[Lucinda Williams, "Blessed"}
Our blog is almost at its 6th birthday! Ok, June 21 technically, but close enough. With so much coming up on the blog this month -- more on that below -- today happened to be a good day to celebrate.
We're blessed to have entered a new era on the blog this year, with a new redesign and a roster of regular contributors who have given generously of their time and energy to post each day. And you all are blessed that our regular contributors cover so many of the days of the month that I post very infrequently now, and am getting close to my ideal of phasing myself out entirely (I mean, Manu Ginobili knows it's time to stop flopping and call it quits, and that seems a good model to follow after I watch our contributors lead us to the championship).
Further, we are blessed to have as one of our newest contributors Kate Bowler of Duke Divinity School, whose book Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel has just been released by Oxford! Those of you who have met the author, or followed her contributions here, will recognize the qualities of razor-sharp prose and wit that she either imported from The Great White North or learned from her academic advisor, the legendary raconteur Grant Wacker (or both). Those qualities are plenty in evidence here as she explains how "the prosperity gospel articulated a language of aspiration that spoke of materialism and transcendence in a single breath." What is notable here, also, is how the prose and the analysis never descends to condescension, in describing a movement where parody tends to be the easiest go-to option.
We''ll have more to say about this down the road once we have a chance to read it all the way through, so for the moment here's a bit more about the work.
Kate Bowler's Blessed is the first book to fully explore the origins, unifying themes, and major figures of a burgeoning movement that now claims millions of followers in America. Bowler traces the roots of the prosperity gospel: from the touring mesmerists, metaphysical sages, pentecostal healers, business oracles, and princely prophets of the early 20th century; through mid-century positive thinkers like Norman Vincent Peale and revivalists like Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin; to today's hugely successful prosperity preachers. Bowler focuses on such contemporary figures as Creflo Dollar, pastor of Atlanta's 30,000-member World Changers Church International; Joel Osteen, known as "the smiling preacher," with a weekly audience of seven million; T. D. Jakes, named by Time magazine one of America's most influential new religious leaders; Joyce Meyer, evangelist and women's empowerment guru; and many others. At almost any moment, day or night, the American public can tune in to these preachers-on TV, radio, podcasts, and in their megachurches-to hear the message that God desires to bless them with wealth and health. Bowler offers an interpretive framework for scholars and general readers alike to understand the diverse expressions of Christian abundance as a cohesive movement bound by shared understandings and common goals.
And finally, a little preview of coming attractions: starting next week on June 12th, we'll be running a six-day series on John Modern's Secularism in Antebellum America, featuring five responses to the book at last year's "author meets critics" session in the North American Religions section of the AAR. The responses will be from Chad Seales, Finbarr Curtis, Chip Callahan, Paul Johnson, and Katie Lofton, and then we'll wrap it up with reflections on the responses by John Lardas Modern. And yes, that is pretty much the all-star team of Religious Studies, so get ready to rumble with some pretty hefty essay blog posts coming up.
Then just a bit later on this month and through the summer, we'll have a lot of reviews of new and newish books, including Christopher Jones's look at James Byrd's new book Sacred Scripture, Sacred War, and Jonathan den Hartog on some new books in earlier American religious history, and much else besides.
Finally, we are blessed to have you all out there, reading, commenting, and sending along your feedback. Long may you prosper.