Black Religion and Black Power

Matthew J. Cressler

When most people (and many scholars) think of American religion and struggles for social justice, they tend to think first of the southern civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.  And to a certain extent  they would be right to do so.  There is no question that the fight against segregation in the Jim Crow South represented a high point of religious activism in American history - and many of my fellow bloggers here have contributed to our understanding of this moment. (Religious labor radicalism in the 1920s and 1930s represented another high point that our bloggers have been attentive to.)

Today though, I want to turn our attention to another historical moment, one chronologically proximate but often imagined to be antithetical to the civil rights movement - namely, Black Power.  Black Power has typically been conceived as northern (and western) whereas civil rights was southern, violent while civil rights was nonviolent, and secular in contrast to the inherent religiousness of civil rights.  When Stokely Carmichael first spoke the words "Black Power!" in 1966 (which, as an aside, he did in rural Mississippi not in the urban north) he gave voice to a growing shift in the predominant ideologies and strategies of the black freedom struggles, even if the component parts of Black Power (black nationalism, community control, self-defense) were not new.

Conference announcement

High on your list of reasons to head down to Atlanta this June...

Jews and Judaism in the American World of "Difference": The 2014 Biennial Scholars' Conference on American Jewish History

June 10-12, 2014

Ben Sasse, The Tea Party, Grassroots Americans, Secularization, and Historiography of American Religions

Today's guest post comes from Charlie McCrary. Charlie is a doctoral student at FSU and frequent contributor to RiAH and Bulletin for the Study of Religion. This post is a bit longer than what we typically post, but if you make the jump you'll find that it's worth it to read all the way to the end. In addition to leaving comments here, readers can find Charlie on Twitter.

by Charlie McCrary

Ben Sasse is a Tea-Party-supported college president, former Bush administration employee, and, as the winner of the recent primary, now the Nebraskan Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. He is also one of us. In 2004, Sasse defended his prize-winning Yale history dissertation, written under advisors Harry Stout and Jon Butler. Sarah Posner at Religion Dispatches wrote a piece on his dissertation last week. Other than Posner, though, it appears that very few people have read it. Posner argues that it isn't the flattering profiles from the National Review and Weekly Standard that get to the real Sasse; it's the dissertation. The Weekly Standard might not dispute that, as they call the work "a sophisticated and brilliant dissection of how a lot of the standard liberal narratives about American political realignment in the last 50 years are woefully incomplete at best and self-serving fictions to attack religious conservatives at worst." Posner, writing from the other side of the political spectrum, accuses Sasse of harboring "nostalgia for grassroots impulses" that "lead[s] him to pinpoint the religious right's rise before Reagan." If you're wondering skeptically how Jon Butler signed off on a dissertation born of nostalgia for an era of Christian populism, you're not alone. I read the dissertation closely this weekend. What follows is a short summary of the work, how it contributes to our historiography, and why more people should read it.

But first, a quick word about how we read it. Everyone's positions make it on the page somehow. Sometimes, historians are very upfront about this; sometimes we have to read between the lines a bit. But few careful academic works of history--and I'd say that a prize-winning Yale dissertation qualifies--are so shot through with "authorial bias" or "agenda" that they render the whole document useless. Certainly our own views inform our analysis. Some might  say the "skew" or "taint" the analysis, but those models assume there was something straight or pure to begin with. These things are worth noting at, say, a seminar table when discussing methodology. Beyond that, though, I think we're better off focusing on the content and usefulness of our fellow historians' work. I'll leave the point here: we could put quite a few recent influential books and dissertations next to Sasse's, and it would be far from obvious which was written by a future Tea Party politician.

When read as a historiographical contribution, Sasse's dissertation is very much worth reading. At 451 pages, it is in need of an editor's merciless red pen, and there are aspects of it that are frustratingly out-of-date, even as it's only a decade old. This is actually a compliment. Sasse was ahead of the curve in a few areas, especially in his focus on law and secularism, and so there are a number of secondary works he would be able to engage, were he writing today. Nevertheless, the dissertation, while unwieldy, is packed with primary-source research, covers a remarkable amount of territory, and makes an interesting, innovative, and compelling argument. Posner summarizes the bulk of the work, especially its latter half, so here I will emphasize some aspects that she spends less time on.

How Do We Recognize a "Christian Nation"? (a final religious note from a small island)

Brantley Gasaway

Readers of this blog are likely used to and perhaps weary of debating whether or not the United States is (or was founded as) a "Christian nation."  Indeed, I suspect that this academic and politicized question regularly comes up in classes on American religion and history that many of us teach.  But it is useful to remember that our country does not have a monopoly on public debates about this issue.

I spent this semester in London and taught a course on religious pluralism in Great Britain (as described in this previous post), and thus my students and I analyzed how one might best describe the religious nature of the United Kingdom.  Despite the official establishment of the Anglican Church, several factors led my students to ultimately characterize Britain as "post-Christian": the shrinking number of British citizens who self-identify as Christian (59% in the 2011 census); significantly declining rates of church attendance, membership, affirmations of historical doctrines, and traditional moral indices; the rapid growth and robust signs of secularism; and the visible presence and participation of non-Christian religious communities.  By the final weeks of the course, students overwhelmingly agreed with Callum Brown's conclusion that "the death of Christian Britain" had occurred.

Prime Minister David Cameron
But then, with serendipitous timing, Prime Minister David Cameron challenged this conclusion.  Writing in the Anglican Church Times in mid-April, Cameron rejected criticism of his recent comments made during Easter regarding the importance of "what Christianity brings to Britain."  Instead, the Prime Minister declared, "I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives."  Cameron insisted that "the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society" makes a Christian Britain better than a "secular country" for religious minorities. In addition, he largely avoided theological issues and focused primarily on the role of Christianity "in terms of action to improve our society and the education of our children."  Nevertheless, Cameron's article predictably proved controversial and sparked national conversations.

Materiality and Afro-creole Spiritualism

Emily Suzanne Clark

I’m currently transitioning my dissertation on Afro-creole Spiritualism in New Orleans into a book manuscript. Here is just a little taste of the material and some of what I’m thinking about. I posted about this Afro-creole Spiritualist circle once last year.

On a Friday evening in 1872 a group of New Orleanian Afro-creole men met at the home of Henri Louis Rey. They sat around a modest wooden table with a simple goal: make the world a more egalitarian place. Rey began the meeting by opening a large register book and picking a hand-written essay to read from and then further discuss. The essay had been communicated to them by the spirit of Abraham Lincoln, or maybe this week Rey picked a message from Robespierre or maybe Toussaint L’Overture. Regardless of who delivered the message, Rey’s spoken treatise on it would have highlighted the beauty and importance of the democratic and republican spirit world and the corrupt material world he and the rest seated at the table currently occupied. It was the duty of this group, the Cercle Harmonique, to imitate the egalitarian world of the spirits here on earth and Reconstruction was the time to do it. After concluding his short lecture, the group felt unified. With this harmony established, the lines of communication between the Cercle Harmonique and the spirit world were open. The medium could begin receiving wisdom from spiritual advisers like Saint Vincent de Paul, Voltaire, John Brown, or perhaps Rey’s deceased father. Like all messages, the group recorded them. As one spirit explained, a medium, as a true apostle of Spiritualism, “must write what is dictated.”

For a community of spirits and Spiritualists who frequently criticized the material world and humanity’s proclivity for “materialism” (that “vile” source of “antagonism”), their practice had a significant material component—the making of their own library. The books in their library were spiritually crowdsourced with messages from hundreds of different spirits inside. The result was thirty-five large register books, which amounts to over eight thousand pages, filled with missives from the spirit world. At the beginning of a meeting, the medium in charge would write the day’s date in the book and then begin recording the messages the Cercle Harmonique received, likely as the message was being conveyed to the medium. The message needed to be recorded in its entirety. The Spiritualist secretary did not use shorthand and the messages don’t seem paraphrased. At the end of each message, a name is signed on the right-hand side of the page like a letter. Many of these spiritual guides are well-known: Lincoln, Voltaire, Saint Vincent de Paul, Daniel Webster, Montesquieu, Robert E. Lee, Pocahontas. Even Lorenzo Dow delivered a message once. Others are less so: the mediums’ deceased parents, local New Orleanian priests, or spirits that remained anonymous.

When Diversity Drops: Julie J. Park Interview


Today’s interview is with Dr. Julie J. Park, an assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her important new book is When Diversity Drops: Race, Religion, and Affirmative Action in Higher Education (Rutgers University Press, 2013).

Phillip Luke Sinitiere (PLS): In brief, can you give us a brief synopsis of the main argument(s) of When Diversity Drops?

Julie J. Park (JJP): The main argument is that drops in racial diversity in the university have a severely negative effect on students' ability to sustain multiracial communities on campus. I examined how this dynamic played out in the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at “California University,” a multiracial campus fellowship that struggled over the years to sustain its diversity given the drop in Black enrollment at CU.  While religion can mediate notable shifts in organizational culture related to racial diversity, its ability to do so is limited by broader structural conditions and inequality in both the university setting and society at large.  

PLS: Turning to methodology, what got you interested in this topic, and how does your approach to studying InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) compare to studies of other evangelical Christian ministries (e.g., John G. Turner’s book on Campus Crusade for Christ)?

JJP: I witnessed a “Race Matters” forum, a facilitated dialogue on race, when visiting Stanford's IVCF chapter years ago.  This propelled me to start doing ethnographic observations of the IVCF at "CU" some time later as a graduate student, which turned into this project. A few other studies of campus fellowships (books by Paul Bramadat and Peter Magolda) use ethnographic methods, and John Turner used historical methods. I drew on archival data to understand how IVCF had changed as an organization over the years, both nationally and locally, but primarily used ethnographic methods—close participant observation over the course of 15 months.  Because of that, I am probably much more "in" the text, as I was literally the instrument for data collection.  I share some of my reflections on doing ethnographic work in the appendix.  In this way, my voice probably comes across stronger than some other qualitative studies of campus fellowships (e.g., Rebecca Kim’s excellent work).  

Other differences--I was trained in a college of education, and my field is higher ed.  So the fact that IVCF was part of the university setting was not a secondary, but primary, focus for me.  So that focus, along with my training and research on racial diversity in higher ed, definitely shaped the study.  A lot of the sociology of religion work on racial diversity in religious institutions is naturally interested in the impact on evangelicalism and religion/religious communities, but something I do in the book is show how the racial dynamics in the evangelical world are shaping non-evangelical institutions (the secular university). 

PLS: In the case of the IVCF group(s) you have studied, what specifically fueled racial and ethnic harmony amongst members? What factors proved most divisive? To what extent did the interplay between spiritual and material factors foster unity and produce division? Why?

JJP: In terms of harmony, I explain how IVCF used various tools to help students view race-consciousness and faith as compatible instead of mutually exclusive. So basically they did a lot of framing, a lot of rhetorical work around what it meant to follow Jesus, what it meant to love your neighbor—these concepts became intimately connected to their vision around racial reconciliation.   They were able to use programs like their Race Matters discussions to help students grasp the power of race in everyday life, but I'd say their greatest asset was their commitment to each other, community, and the relationships that kept people in the group, even when they weren't sure what they thought about race.  In terms of divisiveness, I argue that the broader structural inequality of the university, particularly due to Prop 209 (California’s affirmative action ban) constrained the ability of IVCF to sustain their diversity; it also undermined students' ability to have "equal status" with each other, a critical requirement for healthy intergroup conduct.  Basically the inequality of the broader university was not left at the door when students entered IVCF; these inequalities were reproduced. So, altogether I argue that religion is a great asset as something that can provide impetus to bridging racial divides, but attempts to do so are still thwarted in an unequal society.

PLS: To the extent that IVCF serves as something of an index for understanding race relations within American evangelicalism—and in specific relation to the growing number of studies on multiracial churches—how do the dynamics of multiracialism within a Christian organization such as IVCF compare to those of a multiracial congregation?

JJP: I think they had some advantages in that college students have more time to “do life” together.  You are more likely to have the time to stay up till 3 AM talking about life, and that's highly conducive to forming social bonds.  Still, some students choose not to cross racial divides during college (primarily White students, who have the lowest rates of cross-racial interaction in the university setting), and thus miss out on the opportunity to engage deeply with race during the college years.  But college students often have a sense of openness and idealism that is unique.  IVCF was pretty savvy in milking this, and they built a culture that encouraged risk-taking and displacement.

PLS: What projects do you have in the works? What can readers expect from Julie J. Park in the coming months and years?

JJP: Related to religion, I have a few quantitative studies coming out that looking at how religion shapes cross-racial interaction in college. I am currently doing interviews with second generation Korean and Chinese American parents looking at how they're approaching child-rearing and education for third generation children, and one dimension I'm interested in is how religion shapes people's values around parenting, as well as the formation of social capital networks.  In the future, who knows?  I’d like to keep tackling this race/religion angle, maybe to do some comparative work on how religion shapes educational opportunities for communities of color. 

The Homespun Gospel, or, Does Mark Driscoll Know He is Special?


Mark Edwards

Sentimentality v. Utility in American Protestantism.  In light of Matthew Bowman’s new book, The Urban Pulpit (Oxford, 2014), I've been thinking about what a comparative, synthetic survey of liberal and conservative American evangelicalism might look like. The words sentimental and utilitarian kept coming to me as ways to characterize the fundamental differences between conservative and liberal evangelicals.  Utilitarian is relatively straightforward: Some time ago, evangelicals—becoming fundamentalists, then new evangelicals, and finally evangelical conservatives—decided to use cultural forms like art, music, and architecture as tools to further their gospel of personal salvation and friendship with Christ.  Evangelical conservatives really don’t care about those forms in and of themselves—only their utility—and thus are willing to discard them when they no longer “work” to provide ideological consent (anyone else have Christian t-shirts in their closets?).  In contrast, liberal evangelicals are sentimental.  I don’t mean they are overly emotional as the word often implies today.  Rather, by sentimental, I mean that liberal evangelicals desire a faith that is sensational or appealing to many senses.  For them, historically, cultural forms are important for the production and maintenance of public religious sensibilities  (I’m thinking of Lori Merish’s notion of "Sentimental Materialism").  Faith, for Christian sentimentalists, is less about intellectual assent and more about coveting sacred feelings and experiences.  This is how and why liberal evangelicals like Horace Bushnell, alongside if not before post-Christian social scientists, pioneered one of the greatest intellectual revolutions of the twentieth century: recognition of the social, environmental determination of personality.

Just when I thought I was on to something, I received a copy of Todd Brenneman’s wonderful new book, Homespun Gospel: The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary American Evangelicalism (Oxford, 2013).  Needless to say, its arrival could not have been more timely to complicate my categorizations of evangelical praxis.  After the break, in lieu of a review (which Jay Green has recently offered at Christianity Today), readers will get a “sense” of what Brenneman means by evangelical sentimentality.

Brenneman reimagines evangelicalism as “an aesthetic formulated not only on belief but also by affective and experiential concerns” (17).  The sentimentality at the “core” of modern evangelicalism—meaning the evangelicalism of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and particularly Max Lucado, the main focus of the book—equates to “emotionality,” or, “appeal to tender feelings” (3).  The triumph of emotionality in evangelical conservativism is ironic in that “muscular” fundamentalists and evangelicals like Billy Sunday have often and long accused their liberal opponents of being soft and effeminate (24, 61).  In fact, Brenneman insists that contemporary evangelicals willfully refuse to interrogate their sentimental strategies.  As he elaborates:

In focusing on the importance of emotion in evangelicalism, we will see that evangelicals downplay the importance of doctrine.  Defining evangelicalism only in terms of doctrines and beliefs, then, avoids a sizable part of evangelical practice and misses that evangelicals themselves do not prioritize the very feature scholars point to as their essential characteristic.  Evangelicals have in fact abandoned a concern with doctrine, although the beliefs stereotypically associated with them still shape the evangelical worldview.  Emotion, however, pervades evangelicalism and provides us with a better assessment of the vitality of the movement (4).

Drawing upon Tracy Fessenden and others, Brenneman is interested in exploring how evangelical sentimentality has enabled claims to cultural and political authority.  Here again, it seems, evangelical leaders are replicating the ministerial tactics of their liberal forbearers and not knowing it.  Sentimental evangelical themes of “nostalgia, domesticity, and familial love” (7) were mainly invented by nineteenth-century liberal evangelicals like the Beechers and Bushnell in opposition to the supposedly shallow emotionality conjured by the revivalists.  Brenneman recognizes this as well, noting how the theologically liberal Harriet Beecher Stowe effectively harnessed “the power of feeling to create moral action” (6, 8-9) in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  (See also Brenneman’s connection at Then and Now between Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s 1868 phenom, The Gates Ajar, and the new film, Heaven is for Real.)  Stowe through fiction, and Bushnell through theology, propagated the “moral influence” of their respective suffering saviors in part to shore up the redemptive power of the Northern Protestant middles classes.  Similarly, evangelical sentimentality today powers a Mrs.-PAC-men politics of “family values.”

However, in the prophetic spirit of Christopher Lasch, and in terms reminiscent of T. J. Jackson Lears’s many complaints about liberal Victorian Protestants, Brenneman concludes that the soppy saints of evangelical conservativism are not nurturing collective moral action but rather a therapeutic gospel of “narcissism” and “anti-intellectualism.”  As he explains,

Sentimentality obscures the deeper ideologies at work in evangelical emotional rhetoric and conceals certain aspects of human experience, such as structural inequalities from the evangelical gaze.  Ultimately the narcissism of the sentimental appeal works against clear engagement with the difficulties of human life, focusing instead on the glorification of the individual. . . . The hoped-for communal transformation of eighteenth-century evangelicalism has been replaced by a focus on individual transformation that advocates—explicitly or implicitly—self-absorption.  With this shift evangelicals have perhaps sown the seeds of the failure of their own ideology (15-16).

Furthermore, Brenneman accuses evangelical authors of having “created a simplistic message that operates in place of a well-reasoned, intellectual approach to spirituality” (52).  On this point, Homespun Gospel should be read as an important supplement to Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason (Oxford, 2013).  While both Worthen and Brenneman believe that anti-intellectualism is the evangelical conservative’s natural trajectory, they get to that position in very different ways.  And perhaps the latter is right: scholars of religion should get over troubling the tired rationality of a Francis Schaeffer or Ken Ham so they can turn their eyes upon Lucado.

I’d gladly welcome any comments on, correctives to, or dismissals of my sentimental/utilitarian typology at its most premature stage.  More importantly, would somebody PLEASE send a copy of Homespun Gospel to Mark Driscoll and to your friendly neighborhood Christian MMA?? 

Evangelicals and Interracial Marriage at "The Heathen School"

By Carol Faulkner

It will be no surprise that John Demos's new book, The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic, is a great read. It will also be no surprise that he uses some unusual methods to tell the history of the short-lived (1817-1826) Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, including his travels to various historical sites, vignettes in blocked paragraphs, and the free use of italics (if he had written a few sentences in all caps it would be like reading a nineteenth-century text). As the subtitle suggests, Demos is interested in the evangelical and egalitarian impulse that inspired the school, and its rapid demise following two intermarriages between Cherokee students and local white women. After the failed experiment, which aimed to bring promising "heathen" converts to Cornwall to train as missionaries, evangelicals changed course, instead sending white missionaries to foreign lands. Demos argues that evangelicals betrayed their students-- Hawaiians, Native Americans, Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Mexicans, and even some local Yankees--by revoking the promise of religious and racial equality. In addition, Demos links the closing of the school to the larger betrayal of Cherokee removal.

Demos begins with the intense evangelical interest in Henry Obookiah, a Hawaiian sailor who arrived in New Haven and declared his desire to study at Yale. Obookiah's story captured the imagination of optimistic American evangelicals, who decided to educate other "heathens" in a similar manner. (As context, Demos gives a brief history of American religion--from the Puritans to the Second Great Awakening--in eight pages). Once the school opened, this optimism about saving souls became focused on Cornwall, with a powerful impact on the town. One local resident recalled, "We always laid aside all out work when the scholars came. They talked and prayed from the heart. It would revive us, so solemn and yet so joyful. It was a great wonder to them why every one in town were not Christians, when they had heard of Jesus all their lives." As Demos writes,  "Religion was the bridge to contact; but perhaps, too, there was something more. One feels an openness, an eagerness here, even a sense of delight ('so joyful')" (174).

We Say Goodbye (to Kelly J. Baker), and You Tweet Hello

Paul Harvey

Several years ago, when this blog was basically myself and a few friends sending out random self-promotional missives that, as Abraham Lincoln correctly (if snark-ily) said, would be little noted, nor long remembered, I received an email from a then-graduate student named Kelly Baker offering to write for the blog and help out in other capacities. She happened to be coming through town, with her then new-born daughter; we had coffee and talked while the infant slept.

I've done only a few very smart things in my life, and inviting Kelly to the blog was one of the smart things. Kelly immediately brought her intelligence, passion, intensity, and just life to our work here. She became a co-blogmeister and started peppering me with a multitude of ideas about how we could make this blog into something that was, umm, better than what it was originally (admittedly about as difficult as making my jump shot better than what it is now, but still . . . ).

Aside from her posts, she brought the blog into the social media world, introducing me to something called "facebook" and later to its hipper young cousin "twitter," and she also (teaming up with her tech-wizard husband) brought a new interface and style sheet to the blog, a revolution not unlike when I moved from DOS 2.0 to Windows back in 1990-something. If you want to see what the blog used to look like, you can use one of those way-back machines and see; but I wouldn't recommend it unless you have a few drinks under your belt already and need something more entertaining to watch than the Spurs take the lightning right out of my Thunder.

Along the way, she became a friend, and I watched the little girl grow into a Big Girl, and that Big Girl acquire a younger brother; I read her first book manuscript, made a very few suggestions, and watched it grow into a really outstanding first book; I skyped into a few of her classes to talk about a certain book authored by Edward J. Blum, and saw the affection and respect that her students had towards her; and I also watched as what I thought for sure was going to be a wonderful academic career did not quite pan out as hoped and expected.

Last year, Kelly decided to take a hiatus, both from the academic job search and from this blog; and she recently has decided to step down from both. That does not mean you won't hear from her; on the contrary, she has been writing all year for the Chronicle on her experience of leaving academia, and she continues to work, in other venues, in the field of American religious studies, but with a different audience in mind (check out her e-book on zombies)

So we at RiAH bid Kelly goodbye, but also hello -- to a new career of writing outside the academic boundaries(and writing about whatever the hell she wants to write about), helping the Big Girl make princess cupcakes, and challenging the rest of us to think hard about our disciplines, and about the costs of the academic dream. Kelly, for everything you have meant to me and this blog, my thanks, and my regret that I could not return to you what you gave to us.

Oh, and by the way, that whole social media thing that Kelly brought to the blog -- 1,504 facebook followers and 1,503 Twitter followers later, I'd have to say that worked out ok. Thanks, Kelly, for ignoring me on that point and just moving forward. You're not going anywhere, but we will miss you.

P.S.: We do have a slot at blogmeister open! Let me know if interested.

2014 Year in Preview (Part Two): Fifty Forthcoming Books in American Religious History

Paul Putz

Back in January, I posted a list of 35 forthcoming books in American religious history. But that list only covered the months from January to June. With this post, I'd like to highlight fifty interesting new books in the field set to be released from June to December. As with my first post, I'm sure that I will miss a worthy book or two (for example, last time I completely overlooked Luke Harlow's new book on race and religion in Kentucky and Patricia Miller's new book on the battle over abortion in the Catholic Church). Feel free to add to my list in the comments, and I can edit the post as needed.

Two quick notes before I launch into the list. First, a number of the authors featured in my January post have received attention for their new books (via interview/review/guest post) from around the web. See, for example:

Second, I encourage you to check out this online forum from IUPUI's Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. In the forum, Sylvester Johnson, Kathryn Gin Lum, and Rhys H. Williams consider the question "What is 'American' in American Religion?" For the purposes of this blog post, my answer to that question mostly follows Kathryn Gin Lum, who articulated an understanding of "America" as the region that eventually became known as the United States.

(All quotes attributed to individuals come from promotional blurbs found on the publisher's website or Amazon. The books are listed in roughly chronological order based on their tentative month of publication.)

Gastón Espinosa, William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism: A Biography and Documentary History (Duke, Soon-ish?)

Candy Gunther Brown: "This masterpiece of historical scholarship makes a compelling case for the unparalleled importance of William Seymour and the Azusa Street revivals to the foundational period of U.S. and global Pentecostalism...The book is revisionist history in the very best sense of the term—restoring Seymour to his deserved place as the single most important leader of the early Pentecostal movement."

Christopher Cameron, To Plead Our Own Cause: African Americans in Massachusetts and the Making of the Antislavery Movement (Kent State, June)

From the publisher: "Fleshing out the important links between Reformed theology, the institution of slavery, and the rise of the antislavery movement, author Christopher Cameron argues that African Americans in Massachusetts initiated organized abolitionism in America and that their antislavery ideology had its origins in Puritan thought and the particular system of slavery that this religious ideology shaped in Massachusetts."

Thoughts on Student Peer Reviews

Elesha Coffman

This semester I found myself assigned to teach an online course on John Calvin's Institutes that would include a substantial research paper. So many challenges here. One of the ways I tried to play to the strengths of my self-motivated, though scattered, seminary students while keeping my own workload manageable was by inserting a peer-review cycle into the writing process. Because I couldn't explain this process to anyone in person, I also wrote the world's most detailed assignment prompts.

And so, if you are currently plowing through a stack of papers and wishing someone else had laid eyes on them before they got to you, here's the list of guidelines for peer review that I distributed to my students. Feel free to re-use. I don't know yet if they'll actually improve the quality of the papers I receive (I've just started grading them), but I do know that students have had more exposure to what I consider essential elements of historical writing than they would have if all the feedback they got was a grade.

The big things you're looking for as a peer reviewer are:

Making the Summer Count . . . and Beyond


By Karen Johnson.  What do you want to do this summer?  Finish that writing project you’ve been putting off all year?  

Today I want to share two really important resources to help us all become more productive and happy academics.  Lots of academics write using a binge model.  We’re so busy during the year with teaching, service, or other responsibilities that we wait for breaks to catch up.  But as Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s, founder of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, writes

Unfortunately, that beautiful imagined break often gets disturbed by the reality that holidays include travel, family commitments, and/or various types of personal obligations, all of which require time and energy. For many people, classroom and departmental commitments are often simply replaced by equally time-intensive activities with family and friends.

Hot off the Press: Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880

Heath Carter

If you're looking for titles to add to your summer reading list, don't forget to include Luke Harlow's book, Religion, Race, and the Making of Confederate Kentucky, 1830-1880, just released by Cambridge University Press.  This one is so hot off the press that I haven't actually gotten my hands on a copy yet, but I read parts of it in manuscript and have no doubt that it will make a big splash in a number of fields, including religious history, the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and southern history broadly construed.  Then again, there's no need to take my word for it.  Check out these impressive endorsements (just below the fold):

I’m Too Sexy for My Church: Some Observations on Ed Young, Jr.


Charity R. Carney

I’ve got sex on the brain and I blame Ed Young, Jr. I’ve been watching way too many podcast sermons from this dynamic senior pastor and it’s starting to affect my work. Literally. I’m researching and writing a chapter on megachurches and sexuality and keep coming back to Ed Young, Jr.’s teachings at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. I’m trying to put his approach to Christian sexuality into a larger context of historical evangelical rhetoric and practices and it’s getting tricky. Young replicates the heteronormative religious teachings of the past (and present) but he does so while openly addressing sexuality and encouraging congregants to think and talk about sex in pretty explicit terms. In other words, to me it’s the same rhetoric that has dominated mainstream evangelicalism for decades but taken to another, overt level. Or, as Young himself says, “a whole nutha level!”

It all started with the Sexperiment. In 2008, Young encouraged congregants to engage in “Seven Days of Sex," challenging his married church members to have sex every day for a week in order to improve their relationships, their jobs, and their Christian walk. A charge by a pastor to engage in sex (and this is for all married couples—including those dealing with adultery and needing to find forgiveness) is an interesting one, to say the least. Then, in 2012, Ed and his wife Lisa published a book on how married couples can strengthen their marriages through sex and, in turn, help build healthier congregations. To promote the book, the couple held a 24-hour “bed-in” on a rooftop. They stayed in bed all day (to the detriment of their health--the rooftop was not the best place to hang out for 24 hours) and were filmed answering viewers’ questions about sex and relationships. The purpose of the book and an accompanying sermon series are, according to Lisa, to learn how to “have sex His way, and… understand what it was meant to be.” The sermon series features Ed and Lisa Young talking to congregants from a king-sized bed about the church taking control of sexuality. Using the Bible as “God’s Sex Manual,” the couple explains how sex is not just physical but is spiritual. Young argues that sex is God’s idea and should be openly discussed by the church so that it can define the discourse (rather than letting the larger, secular culture control things). Recognizing that the church has often focused on the “prohibitions,” Young turns this idea around and describes what is permitted or encouraged by the Bible within marriage. 

Writing About Religion: Building Online Communities

Each summer do you get started on a research project only to set it aside when school begins?  Do you have a “revise and resubmit” article that you never revised or never resubmitted? Could this be the summer you break the cycle?

One August when I was still junior I began my typical chorus of laments of how in spite of all my hard work, I hadn’t still finished my most crucial writing project over the summer.  Moreover, I knew once the semester started I was doomed:  if I couldn’t write deep thoughts during my free time, what hope did I have once the students returned and committee obligations began anew?

“Did you even do a quarter of what you had planned?”  Asked one of my kindly senior colleagues.  “If so, you are doing really well.”  On some level her supportive remark pointed out (correctly) that perhaps part of the problem was my unrealistic goals. Yet, that wasn’t the whole problem.  “Freed” from the weekly meetings with my dissertation director that had gotten me through my PhD thesis, I spun out each summer in a free fall of unaccountability.  Writing in graduate school had been quick by necessity: I turned in my work, got feedback, revised.  In contrast, writing my first book post-graduate school (on Native American converts in colonial New England) was painful, lonely, and took forever. 

When it came time to write my second book, I changed my strategy.  I organized a book group for people in my division who were on sabbatical.  We met in coffee shops, exchanged work, make helpful suggestions, supported each other’s attempts, and perhaps just as crucially provided real deadlines for when work would get done.  The process was as fun as it was effective: I finished on time, and the book went on to win praise from the initial reviewers and even a couple ofawards. Thrilled with the results, in the summers that followed, I organized several other “faculty research support groups” that were open to colleagues across the college.  We talked about how to write book proposals, how to keep on track, and what made grant applications successful, and we exchanged work.  The participants changed, but the spirit of support and collegiality remained constant.

One of the best summer projects we took on was Wendy Belcher’s Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks.  Whether you are a graduate student or a seasoned writer, Belcher has tips that will improve your writing and work habits.  Often when I am reading a book or article, I am struck by how the writer has missed an opportunity to clarify their structure, make a stronger argument, or use their literature review more effectively.  Belcher to the rescue!

This summer we will be using Belcher’s book for our on campus faculty research support group, but I am also keen to experiment with using Belcher in the digital realm.  The internet is the often disparaged for creating connections that are fleeting and false (how many of your facebook friends do you actually know?).  Can digital tools be used to forge real connections?  Perhaps we might even prove right Gretchen Rubin’s sister’s hypothesis that “People succeed in groups.”  When people in our group succeed, is their success also likely to make us successful (Happiness Project 243)?

What’s the plan?
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