African-American Esoteric Religion



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John L. Crow

In a used bookstore, this weekend, I found a copy of The Re-Ascension of the Black Man’s Mind: Coming Forth by RA (1998) by Dr. Dana Dennard (a.k.a. Baba Kheper Ka Ra KaMau). Dr. Dennard, a licensed clinical psychologist in Tallahassee, Florida, and was a professor of psychology at Florida A & M University (FAMU) from 1990-1996 and currently adjuncts in the psychology department at FAMU. Dr. Dennard and his wife, Sharon Ames-Dennar, co-founded the Aakhet Center for Human Development, where they facilitate numerous rites of passage programs for African American men. Within his book, Dr. Dennard speaks of his mystical experiences encountering the Egyptian God, Ra, and his awakening to original African spirituality located in the ancient Egyptian texts. He speaks of first finding it in Budge’s The Egyptian Book of the Dead, a.k.a. the Book of Coming Forth By Day and Night and then others. Coupled with this spiritual reawakening, Dr. Dennard speaks of how “the white people” have not only taken “the black man” from his land and family, but also his original spirituality, and that the path of spiritual awakening for the Black Man “is not a return to ‘church’ or these religions that white culture has contaminated,” but instead a new world order and age that will be a “different order than the plan currently being orchestrated by the satanic faction of the Masonic Order of secret white societies.” In addition to these points, he discusses out-of-body travel, makes claims about the original Egyptian or Kemetic religion, discusses genetics, and ultimately denounces Christianity and Islam. All the while promoting the spiritual and liberating properties of the Light of RA.

When reading Dr. Dennard’s book, I was struck with just how much he has in common with many of the 19th and 20th century esoteric groups and individuals I study. While it is true they frequently come to different conclusions about race, it is hard to miss the central focus on Egypt as a source of ancient wisdom (gnosis), the adoption of Egyptian language and symbolism, the focus on race and genetics as an indication of human advancement, discussions of astral and out-of-body traveling, Freemasonry (pro or con), conspiracy theories, and in later esoteric traditions, assertions of UFO and alien-human interaction. The unfortunate part, however, is that few scholars of religion are focusing on these traditions, although I will discuss a few who are below. Moreover, when scholars of religion do investigate some of the older forms of these traditions, such as Moorish Science, unfortunately they are unaware of the more recent research into occultism and esotericism which would help them better understand the traditions. For instance the Moorish Temple’s Circle Seven Koran is composed of excerpts from The Aquarian Age Gospel of Jesus, the Christ of the Piscean Age (1908), a text deriving from Theosophy and Guy Ballard’s I AM, and Sri Ramatherio’s (a pseudonym for Spencer Lewis), Unto Thee I Grant (1925), a Rosicrucian text written by the founder of AMORC (The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis). Probably the best scholar to investigate this subject is Susan Nance. While her efforts are admirable, it is clear that her research into these esoteric side of these traditions was limited. Exploring the depth of these connections and influences is all the more important when so many subsequent African American religious movements have been based on the Moorish Temple.

Teaching Religion in the History of U.S. Sexuality



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By Monica L. Mercado

Teaching in the archives. Photograph by Dan Dry,
courtesy of the University of Chicago Magazine.
While those of you on semesters are nearly wading into midterms, tomorrow is the first day of classes on the quarter system here at the University of Chicago. I'll be teaching one class this term for the University's Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, "Sex and Sexualities in Modern U.S. History." Ten weeks is not a lot of time for a discussion-based survey course, which is why I decided to focus primarily on the twentieth century. We have a lot to cover, but when designing the syllabus, I knew I wanted to make sure that my students gain a more nuanced understanding of how American religious discourses have influenced popular beliefs and cultural practices toward sex, and driven some of the official or governing discourses around sexuality. [If you're curious, you can read my entire syllabus online, here.]

So where are the sources?

Doctors, Drugs and Devils: Pentecostalism's Anti-Medicine History



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Arlene Sanchez-Walsh 

There is no doubt that if you hang around with Pentecostals as long as I have, you are bound to find, what would be characterized as "outliers," people whose particular brand of the faith skews the curve from normal to extreme. I have met Pentecostals who choose to forego medical treatment for chronic and serious illnesses and rely exclusively on divine healing. There have not been many who would admit to doing this, usually I found out surreptitiously after interviewing people and then those people would lead me to them--one sick with heart disease and high blood pressure who went off their meds as a test of faith, the other, a high-profile church leader who ceased chemo treatments as a test of their faith that God had already healed them, all they had to do was claim their healing. Both died.

Pentecostalism's anti-medicine past is known to some, for those of us who study the subculture, the suspicion surrounding medicine was evident in its earliest years with one of Pentecostalism's truly interesting figures--John Alexander Dowie. Healer and founder of the attempted theocracy, Zion City, Illinois, Dowie railed against the medical establishment and any clergy who collaborated with it. 


Pluralism as Product: Ruminations on Religion and Foreign Policy



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Cara L. Burnidge

Since I don't always have time to peruse the headlines every morning, I've set up a few Google Alerts to keep me informed of new articles, blogs, press releases, and videos related to my interests. My Friday mornings have become a luxury not only because I have much of the day devoted to writing, but because I can review the headlines relevant to my research. For instance, this morning, not only did I learn that Shaun Casey, director of the new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives at the U.S. State Department, will be speaking at Emory next week [colleagues in Atlanta, consider me jealous], but also that the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, held a rountable discussion on the role of female religious leaders in promoting religious freedom. The headlines, and this developing (and much more public) effort by the State Department to court religious figures and groups left me pondering the state of this field of research and its relationship to American Religious History.

The fact that religion has become a significant policy and diplomatic concern for the State Department and U.S. military, I think, places the field of American Religious History/Studies at an interesting historiographical moment. And here's my wild assertion for the day: a field that has largely put Sidney Ahlstrom in its past is being confronted by his work in the present.

Reframing Hope, Part 2



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History Matters

Steven P. Miller
Carol Howard Merritt (not Steven P. Miller :)

At the risk of being self-centered, here are a few autobiographical disclaimers: I read this book as a student of recent American evangelical history, not as someone much invested in postmodern missionality.  By way of laying my non-scholarly cards on the table, I am a Mennonite by upbringing and affiliation but readily confess to having the kind of tepid spirituality stereotypically associated with mainline Protestantism.  Since I came to the book with very little background knowledge about Carol Howard Merritt, I incorrectly assumed that her remarkable book was an effort to save American evangelicalism from itself.  It is not; but the evangelical moment in recent American history does give Reframing Hope life.  Below are a few thoughts on the book’s relationship to that history.

Reframing Hope



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Edward J. Blum

Today begins a three part miniseries on Carol Howard Merritt's Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. I have encouraged attention to Howard Merritt's work for a number of reasons. First, she doesn't quite fit the assumptions we have about contemporary church life. She grew up Fundamentalist but then went mainline; she's mainline, but refuses to call it that and for good reason; she is post-colonial, but not emergent. Second, Howard Merritt is somewhat the Paul Harvey of the ministerial blog-o-sphere. Her blog at Christian Century is a must read for certain pastors. Third, and finally, she's my friend whose work has transformed my own thinking about the church today.

I asked three of RIAH's finest minds on contemporary Christianity to reflect on Reframing Hope. I asked the scholars to analyze the work as they would other sources in that come before them. This morning is Seth Dowland; later today will be Steven Miller, and then in on October 4 Brantley Gassaway.

Seth Dowland

Carol Howard Merritt's Reframing Hope presents a lucid and encouraging view of how ministry is changing in urban mainline churches. She suggests that the demographic trends of the last decade have revitallized ministry in many churches that hit nadirs in the 1980s and 1990s. These ministries have taken a different shape, of course: they rely heavily on the Internet and focus on issues like sustainability and social justice. Her book calls on older Christians to come alongside these new types of ministries, and on younger Christians to learn from their past. 

Indeed, Reframing Hope offers something of a conundrum for an American religious historian. It begins with music to my ears: "When Christians ignore their histories, they cannot understand their present circumstances" (6). I could hardly have said it better myself! (But The Onion can) Yet after that opening, we get a book that is focused far more on present circumstances than on histories. Howard-Merritt alludes throughout the book to her upbringing in 1970s- and 80s-era evangelicalism. She draws on broad social analysis of Generation X and millennials, as well as on the demographic changes (especially suburbanization) that fueled the rise of megachurches. But most of the book focuses on personal stories and present conditions. Groups like the new monastics and emergent church -- who have gone to great lengths to unearth ancient Christian practices -- show up but never merit sustained attention. 

The Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Recent Native American Religions Scholarship



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 Emily Suzanne Clark

Earlier this month I went to Colorado Springs for a cousin’s wedding. It was a wonderful getaway from muggy Florida, complete with catching up with family, seeing Pike’s Peak, and having breakfast with blogmeister Paul Harvey. One of the places I visited was the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. These are 800–1000 year old dwellings from the Four Corners region that were moved to Manitou Springs from 1904 to 1907. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings Ruins Company was responsible for the relocation, reassemble, and reinforcement of the dwellings. For the last 100+ years, visitors to the cliff dwellings and museum are able to walk through the dwellings and climb through the doorways.

Most of the adjacent museum is dedicated to the history of Native Americans of the Four Corners region and it includes some wonderful pottery displays. Additionally, the history of this particular site is presented in a small portion of the museum connected to the gift shop. When the Manitou Cliff Dwellings opened to the public in 1907, a three story pueblo was built nearby to house a family of Native American dancers who performed at the site for the next several generations (see the Cliff Dwellings website). Additionally Vida Ellison, co-owner of the dwellings from 1910–1947, occasionally dressed in Native clothing to portray Cliff Dweller life for visitors. The fascination of non-Natives and this want to preserve and share Native cultures with a wider audience—though for an admission fee—reflects the complicated history of interactions between Native Americans and whites.

The photographs inside the museum, now partly housed in the pueblo building, are wonderful snapshots of the site. These date back to the site’s opening in 1907 and include photographs of the on-site dancers, of visitors, and even Winnebago advertisements from the 1970s taken in front of the cliff dwellings. Displays honoring the site’s deceased dancers sit alongside displays paying tribute to the site’s owners. Souvenirs from throughout the years, including a baseball-style felt pennant, fill plexiglass cases.

Job Announcement: Assistant Professor, History of Christianity



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Michael Pasquier

I'm taking the easy way out of blogging today by posting a job announcement at LSU.

The Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Louisiana State University invites applications for a tenure-track position in the History of Christianity that begins Fall 2014 at the rank of assistant professor. The successful candidate will be expected to maintain an active record of publication and teach two courses per semester (four courses per year). These will include a survey of Christianity as a living world religion, advanced courses in the history of Christianity, and a general education course, such as a survey of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  A Ph.D. or equivalent degree with a specialization in the History of Christianity is required for appointment to assistant professor.  An offer of employment is contingent on a satisfactory pre-employment background check. Review of applications will begin October 15, 2013, and continue until the position is filled. Applications must be submitted online and should include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, writing sample, and evidence of teaching effectiveness.  In addition, please have three letters of recommendation and transcripts of graduate work sent to Michael Pasquier, Chair of Search Committee, Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies, LSU, Baton Rouge, LA 70803.  

Further information about the department can be found at http://uiswcmsweb.prod.lsu.edu/hss/prs/.  Queries about the position may be directed to Michael Pasquier at mpasquier@lsu.eduTo apply and view a more detailed ad, go to: www.lsusystemcareers.lsu.edu. Position #6167. Quick link at ad URL: https://lsusystemcareers.lsu.edu/applicants/Central?quickFind=56571. LSU IS AN EQUAL OPPORTUNITY EMPLOYER.

Pagan, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: Mortimer J. Adler's Varieties of Religious Experience



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The following is a guest post from Tim Lacy of Loyola University. Lacy is co-founder of the Society for US Intellectual History (S-USIH), including the award-winning USIH Blog.  Lacy is also the author of the wonderful new work, The Dream of a Democratic Culture: Mortimer J. Adler and the Great Books Idea (Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History), which will be released in November.



Tim Lacy

Most famous for being "the great bookie"---for being a high-profile advocate for the great books idea---Mortimer J. Adler was also a philosopher, educator, and all-around public intellectual. He of course cultivated audiences with people interested in those topics, but his work was often well-received by religious communities, especially Christians. That positive reception came despite the fact that Adler did not share their faith commitments for most of his public life. Indeed, Adler's personal relationship with faith, religion, and spiritual matters was quite complicated.

 

Born of Jewish parents, in Adler's pre-college years he was an ethnic-cultural Jew. In college and after he became an agnostic/pagan Thomistic philosopher. Even so, he attended church services with his first wife, Helen, an Episcopalian, after their marriage in the mid-1920s. They divorced in the early 1960s but Adler continued attending services with his second wife, Caroline, who was also Episcopalian. In his early eighties Adler made a full conversion to Christianity in 1984. Shortly thereafter, around 1990 and after, he became notorious as an aged, curmudgeonly promoter of a conservative vision of the great books idea. After Caroline passed in the mid 1990s, Adler made a final conversion to Catholicism before his own death in 2001.

 

These affiliations and events precipitated this post's title. I realize Episcopalianism and Protestantism are not *exactly* the same (despite Henry VIII's various, vigorous protestations), but I liked the symmetry with Will Herberg's mid-century classic. I'll try to bring Herberg back into the conversation at the end.

 

As one unpacks Adler's final (and other) conversions many questions arise: How did this happen? Why not Catholicism in the 1940s, when he was well-known for his Thomistic philosophical work? Why Catholicism in 1999? And why should we care—or what does it all mean?

 

History has already forwarded answers the first two questions. Adler's autobiographies provide some answers. The answer to third question may remain forever unknown. On the fourth, I hope to grope toward answers in this post. I've written on Adler's relationship with the great books idea, but here I hope to obtain challenges and productive conversation about the assumptions, context, and hypothesis I forward. Indeed, this post is intended to catalyze an article I will be writing in the early winter on Adler's relationship with Catholicism.

A Culture of Conspiracy: An Interview with Michael Barkun



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I had the pleasure of interviewing my colleague Michael Barkun, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Syracuse University, about the new edition of A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, first published by the University of California Press in 2003, and reissued this past summer. A scholar of millenarian and right-wing movements, Barkun is also the author of Crucible of the Millennium (Syracuse University Press, 1986), Religion and the Racist Right (University of North Carolina Press, 1997), and Chasing Phantoms: Reality, Imagination, and Homeland Security since 9/11 (University of North Carolina Press, 2011). For other discussions of Barkun's scholarship on the blog, see here and here.


The first edition of A Culture of Conspiracy ended with the impact of September 11, 2001 on conspiracy theorists. How has the subculture of conspiracy evolved since then?

I finished the manuscript in fall 2001, and it was almost completed when the 9/11 attacks occurred. I couldn’t send it off without saying something about the events of September 11. At the time, all I could do was look at what professional conspiracy theorists had to say. They had an immediate response, and their short version was: I told you so.

      After ten years, I looked back and saw a number of important developments. First, the development of a 9/11 conspiracy culture, which drew in people who had not been conspiracy theorists before the 9/11 attacks. Second, the election of Barack Obama created a new form of conspiracism around him. The most conspicuous element were the birthers, who believed he was hiding his true origins. Third, the decade witnessed a rise in militia activities as well as attacks by lone wolves motivated by the belief that a social catastrophe was coming. I was supposed to be an expert witness on conspiracy theories for the trial of one militia group in Michigan, though my testimony was not allowed.  This heavily-armed organization, the Hutaree militia, allegedly planned to kill one or more law enforcement officers and then launch an attack at the funeral, which would involve police from all over the country. The legal charge was sedition. There were other examples of militia activities in Georgia, where a group planned to use ricin, and in Florida. Fourth, the Mayan prophecy of 2012 was an example of the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories described in the first edition of the book. So much had happened that I proposed new chapters to the press, and they responded with enthusiasm.

Religion in Film: The Sequel



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David W. Stowe

Last month I used this space to solicit recommendations on movies that might find a place in a new course I'm creating on religion in film. I got many excellent suggestions which I will share for those of you who may be considering such a course, would like to have a fairly comprehensive list of films with religious themes that could be assigned for other classes, or just want to flesh out your Netflix queue with horizon-expanding cinematic fare.

First, a couple of useful books: The Hidden God: Film and Faith (2003) edited by Mary Lea Bandy and Antonio Monday. Short essays (many of which can be read via this link) by 35 notable writers and scholars on over 50 films from around the world, "some more or less explicitly religious in theme, others from a gamut of genres not always connected with questions of faith: the western, the thriller, the policier, the costume drama, science fiction, horror, comedy."

The Religion and Film Reader (2007), edited by Jolyon Mitchell and S. Brent Plate, includes a long section on global film, with a substantial portion devoted to films from Africa and the Middle East, Asia and Australia, Europe, and North and South American. Also useful sections on the Dawn of Cinema, the Birth of Film Theory, Theological and Biblical Approaches to Analyzing Film, Biblical Connections, and Reflections on the Relation Between Religion and Film.

Now, in no particular order, the films that came recommended, or that I've used in other courses, in a few cases with comments from people who shared them. I realize that more categorizing would be helpful but this is what I've got.
Ghost Dog
Dark City 
Whale Rider 
Truman Show
Groundhog Day
The Wrestler
Batman Begins
Powder 
Andre Rublev by Tarkovsky

The Monastery: Mr. Vyg and the Nun
Ostrov
Babette's Feast
Pi by Aronofsky (set in the US but not Christian)
Breaking the Waves
These just in (9/21): Higher Ground and Arranged

Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era: An Interview with the Editors



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Paul Putz

On March 23, 2010, Paul Harvey posted a call for papers on this very blog for a conference at Rice University on "Millennialism and Providentialism in the Era of the American Civil War." The papers presented at the conference that October formed the basis for an anthology titled Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Eraset to be published this November by LSU Press.

I'd imagine that this collection will be of great interest to many RiAH readers. The roster of contributors is fantastic (names below), and not just because it includes the ubiquitous Ed Blum. There are a wide range of subjects through which the themes of apocalypse and millennium are analyzed, ranging from African American Baptists to Spiritualists to James Fenimore Cooper's The Crater to the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War.  As Mark Noll writes in the foreword, the essays are especially helpful in illustrating "the wide scope of providential belief and the great diversity in applying that belief," during the Civil War Era. According to Noll, this is a work that both benefits from the recent surge in religious studies of the Civil War and also "propels that advance with its own substantial contribution." 

In case Noll's endorsement and the mere presence of Blum do not convince you to check out the volume, I asked the editors (Ben Wright and Zach Dresser) to briefly discuss the book. Both Wright and Dresser were doctoral students at Rice when they organized the project. Dresser received his PhD earlier this year, and is now a visiting assistant professor at Virginia Tech. Wright is wrapping up his dissertation this fall, but not before he ensures that his CV makes all other graduate student CVs wholly inadequate in comparison. More on that below.

Might Elmer Gantry Tell the Truth?



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Elesha Coffman

In preparation for my paper on Billy Graham and media at the upcoming Wheaton conference, I have been reading Sinclair Lewis's satirical 1927 novel Elmer Gantry. And before you ask, no, I'm not about to do a hatchet job on Graham at his alma mater. Gantry, the quintessential phony preacher, comes up in my paper because Graham dropped his name in several of his press conferences. To find out why this was significant, you'll either have to join us in Wheaton or read the collected essays when they're published.

Anyway, I've been enjoying the novel quite a bit, though not in the way Lewis presumably intended. The book follows Elmer, a Kansas bumpkin, through Terwillinger College, Mizpah Seminary, and a short, disastrous pastorate before hooking him up with Sharon Falconer, a caricature of Aimee Semple McPherson. Throughout, the sound of Lewis grinding his ax against Christianity is nearly deafening--much what you would expect of a book dedicated, "with profound admiration," to H.L. Mencken. The tone of the novel, then, is familiar and gets rather tedious. Yet I keep learning things as I read it that I wish I had thought about while writing on The Christian Century and the early Protestant mainline.


Worlds of Billy Graham



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Karen Johnson.  

Next week, September 26-28, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College will host a conference on The Worlds of Billy Graham.  The conference is one of the many outcomes of a two year grant from the Lilly Foundation to examine the life, impact and career of Billy Graham, and many participants of this blog will be interested (and in attendance).

The conference looks fantastic and the schedule is below.  For those who want a taste of the work of the scholars associated with this ISAE project without attending, go here to listen to public lectures given by Andrew Finstuen on Graham and Reinhold Neibuhr, and by Anne Blue Wills on Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Grahamn’s wife.

A Brush with Evil in Arby's: Race and Religion in the Modern South



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Bob Elder received his PhD from Emory University, and writes about religion and the American South. His current project is a book manuscript, Sacred Communities: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Modern Identity in the American South, 1790-1860, under contract with UNC Press. For the last two years, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Lilly Fellow Program at Valparaiso University. He is currently Assistant Professor of History at Tabor College in Kansas.  

Bob Elder 

This past summer my family and I flew into Atlanta, rented a car, and headed for the South Carolina coast where my wife’s family lives. Along the way, taking the back roads through rural South Carolina from Columbia to Georgetown on the coast, we passed one of my favorite landmarks, a tiny, wood-frame church in the Sandhills region of the state that bears a sign proclaiming it a “Fire Consecrated, Free Will Baptist Church.” I’ve never been sure whether the sign indicated Pentecostal influence, a past fire in which the building burned down, or just an irresistible turn of phrase. On our way back to Atlanta two weeks later after a wonderful visit with family and friends we made a quick stop to see my wife’s old college roommate and her husband, I’ll call him Kirk, who I’d never met. By that point in the trip we were tired, the kids were cranky, and my mind was already on Atlanta and the flight home, but we couldn’t pass up the chance. We agreed to meet them at an exit off I-85 on the Georgia/South Carolina border. The only landmark we could find on Google Maps was an Arby’s.

It ended up being one of those fast-food-restaurants-housed-in-a-gas-station kind of places, but there weren’t any alternatives close at hand. We unloaded, ordered our roast beef sandwiches, and waited for our friends to arrive. The place was packed. 

When they showed up, Kirk was a big guy with a quick smile and strong upcountry accent. After small talk, we quickly hit upon a common interest: the ongoing debate in the Southern Baptist Convention over what some perceive as the growing influence of Calvinism in their seminaries and churches. As a Presbyterian who studies a lot of Calvinistic Baptists in the early 19th century South, I’m intrigued by this resurgence, and Kirk proved a knowledgeable source (I don’t want to out him as a closet Calvinist, but he seemed pretty sympathetic to the French point of view). 

At some point my wife mentioned that Kirk was bringing something for me, a gift of some sort. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had forgotten about the rumored gift until, during a pause in the conversation, Kirk reached into a backpack he was carrying and pulled out what looked like a book, wrapped in plain brown packing paper. He said something like: “I don’t know if you’ll want this, but when I heard you were a history professor, I thought you might want to at least see it.” He seemed a little worried, and kept assuring me as I unwrapped the book that I didn’t have to keep it if I didn’t want it. I kept going, fearing at every fold that I would uncover the front flap of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln, or something like it, which I would then have to keep.

Blurred Lines: The Basement and Evangelical History (Part I)



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Charity R Carney

The Basement is making waves in Birmingham again—and it’s not because of a new Christian rave or rap video. This time, the leader of the youth group (that now numbers over 5,000) is in county jail and the organization finds itself at odds with the local police over, well, the fact that very leader impersonated a peace officer on more than one occasion. The story of the Basement begins in 2004, when Matt Pitt founded a small youth group in his parents’ suburban home outside of Birmingham. Pitt saw this move as a turning point in his life, which had previously been characterized by substance abuse and trouble making. A former University of Alabama student, he OD’d at a football game, had to move back in with his folks, and then experienced a spiritual reawakening after failing drug tests and being hospitalized. Now the Basement’s official organization, Whosoever Ministries, commands massive youth meetings and retreats with thousands in attendance (and even more logging on to view the parties via webcasts). You can hear his autobiographical retelling here.

Soul Gender, Transmigration, and Embodied Resurrection (Part 1)



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Laura Arnold Leibman

Joel Furches of the Jarrettsville Christianity Examiner has been worrying lately online about gender and the resurrection of the dead. Furches seems concerned that recent secular legislation that allows people more freedom to choose their gender is out of sync not only with a Christian life in this world, but also in the next (Gender Identity and Resurrection from the Dead). “A person’s body is a permanent part of their identity, and what they do in their body, they do also in their spirit,” explains Furches. Christianity, he feels, is unique in that it argues for a “mind/body unity” and links “a person’s gender as an essential quality of their very nature.” That is, the soul has an essential, stable, and immaterial gender that is not a matter of personal choice or subject to debate.

While I am not particularly qualified to comment on the validity of Furches’s understanding of contemporary American Evangelical Christian theology, I would note that Christians are not the only Americans to argue at least implicitly for a soul gender. In this post I’d like to explore some versions of the concept of soul gender in American Judaism, but simultaneously suggest how Jewish versions of the afterlife complicate the story of “mind/body unity." In this first part, I will look at a few early examples of the gendering of the soul and resurrection. In the second part that I will post next month, I will address how the Jewish concept of transmigration makes Jewish soul gender differ from the Christian version put forth by Furches.  Like Furches's comments, my examples come from Jewish texts and artifacts created primarily by practitioners rather than theologians; hence, they represent lived rather than official notions of Jewish theology.

The Roots of Christian Zionism



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Paul Harvey

I received this book recently, and thought I would just do a quick informational post about it here, as the topic will doubtless be of interest to many: Robert O. Smith, More Desired than Our Own Salvation: The Roots of Christian Zionism (Oxford University Press). Here's a brief description, from the publisher:

Millions of American Christians see U.S. support for the State of Israel as a God-ordained responsibility. American sympathies for the State of Israel are consistently and often substantially higher than for Arab states or Palestinians. More Desired than Our Owne Salvation is a compelling historical look at how this consensus came to be. 

In 2006, John Hagee founded Christians United for Israel. Several high-level policymakers, both Christians and Jews, rushed to endorse the effort. Soon, however, questions arose about anti-Catholic and anti-Islamic ideas contained in Hagee's preaching and writing. More Desired than Our OwneSalvation shows that these ideas draw from a long heritage of Anglo-American Protestant culture. Contemporary Christian Zionism may say more about American culture than most Americans care to admit.

The roots of Christian Zionism in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant interpretations of scripture and history formed not only Anglo-American theology but the foundations of American culture itself. Black Protestant views show, for instance, how Christian Zionism is connected intimately with racial identity and American exceptionalism, not just Christian beliefs. Martin Luther and John Calvin's identification of the Pope and the Turk as the two heads of the Antichrist echoes in our world today. 

Robert O. Smith has identified an English Protestant tradition of Judeo-centric prophecy interpretation that shaped Puritan commitment. In New England, this tradition informed the foundations of American identity. From the Cartwright Petition in 1649 to the Blackstone Memorial in 1891 to the work of John Hagee today, Christian Zionism has prepared the ground for Christians in the U.S. to see the modern State of Israel as a prophetic counterpart, a modern nation-state whose preservation "may be more desired then our owne salvation."


Also, looks like the work was based on this dissertation. 

The general subject of the book reminded me of the story "Cowboys of the Apocalypse," from This American Life (originally aired 1999), about the attempt by an alliance of fundamentalist Christians and orthodox Jews to breed a perfect cow in Texas (by biblical standards) that would meet the requirements for prophecy and thus hasten the apocalypse.
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