JF: What led you to write Cowboy Christians?
MD: When I first I moved to Oklahoma to teach at the university, I saw an ad in the paper for “cowboy church.” I could not imagine what that was, or what it meant, and in pursuit of an answer I realized that no one had done any academic work on it. So, the project just kind-of presented itself to me. The more I delved into cowboy church, the more the project expanded, so ultimately the book is as much about religious history among cowboy culture people as it is about the present-day cowboy church movement. The project also became a great way for me to learn about this region of the country, by driving all over Oklahoma and Texas and meeting people from communities who I would not normally encounter.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Cowboy Christians?
MD: Cowboy church is a noteworthy revival movement within American evangelicalism today. By considering aspects of its impetus, structure, atmosphere, and development, I am able to contextualize it in relation to other significant religious forms of both the past and present, including muscular Christianity, the Jesus movement, new paradigm churches, and new religious movements.
JF: Why do we need to read Cowboy Christians?
MD: American evangelicalism is particularly good at reinventing itself, and exploring its many twists and turns helps us to understand larger patterns of theological and institutional religious development in the United States. The cowboy church movement is one such twist, but until now it has largely flown under the radar of critical study. In addition to history and analysis, I include a number of stories about my experiences of attending and meeting people at cowboy Christian events, which makes the book a more engaging and personal read.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Of if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)
MD: I am a historian of American religion. I’m particularly fascinated by alternative forms of religious belief and practice, especially groups that have been socially marginalized. When we—as a society, and/or as scholars—overlook these kinds of communities, it curtails our ability to truly understand the development of religion in the United States. So my goal as a historian is to preserve the record of religious minorities of all sorts.
JF: What is your next project?
MD: I cannot say what my next “big” project is. But for the short term, I will be working on some research related to the history of Susan Parrish Wharton’s social gospel work in Philadelphia around the turn of the 20th century. It’s a smaller project that I began about a decade ago, and from which I got sidetracked. I would like to finally finish it!
JF: Thanks, Marie!