We just returned from our trip to the U.K. where I was privileged to participate in a seminar sponsored by the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford. I joined Peter Thompson of St. Cross College and Owen Anderson of Arizona State University for a spirited conversation on the question: “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” Owen is the author of the recent The Declaration of Independence and God (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Peter is an early American historian and an old acquaintance from my McNeil Center days at Penn. Paul Kerry of the Rothermere Institute and Corpus Christi College convened the session and served a gracious and hospitable host.
My talk suggested some ways one might argue for and against the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation. It was largely based on my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. Owen argued that the Declaration of Independence was a deeply theistic document. During the Q&A period we discussed the origins of James Madison’s pessimistic view of human nature in Federalist #10, the Treaty of Tripoli, the Quebec Act and anti-Catholicism, George Washington’s religious beliefs and his so-called “prayer at Valley Forge,” and Benjamin Rush’s Christian republicanism. It was fun engaging with Owen, who approaches many of these questions from a philosophical, rather than historical, perspective.
We also got a little time for sightseeing. We toured the Bodleian Library, Christ Church College, and the Ashmolean Museum. Paul Kerry gave us an insider’s tour of Corpus Christi College and we experienced a wonderful Evensong service at Christ Church Cathedral. We also made the requisite stop at Blackwell’s Bookshop and the Oxford University Press bookstore. (Speaking of the Oxford University Press store, stay tuned for some photos I took of books that have been featured in our Author’s Corner series).
After a day shopping on Portobello Street in the Notting Hill district of West London we returned to over 30 inches of Mechanicsburg snow. Don’t expect much at the blog today. We have been digging out all day.