The Author’s Corner with Steven Green

the third disestablishment

Steven Green is the Fred H. Paulus Professor of Law and Affiliated Professor of History and Religious Studies at Williamette University. This interview is based on his new book, The Third Disestablishment: Church, State, and American Culture, 1940-1975 (Oxford University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Third Disestablishment?

SG: Many things led me to write The Third Disestablishment.  I have written extensively about the ongoing dynamic of religious disestablishment in the 18th and 19th centuries.  My thesis has been (and continues to be) that there were various levels of disestablishment — political, institutional, legal, cultural — and that they occurred in incremental steps and at different times.  In essence, disestablishment was not perfected with the enactment of the 1st Amendment and, quite clearly, there was never a consensus on what it meant.  The Third Disestablishment brings this narrative forward to the mid-20th century where the Supreme Court formally embraced separation of church and state as the meaning of the Establishment Clause.  The book examines the cultural forces behind this embrace.  I felt that this was a story that had not been fully told before.

I also wrote the book in order to explore the background of the ongoing controversy over whether separation of church and state is/was the correct model.  The book also seeks to address why separationism arose, then fell into disfavor, at least as a legal principle.   Finally, on a personal level, in my earlier career as a 1st Amendment lawyer, I encountered several of the figures and organizations discussed in the book, though in their much later years.  This motivated me to examine the initial dynamic that led them to become involved in this issue.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Third Disestablishment?

SG: The book responds to more recent interpretations that maintain that separation of church and state became a legal and popular construct in mid-century due chiefly to residual Protestant suspicions of Catholicism.  It also maintains that even in its heyday, church-state separation was a contestable and indeterminate concept, and that its demise both legally and culturally began much earlier than has otherwise been maintained.

JF: Why do we need to read The Third Disestablishment?

SG: While numerous books have been written on the development of church and state, this book provides a fresh perspective by interweaving the cultural and legal developments of the period into  comprehensive narrative.  It examines the cultural backdrop to the Court’s adoption of its modern church-state jurisprudence.  It explores the roles of leading figures of the time, including Reinhold Niebuhr, John Courtney Murray, Paul Blanshard, Cardinal Francis Spellman, Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, John F. Kennedy, and several consequential Supreme Court justices.

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

SG: I have been interested in the interaction between religion and politics/law in US history since undergraduate school.  I made the decision to enter a history PhD program after practicing law for 4 years.   Since then, I have had an amazing career that has allowed me to do legal advocacy, teaching, and scholarship in the area of religion, law, politics and history. 

JF: What is your next project?

SG: I am writing a book for Cornell University Press in its religion in public life series on–you guessed it–the development of church-state separation in American history.

JF: Thanks, Steven!

The Author’s Corner with David Harrington Watt

AntiFundamentalismDavid Harrington Watt is Professor of History at Temple University. This interview is based on his new book, Antifundamentalism in Modern America (Cornell University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Antifundamentalism in Modern America?  

DW: In the late 1970s—when I was still an undergraduate at Berkeley—one of my professors suggested that I read Ernest Sandeen’s The Roots of Fundamentalism. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by Protestant fundamentalism in the United States.   Shortly after I read Sandeen’s book, I began encountering texts in which Muslims such as the Ayatollah Khomeini were referred to as religious fundamentalists.  Within a few years, I became accustomed to seeing texts in which the fundamentalist label was applied to Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists as well to Muslims and Christians.  Antifundamentalism in Modern America is the result of my trying to find out how and why such a broad array of believers—many of whom didn’t seem to have all that much in common with the people Sandeen wrote about—came to be thought of fundamentalists.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Anti-fundamentalism in Modern America?

DW: In the early 1920s North Americans began saying that certain groups of people were fundamentalists.  From then until the present day the concept of “fundamentalists” has been routinely deployed to conjure up a set of dangerous others: men and women who are said to constitute a threat to science, peace, justice, and progress.

JF: Why do we need to read Antifundamentalism in Modern America? 

DW: “Need” is an interesting word, isn’t it?  It raises the dread specter of a “required list of assigned readings.”  I don’t want anyone to feel as though they are being required to read Antifundamentalism in Modern America. Readers who want to know more about the history of fundamentalism might, however, enjoy reading it.  So might readers who want to know more about the creation and evolution of categories that are used to identify people whose beliefs and practices are thought to be problematic.  Readers who are interested in what is lost and what is gained when people who don’t think of themselves as fundamentalists get called that by others might also enjoying reading Antifundamentalism in Modern America. I certainly enjoyed doing the research on which the book is based.

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

DW: There is a sense in which I never did decide that.  As an undergraduate I focused on history.  In graduate school I took courses in American Studies as well as in history.  At Temple University—where I’ve taught for thirty years—most of my work has been in history rather than religion.  But I have warm and friendly relations with Temple’s Religion Department and the book series that Laura Levitt, Tracy Fessenden, and I edit for the NYU Press is (for the most part) devoted to works in religious studies rather than history.   This fall I’m going to begin teaching at Haverford College.  Most of my courses there will have to do with various aspects of Quaker Studies. 

Being a disciplinary nomad has presented a few challenges, but it has had some advantages, too.  For one thing, it has given me a chance to keep track of the truly extraordinary work on religion in the United States that is being produced by scholars in both religious studies and history.   It has enabled me to learn from scholars such as Judith Weisenfeld and Marie Griffith and from scholars such as David Hollinger and Matthew Sutton.   That has been deeply rewarding.

JF: What is your next project?

DW: My next project grows out the current one.  As I was studying the history of antifundamentalism, I repeatedly encountered forms of Protestantism that could be described as “liberal,” “progressive,” or “secular.”  Scholars have already taught us a lot about those forms of Protestantism.   But there is still much work that needs to be done.  I’m especially interested in liberal, progressive, and secular forms of Quakerism and the ways in which those forms of Quakerism have influenced U.S. culture as a whole.  In the contemporary United States many people who would never dream of joining a Quaker congregation gladly send their daughters and sons to schools that are committed to “Quaker values.”  One of the questions I’m interested in exploring is why it is that “Quakers values” sometimes seem to be far more appealing that Quakerism itself.

JF: Thanks, David! 

The Author’s Corner With Rebecca Alpert

Alpert

Rebecca T. Alpert is Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Temple University.  This interview is based on the forthcoming paperback release of her 2011 book Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball (Oxford University Press).

JF: What led you to write Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball?

RA: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, an avid Brooklyn Dodgers fan. My mother taught me that the Dodgers were “Jewish” because they were responsible for breaking baseball’s color line, and racial equality is a fundamental Jewish value. As I began to do some research many years later, I discovered that my mother was not the only one who held that belief; many liberal Jews, like other ethnic groups in Brooklyn, believed that their support of Jackie Robinson integrating baseball was a big reason why that happened. (They weren’t entirely wrong; Branch Rickey could never have succeeded at his “Great Experiment” in St. Louis where he worked for many years; in fact, he never even tried.) I wrote an article about that topic entitled “Jackie Robinson: Jewish Icon.” But then I started to wonder, where were the Jews when baseball was segregated? Did they play any role in the Negro Leagues?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball?

RA: In Out of Left Field I argue that Jews made a unique contribution to mid twentieth century black baseball, in three ways. They played ball–a community of black Jews in Virginia, known as Temple Beth El, had their own team that played against the Negro League teams when they barnstormed through the South; they owned teams—several second generation Eastern European Jews were instrumental in the operation of the Negro Leagues; and they fought to integrate baseball—the Jewish sportswriters at the communist newspaper, The Daily Worker, both reported on Negro League games when other white newspapers ignored them, and led efforts to end segregation as early as the mid-1930s, working alongside the black press.

JF: Why do we need to read Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball?

RA: The book opens up a new perspective on the old question of the relationship between Jews and African Americans. It shows quite pointedly that there is some kernel of truth to the myth of the Black-Jewish alliance in the post-World War II era, but that the story is much more complicated, as illustrated through these case studies of black Jews, Jewish businessmen, and Jewish communists that took place before and during the war.

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

RAI actually don’t identify as an American historian; I’m a religious studies scholar who works primarily in the area of American Judaism. My interest in American Jewish history began when, as a religion major in college, I decided to spend my junior year in Israel to learn more about my Jewish identity. What I quickly discovered there was that I’m really an American Jew, and so when I went to graduate school I focused my studies on American Judaism. From there I quickly learned I couldn’t understand American Judaism without learning about American religion, and ultimately that I needed to understand American history to really comprehend American religion.

JF: What is your next project?

RA: I am continuing to work in the area of religion and sports, co-editing an anthology, Gods, Games, and Globalization: New Perspectives on Religion and Sports. It will include articles about religious groups of all shapes and sizes that have used sports as a vehicle for inclusion into the mainstream, as a recruitment device, or for developing spiritual and physical fitness. And beyond the “holy trinity” of American sports—baseball, basketball, and football—one finds the traces of transcendence in everything from mixed martial arts to soccer. All told, this collection will reveal the variety of religious experiences within sports on the global stage.

JF: Thanks, Rebecca!

9 Rules for Success from British Novelist Amelia E. Barr

Maria Popova, writing at Brain Pickings, calls our attention to British novelist Amelia E. Barr and her rules for success:

…those who have succeed — by their own definition, as well as history’s — might be able to glean some insight into the inner workings of accomplishment. From the 1901 volume How They Succeeded: Life Stories of Successful Men Told by Themselves (public library; public domain) comes a wonderful essay by British novelist Amelia E. Barr (1831-1919) who, the despite devastating loss of her husband and three of their six children to yellow fever in 1867, went on to become a dedicated and diligent writer, eventually reaching critical success at the age of fifty-two.

Here are Barr’s rules for success in 1901:

1.  Take pains to succeed
2.  “Spurn delights and live laborious days”
3.  Do not take opposition to heart
4.  Do not imagine that success is some stroke of luck
5.  Don’t “strike while the iron is hot.”  Instead “make the iron hot by striking it.”
6.  Do not rush your work
7.  Be orderly
8.  Never be above your profession
9.  Be cheerful

See how Barr develops these rules here.

HT: Bill Cronon on Twitter

Obama and the "L Word"

Columbia University American historian Alan Brinkley discusses the return of the word “liberal” to mainstream American political discourse in the wake of Barack Obama’s recent inaugural address.  Writing at The New Republic, he gives readers a quick primer on the use of this word in 20th-century America.  Here is a taste:

Over a century ago, liberalism meant civil liberties, political freedom with limited government, and laissez-faire economic policy — not making an effort to change the nation. That idea lasted through the nineteenth century. One early twentieth-century scholar, remarking on the history of the Bill of Rights in the nineteenth century, described it as “140 years of Silence.” Only the wealthy and powerful supported those rights.

Before World War I, liberalism—then called “progressivism”—tried to build a broadminded government reaching out to people across the nation. But the growing power of corporations and massive inequality in the nineteenth and early twentieth century made liberalism almost meaningless. Not until the 1930s, when Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal used the word, did Americans—and their government—make a more powerful “liberalism”. The New Deal was an effort to give ordinary citizens rights that had been almost forgotten. That definition of liberalism remained powerful from the end of the New Deal into the 1960s.

The turmoil of the late 1960s—the battles of civil rights, the fiasco of Vietnam, the unraveling of the American economy— created a new radicalism of the right and a left that made liberalism seemed obsolete to many people. Liberalism has not yet fully revived from that era into our time. If liberalism remains an ideal, it still remains a weak one.

But the liberal creed remains one that even many conservatives, if they thought about it, might agree with. Modern liberalism means liberty for speech and the press. It means freedom of religion and a separation of church and state. It provides equal rights under the law. Other elements of liberalism have begun to emerge in our own time:  protecting the environment, securing social security and health care, stopping unnecessary wars, supporting the poor, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless.

Christian Origins of the American Century

In my continued to attempt to offer the best AHA coverage on the web, I want to point you to Ray Haberski‘s U.S. Intellectual History review of a panel on religion and the American century.  Here is a taste:

I attended an excellent panel Friday morning (at 8:30) entitled “Christian Origins of the American Century,” chaired by MSU’s Malcolm Magee and commented on by Andrew Preston of Cambridge.  The panelists were all very strong and young and well-spoken.  In short, the panel was a great success.  I want to give a brief review of it because the panel demonstrates, as Preston observed, all the great work that has been done religion and American foreign policy, and the great amount of work still needed to be done. 

The panel’s creator was a Cara Burnidge, who is working on a book that deals with how World War I and the debate over the League of Nations offered Protestants opportunities to establish specific religious positions on the role the United States would play after the war.  Among the most interesting insights Burnidge offered was the battle over the kinds of Biblicism Protestant church leaders, and leading politicians such at Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson brought to bear on competing visions of an American foreign policy.  In short, each historical actor believed that the war and the fight over the League revealed who had a “true” vision of Christianity.  Burnidge emphasized that this battle took place well-before historians typically peg the schism in evangelical and fundamentalist thought–the Scopes Trial is at least five years after the debates over the League take place.  And so she sees clear signs of a fracturing among Protestants over international affairs before domestic events take center stage.
  

Read the rest here