The Religious and The Political, Or, Why the Nation of Islam Bamboozles My Students

Matthew J. Cressler

What we usually call "the religious" and "the political" have been practically inseparable in my course on African American religions this semester. After all, how can students think about practices, communities, institutions, and experiences born in no small part of involuntary migration and servitude - born of Atlantic world empire and slavery - without thinking about power, governance, and resistance? I would venture to guess that this is true of many (maybe most) courses on American religions and it carries special weight in African American religious studies. One way I tried to impress this upon my students was through a discussion of Eddie Glaude's "very short introduction" to African American Religion (Oxford, 2014). In it, Glaude argues that, if the category is to have any usefulness, the study of "African American religion" must be more than simply the study of the ways African Americans happen to be religious. Instead, Glaude draws on J.Z. Smith and others to insist that
"African American religion is the invention of scholars who, with particular aims and purposes, seek to describe, analyze, and theorize the religious practices of African Americans under a particular racial regime [white supremacy in the United States]" (8).
Glaude's approach, as well as that of my course, thus "assumes that the political and social context in the United States is a necessary though not sufficient condition of any study of something called African American religion" (7). To this end, we have examined and entered into debates about the inseparability of Christianity, slavery, and slave revolt; imaginings of "Africa" and the construction of African American (religious) identity; and black churches as a counter-public sphere, among other topics. All this is to say that, for my students and myself, the realms of "the religious" and "the political" have never been far from each other.

Then we came to the Nation of Islam and these blurred boundaries were built back up in no time.

Technology enabled Churches

John Crow

Last month the Barna Group released the latest in its surveys regarding the use of technology in America’s Protestant churches. Entitled, Cyber Church: Pastors and the Internet, the report notes that an overwhelming number of pastors and church leaders are embracing technology in the church for both personal use and for ministry. Wanting to get a direct assessment of the use of technology in the church, I reached out to Phil Cannizzaro, president of InfoTank, an Atlanta technology services company. InfoTank serves the technological needs of many Christian institutions within the Atlanta-metro area. Clients include Peachtree Presbyterian, the largest church within P.C.(USA), having over 7000 members, North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, All Saints Catholic Church, Ambassadors for Christ, an Atlanta-based evangelical ministry, Women's Community Bible Study, and numerous Christian schools including Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta Youth Academy, and Whitefield Academy.

Cannizzaro was quick to point out that, in general, churches use the same technology as any other profit or non-profit companies. The difference is not what is used, but how it is deployed. One area that he points out is a significant driver of technology use is church membership management. This is an area that the Barna Group makes no reference to, but Cannizzaro says is a major concern for every church he services. Capterra, a business-to-business technology consulting firm, lists over 50 different software packages in the church membership management space. Varying in cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, these software packages attend to various needs within the church including membership management, accounting, tithe and donation management, sermon management, and attendance tracking. The more sophisticated software packages often have web server modules that allow members to directly access and manage their account, updating contact information and tracking church giving. As the Barna Group points out, the larger the church and the more financial resources it has, the more likely it is to adopt technology to offer services and solve problems. Cannizzaro notes that the churches that have greater economic resources are willing to invest in customizations to software packages whereas churches with fewer resources are more willing to use software as is “straight out of the box.” One last point Cannizzaro makes about church management software is that the software packages are generally three to five years behind in technology adoption. Even though the market is large for church management software, it has its limits and there is no incentive for being innovative. Only once a technology is ubiquitous in other areas of society, is it likely to show up in the church management space.

In a 2008 report about technology use in Protestant churches, the Barna Group found that two thirds of churches had large screen projection systems in the sanctuary. Cannizzaro notes that his Protestant church clients also have projection systems in their sanctuaries and will use it in a variety of ways during services. One note of contrast, however, is that his Catholic Church clients do not have screens or projection systems within the sanctuary and have no interest in getting them in the future. Another Protestant/Catholic differences he finds in is the streaming of church services. Most of the Protestant churches he services broadcast their Sunday services on the internet. None of his Catholic church clients broadcast their Masses, and he said you’d be hard pressed to find many that do. It would seem while Protestant churches are interested in getting their Sunday Services to anyone in any way, Catholic churches are more focused on getting members to physically attend Mass and not participate through the mediation of online streaming video.

The Jews of Cleveland: a Conference Summary and Reflection on Local Studies

Rachel Gordon

Last week at the Cleveland Historical Society, a group of academic contributors to a forthcoming volume on the Jews of Cleveland met. Primarily historians and religionists from North America and Israel, we discussed our chapters-in-progess and the Jewish history of Cleveland.

Why Cleveland?

For decades, scholars of the Jewish experience have sought to expand our gaze beyond the obvious centers of Jewish life in America. Yet, Ohio -- important as it has been in the history of Reform Judaism, and in terms of early 20th century Jewish population growth -- still gets short shrift. Cincinnati and Cleveland have significant Jewish histories

Our topics are varied and include Cleveland Jews and the Civil War, Orthodox Judaism in Cleveland, Cleveland Jewish family history, Jewish interracial neighborhood activism, the city's Jewish education offerings, Superman's Cleveland origins, Jewish urban flight, and the mid-twentieth century founding of Cleveland synagogues.

With the beginnings of Cleveland communal Jewish life in 1839, when a group of 19 Jew immigrated from Unsleben, Bavaria, the city included two large Reform synagogues by 1850. Like other major American cities, Cleveland felt the second phase of Jewish immigration to America as Eastern European Jews fled persecution in the last decades of the 19th century. It was in Cleveland's garment industry, second only to New York's in the early 20th century, where these Jews largely found work.

By the 20th century, as our conference presentations revealed, Cleveland's diverse population had begun to give the lie to a unified Jewish community, with various stripes of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews in coexistence. In her keynote address, historian Hasia Diner exhorted conference attendees to reconsider use of the term, "Jewish community" -- a phrase that many use interchangeably with "American Jews," but which often suggests a false consensus.

Diner also posed the question: why do we scholars choose our topics of study at a particular moment in history? Recalling that many cities and towns conducted community studies in the mid-twentieth century, in honor of the tercentennial celebration (1954) of Jewish life in America, Diner challenged us to think about what it is that we value about these local studies in 2015.

I thought back over the past two weeks of world news, which had brought reports and reactions to Israel's election. American Jewish responses were sundry. What I noticed along with this diversity of reactions was how important it felt to many Jews to make clear that they did not necessarily agree with other Jews. "Other Jews do not speak for me," has felt like a common theme in American Jewish reactions to current events, particularly those relating to the Middle East, over the past year. As a minority in the American population, Jewish anxiety about being lumped together with all other Jews seems realistic. I hear the reflexive assumption, in my classrooms, that all Jews, or all Mormons, or any member of a religious minority group, must think and act like other members of the group. Local studies such as this one about Cleveland remind readers that even the smallest groups contain diversity within. We just have to be willing to look for it.

Conference Recap: National Museum of American History's Religion in Early America Symposium

Today's guest post comes from Charles Richter, a PhD candidate in American Religious History at George Washington University. He studies irreligion and its critics, apocalypticism, and their intersections with American culture. Charles attended the Religion in Early America symposium hosted by the National Museum of American History last week. Following Charles' lead, readers are welcome to submit guests posts from conferences or while visiting archives this spring and summer. Submissions should be emailed to Cara.

Charles Richter

Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History could be forgiven for thinking that religion has not played a large role in the nation’s history. Most are more interested in seeing Dorothy’s ruby slippers anyway, but the stories told by the official repository of artifacts from United States history have largely steered clear of involving religion to any meaningful degree. This is about to change, thanks to the work of many prominent scholars of American religion. On March 20, NMAH hosted a symposium on Religion in Early America, organized by Stephen Prothero, to introduce the museum’s plans regarding religion and to discuss some major issues in its representation.

Mormon sunstone capital from the original Nauvoo temple
(currently on display at the National Museum of American History)
Photo by Charles Richter, 2015
Introducing the symposium, NMAH director John Gray announced both an exhibit on religion in early America scheduled to open in 2017, on the second floor of the newly remodeled west wing, and the museum’s goal to hire a permanent curator of religion. The initial exhibit will be curated by David Allison, associate director of curatorial affairs, and guest curator Peter Manseau, whom many readers of this blog will know from his recent book One Nation Under Gods. The exhibit will include such artifacts as Lucretia Mott’s cloak, George Washington’s christening robe, and the Jefferson Bible, on which the museum recently performed significant conservation work.

In his opening and closing remarks, Prothero, who had initially been brought to NMAH on a fellowship following the God in America PBS series, described religion in America as “connected, contested, and complicated.” The challenge for the museum is to represent the interconnected nature of the stories of religion in America while also acknowledging the conflicts, not only between religious traditions, but also over the interpretations and definitions of religion itself. The exhibit and symposium both address three major themes: religious freedom, religious growth, and religious diversity.

Amusing Archive Finds

Emily Suzanne Clark

How many times have you read something in the archives or in a primary source that made you smile, chuckle, or even lol? For some research topics, the answer might be never. But hopefully everyone finds topics for the classroom that allow us to think about funny things in American religious history.

This is on my mind because in both my courses last week, Religions in America and African American Religions, my students had primary source readings that made some of them (and me) chuckle. Last week in my African American Religions class, students read excerpts from the FBI's files on the Moorish Science Temple from the 1930s and 1940s. These are a great read for students because they reveal so much about how outsiders saw the Moorish Science Temple, the politics of monitoring raced religions, and still the files describe some elements of the Moorish Science Temple. As a class we commiserated over our frustration at what's blacked out in the declassified files. And the place of employment of one interviewee's brother made us smile. The interviewee's brother, who helped keep order at the meetings, worked in a "potato chip shop." Something about the idea of a store that specializes in and sells potato chips makes me smile. No, not lol levels, but still some amusing archives. After the jump break I share what's funny from my own current research—what I like to call seance snark.

Where is the Pacific in American Religious History?

Charles McCrary

Note: This post is the first in a series on the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t really plan a series, but the introduction to this post quickly became too long. So, this post serves just as an introduction to the series. Please ask questions and make suggestions in the comments section, and I’ll try to address them in future posts.

American religious history is going global. As many historians move away from the nation-state as a way to organize their objects of study and instead trace other themes—capitalism or environmental change, for example—they are taken beyond the geographic bounds of the United States. The upcoming Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture will feature sessions on “American Religion and Global Flows” and “‘Religion in the Americas’ as an Organization Program.” At the 2013 AAR meeting in Baltimore, a panel considered the theme “Placing the Subfield: North American Religions, Religion in the Americas and Beyond.” Those of us paying attention to the job market likely have noticed an increase in the number of calls focusing on Latin America, the Caribbean, and/or “the Americas.” Not all of this interest has to do with the decline of the nation-state. In fact, studies of religion and government are on the upswing, with “empire,” “American in/and the world,” and “foreign relations” all providing valuable frames for the study of religion. Even in cases where confining studies to the United States might make sense, there are ways that a global approach might be beneficial. Studies of American religious freedom, for example, often center on historical interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. But these stories are bolstered by discussions of global secularity, constitutionalism around the world, and the role of religion and secularism in international relations. In short, we do need to ask important questions about what exactly our subfield is about, and in what ways geography should define “American religious history” (or “American religions” or “religion in the Americas”.) In what networks do we plot “religion”? I do wonder about graduate programs changing to “the Americas”—why not “the world”? Or “global flows”? Should Brazil be more a part of our subfield than Canton? Or Tahiti?

So, after that introduction full of things everyone knows already, I’ll get to my real question: Where is the Pacific in American religious history?

Evangelicals and the Business of One Nation Under God

The following is Darren Grem's review of Kevin Kruse's best-selling new book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.  You can find Mike Graziano's earlier review of Kruse's work here.  Darren E. Grem is Assistant Professor of History and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.  His first book, Corporate Revivals: Big Business and the Shaping of the Evangelical Right, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.  

Darren Grem

 “A nation with the soul of a church.”  We all know the quip.  G.K. Chesterton, right?  He was wrestling with the question “What is America?”  Here’s what else he had to say, from his 1922 book What I Saw in America:

America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.  That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in The Declaration of Independence. . . . It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice and that governments exist   to given them their justice, and that their authority is for that reason just.  It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from which these equal rights are derived.

Chesterton’s reading of religious meaning into a foundational document like the Declaration of Independence is the kind of striving that Kevin M. Kruse’s One Nation Under God historicizes.  According to Kruse, this narrative—that America is a “God blessed” or even “Christian” nation bestowing equal rights and religious freedom on its citizens and others—is of recent vintage, and corporate Americans played a key role in popularizing it after World War II.  I won’t rehash Mike Graziano's fine review for this site.  But I would like to consider where Kruse’s book fits into the series of recent books that consider the role of businessmen and corporate America in constructing religious categories and narratives in modern American history.  Then, I will suggest how Kruse’s book also reaffirms some problems and shortcomings in the present historiography and where we might go next in writing the corporation into our understanding of the modern religious past.

Some favorite books in honor of Women's History Month

Carol Faulkner
"Progress of Woman," Library of Congress

Several years ago, Kelly Baker published a series of posts (here, here, and here) on favorite scholars of gender and American religion for women's history month. Inspired by her example, I decided to put together a special post for this month (though, really, every month is women's history month for me). In order not to duplicate Kelly's lists, I asked a group of colleagues to name their favorite book on women and American religion. While I stuck with "American," I tried to consult scholars with different specializations and time periods.

The scholars, and their choices, follow the break. Readers, I hope you will add your favorites, and tell us why, in the comments section.

Across the Confessional Divide

Today's post is by Margaret Abruzzo, Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Alabama -- and in Fall 2014, a Cushwa Fellow. She is currently researching her second book, on changing conceptions of  sin, wrongdoing, and moral responsibility in 18th and 19th century Anglo-American thought.

Margaret Abruzzo

If nobody is perfect, what does it mean to be a good person? And why do “good” people do bad things? Although these sound like timeless questions, during the 18th and 19th centuries, these questions sparked new puzzlement as older explanations for human moral failing came under attack. Previous generations had blamed sin on passions, self-interest, or innate depravity, but increasingly positive perceptions of human nature and the human capacity for goodness weakened these explanations. The growing popularity of the notion that morality brought earthly rewards—or at least made people happy—made it ever more difficult to explain why “good” people still behaved badly. Confidence in human nature did not make evil disappear; it just made it much harder to explain.

The Problem of American Lutheran Histor(iograph)y

Today's guest post comes from Tim Grundmeier, a PhD candidate in history at Baylor University. Tim's dissertation will examine Lutheranism and American culture in the Civil War era.

Tim Grundmeier 

The problem—perhaps even the scandal—of American Lutheran historical scholarship is that there is not much American Lutheran historical scholarship. In 1964 Henry May famously proclaimed “The Recovery of American Religious History.” He wrote: “Puritanism, Edwardsian Calvinism, revivalism, liberalism, modernism, and the social gospel have all been brought down out of the attic and put back in the historical front parlor.” Over the last fifty years, Catholicism, Mormonism, African American religion, fundamentalism, Judaism, metaphysical religion, and a host of other traditions also have found their way into the parlor. But Lutheranism still remains up in the attic, stuck in a dusty old box.

The bibliography of Mark Granquist’s Lutherans in America: A New History, just published this January, attests to this. This book is the first comprehensive treatment since The Lutherans in North America, edited by E. Clifford Nelson and first published in 1975.* It contains many welcome improvements. Not only does Granquist cover the last forty years of American Lutheran history, but his single authorial voice yields a better narrative flow than his predecessor’s multi-author approach. He avoids getting bogged down in the intricacies of denominational politics, but does not shortchange American Lutheranism’s institutional, cultural, and theological complexity. Particularly commendable is his evenhanded analysis of recent Lutheran controversies: the conservative takeover of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the 1970s, the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the 1980s, and contemporary debates and schisms over such issues as ecumenism and sexuality. In short, Granquist’s book stands as the most complete synthesis of American Lutheran history currently in print.

Teaching American Jesus in 2015

Elesha Coffman

After several semesters teaching church history to seminarians, I got a chance to teach American religion to undergrads again, so I went back to a text I hadn't taught in a while, Stephen Prothero's American Jesus (Farrar, Strous and Giroux, 2003). I still like the book a lot and find it very useful as both an (admittedly incomplete) overview of American religious history and as a model for the cultural analysis of artifacts. A few things seem different this time around with the book, though, and I wondered if other people who teach it have made similar observations.

1. Many students struggle with what I would deem the book's pretty basic theological language. Granted, I have not taught undergrads at my current institution before, so I cannot make a longitudinal comparison. Still, I expected terms such as "Calvinism," "creeds," and "second person of the Trinity" to be, if not familiar, at least manageable in context. Not so, for about half of my students.

I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from such a small sample if it weren't for the same phenomenon cropping up among seminary students. Seminary colleagues of mine lament that some students begin an MDiv now needing what would have been deemed a remedial level of biblical and theological instruction 20 years ago. Surely this complaint has been raised for generations. Still, I feel like I do see effects of a widespread erosion of theological literacy (another topic Prothero has addressed) in the undergrad classroom, and these make my instructional task more difficult.

2. The near-absence of Muslims is really conspicuous. Aside from a few lines about the Nation of Islam in the "Black Moses" chapter, Islam makes only very fleeting appearances in the book. Efforts made by Hindus and Buddhists to interpret and appropriate Jesus get more attention. But because Western observers have waded so deeply into debates about "true" Islam since 9/11 and the onset of the War on Terror, it would be nice to see how Muslims have engaged in debates about Jesus. Who came before Reza Aslan?

What Parish Are You From?

Karen Johnson

For much of the twentieth century, many people in northern cities with large Catholic populations, people often asked one another where they lived with the question: "what parish are you from?"  No matter if you were a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Jew, Catholicism, and its way of dividing up the faithful in geographic territories, pervaded the city.

There's a great body of literature on the relationship between Americans' faith, neighborhoods, and racial politics with one of the most well-known being John McGreevy's 1996 Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Urban North.  McGreevy's book is comprehensive, and among other things, he demonstrates that we must account for religion when we consider racial change in America's northern cities.  For teaching, though, I prefer to help students go deep in a subject, rather than wide.  This semester in my American Cities and Suburbs, we're looking at one parish from a few different views as a window into race and religion in the city.

I'm using Eileen McMahon's What Parish Are You From? A Chicago Irish Community and Race Relations to help students explore the ways communities put boundaries around themselves, as well as how they have navigated the racial change that has been so central to the narrative of U.S. urban and suburban history.  McMahon's book traces the changing notions of community in St. Sabina's parish.  The book is accessible to students and, because it offers a case study, provides students with the opportunity to know a community at a deeper, more substantive level.  It also complicates their notions of white flight as simply racist by showing how Catholicism shaped parishioners' experience of racial change.

God Bless the Genealogists

Laura Arnold Leibman

Rabbi Malcolm Stern, Author of
First American Jewish Families
Genealogy fever has swept the nation.  Commonly considered the second most popular American hobby, genealogy is surpassed in the number of devotees only by gardening. Genealogy similarly holds the second place internet record for "most visited category of website," with only pornography capturing the American gaze more frequently (USA Today).  Genealogy helps Americans understand who they are, where they came from, and how they fit within the larger narratives of American history.

Religion has played an important role in genealogy's rise in prominence.  The Mormon Church's interest in baptizing the dead has encouraged the church to dedicate tremendous resources to mapping the past.  Equally crucially, many of the early American documents desired by genealogists (including marriage and burial records) were often originally created and kept by religious organizations.  Religious practice can also fuel the desire for knowledge about one's ancestors.  In my own field, which covers both converso and early Jewish American families, people sometimes turn to genealogical research to make sense of their personal religious life stories.  Furthermore, genealogy fever has helped channel vasts amounts of human and financial resources into digitizing early records that can help foster scholarship on American religious communities.  God bless the genealogists! Genealogists make our scholarly lives easier; however, they also challenge us in productive ways to rethink our audience and create more interactive and accessible modes of history making.

Same-Sex Marriage in Early America

Seth Dowland

In September, Carol Faulkner wrote an excellent post on Rachel Hope Cleves' excellent new book, Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America, which details a 44-year marriage between two Vermont women, who lived together from 1807-1851. Having just finished teaching the book to students in my course, "Religion & Gender in American History," I wanted to return to this fascinating work, hopefully building on rather than duplicating Carol's post.

One of the book's most fascinating themes is the way Charity and Sylvia adopted conventional gender norms in their marriage. For historians of same-sex relationships, this isn't a new conclusion, but Cleves does a marvelous job demonstrating how overtly the two women embodied gendered roles. Charity Bryant, seven years older than Sylvia Drake, took on various masculine roles: she was listed first in property records, fixed furniture, shopped at markets, and acted as the disciplinarian for their nieces, nephews, and other children in the town. Sylvia cooked, cleaned, and comforted. One visitor to their home, Hiram Hurlburt (what a name!), said bluntly, "Miss Bryant was the man." Even so, Sylvia thought of herself as an equal partner in the women's tailoring business -- theirs was a gendered but not patriarchal relationship. This gendering helped Charity and Sylvia position themselves as a married couple.

The role of the church (both women were Congregationalists) in Charity and Sylvia's marriage is probably of most interest to readers on this blog. Sylvia and Charity were spiritual giants in their community by the time they reached middle age. Townspeople sent their children to apprentice with the two women, and not just because they were good seamstresses; the expectation was that time with such pious women would positively influence young souls. The ministers in town expressed deep regard for Charity and Sylvia. Several of Charity and Sylvia's ministers carried on lifelong correspondence with the two women, and one even referred to Charity and Sylvia as "my superiors." To be sure, Charity and Sylvia spent their entire lives thinking of their sexual relationship as deeply wicked, and Charity showed an aversion to attending church on Sunday. They could never speak openly of each other as spouses and lived in fear of judgment.

My class's most interesting conversations emerged as we considered the multi-faceted way Christianity intersected with Charity and Sylvia's relationship -- and the differences in how same-sex couples experience the church today. Charity and Sylvia lived in a world where same-sex marriage was not a political issue. As a result, their relationship was not "threatening." So long as they kept quiet about their sexuality, Charity and Sylvia were free to become spiritual giants in their community. Yet they always talked about themselves as "failed Christians" and never escaped the weight of their "wickedness," even as everyone around them praised their piety. This seems like a near inversion of the relationship many same-sex couples have with their churches today.

After the Monkey Trial: Christopher M. Rios Interview


I recently received a copy of Christopher Rios’s After the Monkey Trial: Evangelical Scientists and a New Creationism (Fordham University Press, 2014), and posed a few questions to the author. Dr. Rios teaches at Baylor University, and also works as the Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies.

Phillip Luke Sinitiere (PLS): What is the main argument in After the Monkey Trial, what central points do you make about modern evangelicalism and scientific thought?

Christopher Rios (CR): My main argument, simply put, is that the most prominent evangelical scientists of the twentieth century actively resisted the antievolutionary movement that developed after World War II. That is, between the 1950s and the 1980s, when “creationism” came to dominate American evangelicalism and gained considerable international support, a noteworthy group of evangelical scientists in both the US and UK sought to demonstrate that Christianity and science, or more properly theology and science, were not mutually exclusive categories that required acceptance of one only by rejection of the other but were complementary ways of viewing the world. My book thus furthers our understanding of how modern evangelicalism was never monolithic in its view of science. Even when considering the mid twentieth century, the attempt to define evangelicals or evangelical faith according to a particular view of science is misguided.  Clearly, no small number of evangelicals, especially fundamentalist evangelicals, rejected evolution. Many did so for theological reasons, others on scientific grounds. A few even claimed to demonstrate scientific evidence against it. But as demonstrated by the groups that I wrote about, the American Scientific Affiliation and the Research Scientists’ Christian Fellowship, other evangelicals accepted and even advanced modern science, including evolution.

PLS: The birth of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), and a splinter group, the Creation Research Society (CRS) in the US, was contemporaneous to the birth of the Research Scientists’ Christian Fellowship (RSCF) in the UK. This seems to add a crucial transatlantic component to the story. Yet it also occurred around the same time that modern evangelicalism was undergoing tremendous intellectual evolution, in essence what historian Molly Worthen has recently termed a “crisis of authority” about the Bible, history, and modern life. Can you talk about the intellectual currents of the mid-twentieth century that influenced these scientific groups, all of which in one way or another attempted to live their faith in relationship to modern intellectual life?

CR: Yes. The transatlantic bit of this story is important, in part because of how it demonstrates the influence one side had on the other, in part because of the way similar events on both sides occurred without awareness of the other. This last point is best explained by common cultural forces at work in both parts of the world. Let me mention three.  

Southern Baptist Women: An Interview with Betsy Flowers (Part II)


Kate Bowler

Today's interview is the second of a multi-part interview with Elizabeth Flowers about her wonderful new book Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women since World War II.

Elizabeth Flowers is Associate Professor of Religion at Texas Christian University, where she teaches courses in American religious history, women in religion, the history of evangelicalism, and world religious traditions. Her current research interests include religion, the body, and childbirth practices, and she is working on an edited volume considering shifting notions of gender in the Sunbelt South. During rare but valued free-time, Betsy enjoys trips to family in Memphis, where she can find real barbecue, having coffee with her husband Darren, whose love of Elvis and world cup soccer she happily indulges, cheering for her eight year-old son’s team, the Jedi, and reading women’s memoirs.
Kate: Historians always love when real life issues are actually attempts to re-write the past. How have both the conservatives and the moderates narrated the history of Southern Baptist women in leadership to their benefit? 

Betsy: This is a great question, and one that I treat at some length in the book, particularly around conflicting conservative, moderate, and we might add progressive interpretations of the history of the Woman’s Missionary Union as: a woman’s auxiliary that was submissive to and served the SBC’s male leadership; or the organization that ran the denomination alongside and with its male counterparts until mid-century; or as a group of maverick women who functioned as a thorn-in-the-side to Southern patriarchy and eventual right-wing conservative ideals. I even wrote a separate article here about the contested history and biography of famed Southern Baptist missionary to China, Lottie Moon, which involved her billion-dollar named offering. I could say a lot about divergent understandings of Baptist and evangelicals too, which range from that of a rag-tag bunch of radicals who early-on promoted women’s preaching; a populist movement in the mold of William Jennings Bryant and plainfolk religion; or those who supported and propped up the Southern hierarchy and establishment as it involved race and gender. I discovered accusations on both (all) sides as to the other’s being “un-baptist,” “historically selective,” or practicing (I love this one) “historical hanky-panky” when it came to women in ministry.

Teaching the Industrial Revolution to "Jacks of All Trades"

Janine Giordano Drake

Last week, I was sitting at a dinner table with some very accomplished scholars from an elite institution, when I found myself reflecting on the challenges of teaching the liberal arts to very underprepared college students. Some of my students cannot write in complete sentences. Some of my students cannot read ten pages of text. Some of my colleagues gave up on challenging reading and writing assignments long ago.

"Do you ever wonder if those kids belong in college?" one scholar broke in. "Do you think maybe some of those folks belong in a vocational school?" I was taken aback."No, not at all," I replied. "I think our democracy depends on the liberal arts education of every single citizen. I reject the notion that only some of us deserve to be knowledge workers in this economy. I think everyone needs to discuss Rousseau--and Locke, the Constitution, and all of US History--in a college classroom. I believe in Plato for Plumbers," I continued, referring to the Atlantic's article from a year ago. The elite, radical scholar offered that courteous smile we extend when we appreciate others' intentions but think they are stupidly optimistic.

Teaching the liberal arts to students with little college prep is definitely my calling, but it is hard. This week, I will teach Rousseau's Social Contract in one class, the Declaration of Independence in another, continue with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations in my third, Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed in my fourth, and Mary Antin's 1912 memoir on Americanization in a fifth. Like many others who teach first generation college students, I am a teaching generalist with a heavy course load.

But, because I teach poor students, I also have a second mission as a faculty member: getting these students into full-time jobs, or better jobs than they came from. A majority of working class college students struggle, just like those eighteenth and nineteenth century "jacks of all trades and masters of none," to build a skill set that will land them the pay and benefits of the master class. My students fight an uphill battle against a class system that has been defending its "natural" place in Europe and the US for hundreds of years. And while this class system is bigger than any one of them, it is not beyond comprehension.

Fourth Biennial Conference Announced

 Chris Cantwell

Late last week Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis's Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture opened registration for its Fourth Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture. Like the previous three meetings, this year's program promises not to disappoint. The gathering will feature panels discussing:
  • What do we mean by “religion” in a time of “spirituality,” “lived religion,” and “non-religion”?
  • Whither New Religious Movements?
  •  American Religion and Global Flows
  •  “Religion in the Americas” as an Organizational Paradigm
  • Religion and Market
  • Religion, Class, and Labor
  • What is the currency of “civil religion”?
  • Liberalism vs. Pluralism as Models of Interpretation
This year the conference will be held on Friday, June 5 and Saturday, June 6, with a reception the night before proceedings start on Thursday, June 4. Hotel rooms at the conference rate are limited, so make sure you register today.

Conversations with Authors: A Recurring Series

Samira K. Mehta

Today, I am announcing a new series here on the Religion in American History. Over the next several months, I will be interviewing authors of newly released books in American religious history. The interviews will explore the arguments presented in the various monographs, but they will also explore the craft of writing and research. I will be asking authors about how they chose to design their work, how they did or did not draw on history, ethnography, and cultural studies. I will ask not only about their own theoretical interventions, but also about how they came to their theoretical conversation partners. Additionally, we will explore use of language and style. What is the role of the epigraph? How conscious were they about crafting language and tone, and with the hope of what effect? When the monograph in question is a first book, we may also talk about the process of moving from dissertation to book.

I have selected the first several months of books, and arranged author interviews, but please feel free to use the comments section to suggest texts and authors. I am planning to time interviews as closely as possible for the books’ release dates, so think of the list more in terms of “titles that you are excited to read,” rather than “great books you have read in the past year.” (Or course, blog schedule and the fact that books are released in batches means that sometimes a few months may pass between publication and the interview.) I probably can’t get to everyone (after all, I only have twelve spots in a year), but I look forward to your suggestions. Those of you who know me (or can locate my email address online) should also feel free to make suggestions via email or Facebook. In the next months, look for conversations with Jodi Eichler-Levine, Adam Becker, Anthony Petro, Sara Moslener, and Heather White.

I am focusing on craft as well as content for this series of interviews because I am currently revising own first manuscript for publication and find myself wanting to talk to other writers about their processes. I very much hope this focus on the process of writing and research is of use to other writers of books and dissertations. If you have questions that you would like me to address, please feel free to post them here, or send them along by email. 

I look forward to starting an exciting conversation, both about new scholarship and about the craft of writing and research.

Gordon Wood on Bernard Bailyn: American Religious History and “An Honest Picture of the Past"

Today we welcome to RiAH as a guest contributor Kristin Kobes DuMez. Professor Du Mez, a historian of American religion and gender, teaches at Calvin College. Her book A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism will be out with Oxford University Press this May. 

Kristin Kobes Du Mez

I wasn’t going to write on Gordon Wood and Bernard Bailyn. I’m not a colonialist. It’s been years since I’ve read their work, which in my recollection is far and away more brilliant than anything I’ve aspired to in my far more limited career. And after all, there’s something noble about a former student, illustrious in his own right, going to bat for his renowned mentor.

But ever since my social media newsfeed lit up with references to Wood’s February 23 Weekly Standard article, I haven’t been able to let it go. After all, what’s at stake here isn’t just colonial history, but American history more broadly. And I think the issues raised have special relevance to historians of American religion.

Here’s the gist of the argument. In a review of Bailyn’s latest collection of essays, Wood comes to the defense of his former teacher--strange as it may seem, since of course Bailyn has won not one, but two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Book Award, and a Bancroft Prize.

Yet despite this enviable collection of awards, Bailyn’s work has of late met with criticism among academic historians. Wood chalks this critical reception up to the “changing fashions of academic history-writing.” As he puts it, “It’s as if academics have given up trying to recover an honest picture of the past and have decided that their history-writing should become simply an instrument of moral hand-wringing.”

What sort of moral hand-wringing? The obsession with “inequality and white privilege.” As Wood explains, “the inequalities of race and gender now permeate much of academic history-writing, so much so that the general reading public that wants to learn about the whole of our nation’s past has had to turn to history books written by nonacademics who have no Ph.D.s and are not involved in the incestuous conversations of the academic scholars.”


On the one hand, I can sympathize with some of what Wood is saying here. It’s true that historians often steer clear of offering sweeping narratives. At the graduate level, students must first demonstrate mastery of a wide range of complex historiographical arguments, plausibly employ sophisticated methods of analysis, and exhibit fluency in highly specialized vocabularies. Thanks to the peer review process, together with the need for untenured faculty to demonstrate their credentials when they come up for review, these expectations have helped define enduring professional standards.

The Cold War and Kruse's One Nation Under God

Michael Graziano

Note: This is the first post in a three-part review series. Look for reviews by other contributors later this month.

There’s a lot to say about Kevin M. Kruse’s soon-to-be-released One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015). Fortunately, several RiAH bloggers will be diving into the book throughout the month and I’m sure we’ll have some great conversations from a variety of perspectives. The part of the book that I’ll be focusing on today is how Kruse’s narrative adds to our understanding of the early Cold War period. 

Connected Networks: Science, Geography, and Fruit

When not organizing parties (See: conference) for friends new and old, and when I'm pretty sure harassing students with one more lame (see: hilarious) world religion joke won't get me any more fans for the day, I like to spend my time making impossibly long book lists to add to my comprehensive exam plans (see: fall 2015). One potential avenue that has provided endless fun for exploring the long nineteenth century has been the interlocking topics of science, geography, and pineapples. So, for the blog this month, I'd like to share three great books that everyone should make sure to check out and then leave me some more suggestions and rabbit holes to head down. 

Religious Belief in the Age of the Surveillance State

By Michael J. Altman

This post started forming in my mind as I watched Citizenfour last week. I'll get to the film eventually, but first, James Madison:
"The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men."
James Madison, "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments" (1785)
Thanks to James Madison, and other founders, religion was constructed as a special category in the United States. The First Amendment set aside a protected space where Congress wasn't suppose to tread. It could not establish nor could it prohibit the exercise of religion. Religion, then, became a place off limits to the state.

Pushing past the First Amendment, many of the Founders imagined this category of "religion" to involved belief--"opinions,""conscience," and "conviction," as Madison described it above. Yes, one must be free to exercise one's religion, but that exercise began with internal beliefs that were then exteriorized in practice. Thus, the First Amendment set up a space where dissent could be tolerated. Religious dissent meant one could believe whatever one wanted and then, theoretically, would be free to exercise that belief. Religion became a space for managing dissent--a pressure valve to state power. But was such a special category sustainable in the new country? Could you really allow people to dissent and believe whatever they wanted and then exercise those beliefs?

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