New Blog Editor: Evangelical Novels and Civil Rights Nuns

And on the 7th day, He got tired of a blog without form and void, and he lent out his rib to create a group blog. And so it goes!

I'm pleased to introduce Religion and American History as a group blog, with our first permanent co-editor, Kelly Baker, a doctoral candidate at Florida State University, whose vita is here (pdf document). Kelly joins with our contributing editors John Fea and Randall Stephens. Kelly is particularly interested in print and material culture and other American Studies type topics, which nicely complements the interests of others on this blog. Kelly describes her work as follows:

My current work focuses upon the Ku Klux Klan from the 1920s as a Protestant movement, and I rely primarily on Klan print culture and material culture to show how embedded religion was in the movement. I also boldly hope to show connections between Protestantism and definitions of America in this time period. Particularly, how do faith and nation coalesce within this movement? And what does this say about the nature of nationalism?

My other scholarly interests include religion and the visual arts, which was the primary focus of my M.A. thesis, ethnography, and cultural theory. I am particularly interested in using ethnographic method in historical work to open up the worldviews of historical actors and recreate their understandings of their lives and their religious beliefs.

Welcome to Kelly Baker!! Here's her first post:

Nuns and Romance Novels: Women in American Religion

Along with Catherine Brekus, ed., The Religious History of American Women, American religious historians are turning their powers of analysis to categories of women who are underrepresented in narratives or missing altogether. Two recent books that deserve notice are Lynn S. Neal’s Romancing God: Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction and Amy Koehlinger’s The New Nuns: Racial Justice and Religious Reform in the 1960s.

Neal’s Romancing God explores how evangelical women relate to evangelical romance novels (yes, they exist!) and why they read them. The volume was published by University of North Carolina Press, and here’s a description from the press:

In the world of the evangelical romance novel, sex and desire are mitigated by an omnipresent third party--the divine. Thus romance is not just an encounter between lovers, but a triangle of affection: man, woman, and God. Although this literature is often disparaged by scholars and pastors alike, inspirational fiction plays a unique and important role in the religious lives of many evangelical women. In an engaging study of why women read evangelical romance novels, Lynn S. Neal interviews writers and readers of the genre and finds a complex religious piety among ordinary people.

Neal’s work highlights the lived religion of these romance novel readers to present with clarity the lives of (some) evangelical women. Koehlinger’s New Nuns also centers on the everyday religious expression of nuns. She approaches the lives of women religious in the 1960s, particularly the work of white women religious in African American communities. Harvard University Press published the volume, and the description follows:

Engaging with issues of race and justice allowed the sisters to see themselves, their vocation, and the Church in dramatically different terms. In this book, Koehlinger captures the confusion and frustration, as well as the exuberance and delight, they experienced in their new Christian mission. Their increasing autonomy and frequent critiques of institutional misogyny shaped reforms within their institute and sharpened a post-Vatican II crisis of authority.

What is fascinating about both books is the attempt to present how these women practice their religious beliefs from avid reading to teaching at historically African American colleges. This reader glimpsed how evangelical fiction affirms the values of these women and how women religious were elated and frustrated by their work. Moreover, both Neal and Koehlinger tackle historiographical issues of how these women were presented stereotypically (the nuns) or were derided (romance readers).


John Fea said…
Kelly: Welcome aboard!
Phil said…
Hi Kelly.

I'm presently reading through _The New Nuns_ and was also impressed with the new PBS documentary _Sisters of Selma_, about members of the Sisters of St. Joseph who worked in Selma in 1965. For teaching purposes, the documentary (or clips of it) might work wonderfully together. It adds depth to discussions of gender, civil rights, American religious history, etc.

I look foward to reading more of your work.
Anonymous said…
Religious imagery and the Klan - Kelly, I love the topic and cannot wait to see what you find. Are all of Paul Harvey's friends wonderful? It seems that way.
Randall said…

It's great that you're on board. Your work sounds intriguing and I look forward to your dissertation.

Just picked up the Koehlinger book the other day and have been enjoying it. There's been some wonderful work done in the last few years on Catholicism in the recent South: Andrew Moore and Mark Newman come to mind.
Kelly J. Baker said…
Thanks for the appreciative comments. I will definitely look for the Selma documentary, though, I am currently pining to watch _Jesus Camp_, which I hope to post on soon.

I'm glad to be on board.

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