The Future of American Religious History Monographs

by Edward J. Blum

If you take a quick glance at Paul Harvey’s vita, you’ll see that he plans to dominate the publishing world of the next 12-24 months (from my sociological skills, I count that he has 4 books that will probably be published in that window).

But there are other books that look pretty exciting too – both of which I’ve checked out in dissertation form. As mentioned a few times on this blog, Kelly Baker’s Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK's Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 should be available in September. David Morgan – by far one of my favorite historians, writes of it: “An original and sobering work. In the present age, when we may no longer pretend that the lines between violent fanaticism and religious fervor are clearly discernible, this book makes a timely and urgent intervention. Hatred may have more to do with religion than we care to acknowledge.”

Her title alone reminds me of a little section in Matt Sutton’s book on Sister Aimee where on a church survey form, one congregant wrote down for occupation: “Chief Klansman.” Way to go, Kelly, and what a striking cover!

Then Art Remillard’s Southern Civil Religions: Imagining the Good Society in the Post-Reconstruction Era should be out by December. Not only a blogger, Art is an editor at the terrific online Journal of Southern Religion. Doyen of southern religious history Charles Reagan Wilson claims of Art’s book, “anyone wanting to understand how a variety of people in the South have understood its spiritual and moral meanings will like this book.” I think he’s right, and my guess is that reviewers will read it in comparison with Paul Gaston’s New South Creed and John David Smith’s terrific Old Creed for the New South. Art’s book may also be read as a kind of prequel to Andrew Manis’s Southern Civil Religions in Conflict: Civil Rights and the Culture Wars (2002).

Speaking of J. D. Smith … he’s blurbed another forthcoming book that looks fascinating: W. Scott Poole’s Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting (out in October). Smith writes, "Poole brings to life American horror stories by framing them within folk belief, religion, and popular culture, broadly unraveling the idea of the monster. Thanks to Poole's insights we see the ubiquity of the monster lurking in and around us." Scott is one of my favorite historians of religion and culture – whether we’re talking South Carolina during Reconstruction or Satan in comic books. This is sure to be another path-breaking book.

And look out early Americanists. Amanda Porterfield’s study of religion and politics in the early Republic – Doubt – should be published soon too, and I think given her work and David Sehat’s Myth of American Religious Freedom we’re going to have to rethink Nathan Hatch’s democratization thesis pretty seriously.

Congratulations to Kelly, Art, Scott, and Amanda.


Paul Harvey said…
Having read and commented on earlier versions of Art and Kelly's books, I second your recs., Ed. Really innovative works of scholarship, and Kelly ends her work with some reflections on the post-Klan tradition of white Protestant nativism that lingers so strongly in present-day American culture. I have not yet seen Scott's work, but really enjoyed his previous book Satan in America: The Devil We Know.

As for your opening comment, let me just note that two of those four books were co-authored and co-edited with one Edward J. Blum, which means basically that said Prof. Blum actually did the work and was kind enough to share credit on the cover.
Kelly J. Baker said…
Thanks, Ed, for acknowledging Gospel According to the Klan. I really felt like your Reforging the White Republic was the base for my arguments on white Protestant nationalism. (And yes, the cover is at least striking and possibly creepy.)

I can't wait to get my hands on the Poole book on monsters, except that I feel like he beat me to the punch. I wanted to write on monsters first. Oh well. I will make myself feel better by ordering Art and Amanda's books.
esclark said…
Dr. Porterfield's book is going to be fantastic. She assigned the manuscript in our grad seminar on religion and politics in the early American republic this past spring. It is beautifully written, and not only does it challenge the classic Hatch thesis, it does so in a way that sophisticatedly recasts the relationship between religion and politics. Once its published, definitely a must-read.
Thanks for sharing the brief reviews, Ed. They all sound great. And Im definitely looking forward to Porterfield's volume, as well.
Tom Van Dyke said…
"...draws alarming parallels between the Klan’s message of the 1920s and current posturing by some Tea Party members and their sympathizers."

Say it ain't so, Kelly. My heart just sank.

Even if such a contentious conflation of current politics and the Klan's were accurate, the Tea Party thingee is a passing fad. In a decade or six, Tea Partyism will be in the Pet Rock file.

Mary Kate Danaher: Could you use a little water in your whiskey?

Michaleen Flynn: When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey; and when I drink water, I drink water.

When you mix them, it's an op-ed, perhaps the most necessary but still the most disposable writing of all. I suppose it's whether one writes for his age, or for the ages.
Kelly J. Baker said…
Tom, I would caution you from hastening judgment on books that you haven't read, based solely on the promotional materials.
Tom Van Dyke said…
Well, Kelly, I asked you to say it ain't so! What a relief!


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