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!

“Religion and Politics in Early America” Conference Recap

Yes–there was a conference in Saint Louis this weekend.  And yes, I was there.

I arrived early on Thursday morning (the first day of the conference) and got hit with food poisoning that kept me in my hotel room most of the day.  My plan was to attend sessions and catch-up with friends and colleagues on Thursday, give a paper on religious disestablishment in New Jersey on Friday morning, and chair another session on Friday at 2:30.  I was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis in the early evening on Friday and get back to Pennsylvania late Friday night so I could help preside over the PA District 8 National History Day competition at Messiah College on Saturday.

Then the Nor’easter hit the East Coast.

My Friday night flight was cancelled and American Airlines could not book me on another flight that would get me back to Harrisburg in time for History Day.  In the end, I gave my 9:00am presentation on New Jersey, caught a taxi to the airport where I rented a car, and made the 12-hour drive back to Pennsylvania.  It was the only way.  (I did shell-out the $6.00 for Sirius/XM radio so I had company on the drive).

I got home around 2am, caught a few hours of sleep, and was at Messiah College by 8am.

Cathay

With NHD PA Region 8 Coordinator Cathay Snyder at the awards ceremony at Messiah College

History Day

The students, teachers, and parents awaiting the start of the NHD awards ceremony

I was only able to do this because my friend Jonathan Den Hartog agreed to take my 2:30pm chair duties in St. Louis on Friday.  Thanks again, Jonathan!

And speaking of Jonathan, check out his post on the conference at Religion in American History blog.  Here is a taste:

On a related note, the conference was successful in bringing together both historians and literary scholars. Although disciplinary differences were on display–in one panel: unpacking one sermon vs. treating a long genealogy of ideas vs. considering both physical and written evidence–still good efforts were made to talk across borders and gain greater insights.  Further, presenters showed how different methodologies could illuminate a shared topic.

These two pieces–the critical mass and the conversation across disciplines–point to the energy in the field. These conversations are not only important in 2018, but they point to questions of enduring concern. Those digging into the topic are making great contributions, and I expect we will continue to see great results growing from this conference into the future.

Read his entire report here.

The Author’s Corner with Lucas Volkman

9780190248321Lucas Volkman is Assistant Professor of History at Moberly Area Community College. This interview is based on his new book, Houses Divided: Evangelical Schisms and the Crisis of the Union in Missouri (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Houses Divided?

LV: For some time, religious history had always interested me. During recent years historians have been improving their understanding of the role of religion in the larger Civil War era. In many ways it made sense for me further this exploration by examining the denominational schisms over slavery within the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

While earlier historians had done fine work on the topic, the more I researched the more I realized that there was further work that was needed on this important series of events in American history. What really stood out to me was how there were a variety of facets that had not been written about extensively.

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

LV: This work argues that congregational and local denominational schisms among Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians in the border state of Missouri before, during, and after the Civil War were central to the crisis of the Union, Civil War, and Reconstruction. The book maintains that the schisms were interlinked religious, sociocultural, legal, and political developments rife with implications for the transformation of evangelicalism and the United States in that period and to the end of Reconstruction.

JF: Why do we need to read Houses Divided?

LV: The schisms within the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches were important events within the sectional crisis during the years leading to the Civil War. But, Houses Divided moves beyond the antebellum period, and tells how the schisms played a major role during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

Readers will see how competing theologies over the morality of slavery helped drive antebellum events as southern evangelicals used their power to push their proslavery theology only to have northern evangelicals turn the tables during the war and Reconstruction, as they sought to construct pro-northern civil religion.

In Houses Divided I discuss how the schisms were important for their legal ramifications. As congregations divided over slavery, congregations were forced to go to the courts to adjudicate their property disputes. Combined with wartime/Reconstruction oaths, these property battles demonstrate how the schisms played a major role in the interactions between church and state.

Finally, by focusing on Missouri, readers will see a state which was uniquely torn apart by the conflict over slavery – making it an excellent laboratory to examine the schisms. Moreover, by focusing on a single border state, Houses Divided can truly examine these ruptures as local events, rather than solely through the eyes of elite national ministers. By bringing in local congregations, women and African Americans, to add to the narrative of ministers and other elites, Houses Divided truly surveys the religious landscape.

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

LV: Since I was younger I had always been interested in history. While I majored in history during my undergrad, I began to be drawn more so to American history. I thought that I would have the most to contribute on the nineteenth century. Hopefully the readers of Houses Divided will think so as well after finishing the book.

JF: What is your next project?

LV: Sticking with the theme of religious history, currently I am researching a project on American Catholicism in the mid to late nineteenth century. I am particularly interested in how Catholicism interacted with the forces of Americanization on the church.

JF: Thanks, Lucas!

 

The Author’s Corner with Marie Dallam

51+rCcs4muL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Marie Dallam is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oklahoma Honors College. This interview is based on her new book, Cowboy Christians (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Cowboy Christians?

MD: When I first I moved to Oklahoma to teach at the university, I saw an ad in the paper for “cowboy church.” I could not imagine what that was, or what it meant, and in pursuit of an answer I realized that no one had done any academic work on it. So, the project just kind-of presented itself to me. The more I delved into cowboy church, the more the project expanded, so ultimately the book is as much about religious history among cowboy culture people as it is about the present-day cowboy church movement. The project also became a great way for me to learn about this region of the country, by driving all over Oklahoma and Texas and meeting people from communities who I would not normally encounter.

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

MD: Cowboy church is a noteworthy revival movement within American evangelicalism today. By considering aspects of its impetus, structure, atmosphere, and development, I am able to contextualize it in relation to other significant religious forms of both the past and present, including muscular Christianity, the Jesus movement, new paradigm churches, and new religious movements.

JF: Why do we need to read Cowboy Christians?

MD: American evangelicalism is particularly good at reinventing itself, and exploring its many twists and turns helps us to understand larger patterns of theological and institutional religious development in the United States. The cowboy church movement is one such twist, but until now it has largely flown under the radar of critical study. In addition to history and analysis, I include a number of stories about my experiences of attending and meeting people at cowboy Christian events, which makes the book a more engaging and personal read.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Of if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

MD: I am a historian of American religion. I’m particularly fascinated by alternative forms of religious belief and practice, especially groups that have been socially marginalized. When we—as a society, and/or as scholars—overlook these kinds of communities, it curtails our ability to truly understand the development of religion in the United States. So my goal as a historian is to preserve the record of religious minorities of all sorts.

JF: What is your next project?

MD: I cannot say what my next “big” project is. But for the short term, I will be working on some research related to the history of Susan Parrish Wharton’s social gospel work in Philadelphia around the turn of the 20th century. It’s a smaller project that I began about a decade ago, and from which I got sidetracked. I would like to finally finish it!

JF: Thanks, Marie!

Call for Papers: American Catholic Historical Association 2018 Spring Meeting

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It will be held April 12-15 at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The ACHA is now accepting individual papers and panels for inclusion in its 2018 spring meeting to be held April 12-15 at historic Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. We invite ACHA members and other interested scholars to submit paper and session proposals on any aspect of the history of Christianity and its interaction with culture.

The submission deadline has been extended to: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at 11:59 PM Eastern Time.

To submit a proposal, please follow the appropriate link below:

The Author’s Corner with John Hayes

51eS3fj0YsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_John Hayes is associate professor of History at Augusta University. This interview is based on his new book, Hard, Hard Religion: Interracial Faith in the Poor South (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Hard, Hard Religion?

JH: The original idea was to see if, as a Southern historian, I could find real-world evidence for the imaginative landscape of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction—if I could demonstrate that O’Connor, with her literary insight, had evoked something real but perhaps opaque to historians. As I moved into the project, I realized that the type of Christianity embodied in her middle-class characters was well analyzed in the historiography; it was the Christianity of her poor characters (her primary characters) that had little presence in the scholarship beyond a few hints and fragments. The book is my attempt to excavate this distinct Christianity of the poor and to interpret it in its context.

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

JH: In the circumscribed world of the New South, poor whites and poor blacks exchanged songs, stories, lore, visual displays, and other cultural forms with each other, crafting a distinct folk Christianity that spoke from the underside of regional capitalism. Their folk Christianity was a fragile but real space of interracial exchange and a fervent attempt to grasp the sacred in earthy, this-worldly ways.

JF: Why do we need to read Hard, Hard Religion?

JH: 

* It’s the first historical monograph on folk Christianity in the American South.

* In the face of a culture that continues the well-established tradition of denigrating and dismissing the poor, it shows the inner complexity, cultural creativity, and rich interiority of the poor of a certain time and place.

* It complicates what we think we know about religious life in the American South, especially by debunking the abiding trope of religious homogeneity on either side of the color line.

* In the face of scholarship that insists that Jim Crow was the culture of the New South, it argues for the fragile but real presence of interracial religious exchange among the poor.

* Where else, in the pages of a single volume, can you read about haunting songs of personified Death, anti-Mammon odes to the Titanic, and praying spots deep in the woods; about cows kneeling in reverence on Old Christmas night, graves decorated with bedsteads and grandfather clocks, and initiates emerging from imminent death to the sights and sounds of bright green trees and birds chirping away?

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

JH: I had an a-ha moment a few years after college: I realized that history was a way to take the abstract philosophical/theological questions that obsessed me and pursue them in concrete, tangible form—to explore the “big questions” not in open potentiality but in flesh-and-blood actuality. That was the initial impulse, but as I’ve worked as a historian I’ve also come to see another impulse that was there at the outset, but subconsciously: history is crucial for understanding identity. Nothing falls from the sky; everything has a story behind it. I’ve driven to seek the stories behind our society so that I can make sense of it. To know the past is to get a handle on the present.

JF: What is your next project?

JH: It’s very much in the coalescing stage, but I want to look at religion in “moments of possibility” before and after the circumscribed world of Hard, Hard Religion: in Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement. In both moments, sacralized social structures were being destabilized, and new religious conceptions had to emerge—though what exactly they would look like was very much an open question. That’s a very different context from my book, where poor people carve out meaning within stable, confining social structures.

JF: Thanks, John!

Did Lincoln’s Reliance on “Providence” Make Him an Incompetent President?

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This semester my Civil War class is reading Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIt is, without peer, the best book on Lincoln’s intellectual and religious life.  Others seem to agree.  In 2000, Guelzo’s biography received the prestigious Lincoln Prize for the best film or book about the Civil War era.  Last night we discussed chapter 8: “Voice Out of the Whirlwind.”

Guelzo argues that Abraham Lincoln, at least in his adult life, was never a Christian, but he did spend a lot of time reflecting on big questions about free will and determinism and their relationship to a force or supreme being that governed the world.  Lincoln, in his pre-presidential years, believed in what he called the “Doctrine of Necessity.”  He wrote: “I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the “Doctrine of Necessity”–that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control…”  Guelzo compares Lincoln’s view here to the philosopher John Stuart Mill’s “philosophical necessity,” a believe “that human beings possess neither free will nor the moral responsibility for the right or wrong actions that is supposed to follow the exercise of free choices.” (p.117).

During his presidency, Lincoln’s “Doctrine of Necessity” took on a more religious flavor.  He began to use the word “providence” to describe this “power, over which the mind has not control.”  He came to embrace a “divine personality” that intervened in human affairs. (p.328).

Guelzo argues, and quite convincingly I might add, that the Civil War led Lincoln to apply his view of “providence” to the political decisions he made as POTUS.  This was particularly the case in his decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.  The Proclamation was issued days after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam.  In a cabinet meeting following the battle, Lincoln uttered what Guelzo calls “the most astounding remarks any of [the members of his cabinet] had ever heard him make.”  Lincoln told the cabinet that he had become convinced that if the Union won at Antietam he would consider it an indication of the “divine will and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation.” (p.341).  He added, “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.”  Indeed, the Emancipation Proclamation changed the course of the war.  The Proclamation made it a war that was less about preserving the Union and more about freeing the slaves.  It could be argued that it was the turning point of the Civil War.  And Lincoln made his decision by somehow interpreting (with much certainty) the providence of God.

After class, a student asked me if I thought a United States President could get away with this kind of presidential leadership today.  What if George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump made a republic-altering decision and said that it was based upon his reading of God’s providence? (Bush came close on numerous occasions).  There would be many evangelicals who might love such a claim.  But most Americans, including many evangelicals who believe in the providence of God but do believe we can know God’s will in every matter on this side of eternity, would think that such a decision-making process might be the height of presidential incompetence.