2013: New Year, New Blog



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Paul Harvey

Happiest New Year to our blog readers.

Your friendly blogmeister is taking some time away from blogmeistering to move a bunch of clutter from a garage apartment where he's been blogmeistering for the past 8 months (but it only seemed like 8 years, really) to a not-yet-done-with-renovations house.

Our little blog will be back in the New Year. Starting in February, I hope, the blog will have a new design, and a new regular schedule of posters (we intended that to happen in 2012, but alas . . . ). We have a few new contributors on board, who will bring fresh perspectives and topics here as well.

Until then, and in continuation of our annual tradition, here is Bessie Jones's rendition of Yonder Comes Day, in celebration of Watch Night, the history of which you can read about here.

Messianism, Secrecy, and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life



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Paul Harvey

Here's a short review of a very interesting sounding new book that will interest some here. There's also a companion website to the book with photographs of material culture from Jewish life in the Atlantic world, study guides, and other images, here. More discussion of the book also may be found at the Sephardi Mizrahi Studies blog. Of the companion website, the author says: By sharing the images used to create this book, I hope to enable students, scholars, and family historians to trace the paths that early American Jews (and their objects) took, as well as to gain a richer sense of their everyday lives.  In the collection, you will find images from many of the key ports where Jews settled in North America and the Caribbean, as well as several crucial ports from which they immigrated (Amsterdam, London Hamburg). While the majority of these images relate to Sephardim, you will also find comparison images for non-Jewish artifacts to help people understand both what made Jewish life distinctive and how Jews adapted to meet local tastes and trends.”

Leibman, Laura Arnold.  Messianism, secrecy and mysticism: a new interpretation of early American Jewish life.  Vallentine Mitchell, 2012.  388p bibl index; ISBN9780853038337, $69.95. Reviewed in 2013jan CHOICE.
Leibman (Reed College) has written an extremely ambitious and significantly innovative study of Jewish colonial history. Through combining the study of what she describes as a "material biography" and Jewish religious beliefs centering on messianism, the author deciphers and retells the story of Jewish life in early America with energy and originality. Among the material objects that Leibman studies to illuminate this story are realia such as ritual baths, food (kosher and otherwise), clothing, gravestone markers, portraits, furniture, and religious books. As for the religious views of colonial Jews, she emphasizes that the "daily belief in the Messiah impacted the behavior of Jews in the Atlantic World." This belief entailed the classical hope for a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, the return of the Jews to the land of Israel and the end of the millennium-long exile, and the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, Leibman even argues that there were active messianic believers who secretly followed the 17th-century pseudo-Messiah Sabbatai Zevi. Although she brings forward a great deal of novel, intriguing evidence in support of these views, Leibman almost certainly exaggerates the aspects of messianism and secrecy in this early Jewish community. Nevertheless, this is an important, original study libraries will want to own. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries. -- S. T. Katz, Boston University

The Right of the Protestant Left



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Today's guest post comes from Trevor Burrows, a Ph.D. student at Purdue University. His primary interest is post-Civil War religious history, with an emphasis on ecumenical history, interreligious relationships, and questions of religious pluralism. His post reviews the new book by our frequent contributor Mark Edwards, The Right of the Protestant Left. Note: the asterisks in the review go to the "footnotes" for this blog entry, which may be found at the end.

by Trevor Burrows

Review of  The Right of the Protestant Left: God’s Totalitarianism. Mark T. Edwards. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 286 pp.)

 
Reading through Mark Edwards’ The Right of the Protestant Left: God’s Totalitarianism, it is hard not to recall David Hollinger’s recent reassessment of the narrative of liberal Protestant decline in the twentieth century.  Although Hollinger acknowledges the sharp downward trend of mainline church membership in the late-twentieth century, he encourages scholars to take a broader view of ecumenical aims and successes, and to recognize that a loss of visibility in American public life should not necessarily be interpreted as an unqualified failure.  In a July 2012 interview with The Christian Century, Hollinger described the mid-century ecumenical community as comprised of risk-takers who asked “their constituency to follow them in antiracist, anti-imperialist, feminist and multicultural directions that were understandably resisted by large segments of the white public, especially in the Protestant-intensive southern states.”*  For Hollinger, contemporary America’s general acceptance of cultural diversity as a social good ought to be understood, in part, as a legacy of mainline Protestantism’s “egalitarian impulses and [its] capacities for self-interrogation.”**  The Protestant Left’s struggle with diversity bequeathed to “post-Protestant” America a set of principles and goals that in turn shaped, and continues to shape, dominant notions of American pluralism, religious and otherwise.

Confessional Culture and American Culture



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(The following is a guest post from Ray Haberski, well-known friend of RIAH and author of God and War .  This post also appeared yesterday at US Intellectual History)

In the middle decades of the twentieth century, American Catholics flocked to confession. On many Saturday evenings, Catholic priests listened to dozens (and often hundreds) of their parishioners seek what is now known as the sacrament of reconciliation. During this same era, at least one Catholic magazine offered a glimpse into that confessional culture. The St. Anthony Messenger, a magazine published by Franciscan priests of the St. John the Baptist province in Cincinnati, Ohio, ran a section called "The Tertiary Den," which was edited by the prolific Fr. Fulgence Meyer. The Messenger had a long history, originating in the late nineteenth century and reaching a circulation peek in the 1950s around 300,000 subscribers. Frankly, I find the combination of relatively high circulation (in comparison, the Christian Science Monitor had about half as many subscribers) and the confessions reveled in Meyer's section to hold great promise as a slice of cultural history.

However, I need help contextualizing what I have found.

Merritt of the Mainline



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As we have been enjoying the interviews with Matthew Hedstrom's new book, as we joyfully anticipate Elesha Coffman's, and as many gear up for that one night of the year we head to church (which happens to often be the longest service of the year), I wanted to introduce the writer-speaker-blogger-reverend who is renewing my faith in church (dare I say reviving): Carol Howard Merritt <@carolhoward>. Ordained in the PC-USA, Merritt writes for Christian Century, the Huffington Post, and a host of other media outlets. She co-hosts God Complex Radio, which should be back on the air with the new year and is the author of several path-breaking books on church life. Her most recent, Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation, has me rethinking not only my approach to church life, but also to how I conduct my classes and form my "tribes" with my graduate students. In the foreword, Diana Butler Bass calls it an "elegant meditation" and a "practical sermon" from "a young mainline pastor in the postmodern world."

Merritt represents something old and something new. She emerged from and is connected to the tradition of the mainline, but advocates many of the de-centering, postcolonial elements considered hallmarks of the "emergent church." But she defies the emergent category for its tendency to replicate already established cultures of power (where white men lead whether preaching in suits or determining the shape of the discussion in jeans and t-shirts). Reverend Merritt has been making her own road, and it's one I think religious historians  now and in the future will want to notice.

Q: Can you tell us about your college and graduate school trajectory? Was there anything about religion in history that influenced you - personally or more globally?

I was a sixteen-year-old conservative Southern Baptist when I applied for college. I knew I wanted to be in some sort of religious occupation, but because of my background, I didn’t have any notion that I—as a woman—could be a pastor. In the mid-90s, went to Moody Bible Institute in order to become a missionary.

Apocalypse Always



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Emily Suzanne Clark

While spending the holidays with my family in San Antonio, a local news story has grabbed my attention. And this isn’t the first time; two years ago La Familia leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was found dead after a shootout with Mexican federal police officers, and I pondered the intersections of the drug cartel and religion. This time, I’ve found the anti-Christ.

A local high school student has a religious objection to her school district’s new student tracking device. Inside their student id cards, San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District is experimenting with RFID technology that will allow for closer attendance monitoring by letting school administrators to see where students are in real time. They argue that this will help keep students in class (as opposed to ditching) and could save lives in case of emergencies. The student and her father object to the tracking device, for it may be the Book of Revelation’s “mark of the beast.” The San Antonio Express-News reports that they see the new id card as “a sign of submission to the Antichrist.” According to the student's father, "The mark of the beast is what the Antichrist is going to use so he can track the people." On the line is the student’s opportunity to attend the special magnet program at the high school for science and engineering. This particular magnet program is competitive and selective and could certainly open college doors for the student. The school board decided that if she refuses to wear the id card, she cannot attend the high school that houses the magnet program, and thus she should attend other high school zoned for her family’s residence. A federal court is currently deciding if the school board’s decision violates her rights of religious freedom.

Image taken from Daniel Wojcik, "Embracing Doomsday"
Identifying persons at the anti-Christ or various technology as the mark of the beast is hardly new. But what strikes me about the story is who the anti-Christ is in this scenario. After her father testified in courta testimony that included a scripture readingthe local paper asked him who he thought was assuming the role of the anti-Christ. He replied, “In this case, Northside [school district] is the Anti-christ.” Usually it’s a government leader or a foreign power itself that is identified as the anti-ChristFDR, Obama, Gorbachev, Reagan, and various popes just to name a small handful. But a school district?

Now, this is only my guess, but I would surmise that the student and her father do not imagine that the superintendent and school board will be leaders in the great battle of Armageddon. Even if one believes that this type of technology is the mark of the beast, a school district seems a fairly innocuous entity when discussing wars and rumors of wars. But identifying the school district as the anti-Christ is a good discursive strategy. It’s not new to identify someone as the anti-Christ, somewhere as the New Jerusalem, something as the mark of the beast, some event as a sign of the times; rather these are trends we see over and over again in American religions. This act of identification does some theological legwork for the identifier and can invest something as simple as an id card with extraordinary significance. To call something the mark of the beast or to identify someone as the anti-Christ—them’s fightin’ words. Additionally, the father’s specification of “in this case” also strikes me. If the anti-Christ can be different persons in different situations, how do we know which one will be the one of the great battle of Armageddon? Perhaps for some Americans, this is why we are just always at the edge of the end of the world. For them, we live in a perpetual state of apocalypse always.

Liberals Rising, Part II: An Interview with Matthew Hedstrom



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Harry Emerson Fosdick
by Mark Edwards

Here's Part II of my interview with Matthew Hedstrom about his new book, The Rise of Liberal Religion.  In this installment, Matt reveals what Jesus would REALLY do.

Liberals Rising, Part I: An Interview with Matthew Hedstrom



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by Mark Edwards  


Matthew Hedstrom can now add to his impeccable taste in sushi and gyros a book that deserves every bit of praise it has already received, The Rise of Liberal Religion (Oxford, Nov. 2012).  It will no doubt become a standard-bearer in the cultural history of American spirituality.  I recently “sat down” with Matt to discuss how Santa breaks in to houses that don’t have chimneys, but he insisted on talking about his book and the state of the field instead.

The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England



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Editorial note: I'm happy to post this review today by Lincoln Mullen, a graduate student at Brandeis University, friend of the blog, and web editor at the Journal of Southern Religion

by Lincoln Mullen

Since it was published last year, Sarah Rivett's The Science of the Soul in Colonial New England (OIEAHC, 2011) has been garnering plenty of praise, including the American Society of Church History's Brewer prize. This demanding but gracefully written first book by Rivett, a professor of English at Princeton, has been reviewed by Bryce Traister at Common-place, by Douglas Sweeney, by Jason LaFountain in the New England Quarterly, and doubtless elsewhere, but readers of this blog might appreciate this brief notice of the book.

Rivett argues that in the seventeenth century, Puritan religion and Enlightenment science shared an empirical, experimental epistemology. Pastors and theologians, on the one hand, and scientists or natural philosophers, on the other, all faced the same problem: the Fall of humanity into sin and depravity had made the human intellect prone to error. Humans therefore could not be reliably certain of their observations of the world nor of their knowledge of their own souls. Both theology and science needed a method to achieve knowledge: "Inductive reasoning, recourse to discoveries, the compilation of data, and the testing of a scientific theory through experiment were among the new measurements applied to metaphysics and spiritual study. Each method was integral to the testimonies that constituted the basis of experimental philosophy in the Royal Society was well as to the Puritan testimonies practiced in New England" (5).

For You My Mijos/as (Sons/Daughters)



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h

Editorial Note: Originally posted at Arlene's blog Re-generacion, reposted here with permission. 

 For me, there is an inevitable place where my mind goes when forced to think about the evil that visited the innocent in Sandy Hook. I saw my first gun shot victim die on the streets of East Los Angeles when I was around 10 years old. It was a Friday, school let out and there was a scuffle on Cesar Chavez Ave, (formerly Brooklyn Ave), the fight bled out into the middle of the street and the familiar muffled sounds of pop-pop meant that the crowds would start rushing towards where he fell. I don’t know who he was, he was older, Latino, and blood ran down his chest–soaking his t-shirt. I stopped for awhile–as did most of the kids who walked home down this street everyday–stopping at the store for candy, chips, soda–my preference was the panaderia, where I bought way too much Mexican bread for my own good. This day though, I remember not wanting to go to the store, don’t think I played music on the way home as I usually did, (there were these things called radios, before I-Pods), I think I was captivated, in a coldly scientific way about the body I saw on the street felled by gunfire.

Gun Violence and the Search for God



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Edward J. Blum

Editor's note: a longer version of this reflection below has been posted here at the Huffington Post.

In Christopher Nolan's epic The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger (as the Joker) explains that the problem is "the plan" and those who try to have one. There is no plan, the Joker mocks Batman, and anyone who wants to create or enforce one will invariably find it unplanned by someone like the Joker. I've been thinking a lot about the notion of "God's plans" while reading on faith and experience during the Civil War. As George Rable has so nicely argued, it seemed that everyone then believed that God "had a plan." Providential views of the world dominated their thinking, white and black, Protestant, Catholic, and Jew, male and female.

And then violence happens ("the war came").. Thousands slaughtered. Today, young men rattle bullets into movie-theater crowds and at school children. Drones drop death from above. Angry male college students e-shout that they will "shoot in the face" minority activists for promoting the wearing of pants to church. As the media races off to present the latest stories, as gun control debates carry the moment, as the president quotes Psalms, and as the gun lobby hunkers down, we'll deal with that perennial religious question that pervades our lived experiences and our pop cultures: what's the plan, God?

El Cajon, CA
Throughout American history so many have tried to make sense of God's alleged presence amid terrible situations. Tecumseh wondered how whites could possibly think fellow Native Americans could believe in their God, when it appeared that they (the whites) killed him. During the age of lynching, some African Americans felt like they knew what it meant to be crucified, even as William Jennings Bryan used that language as political rhetoric. W. E. B. Du Bois and his family endured racial insults at the funeral of their young son, and he could only write, again, "I hate them, I hate them, O Christ." Today is neither the first, nor the last day which the relationships among violence, death, and the sacred will be with us.

On a personal note, although my experience of the loss of a child is radically different from what has happened in Connecticut, I can say that texts and emails that read "sigh" or "no words" were deeply meaningful and I remember them fondly today. When others, in their efforts to console us, said things like "God has a plan" or "your little one is now an angel" ... let me simply say that in order to remain in relationship with those individuals, I feel like I have to vomit those words out spiritually. Mourning can be done without words or sacred interpretations.

More Color of Christ, More Religion and the Election, and a Little Southern Religion before the JSR



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Art Remillard

Before Ed Blum appeared on some obscure NPR program, he really struck gold with a Journal of Southern Religion interview. We began the conversation with Ed's personal reasons for writing The Color of Christ, then moved on to the complicated story of Jesus’s skin color. Ed concluded by reflecting on writing for popular media outlets, such as the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and CNN. Once you're finished with this, download Mike Pasquier's podcast with Paul Harvey and Kelly Baker on teaching The Color of Christ.  In addition to considering ways to incorporate the book into courses on religion in America, they talk about the interactive website that accompanies The Color of Christ. You'll notice background noise in this interview, which was recorded in a sports bar in Chicago after a day of great sessions at the American Academy of Religion meeting. Listen closely and you might hear Michael Altman (yes, the Michael Altman) in the background.  He was seated next to us, no doubt "feeling the religion elephant" whilst pontificating about hashtags.

This was one of three podcasts recorded at the AAR.  For the first, I talked with Mark Silk about the 2012 presidential election.  I was particularly excited about this interview, since I am a regular reader of Mark's blog, "Spiritual Politics." Additionally, his JAAR article "Numa Pompilius and the Idea of Civil Religion in the West," convincingly demonstrates that the idea of civil religion has a significant pre-Bellah/Rousseau history. I would contend (pontificate?) that all future studies of civil religion should start here instead of with Bellah's "Civil Religion in America." I dare not dismiss the influence of the latter, an article that I have read many times, cite frequently, and assign in a number of classes. But Silk's article clarifies the definition of civil religion in a way that I have not seen done anywhere else in the literature. Anyway....

ASA Religion Caucus Announcement



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This message comes from Rebecca Barrett-Fox

(if you are interested in swinging by southern California for our regional conference, you can hang with me, Adam Golub, Elaine Lewinnek, Sarah Azaransky, and lots of other great folks).


The 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Studies Association (November 21-24 in Washington, DC) is themed "Beyond the Logic of Debt, Toward an Ethics of Collective Dissent." This topic promises to be of special interest to those who study American religion, and so the Religion and American Culture Caucus of the ASA is organizing panels for submission to the ASA programming committee.  Potential topics include religious banking programs; charity; financial planning and religion; religion and austerity; the gospel of wealth, race, religion, and money; religiously motivated giving; international debt and missionary influence; debt forgiveness and religion; metaphors of debt and wealth in religion; intentional poverty and religion; religious solidarity with the poor; labor and religion; the body, money, and religion; religious education and money; structural opportunity and religion; and more.  Historical and contemporary topics are welcome, as is methodological innovation and diversity. Scholars of traditionally underrepresented groups, including but not limited to indigenous religions, Islam, and non-Western religions, are encouraged to apply. 

The Evolution of Robert Bellah



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David W. Stowe

As soon as he uttered his first sentence I knew Robert Bellah was about to give my kind of talk. “I sometimes refer to it as my thirty year Babylonian captivity to American Studies,” he said, responding to an introduction that had just reminded the audience that prior to his seminal 1967 article Civil Religion in America, prior to The Broken Covenant and Habits of the Heart, Bellah was trained as a Japanologist and was interested in the evolution of religion, on which he published an article in 1964.

Bellah was at Yale’s MacMillan Center to talk about his newish book, Religion and Human Evolution, which he started writing after his retirement from Berkeley and finished, thirteen years later. It is obviously a large and ambitious book which I won’t try to summarize here, other than to say that about half of it concerns the Axial Age, that period in the middle of the first millennium BCE when Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama, Lao-tze, Athens' dramatists and philosophers, and the major Hebrew prophets were doing their amazing respective things.  

The Atlantic published a good Q & A with Bellah on the book, and Harvard just released a thick edited collection of responses to Bellah's work, The Axial Age and Its Consequences.

First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty



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Paul Harvey


I received this notice of an upcoming show of interest on PBS, to air next Tuesday, December 18: First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty. I'll post the info. below for those interested.

NEW PBS DOCUMENTARY “FIRST FREEDOM”EXPLORES FAITH OF U.S. FOUNDING FATHERS& THE PATH TO RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN AMERICA

Film Airs December 18 —

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty” is a 90-minute documentary that examines how the most basic of human freedoms — freedom of conscience — was codified for the first time in human history by America’s Founding Fathers as an inalienable human right protected by law, instigating a landmark and lasting shift in human history.  

“FIRST FREEDOM: The Fight for Religious Liberty” airs on PBS stations nationwide on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings).  This film uses stunning re-enactments, the Founding Fathers’ own words, and the incisive commentary of key experts to profile the lives and times of the colonial Americans who raised the ideal of religious freedom to the level of a fundamental human right.  The broadcast is accompanied by a companion book and website, as well as comprehensive educational resources.

Making a (Religious Book) List, Checking it Twice...



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Image of Matthew Hedstrom
(crossed arms look like 1/2 my family
at our recent holiday dinner)
As various organizations and individuals have been presenting their "best books"of 2012, such as the New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, Christian Century, John Fea, and Thomas Kidd, I got to thinking about a book that was too late for consideration but should definitely be in the running for next year: Matthew S. Hedstrom's The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century. I read it on the plane back from the American Studies Association meeting in San Juan, and I had a delightful time wading into the "middlebrow" world of religious print.

Hedstrom's book has so much to offer historians and religious studies scholars.

  • Those interested in the complicated and shifting category of "religion" and "religious" will find when trade book publishers created separate "religion" categories.
  • Those interested in the mainline and religious liberalism will get another taste of how they may have lost the pew wars, but won the culture wars
  • Those who want to know more about the National Council of Christians and Jews (a group I had never even heard of five years ago, but that seem to be taking the scholarly world by storm) can find them here
  • Those who want to see another side of "spiritual but not religious" and ways mystical and psychological values inundated American religiosity will find some positive thinking here
  • For those who want to experiment (not in reality, but in imagination) with LSD, you can find it about midway through the book.
  • James K. Hosmer Special Collections
  • And for those who want to know more about books during wartime, there is a great analysis of "Books as Weapons" during WWII
One amazing reviewer at amazon had this to say: "I'm thrilled that I followed the "reading guidelines" of some of these liberal Protestants: I bought the book; I read it pen in hand; and it definitely changed how I think about America's historical character."

What I most enjoyed about Hedstrom's book is that he studied what we often take for granted: the process of book publishing. He exposes, for instance, the men (and they are almost all men) behind the fashioning of what books are published, marketed, and put on lists. There are stories and meanings within those lists - just as the end-of-the-year ones now rolling throughout the blogosphere.

Junto: New Group Blog on Early American History



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Paul Harvey

Welcome to the world, Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History. With a stellar lineup of younger scholars, this promises to be a prime gathering point for that field. Here's part of the introductory message:


The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American HistoryStaffed by a host of young(ish) academics studying a broad range of topics—our brief bios are found at the end of the post, and more details are found on each individual author’s page—we aim to provide frequent content related to the academic study of America prior(ish) to the Civil War. But more than just serving as a sounding board for our authors and a clearinghouse for various news, events, and calls for papers, we hope that The Junto will become a vibrant community for the field of early American studies.
We consciously define the adjectives “early” and “American” very broadly. Most of us either are or will soon be teaching the first half of the American history survey, which typically runs from colonization through 1860, and we will thus structure our very loose parameters around that time frame. We hope to incorporate numerous methodologies, subfields, disciplines, and topics so as to have as broad a reach as possible. 

Bookmark/favorite/follow the blog now! 

On "Lincoln" and Our Civil Religion



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Paul Harvey


If you were wondering about my take on the film Lincoln, here it is. The piece links, as well, to many of the most interesting discussions of the film going on elsewhere about a film which has already generated a great deal of discussion and debate among film critics and historians.

A little excerpt which I hope expresses both my appreciation and enjoyment of the film (including some wonderful acting), and my frustration about why we don't get a different sort of film about the Civil War and emancipation:

The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins



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Paul Harvey

The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation“To hell with Christian principles – we’ve got to save the church,” one church elder in Birmingham responded when challenged at a church meeting on how to deal with African American students seeking to worship at his church in the early 1960s. “Leave the bible out of this. Read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, and you’ll see what’s happening here,” a church elder in Tuskegee, Alabama insisted at the same time. 

The religious resistance to the civil rights movement was real, and the hypocrisy of so many white southern churches during the civil rights era is the subject of many works. The quotations above, however, come from a truly outstanding work on this subject, just out with Oxford. Congratulations to Stephen Haynes of Rhodes College for The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation.

Twilight, Fandom, and the Fanpire



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Kelly Baker

Over at the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog, I review Tanya Erzen's Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It. Her previous book, Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement, is one of my favored books to teach because it such a compelling and sensitive ethnography of the fraught relationship between religion and sexuality. This means I was delighted to see Tanya turn her attention to the fans of the Twilight series with both empathy and sharp gender analysis.

Here's a glimpse of my review:
The appeal and fandom of the Twilight universe is the subject of Tanya Erzen’s new ethnography, Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It. The Twilight books, after all, outmatched the Harry Potter novels in the amount of time they remained on the New York Times bestseller list (xiii). More importantly, Erzen provides glimpses of the female, and occasionally male, fans of the series, in an empathetic and thoughtful way. Unlike the media coverage of “Twihards” that documented this fandom as hysterical and problematic, Erzen offers a much-needed gender critique of both media coverage and the larger “Fanpire.” She aptly summarizes each book between her chapters to show the consequences of their anti-feminist storyline in constructions of femininity, romantic love, and normative heterosexuality. Twilight functions as both “a supernatural heterosexual model of eternal passion and monogamy” (xvi) and a postfeminist fantasy that uplifts any choice as empowerment.

Rather than dismiss the books as sheer escapism, Erzen documents fan pleasure (and displeasure) with Meyer’s universe. Moreover, Erzen simultaneously documents the commodification and consumerism attached to Twilight, the glorification of heterosexuality and marriage, and the unpleasant representations of women as damsels (constantly) in distress. 

Read more here

U.S. Thought and Culture Between Practice and Paralysis: University of Michigan U.S. Literatures and Cultures Consortium



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Call for Papers:
University of Michigan US Literatures and Cultures Consortium.

Deadline for Proposals - January 8th 2013 (Notifications of acceptance by February 1st).

Keynotes: 
Paul Taylor (Philosophy / African American and Diaspora Studies, Penn State): author of Race: A Philosophical Introduction
Lisi Schoenbach (English, University of Tennessee Knoxville): author of Pragmatic Modernism

Are there distinctively American attitudes toward objectivity and truth, judgment and action?  Two of the most enduring cliches about US culture are, first, that its thought characteristically refuses universal grounds, and second, that it privileges material practicality over theoretical or metaphysical abstraction.  Yet without universal grounds, how can we be convinced that anything is worth doing?  Let’s grant that it is; such a groundless granting may initially let us act with a sense of freedom and unlimited potential, but justifying or revising that action requires us to establish provisional grounds that can themselves be hedged, negotiated, interrogated to the paralyzing point of infinity.  Which side of this tension to prioritize—whether to elide contingencies and reduce deliberative friction or to recuperate the experience of hesitancy and dwell in possibility—is a governing question for distinctively American thinkers from Jonathan Edwards to Audre Lorde, Emily Dickinson to Sidney Hook, Jane Addams to Timothy Leary.

With this interdisciplinary graduate conference, we, the US Literatures and Cultures Consortium at the University of Michigan, hope to foster cross-departmental discussion of questions like the following...

Seminar on Religion and U.S. Empire: Call for Participants



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Call for Participants: Seminar on Religion and US Empire (2013-2015)

We invite applications to participate in a three-year series of research seminars on the history of religion and US empire from the formal inception of the US as a nation-state to the present.  The central aim of this project is to establish a major scholarly assessment of the linkage between religion and American empire.  We plan to address the relative inattention of scholars of religion to the powerful impact that the establishment of empire has made on religion in the US.  Conversely, we will emphasize the role of religion in shaping the history of the US as an imperial state, an area of inquiry that demands further attention.  This seminar series will also develop innovative theoretical approaches to interpreting the larger phenomenon of empire by considering the US state as a paradigm for modern empires.

To achieve this, we are organizing a series of meetings over a three-year period by an interdisciplinary team of twelve researchers to analyze historical data about religion and empire; exchange information, insights, and critiques; develop appropriate theoretical models; provide mutual feedback on resulting manuscripts; and contribute to a co-edited volume on religion and US empire.  We believe the seminar and its products will redirect several ongoing scholarly conversations, support teaching on the topic, and inspire further research on this pressing issue.

"Evidence" In American Religions



2 comments

Kelly Baker

I am excited to announce a special issue that I organized for Bulletin for the Study of Religion is now available. The issue began as a panel for North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) on "evidence" in American religions, including Laura Levitt, Jennifer Scheper Hughes, Lauren Winner, Thomas Tweed (as moderator), and me. Each paper wrestled with both the category of "evidence" and differing approaches to the evidence of religion in the Americans. The articles listed below push the boundaries of what counts as evidence and how scholars relate to our objects of study. Emily Bailey's discussion of religion and recipes is a new addition to the original panel, but fits nicely with the larger theme. Sean McCloud and Jason Bivins offer responses to the theoretical and methodological concerns and challenges of these articles. 

I look forward to the conversations this issue encourages, and I am very grateful that the Bulletin's editors, Phil Tite and Craig Martin, provided us a venue to explore these important methodological questions.

Bulletin for the Study of Religion
Current Issue Vol. 41 No. 4 (2012) 

Editorial


Articles






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