The Author’s Corner with Cassie Yacovazzi

9780190881009.jpegCassie Yacovazzi is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. This interview is based on her new book Escaped Nuns: True Womanhood and the Campaign Against Convents in Antebellum America (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Escaped Nuns?

CY: I was initially interested in anti-Catholicism in early America. As a person with a religious background, I wanted to know more about how nationalism, popular culture, and patriotism could shape who was considered religious insiders and outsiders in America. In my research, I kept coming across brief references to Maria Monk, an escaped nun and the listed author of Awful Disclosures of Hotel Dieu. Her convent exposé of 1836 was a phenomenal success, selling over 300,000 copies before the Civil War. But Monk was a fraud, having never lived in a convent as a nun or otherwise. I wanted to know more about why this book was so popular, what it revealed about anti-Catholic bias, what debates the book sparked, and who the real Maria Monk was. I set out to write a book about Maria Monk, but as I researched, I realized opposition to nuns was a much larger phenomenon. I came across dozens of escaped nun books, learned of various convent attacks, noticed denunciations of convent life littered throughout anti-Catholic materials, and found significant overlap between antebellum reform movements, such as abolition, the common school movement, urban reform, and anti-Mormonism and the campaign against convents. I realized there was a story there, and I wanted to learn and tell that story.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Escaped Nuns?

CY: The campaign against convents in antebellum America was a far reaching movement, as popular as abolitionism, the common school movement, urban reform, and anti-Mormonism. While anti-Catholic and nativist impulses propelled this campaign in part, nuns’ nonconformity to female gender norms of true womanhood—their rejection of marriage, motherhood, and ideals of domesticity—rendered them conspicuous targets of attack among the vanguards of accepted behavior.

JF: Why do we need to read Escaped Nuns?

CY: The history of anti-Catholicism in America is well documented and established. The animus against nuns and convent life, however, has often simply occupied a paragraph or footnote in this history. Yet nuns served as a barometer of American attitudes toward women. For many, the veiled nun represented a waste or corruption of womanhood; as Mother Superior she embodied the wrong kind of woman, masculinized by her position of authority. This image proved stirring enough to lead men into action to “liberate” women from their “captivity” and expose and demolish convents or “dens of vice.” In doing so, many Protestant Americans believed they were protecting women and Protestant American civilization. In the face of rapid urbanization and western expansion this mission appeared imperative. Escaped Nuns traces the facets of anti-convent sentiment, shedding light on a major contest for American identity at a time of rapid demographic and cultural change.

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

CY: For me deciding to become an American historian was a gradual decision rather than a single moment thing. I loved my history courses in high school and especially in college. I majored in Liberal Arts, focusing on History, Philosophy, and English, not really knowing what subject in which to specialize. When it came time to graduate, there was something in me that wanted to stay in academia and continue to pursue the life of the mind. I had found a sort of “home” there. But what would be my focus? I chose history because I thought I could incorporate my other loves of philosophy and literature. I also chose history because it was the subject that best helped me place my worldview, beliefs, and values in context. While in graduate school at Baylor University and then the University of Missouri, history became a way of life. Through acting like a historian I became one. It was in some ways accidental, but I feel comfortable, challenged, and inspired in this role.

JF: What is your next project?

CY: My next project is in some ways a big change from my first. The topic for my next book is Mary Kay—the woman and the cosmetics empire. I’m exploring Mary Kay’s personal story, the growth of her company, and the subsequent Mary Kay culture in the context of women in business, the history of beauty, the feminist movement, and the intersection of gender, capitalism, and religion.

JF: Thanks, Cassie!

Did Missionaries Contribute to the Growth of Secularism?

Protestants AbroadOver at The Christian Century, Robert Westbrook of the University of Rochester reviews David Hollinger‘s latest book, Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America.

Here is a taste:

Protestants Abroad fits snugly within Hollinger’s long-standing narrative of the price that ecumenical Protestants paid as a religious community for their thinning of the particularism of Christianity. Clearly missionaries were prominent among the church leaders who got out ahead of the rank and file on controversial social and political matters and lost the loyalty of many of them. And the weight of Hollinger’s extensive biographical evidence is that they also pioneered the art of raising post-Protestant children who may well have admired their moral strength and shared their humanitarian values but found little need for their religious beliefs.

Hollinger himself remains impatient with those who persisted in “God-talk” long after he thinks it lost its plausibility, favoring post-Protestant “mish kids” over their still devout parents in this regard. But arguably, on his own evidence, there is something to be said, even if one does not speak it oneself, for God-talk or even Christ-talk. It may very well be that the tension between the universal and the particular was crushing for missionary theory, but was it so for missionary practice? There is little evidence in Hollinger’s book that this was the case.

Many of the numerous life stories in Hollinger’s books are tales of courage, courage that was for many of those who mustered it sustained by Christian belief, however thin it may have been. Civil rights activist and former missionary Ruth Harris was described by one of the students she inspired as “acting up for Christ”—not for humanity but for Christ. And the same might be said of many of those who gave us a more cosmopolitan republic. Could they have found the strength to act up elsewhere, outside the confines of Christian belief? Maybe, but in their Christianity was where they found it.

Thin God-talk is not necessarily weak God-talk; it can be wiry God-talk. God-talk lean, supple, and articulated alongside humility and doubt. Might one not cop to the considerable uncertainty that remains in even such wiry God-talk and despite doing so be moved by religious faith to do far more good than one might otherwise have done? The more cosmopolitan American republic that liberal Protestant missionaries did so much to create is of late under siege. If we are to protect it, perhaps a few courageous, die-hard ecumenical Christian survivalists will come in handy.

Read the entire review here.

The Author’s Corner with Peter Choi

ChoiPeter Choi is Director of Academic Programs at Newbigin House of Studies.  This interview is based on his recent book George Whitefield: Evangelist for God and Empire (Eerdmans, 2018).

JF: What led you to write George Whitefield?

PC: It was a seemingly simple question that got me interested in George Whitefield, especially his later years: “What happened after revival?” I wanted to understand the Great Awakening in all of its various stages, including what I call in the book “revival twilight”––that is, “the long, calmer, and cooler aftermath of the white-hot bursts” of revival. It seemed sensible that to understand the long trajectory of revival I should attempt a study of the lifelong arc of the most important revival preacher. For such a well-known figure, the second half of his life is a surprisingly neglected feature of works on his life. The more I encountered this phenomenon, the more I wanted to know what he was like as he got older. Other questions arose along the way, like, What were the long-term effects of a spirituality of revival on Christian communities? Crucibles rarely leave things intact, and so, how did spirituality and theology change as a result of the fires of revival?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of George Whitefield?

PCThe evangelical revivals and early leaders like George Whitefield were products of an imperial age. Describing how evangelical Christianity emerged from a culture of empire building is therefore essential work for understanding the development of Christianity in America.

JF: Why do we need to read George Whitefield?

PCWith so many questions swirling about the relationship between religion and politics today, and myriad questions surrounding evangelicalism in particular, my book is one attempt to go back to the beginning in order to offer a reexamination of nascent evangelicalism. The past informs our present, and I’m convinced that it’s impossible to understand the state of American Christianity today (and broader issues related to culture and politics for that matter) apart from an honest assessment of the early evangelicals and their entanglement in the British empire.

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

PCAs an Asian American interested in learning about the history of Asian American Christianity, I received helpful counsel early on to study a topic that was related yet distant from the questions in which I had a more vested personal interest. Because of the significant influence of evangelicalism on Korean-American Christianity in particular, I was drawn to a study of revival history more broadly conceived.

Also, in the course of pastoral ministry, I began to see that historical questions interested me as much as, if not more than, theological ones. Beyond doctrine and belief, I became more interested in how Christianity had changed over time.

JF: What is your next project?

PCI’m in the early stages of a project on Christianity and race in the 18th century, attempting to connect the work I’ve done on Whitefield and slavery to other early evangelicals and their relationship to broader processes of racialization occurring in their era. 

JF: Thanks, Peter!

What Does the Trump Administration Mean by “Religious Freedom?”

jeff-sessions

At the State Department’s recent “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed that there is a “dangerous movement, undetected by many” that is “challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom.”  This “dangerous movement,” Sessions added, “must be confronted and defeated.”

I am part of the camp that believes people with deeply-held religious beliefs on social issues should be free to uphold those beliefs in a pluralistic society.  In other words, there are times when liberty of conscience in matters of religion should be protected despite the fact that others might see these beliefs as discriminatory.  When it comes to living together with such deeply-held convictions, I hope for what Washington University law professor John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.”

Having said that, I am not a fan of the way the Trump administration uses “religious liberty” to invoke fear.  I wrote about this kind of fear-mongering in my book Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  Sessions’s use of words like “dangerous” and “undetected by many” and “confronted and defeated” wreaks of political scare tactics and culture-war rhetoric.  I am surprised he did not roll out the phrase “deep state.”

Sessions claims that “ministers are fearful to affirm, as they understand it, holy writ from the pulpit.”  First, I don’t know of any contemporary cases, if any, in which government has threatened ministers from preaching from the Bible.  Fear is often based on false information.  Second, I suspect Sessions is conflating the preaching of “holy writ” from the pulpit with the endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit.  This is how many pro-Trump evangelicals understand “religious liberty.” This is why Sessions and Trump get so bent out of shape by the “Johnson Amendment.”  (Frankly, I think Trump could care less about the Johnson Amendment, but if he can promise its repeal he can gain political points with the evangelicals in his base).

Sessions goes on.  He talks about the ways the Pilgrims in Plymouth, the Catholics in Maryland, the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Scots-Presbyterians in the middle colonies (Sessions apparently does not realize that Pennsylvania is a middle colony and most Scots-Irish came to Penn’s colony), and Roger Williams in Rhode Island championed religious freedom.  He adds: “Each one of these groups and others knew what it was like to be hated, persecuted, outnumbered, and discriminated against.”  What Sessions fails to note is that the Pilgrims (and Puritans in Massachusetts Bay) did not provide this precious religious freedom to people who did not have the same religious beliefs as they did.  He fails to note that Roger Williams founded Rhode Island because he was kicked out of Massachusetts Bay for failing to conform to Puritan orthodoxy (among other things).  He fails to note that Puritans executed Quakers in Boston Commons.

I could go on, but I don’t have the time or inclination right now to exegete Sessions’s entire speech.  It is worth noting, however, that all of Sessions’s examples of religious liberty are Christian examples.  There is no mention of religious liberty for Muslims, Jews, or other people of faith.  Parts of Sessions’s address read like a Trump stump speech.  He lauds Trump for making it safe to say “Merry Christmas” again.  Really?  Is this what the Trump administration means when they say they are going to champion religious liberty?  This sounds more like the kind of Christian civilization those “liberty-loving” Puritans and Pilgrims wanted to create back in 17th New England.  (Ironically, these early American Calvinists did not celebrate Christmas because they thought it was a pagan holiday).

OK, I am rambling.  But if you want some context on the way Trump and his minions think about religious liberty, I encourage you to check out Jason Lupfer’s recent piece at Religion & Politics.  It is worth your time.

New Book: *Interpreting Religion at Museums and Historic Sites*

InterpretingIf you are interested in the relationship between American religious history, museums, historical sites, and public history, I highly recommend that you get a copy (or ask your library to order a copy) of Gretchen Buggeln’s and Barbara Franco’s new book Interpreting Religion and Museums and Historic Sites.

The book includes essays on interpreting religion at religious sites, historic sties, and museums.  These sites include Arch Street Meeting House (Philadelphia), California Missions Trail,  Ephrata Cloister, Joseph Smith Family Farm. U.S. Capitol, Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Yorktown, Arab American National Museum, Jewish Museum of Maryland, Minnesota History Center, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, and Winterthur Museum.

Buggeln, the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christianity and the Arts at Valparaiso University,  offers essays on “Scholarly Approaches for Religion in History Museums” and “Religion in Museum Spaces and Places.”  Franco, the former executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the founding director of the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum, offers two essays: “Issues in Historical Interpretation: Why Interpreting Religion is So Difficult” and “Strategies and Techniques for Interpreting Religion.”  Buggeln and Franco team-up for another essay: “Interpreting Religion at Museums and Historic Sites: The Work Ahead.”

This is a wonderful collection and I was honored that Buggeln and Franco asked me to write a blurb:

I have been waiting for a book like this for a long time. Gretchen Buggeln and Barbara Franco have gathered an impressive collection of essays by museum professionals and public historians who have thought deeply about the place of religion in some of our most important cultural institutions. This is a landmark volume. (John Fea, Chair and Professor of History, Messiah College, author of Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past).

This book should be in the library of every public historian, museum and historical site educator, and American religious historian.

Landmark Baptists

Landmark

Yesterday I gave a lecture on Protestantism to the teacher participating in the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History Princeton Seminar.  I tried to get them to see that when the Bible is translated into the vernacular and can be read by the people, the people will come up with different interpretations and thus different denominations.  I joked, “Last time I checked there were more than 100 kinds of Baptists.”

The Landmark Baptists are one of those groups.  Here is a taste of Sarah Laskow’s Atlas Obscura piece on this interesting Baptist group:

“Landmarkism” started in the 1850s, when immigrants were bringing varied ideas about Christianity to America and Baptists were raising questions about religious authority. Of all these churches, competing against each other, which was the one true path to God? James Robinson Graves, the publisher of the Tennessee Baptist newspaper, along with a handful of like-minded men, began arguing that only Baptists could claim this legitimacy. They backed up their claims with arguments about “church successionism,” tracing their beliefs and practices step-by-step, back to the beginnings of Christianity.

“Baptists had been historically a people who didn’t worry about their roots,” says Alan Lefever, director of the Texas Baptist Historical Collection. “Landmarkism came at a time that some Baptists were pointing out that we had only been around since the 1600s. To the Landmarkists, that wasn’t good enough.”

Read the entire piece here.

Male Authoritarianism and the Southern Baptists

0ed47-southern-baptist-convention

R. Marie Griffith directs the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  Some of you may remember our interview with her in Episode 32 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. During that interview we talked with Griffith about her recent book Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics.

Over at Religion & Politics, Griffith makes some important links between Southern Baptists, religious authoritarianism, and evangelical support for Donald Trump.  She draws upon her own Southern Baptist upbringing in Chattanooga.

Here is a taste:

Ironically or fittingly enough, Pressler and Patterson, the takeover titans, were themselves taken down by sex scandals of various types. Earlier this year, Pressler’s name hit the national news for disturbing accusations of same-sex sexual misconduct and assault leveled against him; shortly thereafter, Patterson was ousted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary over substantiated charges of damaging sexist behavior against women (from counseling an abused woman to stay with her husband and commenting on the body parts of young women to mishandling rape reports). That the architects of the “wives submit graciously” addition to the edifice of Baptist theology turned out to be men tainted by sexual misbehavior and chauvinism shocked many but could hardly surprise. As more sexual abuse scandals come to light, we’re getting a sad lesson in the ways that some respected leaders have ignored, neglected, and covered up injurious and even criminal behavior against vulnerable church members.

If that sounds like a plot from a movie, this is unfortunately not fiction, and the calculated strategy for retaining power regardless of fairness or due process has persisted in the denomination to this day. That the leaders of a tradition long known for touting its tolerance of independent thought within the wide bounds of the Bible became so thoroughly intolerant, not only of difference of opinion but of mere questioning and debate, has been a painful pill for many cradle Baptists to swallow. Untold numbers of people in the pews who have been perturbed by the machinations of denominational leaders and dismayed by the church’s patriarchal entrenchment have left the church for more democratic, egalitarian climes, even as many of those remaining have apparently grown comfortable with its top-down dogmatism. As one Baptist, removed as a trustee from the International Mission Board in 2006 for trying to prevent other trustees from removing some women from leadership there, put it recently: “Southern Baptist pastors are infatuated with and captivated by authoritarianism.”

No wonder so many white evangelicals are infatuated with and captivated by the authoritarian occupying the White House. It’s been a long time coming.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Arlene Sanchez-Walsh

WalshArlene M Sanchez-Walsh is Professor of Religious Studies at Azusa Pacific University.  This interview is based on her recent book Pentecostals in America (Columbia University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write the book

ASW: I wrote the book in order to break the historiographical logjam that afflicts writing about Pentecostalism in America. Most works are either focused on place:  where did Pentecostalism start? That question animates Pentecostal historians and budding graduate students way too much in my opinion. The question for me was, who cares whether it started at Azusa Street or Chicago?  I also wrote the book because the other logjam was the overemphasis on the “great men and women of history” motif, where the godly ministers received all the attention and all historians did was follow their pastoral appointments from pulpit to pulpit.  Again, who cares? I wrote this book because Pentecostals tell great stories and those stories are what animate the movement. Historians should move beyond spiritual genealogy, and I think this book does that.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of the book?

ASWPentecostals tell great stories, those stories are bewildering, fascinating, unbelievable, shocking, and life-affirming, often all at the same time–historians ought to focus on that aspect of the movement–the power of narratives to shape the historical flow.

Pentecostalism has been viewed as a self-exculpatory triumph of what God is doing in the world or a distasteful backwater frenzy fit only for those willing to delude themselves; it is neither of those things, but it is a vibrant faith with great historical tensions among genders, races, and classes–that all deserves examination.

JF: Why do you need to read Pentecostals in America?

ASWYou need to read it because it’s the first book that looks thematically at the history of the movement, not through timelines, but through people–some lesser known than others. There is the well-known story of Sister Aimee McPherson and the lesser known story of Florence Crawford. There are events that are covered here that have not been covered elsewhere like A.A Allen’s Miracle Valley, Arizona compound that was the site of an outbreak of religious violence in the early 1980s that virtually no one knows about. Finally, if I might, I think readers will come away from this book as if they just read a page-turning novel…the stories are that good!

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

ASWI decided while on my 3rd major in college (I floated in and out of a lot of majors).  I was usually very good at the subject, and I loved my history classes. I took as many as I could with as many professors as I could. I knew that I could combine my love of U.S. history and religion when I took an undergrad class on slavery.

I decided to study U.S. history, specifically Latino/a history, because that is a history that is still on the periphery of U.S. history. I wanted in some way to contribute to compiling the stories of the religious lives of Latinos/as in the U.S. because so very few people were doing that when I started in 2000.

JF: What is your next project?

ASWWell I actually have 2 projects. I need to step away from Pentecostalism for a bit, just because this book has taken 10 years of my life. So I hope to write a religious biography of Fr. Daniel Berrigan.  After that, I’ll step back into my ethnographic fieldwork and complete a project on Latinos/as and the Prosperity Gospel.

JF: Thanks Arlene!

The Author’s Corner With Christopher Grasso

GrassoChristopher Grasso is Professor of History at the College of William & Mary.  This interview is based on his recent book Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Skepticism and American Faith?

CG: An archival question.  In about 1990, when working on my dissertation, I was reading the Ezra Stiles papers at Yale.  A young college tutor in mid-eighteenth-century New England intending to become a minister, Stiles began to doubt Christianity.  He passed through the valley of religious skepticism and stood on the precipice of deism, as he later put it.  But he was afraid to confess these doubts to anyone, even when sick on what he thought might be his deathbed.  He eventually recovered his faith.  But in the wake of the American Revolution, in his most famous publication, he worried about the broader social and political implications of other closeted deists and skeptics, such as the war hero Ethan Allen, who were suddenly coming out of the closet.  Skeptical unbelief was the “other” against which Christian America defined itself.  He got me asking questions about the personal and political dimensions of the relation between religious skepticism and faith.

JF: What is the argument of Skepticism and American Faith?

CG: Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, the dialogue of religious skepticism and faith shaped struggles over the place of religion in politics; it produced different visions of knowledge and education in an “enlightened” society; it fueled social reform in an era of economic transformation, territorial expansion, and social change; and it molded the making and eventual unmaking of American nationalism.

JF: Why do we need to read Skepticism and American Faith?

CG: Most histories of the period, if they pay attention to religion at all, sweep away most of the doubters with the so-called “Second Great Awakening” in the early nineteenth century.  Or they posit some version of “secularization” happening behind people’s backs.  This book looks at American religion not as an inheritance from the Puritan past, or as the product of the a “democratization” of Christianity, or as the outcome of denominational competition in a religious “free market” after the separation of church and state, but as a form of cultural power that is produced and reproduced in ways both intimate and structural.

Many Americans wrestled with the questions and the answers that religion, loudly and persistently, offered to them.  They struggled to believe, against the whispered scoffing they heard in taverns or the arguments they read in books like Tom Paine’s Age of Reason.  Or they struggled to doubt, against the powerful authorities promoting a patriotic Christian common sense that stigmatized and tried to silence skepticism.  But this book isn’t just about a contest of ideas.  It looks at the “lived religion,” and “lived irreligion,” of people—ministers, merchants, and mystics; physicians, schoolteachers, and feminists; self-help writers, slaveholders, shoemakers, and soldiers—trying to make sense of their world.  They lived in a different era, though as appeals to “Christian America” continue to reverberate, their experience could be instructive as we try to make sense of our own.

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

CG: The key insight was about how history shapes texts and texts shape history.  But my story has a rather tangled plot, from phys. ed. major to political cartoonist to journalist to writing teacher as an undergraduate and then from English to American Studies to History in grad school.  Key scenes would include a young guy mowing lawns being invited by an elderly woman to borrow books from her extensive library; the gym-rat-turned-political-cartoonist stumbling into an astonishing class on biblical hermeneutics; and a grad student somehow getting two terrific mentors, historians of early American religious history who had come to very different conclusions about the same material.

JF: What is your next project?

CG: John R. Kelso (1831-1891) is character featured in the last half of the last chapter of Skepticism and American Faith.  He’s a former Methodist minister who lost his faith and became a local hero fighting Confederate guerillas in Missouri during the Civil War.  I came upon his papers soon after the Huntington Library had purchased them: 800 manuscript pages of poems, speeches, lectures and a partial autobiography.  So drawn into his story, I published an edited and annotated version of the twelve Civil War chapters of his memoir as Bloody Engagements: John R. Kelso’s Civil War for Yale University Press in 2017.  When that book was in page proofs, I was contacted by a direct descendant of Kelso’s who had the missing second half of Kelso’s autobiography—another 80,000 words.  This remarkable nineteenth-century figure offers an extraordinary vantage upon important dimensions of American culture. Kelso was many things: teacher, preacher, soldier, spy; congressman, scholar, lecturer, author; Methodist, atheist, spiritualist, anarchist.  He was also a strong-willed son, a passionate husband, and a loving and grieving father.  In the center of his life was the thrill and the trauma of the Civil War, which challenged his notions of manhood and honor, his ideals of liberty and equality, and his beliefs about politics, religion, morality, and human nature.  Throughout his life, too, he fought his own private civil wars—against former friends and alienated family members, rebellious students and disaffected church congregations, political opponents and religious critics, but also against the warring impulses in his own complex character.  Based on the rich archive of little-known and unknown material, my biography for Yale University Press, Teacher, Preacher, Soldier, Spy: The Civil Wars of John R. Kelso, will bring together people and subjects–essential to the iconic nineteenth century but usually treated separately—that become more significant and explicable when treated together: religious revivalism and political anarchism; freethinking and the Wild West; sex, divorce, and Civil War battles.

JF:  Sounds fascinating.  Thanks, Chris.

Let’s Remember What Thomas Jefferson Thought About Religious Liberty for Muslims

Jefferson and Religious Liberty

Check out Elahe Izadi‘s piece at The Washington Post.  It quotes several scholars of early American history, Islam, Thomas Jefferson, and religious liberty including Denise Spellberg, Andrew O’Shaughnessy, and John Ragosta.

Here is a taste:

Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and asked that it be one of just three accomplishments listed on his tombstone. The Virginia law became the foundation of the religious freedom protections later delineated in the Constitution.

Virginia went from having a strong state-established church,  which Virginians had to pay taxes to support, to protecting freedom of conscience and separating church and state. Jefferson specifically mentioned Muslims when describing the broad scope of protections he intended by his legislation, which was passed in 1786.

“What he wanted to do was get the state of Virginia out of the business of deciding which was the best religion, and who had to pay taxes to support it,” said Spellberg, a professor of history and Islamic studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

During the bill’s debate, some legislators wanted to insert the term “Jesus Christ,” which was rejected. Writing in 1821, Jefferson reflected that “singular proposition proved that [the bill’s] protection of opinion was meant to be universal.”

He continued:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo [Hindu], and Infidel of every denomination.”

Read the entire piece here.

My Piece at *The Atlantic*: “Evangelical Fear Elected Trump”

Trump court evangelicals

This piece draws from Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, but it also include material that is not in the book.

A taste:

White conservative evangelicals in America are anxious people. I know because I am one.

Our sense of fear, perhaps more than any other factor, explains why evangelicals voted in such large numbers for Donald Trump in 2016 and continue to support his presidency.

 

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” The great poet of the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen, sings, “Fear’s a dangerous thing. It can turn your heart black you can trust. It can take a God-filled soul, and turn it to devils and dust.”

You Are Never Going to Believe Which Verse Was Most Quoted in American Newspapers Between 1840 and 1920. (And It Wasn’t Romans 13)

luke-18-16

With all this talk of Romans 13, it is worth noting that the most cited verse in American newspapers between 1840 and 1920 was Luke 18:16:

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

This verse, which seems to have some relevance to our current immigration mess, was:

  • The third most quoted Bible verse in the 1840
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1850s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1860s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1870s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1880s
  • The second most quoted Bible verse in the 1890s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1900s
  • The third most quoted Bible verse in the 1910s
  • The most quoted Bible verse in the 1920s

Thanks to Lincoln Mullen for creating the tool that enabled me to write this post and make this point.

The Author’s Corner with Joel Cabrita

People's ZionJoel Cabrita is Lecturer in World Christianities on the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge.  This interview is based on her new book The People’s Zion: Southern Africa, the United States, and a Transatlantic Faith-Healing Movement (Harvard-Belknap, 2018)

JF: What led you to write The People’s Zion?

JCI’ve long researched Southern Africa’s ‘independent churches’, those African-led Christian organizations that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century and which defined themselves independently of European or North American missionary oversight. In the course of doing research for a separate project, I came across an exciting stash of hundreds of letters exchanged between independent church ministers in South Africa and their counterparts in Illinois, USA. I realized that there was a new story waiting for me about a lively transatlantic exchange between African and American Christians that hadn’t yet been told.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The People’s Zion?

JCThat evangelical faith-healing Christianity resonated with working-class believers of all races amidst the tumultuous social development of the twentieth century, and that we can only understand these developments in South Africa if we look to what was happening across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States during the same period.

JF: Why do we need to read The People’s Zion?

JCHistories of Christianity in South Africa tend to emphasize its uniquely indigenous properties, and how Christianity has been shaped by developments internal to the African continent. In a parallel fashion, histories of Christianity in North America rarely consider how Christians in Southern Africa shaped the parameters of what was considered respectable or orthodox Christianity in the United States. This book argues that Africa and America need to be investigated side-by-side to truly understand the relevance of Christianity over the last hundred years.

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?)

JCI’m a historian of Southern Africa, and this is my first – and much enjoyed -foray into American history. But I actually started life as a theologian. I soon became more interested in the empirical study of human life and found theology entirely too speculative for my liking. I quickly fell in love with the intellectual possibilities afforded by using archives to understand the past.

JF: What is your next project?

JCI’m currently writing a history of the Lutheran missionary-anthropologist, Bengt Sundkler, who did path-breaking research on religion in Southern Africa. I’m arguing that much of his work couldn’t have happened without the extensive assistance of a network of African research assistants, informants and collaborators. As was usual for the period Sundkler was writing in, these assistants were seldom mentioned by name or acknowledged. But I think figures such as these need to be reassessed by scholars as key players in the co-production of anthropological knowledge in colonial Africa.

JF: Thanks, Joel!

The History of the “Conservative Resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention

UneasyI am not a scholar of religion in the American South.  Nor am I an expert on the Southern Baptists or the so-called “conservative resurgence” in the 1980s.  But ever since I started writing posts about this whole Paige Patterson mess, people (mostly non-Southern Baptists) have been asking me for good books on the history of the conservative takeover of the Convention.

What scholarly books would you recommend on this subject?  Here are a few that I have found helpful over the years:

Nancy Ammerman, Baptist Battles

Barry Hankins, Uneasy in Babylon

Barry Hankins and Thomas Kidd, Baptists in America: A History

Scholarship on American Christianity and Suburbia

Suburban_Christian_Church_-_panoramio_(12)

Earlier this week I was chatting with some Canadian religious historians about the field and one of them asked me if I knew of any good books about how churches moved from cities to suburbs following World War II.

As we brainstormed, we came up with:

James Hudnut-Beumler, Looking for God in the Suburbs: The Religion of the American Dream and its Critics, 1945-1965

Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right

Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism

What other books or articles would you add to this list?

Call for Papers: Newberry Library Seminar on Religion in the Americas

Newberry Building from park.2

From Religion in American History:

2018-2019 Academic Year

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

Submission Deadline: June 1, 2018

The Religion and Culture in the Americas Seminar explores topics in religion and culture broadly and from interdisciplinary perspectives including social history, biography, cultural studies, visual and material culture, urban studies, and the history of ideas. We are interested in how religious belief has affected society, rather than creedal- or theological-focused studies.

The Seminar provides an opportunity for scholars to share works-in-progress, and we encourage papers that use new methods, unveil archival discoveries, or need feedback in preparation for book and journal article publication. The seminar will meet on selected Fridays during the academic year, 3-5 pm, at the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois.

To submit a proposal, please visit our webform at https://www.newberry.org/seminar-proposal-form and upload a one-page proposal, a statement explaining the relationship of the paper to your other work, and a brief CV.
Applications will not be accepted via email.

If you are not at present interested in giving a paper but want to receive papers and participate in the discussion, please read our Registration Information found online. The Newberry is unable to provide funds for travel or lodging for presenters and respondents, but can assist in locating discounted accommodations.

For further information about Newberry seminars, please email scholarlyseminars@newberry.org

https://www.newberry.org/newberry-seminar-religion-and-culture-americas

The Religion and Culture in the Americas Seminar is co-sponsored by Albion College, the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Wheaton College.

The Seminar’s organizers for 2018-2019 are: Kathleen Sprows Cummings, University of Notre Dame; Karen Johnson, Wheaton College; Malachy McCarthy, Claretian Missionaries Archives; Rima Lunin Schultz, Independent Scholar; and Kevin Schultz, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Catherine O’Donnell on Elizabeth Ann Seton

I am really looking forward to Catherine O’Donnell‘s forthcoming biography of Elizabeth Seton.  This weekend she delivered the keynote address at the Spring meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Here is her fascinating talk:


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/264862672″>Plenary Address, Spring Meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association at Mount St. Mary’s University</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user84031308″>Mount History</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The Author’s Corner with April Holm

58ed097f35437.jpgApril Holm is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Mississippi. This interview is based on her new book, A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era (LSU Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write A Kingdom Divided?

AH: I have a long-standing interest in the border states and how border residents experienced the Civil War. I was led to this particular topic as a graduate student when I read Richard Carwardine’s Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America and was intrigued by his comment that the aftermath of the Methodist schism of 1844 deserved more scholarly attention. I gave it a look, and obviously, I agreed!

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Kingdom Divided?

AH: I argue that the border was at the center of a long struggle over slavery, sin, and politics in American evangelicalism that consumed individual congregations and entire states. This book illuminates border evangelicals’ view of their providential role in American history, demonstrates that border churches established the terms of the debate over the relationship between church and state in wartime, and explains how border Christians contributed to a lasting sectional rift in the churches that obscured the role of slavery in their history.

JF: Why do we need to read A Kingdom Divided?

AH: A Kingdom Divided analyzes the crucial role of the border churches in shaping antebellum divisions in the major evangelical churches, in navigating the relationship between church and the federal government, and in rewriting denominational histories to forestall reunion in the churches. It highlights how religion, morality, and politics interacted—often in unexpected ways—in a time of political crisis and war. My book offers a new perspective on nineteenth century sectionalism and regionalism. And, in revealing the surprising extent of federal intervention in border churches, it addresses the problem of loyalty and neutrality in wartime. Finally, it revises the timeline of postwar reconciliation and reunion, supplying a new explanation of the origins of Southern evangelical distinctiveness in the postwar period.

In addition to all these things, A Kingdom Divided is a study of the failure of neutrality as a strategy in the face of a moral and political crisis. White evangelical clergy in the border region who tried to remain neutral in divisive debates over slavery and secession came to view the debates—not slavery—as the greater evil. Moderate white border clergy saw their own neutral stance as morally superior to engaging in political conflict. However, when the war ended, neutrality was no longer possible and the major denominations pressured border clergy to take a side. These border clergy felt persecuted by their denominations and they began to turn to southern churches, which continued to defend slavery even after it had been abolished. Neutrality on slavery ultimately led them into proslavery denominations. My study of attempted neutrality in the face of moral disputes reverberates in present-day conflicts. It explains why people turn to moderation or neutrality as a strategy in the face of intensely charged conflicts. It also reveals why people who attempt to remain neutral so often feel that they occupy the moral high ground and why they ultimately find fault with people demanding justice, rather than with injustice itself.

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

AH: I can trace my interest in the past back to my childhood love of historical fiction. I decided to become a historian when I started taking history seminars as an undergraduate at Reed College. I am interested in the border states because they exemplify and complicate so many of the key issues of the Civil War era—they are paradoxically both peripheral and central.

JF: What is your next project?

AH: I am currently researching a book on provost marshals and civilians in the occupied border during the Civil War. During the Civil War, border civilians frequently came in contact with provost marshals, who were federal agents who acted as military police and commanded wide-ranging authority over the civilian population. Their many duties included enforcing martial law, administering loyalty oaths, seizing property, and arresting disloyal citizens. In sum, provost marshals wielded tremendous power.

My project will develop a clearer picture of who these men were and the role they played in civilian networks within their communities. Currently, my research suggests three conclusions. First, that Union occupation was both immediate and local. Provost marshals were usually appointed directly from the community and therefore policed neighbors and acquaintances. Second, provost marshals became the face of the Union army in interactions with civilians of all political orientations, races, and genders. This included loyal Unionists, Confederate sympathizers, guerillas, enslaved people, free African-Americans, and women (both black and white). In occupied cities, the provost marshal’s office was an avenue for groups outside the sphere of war to access federal power. Finally, civilian interactions with provost marshals led to the development of a contested language of loyalty that fused the moral and the political. I extend my study past the war years to show how negative memories of provost marshals—often rehashed and embellished—contributed to the development of Lost Cause mythology in postwar years.

JF: Thanks, April!

The Author’s Corner with Amanda Porterfield

9780199372652Amanda Porterfield is Robert A. Spivey Professor of Religion at Florida State University. This interview is based on her new book, Corporate Spirit: Religion and the Rise of the Modern Corporation (Oxford University Press, 2018). 

JF: What led you to write Corporate Spirit?

AP: This book began with a question. How did corporations become such a prominent feature of American life? As I listened to complaints about corporations and their legal rights, the prevalence of these institutions in American society seemed to require some explanation. The search for answers took hold of me once I realized that corporate forms of organization dominated American religious as well as commercial life. Where did corporate approaches to social order originate? How did corporate forms of religious and commercial organization develop in relation to one another? How did events in one sphere affect events in the other?

JF: What is the argument of Corporate Spirit?

AP: The book argues that corporate organizations have shaped American economic and religious life, and that a long history of corporate organization precedes American innovations in both business and religion. The book argues that a key element in this checkered history is the management of corporations as if they were persons, with real people belonging to them as members of a body, or corpus.

JF: Why do we need to read Corporate Spirit?

AP: The book explains how corporations organize people into groups that transcend kinship, and how they have often succeeded as effective, though not always salutary, forms of social organization. Building on this organizational focus, the book shows how developments in corporate organization from ancient Rome and medieval Christendom led to corporate institutions in British America that, in turn, laid important groundwork for American political independence. The book goes on to show how rapid growth in commercial and religious organization in the early United States contributed to the development of modern corporations later in the 19th century, and how the Christian idea of corporate personhood took on new, secular life when the 14th Amendment was interpreted to protect the rights of corporations as legal persons. Perhaps most important, the book offers a way to understand recent problems of corporate accountability in light of a long history of complaint about corporate behavior.

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

AP: I decided to become a historian at the height of the Vietnam War when I was profoundly confused about America, and could not think of a better idea of what to do with myself. The book is the latest result of my effort to understand how the world we live in came to be. This effort led me to become a historian, and brought me to study religion as a revealing window into people and historical change.

JF: What is your next project?

AP: I have begun to explore the role of religion in modern dance and American jazz, and to consider the historical relationship between the emergence of these arts and religious practice. Music and dance have long been avocations for me, and I am eager to better understand their historical development in modern America.

JF: Thanks, Amanda!