lord. The Post not only referred to Tebow as “the heavenly hunk,” but also ran a photograph of him from GQ where he posed like Jesus on the cross, shirtless, “sweaty and steamy.”

Looks matter. They can mean the difference between life and death, freedom and incarceration. They can make millions, and they can ruin fortunes.

These were exactly the kinds of issues that drove Paul and I as we wrote about The Color of Christ: how people looked at Jesus, how they imagined him looking at them, and what role appearances of the sacred played in America’s long saga with race. At the end of our writing, we were in search of a cover image. How would one evoke the passions, problems, and perils of living with material depictions of the immaterial? We pored over hundreds of paintings, drawings, lithographs, cartoons, photographs, and movie stills to find that image, and we did. It was deep within the Duke University digital archives.
African-American boy sitting on a float dressed as a king below picture of Jesus.
William Gedney, "African-American boy
sitting on a float dressed as a king below Jesus"

The year was 1967; the place was Brooklyn; the photographer was William Gedney; and the photograph was irresistible. It’s of a Sunday School parade and seated before us was the “king” of the class (he looks a little like Trayvon Martin at 14, but has a much fuller face). Above this king was the "King of Kings" in the form of Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ.” It is the most often reproduced image in world history. The young man looked into the camera; Jesus looked away. This was our story in still frame: everyday people using images of Christ to express themselves; everyday people living their lives in extraordinary moments, times, and places. And Jesus – as a material object, as a sometimes venerated, sometimes despised person, and as an embodied figure in new and distinct places – was there through it all.

As we searched for a cover, as we giggle at Tebow mania, and as we tear up and then grit our teeth at reports from Florida, we kept being reminded of how so many scholars and artists had influenced our approach to looks and looking. We had and have those kinds of intellectual and personal debts that acknowledgment sections can never offer justice. So with Easter season upon us and the importance of “looks” all around us, I decided to contact some of the scholars and artists who influenced the making of our book. These are people who have grappled with the image of Christ in their own lives and works, and who taught Paul and me so much. The guiding questions to them were: “how do visual images of Jesus and where they are placed address religious, social, political, and theological questions? What is your first memory of encountering Jesus in visual form and how do you make meaning of that event now? What does the process of Jesus image making mean in the contemporary world and how does it continue to impact people?”

Each day from tomorrow to Easter, we will feature a different scholar or artist. David Morgan will reflect on his long relationship with the art of Warner Sallman, while Anthony Pinn will call for us to stop looking at Christ and start looking at ourselves. Janet McKenzie will discuss why she painted her now-famous Jesus of the People (1999), while Chad Hawkins will relate how his drawings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints temples tries to reflect the timelessness of Christ that calls out to him for humility. We will sit with Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh as she visits her great-grandmother’s home and sees her Jesús, and we’ll fly back in time to Gary Vikan’s days as a boy scout from Minnesota and the variety of Jesus figures he encountered.

Through it all, I’ll keep thinking about the power of looks and what the American obsessions with physical appearance continually intersects with American passions about the body and blood of Christ.

American Routes: Of the Spiritual Strivings of Monk and Coltrane



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Paul Harvey

'A Love Supreme' book coverTomorrow we're beginning our "Faces and Places of Jesus" series, and the blog will clear out all other material for that series until Easter Sunday; this I think will be the single coolest thing we've ever done on this blog.

In the meantime, for those working away on a Thursday evening as I am, just a quick reference for a program keeping me company this evening: a program on Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane on the excellent radio program American Routes, from radio station WMNO in New Orleans, happily broadcast on my wonderful local station KRCC but available online for all here. The 1st half has a nice section on some influence of hymns on Monk (including "Blessed Assurance," something I'd never noted before, but pointed out by Monk's biographer, the historian Robin Kelley), and the second half traces Coltrane's spiritual journeys through the 1960s -- familiar territory, to be sure, but nicely done here, and especially good on his background in the AME Zion Church as part of a lengthy discussion/analysis of "Love Supreme." A must listen for you blog readers who follow jazz and religion.

Worship Across the Racial Divide: Part II of Interview with Gerardo Marti



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I'm pleased today to post Part II of our interview with Gerardo Marti about his new book Worship Across the Racial Divide. Part I of the interview is here.

Many of the people you interview in your book kind of innocently reproduce what scholars would call notions of racial essentialism -- black people as essentially more "spiritual" than others, for example, obviously an old trope in American religion. Is there a way in which racial diversity in churches, if anything, tends to strengthen these kinds of views, or do they break them down?

Across all churches and all of the interviews, there exists an overarching belief that the best kind of worship orients around a universally idealized image of Blacks singing gospel. African Americans are universally believed to experience authentic worship more profoundly than any other racial-ethnic group. Superior worship is a racialized “gift” that comes from “suffering” and imparts their music with the character of “soul.” And gospel music is believed to be the only legitimate form of musical expression since it preserves a racial heritage and is rooted (in their minds) the suffering and oppression experienced by blacks.

Even when diverse congregations have proportionally more non-whites than whites (nine of the twelve congregations), the pursuit of differences is consistently marked in terms of more “blacks,” more “Hispanics,” and sometimes more “Asians.” Racialized stigmas attach to different ethnic and racial groups with respect to preferred styles of music and worship, and these notions are not evenly distributed. The agenda of “diversity” means that it becomes a publicly defined goal. In my observation, the pursuit of “diversity” becomes centered mostly on blacks, and “black music” emerges as a priority. A key vehicle becomes forming an “inspiration” or “gospel” choir. Gospel choirs take a privileged role in diverse churches. The question, “Have you seen our gospel choir?” becomes a point of pride, an indication that the church is firmly committed to the principle of diversity
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In short, the goal of diversification in the American church appears to be accentuating notions of racial essentialism rather than removing them.

One of the subheadings in the book is "Worship Leaders Carry the Burden of Diversity." Tell us basically what you mean by that important concept.

By their position, whether paid or volunteer, worship leaders, music directors, and church musicians who design liturgical processes bear much of the weight for the perceived corrections and visionary expectations for diversification. They carry out the mandates of pastors and the (often capricious) desires of congregants in the way each believe they should be accomplished. Worship leaders are given broad, “visionary” imperatives without specific direction of how to fulfill them. They implement ill-conceived diversity efforts with little support, no training, and often only obligatory enthusiasm. Even the best-trained musicians do not have the versatility to switch musical styles quickly, repeatedly, and with variety, in addition to being able to recruit, lead, and conduct less-trained volunteers who are often expected to come from various ancestral backgrounds and play multiple musical genres. Worship leaders are not prepared for issues of diversity.

Since lead pastors cannot expect the attendance of a congregation to further diversify overnight, the weight of evaluation comes in assessing the “sound” of the music. Mandated diversity through music coupled with unclear standards of assessment leaves worship pastors scrambling to clearly show diverse musical styles in a way that their lead pastors will recognize as diverse. That leads to recruitment on the basis of “conspicuous color” and the introduction of highly stereotyped “ethnic” music, especially “black” music. Even the often-discussed solution of hiring a black worship leader sidesteps more serious considerations. In fact, black worship pastors—operating as unofficial “diversity officers” of the congregation—may be the most burdened of all.

In their book DIVIDED BY FAITH, Emerson and Christian Smith provide a very skeptical argument about whether white Christians can understand the structural mechanisms which reproduce racial inequality in American society. Do you agree with their assessment? And can racially diverse churches do much about that if they indeed reproduce the individualistic theology which Emerson and Smith see as being behind white Christians' failure to understand this fundamental issue?

Divided by FaithReligion as an abstract social force is not capable of eliminating racial divisions, yet particular elements of religious life can be and certainly are used as tools to accomplish specific religious imperatives. Despite reinforcing ethnic and racial differences through assumptions and stereotypes, my own work reveals how churches indeed do–often inadvertently–promote racial diversity in their churches. Multiracial churches structure for diversity in ways that actualize the racial and ethnic integration of their ministries, but not in ways they intend.

Diversity happens because members are more likely to stay in a congregation if they find ways of being involved and feeling connected with others in the church. The music ministries of a congregation demand a considerable amount of planning and preparation. As diversely recruited members become involved in the musical ministries of their church, they do not necessarily see themselves as working to diversify their congregations, but they do see themselves as contributing to their church. And by being part of their church, they succeed in accentuating the diversity of their church through their involvements. They place themselves in a position to know and be known by others, so recognizability and relationships between people through music are more important than the acoustic sound.

In short, diversity happens—even without the intention to diversify—because music and worship create practical spaces of interaction where cross-racial bonds are formed. Through participation in worship music of the services (both in following direction and hearing performances) members come to feel connected to each other and are supportive of each other as part of the same “church family.”

Very briefly and concisely, what is the most important take-away point that you hope readers will get from your book?

It’s ironic -- beliefs of racial authenticity and performance promote profound assumptions of racial difference; however, such beliefs simultaneously drive the imperative to include people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds into worship ministry structures. The active incorporation of diverse people in the performance of worship music creates structured opportunities for the creation of genuine community. In the end, the musical liturgy of a church is a strategic mechanism for putting conspicuously diverse people in public, deliberate, and cooperative interaction with other members in a congregation. 

Worship Across the Racial Divide: An Interview with Gerardo Marti



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Paul Harvey

Editor's Note: In spite of what I said yesterday, we'll be posting during spring break after all, leading to our "Faces and Places of Jesus" series beginning on Friday. I'm pleased to post this interview with  our blog contributor Gerardo Marti, author of the new book Worship Across the Racial Divide, which I previously blogged about here. A sociologist by training, Gerardo reflects below on sociological and historical approaches to the study of religion. Part I of this interview is today; Part II will go up tomorrow. 


PH: Gerardo, talk about the process that led you to this book, from initial conceptualization to final product. How did you come up with some of the basic questions that you address in this book?

GERARDO: In my first two ethnographies of A Mosaic of Believers and Hollywood Faith, it appeared that people stayed in congregations that reflected their musical tastes and desires. More importantly, church leaders believed music to be critical, and they corralled their worship directors and key leaders to focus deliberate attention on the construction and performance of music in hopes of attracting and keeping diverse congregants.

Yet I found problems every time church leaders made “common sense” connections between race and music. Like during a summer seminar at Calvin College in 2006—a music director of a fairly large church talked openly about the immense pressure he experienced to become more “multicultural” in worship. He was told, “We need to become ‘blacker.’” In pursuit of what he called a “quick fix” he introduced gospel choir music with a few Negro spirituals “thrown in.” The almost entirely white congregation thought the music as “cool” saying that it had “a great beat” and even prompted some reflection on what it meant to hear music that expressed survival and liberation, yet the “quick fix” approach ended up reinforcing stereotypes of what African Americans are “supposed to be” overall. The “black music” intended to expand diversity effectively deepened racial divides already embedded.

Grant funding from the Louisville Institute and the Congregational StudiesTeam allowed me to pursue a focused analysis of musical liturgy in successfully diverse congregations. I was interested in how music and worship “work” in multiracial churches. The new research centered around two questions: Could religious music be the gateway for stimulating integrated congregations? Or do the structures of musical liturgy provide yet another opportunity to maintain the racial divide – even in the midst of “successful” racial integration?

Most of the contributors to my blog are historians by training; you are a sociologist by training. Talk about what you think historians can learn/need to learn from sociologists, and (if such a thing exists) a work that combines the two disciplinary methods most fruitfully?

I get most excited when I read the work of American religious historians who provide immersive narratives that draw out the contingent construction of institutions and ideational structures comprising our contemporary world. Perhaps the best book I read for this analysis was Curtis Evans’ The Burden of Black Religion, a text I quote excessively because it provided such crucial background for the discursive themes of African Americans as “superior worshipers.” This is certainly not the only book I read. I was fairly ambitious in the attempt to address race, church, and music under an initially vague notion of “worship,” and I drew from many astounding works of historians to enlighten and guide my vantage point, especially to remove any “presentist” bias and to uncover what has been significant in the past to suggest what may continue to be significant for our future. The final word count of the printed book came to roughly 100,000 words, yet my first full draft contained nearly 150,000, and it could have been much longer! While few made it into the text, they still feed my current scholarship.

On connecting our two disciplines, I don’t know if a full integration of sociology and history is possible. The array of evolving methodological tools can be confusing, the ongoing development/critique of theoretical frameworks hard to keep up with, and the sensitivities inherent to each are difficult to master. For me, the pragmatic consideration of sociological work is constrained to articulating concrete mechanisms of social life in the arena under investigation. My academic work is done while simultaneously attending to clear research questions, a self-conscious use of conceptual frameworks, and attentiveness to methodologically sound processes of investigation. Figuring this out takes a lot of time; writing all this up takes up a lot of room. So I find little time and ability to adequately follow all the issues and debates among my colleagues in history.

On the other hand, I find that historians and others frequently come across intriguing sociological findings that reveal previously ignored dynamics. Ultimately, sociologists like myself attempt to draw out a complex of social structures and seek to produce heuristic insights. Sometimes our results are more “factual” in orientation; other times more “theoretical.” Either way, historians could use such work as a provocative source of enrichment for their own investigations.

You write that "the diversification of churches is not about racially accommodating distinct music styles or enacting simplistic notions of leadership intentionality, but rather about stimulating cross-racial interaction through music worship practices." What is it about music in worship that holds such a key to the successful creation of multiracial churches?

I thought I might come to grasp something of the emotional power of sacred music, how music “tugs at the heart,” “lifts the human spirit,” and “transcends our earthly concerns” by “stirring the passions” of a crowd. Music would be “soothing,” “inspiring,” or just plain “worshipful,” and the experience of music would create a profound human connection. Once I began my research, what stood out was a fundamental belief that only certain music connects with certain racial and ethnic groups. Leaders select worship music that incorporates “diversity friendly” musical influences such as “gospel” and “salsa” to “spice up” their music. Like a chef preparing a musical casserole, worship leaders in multiracial churches invoke a musical pluralism to promote a buffet style of musical genres with crossover appeal.

The key finding described at length in the book is that multiracial churches aggressively recruit (and sometimes pay) people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to be featured in public worship. Beliefs of racial authenticity drive musical performance such that diverse churches ironically reproduce notions of racial and ethnic differences at the same time they try to eliminate them.

Despite such racialized tactics, a connection is forged between diverse performers and the congregational “audience.” Singers may be off-key, but the choir provides a place of belonging and sacred connection. The occasional dissonant chord of the pianist and the ill-placed harmonies of vocalist connect fellow church members who serve with reverence and a sense of duty on behalf of the people gathered in that place. And it’s not just the “performances” but the “rehearsals.” Diverse members may only see each other a few hours each week, but these members come to know each other and have surprisingly deep relationships with each other. 

Spring Breaks, Broken Fingers, And a Preview of Coming Attractions



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Paul Harvey

To all our faithful blog readers, just a note that this week I'll be on spring break not so much because it is spring break in the semester for me (even though it is), but because a broken index finger suffered in a final-four quality outdoor basketball rumble  incredible display of athletic talent  old man game last Friday has made it very difficult to type presently! (Ed Blum was here and dominated the post play in that game, in case you were wondering).

Anyway, we'll be off for a short bit, but more importantly this Friday, we are giving over the blog to Ed and a variety of other authors (including Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh, Shawn Copeland, the artist Janet McKenzie, and some others) from Friday, March 30, until Easter Sunday April 8 for a very special series, "The Faces and Places of Jesus." Ed asked a variety of scholars, artists, writers, and intellectuals a series of questions on their personal images/imaginings of Jesus, and he'll be posting their responses. Ed will start us out with an introduction, coming up this Friday, and each day after that we'll have an individual poster.

(A note to my other contributors -- we're clearing out the blog during that period for this special series, so if you have any posts to put up then, please put them up either before this Friday or just wait until after Sunday the 8th).

The series also came about because we wanted to talk to/hear from some of the scholars and artists who had been influential on us in preparing our co-authored book The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, due out in September from UNC Press. More on the book closer to publication, but for me it has been the most rewarding and enriching scholarly experience of my life to collaborate with Ed on this project over the past 6-7 years. Feel free to click on the link above and "like" the book's facebook page.

I'll be back here after our series, but for now, we'll take a short time off and then you all should really enjoy a special treat in the upcoming series that Ed has compiled and will be posting here starting Friday.

American Literature and the King James Bible: An Interview with Robert Alter



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Randall Stephens

Do religious studies scholars and religious historians read the Bible? Have they pored over the pages of the Book of Mormon? (Elesha Coffman explored those questions on this blog last summer.)

Scholar of Hebrew language and comparative literature Robert Alter has also spent some time thinking about biblical knowledge, or the lack thereof. He's also recently explored the ways that the prose of the King James Bible has long had a powerful impact on American writing.

Alter is Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1967. He has authored a variety of works on the European novel from the eighteenth century to the present, contemporary American fiction, and on modern Hebrew literature. His publications include: Necessary Angels: Tradition and Modernity in Kafka, Benjamin, and Scholem (1991), The World of Biblical Literature (1992) and Hebrew and Modernity (1994).

Last year in my Religion and American Culture course I used his recent book, an illuminating, concise volume, Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible (Princeton University Press, 2010). It worked very well. Along with generating some great in-class discussion, it motivated my students and I to read a little more broadly from the canon of American lit, and to dust off our KJV's.

In a recent issue of the NYRB, Robert Pogue Harrison writes:

In Pen of Iron, the eminent Bible scholar and translator Robert Alter recounts a small yet telling part of the story of American literature’s attunement to the King James Bible. Exploring the way the KJB has impacted both the prose and worldviews of select American authors—mainly Lincoln, Melville, Faulkner, Hemingway, Bellow, and Cormac McCarthy—Alter shows that, even when they parody it or contend with its legacies (as Melville and Faulkner did), the King James Bible remains an enduring point of reference, if not a moral center of gravity, in their work.

I recently asked Alter to speak a little more to some of the themes he laid out in the book.

Randall Stephens: In 1911, Americans and Brits celebrated the anniversary of the creation of the King James Bible. How does that commemoration compare with similar ones in 2011?

Robert Alter: From what I've read about the 1911 commemoration, it had a bigger impact in the public sphere. Both Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson made celebratory speeches about the King James Bible, whereas we haven't heard anything from our current president or from his Republican rivals. I think the 2011 commemoration was mostly restricted to academic settings, apart from an exhibition arranged by the Folger Library. In 1911, the King James Bible was still the version everyone read, and that's no longer the case.

Stephens: Religious studies scholar Stephen Prothero has lamented the degree of American religious illiteracy. Do you think that a lack of religious knowledge, and knowledge of the King James Bible in particular, has negative implications?

Alter: I look at the erosion of biblical literacy as a literary person, and from this viewpoint, it has dire consequences. Especially because the English-speaking peoples have had a strong canonical version of the Bible, it has permeated many of the masterworks of English literature since the later seventeenth century, and without familiarity with the Bible, readers are bound to miss an important dimension of many great English novels, poems, as well as expository prose.

Stephens: I'm fascinated by your discussion of Lincoln's Gettysburg address and the biblical language that lent that famous document some of its gravity. How and why did so many 19th-century writers draw on themes from the King James Bible?

Alter: In nineteenth-century Protestant America, the Bible, almost always in the King James Version, was a constant companion for most people. They not only heard it in church, but very often it was regularly read out loud in the family circle at home. Given the power of the Bible itself and the eloquence of the King James Version, it stamped itself on the imagination of many American writers, even if they broke with the faith of their childhood. It gave them ideas about God, the world, history, and human nature that they wrestled with, and a whole set of images, rhythms, and diction that nurtured their own literary style. Much American writing, from Moby-Dick to Lincoln's speeches, simply would not have the resonance it does without the biblical echoes.

Stephens: As you point out Cormac McCarthy and other contemporary writers still allude to Biblical themes and prose in their work. Is that lost, though, on modern readers?

Alter: I suppose that, given the erosion of biblical literacy, many readers will fail to pick up biblical allusions in the prose of the contemporary American writers who deploy them. There is, however, a certain stylistic power drawn from the Bible that is not dependent on the recognition of specific biblical sources. The compact rhythms and taut diction in the prose of Cormac McCarthy, with its fondness for the use of parallel clauses without syntactic complication, owes a good deal to the King James Version, but a reader may feel the force of the style without actually realizing that it has a biblical source.

Stephens: Could you say something about your current research?

Alter: At the moment, I'm completing a translation with commentary of the Former Prophets, which is the sequence of narrative books from Joshua to Kings that follows the history of ancient Israel from the conquest of the land to the Babylonian exile. It includes the great story of David and a good deal of other exciting narrative material (the Samson story, the Elijah cycle, etc.). It will be a fat volume, scheduled for publication in the spring of 2013.

Asian Religions in America as an Ngram: Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Rammohun Spike



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I decided to play around with Google's Ngram viewer and see what it might tell me about how Americans wrote about Asian religions. Click here for a bigger version of the graph. Here's what I noticed:

1. The most popular moment for Asian religions in America was in the 1820s and it most likely revolved around the figure of Rammohun Roy the "Hindoo reformer" highly covered in Unitarian and evangelical missionary journals. His debates with the English Baptist missionaries at Serampore, just outside Calcutta, and his publication of the Precepts of Jesus attracted a lot of attention in America. He wanted to eventually come to the United States but died in Bristol, England while touring Britain before he could make it. There's a lot more to be said about Rammohun but I'll let the spike speak to his importance and refer you to my dissertation that should be done early next year for more details.

2. The spike in "Hindoo" before Rammohun matches up with the beginnings of the American missionary movement. The first missionaries were ordained by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1812 and went to India and Ceylon. What I can't explain is the dip between the missionaries and Rammohun.

3. Looking further down the timeline, it is interesting to note the way "Hinduism" never gets close to the same frequency as "Buddhism" while "Hindu" keeps pace with "Buddhism" and "Buddhist." This proves an important point made by writers, most notably Tomoko Masuzawa in her book The Invention of World Religions, that Buddhism was accorded more authority as a "world religion" than Hinduism during the nineteenth century. This graph shows that Americans took interest "Hindus" and "Hindoos" but that they didn't give"Hinduism" the status of full fledged religion. "Hinduism" was not discussed as frequently as "Buddhism" because it was seen as less important and less legitimate religion. "Hinduism" does get a bump after 1893, most likely from the arrival of Vivekananda. Nonetheless, there is a lot of writing about Hindus but not much about Hinduism. It seems Americans wrote more frequently about the figure of the Hindu than the overall religious system. Meanwhile, Buddhists and Buddhism got equal treatment.

There are certainly caveats to the accuracy of this method and the use of Ngrams in general for historical work. That said, I do think that there are places where graphs like this can corroborate other more traditional forms of historical evidence. The "Rammohun spike" seems fairly plausible to me. For those of us interested in the history of religious concepts and categories in American culture, the Ngram can be a great jumping off point for theorizing the relationship between culture and discourse. It's one more tool for whacking away at the stubborn rock of history in hopes of chiseling out something meaningful.

Gospel Gestalt



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Paul Harvey

Pretty soon here at the blog we're going to feature an author interview with prominent sociologist, blogger, and occasional blog contributor Gerardo Marti, whose book (published last year by Oxford) Worship Across the Racial Divide I recently had the pleasure of reading. The link in the preceding sentence takes you to Gerardo's own summary of the work together with a series of reactions to the book from three worship leader practitioners. Unlike (most) historians, sociologists get to meet their subjects, and the subjects get to talk back -- scary! More on Gerardo's  book soon.

Until then, a much shorter, but really lively and insightful, piece to send your way: Douglas Harrison's "The Gospel Gestalt: From Joyful Noise to Whitney Houston," published at Religion Dispatches. If any of ya'll (and there can't be very many, as the movie disappeared from the theaters about two seconds after it first appeared) actually saw Joyful Noise, you are probably wondering how a pretty awful movie could provoke a serious post on the meaning of gospel in American culture. Read it and find out. A little excerpt:



At this late date of postmodern no-brow mass-market American culture, the gospel sensibility is as likely to show up in “Didn’t We Almost Have it All” (my favorite Houston song) as it is in a church-choir musical comedy directed by an openly gay Jewish guy from Queens who saw in Queen Latifah’s character a way to reanimate childhood memories of his mother drilling him to rehearse for Hadassah choir.
Indeed, the gospel sensibility can be found just about anywhere music summons the solitary voice embedded in social struggle, places it in musical conversation as part of a community of concern united in song, and—at least when it’s good—thereby transforms a range of idiosyncratic identities and life experiences into a heaven of harmony.
Personally I couldn't, and can't, stand "Didn't We Almost Have It All," but the larger point of the piece still compels. I've noted in a couple of things I've written (with considerable impatience) how gospel styles have become standard everywhere, from McDonald's commercials to every wannabe (and the occasional real) singer on all the singing competition shows from American Idol on. But I've not done much more than just note it; Harrison explains something about the meaning of its ubiquity, and helps me understand and be less exasperated with the treacly "pop" side of a transcendent talent as was Houston in her prime.

The author, Douglas Harrison, has his own book coming out very soon, with the University of Illinois Press: Then Sings My Soul: The Culture of Southern Gospel Music. Our own resident blogger and American religious music scholar David Stowe has a nice endorsement for the book, and I can also recommend the piece by the same author in a recent edition of the journal Religion and American Culture, one which, I assume, more or less previews the book. The historical and anthropological analysis in this work should nicely complement and reflect upon the contemporary manifestations of the meaning of gospel in worship which Gerardo explores in his book. 

Methodist Women and Civil Rights in New Orleans



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Paul Harvey

Here's a review of a book I should have known about but completely missed, about Methodists and civil rights in New Orleans, posting here fyi.

Blue, Ellen
.  St. Mark's and the social gospel: Methodist women and civil rights in New Orleans, 1895-1965.  Tennessee, 2011.  303p index; ISBN 9781572338210, $45.95. Reviewed in 2012apr CHOICE.
Blue (Phillips Theological Seminary) has written a nuanced and compelling history of Methodist Episcopal Church South (MECS) women activists, covering the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Drawing nimbly from sources like minutes of women's meetings, publications from missionary and reform organizations, women's periodicals, journals, poetry, and letters, Blue shows that Methodist women carried the spirit and practice of the Social Gospel well into the 20th century. Correcting misperceptions of southern women activists as "conservative," for example, Blue argues that MECS activists like Mary Werlein were progressive in their social views, but were nonetheless shaped by their culture's and religion's racist attitude toward ethnic and racial minorities. Evidence for this assertion relies more heavily on documents written by men with whom MECS women either worshipped or studied, rather than documents authored by women. Nevertheless, Blue has written a well-researched book that functions as an excellent counterpart to Wendy J. Deichmann Edwards and Carolyn De Swarte Gifford's edited collection,Gender and the Social Gospel (CH, Dec'03, 41-2122).Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- A. D. Cortes, Holy Cross College

God's Almost Chosen Peoples (And Luke Harlow's New Chosen Job!)



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Paul Harvey

We took notice of George Rable's large and massively researched book God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War right upon its publication, and then about a year ago Luke Harlow (far more knowledgeable on religion in the Civil War era than I am) put up an excerpt from his published review on the blog.

(And a quick update: congratulations to Luke, who will next fall be taking a new position as Professor of History at the University of Tennessee! He'll be focusing his teaching there on the Civil War/Reconstruction era. Way to go, Luke!). 

As noted in yesterday's post about Charity Carney's work (done as Rable's Ph.D. student), it's all-Civil-War-all-the-time weekend for me as I go over midterm papers and exams from the class, so I thought I would post first about Charity's new book, and then Rable's. Below is a somewhat different version of what appeared (in shorter form) in the Journal of the Civil War Era last year, giving my extended thoughts on the work. By the way, James McPherson reviewed it in the New York Review of Books, if you want to get a rather more expert opinion. I do love the quote that the author dug up with which I begin the review; that one already has become a classroom staple.
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God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War. By George C. Rable: Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. 586. Cloth, $35.00.

“I think as much of religion as any man,” a Confederate soldier said while tippling some apple brandy, “but there’s such a thing as having too damn much of it” (100). Religious faith was omnipresent in the Civil War era, George Rable makes clear. At the same time, religious faith provided no solution to the dilemmas of slavery leading up to the war, and it probably lengthened and worsened the war once it came. There was, in that sense, too much of it.

Too little of it, moreover (apart from Abraham Lincoln’s theological reflections), served as something other than consoler, rationalizer, and cheerleader. “Recognizing the hand of God in human history,” Rable concludes, “fostered neither humility nor even an appreciation for the majesty of inscrutable providence” 88). The result: “Divine purpose, national deliverance, personal salvation, and even millennial hope had all become entangled in a war that had become more destructive than even sinful human beings ever could have imagined” (277). This sober message dominates most of this careful, detailed, measured work.

“Rather than the word becoming flesh,” Rable writes, “it seemed as if the flesh – of northerners and southerners, of blacks and whites – had become words, an endless stream of words” (22). Amidst this “flood” of religious rhetoric, moreover, there was a “failure of moral imagination” (22). Unlike Abraham Lincoln, who could put himself in the shoes of a slaveholder, most Americans could not morally imagine themselves in the place of another; instead, religion justified their own views and sacralized their distrusts and hatreds.

This failure extended to African American religious moral imagination as well, Rable suggests, which “developed a language of freedom yet could not point the way for the nation to escape the twin curses of slavery and caste” (22). Here, I cannot agree. African American religious language did point the way; it’s just that hardly any whites listened. And a relative paucity of attention to that part of the story limits the reach of this otherwise profound, deeply meditative work.

Rable takes an essentially Niebuhrian approach to comprehending American religion during the Civil War. The frequently millennial, apocalyptic voices of the era failed to “consider the limits of human achievements or ambition, and even the “voices of moderation were not that thoughtful, they were merely cautious” (196). Again and again through this book, people figure out how and why God was on their side. Setbacks didn’t matter in this theology, for these were “chastisements” to prepare God’s people for greater things to come. Religious conviction thereby “produced a providential narrative of the war,” and “created a fatalism grounded not in deism but in providence.” This providential God also was a personal one. He was “deeply invested in the fate of nations and individuals,” and faith in Him gave the immense tragedy of the war “some higher and presumably nobler purpose” (9). To the end of the war, and after, Americans persisted in understanding “their lives and the war itself as part of an unfolding providential story.” This helps to explain the longevity and ferocity of the conflict.

With this basic framework in mind, Rable surveys religious interpretations of the conflict from secession to the “Good Friday” of April 14, 1865. Along the way, he quotes myriad sources from all parts of society. Evangelical Protestants dominate, as might be expected, but Catholic views of the war are given extended treatment, and Jews and Mormons appear as well.

We learn, too, about religious life in the army camps; exaggerated reports of revivals did not mislead many soldiers from acknowledging that most of them were sinners rather than saints. Americans’ obsessions with what strike us as trivial pursuits of leisure – swearing, card-playing, tippling, and the like – take up many pages, since these “sins” often came to be seen as the reason God allowed for one chastisement or another of his chosen people. In the work, soldiers contemplate the meaning of death, as do the folks (usually women) back home; chaplains assume a “humble and secondary” place (110); churches back home struggle to survive; congregations in the border states engage in their own bitter civil wars; and the Reverends on both sides interpret every up and down in the conflict according to what they determined to be the will of Providence.

Rable’s deep research leads him away from very many sweeping arguments or theses; the book proceeds instead slowly, patiently accumulating stories and reflections from the actors of that period. This is not Skip Stout’s “moral history of the Civil War,” in which self-righteous rhetoric simply fueled killing. It is not the “American apocalypse” of Yankee Protestants studied by James Moorehead, and it is not a story of Americans “baptized in blood” as later Lost Cause mythology had it. 

Further, as Rable shows, Christ was in the camps, in both North and South, but He had to compete with cards, prostitutes, alcohol, and bitter skepticism and irony increasingly evidenced among many boys in blue and gray. Churchgoers at home placed great faith in the virtue of their boys as pointing to success, while those boys quickly found out that prayer and piety were connected only randomly with the outcome of any particular battle. Confederates especially felt that. In the last two years of the war, the more piety they evinced, the more battles they lost.

The weakness of this powerful work lies in fully comprehending African American religious views as fundamental to the war. My problem isn’t one of some question of affirmative action for historical voices. Until relatively late in the conflict, this was a “war between the whites,” as Frederick Douglass said. Rather, when Rable suggests that the failure of moral imagination of Civil War-era Americans included African American Christians who exalted freedom but “could not point the way for the nation to escape the twin curses of slavery and caste,” I could only think of Garrison Frazier and his black ministerial colleagues meeting with Generals Sherman and Howard in January 1865, and outlining for them the meaning of freedom and the necessity of property ownership to assist freedmen in escaping the curses of slavery and caste; or to the multitude of voices documented in works such as Leon Litwack’s Been in the Storm So Long.

Ultimately, no matter what whites early in the conflict said, this was a war about the meaning of freedom, and African Americans understood that to be a spiritual and moral as well as an economic and political question. This story, I believe, is fundamental and central to any religious history of the American Civil War. 

Methodism, Manhood, and Honor



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Paul Harvey

Some of you will recall the wonderfully memorable series "Adventures in Christian Retail" posted a while back by our contributor Charity Carney. Start at that link for Part I. Part II is of this series is up here. Part III, the finale, is here. Extended responses informed from his own academic work on capitalism and American Christianity, from Ole Miss Prof. (soon-to-be) Deg, are here and here.
Ministers and Masters - Cover
Besides working in the past for "Christian Chain," Charity also just happened to be a Ph.D. student of George Rable at the University of Alabama. She finished a few years back, and last year published her book based on her Ph.D. dissertation, Ministers and Masters: Methodism, Manhood, and Honor in the Old South (LSU Press, 2011). She graciously gave me a copy at the last Southern Historical Association.

I've got all things Civil War era on the brain as I grade midterm papers over this weekend and midterm exams coming up soon for my Civil War course, so it seemed as good a time as any to devote a couple of posts to Charity's book (first) and afterwards to reprint a longer version of a review of her mentor George Rable's book, God's Almost Chosen Peoples, published in 2010 by UNC Press. It'll be an Alabama-centric weekend.

Charity's book caught my eye in part because it reminded me of my first (very forgettable) academic article, " ' The Character of Ministerial Manliness,'" which explored somewhat similar themes about the tensions inherent in being a minister in a culture of manly honor, in my case having to do with post-Civil War Southern Baptist ministers. Charity's work is a much fuller, extended study of that issue for antebellum Southern Methodist ministers. As she writes, "the combination of cultural influences and Methodist disciplinary practices created a distinctive manhood for ministers who were eager to prove their masculinity as southern men and their spiritual purity and authority as southern ministers." In doing so, the developed "aggressive characteristics linked with moral purity," replacing violence and the competition for wealth with "strict discipline and ecclesiastical infighting." They exalted a family structure which their patterns of itineracy made difficult, sometimes impossible, to fulfill for themselves, and preached independence while remaining dependent on congregants. Their encounter with southern hierarchy compelled them to advocate for a highly centralized episcopacy which contrasted dramatically with the spiritual egalitarianism and democratic impulse of the Methodist faith. They felt the need to "prove themselves as powerful patriarch while also submitting to church discipline."

Charity provides a short, concise, but deeply insightful exploration of the lives and contradictions of these men, and more generally of the concept of evangelical masculinity as it developed in the antebellum South (with plenty of, and obvious, reverberations down to the present day). Ed Blum hits it exactly in his short description of the book: "Methodist ministers became upholders of slavery who sought spiritual correction from the enslaved. They longed to lead their wives and children by becoming servants to these dependents. In Ministers and Masters, we find neither the drunken, violent southerner, nor the erudite, gentleman theologian. Instead, we encounter a new creation: the southern Methodist man."

Congratulations to our blog contributor for her outstanding first book. Next up are my thoughts on George Rable's massive work of scholarship on religion in the Civil War era, God's Almost Chosen Peoples. My students in my Civil War class have heard plenty of quotes and quips from this work already, unbeknownst to them.

Immigrant Rights, Latino Evangelicals, and the Premillennial Trap Door



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Editor's Note: I'm delighted to have Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh back in the blog saddle again. Arlene keeps her own blog at Patheos and teaches at Azusa Pacific University. She is also a Lakers fan, but we won't hold that against her just now. Below is a piece she originally prepared for another publication, but I'm delighted to host here. 
by Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh 
         

Front Cover

Historically, the Deep South has not been the most welcoming place for people of color. As of the 1990s, one of the ways certain states have continued various exclusionary projects has been to do what scholar Jaime Winder says “fused new regional racial demographics to new national border anxieties.” Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia among others have bought into the post 9/11 rationale that “every state is a border state” (reference at end of post).  These states have enacted laws, in the guise of safeguarding borders, protecting economic interests, and even preserving  a way of life-hospitality (as Tennessee lawmakers rationalized in their attempts to “stem the tide of illegal” immigration).   So, Latino immigrants, who have had the unenviable task of being desired demographic consumers, sources of cheap labor, and routinely a well-organized threat, have once again found themselves cast as the source of a state’s economic anxiety and once again, aside from a few voices in the Latino/a evangelical community--there is silence.

The spate of anti-immigration laws and ordinances throughout the South begins in the 1990’s, with the growth of Latino/a population, let’s examine the growth in the one state at issue here--Alabama.  There were 33,000 Latinos in Alabama in 1980, out of a total population of 3.8 million. By 2010, the population quadrupled to over 185,000  with Latinos/as at about 3.9% of Alabama’s nearly 5 million people.  The 1990’s then saw a meteoric rise in the Latino/a population--it would take one decade for Alabama to catch up to their Southern neighbors in seeking their own version of anti-immigrant laws meant to stem the tide of “illegal” immigration.

One does not have to look too far back into history to see that Alabama’s addition to the immigration wars is nothing new. Within the past several years, Arizona, South Carolina, Texas, and Georgia have promoted laws meant to stop “illegal” immigration to their state by making it harder to live in these states. Even states with little or no immigration, like West Virginia, has begun to have debates about how to stop the immigration problem--the triumph of rhetorical illogic is to convince a economically depressed population in an economically depressed state that their problems stem from the phantom called “illegals.”

Towards the end of 2011, in a surge of activism that found various interfaith organizations marching, writing letters, and praying for the repeal of Alabama’s HB 56 anti-immigration law. These candlelight vigils and marches drew thousands and even raised the specter that at least a segment of the Latino/a church would finally make a statement. In November, a contingent from the conservative evangelically-oriented Hispanic Church Leadership Council visited Alabama to add their voices to the other groups such as the Episcopal, United Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches who had gone further than their evangelical brethren and asked Gov. Robert J. Bentley to repeal the law.  Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the Hispanic Church Leadership Council, called HB 56 “anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-family” (Samuel Rodriguez, Interview w Christine Scheller, Urban Faith, November 6, 2011) but stopped short of calling for its repeal as his fellow clergy did. Rodriguez did not think there was enough support in the Latino/a evangelical community to stop HB56 and he further commented that this spoke to a “Christian apathy” and “malaise” among congregations. It is to this apathy and malaise that I would like to explore for a bit, since it may not be as simple as Rev. Rodriguez thinks.


The theological underpinnings that many Latino/a evangelicals hold that offer some sense of ethereal security and comfort--has historically and today, done little to provide them with the theological tools to see that part of their theological safety net (premillennialism), is really a trap door where pastors and church workers who have no desire to actively pursue justice, conveniently fall into when they fear upsetting their more conservative congregants, and are unsure themselves about what more their faith asks of them. Examining some of the statements of Latino/a evangelical pastors, Pastors Raul Zacarias, and Carlos Aybar offers us clues into the theological underpinnings of the problem with Latino/a evangelical churches.

In an interview with WHNT (Huntsville) news, Pastor Raul Zacarias of Eben-Ezer Pentecostal church responded to why he believes HB 56 is unjust:  “the bible says persecution will happen to all of us sooner or later, but this church is going to stand by our faith.” While the interview cuts away, Zacarias continues to speak off the air but while the mic is still on saying that he believes HB56 is good for him and his church because it allowed them to exert their faith knowing that they believe in a higher law. “We can stay here [in Alabama] because they were doing the will of God...we are still going to preach the word of God.”

Pastor Zacarias sentiments are all to familiar and, given the urgency of the immigration legal battles, all too inadequate to help a vulnerable population whose day-to-day lives have been criminalized (have you ever been worried about being arrested for carpooling to work?).  The key here is to realized that when Zacarias mentions persecution, it is not a persecution rooted in the suffering Christ, the suffering poor, the oppressed--he is referring to an all too familiar reliance on a premillennialist trope that views nearly any and all obstacles to faith as precursors to the ultimate persecution of the “Last Days” where all true believers will be tested as to their veracity and strength.

What over-reliance on premillennial trap door does is blunt the idea that people of faith have any other mandates than to literally “preach the gospel” and inoculates them from having to counter the systemic oppression that has befallen immigrants (legal and otherwise) throughout U.S. history.

The Latino/a evangelical church’s activism has been largely silent and symbolically present in the guise of “national” leaders, who have little resonance with the very grassroots driven Latino/a church. To be fair, the premillenialist trap door is not the only reason Latino/a evangelicals don’t engage in their own political liberation, especially when fear of deportation and family separation trump theology.

That suffering is a trope most American evangelicalism (including Latino/a) that has been re-wired into a more palatable, otherworldly, premillennialism is a story too complex to discuss here, suffice to say, it has created a false choice among many Latino/a evangelicals--one that pits a biblicist rationale on a historically contingent idea (biblical prophecy), and dares believers to cross yet one more line of orthodoxy.

Perhaps the most ironic of the many ironies of this sad story are the myriad of stories, (do the Google search yourself) of the families that have been separated, the children who have feared going back to school because they did not want to arrive back home after school to find their parents deported. News reports vary, but from October to December 2011, school districts in Alabama with a Latino/a population reported absences ranging from the dozens to the thousands. For a movement that has staked its claim to supporting family values, fixated on personal piety as its moral glue--family dissolution seems to mitigate against families that praying together staying together.

Worst yet is that amidst this sad state of premillennial co-dependency, Latino pastors like Zacharias, and Foursquare pastor Carlos Aybar, and no doubt, many many others, have seen what the end result of non-action is, Aybar confiding to my colleague, Jonathan García, that he personally knows of churches that have closed this supported by a recent spate of stories in newspapers like the Los Angeles Times but Aybar’s theological trap is not only a reluctance to discuss HR 56 as a problem, but actually ignoring it, “we don’t focus on the problem, but focus on God.” Aybar continues for several more questions, hesitating to discuss any tangible actions his church has committed to see HR 56 reversed--no doubt because Aybar has done little in terms of practical work to see the injustice of a law that blatantly targets Latino/a immigrants come to an end.  Seeing the fight as a purely spiritual battle between unseen forces and not a natural fight among misguided and craven politicians is one rung in a misplaced theological ladder that has led way too many Latino/a evangelicals away from acting on their own behalf and seeming to support a premillennialist schema that was born late in the 19th century.

In the 1920’s the premillennialist schema actually had Mexico as one of its potential signs that God was ready to make a final visitation. For a brief, shining moment, when Mexico was viewed as being in the grasp of godless Communism, and American Protestant missionaries were viewed as part of the ushering in of the last days, Mexico was part of the solution, not part of the problem. As it is now, most premillennialists are unaware of the changing foundations of their own theological certainties, and way too many Latino/a evangelicals have decided to walk away from their homes, from their schools, from their churches without fighting. Take this case from an Alabama Baptist church as a clarion of Latino/a church inaction:

This church has seen a loss of Latino/a members, a rise in distrust, and an uncertainty over their Latino/a outreach.  Perhaps most ironic is that the church chose to follow a part of HB 56 that had been struck down as unconstitutional, (the transporting of people without adequate proof of legality), and painted over their bus sign “Misión Hispana” just to be on the safe side--such is one of the many ironies of evangelical churches, whose main reason for being is to bring as many people on buses like that, to their churches--will soon have no reason to drive that bus around on Sunday mornings, why? Because by many accounts, Latinos are leaving Alabama and will do what they have always done and continue to do--find a place that needs their labor more than it dislikes their presence.

Winders, Jaime, “Bringing Back (B)order: Post-9/11 Politics of Immigration, Borders and Belonging in Contemporary U.S. South.” 2007  Antipode

My Friend, the Bancroft Prize Winner



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Paul Harvey

Every once in a while a good and generous person gets their just reward in this life. I'm happy to recognize such a gift today, with the announcement of this year Bancroft Prize winners.

There are three, but I want to highlight one: Anne Hyde's Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860 (University of Nebraska Press).

From today's New York Times:

The Bancroft Prize, one of the most prestigious annual honors for historians, has been awarded to three scholars for books published last year.
The winners are Anne F. Hyde for “Empires, Nations and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860” (University of Nebraska Press); Daniel T. Rodgers for “Age of Fracture,” an intellectual history of 1970s and 80s America (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press); and Tomiko Brown-Nagin for “Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement” (Oxford University Press).
blogged last year about Empires, Nations, and Families, just as it was coming out, and recommended it to all; a good description of the book and of Anne's career is here. Since then, it has not gotten nearly as much attention as the other two (very deserving, obviously) recipients, but I bet it will now. There's something for everyone in the work, including for you religious history scholars, including a major effort to place Mormonism and Indian religions in the broader context/history of "the West" during this period, as it moved from "nations" to "nation," as well as stories about the intermingling of families which thereby became the intermingling of religious traditions.

The author, Anne Hyde, has been my friend since my first week of graduate school, just a few (28, to be precise) years ago now (she started two years ahead of me at Berkeley, but finished four years ahead of me, a testament to her discipline and my interest in being a jazz hound more than a scholar). We both moved to Colorado Springs close to the same time -- myself to take a temporary position at Colorado College, where I filled in for a retired professor until the new permanent replacement came on board -- which just happened to be Anne. A few years later I chanced, by the vagaries of the job market, to arrive back in COS to take my position at the little state university on the bluffs overlooking the city, but continued to haunt the Colorado College library as my hideaway for research and writing.

Over the last few years, I sat up on the third floor of the CC library, hacking away at my much shorter and less ambitious books, in a state of constant nervous exhaustion and sartorial disarray, and anxious for 11:45 a.m. to arrive so I could sprint across campus to my NBA (Noon Ball Association) basketball game. Meanwhile, Anne sat a few tables away,  as gracious and evidently serene and composed as ever as she put the finishing touches on a book I assumed would be a very good one, but turns out to be that and more: a 500+ page work that masterfully juxtaposes and weaves together the social, economic, cultural, religious, and political histories of Anglo-American, Native American, Mexican, and other peoples in the trans-Mississippi West from 1800 to 1860. Last summer I sat camped at my 3rd floor library perch and spotted Anne coming to my table with her book, which I knew was just coming out then. She handed me a signed copy; I began reading and was immediately humbled by what an amazing work she had accomplished. I'm thrilled for my friend and colleague and recommend this work to all.

(Update: a special thank you to the folks at Tutt Library at Colorado College who work to provide such a comfortable and well-run place, even for interlopers like me to write).

With Darren Dochuk winning the Dunning Prize last year, which is sort of the American Historical Association equivalent of the Bancroft, it now seems that books appearing on this blog just before or right upon publication definitely move up the ladder in terms of winning prestigious history prizes. (Update: one book featured here a lot even before it was published has won the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize! More on that as soon as the announcement is public!). Just saying!

Love, Peace, Soul: Gospel-Inspired Jazz



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Paul Harvey

Here's a nice radio piece covering a couple of recent jazz CDs which merge jazz and gospel: Don Byron's Love, Peace, and Soul and the bass/piano duet of Charlie Haden and Hank Jones (shortly before the 91 year old Jones's death) on Come Sunday.

The piece about Byron comes with a nice intro from Charles Mingus's Better Git It in Your Soul, a kind of predecessor to the genre Byron is working in. I wasn't familiar with Byron's CD until this short review, anxious to hear the rest now.

By contrast, I've seen Hank Jones and Charlie Haden plenty of times, but never together. Jones grew up the son of a Baptist deacon, and Haden is a fascinating figure, part of a family singing country performing group growing up whose tunes were broadcast on a radio station in Shenandoah, Iowa. Somehow or other from there, he got hooked up with the saxophonist and jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, who was pushing the boundaries of jazz in the early 1960s. Since then he's been in every conceivable sort of group, and his daughters brought him back to some of his country roots in the recent CD Rambling Boy (an album of southern folk and country classics, starting with "Single Girl, Married Girl" and going on to "Wildwood Flower" and "20/20 Vision").

Most recently, just before Hank Jones's death, the two got together again (they first hooked up in a 1995 release) to record a set of gospel tunes, and the ease of both with the history of the music shines clearly. Anybody who's read any of my scholarship knows my long interest in the crossscurrents of white and black religious musical traditions, and here those currents meld beautifully into one.

Check out this "first listen," excerpted below:

It's music Jones heard and sang as a child in Pontiac, Mich., where he grew up. Haden sang this music, too — from the other side of the color line — as part of the Haden Family, which brought gospel to Iowa radio stations. As Georgetown University professor Maurice Jackson writes in his liner notes to both Steal Away and Come Sunday, blacks and whites sang the hymns included on these albums, but the spirituals came from the African and African-American experience and their meaning extends beyond religion. They're songs of struggle and the quest for freedom.
Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak understood the importance of this music. Haden and Jones play their interpretation of his "Going Home" on Come Sunday, and Jackson includes a prescient quote from the composer in the liner notes: "This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States. ... These are the folk songs of America, and your composers must turn to them."
Hearing Jones and Haden play this music with such simple grace and power, you know Dvorak was right. 
And while we're at it, let's go out on some Mingus. I was asking around in class the other day and not a single student there had ever heard of Mingus, much less could name a single tune by him. How many had heard of the annoyingly ubiquitous Adele? Take a wild guess, or just ask Ed Blum. 


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