Religion in California: Conference April 24-25

Today's guest post comes from Blaine Hamilton of Rice University, who informs us about the upcoming Religion in California conference to be held at the Graduate Theological Union, a spectacular location sitting right above the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, and providing a panoramic view of the Bay Area. 

Later this month I am privileged to be participating in the Religion in California conference at the University of California-Berkeley.  This focused event was organized by our own Ed Blum, along with Lynne Gerber and Jason Sexton, and it has been graciously funded by the California American Studies Association, Berkeley’s Religion, Politics, and Globalization Program, the Theological Engagement with California’s Culture Project, the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, and the Graduate Theological Union. Details below after the jump. 

The conference will be held April 24-25, 2014 on the campuses of the Graduate Theological Union and UC Berkeley.  The highlight of the event will most certainly be the keynote roundtable discussion on Thursday evening at 6:30pm with Lois Ann Lorentzen of the University of San Francisco, Joy Moore of Fuller Theological Seminary, and Matthew Avery Sutton of Washington State University.

However, as a scholar of Pentecostalism, I am most excited about my own panel on “Pentecostalisms,” which are of course a major feature of California’s religious landscape.  Matthew Cromwell of San Diego State University will be offering a paper on Aimee Semple McPherson’s use of religious language in affirming patriotism and the nation-state as well as her endorsement of the war effort leading up to America’s involvement in the Second World War.  Melanie Johnson of the Graduate Theological Union will be exploring the mediatization of religion through the efforts of celebrity preachers, many of whom have Pentecostal/Charismatic backgrounds.  And Caroline Harris of UCLA will examine the migration patterns and intersections of holiness and Pentecostal communities in Southern California, challenging preconceived ideas about the stark divisions between rural and urban, male and female, and black and white at the beginning of the twentieth century.

For my own contribution, I will be examining the origins of Pentecostalism in California through the revival meetings of the Apostolic Faith Mission at 312 Azusa Street.  The Azusa revivals are often noted for their interracial character and religious innovations, like speaking in tongues.  While some scholars have commented on the cosmopolitan nature of Los Angeles as laying a foundation for the interracial mixing that occurred at Azusa Street, my research has revealed that the revivals were met with frequent resistance by local media, other ministers, and even fellow Pentecostals.  Newspaper reporters from the Los Angeles Times and other Los Angeles papers railed against the racial and gender mixing that occurred at the services, especially the intimate encounters between black men and white women.  The local ministerial association in Los Angeles investigated the revivals, concluding that the enthusiasm and religious fervor was dangerous for participants.  Even some white Pentecostals feared the negative publicity that was being garnered by the interracial revivals and attempted to take control away from the African-American leadership.  Los Angeles was anything but a racial utopia, and the leaders of the revivals faced significant conflict in response to their efforts to create an interracial religious community.

While significant attention has been paid to the conflicts over railroad cars, public parks, and other sites in the segregation of early twentieth century America, I believe that historians of American religion must also reflect on the role of religious groups in the resistance to and acceptance of racial segregation.  Pentecostals are a perfect group for studying this phenomenon, and I look forward to sharing my research and gleaning insights from my fellow panelists and conference participants.

If you are interested and available, I hope that you will consider joining us as well. 


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