New Books and their Podcasts: A 2014 Round-Up



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Cara Burnidge
 
To wrap up our 2014, today's post is short and sweet. For readers traveling to the American Historical Association Meeting, the American Society of Church History meeting, or home for/from the holidays, here's a list of recent podcasts to keep you company.

Hosted by Kristian Peterson, the New Books in Religion series has a great list of interviews that can keep you busy for hours. Discussions range from theoretical approaches to the study of religion to the inspiration behind the latest books in the field. Readers may be particularly interested in Kristian's interviews with Blogmeister Emeritus Paul Harvey and Ed Blum along with interviews with Matt Hedstrom, Isaac Weiner, Kathryn Lofton, Monica Miller, Kelly Baker, Joshua Dubler, and John Modern.

In case those interviews are not enough, there are more New Books podcasts for your listening pleasure. Hillary Kaell now hosts New Books in Christian Studies, which boasts an interview with Pamela Klassen about her recent book Sprits of Protestantism: Medicine, Healing, and Liberal Christianity. Hillary will become a regular host at New Books, so we can expect to hear more great interviews in 2015.

Speaking of new books about Protestantism in America, Matthew Avery Sutton's is on its way to becoming "a new standard" in the history of religion in America. So goes the interview goes between New Books in Intellectual History host Ray Haberski and Sutton. Their podcast can be found here.

New Books isn't the only podcast that offers thought provoking interviews, you can find more at the Journal of Southern Religion and at Marginalia Review of Books. While there are many interviews at Marginalia that fit here at the blog (like this, this, this), I highly recommend Kristian's interview with Aaron Hughes. Grad students and recent grads should be ready to take notes while they listen. Hughes offers excellent, detailed advice on how to transition a dissertation to a book and what kinds of things he looks for in a manuscript.

Happy listening!

Digital Religion at AHA 2015



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Monica L. Mercado

In just a few days, historians (including yours truly) will be gathering in midtown Manhattan for the American Historical Association's Annual Meeting, as well as the Winter Meetings of the American Catholic Historical Association and the American Society of Church History. When it comes to the digital humanities, there's much to discover: the AHA program and smartphone app are doing a good job of making visible the digital content stream, and Davidson College postdoctoral fellow Anelise Shrout published a useful summary of all digital history panels on her website last week.

With today's post, I wanted to draw attention to digital history events that may be of particular interest to scholars of religion. (No surprise, RiAH contributors are well-represented here!) I'm hoping to see many of you at the AHA's Reception for History Bloggers and #Twitterstorians on Friday night, and I'm looking forward to continuing conversations at AHA that many of us have been having on this blog about the potential for digital histories of religion.

Happy Holidays to and from the Journal of Southern Religion



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Emily Suzanne Clark

In case you missed it, a couple weeks ago Mercer University's Southern Studies Program made a huge announcement, as in $500,000 huge. Mercer received a National Endowment for the Humanities $500,000 challenge grant for the establishment of a Center for Southern Studies. What does a Center for Southern Studies at Mercer have to do with the Journal of Southern Religion? A lot. Editor Doug Thompson is an associate professor of Southern Studies there, and to quote Doug, "the Journal of Southern Religion and digital humanities played a significant part in the grant narrative." And the journal was not just a buzzword for the grant proposal (as "digital humanities" sometimes is); rather, the new center at Mercer will help provide solid institutional support and stability for the JSR. And this means great things for our readers. Most journals have some financial backing, while the JSR hasn't had much. With this financial support, Doug and I get to brainstorm some big ideas.

So happy holidays to the JSR! (Thanks NEH and Mercer!) And happy holidays to you from the JSR! And to those of you planning your syllabi for American religion classes in the spring, consider assigning one of the JSR's many articles. We got everything from gender to politics to theory to race to law to violence to natural disasters to literature to etiquette. I've used Donald Mathews's "The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice" before. It's an "oldie" (from 1999 and about three web designs ago), but it certainly still engages students.

USIH on Biblical Epics



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Mark Edwards

Recently, the bloggers over at U. S. Intellectual History ran a series of essays on the meaning and impact of biblical epic films.  For those of you who missed their posts, I offer this brief recap.  First, Ben Alpers opened the conversation by making a case for biblical epics as proper subject matter for intellectual historians.  Andrew Hartman then offered reflections on the gendered aspects of biblical epics, including The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) as a "biblical anti-epic."  Hartman's post is also a sneak peek into his forthcoming history of the culture wars, A War for the Soul of America  (Chicago, May 2015).  Tim Lacy asks to what extent Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (2004) could be considered "Christian torture porn" (a Saw for the sacred).  Andrew Seal then considers the film Exodus (1960) as part of a larger "mediterranean genre."  Here's a selection from this fascinating essay:

The mediterranean genre, I’d argue, was a way for Americans—Jews and Christians alike—to swing from an interwar geography that emphasized the U.S.’s ethnic and cultural roots and affinities with Northern and Central Europe to a postwar geography that played up the nation’s temporally deeper roots in the Mediterranean world as part of a common and even primeval civilizational heritage. . . . Exodus is not just about Israel or even just about the US and Israel. It is really part of an enormous and unrecognized cultural pivot to the culture of the Mediterranean after the Second World War, a desire for a common cultural heritage that would solidify and perpetuate the tentative steps toward “Tri-Faith America” and the “Judeo-Christian tradition” that had been taken before World War II. Exodus, like Spartacus or Ben-Hur, was about renewing “Western Civilization” as a more “Southern Civ”—as a combination of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem, and an excision of Berlin and its satellites, which for Uris included London.

L. D. Burnett then reviews Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings.  SPOILER ALERT: "dudes and dirt."  Personally, it seems that the recent "revival" of the biblical epic (if two films could be considered a revival) represents more Hollywood's effort to capitalize on Americans' endless desire to spend money on the same old CGI-based mother of all battles than it does renewed mainstream interest in old testament narratives.  What do others think?

PS  Happy 65th, Mom!!

Harriet Beecher Stowe on the Marriage Question



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Carol Faulkner

On the heels of Jonathan Den Hartog's interview with Nancy Koester, author of a new biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe, I read one of Stowe's lesser-known bestsellers, My Wife and I. Remembered for its harsh depiction of Victoria Woodhull, Stowe's 1871 novel tried to resolve the apparent contradiction between women's rights and marriage.* After the Civil War, ministers and reformers expressed concern about the perceived dangers to "Christian marriage." For example, in 1869, the Rev. Theodore Dwight Woolsey published his critical "Essay on Divorce and Divorce Legislation." The following year, writer John B. Ellis published his own defense of marriage in an attack on "Free Love and Its Votaries," an expose of "the rise and progress of the various free love associations in the United States." Soon after, the devout Anthony Comstock embarked on his career as the nation's chief sexual moralist. In the minds of these men, easy divorce and free love were inseparable from the women's rights movement. Just before the Civil War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton had used the platform of a national women's rights convention to call for liberal divorce laws. And, in 1871, a month after Stowe's serialized novel appeared as a book, Victoria Woodull gave her scandalous address on "The Principles of Social Freedom." Stowe sought to rescue women's rights from Woodhull and redeem marriage as the highest calling for Christian women and men.


In a twist, Stowe places a man's quest for a wife at the center of her novel, emphasizing the importance of the decision for men as well as women. The main character is Harry Henderson, the youngest son of a New England minister, who recounts his experiences through childhood, college, and his early career as a journalist. His wise Uncle Jacob, the village doctor, advises that "marriage is the thing that makes or mars a man; it's the gate through which he goes up or down, and you shouldn't pledge yourself to it until you come to your full senses." Harry's mother teaches him to be worthy of a good wife: "I was to be strong, to be efficient, to be manly and true, and above all pure in thought and imagination and in word." Harry's possible choices emerge over the course of the novel: his childhood friend Susie, his cousin Caroline (Stowe has an interesting justification for why this relationship is acceptable), the beautiful but materialistic Miss Ellery, and Eva Van Arsdel, the daughter of a wealthy businessman and the darling of New York society. For both Stowe and Harry, marriage is "as sacred as religion, indissoluable as the soul, endless as eternity."

Rome in America: Reflections on the 2014 Rome Seminar



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(Today's post is by Cassandra L. Yacovazzi, who just this month defended her dissertation and received a Ph.D. in History from the University of Missouri -- our congratulations to her! Cassandra joined 23 scholars (graduate students, professors, and archivists) in Rome from June 6-19, 2014, for the 2014 Rome Seminar, sponsored by the Cushwa Center as well as several other entities at the University of Notre Dame: Italian Studies, the Nanovic Institute for European Studies, the College of Arts and Letters, and the Office of Research. The Cushwa Center, which already offers the Peter R. D'Agostino Research Travel Grant for research in Italian archives, plans to offer a Rome Seminar on a regular basis, and is currently developing a guide to Roman archives for scholars interested in American Catholicism.)

Participants in the 2014 Rome Seminar at the Salesian Archives
Cassandra L. Yacovazzi

I consider myself a historian of U.S. Catholicism (my research focuses on anti-Catholicism and anti-convent/nun sentiment in the U.S. in the first half of the nineteenth century). I’ve never thought of myself as a transatlantic historian, let alone a global historian. But my experience participating in the 2014 Rome Seminar impressed upon me the global reach of my subject. The seminar, entitled “American Catholicism in a World Made Small: Transnational Approaches to US Catholic History,” featured presentations by a series of prominent historians and visits to key archives in Rome.

The 2014 Rome Seminar Hard at Work
In the seminar's opening talk, Simon Ditchfield from the University of York encouraged seminar participants to think of Rome not only as a place, but also a malleable concept, setting the tone for talks to follow. True to Ditchfield's concept, I found that simply being in the “eternal city” overwhelmed me with a sense of the connectedness of Catholic history in time and place. For anti-Catholics in nineteenth century America, “Romanism” stood for decadence and decay; the city’s grandeur itself symbolized all that they feared and found fascinating about Catholicism. For Catholics, Rome symbolized institutional authority and Catholic triumph, offering a storehouse of relics of the most revered saints and a well-spring of missionary efforts, funding, and doctrine. Either way, Rome was in America. Walking through the Piazza San Pietro toward the Vatican, I thought about how decisions made there have shaped Europe, the U.S. and the rest of the world for centuries. Participating in the Corpus Christi Mass at the Basilica of San Giovanni led by Pope Francis impressed upon me not only the historical importance of the moment but also of the past. Emperor Constantine erected the basilica as the first Christian church in Rome. Being there seemed to make real for me the concept of “a world made small.”

New Books Alert: 2015 Year in Preview, Part One (January-April)



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Paul Putz

As we come to the end of another great year for new books in American religious history, it's only appropriate that we pause and reflect. But I've already (kinda) done that over at the ASCH blog. So instead, let's forget for a moment that there are likely scores of books sitting unread on your reading list: it's time for another book preview post. Below I've compiled a list of about 50 new books within the field of American religious history that are set to be released in the first four months of 2015 (I plan on posting two more lists this year, one to cover May-August books, and one for September-December).  Heath Carter has already pointed out that it looks like 2015 will be a banner year for the study of Christianity and capitalism in the United States. As you'll see from browsing the list below, there is plenty of other interesting work waiting to be read as well.

A couple quick points to make before we get to the list. First, I've listed the books in roughly chronological order based on the month of their release date. Second, although I've tried to include as many relevant and interesting titles as I could find, I'm sure that I inadvertently left out some deserving books. Please use the comments to add to this list as needed. Third, those who read through my book lists last year will notice that this post does not include pics of the book covers. I just couldn't justify the time that it took to collect/import/format book cover images for all of these books. But I would like to add a little bit of color to this post, so here are the five books that I am probably most interested in reading (I'd include Kristin Kobes DuMez's book on Katharine Bushnell as well, but alas, I could not find an image of the book cover):



Religious Press and Print Culture: Materiality, Community, and Cultural Work



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Elesha Coffman

Last month, I previewed the Religious Press and Print Culture conference at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. Here's a recap of that small but wide-ranging conference, highlighting topics that arose repeatedly in papers on subjects as diverse as fraktur, postbellum African American religious magazines, Moravian missionary networks, and Hinduism Today.

Note the array of waters and (eye)glasses.
1. Materiality matters. The German scholars at the meeting were especially attuned to ways the look and feel of texts affected their reception. Conference organizer Prof. Dr. Oliver Scheiding explained how the use of fraktur instead of Roman type reinforced a sense of community among Germans in early America. Andreas Pietsch found evidence of this phenomenon in a list of books for sale in 1772, on which some titles were listed in fraktur and some were in Roman type, depending on the content and intended audience. Gisela Mettele pointed out that even after print technologies became available, Moravians circulated some reports of their missionary work as handwritten copies. The information in these accounts was for insiders only, and the process of copying and hand-distributing the texts strengthened communal bonds across long distances. Conference participants (myself included) expressed fears that the material aspects of texts would be harder for scholars to appreciate in the dawning age of digital archives.

Interview with Allan Austin 20th Century Quaker Interracial Activism



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Karen Johnson

I'm honored to post the first half of an interview with Allan Austin about his book Quaker Brotherhood:Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950.  In his book, Austin traces Quakers' efforts to pursue what they called "the friendly principle of brotherhood," moving our knowledge of the Quakers' work for racial justice into the twentieth century and demonstrating the fascinating ways that race and religion intersected in the long civil rights movement. If this interview intrigues you, you can check out my post from last month in which I compare and contrast Quaker and Catholic interracial activists.

KJ: What were supporters of the AFSC pursuing?Did their goal change over time?

AA: From the start, Quakers in the AFSC wanted to pursue what one activist identified (in 1925) as “the friendly principle of brotherhood,” and this ideal remained a fairly constant, if vaguely defined, goal as the Service Committee sought out ways to engage interracial reform in the United States. But, in part because the principle was fairly amorphous, AFSC programming tended to move in different directions in fits and starts, especially in the first years.

Early activists rushed ahead with programs grounded in a powerful, if simple, idea: interracial interactions would help people of different racial groups better understand each other and, in the process, rehabilitate racist whites. This kind of thinking resulted in the sponsorship of visiting Japanese college students, who could serve as ambassadors or bridges between American and Japanese citizens, as well as efforts to introduce whites to African Americans (via tours of African American life in Philadelphia or the hiring of an African American speaker to hit the road and meet whites).When these projects lost steam after a few years, the Service Committee boldly struck out in another direction, creating the American Interracial Peace Committee, which ambitiously attempted to conquer racism and war simultaneously.

Religious Historians take on the "Specter of Capitalism"



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Heath Carter

Back in 2013 the New York Times declared that "the specter of capitalism"was haunting history departments (you can find my brief response here).  Religious historians are not quite ready to lay this ghost to rest, or so the roster of books forthcoming in 2015 would lead one to believe.  It is shaping up to be another banner year for studies of the tangled relationship of Christianity and capitalism in the modern United States.  Below the fold I've listed some of these books, but please feel free to add more in the comments.

To Be A Mensch: A Tribute to Sacvan Bercovitch (1933-2014)



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Laura Arnold Leibman

This past summer during our digital writing group, the topic of the academic mensch arose.  We all knew plenty of people in our field(s) who are brilliant, but so many fewer who are brilliant and kind and generous.  On the sad side, everyone could recount apocryphal stories of academic egos and insecurities and the unintentional trauma their owners induced.  (At the simply amusing end, one of my friends recalled privately how one famous academic had said at a social gathering, "Well, enough about me.  What did you think of my latest book?")  Yet when pressed, each of us could also recall much more fondly the few academic leaders who took an honest interest in people just starting their careers and helped nurture and support those people--even when they weren't their own students and they had "nothing to gain from it."  We cherished those people, even if they seemed all too few and far between.  From early on we had been taught to value brilliance; yet compassion was often overlooked. We noted sadly when people gave bios of "famous academics," whether they were actually a decent person rarely got mentioned. In response, we decided to create an "academic mensch" list to honor the people we saw as true role models: people who shaped their field and made others feel happy to be part of academic life.  At the top of my person "mensch list" was Sacvan Bercovitch, who passed away last week.

Although many people knew him better than I did, I met Saki seemingly by accident when I was a graduate student at UCLA in the mid 1990s.  One of my first academic presentations was a review of the Cambridge History of American Literature, for which Bercovitch was the general editor.  As a fledgling early Americanist, I spoke on the strengths and weaknesses of the first volume and how it was helped to reassess and reshape our field.  Fortunately I had no clue that Bercovitch was going to be in the audience, though he was so utterly gracious afterwards it turns out I wouldn't have had to have worried.  I have since lost the file containing what I said, but it is hard to imagine what I said was earth shattering.  Despite this Bercovitch was warm, asked for a copy of what I had said, and followed up with me later.  He simply cared.  Several years later, when I put together the academic advisory board for American Passages, I decided to aim high, and boldly asked Bercovitch to join us.  He was an obvious choice, both because he was a crucial voice in early American literature, and because the series--like the Cambridge History of American Literature--sought to rethink how we narrate American literature.  Although he had no good reason to remember me, he said he did, and was enthusiastic about the television series. I was continually grateful I had asked him. Throughout the years spent on the project, he was utterly gracious about his time and how he approached the production staff.  Although at least as busy (if not more) than anyone else involved in the project, he gave detailed feedback on each of the various scripts and rough cuts.  Moreover the feedback was consistently productive: it was meant to help us create a better series--rather than show us the error of our ways.  When the board met in person, one would have never known Saki was "important":  he did not throw around his weight or talk over people.  He listened and responded.  I found him to be equally generous in other venues.  When he came to give a talk at Reed College where I work and which he attended freshmen year before joining a kibbutz, he foregrounded the positive in his first year and was clearly excited to revisit his old haunt.  He was utterly charming and unassuming.  He was a mensch.

Although others have spoken at length about Saki's magnificent academic accomplishments and the extremely important way he shaped the field of American literature and American religious history, I wanted to make a special tribute to the ways that he influenced our field as a human being.  Although mensch is sometime translated as "man," it comes from the yiddish for "human being" and means a person of integrity and honor--a mensch is the kind of person we would all like to be on our best days.  While an unmensch is unfriendly, the mensch is friendly even to those to whom there is no clear benefit in being so.  The common mistranslation of mensch as "man" is unhelpful.  Since the term is not gender-specific, women as well as men can be mensches, a point well made by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, "Mensch: A Feminist Response Where There Might Not Need to Be One" in The Jewish Journal.  Women made my mensch list as well (the full list of which I happy to share). Moreover equation of kindness and integrity with "humanness" powerfully suggests something important about what it means to be truly human.

As a tribute to Sacvan Bercovitch as a scholar and human being, I would love it if people would honor his memory by listing other scholars or people who have made our field(s) something exceptional both by the work they produce and the way they encourage and interact with others.  Feel free to share personal stories of kindness.

(May his memory be a blessing) זיכרונו לברכה

The McNeil Center for Early American Studies: CFPs and Fellowships



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Sonia Hazard

The McNeil Center is a community of researchers engaged in the study of the histories and cultures (and religions!) of North America in the larger Atlantic world, before 1850. Based at the University of Pennsylvania, the Center sponsors the journal Early American Studies, as well as a number of conferences, dissertation fellowships, seminars, and other events. It's a great place to be an early Americanist.

Various colleagues at the McNeil Center are hosting several upcoming conferences which will interest scholars of early American religion. The first, "Situation Critical!: Critique, Theory, and Early American Studies," is aimed at bringing theoretical and critical provocations to bear on a field which typically prides itself on its empiricism. It's guaranteed to be a fascinating conversation. Religious studies scholars are specifically invited to apply. Abstracts are due by March 1, 2015, and the conference will take place in spring 2016. To download the CFP, click here.

Movers and shakers will want to apply to the graduate student conference, "Bustle and Stir: Movement and Exchange in Early America." The organizers invite graduate students from all disciplines and stages in their programs to discuss themes of dynamism, movement, and encounter in early American social and economic life. This high-velocity conference will be held October 8-10, 2015, and the deadline for abstracts is March 2, 2015. Shortly the CFP and more information will appear on the McNeil Center's conference page.

Finally, the McNeil Center sponsors a vibrant dissertation fellowship program, including one named fellowship designed specifically to support projects in early American religious studies. Fellows stay in residence in Philadelphia for nine months, and participate in the intellectual life of the Center. The deadline is February 2, 2015.

For more you can check out the McNeil Center's website or follow it on facebook.

Christmas Shopping and the Problem of Cheap Textiles



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Janine Giordano Drake


I am struck these days by the candidate social problems that have been adopted by large numbers of American Christians as causes for concern, and those which are more often forgotten about. I am glad to see that American clergy are talking openly about race at Christian Century. On the topic of Ferguson, Dr. Leslie Callahan, pastor of St. Paul's Baptist Church in Philadelphia, comments in a terrific interview with Ed Blum,

"If pastors have not developed their own theological imagination and stimulated their own hope for a transformed world and if that imagination and hope are not present as a part of their normal homiletical conversation, their discussion in times of crisis will be shallow and their witness will appear inauthentic to their congregations."

A hundred years ago, this kind of comment might be categorized as typical of the modern, Progressive, Protestant tradition which defended the (Protestant) Church in a moment of great urban distress. Sixty or seventy  or eighty years ago, evangelicals might have dismissed a comment like this as "liberal," and smelling suspiciously of commie ideas. Today, I'm heartened to see large numbers of evangelicals and liberals together wrestling through the realities of systemic racism and the particular ways in which their Christian faith requires a positive response, and awareness, of the problems of worldly injustice. I am struck by this article in Christianity Today, a major evangelical publication, on on How Evangelicals Can Respond to the Ferguson decision. I also liked this article on the question, "Are you my brother's keeper?" in Religion Dispatches. All over the internet and all over churches in the US, I've seen religious communities uniting around the idea that Christ called people to use their lives on earth to become aware of, and redeem, systemic injustice.


Book Review: Kyle T. Bulthuis, Four Steeples over the City Street: Religion and Society in New York's Early Republic Congregations



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Christopher Jones

TWEAHIn her 2013 presidential address to the American Society of Church History, Laurie Maffly-Kipp urged society members to consider anew the organization's roots in church history. The historiographical trend to look beyond churches in our search of religion in the near and distant past, she cautioned, ran the risk of obscuring the historical reality of those we study. Far from a desire to return to the predominantly Protestant providentialist narratives of yesteryear, Maffly-Kipp's was a call instead to explore how and why churches mattered, and what role they played in the lives of their adherents. Among other things, she warned, "a failure to acknowledge the power of religious institutions may lead to incomplete historical understandings of the behavior of others, past and present, for whom religious agency was, or is, more integrally tied to the life of organized churches."[1]

I was reminded of Maffly-Kipp's address as I recently read Kyle Bulthuis's Four Steeples over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York's Early Republic Congregations (New York University Press, 2014). Bulthuis's book, though not written in response to Maffly-Kipp's 2013 address, nevertheless speaks to many of the points she made.[2] Four Steeples is, quite self-consciously, a church history (or church histories), taking as its subject four Protestant congregations—Trinity Episcopal, John Street Methodist, St. Philip's (Black) Episcopal, and Mother Zion (African) Methodist—located just blocks apart in the heart of lower Manhattan, tracing their histories from the late eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth. As the author explains in the introduction, "this study draws together several genres of historical inquiry," including social history, religious history, and lived religion. "Church history," he continues, "provides a base and a foil for the work" (5). Four Steeples follows the model of traditional church histories by closely tracing their stories over a period of time; it departs from them in challenging their assumptions and complementing their focus on clergy and theology by granting equal attention to the laity and considering race, class, and gender as lens through which to understand congregational life and the relationship between the churches and the society in which they developed. In doing so, Bulthuis provides one model of what Maffly-Kipp called for when she argued that "religious institutions ... provide a critical vantage on other sorts of loyalties and affiliations, as well as offering pleasures of their own."[3] "Congregants," explains Bulthuis, "paired their religious lives with identities borne of their living and working spaces." And even as those religious identities impacted the way they related to various other aspects of society, they gradually took a backseat to racial and economic concern. As a result, "the churches grew less relevant to the community as a whole" (12).

Oh Chrismukkah Tree, Oh Chrismukkah Tree! (Reprise)



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Samira Mehta

Dear all, today is my one year anniversary on the blog. In honor of that event, I bring you a reprise of my first post as a regular blogger here at Religion in American History, on the oh so seasonal topic of Chrismukkah. Almost everything I note below is still true, though Thanksgivukkah will not happen again in our lifetimes, the blog post on Susan Katz Miller's Being Both has appeared on these pages, and (as I discovered on my way home from AAR), Skymall is back to selling the "Star of David Christmas Tree Topper,"though they have dropped the word Christmas and are now suggesting that it is "perfect for both interfaith and non-interfaith households."
  





Every year, on the plane from AAR to Thanksgiving, I flip through Skymall and I see an advertisement for the “Star of David Christmas Tree Topper,” with the following caption. “Celebrate the warmth and wonder of both Hanukkah and Christmas. Here's the perfect way for interfaith families to celebrate both holidays.” This year, I was not on a plane, but I gather, from the many colleagues I asked to track down the image, neither was the ornament. Perhaps it was missing because this summer Buzzfeed referred to the item as “one of the 30 most insane things for sale in the Skymall Magazine.” Maybe the Talking Smurf Toothbrushes edged it out. Perhaps someone in the Skymall marketing division realized that Thanksgivukkah (covered so well on this blog by Jodi Eichler-Levine) meant that this was not really the year for Chrismukkah ornaments. Regardless of why it was not in the magazine, the Star of David tree topper remains on the Skymall website, and it may not be quite as ridiculous as Buzzfeed would like to think.

The Skymall tree topper is part of a large cadre of trappings in the holiday arsenal of Christian–Jewish interfaith families. For all Chrismukkah will not happen this year, as a result of the calendric twist of fate that brought us Thanksgivukkah, the blended holiday has long been a symbol for the discomfort many feel with interfaith marriage. The idealized happy holiday season has long been seen as particularly fraught for couples coming to their marriages from different traditions. As the intermarriage rate rose through the 1970s and 80s, before coming to rest in the neighborhood of 50%, the question of the “December Dilemma” got featured in newspapers from the Cincinnati Enquirer to the New York Times.  In short, the December dilemma is the question of what the interfaith family is to do about the seasonal festivities that are American Christmas and American Hanukkah.  What, then, is the status of “Chrismukkah” in this world, and what does it mean more broadly for interfaith families and American religious culture?

Nancy Koester on Harriet Beecher Stowe



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Jonathan Den Hartog

Earlier this fall I had expressed my hope to host several guests in my "American Religious History" course. I was delighted to set up a visit from Nancy Koester, the author of the recently-published Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life.

Nancy did a fabulous job, and I wanted to make sure she could share some of her insights with the RiAH audience. This interview is the result.

JDH:  For many years, I’ve had on my book-shelf Joan Hedrick’s biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe. What perspective did you seek to add with your biography? 

NK: Joan Hedrick’s 1994 Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life won a Pulitzer Prize.  Her book has been a rich resource for me, but yes, my perspective is different.  I wrote the book as a church historian who has also been a pastor.  And my publisher, Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., wanted a shorter biography of Stowe--it needed to be well researched and substantive, yet inviting to readers who might shy away from a big university press biography.  My book aims for an educated Christian readership and reaches both evangelicals and mainliners.  On the other hand, I was asked to speak to a group called “Dead Feminist’s Society: Salon for Uppity Women,” on Harriet Beecher Stowe and 19th century feminism.

JDH: How would you describe Harriet’s spiritual outlook? What are the major themes in her faith? And, do you think they changed over time?   


NK: Harriet’s spiritual outlook started with her father, Rev. Lyman Beecher, who spent his lifetime combining revival and reform to aim for a godly society.  When Stowe was in her early forties she burned with righteous indignation against slavery.  Her spiritual outlook can be described as conflict and vindication: conflict with evil (slavery) and the vindication (freedom) that must come.  When the powerful are brought low and the lowly are raised up, God is glorified.  This was her theological world, but it shifted when her son Henry died of accidental drowning in 1857.  As far as anyone knew, Henry died unconverted.   Stowe was taught by her father, that those who die unconverted are lost for all eternity.  And now Harriet suffered a double separation: the living from the dead, and the saved from the unsaved.   From that time forward, she struggled with separation even more than with injustice. She was drawn into spiritualism, because it claimed to bridge the gap between the living and the dead.  But spiritualism left her dissatisfied and questioning the integrity of the mediums who claimed to communicate with the Other World. In Christianity, she found strength to face death, and hope of resurrection.  She embraced the Communion of Saints which unites all Christians across space and time.  And she came to believe that one can become a Christian through baptism, nurture, conversion, or combination. 

JDH: I always feel like Calvin Stowe fades into the background when people talk about Harriet. What did you learn about Calvin, and how would you characterize their marriage?   

NK: Harriet eclipsed Calvin, that’s true.  Harriet became a world famous author, but Calvin’s influence was in academia.   A biblical scholar, Calvin taught at Bowdoin and Dartmouth colleges, and Lane and Andover Seminaries.  He had a disciplined intellect, but he also had a wild imagination.  As a child, he  thought he saw ghosts and later in life became a devotee of spiritualism.  Calvin could be moody and depressed.  Harriet told him to stop “cultivating indigo” and get some fresh air and exercise.  
         Their marriage started out in the usual way: Calvin was to be the breadwinner and Harriet the home maker.  But Harriet had always wanted to write.  When Lane Seminary (Calvin’s employer in Cincinnati) fell on hard times and could barely pay his salary, Harriet wrote magazine articles to help pay the bills.  By that time, they had small children.  So  Harriet had to buy time to write, by hiring help. Calvin thought this extravagant, and said Harriet could manage without help… if she could only get herself organized.  To his credit, however, Calvin came to see that Harriet could indeed make money with writing.  More important, she was happier.  Calvin became Harriet’s biggest fan:  “You must be a literary woman,” he urged, telling her to use her own name (not a pseudonym as many women writers did).  In time, Harriet and Calvin developed “a companionate marriage,” nineteenth century parlance for a partnership of equals.   They had would have seven children, six of whom lived to adulthood.   
          When Calvin retired from teaching, the family relied entirely Harriet’s income from writing.  This freed Calvin to finish his one and only book:  Origin and History of the Books of the New Testament, Both the Canonical and the Apocryphal, Designed to Show What the Bible Is Not, What It Is, and How to Use It.  (1867)  Calvin was such a perfectionist that,  without Harriet to push him, he might never have submitted his work for publication.   
          Harriet likewise depended on Calvin.  Though she was raised a Beecher and therefore steeped in Bible and theology, Calvin became her resident expert in Bible, theology, politics and ethics.  “My rabbi” was her term of endearment for Calvin, and with his white whiskers and black cap, he looked the part.  Harriet could transform Calvin’s ideas into vivid stories.  Calvin was a theorist, and Harriet a popularizer.  William B. Allen, in Rethinking Uncle Tom: The Political Philosophy of Harriet Beecher Stowe, identifies Calvin’s views at work in Harriet’s anti-slavery writings.  Take, for example, the idea that the system of slavery is inherently evil, so making personal attacks on slaveholders is not helpful.  Or that a true American patriot—and for that matter a true Christian--will not defend slavery, but seek to abolish it because the system of slavery is bad for everyone.                

JDH: How was Harriet always Lyman Beecher’s daughter? What do you think she carried forward from her father’s Congregational outlook? 

NK: Harriet always loved and respected her father.  By middle age, however, she was pulling away from some of Lyman Beecher’s views (like eternal punishment for the unsaved, or conversion as necessary for salvation).  When Lyman Beecher died in 1863, Harriet was free to join the Episcopal Church.  Her new spiritual home emphasized liturgy rather than doctrine, and the broad Communion of Saints rather than individual conversion.             
         Lyman Beecher saw conversion as necessary for salvation, and conversion was a very particular set of experiences that followed a revival template.   Harriet broadened her views of how people become Christians, yet she never rejected conversion and revivals.  As an old woman writing to her son Charles (a Congregational minister) she made favorable mention of Moody’s revivals, and seemed especially pleased that Moody drew people together across denominational lines.  In her last New England novel (Poganuc People, 1878) Stowe paid loving tribute to her father and the New England of her youth.  And when in old age an enfeebled Harriet could write only a few words, she would copy over and over her father’s motto:  “Trust in the Lord and Do Good.” 

The Ferguson Protests and the Limits of Liberal Multiculturalism



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Today's guest post comes from Mark Hulsether, Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in American Studies Program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Mark offers a timely piece that can serve as a model for incorporating current events into classroom.

Mark Hulsether

No doubt most readers are aware of the national call for academic walkouts in support of the Ferguson protests, which largely happened on Monday, December 1. Moreover, as I write tonight, news about the Eric Garner “I Can’t Breathe” protests is breaking, and this seems likely to create pressure for additional action. 

As it happened at my school, the Ferguson walkout was announced to begin during the exact half-hour when I had scheduled an in-class part of a final exam in my survey course on Religion and Society in North America. Also, I had more students in this class who self-identified as having white cops in their families than who identify as African American. Cancelling for a dramatic walkout did not seem to be a promising option, although I did move my exam to a different half hour so that people could leave if they wished.

Mainly I decided to create a “Ferguson option” for the synthetic essay that is the second, take-home, part of my final exam.  My purpose here is to share it in case it might prove useful for others on this blog.  

Since my version of this course is structured by my book, Religion, Culture, and Society in the Twentieth Century United States, the final essay builds on the key terms of my conclusion: it asks students to compare and contrast consensus, pluralist, and counterhegemonic frameworks for thinking about US religion.  However, I suppose that many of our courses have enough overlap in key terms—and that the current moment is urgent enough—that some of these ideas might be a productive starting point for others to build upon.

So, with no further ado, here is the assignment, stripped of logistical matters relevant only for my students.
 
Take-home Analytical Essay for Final Exam, Religious Studies 233
OPTION B:  The Ferguson Response Option

Goals and framing comments

This alternative option for the RS 233 take-home essay brings the ongoing Ferguson protests (and specifically the call for an academic walkout during our last day of class) into dialogue with our goal of working toward synthesis and closure in this class.  

    Specific rubric for the assignment

Please read the focus sections that are copied below from Hulsether’s Religion Culture and Politics in the Twentieth Century US, and review the book’s surrounding arguments until you clearly understand the selections in context.  If you need background on issues related to Ferguson, I recommend a list compiled by The Atlantic;  Robin D.G. Kelley, “Why We Won’t Wait”;  Tim Wise, “Black Reality and White Denial in America”; and George Lipsitz’s “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness” (American Quarterly 47, no. 3).

Begin by positing that the Ferguson protestors (if presented in their best light as they should be) perceive this moment in similar terms that Hulsether calls an “emergency” in the passage bolded below.  

Respond in three or four pages using these parameters:  (1) describe in your own words how one source from our readings would agree with the perception of an “emergency” and respond to it using specific counterhegemonic religious arguments.  (2) Compare and contrast such an argument to at least one source from our syllabus that would disagree from a consensus and/or multicultural pluralist perspective, using religious arguments.  (3) Introduce at least more source from our syllabus that supports either side.  You must present these positions accurately in their strongest light before moving to criticism—but please (4) offer an assessment of which of the analytical frames (consensus vs. pluralist vs. counterhegemonic) and examples you selected are most persuasive and useful for this case. 

Demonization and Racialization in British North America: Slave Revolts, Devilish Priests, and Infernal Landscapes



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Today's guest post comes from Jeffrey Wheatley, a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University. His research explores religious contestation, racialization, the state, and capitalism with a focus on nineteenth-century North America. You can find him on Twitter or message him at jwheatley[at]u.northwestern[dot]edu. Note that an earlier version of this post appeared on the American Society of Church History blog.

Jeffrey Wheatley


Horsmanden's Journal
 (Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History)
The two things that British North Americans feared most in the colonial era were slave revolts and the Catholic Church. Within the colonial imaginary these two threats occasionally coalesced into one. The result was an infernal spectacle that forced colonial anxieties about the basic structures of colonial society to the surface. The soundness of the institution of slavery, emerging conceptions of the public, and the British Protestant beachhead in the overwhelmingly Catholic Americas all came into question.

The colonies were undergoing just such a crisis in the late 1730s and early 1740s. In 1739, a group of slaves in South Carolina rebelled and fled to Florida, where they were promised freedom by the Spanish. Along the way they burned down a number of houses owned by those who were especially cruel. In 1741, colonial officials believed a series of fires in New York City to be a sign of a potentially large-scale slave revolt orchestrated by Catholic priests. In both the Stono Rebellion and the New York Conspiracy, commentators worried that these revolts were but the first step of a larger invasion from Catholic Spain or France. Jill Lepore’s New York Burning (2005) has engaged the difficulties of figuring out what occurred on the ground in New York, but for this rather long post I want to focus on the colonial imaginary, and especially how the language of demons and hell functioned to protect and legitimate the interests of white colonial America.

"Torture as a Factor of Production": Cotton and Capital



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Andrew McKee

In the past two semesters I have had the opportunity to take part in two very different courses on capitalism. One course was housed in the always-classy Dodd Hall with Matthew Day, and the other, in the history department at FSU with Alexander Aviña. While differing in book lists (the only overlap was Specters of the Atlantic), and in methodological approach, both courses have prompted me to pay close attention to globalization, economic interests, nation-state creation, and, occasionally, religious studies. In my own research, the weaving together of these historical and historiographic details has been especially productive when thinking about how the influence of capitalist markets loomed large in considerations of empire making and Indian removal in the antebellum America. While these works do not explicitly focus on things “religious,” in my post for today, I want to discuss this focus by referencing three new, and, I think, helpful books on slavery and the ‘Cotton Empire” for teaching and researching (previously discussed at the blog here) at all these different interlocking intersections.

First off, Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams, which encompasses an enormous history of the Mississippi Valley in the first half of the nineteenth century and argues that the systematic creation of a cotton frontier tied to global economy flows created an economic environment that was explosive, lively, and speculative. Johnson’s narrative critiques a vision of the Jeffersonian Republican ideal of the ‘yeoman’ farmer in highlighting the processes in which this vision itself was rooted in speculation, credit, and debt. The south, of which the Mississippi Valley played a defining role, gives Johnson’s narrative a clear focus on the processes by which slave labor and the mono cropping of cotton could and did take hold. Instead of questioning what ‘the South’ was, then, Johnson instead claims to ask, “where southerner’s thought they were going and how they thought they could pull it off in the first place” (16). 

Sutton's Apocalypse



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Paul Harvey

Cover: American Apocalypse in HARDCOVERAnother brief intermission break to point you to an excellent interview about an outstanding new book: Daniel Silliman's interview with Matthew Sutton, over at Religion Dispatches, about his brand new book, just now coming out with Harvard University Press, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism. Check it out. It's worth it for the book cover alone. There will be more extensive discussion of the work here in the future, but just as a preview, a brief excerpt from the interview:



My argument in a nutshell is that the apocalyptic theology that developed in the 1880s and 1890s led radical evangelicals to the conclusion that all nations are going to concede their power in the End Times to a totalitarian political leader who is going to be the Antichrist. If you believe you’re living in the last days and you believe you’re moving towards that event, you’re going to be very suspicious and skeptical of anything that seems to undermine individual rights and individual liberties, and anything that is going to give more power to the state.

Check out the interview, and just read the book. 


Mississippi Praying Wins Brewer Prize



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Paul Harvey

Just a brief break from our usual action here for a happy announcement.

Back in February, I posted this interview with Carolyn Dupont of Eastern Kentucky University, a friend of the blog and author of the outstanding recent book Mississippi Praying; Southern Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement. I have just learned that Carolyn's book has been named the recipient of the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize from the American Society of Church History! That award is given out for the best first book in the field of church history in any given year. Congratulations to Carolyn for this award. As someone who had the privilege of reading and commenting on this work in manuscript, and subsequently becoming friends with Carolyn, it's a delight to see her work honored. For those of you going to the 2015 ASCH/AHA meeting in New York City, Carolyn will formally receive the award there. If you didn't get a chance to check out the interview (and the book) before, click above and do so.

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