Tim Lacy Weighs-In On Mark Noll’s *Scandal of the Evangelical Mind*

Tim Lacy, one of the catalysts behind the revival of American intellectual history in the United States, has finally had a chance to read The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll’s love letter to his fellow evangelicals urging them to love God with their intellects.  

Here is a taste of his recent post on the book at the U.S. Intellectual History blog:

Returning to Noll, one must keep in mind that he wrote this as a faculty member at Wheaton College—the “McManis Professor of Christian Thought,” in fact. Noll is now amember in the History Department at the University of Notre Dame, but the accusatory “scandal” in the book’s title did not result in a scandalous departure, or firing, from Wheaton. In 1994-95, he was an insider historical critic. A Publisher’s Weekly blurb on the cover of my paperback says: “A brilliant study by a first-rate Evangelical mind.”
After completing Noll’s book, and then picking up (again) Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (AIAL), I’ve been surprised at how much both books agree on the Protestant roots of American anti-intellectual tendencies. Indeed, Noll prominently cites Hofstadter in the the former’s introduction. But Noll quotes from prominently from a Hofstadter footnote rather than the part of AIAL that directly correlates with Scandal. For instance, here’s the part of AIAL that goes to Noll’s concerns, as well as the concerns of many recent writers about the role of Christianity—particularly Protestantism—in America’s founding and thought life (e.g. Sehat, Fea, etc.). Here’s Hofstadter, in the opening chapter 3 (the first to directly address historical roots) directly addressing the root cause of all anti-intellectualism in American life (bolds mine):
The American mind was shaped in the mold of early modern ProtestantismReligion was the first arena for American intellectual life, and thus the first arena for an anti-intellectual impulse. Anything that seriously diminished the role of rationality and learning in early American religion would later diminish its role in secular culture. The feeling that ideas should above all be made to work, the disdain for doctrine and for refinements in ideas, the subordination of men of ideas to men of emotional power or manipulative skill are hardly innovations of the twentieth century; they are inheritances from American Protestantism.[3]
So much for separation of religion from the American founding, whether in terms of churches influencing the state or vice versa. It didn’t matter what happened in terms of material separation because a deep-seated Protestant mindset ruled all. The latter’s anti-intellectual sensibility determined what followed—only to be enhanced by subsequent theological, scientific, or philosophical innovations.
Even Noll’s book wasn’t this assertive. Noll limited his arguments to roots and effects in Protestant Evangelicalism alone. But there can be little question that Noll built his work on ground tilled and planted by Hofstadter. Noll just made Hofstadter’s work more palatable, and less scandalous to Protestant Evangelicals, because of the former’s insider status.

What is a Public Intellectual?

I wish I was at the Annual Meeting of the United States Intellectual History (USIH) Society going on right now in Washington D.C.  Thanks to some great tweeters–especially Jonathan Wilson–I have been able to get a decent sense of what is being discussed.

Last night I followed along as Wilson and others tweeted a plenary session on public intellectuals. The session revolved around Russell Jacoby’s landmark The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe.  Jacoby spoke about the writing of his book and its relevance for defining a “public intellectual” today, nearly twenty-years after it appeared in 1987.  Leo Ribuffo, Jonathan Holloway, and Claire Potter presented papers on the role of public intellectuals in society since Jacoby published The Last Intellectuals.

You can get up to speed at #usih2015.

From what I was able to glean, all three of the respondents wanted to expand the idea of “public intellectual” beyond Jacoby’s definition. Even Jacoby admitted that his book would not look the same today, largely due to the Internet.

Here are some tweets:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

 

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

There is a lot I could riff on here, but I like the fact that Leo Ribuffo is willing to expand the definition of “public intellectuals to include evangelical Christians.  A few thoughts:

First, Ribuffo is suggesting that “evangelical intellectual” is not an oxymoron.

Second, evangelicals make up a significant portion of the population of the United States.  Most of them do not read the “small magazines” in which Jacoby’s “public intellectuals” publish (or published), but they make up an audience that far exceeds the size of the audience of most so called “public intellectuals” today.  And, as Mark Noll and others have shown, evangelicals probably need intellectuals more than anyone else.

Third, intellectuals who are evangelicals have sought to speak from an evangelical perspective to the intellectual culture at large.  If they write for public audiences at all, they are trying to find a voice in the world of Jacoby’s intellectuals.  This is well and good.  Evangelicals should speak to contemporary issues this way and seek to write in places where evangelical voices are rarely heard such as the op-ed pages of major newspapers and some of the so-called “small magazines.”

But, as I have argued here and, to some extent in my Why Study History, evangelical intellectuals and scholars may be missing opportunities to speak to churchgoers on their own terms. This is a largely untapped audience for public intellectuals, but evangelicals will not just listen to anyone.  They are suspicious of secular voices and always will be. They will, however, be more open to listen to someone with evangelical credentials or someone who is one of them. We need more people to be “public intellectuals” in this world.

Society for U.S. Intellectual History Conference

This conference is loaded.  Here is the press release from Andrew Hartman:

Judging by the number of alarmist recent articles about the decline of the humanities, it seems apparent that the humanities—history, philosophy, languages—are embattled disciplines in American higher education. But judging by the program of the upcoming Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) conference, the humanities have never been better.

The 2015 S-USIH Conference, which will be held October 15-18 at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C., will feature 59 panels and roundtables with scholars hailing from academic disciplines ranging from history to English to law to sociology to anthropology to philosophy, spanning a diverse set of topics, including democracy, foreign policy, religion, popular culture, wellness, and the environment.

Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center who was featured in this New York Times article, will deliver the keynote address on Friday afternoon (October 16). Robin is the author of Fear: The History of a Political Idea, and The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin. He is also a prolific and award-winning blogger at coreyrobin.com. Conference Chair Andrew Hartman recently interviewed Professor Robin here.

The 2015 conference will also feature three exciting plenary sessions. Kicking the conference off on Thursday night is a plenary on the topic of “Little Magazines: Past, Present, Future” that will include Jackson Lears (Raritan), David Marcus (Dissent), Dan McCarthy (The American Conservative), Rachel Rosenfelt (The New Inquiry), and Bhaskar Sunkara (Jacobin).

The Friday night plenary session will be on the topic of “Public Intellectuals since Russell Jacoby’s The Last Intellectuals.” In addition to Russell Jacoby (University of California-Los Angeles), this panel will include Jonathan Holloway (Yale University), Claire Potter, (The New School), and Leo Ribuffo (George Washington University).

The final plenary session, which will take place on Saturday night, will be on the topic of “Museums, Archives, and the Idea of the National.” This plenary features Taína Caragol (Curator for Latino Art and History, National Portrait Gallery), David Ferriero (Archivist of the United States), Eleanor Jones Harvey (Senior Curator, Smithsonian American Art Museum), and Arthur Molella (Director Emeritus, Lemelson Center, Smithsonian Institution).

The 2015 conference will also feature a number of special sessions, including a panel dedicated to the winner of the S-USIH Book Prize, Ruben Flores’s Backroads Pragmatists: Mexico’s Melting Pot and Civil Rights in the United States. It will also include panels sponsored by the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History, the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy (SAAP), and the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Members of the press and everyone else may register for the conference here. We look forward to seeing everyone in DC!

The Author’s Corner with Kevin Schultz

Kevin Schultz is Associate Professor of History, Catholic Studies, and Religious Studies and Associate Chair of the Department of History at the University of Illinois-Chicago.  This interview is based on his latest book Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped the 1960s (W.W. Norton, 2015). 
 
JF: What led you to write Buckley and Mailer?
 
KS: The 1960s have become this almost-mythologized time in American history, when American culture moved to the left, American politics to the right, and new roles were envisioned for men, women, African Americans, and, well, nearly everyone.  But there is so little out that that helps us understand it all.  Why did so much happen so quickly, and so violently?  With that question in mind, a few years ago I stumbled across some letters of the left-wing novelist Norman Mailer.  One was a beautiful back-and-forth between Mailer and the right-wing firebrand William F. Buckley, Jr.  The letters showed obvious intimacy, but also rivaling visions for how America should move forward in order to allow maximum freedom for the individual.  A light bulb went on in my head.  Through the friendship of Buckley the conservative and Mailer the radical, I could tell an important story about the 1960s, about how the right and the left both attacked the liberal center with their varying demands for increased freedom, and how that battle led to what Mailer called the violent “birthing pangs of a new order.”  This book was my attempt to explain why the 1960s happened in the way that they did.
 
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Buckley and Mailer?
 
KS: That the best way to understand the 1960s is by seeing it as a period when one set of assumptions that most American shared was replaced by another, and that this happened because both the left and the right were unhappy with the culture that developed in the aftermath of World War II, thinking it denied Americans too many freedoms.  With such colorful characters like Buckley and his demands for laissez faire economics and respect for Christian tradition, and Mailer with his demands for a less repressive culture, I get to tell the story of this profound change through dozens of raucous stories, which include boxing matches, public debates, antiwar rallies, and Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball.
 
JF: Why do we need to read Buckley and Mailer?
 
KS: Not only to better understand why the 1960s unfolded the way they did, but also to learn how two guys with nearly opposite political outlooks became friends and enduring debating partners, something sorely missing today.  The secret was that they both emphasized their love of America and understood the other as doing the same (just, to their mind, completely incorrectly).  Finally, it’s useful to recognize how today’s politics have developed from the ashes of the 1960s, with Buckley’s quest to honor “the great Western tradition” still a powerful demand of Republicans, and Mailer’s yearnings for increased individual freedoms a calling of the left.
 
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
 
KS: Some time in my middle teens I realized that the context in which we’re raised and in which we live determines so much about how we look at the world.  I wanted to understand the ideas that dominated our thinking but which we barely knew were there, the water we swim in. The answer always led me to history.  The ideas that dominate our lives emerged out of older debates about which ideas should dominate our lives.  And this became the way I understood the world–in order to feel I understand something, I needed to know the context in which it became that way.  I think this kind of historical thinking is true for lots of people, I’m just lucky I get to make my living at it!
 
JF: What is your next project?
 
KS: Good question.  I have two books in mind, one that keeps me in the 1960s and one that moves me to the 1970s.  The 1960s book will likely be about another major figure, one who is a minor but important player in Buckley and Mailer but whose ideas captivated me the more I learned about them.  The 1970s book will be about the intellectual requirements of economic inequality, although I’m not sure how that book will develop.  Either way, they will be narratives, as I learned that I absolutely love to tell stories.
 
JF: Thanks, Kevin.  Look forward to reading it!

Oh How I Wish Contributors Received a Free Copy

The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment is here for the low, low price of $451.00.  From what I can tell, Mark Spencer has edited an amazing research tool for students of American history.  It is now time for all of us to get our academic libraries to purchase a copy.

I contributed an essay on Philip Vickers Fithian to this volume.  I may have written other entires, but I just can’t remember.  I will have to wait for the “See Inside” feature on Amazon to find out.

Here is the description:

The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment is the first reference work on this key subject in early American history. With over 500 original essays on key American Enlightenment figures, it provides a comprehensive account to complement the intense scholarly activity that has recently centered on the European Enlightenment. 

With substantial and original essays on the major American Enlightenment figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, David Rittenhouse, Benjamin Rush, Jonathan Edwards and many others, this wide-ranging collection includes topical essays and entries on dozens of often-overlooked secondary figures.

It has long been known that Americans made their own contributions to the Enlightenment, most notably by putting Enlightenment ideas to work in defining the American Revolution, the United States Constitution, and the nature of the early American Republic. These volumes show that the American Enlightenment was more far reaching than even that story assumes. Presenting a fresh definition of the Enlightenment in America, this remarkable work confirms that the American Enlightenment constitutes the central framework for understanding the development of American history between c.1720 and c. 1820.

Call for Papers: 7th Annual U.S. Intellectual History Conference

This year the good folks at the Society for U.S. Intellectual History will be hosting their annual conference from October 15-18, 2015 in Washington D.C.  Check out the call for papers here. Deadline for submissions is April 15, 2015.

Corey Robin will be the keynote speaker.  I am sure he will be great. But for me the highlight will be the plenary roundtable on public intellectuals.  How often do you get to see Russell Jacoby, Leo Ribuffo, Claire “The Tenured Radical” Potter, and the V.P. for External Relations at Focus on the Family (Timothy Goeglein) all on the same stage!

Call for Papers: U.S. Intellectual History Sixth Annual Conference

CFP: S-USIH Sixth Annual Conference
Omni Severin, Indianapolis, IN
October 9-12, 2014


The Conference Committee of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) invites individual paper and panel proposals for its sixth annual conference to be held at the Omni Severin Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana October 9-12, 2014.  This year’s theme is “Materiality of Ideas.” This subject calls attention to the history of ideas by focusing on the various embodiments of American thought. This can include considerations of the relationship between immaterial and material realities; the development of American thought through the production or reproduction of ideas; the substance of thought, including the presence or absence of material objects; the manifestations of thought in economics, politics, or culture at local, national, or global levels; and, materialization in intellectual history including, but not limited to, book culture. Although proposals that relate to the theme are encouraged, the committee also welcomes submissions that are relevant to any aspect of the study of American thought.
Kathryn Lofton, Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History, and Divinity at Yale University, will deliver the keynote address. Dr. Lofton is a historian of religion who focuses on the cultural and intellectual history of the United States. Her research centers upon the histories and anthropology of religions from pre-contact to the present in order to explicate the meanings of and relationships between religion, modernity, and the secular. Dr. Lofton’s first book, Oprah: Gospel of an Icon (University of California Press, 2011) uses Oprah Winfrey’s multimedia productions as an example of religion in contemporary America.  She has published on modernism and fundamentalism in America, as well as studies of African-American women, ritual theory, parenting, and consumer goods as religious commodities. She is currently working on several projects, including a study of sexuality and Protestant theology; an analysis of the culture concept of the Goldman Sachs Group; and a religious history of Bob Dylan.
The 2014 conference will also host three plenary sessions and a number of special roundtables.  More information about these panels will be forthcoming on the USIH blog.
Participants are encouraged to submit full panel proposals to the conference committee. Panels should consist of four members: (1) either three academic papers and one chair/commentator or (2) four academic papers. Panel submissions must include an abstract for each presentation, a separate description of the panel itself, and one-page CVs for all participants that include the relevant means of contact. Abstracts for individual papers must be no longer than 250 words; panel abstracts must be no longer than 500 words.
Though preference will be given to pre-constituted panel proposals, the conference committee also will accept individual paper submissions. Abstracts for individual papers must be no longer than 250 words and should include three to five key words to aid the committee in composing panels. Submissions should also include a one-page CV that includes the relevant means of contact.
The committee also encourages the submission of roundtable panels (a series of ten-minute prepared [but not read] presentations on a topic followed by discussion among the panel and audience), discussion panels (in which the papers are circulated online in advance of the conference and the entire session is devoted to discussions of them), brownbags (one-hour long, lunchtime presentations), “author meets critics” events, retrospectives on significant works or thinkers, or interviews. Submissions for alternate-format sessions must include a description of the proposed format, along with one-page CVs of all participants that include the relevant means of contact.
In addition, please observe the following:
1. The committee is especially eager to ensure a diverse representation of scholars at the conference.
2. Individuals may participate in the conference in at most two capacities (paper presenter, panel respondent, roundtable participant, etc). Participants may, for example, deliver a paper and be a panel respondent, but may not present two papers.
3. The committee will assume that submission to the conference is an indication that participants will be attending the entire conference. We will be unable to accommodate any scheduling requests.
4. All persons appearing on the program will be required to register for the conference and to become members of S-USIH.
5. Deadline for submissions is May 16, 2014.  All submissions must be emailed as attachments in MS Word or PDF documents.
Send all submissions to:
2013 Conference Committee
s.usihconference@gmail.com
Other queries may be directed to: Mark Edwards and Cara Burnidge, 2014 Conference Co-Chairs, s.usihconference@gmail.com.

Tim Lacy’s New Book: "The Dream of a Democratic Culture"

Anyone who travels through the history blogosphere knows the name Tim Lacy.  Tim is an active online writer and one of the founders of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is partially responsible for a revival in the field of American intellectual history.

I am happy to learn of the release of Tim’s first book: The Dream of a Democratic Culture: Mortimer J. Adler and the Great Books Idea.  Here is the jacket blurb:

From the middle of the twentieth century to today, the Great Books idea has been perennially contested in successive iterations of the ‘culture wars.’ Whether embraced as the distillation of the best of Western culture or dismissed as hegemonic, elitist, and outdated, it has encapsulated the contradictions of intellectual life and civic culture in the era of American dominance. Drawing on previously unexamined sources, this book casts the Great Books idea in a new light, arguing that its proponents aimed to support an intellectually robust, consensus-oriented democratic culture. Moving from the concept’s origins in nineteenth-century cultural, industrial, and educational initiatives, author Tim Lacy highlights the life and career of Mortimer J. Adler, who moved the idea out of the academy and worked to weave it into social and cultural fabric of the United States. With attention to the frequently changing fortunes of the project and its own inherent virtues and vices, The Dream of a Democratic Culture conclusively shows that neither liberals nor conservatives can claim ownership of the Great Books idea, whose significance has always depended upon usage, selection criteria, and context.

Over at Religion in American History and the U.S. Intellectual History blog, Mark Edwards offers an early review of the book.  Here is a taste:

As his subtitle suggests, Lacy uses Adler to explore one of the most controversial subjects in twentieth-century American education, the “Great Books” movement.  I think, when most of us hear the words Great Books, we think Alan Bloom and conservative culture warriors.  One of Lacy’s central and most welcome contentions is that the Great Books idea has never been the sole possession of the American right or left.  Rather, both sides have, at different times, looked to such projects of cultural cohesion to save them from a variety of perceived existential threats (check out the conversation regarding Lacy’s 2011 blog post, “Great Books Liberalism,” for a nice introduction to the book).  Lacy is most concerned with, in his words, “those people, those mid-century intellectuals who promoted the great books idea, [who] shared an implicit, cosmopolitan dream of cultural democratization” (p. 6).  

Congratulations, Tim!

US Intellectual Historians Tackle *Confessing History*

University of Texas-Dallas graduate student Mark Thompson has offered the most thorough review of our Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation to date.  I think he captures the essence and schizophrenic nature of the volume.  It is a great review and I am thrilled that the good folks at US Intellectual History have chosen to post it.  I now have no doubt that sales of this volume will be brisk. In fact, I am sure that after I split my next royalty check with Jay and Eric I will be able to buy a few stocking stuffers for my kids this Christmas.  Heck, the cover “art” alone should boost sales. 🙂

At one point, Thompson writes:

While one can appreciate the desire by these Christian scholars to grapple with their life’s vocation, one underlying theme seems to echo Wilson’s dilemma while teaching in higher education: if one is a theist, when does one invoke God (or spirits) to explain events?  If  Confessing History is a tocsin for Christian-founded and –affiliated colleges, then it should have a positive impact on introducing faith-based institutions of higher education to a more rigorous analysis of history and causation.  However, when the goal is to attempt to bridge the gap between confessing and secular institutions, one wonders how the City of Supernaturalism and the City of Naturalism can ultimately merge into one city, although, that does not seem to be the objective for some of the authors.  To this reviewer, the complications involved by allowing supernatural evidence to guide (or even supplement) the professional community of inquirers are centered around how to identify which parts of past events were caused by supernatural intervention vs. human intervention. 

It seems that everyone who reads Confessing History seems to think that the book is somehow promoting a return to providential history.  While a few authors in the volume play with this idea, most of the authors would reject the kind of providential history that Thompson describes in the quote above.

Others–such as Dan Allosso in the comments section of review–thinks that Confessing History somehow “privileges” Christianity “in a way that culturally sensitive religious historians would never do.”  Allosso has not read the book so I will give him a pass on this one.  (I am glad that Allosso still “likes” me despite my apparent cultural insensitivity). But I don’t think any of the authors in Confessing History blatantly privilege Christianity as a system of interpretation that offers some special insight into the past.  (Perhaps the essays by Shannon and Miller could be read this way).

As one of the editors, I will also admit that Confessing History lacks any kind of central argument about the relationship of Christian faith and history.  Even the editors have serious disagreements. (I put all my cards on the table in my forthcoming [September] Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past). The only thing that holds the volume together is the fact that all of the authors are people of serious Christian faith who have thought deeply about how that faith bears (or in some cases does not bear) on their work as historians.  We also tried to offer an approach to this topic that deals more with “vocation” than with the epistemological questions often associated with the “world view” thinking of the Reformed tradition.

I also think that it is important to situate this book in the larger context of historians–Charles Bancroft, Herbert Butterfield, R.G. Collingwood, George Marsden, Mark Noll, Ron Wells, Arthur Link, Scott Latourette, C.T. McIntire, Nick Salvatore, the Calvin School, etc…–who have explored the relationship between Christian faith and historical practice. 

I am looking forward to following what has already proven to be fruitful conversation at U.S. Intellectual History.

Why No Books on Popes and the United States?

Tim Lacy asks a very interesting question.  Where are all the books about papal influence on American politicians and thinkers? 

How about Peter D’Agostino’s Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism?

Here is a taste of Tim’s post at U.S. Intellectual History:

…I think one could create a series on this topic in relation to Pius XII, John Paul II, John XXIII, Paul VI, Benedict XVI, or even Leo XIII. Each of these Holy Fathers has influenced American politics and thinkers to some extent—some more than others.

For instance, the 265th pontiff, John Paul II, exhibited a sustained interest in America. He visited the United States seven times total, the last being in St. Louis in January 1999. During six of his seven visits (one being a brief layover in Alaska) John Paul II met a president. He was the first pope (I think) to visit the White House in October 1979 (during Jimmy Carter’s presidency).*** There were also meetings with Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and William J. Clinton. Most historical works on Reagan—at least the ones I’ve read—note that he made a concerted effort to coordinate Cold War anti-communist efforts with John Paul II.