The Author’s Corner with Sam Haselby

Sam Haselby is Visiting Assistant Professor of American Religion and Political Culture at Columbia University. This interview is based on his new book, The Origins of American Religious Nationalism (Oxford University Press, February 2015).

JF: What led you to write The Origins of American Religious Nationalism?

SH: I was reading the European literature on nationalism, Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchman, Linda Colley’s Britons, George Mosse’s The Nationalization of the Masses, and others. I found them fascinating, and asked Eric Foner who wrote the version for the United States. He said, no one, that’s a good idea. An argument I had with Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity focused my interest in nationalism and changing class relations on religion in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century America.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Origins of American Religious Nationalism?

SH: The American Revolution posed, rather than answered, the question of American nationality. The answer came with the colonization of continent, more specifically from the resulting crisis of governance on the frontier. Both the birth of popular American Protestantism and the advent of systematic Anglo-American missionary must be understood as responses to this crisis, and each had deep and enduring effects on American political culture.

JF: Why do we need to read The Origins of American Religious Nationalism​?

SH: It gives a more historical understanding of the role of religion in forming American nationalism, and vice versa.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SH: As an undergraduate at Macalester College, reading The Education of Henry Adams. It provided me with a way of coming to terms with a certain ambivalence about the U.S.

JF: What is your next project?

SH: It’s about Anglo-American missionaries and the opium trade as an important chapter in the history of globalization.
JF: Can’t wait to hear about it! Thanks Sam.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner