Yesterday I took a ride down Route 81 to central Virginia where I spoke at a conference on Christianity and American History at Liberty University. It was a beautiful weekend in the Virginia hills. I must admit that I was a bit sentimental as I passed through many of the towns in the Shenandoah Valley that Philip Vickers Fithian had visited in 1775 and 1776.
I realized that I was entering “ground zero” of the Christian Right as I drove down “Jerry Falwell Parkway,” entered the Liberty campus, and passed the “LaHaye Ice Rink” (named after the co-author of the “Left Behind” novels, Tim LaHaye). And then, to top it all off, I left the hotel today with some fellow scholars and saw LaHaye and his wife Beverly.
This morning I gave a keynote/plenary address that linked some of the ideas I wrote about in The Way of Improvement Leads Home with my ongoing project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution. The title of my talk was “Towards a Social History of Evangelicals and the Enlightenment.” I discussed the way that Presbyterians embraced the Enlightenment in years between 1740 and 1765, offered a narrative of post-Great Awakening Presbyterian history in the middle colonies, and concluded by returning to Fithian and the “rural Enlightenment.”
This afternoon I participated in a plenary roundtable devoted to Thomas Kidd’s The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. I was joined on this panel by Kidd and Tim Hall, the author of Contested Boundaries: Itinerancy and the Reshaping of the Colonial American Religious World.
Both my plenary talk and the roundtable were held in the Liberty School of Law’s new “Supreme Court” room. (Pictured above).
For all of the heat that Liberty and its founder Jerry Falwell have taken in the mainstream press, I was actually quite impressed with both the campus, the students I encountered, and the members of the history department. Thanks to Sam Smith and Doug Mann for inviting me to spend a few days on “Liberty Mountain.”