I am on my way home from a very stimulating conference at Duke on the role of the Bible in the public square. Yesterday I presented a talk entitled “Does America Have a Biblical Heritage?” as part of a session with Duke’s Shalom Goldman on the Bible and the American founding. The room was packed with Duke Divinity School students who just finished reading my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction in Kate Bowler‘s “Introduction to American Christianity” course. (Thanks, Kate!). It was great to meet and hear about Messiah College alumni and spouses of Messiah alumni who are in that class.
I have been to a lot of conferences that feature discussions of the Bible’s role in America, but this one was different. The conference was sponsored by the Duke Center for Jewish Studies. Many of the speakers were scholars of Judaism and thus had a very different take on the place of the Bible in America. There was a lot of discussion of Puritan New England, America as a “new Israel,” the place of Hebrew in American culture, and the way in which the Puritan “errand” has been understood by contemporary Americans.
Frankly, I have never heard Sacvan Bercovitch invoked more at a conference. His book The American Jeremiad is still good, but it is now nearly 35 years old and there have been other very good books written about the Puritans and American identity. Also, I have never been at a conference in which American identity was so connected with New England writ large. I raised this during my session.
Of course not everyone presented papers on the New England errand. Last night Mark Chancey, Melissa Rogers, and Charles Haynes spoke at a very informative session on the Bible in the public schools. Yaakov Ariel expounded on the intricacies of premillennial dispensationalism as it relates to the conservative evangelical love of Israel. David W. Stowe, author of a well-reviewed recent book on Christian rock music, introduced us to some early research on his forthcoming cultural history of Psalm 137. David Morgan offered a sweeping overview of the visual culture of the Bible.
Sunday night’s keynote address was delivered by the ubiquitous, ever-prolific, and ever-entertaining Jacques Berlinerblau. His topic was the Bible in recent presidential elections and the end of secularism in the Democratic Party. (At dinner he informed me about the unceremonious end to the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Brainstorm blog).
If you missed the live stream, you will soon be able to catch the entire conference here. In the meantime, you can get a sense of the conference (and get my take on some things) from the following Twitter hashtags: #biblepublicsquare and #bibleinpublicsquare or following me at Twitter @johnfea1