CFA: New Doctoral Fellowships at SMU’s Center for Presidential History

Lauren Turek

For those who know promising undergraduates, masters students, and others who work at the intersection of religion and politics or religion and foreign policy, and who are interested in pursuing a PhD (despite all the usual caveats and warnings), there is a new fully-funded program for them to consider. The William P. Clements Department of History at Southern Methodist University has recently announced new graduate student and doctoral fellowships in the history of the presidency, American politics and foreign policy. Working primarily through SMU's Center for Presidential History, and under the guidance of Professors Jeffrey Engel and Thomas Knock, admitted students are eligible for up to five years of full funding, including generous living and research stipends. For more details see the full-sized version of the flyer after the break.

Are You Talking to Me? A Reflection on the Field

Charles McCrary

Certain hackles were raised last month by an article on the website of the evangelical organization The Gospel Coalition. The article, “Top Biography Recommendations from 12 Christian Historians,” featured twelve white Protestant men suggesting, for the most part, biographies of white Protestant men written by, well, you can probably guess. Of the twelve historians, many were prominent members of what scholars of American religion might consider “our field.” Thus, many scholars on social media were upset by the list as a bad representation of our field. However, as Mike Altman asked on Twitter, “Why should scholars of religion think that TGC reflects our field at all?”

We and a few other scholars had an interesting exchange about this, and it raised a few important questions. In this post I want think very broadly (but, I hope, also clearly) in order to address “our field.” What is it? How is it defined? What do we study? Which scholars are included? My argument is that our field—which I prefer to call “American religious studies”—addresses a public or number of publics that exist in discursive spaces often defined by institutions.

Book Review: "To Come to a Better Understanding: Medicine Men & Clergy Meetings on the Rosebud Reservation, 1973—1978"

[This month's Cushwa post is devoted to a book review by recent research travel grant recipient Jason Sprague, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa. (You can see a brief interview with Jason about his dissertation, “‘The Shadow of a Cross’: Odawa Catholicism in Waganakisi, 1765–1825," here.) Speaking of our research travel grants, please start making your plans to apply for one now! The Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism gives annual grants for travel to the University of Notre Dame to use its archives and library. The application deadline is December 31; you can find out more about both the grant criteria and application procedures here.]

by Jason Sprague

To Come to a Better Understanding: Medicine Men & Clergy Meetings on the Rosebud Reservation, 1973—1978. By Sandra L. Garner. University of Nebraska Press, 2016. 210 pages. $45.00.

To Come to a Better Understanding provides a refreshing exploration of Native American activism in the 1970s. Sandra Garner offers an alternative point of view to a historiographical narrative dominated by the American Indian Movement (AIM), and demonstrates how cultural encounters and exchanges between Native and non-Native groups reflect long-standing Native traditions seeking understanding between disparate groups. The titular meetings, a series of 84 formal meetings between the Medicine Men's Association (MMA) and Jesuit priests from the St. Francis Mission, took place on the Rosebud Reservation between 1973 and 1978. Prior interactions between these two groups, who both operated as ritual specialists within the Lakota community, had typically been on unequal footing because of the Jesuits’ complicity in settler-colonial oppression. The MMA, Garner argues, used these meetings as a form of activism to critique and combat these historically ingrained and imbalanced relationships.

Not Your Father's CFH

Elesha Coffman

Sixteen years ago, when I was the editor of Christian History magazine and just barely beginning to think about grad school, I attended a Conference on Faith and History biennial meeting out in San Diego. As I recall, I was one of a handful of women (literally, I think I could count them on the fingers of one hand) and a hardly larger contingent of attendees under age 40. I enjoyed the conference, but it didn't strike me as an event to prioritize in the future.

As we all know, history is the narrative of change over time, and the CFH has definitely changed. This year's conference theme, "Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity," attracted an especially diverse roster of presenters and presentations. Not all diversity is evident just from looking at a list of names and institutions, but a glance at the program shows lots of women, grad students, and early career scholars, as well as a promising increase racial and ethnic diversity. The percentage of scholars hailing from the CFH's traditional base in evangelical colleges, meanwhile, has dropped. This is not the trajectory I thought the organization was on back in 2000, and I'm really, really glad to see it.

Because the conference starts tomorrow, it's probably too late for any of you who weren't already planning to attend to stop by. But, if CFH hasn't been on your radar, I encourage you to look at the program and reconsider for 2018. Like me, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Mars Hill, Fight Club, and the New Mark Driscoll

Adam Park 

Fighting has deeply human roots, think some. Instinct, competition, aggression, evolution, and all that. And, think some, those roots have been divinely planted. In our DNA, God bequeathed us bellicose proclivities. The teleology of a closed fist. For the faithful, so goes the logic, fighting reveals our Created-ness. A long-time voice in the wilderness crying out said logic is Mark Driscoll. Much more than words, however, Driscoll loved a good scrap. Here's a brief rundown of his past bouts, and his present fighting condition.

The founding of Mars Hill was conducted "in the Spirit of Fight Club," William Wallace II (a.k.a. Mark Driscoll) wrote in the winter of 2000. Clearly enamored by the recent release of Fight Club, Driscoll labeled his emergent church mission "Operation Backlash." By then, he had gathered his space monkeys and established an administration, purchased a location, and drafted the church rules. The Operation's purpose was singular: to remedy the "pussified nation" that we all live in, comprised of men "raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee." Indeed, Mars Hill/Fight Club was a much needed solution to the sit-style peeing pandemic of the late-90s.

Driscoll and his followers sought to cultivate their "inner Fight Club" as revolutionary counterpoint to the Dawson's-Creek watching, emotion-talking, crying "homo Promise Keepers" that pervaded American culture. Titillated by the thought of a forthcoming 21st century crusade, Mars Hill members rallied. For the lost, a "Rev. Tyler Durden" zealously theologized, "the most graceful thing we can do for them is tell them they are pussified and we will continue to beat their ass until they stop." A Carlisle of a different sort. Beat the man, save the soul. Driscoll puffed:
I love to fight. It's good to fight. Fighting is what we used to do before we all became pussified. Fighting is a lost art form. Fighting is cheaper than medication and more effective than counseling. Fighting always wins over compromise. 

American Religious Freedom: Always Already Vexing

Sarah E. Dees

Finbarr Curtis’s The Production of American Religious Freedom doesn’t offer a comprehensive introduction to the conception and importance of religious freedom in U.S. history. It doesn’t outline a straightforward historical genealogy of the concept of American religious freedom. Curtis doesn’t propose suggestions for how we might best define “American” or “religious” or “freedom.” The case studies that he presents—nodes in a complex web that transcend time, space, points of view, and specific social concerns—are themselves impossible to neatly tie together. Yet the book does offer a compelling contribution to the conversation about religious freedom in America, a contribution that uniquely highlights economic structures and concerns, notions of personhood, aesthetic and affective works and workings, and ideas about private property and public good. Furthermore, The Production of American Religious Freedom—with its analysis of data at the micro and macro levels and its focus on how particular beliefs structure actors’ engagements with others—exemplifies the unique type of interdisciplinary research that is possible within the field of religious studies.

As Curtis notes, religious freedom has long been a popular topic in academic and public discourse, and numerous scholars have recently turned a critical eye to this topic. Curtis’s book complements recent scholarship that challenges the unreflective valorization of religious freedom, including Winnifred Fallers Sullivan’s The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (2005), Tisa Wenger’s We Have a Religion (2009), David Sehat’s The Myth of American Religious Freedom (2010), and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd’s Beyond Religious Freedom (2015). Curtis would agree with these scholars in that he does not think it is possible to articulate one form of religious freedom, and he demonstrates that different actors have drawn on or deployed ideas about religious freedom to support divergent goals. Yet Curtis complicates the notion of religious freedom in a distinct way by focusing on social economies that produce religious freedom. While the texts above are largely concerned with political and legal approaches to defining religious freedom, Curtis seeks to expand this discussion to other, wider spheres of cultural production and power.

7 Questions with Robert Elder: The Sacred Mirror


 Robert Elder is an assistant professor of history at Valparaiso University. His research focuses on the cultural and religious history of the South in the 19th century. I interviewed him about his recently released book, The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Identity, and Honor in the American South, published with the University of North Carolina Press (2016). He is now working on a book about John C. Calhoun. Next year he will serve as the University Research Professor at Valparaiso as he works on his new project!

PC: The narrative of the rise of evangelicalism in the South before the Civil War is usually told as one of opposition to culture, accommodation to culture, and then dominance over culture. It’s also part of a larger narrative about the role of evangelicalism in the rise of modern individualism. The Sacred Mirror introduces the argument that evangelicalism in fact rose out of important harmonies with Southern culture, particularly honor culture, and always had a considerable communal bent. Why is it important to make this shift?

RE: Several really great histories of southern evangelicalism over the last couple decades have contained this narrative of a pristine early southern evangelicalism that challenged slavery and honor culture only to accommodate and eventually defend them in the antebellum period. Most of the radical potential that historians have seen in early evangelicalism stems from the more individualistic and autonomous ways of constructing the self that evangelicalism represented (this was the connection between its challenge to slavery and its challenge to patriarchy). It’s a powerful narrative arc, but I think this narrative has obscured the ways that early southern evangelicals were deeply rooted in the cultural assumptions of their world, and consequently it has obscured the much more complex ways that honor and evangelicalism interacted in the South throughout this period. I originally studied honor, and instead of how evangelicalism sold out to southern culture I was interested how the language, structure, and assumptions of evangelicalism might have resonated with southerners from the very beginning. In the earliest stages of the project I was influenced by the old Marxist critic Raymond Williams, who described what he called “oppositional” and “alternative” movements within a dominant culture. According to Williams, oppositional describes “someone who finds a different way to live and wants to change society in its light,” while alternative forms of culture describe movements that cause real disagreement but do not “in practice go beyond the limits of the central effective and dominant definitions.” My argument would be that, culturally speaking, southern evangelicalism was always more the latter than the former.

William and Mary Quarterly "Doubles"

Jonathan Den Hartog

With the baseball post-season upon us, I think there's still time to work in a line to lead off--readers may enjoy the religious history "double" in the July issue of the William and Mary Quarterly (paywalled, but abstracts here). Although this might seemed delayed analysis, it's still worth taking stock of.

Keeping up the theme from last month of finding religion in the era of the American Revolution, the WMQ had two very interesting, religious history articles that deserve notice. Further, applause is deserved for WMQ publishing two fine pieces of scholarship.

The first article comes from Michael Breidenbach (Ave Maria University) and is entitled "Conciliarism and the American Founding." Breidenbach reexamines Catholic political thought in America in the era of the American Revolution. This is useful for consideration, since many American patriots nourished a Protestant-inspired anti-Catholicism that viewed Catholicism as hostile to liberty. Yet, alongside that rhetorical reality, actual Catholic leaders like John and Charles Carroll of Maryland functioned quite well, supported the Revolution, and were accepted as full American patriots. How might this occur?

Breidenbach's answer is to recover the conciliarist theory as undergirding the Carrolls' efforts. Breidenbach reaches back into early modern European theological debates to trace Catholic voices that questioned papal infallibility and denied the popes had any temporal power outside of Rome. In the later 18th century, these positions were defended by English Jesuits and people like Rev. Joseph Berington at the Jesuit college in Liege. When the Carrolls advocated for these ideas, they took a transatlantic journey to root themselves in revolutionary America. By advocating against the temporal power of the pope, American conciliarists defused the chief suspicion held by many republicans.

In telling this story, Breidenbach sheds light on American Catholicism in the revolutionary era. He demonstrates a path for American Catholics to make their way in an independent, Protestant-dominated America. To further that, the Carrolls also came to advocate full religious liberty in Maryland, the better to guarantee the full exercise of their faith. Breidenbach sees those two points as related: that conciliarist principles fully supported full religious liberty.

Finally, Breidenbach helpfully brings in yet another stream of thought informing the American Revolution. In contrast to reductionistic accounts of the Revolution that privilege one viewpoint over all others (say, Lockean liberalism), Breidenbach is right to point out how revolutionaries drew on multiple intellectual and even religious streams to pull for independence. And that, it seems to me, is a helpful reminder for our general understanding of the Revolution.

As if that weren't enough, turning one more page gives us yet another religious history article, this time by Kirsten Fischer (University of Minnesota). Fischer's article is on "Vitalism in America: Elihu Palmer's Radical Religion in the Early Republic." Fischer makes an interesting investigation into Palmer, who was regarded as one of the chief free-thinkers ("infidels") in the early republic--he was occasionally named as their "high priest." Palmer was thus, from one perspective, in the same camp as Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and other Deists and Skeptics. Yet, Fischer wants to suggest that Palmer was more radical still for his advocacy of "Vitalism."

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