A Glimpse of the American Society of Church History Book Exhibit

Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association (and related organizations) in New York City.  Enjoy his latest post.  –JF

Here’s a sample of what’s on the ASCH bookstands. The volume the religious imagination of Stephen King—appropriately placed next to a book on witchcraft—looks particularly intriguing.

Bookstand 1

I’m looking forward to reading John Wolffe’s Sacred and Secular Martydom in Britain Since 1914. It offers chapters on the World Wars, the Falklands Conflict and Irish Nationalism.

Bookstand 2

A collection of books on American religious pasts and futures from Eerdmans:

Bookstand 3

I’m hoping to read this volume by Amy Collier Artman on Kathryn Kuhlman, who has always appeared to me a very enigmatic figure. A good sampling of some of the recent interest in political spiritual biography too, including FDR and Robert E. Lee.

Bookstand 4

I’m also looking forward to reading this book that has been crafted on the religious significance of Hobby Lobby, a useful counterpart to Bethany Moreton’s book a few years ago on the spiritual significance of Walmart.

Bookstand 5

Nothing But the Blood

Nothing-but-the-Blood-Full-Score-1Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City.  Enjoy his latest post.  –JF

“Blood” is a powerful, multi-faceted, and pervasive theme of Christian historical experience. And, as a Saturday afternoon ASCH roundtable co-sponsored by the American Catholic Historical Association revealed, it has also been a unifying trope of Catholic and Protestant spirituality. These separated brethren are, it turns out, blood brothers.

The panelists, Rachel Wheeler (Indiana University), Jennifer Scheper Hughes (University of California, Riverside), Adrian Weimer (Providence College) and Elizabeth Castelli (Barnard College) showed that blood flows in many forms in Christian history: it is both metaphor and material reality; sacrament and symbol; interiorized and externalized. It can signify the blood of Christ, the sacrifice of the martyrs, the “pure” or “impure” blood of racialized communities, or the pulsing energy of a new convert whose “heart” has been revived. It boils, flows, drips and circulates. It appears in rivers, cups, tears, and vials. It comes down to cover, and ascends again to heaven.

I appreciated the format of this panel: a seemingly simple one-word theme that opened up inexhaustible veins (pun intended) of discussion. While the presentation of in-depth research papers has an important role at conferences, I enjoyed the way the way in which the format of this panel quickly opened up all kinds of possibilities and linkages across time periods and subject matter.

While the panel focused predominantly on early modern history (with the exception of Castelli’s account of the Saint Patrick’s Day Four—Catholic pacifists who smeared their own blood over a US Army recruiting station to protest the 2003 Iraq War), I found myself thinking about ways that blood flows in my own area of modern Evangelical history. Evangelical hymnody drips with blood, of course (for example, see Tom Schwanda’s chapter in John Coffey’s edited Heart Religion on the imagery of wounds and blood in the hymns of John Cennick). But there is also the Salvation Army’s motto “Blood and Fire;” a constellation of millennially-tinged nineteenth-century Christian health movements that worried about animal blood spilt, human blood transfusions, and embraced health regimes intended to revivify circulation; and the reaction against blood-soaked theological rhetoric exemplified by late Victorian critics or reformers of Evangelicalism who found the imagery faintly revolting.

American Exceptionalisms

American Exceptionalism

Gutacker (left) and Foley (right) respond to questions at the panel on Race, Religion, and American Exceptionalism

Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City.  Enjoy his latest post.  –JF

The interplay between race, religion and American exceptionalisms was the theme of a panel in the second round of papers at day one of the ASCH in New York city. The panel sits squarely in the center of the conference’s overall theme: Whose América: New Perspectives Contours and Connections in Church Histories.

The plural exceptionalisms was a key note sounded, particularly in the papers by Malcolm Foley (Baylor University) and Nichole Renèe Phillips (Emory University) which discussed how African American conceptualizations of American exceptionalism could critique America’s oppressive and violent racial attitudes while simultaneously affirming that the American experiment was indeed built on unique ideals. In fact, such endorsement of American exceptionalism was often used to call white Americans to reform. This suggests that American exceptionalism is not always a cipher of bellicose ethno-nationalism, but can also act as a sternly prophetic voice. Indeed, I was left pondering how severe critique of the nation’s sins can still be a form of implicit nationalism, since the very act of chastisement for sin tacitly accepts the normative status of national claims to uniqueness and special importance.

I was particularly intrigued by Foley’s presentation of Black Presbyterian Pastor Francis Grimke (1850-1937). Foley showed how Grimké was troubled by an apparent contradiction between African American experiences of inequality and violence in America and the foundational commitment and loyalty to the country that he witnessed among many African Americans. Yet, according to Foley, Grimké himself displayed some of this same ambiguity, castigating and critiquing, yet never able to quite give up on the America of the mind.

Meanwhile Paul Gutacker explored the way in which church history could be used by Americans of both European and African descent in the nineteenth century. European Americans drew on the broader myth of Protestant freedom and Anglo-Saxon liberty to envision America as the arena wherein the story of the English people would find its climax, the result of America’s victorious disaggregation of church and state. Gutacker focused part African American Christian leaders, by contrast, stretched further back to emphasize that the early church Bible belt was in North Africa, and that the most revered of all theologians, even among Protestants, Saint Augustine, was, of course, African. Interestingly, both African and European Americans could plug into the dominant anti-Catholicism of the era. Black theologians perpetuated a narrative that held the Catholic church as responsible for slavery, while European leaders saw anti-Catholicism as the great unifying creed of freeborn American Christians.

Anti-Catholicism, which was to some extent a proxy for nationalism in the nineteenth century in both Britain and the United States, will recur as a theme at ASCH in a panel on Sunday with papers from John Wolffe, Geraldine Vaughan and John Maiden. Prof. Wolffe told me in conversation after today’s panel that he sees anti-Catholicism scholarship making a resurgence. This is an intriguing fact given current hostility to immigrants and outsiders at work in American (and British) society at the moment. I am reminded of Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr.’s comment that prejudice against Catholics is “the deepest bias in the history of the American people.”

The American Society of Church History is Coming to Town!


It’s Always Christmas New York, Broadway, New York, NY near the ASCH conference. Photo by Martin Spence

Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City.  Enjoy!  –JF

It may be January 3, but it’s always Christmas in New York. And if any historians possessed the knowledge about how to keep Christmas well, it was the five who led one of the first panels at the ASCH Winter meeting at the Parker Hotel, New York.

The papers were culled from the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Christmas, an inter-disciplinary study of the theology, history, sociology, liturgy and culture of Christmas which editor Timothy Larsen (Wheaton College) assured us will be published just in time for….Easter.

The panelists, Katrina Jennie-Lou Wheeler (City University of New York),David Thomas Orique (Providence College), Daniel Vaca (Brown University), and Timothy Larsen, all emphasized how Christmas has been a site of cultural contest since the early modern era. Larsen’s revelation that nonconformist Evangelicals who did much to popularize Santa Claus in late Victorian Anglo-America was particularly intriguing, especially as a counterpoise to the common belief that a secular Santa has shoved Jesus out of the manger.  Meanwhile David Thomas Orique showed how the celebration of Christmas was both a point of friction and a zone of assimilation for European, Native and African cultures in post-Columbian America. Daniel Vaca touched on the multivariate narratives of Christmas and their role in mediating idealized visions of domesticity, pleasure, and social harmony. Katrina Jennie-Lou Wheeler took us back to the original “war on Christmas” in Tudor and Stuart England.

Lo! Two blocks East of the conference venue shines the great light of Trump Tower, and inevitably the forty-fifth President made a (virtual) appearance at the panel when panel commentator and chair Margaret Bendroth (Congregational Archives and Library) raised Trump’s  recent “Miracle of Christmas” rally at Battle Creek, MI. Bendroth asked whether it is actually the “powers that be,”—posing as the faux champions of Christmas to serve political-cultural ends—who may be the real Grinches.

*Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump* is Spotted at the American Society of Church History Meeting in D.C.

My colleague Devon Manzullo-Thomas took this picture and tweeted it.  Thanks Devon!  And thanks to readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home for pre-ordering!  If you haven’t pre-ordered yet, you can do so here at 21% off.  The good folks at Eerdmans tell me that pre-orders are important for generating interest in the book and its message.

Indeed, Niebuhr IS mentioned in the book!




AHA Dispatch: “Case Studies in Evangelical Parachurch Ministries”


We are very happy to have Brantley Gasaway writing for The Way of Improvement Leads Home from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  In this report, Gasaway reflects on a session at the American Society of Church History, a historical organization that meets at the same time as the AHA.  Gasaway is an Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Bucknell University. He is the author of Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice.  Enjoy! –JF

As almost every observer knows, modern evangelicals have created countless parachurch ministries. Working “beside the church” and most often independent of ecclesiastical control, parachurch ministries focus either on a specific group (such as college students or military members) or on a particular issue (such as education or medical needs). In fact, one could argue, parachurch organizations have provided much of the vitality and institutionalization of the evangelical movement, as they draw together Christians from across different denominational traditions for common evangelistic, social, or political causes.

During a Friday morning session of the American Society of Church History—“American Evangelical ‘Niche’ Ministries and Religious Negotiation of the Postwar Era”—several early career scholars analyzed the ways in which respective parachurch groups both reflected and responded to broader cultural and political debates from the 1940s to 1970s.

Aaron Griffith, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, began with a paper entitled “’Free on the Inside’: Evangelical Prison Ministry in the Age of Law and Order.” Through the 1960s, prison ministries were mostly run by liberal Protestant chaplains dedicated to reforming and rehabilitating inmates based upon the latest social scientific insights. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, evangelicals’ increasing interest in prisoners’ spiritual needs led to an explosion of new ministry initiatives. (Yes, they realized they had a captive audience.) During those years, evangelical leaders vocally supported calls for “law and order” made by conservative politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Despite endorsing harsher and longer penalties, evangelicals believed they were best helping prisoners through ministries by focusing on spiritual conversions and salvation—the true, ultimate need of inmates that they accused liberal chaplains of neglecting. This conviction reflected most evangelicals’ individualistic and spiritualized approach to social reform, in which the aggregate of personal religious transformations would lead to true social change. Thus even as evangelicals told prisoners to seek pardon from God, Griffith quipped, they helped to ensure that prison gates remained long locked. The paper concluded by describing how evangelical prison ministries began to change under the influence of Chuck Colson. After his own incarceration for crimes committed during the Watergate scandal, Colson founded Prison Fellowship and began to urge fellow evangelicals to support criminal justice reforms. Griffith argued that Colson’s dual emphasis on prison reform and inmates’ spiritual needs was part of most evangelicals’ broader embrace of “compassionate conservatism” at the end of the twentieth century.


Rebecca A. Koerselman, assistant professor of history at Northwestern College, presented “Piety, Pageants and Playing Indian: Gendered Identity at Summer Camps in the Postwar Era.” In her paper, Koerselman compared the distinctive goals and activities of two Southern Baptist-affiliated camps in North Carolina—Ridgecrest for boys and Crestridge for girls—in the 1940s and 1950s. Organizers designed these camps primarily to encourage the faith and character development of children from Christian families rather than for evangelistic purposes. At their respective camps, both the boys and girls participated in a wide range of similar athletic, outdoor, and musical activities. Yet, Koerselman argued, the camps differed in ways that reflected divergent gender expectations. The promotional literature and daily activities of Camp Ridgecrest for boys displayed less attention to specific religious training than to nurturing masculine characteristics of strength and leadership. In particular, directors used Native American motifs and lore at “Council Rings” to promote these and other masculine ideals. At Camp Crestridge for girls, however, the religious language and purpose appeared much more explicitly and more often. In addition, organizers placed significant emphasis on the feminine ideal of purity. Rather than employing Native American imagery, camp directors constructed a “Council of Progress” with ranks that mixed beauty pageant concepts (the most outstanding camper was crowned “Queen-Crester,” and “Belle” was the highest level) with colonial themes (other ranks were “Trekker,” “Explorer,” “Pioneer,” and “Pilgrim”). Camp Crestridge did train girls for leadership positions, Koerselman noted, but only for positions deemed suitable for females such as Sunday school teachers. Ultimately, she argued, these summer camps served as agents for inculcating the social ideals of masculinity and femininity as imagined and promoted by mid-twentieth century evangelicals.


Paul Emory Putz, a doctoral candidate at Baylor University, presented the final paper—“Evangelical Sports Ministries and the Black Athlete in the Long 1960s”—that drew from his larger dissertation research regarding the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). FCA was founded in the mid-twentieth century by middlebrow mainline Protestants who were committed to racial integration. Yet FCA leaders responded hesitantly to the rise black student-athlete activism at a number of college campuses in the late 1960s. Rather than support demands for systemic and legislative changes to dismantle institutionalized racism, FCA continued to defend its own focus on individual character development through combining sports and Christianity. Though sensitive to protestors, leaders merely highlighted FCA’s history of racial inclusiveness and the experiences of its minority black members. Yet by believing that this ministry approach would alleviate racial injustice and even heal cultural divides, Putz argued, FCA maintained the privilege and power of its white Christian leaders while alienating more liberal and black constituencies. Indeed, he concluded, these responses to black athlete protests helped move FCA farther away from its mainline roots and closer to the evangelical movement.

Neil J. Young, author of We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (Oxford, 2015), offered insightful responses to each paper. Recognizing the time and space limitations of a conference paper, Young offered useful suggestions and posed thoughtful questions to each participant regarding how additional sources and perspectives might enhance their respective analyses. For example, he asked Koerselman how families and the children themselves understood their experiences at Ridgecrest or Crestridge. Are there examples, Young questioned Putz, of the testimonies of black FCA members who criticized the organization’s response to their or other students’ activism? Finally, Young asked Griffith, what role did theology play in the division between “law and order” prison ministries and those like Prison Fellowship that began to endorse criminal justice reform—and how did sensitivity to issues of race (or lack thereof) influence these differences?

Operating on a smaller scale than larger institutions and religious denominations, parachurch ministries like these illustrate the ways in which evangelicals’ theological frameworks intersect with their particular historical contexts and questions. As such, they offer useful case studies in thinking about how different groups of evangelicals negotiate cultural challenges and changes. An excellent model for this type of analysis is John G. Turner’s book Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: the Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America. “It is difficult to overstate the significance of parachurch organizations in contemporary American evangelicalism,” Turner writes, “as they structure and direct billions of evangelical dollars toward humanitarianism, political advocacy, and evangelism.” Turner’s book skillfully uses the history of Campus Crusade (now CRU) to examine prominent (though not uncontested) evangelical attitudes towards higher education, politics, and gender roles. I hope that one day we will see in print how Griffith, Koerselman, and Putz continue to develop their own investigations of evangelical “niche” ministries.

Winter Meeting of the American Society of Church History Changes Its Relationship with the American Historical Association Annual Meeting

aschToday I received this form letter from Candy Gunther Brown, the incoming President of the American Society of Church History (ASCH).  In 2018 the ASCH will hold its Winter meeting alongside the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) in Washington D.C. but not as part of the AHA. This is a one year experiment.  Gunther explains:
Greetings from Bloomington, Indiana! Many of us have just returned from the 2017 Annual Meeting of the ASCH in Denver, which was a great success. We had nearly 250 registered participants, including a number of international scholars and many graduate-student presenters. The quality of the panels seemed especially strong. Highlights of the conference include a wealth of Reformation-themed sessions – commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Age of Reform – culminating in an engaging Presidential Address by Professor Ronald Rittgers. The well-attended, abundantly provisioned, reception didn’t draw to a close until nearly 11 p.m.!
Following his address, Ron Rittgers passed the presidential baton onto me, and so I want to take this opportunity to update you on two significant announcements made by ASCH leadership during the conference, regarding:
1) the relationship between the ASCH and the AHA, and, 
2) the new Executive Secretary positions.
Please read what follows, as it contains important information that has bearing on the future of the ASCH.
1. ASCH/AHA Relationship
With the approval of the membership at an Extraordinary Business Meeting, the ASCH Council voted unanimously to approve the following motion:
“Assuming the ASCH is able to secure adequate hotel space, the Society will hold its own meeting alongside but not as part of the AHA in 2018.”
The presenting reason for this motion — discussed at length by the membership in Atlanta last year — is that rising costs of mandatory registration for the “one-meeting” of the American Historical Association have made the ASCH meeting very expensive to attend. In turn, this has required the ASCH to cut its own registration fees, causing the Society to lose thousands of dollars each year on its annual conference. This is not, however, merely a financial decision. The ASCH is an independent scholarly organization with a distinctive academic mission, and running our own meetings (as we did before 2015) allows us much more flexibility.

Thus, the ASCH Council has decided to experiment in 2018 with an alternative arrangement for one year: meeting alongside the AHA, in a nearby hotel, but not officially as part of the AHA meeting. We are NOT disaffiliating from the AHA. In fact, we hope to encourage submission of more co-sponsored ASCH-AHA sessions, which is why we are moving up our CFP deadline to February 15, to match the AHA deadline. It is important to note that this is a one-year experiment: the ASCH Council will evaluate its effectiveness in 2018. It is also important that there is a contingency built into the decision: we will only do this if we can secure adequately priced hotel space in reasonable proximity to the AHA meeting.

We will be communicating further about the arrangements in the coming months, but we think this is an important step for the ongoing financial wellbeing, and identity of the Society.

Michael Limberg on Day 2 and Day 3 of the Spring Meeting of the American Society of Church History

Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minnesota
Michael Limberg, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut and a seasoned correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home (check out his posts from the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association), is in Minneapolis this week for the Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History.  Here is second and final post from the conference.   You can read his first post here.  –JF

It’s been a busy couple of days at the American Society for Church History Spring Meeting.  Between the graduate student reception and practicing for my presentation last night, I didn’t have a chance to write a post for Friday.  I won’t try to recap all the panels from the last two days, but here are a few notes on interesting developments from the panels and conference events.

Missions, race, and immigration have been recurring themes in the sessions I’ve attended.  Many of the papers on missions have been concerned with figuring out a new historiographic paradigm for missionary work, somewhere between celebrating missionaries as heroic figures and castigating them as exploitative agents of imperialism.  In every panel on overseas missions, the comments pushed for more inclusion of sources that would convey the voices of the missionized as well as the missionaries.  Papers in my panel by Andy Dibb and Andrew Russell took good steps in that direction by including voices from a series of revival movements in Africa and a Swedenborgian church movement started by black South Africans.  Many of the papers, ranging from early American topics to contemporary church movements, focused on how and why churches reached out to racial outsiders.  Phillip Gollner’s paper on Swedes participating in the anti-Mormon movement during the late 1800s and Mark Grandquist’s work on Lutheran churches in Minnesota working with African immigrants were two of a number of examples.  Immigration history was tied into that question.

A brown-bag lunch on Friday with Robert Ellison and Keith Francis introduced an expanding set of resources for pursuing sermon studies as a growing sub-field with the help of online databases.  (Marshall explains what the term and field include and accomplish here).  They argued for the importance of sermons as a way to understand events or trends in the larger society, but acknowledged the difficulty of sorting through the haystack of published sermons.  Ellison demonstrated the capacity of the searchable database with links to digitized sermons he will soon launch through the Marshall University’s Center for Sermon Studies.  Clearly this is a project that will require some crowdsourcing to begin to encompass all the possible sources, so look for the website to go live soon and look for a call to help expand the catalog.

James Laine’s plenary session on meta-religion and Christianity looked very interesting, but I skipped it in favor of a different kind of exercise in church history.  After my panel on Saturday morning, I heard about an ecumenical service for victims of the Armenian Genocide taking place at the St. Paul Cathedral.  I’ve been writing about the Armenian Genocide and the U.S. humanitarian response this spring as part of my dissertation, so I took the chance to go.  Archbishop Nienstedt  spoke, as did the leaders of a number of other Twin Cities denominations.  It was a moving service.   I got the chance to step back from my academic historian perspective and get a different look at this tragedy. The Cathedral is another of my favorite places to visit in the Twin Cities, so I took a few minutes to wander around and admire it again as well.

I won’t be attending the conference events today, so this marks the end of my first ASCH meeting.  I appreciated the welcome I received.  Getting to talk early twentieth century missions and religiously-influenced social movements with Christopher Schlect, Paul Putz and others gave me some new ideas for my research.  I also heard a little of some ongoing informal discussions about the future of ASCH.  The rapid rise of religious scholarship connected to other historical fields (such as the “religious turn” among foreign relations historians that helped bring me to this conference) means that ASCH is no longer as unique and might need to rethink its specific identity or mission.  However those discussions play out over the next months, I hope to attend another ASCH meeting soon.

Checking In With Michael Limberg From the Floor of the Spring Meeting of the American Society of Church History

Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank–Minneapolis
Michael Limberg, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut and a seasoned correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home (check out his posts from the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association), is in Minneapolis this week for the Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History.   As you may recall, Michael is writing a dissertation on how U.S. philanthropists, missionaries, and diplomats worked to change and modernize the Near East in the decades following World War I.  He will be checking in a few times this weekend.  I hope you enjoy his first offering.  It is published below.  –JF

Hello from Minneapolis!  The Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History is in full swing.  This will be my first conference with ASCH, though I have enjoyed a few of their joint-sponsored sessions at previous American Historical Association conferences  I hope to run into a few people I know and meet many more.  I grew up in the Twin Cities, so I am taking full advantage of the chance to wander around Minneapolis again.  I took the new Green Line light rail across downtown this morning, passing by some of my favorite quirky buildings (including the Art Deco-era Farmers and Mechanics Savings Bank) and the new football stadium that will replace the venerable Metrodome.  This looks to be a fairly small gathering compared to the annual meeting, with a strong emphasis on religious history in the Upper Midwest to complement the host city.  The Upper Midwest regional conference for the American Academy of Religion is taking place across town in St. Paul this weekend, which has apparently drawn off some possible attendees.  

Minneapolis: A View From Across the Mississippi
There was just one session yesterday afternoon, so I attended a panel on missions to Native Americans.  Marilyn Fardig Whiteley examined the life of Isabel Crawford, a Baptist missionary who worked among the Kiowa in the 1890s and early 1900s.  She argued that Crawford made an important transition to identify with the people she worked with, criticizing white Americans for their poor treatment of Native peoples.  Elizabeth A. Georgian focused on the example of Lorenzo Dow, a dissident itinerant preacher who broke with the Methodist church.  Unlike Francis Asbury and other early Methodist leaders who largely focused on white converts, Dow argued that God’s grace was clearly working among Native Americans and African Americans.  He thought that Native American converts could show whites the errors of Calvinism and universalism.  Finally, Do Hoon Kim compared conversion narratives from Praying Indians and Puritans in Massachusetts Bay colony.  The comments focused particularly on how new missions scholarship can work to get the perspective of the missionized as well as the missionary, and on the role of practice and ritual in conversion.

Today looks like a full day, with lots of panels and ending in a graduate student reception (because free food! Yay!)  I need to find some time to put a final touch or two on my paper for Saturday morning, on the YMCA in Jerusalem during the 1920s and 1930s.  The paper is based on some of my earliest dissertation research, done just a few minutes’ walk away at the University of Minnesota’s Anderson library.  I spent the morning there going over a few more boxes, so I need to put in a thank you to the archives staff there and a plug for the tour they are putting on (including a viewing of the archival “cavern” carved out of the Mississippi River bluff).  I look forward to the rest of the conference!

Celebrating the Career of Grant Wacker at the 2015 Meeting of the American Society of Church History

Those of you who have been following our coverage of the annual meetings of the American Historical Association and the American Society of Church History (ASCH) are familiar with Mandy McMichael.  You can read here previous posts here.

Mandy is a former student of Grant Wacker, the esteemed historian of American religion at Duke Divinity School who is apparently retiring soon.  As I joked on twitter a few days ago, it seemed like every session on American religious history at the ASCH last weekend was somehow devoted to Grant’s career.  And Mandy was at them all!  Enjoy her post.  –JF

“Salvation comes in many forms. Today is one of them,” concluded Grant Wacker at the end of Saturday’s lunch in his honor.

The meal was one of several events organized during ASCH to commemorate Wacker’s upcoming retirement. Featured speakers included three of Wacker’s students (Philip Goff, Lydia Hoyle, and David Weaver-Zercher), his daughter, Laura Wacker Stern (Associate Pastor, Millbrook United Methodist Church, Raleigh), and Mark Noll. All of the speakers were phenomenal. Noll had the audience rolling within moments. “What has Wacker Whacked?” he asked. Answers included everything from academic pretense to excessive adjectives. Goff, Hoyle, and Weaver-Zercher told stories of Grant’s fashion choices (shorts, black socks, and sandals) and his grading practices (once typing comments on post-it notes). Stern recounted her years as the daughter of an academic, regaling us with stories of her father pulling off the side of the road on family vacations to read historical markers and the uselessness of her budding theological vocabulary on the playground. Speakers allemphasized the generosity, thoughtfulness, and compassion of Wacker as a scholar, mentor, and friend. After Wacker’s final remarks, he received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Back row (L to R): Philip Goff, David Weaver-Zercher, Front Row: Lydia Hoyle, Laura Wacker Stern, Grant Wacker

After the lunch, most of the room proceeded en masse to the panel, “BelievingHistory: In Celebration of Grant Wacker’s Contributions to American ReligiousHistory.” I snagged a seat in the back, but another standing room only crowd eventually filled the room. (Unfortunately, this happened a lot at this meeting.)

Nathan Hatch presided over the panel, which included Mark Noll, Joel Carpenter, Kate Bowler, and Laurie Maffly-Kipp. Noll’s paper tracked Wacker’s approach to historical knowledge throughout his career from acknowledging the dilemma to setting aside philosophical questions to a kind of “aw, shucks” methodology. He praised Wacker’s later “belief inflected history” as “just as responsible” as other approaches. Noll posed a few questions to Wacker including one about what caused this shift. Joel Carpenter’s paper, “Getting Real with Grant Wacker,” noted Wacker’s penchant for conveying the thoughts of everyday people and “probing the questions that really matter.”

Kate Bowler, herself a “Wackerite,” delivered “The Wackerites: An Ethnographic Account of a North Carolina Sect.” She joked that many Wackerites shared the feeling of being “plucked from obscurity” by their beloved mentor. Their “testimonies” followed a predictable narrative arc and their sect abided by three Latin phrases that formed their “creed.” In English these are translated, “In charity, truth,” “In friendship, meaning,” and “Without clarity, death.” Wacker expected his students to employ a hermeneutic of charity in their work, to work well with others, and to write clearly. “Family comes first, but grammar comes second.” Wacker modeled each of these things in his own life as a scholar and mentor, gaining respect not just from his students, but from his colleagues. Indeed, he is thanked in the acknowledgments of more than 100 books in the field.

Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s paper, “The Stealth Sarsaparilla: Mentorship as Scholarship,” suggested there is a method to be gleaned from Wacker’s interactions with others. Wacker, she noted, trained and shaped a community of scholars that have benefited the field. She explored some of his processes to discern how his results might be replicated. His “generosity of spirit and acts of kindness” from reading and commenting on works in progress to always paying for the coffee provided one clue. Wacker also possessed the unique ability to “gather people together.” He managed to forge relationships and make connections. He practiced, she argued, an “embodied model of scholarship” that anyone would do well to emulate. Maffly-Kipp even suggested that Wacker offers us a “subversive method of constituting an academic career” though she was quick to note that he probably never thought anyone would describe him as subversive. He is a successful scholar not afraid to help other scholars achieve success. Indeed, he seems to enjoy it. “No one cheers…quite like Grant does.”

As his student, I agree. I never imagined that my advisor would care about me outside my academic performance. And yet, Grant saw all of us as whole people. He knew our spouses, met our parents, and welcomed our children. He touted our successes in good times and helped us “reimagine” new life through the bad. In short, he allowed us space to be more than just his students. I count it an honor to call Grant my mentor and friend. What a privilege to celebrate with him and my fellow “Wackerites” this weekend!

The New "Church History" Journal is Here

Here are the articles from the June 2014 issue of Church History:

Robert McEachnie, “A History of Heresy Past: The Sermons of Chromatius of Aquileia.”

Allson More, “Institutionalizing Penitential Life in Later Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Third Orders, Rules, and Canonical Legitimacy.”

Jan Stievermann, “Faithful Translations: New Discoveries on the German Pietist Reception of Jonathan Edwards.”

Bruce Hindmarsh, “The Inner Life of Doctrine: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Calvinist-Arminian Debate Among Methodists

Emily Anderson, “Containing Voices in the Wilderness: Censorship and Religious Dissent in the Japanese Countryside.”

And reviews by Amanda Porterfield, Paul Seaver, Donald McKim, Jeremy Bangs, Carol Karlson, Jonathan Israel, Charles Cohen, and Art Remillard.

Call for Papers: Spring Meeting of the American Society of Church History in Oxford

The American Society of Church History (ASCH) and the Ecclesiastical History Society in Britain (EHS) will be holding a special joint meeting, Thursday to Saturday, April 3-5, 2014, in Oxford, England.

The primary theme of the conference is Migration and Mission in Christian History. The program committee invites proposals for individual papers or full sessions on this theme. Papers could examine themes such as: Christianity in migrant communities in the early generations of re-settlement; missionary efforts directed towards non-Christian migrants or those from a different Christian tradition; or the migrations of missionaries themselves.
From the scattering of the Jerusalem Church in 70CE through the ‘barbarian’ invasions of the Roman Empire, the Anglo-Saxon and Viking settlements of England, and the migrations of the religious refugees in the Reformation era, to the Atlantic slave trade, the Irish, Scottish and European diasporas of the nineteenth century and the African and Asian ones of the twentieth, people movements have profoundly shaped the course of Christian history. They have disrupted religious commitments, forged new ones, and inspired and constrained mission. There is hence enormous scope for papers from all periods of Christian history.
The ASCH and EHS hope to produce an edited volume and/or special issue ofChurch History with papers from the conference that engage explicitly with the above theme. Individual paper proposals and proposals that are part of a session must relate to the above theme in order to be considered for publication.
The program committee also invites ASCH members, EHS members, and other interested scholars to submit session proposals on any aspect of the history of Christianity and its interaction with culture. These could include proposals for formal sessions, panel and round table discussions, consideration of a major recent book, critical assessments of a distinguished career, and other relevant themes and issues. Panels should exhibit diversity of gender, rank, and scholarly location in their composition: those bringing together scholars from both societies would be especially welcome.
Sessions will be two hours in length and should allow for three or four papers, a formal response, and Q&A with the audience.
There will be two deadlines for proposals: 21 October 2013 and 20 January 2014 (12 noon, London time). The earlier deadline will allow the program committee to make decisions by late November/early December 2013, to facilitate the booking of flights. It is possible that, if the program is already quite full, only a limited number of proposals submitted to the second deadline will be accepted.
Paper proposals should consist of:-
1) A short description of less than 300 words
2) A biographical paragraph or CV summary of the applicant
3) A current mailing location, e-mail address, and phone number for the proposed presenter.
Session proposals should contain all of the above for each of the presenters as well as:-
1) The session title
2) A brief description of less than 300 words outlining the theme or topic of the session
3) Biographical data and contact details for the chair and the respondent (which can be the same person)
The availability of audio-visual equipment cannot be guaranteed at this stage, but please indicate if you would like to use it if possible.
Please send proposals, by e-mail, to JohnWolffe-PA@open.ac.uk.
Further information about the conference will be available in due course on ASCH and EHS websites, and will be e-mailed to those whose proposals are accepted. The program committee reserves the right to reconfigure sessions as needed.
NOTE: All program participants must register for the conference and be members of the ASCH or EHS (which can offer temporary membership) at the time of the Meeting.
John Wolffe, President of the EHS and Program Chair
Bruce Hindmarsh, President of the ASCH

The Winter Meeting of the American Society of Church History

The program for the Winter Meeting of the ASCH is out and it abounds with interesting and provocative sessions.  I wish I could go to them all.  I am looking forward to joining Anna Lawrence, Christopher Jones, Katherine Carte Engel, and Mark Peterson on a session entitled “Fracturing a Global Empire: Religion and Place in the American Revolution.”  I will be sharing some work in progress on my project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.

Other sessions that caught my eye:
  • A session evangelical book culture featuring Catherine Brekus, Jonathan Yeager, Keith Grant, and Daniel Vaca
  • A session on David Bebbington’s so-called “Evangelical Quadrilateral” featuring Timothy Larsen, Kelly Elliott, Thomas Kidd, Amanda Porterfield, and Bebbington himself
  • A session liberal religion in America featuring Lydia Willsky, Matthew Bowman, Elesha Coffman, and Matthew Hedstrom
  • A session on war featuring Darryl Hart, Benjamin Wetzel, Cara Burnidge, Paul Kemeny, and Richard Gamble
  • A session on Amanda Porterfield’s Conceived in Doubt featuring Katherine Carte Engel, Michael Altman, James Byrd, Kathryn Gin Lum, and Mark Noll
  • A session Indian missions in the early republic featuring Linford Fisher, Brian Franklin, Nicholas Aieta, and Joshua Rice
  • A session on Pentecostals featuring Kate Bowler, Christopher Kinder, Susie Butler, and Jonathan Root
  • A session on religion and the American Civil War featuring Mark Noll, Harry Stout, Allen Guelzo, James McPherson, George Rable, and Laurie Maffly-Kipp
  •  A session on Catholicism and the politics of life featuring Leslie Tenter, Daniel Williams, Raymond Haberski, and Marian Mollin
This should be a great conference.  Unfortunately I have other responsibilities that will keep me away from all of these sessions, but I hope to make as many as possible.

Call for Papers: Winter Meeting of the American Society of Church History

If you want to present a paper at the Winter meeting of the American Society of Church History in Washington D.C. there are two deadlines to consider:

February 15, 2013:  For joint AHA/ASCH session proposals.  (These need to be submitted to the AHA program committee)

March 15, 2013:  To submit a paper or session proposal to the ASCH Program committee.

Here is the call for papers:

The annual Winter meeting of the American Society of Church History (ASCH) will be held Thursday to Sunday, January 2-5, 2014, in Washington, DC, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA). We invite ASCH members and other interested scholars to submit paper and session proposals on any aspect of the history of Christianity and its interaction with culture, including proposals for formal papers, panel and round table discussions, consideration of a major recent book, critical assessments of a distinguished career, and other relevant themes and issues.

In addition to traditional categories relating to periods, geographical areas, and special topics, we will give special consideration to proposals that consider broader themes across periods or regions; engage in interdisciplinary discussion; place theological ideas in historical context; examine particular genres, source materials or methods; or treat the current state of the study of church history. We also invite sessions that deal with pedagogical issues of concern in the teaching of the history of Christianity, or with issues in the publication and dissemination of research to specialist and general audiences. Panels should exhibit diversity of gender, rank, and scholarly location in their composition.
Proposals for entire panels/sessions are strongly preferred, though proposals for individual papers will also be considered. The committee welcomes international participation and particularly encourages proposals (whether for full panels or individual papers) from those who live and work outside the United States. Sessions are typically two hours in length and allow for three or four papers, a formal response, and Q&A with the audience. The theme for the general meeting of the American Historical Association will be “Disagreement, Debate, Discussion.”  The Committee will particularly appreciate proposals that address this broad theme, perhaps by tackling the following kinds of issues:

Disagreement, Debate, Discussion within or between Christian communities

Disagreement, Debate, Discussion between Christians and other religious traditions

The deadline for ASCH proposals is March 15, 2013.

For those interested in submitting joint proposals to the AHA and the ASCH, the deadline for AHA proposals is February 15, 2013. See the AHA Submitting a Proposal page.

Paper proposals should consist of (1) a short description of less than 300 words, (2) a biographical paragraph or CV summary of the applicant, and (3) a current mailing location, email address, and phone number for the proposed presenter. Session proposals should contain all of the above for each of the presenters as well as (1) the session title, (2) a brief description of less than 300 words outlining the theme or topic of the session, and (3) biographical data and contact details for the chair and the respondent (which can be the same person). Use of audio-visual equipment, typically limited to the hotel provider’s equipment, has become very expensive, and must be restricted to presentations for which it is strictly necessary. The proposed use of computers, internet, or projectors in the session must therefore be stated and rationalized in the proposal.

Please send proposals, preferably by email, before March 15, 2013, to the program committee at ASCH@nd.edu.
Acknowledgements and further information will be sent out as proposals are received. The program committee reserves the right to reconfigure sessions as needed.

NOTE: All program participants must register for the annual meeting and be members of the ASCH at the time of the Meetin


Emily Clark at the American Society of Church History

I did not get to attend much of the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History this past weekend in New Orleans.  I did manage, however, to slip in for Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s presidential address on Saturday night and crash the dinner buffet that followed!  From all reports, including Emily Suzanne Clark’s synopsis at Religion in American History, it seems like it was a lively and engaging conference.

Here is a taste of Clark’s post:

Academic conferences are some of my favorite things (sorry brown paper packages tied up with string, well, unless there’s a copy of Color of Christ inside the paper). This past weekend was the meeting for the American Society of Church History, along with the American Historical Association and the American Catholic Historical Association. I had wonderful meals with fellow blog contributors such Ed Blum, Lin Fisher, Mike Pasquier, and Kelly Baker and lots of gumbo (not to mention a delicious chocolate bread pudding!). And I attended some wonderful panels too, a few of which I’ll offer some initial thoughts below. Before though, I have to give a huge shout-out to FSU doctoral student Shaun Horton who live-blogged the conference

Upon getting into NOLA, I made it just in time for the first round of panels, which included an all-star line-up of John Corrigan, Liz Clark, Amanda Porterfield, and Kathryn Lofton in “Restructuring Religion: American Approaches to Modernism.” Corrigan explored the relationship between different ideas about “dead space” in art and ways to analyze religious competition in the modern American period. His idea that a main way religious groups make their identity is by pushing off other groupsespecially as space became increasingly scarceis one that continues to make me try to think through new ways to conceive of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and often multi-tension-ridden nineteenth century New Orleans religious milieu. Clark introduced us to Catholic modernist and church historian George LaPiana and Porterfield offered us a new and innovative way to think about William Jamesas a scholar with a modernist esthetic. In her response, Lofton encouraged us to think about modernism as including the emergence of new subjectivities, always noting how those new subjectivities are concurrent with new modes of thinking and understanding the world, and the process of these two things together. Great way to start the weekend! They were followed by a panel of graduate students speaking about ideas regarding “God’s Kingdom” in supernatural and natural landscapes, which featured ideas about religion and technology, religion and the “free market,” and Sylvester Graham’s theology.

Read the rest here.  I would also encourage you to check out Shaun Horton’s live-blog of the conference.

The Burden of Church History

This evening I crashed the American Society for Church History meeting to hear Laurie Maffly-Kipp of the University of North Carolina deliver her presidential address: “The Burden of Church History.”  Here are most of my tweets.  I hope Dr. Maffly-Kipp will forgive me for just using the the surname “Kipp” in the tweets.  With two hash tags (#aha2013 and #asch2013) I needed the additional characters.

Full house for Maffly-Kipp church history presidential address. Room is hot

Kipp: What does the ASCH as a professional organization have to do with “church?”  

Kipp: For our students, “religion” and “spirituality” is more relevant than “church”  

Kipp: Is the name “American Society of CHURCH History” still relevant? She has long “chafed” under this name.  

Kipp’s research on African Americans have forced her to rethink the idea of “CHURCH History”  

Kipp: In the present we flee from institutional history, but the historical actors we study thought it was important  

Kipp gives the requisite history of the organization (ASCH). A staple of presidential addresses.  

Kipp: ASCH forced to deal with diversity in the 60s. Scholars began joining who did not have ecclesiastical affiliations.  

Kipp: “Church History” as providential history disappeared at turn of 20th c. Took “church history” out of the church  

Kipp: Is she talking about “church” as a denominational/universal community or as local building? Unclear  

Kipp: What is lost by the move away from a “church history” that has abandoned the church?  

Kipp: Failure to acknowledge power of religious institutions leads to failure to see how institutions shape our lives  

Kipp: Failure to recognize church as an institution is driven by modern sense of self that is rootless and individual.

Kipp: Flee from institutions in the study of church history means we no longer think doctrine or theology is important.  
Kipp: Flee from institutions in the study of church history results in subjugating religious history to politics and market forces  
Kipp: Riffing on “coffeehouse churches” as individualistic, personal freedom and the church as entrepreneurship.  
Kipp: Churches as a form of institutional community provides an alternative approach to the one that conflates church with nation .  
Kipp: Church history must become more international in order to shrink role of the nation down to a manageable size  
Kipp: ASCH needs more Catholics and Mormons. Too Protestant–always has been  
Kipp: ASCH must appreciate “pleasures and pains” of life in community as a professional organization. ASCH is more “human”   than the AHA or AAR.
Kipp: ASCH is a “society with the soul of a church”  
Free books tomorrow from ASCH display tables! !!!!