The Author’s Corner with Ryan McIlhenny

To Preach DeliveranceRyan C. McIlhenny is an independent scholar living and working in Shanghai, China. This interview is based on his new book, To Preach Deliverance to the Captives: Freedom and Slavery in the Protestant Mind of George Bourne, 1780–1845 (LSU Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write To Preach Deliverance?

RM: To Preach Deliverance is a substantial revision of my dissertation from the University of California, Irvine. I have had quite a diverse journeyman experience since completing my PhD in 2008, making it difficult for me to devote my time to the manuscript. A few years ago, however, I was offered an exciting opportunity to work in Shanghai, which has provided the much-needed time for research and writing. Within a couple months of relocating to the Middle Kingdom, historian James Brewer Stewart, a leading historian of abolition, author of Holy Warriors, and founder of Historians Against Slavery, sent me an encouraging email about a review I did of a new anthology on Wendell Phillips for the Journal of the Early Republic. Knowing that Jim, a Phillips scholar, was editor emeritus of LSU’s reputable “Antislavery, Abolition, and Atlantic World” series, I asked if he would be willing to get his thoughts on my work. He enthusiastically agreed and read it. This has led to a very fruitful correspondence over the last couple years. Jim’s very constructive suggestions encouraged me to rewrite the introduction and conclusion and include a whole new chapter (Chapter 1). Jim remained supportive throughout, as did historians Richard Blackett, Edward Rugemer, and Mark Noll.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of To Preach Deliverance?

RM: To Preach Deliverance is an intellectual biography, written in the mode of cultural history, of George Bourne (1780-1845), the pioneer of immediate anti-slavery as well as the pioneer of the anti-Catholic escaped-nun genre in American literature. Bourne’s radicalism, his uncompromising opposition to slavery, shaped by a conservative Protestant outlook that became increasingly hostile to Catholicism, allowed him to formulate a unique concept of liberty that rested not on evangelical revivalism, which had a profound impact on reformist movements, but upon historic-confessional Protestantism.

JF: Why do we need to read To Preach Deliverance?

RM: There are only two biographies on Bourne. One written by his son Theodore in the late 1880s and another by John Christie and Dwight Dumond in the late 1960s. These biographies, however, focus on Bourne’s antislavery activities, ignoring for the most part his anti-Catholic sentiments. Contemporary historians have, for the most part, dismissed anti-Catholicism as either irrational or symptomatic of some kind of paranoid style in American life. I find such explanations unconvincing. My work attempts to make sense of what may seem to be in the contemporary mind two conflicting issues: a battle against human chattel bondage with an equally virulent battle against Catholicism.

Bourne was a highly influential polymathic figure engaged in a variety of nineteenth-century American issues: slavery, race, and citizenship; the role of women in abolition; Christianity and republicanism; the importance of the Bible; and the place of the church in civil society. To Preach Deliverance provides a small window into the complexities of revolutionary liberalism, the place of the Bible in antislavery, and the centrality of religious tolerance to a free society. It peels back yet another layer of the complexities of religious reform in nineteenth-century America.

Another important goal of the book—as it is for most historical monographs—is to show the relevance of the past on the present. In one important sense, history has more to do with the present than the past. In the case of To Preach Deliverance, I want readers to consider the continued legacy (or perhaps the “unfinished” realities) not only of slavery, its existence in new forms, but also religious intolerance, especially anti-Catholicism, in American culture.

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

RM: I wish I could tell you that I had always aspired to become a professional historian. I’ve always been interested in a number of disciplines—the arts, theology, political science, history, and philosophy. I had an opportunity to choose graduate studies in at least three of these areas. I eventually chose a program that allowed me to combine most of my interests. Graduate school added to my interdisciplinarity in that I came to appreciate the material dialectics and cultural texts that produce both ideas and identity. Despite my success during those formative years in grad school, it wasn’t until my mid-30s, a few years after completing my PhD, that I finally understood what it meant to be a historian. And notwithstanding the challenges that many of us face in securing a tenure-track position, given the market’s (and neoliberal administrators’) aversion to all things humanities, I don’t regret becoming a historian, a cultural historian at that. Given the cultural/linguistic turn in scholarship that often conflates artifice with artifact, fact and fiction, the historian, I believe, is needed to sift through these distinctions today more than ever.

JF: What is your next project?

RM: I’m not sure how long I’ll be here in China; indeed, I look forward to securing a position at a college or university in the states. But, for now, life in Shanghai has afforded me the time to maintain a healthy schedule for writing. I’m working on a more focused study of Spiritualism in the antebellum period and another on some of the forgotten features of American pragmatism at the turn of the twentieth century, employing a similar methodology used in To Preach Deliverance. I’m also working on two larger works—one related to religious intolerance in American history, the other on the dialogue between religion and radicalism.

JF: Thanks, Ryan!

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.”

Episode 42: An American Saint

PodcastDespite often being cast as the religion of immigrants, Catholicism has a long history here in the United States. Unfortunately, so does anti-Catholicism. In this episode, host John Fea and producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss American Catholicism. John looks at the roots and utility of political anti-Catholicism. They are joined by historian Catherine O’Donnell (@codonnellinaz) who discusses her new biography, Elizabeth Seton: American Saint.


Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Group (lyndhurstgroup.org) and Jennings College Consulting (drj4college.com).


When You Want to be Anti-Catholic, but You Don’t Want to Hurt Anyone’s Feelings

Aaron Griffith is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  As part of his research, he recently came across an ad for a 1949 tent revival in San Bernardino, California.  The minister leading the revival was William S. McBirnie.  According to his 1995 obituary, McBirnie was a “conservative commentator” on his “Voice of Americanism” radio show, the pastor of the United Community Church of Glendale, and the founder of the California Graduate School of Theology.

This ad shows the connection between anti-Catholicism and fundamentalist revivalism in the mid-20th century:

Griffith 2

On his Facebook page, Griffith writes: “T[hat] F[eel] W[hen] you want to be anti-Catholic, but you also don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Here is a larger image of the description of the first night of McBirnie’s revival:

Griffith

The Author’s Corner with Cassie Yacovazzi

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

JF: What led you to write Escaped Nuns?

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

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

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

JF: Why do we need to read Escaped Nuns?

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

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

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

JF: What is your next project?

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

JF: Thanks, Cassie!

The Author’s Corner with Maura Jane Farrelly

51Hpt1GPjKL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Maura Jane Farrelly is associate professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. This interview is based on her new book, Anti-Catholicism in America (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: The boring answer is that Cambridge asked me to put together a narrative about anti-Catholicism in early America that could be used in an undergraduate classroom. The more interesting answer, however, has to do with my sense, while watching protests over the construction of an Islamic Cultural Center in lower Manhattan in 2010, that we have been here before.  Many immigrant groups have been viewed as a threat by native-born Americans — and sometimes, as is the case now, it’s been because those immigrant groups have been associated with violence.  But in the case of nineteenth-century Catholics and twenty-first-century Muslims, I think the fears were — are — about something deeper, as well.  The anxieties have been rooted in the not-entirely-unfounded sense that Catholics and Muslims have (or have had) an understanding of “freedom” that is  different from the American understanding of freedom.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: The book argues that anti-Catholic bias played an essential role in shaping colonial and antebellum understandings of God, the individual, salvation, society, government, law, national identity, and freedom. For this reason, the early history of anti-Catholicism in America can provide us with a framework for understanding what is at stake in our contemporary debates about the place of Muslims and other non-Christian groups in the United States today.

JF: Why do we need to read Anti-Catholicism in America?

MJF: To give us hope — and maybe a bit of humility, too (she said with a striking lack of humility…).  As I note in my introduction, anti-Catholicism — which was such a salient force in America’s political and cultural history for such a long period of time — is basically gone now.  It’s a tool that is utilized primarily by internet trolls (and,  recently, by one thoughtless and impolitic senator from California who was looking to derail the nomination of a conservative law professor from Notre Dame to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  But I think the collective response of political and religious leaders to Diane Feinstein’s questioning of Amy Coney Barrett confirms my assertion that anti-Catholicism is no longer an “acceptable” impulse in America.).  If the Catholic understanding of freedom can become more compatible with the American understanding of freedom — and the American understanding can become more compatible with the Catholic — then maybe the same will happen with Muslims?  And certainly the fact that our cultural understandings of freedom are protean — as any serious study of history will reveal — should give us all pause as we make political claims that are based on our sense of what freedom is and what it takes to secure it.

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

MJF: My journey to this place has been marked by some rather significant diversions (I worked as a reporter for several years — though Phil Graham, if he were still alive, might say I was just playing with the “first rough draft of history”…). But I think I first fell in love with early American history when my family and I took a summer vacation to Massachusetts. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old?  I still pinch myself, sometimes, that I now get to live in this state.

JF: What is your next project?

MJF: I may be leaving religion for a while.  I don’t know. I’ve stumbled upon a tragic story from the late nineteenth century that involves people from two prominent American families.  I’m hoping to use this story as a springboard into a greater exploration of the role of the frontier in defining American freedom (there’s the common thread, I guess…); the beginnings of the conservation movement; and the phenomenon of so-called “remittance men” and their place in the literature and lore of the American West.

JF: Thanks, Maura!

Michael Gerson on Dianne Feinstein’s “ignorance of religion itself”

Dianne+Feinstein+Senate+Judiciary+Committee+zsjEg92T4Itl

Washington Post commentator Michael Gerson has joined the list of Dianne Feinstein critics.  In case you are not up to speed, Feinstein appears to have shown anti-Catholic bias in her recent questioning of federal court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.  She may have also violated Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

We have posted on this case here and here and here and here.

Gerson writes:

Where to start? How about with the fact that Feinstein’s line of questioning was itself a violation of the Constitution? Here is constitutional scholar and Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber: “By prohibiting religious tests, the Constitution makes it impermissible to deny any person a national, state or local office on the basis of their religious convictions or lack thereof. Because religious belief is constitutionally irrelevant to the qualifications for a federal judgeship, the Senate should not interrogate any nominee about those beliefs. I believe, more specifically, that the questions directed to professor Barrett about her faith were not consistent with the principle set forth in the Constitution’s ‘no religious test’ clause.”

How about Feinstein’s indifference to the sordid history of anti-Catholic bias? “Feinstein leapt past 20th-century suspicions of Catholic allegiances,” legal scholar John Inazu told me, “to 19th-century bigotry toward Catholic identity: Who you are as a Catholic is ‘of concern.’ ”

How about Feinstein’s ignorance of religion itself? In defending her animus, she called particular attention to Barrett’s statement that Christians should be “building the kingdom of God.” That would be the kingdom that Jesus insisted is “not of this world,” much to the confusion of 1st-century politicians. It is a description of transformed hearts, not a prescription for theocracy.

Read the entire piece here.

“America” Magazine on Anti-Catholicism and the Treatment of Amy Coney Barrett

Barrett

Over at America, Bill McCormack, a Jesuit and political philosopher at Saint Louis University, is the latest to speak out against what he believes to be the inappropriate line of questioning that Amy Coney Barrett received during her hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Unlike other critiques, McCormack also criticizes the anti-Catholic rhetoric of former Trump adviser and Breitbart chief Steve Bannon.  It is worth noting that McCormack’s critique of both Bannon and the Democrats are less constitutional and more religious in nature.

Here is a taste of the section on the Senate hearings:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior U.S. senator from California, recently questioned a prospective federal judge’s fitness for office. It turns out the nominee, Amy Barrett, is just a little too Catholic for the Democratic senator’s taste:

Whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different. And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.

This is sad coming from Senator Feinstein. I doubt she has any problem with the Gospel call to serve the poor, and she is known for the strength of her own convictions, convictions that she is generally happy to force on others. But the minute a truth comes up that she dislikes, in this case, arguments against abortion, then suddenly conviction becomes “dogma” and the truth loses its right to a public voice.

As if working in tandem, Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and himself Catholic, asked Ms. Barrett directly, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?” When did the Democrats start requiring religious tests for public office?

Again, you can argue that these senators’ views do not represent their party. But at its worst, the Democratic Party is deeply skeptical of any claims to truth or authority. That is bad for Catholics who recognize the salvific truth of the authority of Jesus Christ and want to assert it on behalf of the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, including the unborn.

Read the entire piece here.

When Did American Presidents Start Meeting With Popes?

Reagan and JP

In the wake of Donald Trump’s visit to the Vatican yesterday, David Mislin of Temple University correctly notes that it was once “unthinkable” for a United States President to meet with a Pope.  The history of American anti-Catholicism meant that POTUS-Pontiff visits were out of the question.

But things change.  Mislin describes these changes in his Real Clear Religion piece “Why It Was Once Unthinkable for the President to Be seen With the Pope.”

Here is a taste:

During the late 20th century, Catholic voters increasingly found common ground with Republicans on social issues such as abortion and a commitment to fighting communism abroad. What had once been the party of anti-Catholicism regularly won the support of nearly half of U.S. Catholics.

By 2016, the GOP had so expunged its anti-Catholic past that many candidates for the party’s nomination for president – including Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Chris Christie – were Catholic.

Republican politicians also became willing to do what was once unthinkable: be seen with the pope. In 1959, Dwight Eisenhower became the first U.S. president to visit the Vatican. A representative of the party that had once campaigned on the fear that Catholic leaders would interfere in American politics had gone to Rome to meet the pope. Eisenhower set a lasting precedent. Every Republican president since has made the same trip.

As the 2016 campaign progressed, Donald Trump avoided igniting additional feuds with Francis. Although analysts believed that the candidate had a “Catholic problem,” Trump did quite well with Catholic voters on Election Day. He not only won white Catholics, but he increased the GOP’s share of Catholic voters over 2008 and 2012. Despite his sharp rhetoric on immigration, Trump also won a larger share of Hispanic Catholic voters than the GOP did in those years.

The meeting at the Vatican might well allow Trump an opportunity to put any lingering suspicion of anti-Catholicism to rest and cast himself as the heir of McKinley and Roosevelt’s views on Catholicism. As he departed for Belgium, the president tweeted, “Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis.” That’s a far cry from Trump’s past tweets about the pope.

Read the entire piece here.

Mislin also visited the Author’s Corner last year to discuss his book Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of a Secular Age.

Quote of the Day

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty-to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.

Abraham Lincoln to Joshua F. Speed, August 24, 1855

HT: John Craig Hammond

Image of the Day

We discussed this in my Pennsylvania History class today.  This kind of nativism was very strong in Philadelphia in the 1840s and 1850s.  We did our best to stay in the 19th century.

Know Nothing

The Author’s Corner with Emily Clark

aluminousbrotherhoodEmily Clark is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University. This interview is based on her new book, A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: A Luminous Brotherhood is a much-revised adaptation of my doctoral dissertation. Initially my dissertation was a huge (way too huge) telling of religion and race in New Orleans with a focus on Afro-Creole communities. New Orleans Afro-Creoles were primary Catholic, often bilingual (or even trilingual), often educated, and many of them were free during the antebellum period. The Cercle Harmonique, the name the Afro-Creole Spiritualist community gave themselves, was only going to be a chapter of the project. They practiced Spiritualism from 1858 as the country was on the verge of a civil war through the end of Reconstruction in 1877. The dissertation I envisioned myself writing went beyond a group of men holding séances for 19 years, but as I began to read their séance records I realized that they told a much bigger story.

The spirits communicating with the Cercle Harmonique included Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, John Brown, Voltaire, Toussaint Louverture, Robespierre, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, and Confucius to name just a few. Their messages covered issues of politics, gender, racism, equality, poverty, power, and social injustice. Messages responded to local massacres of black politicians, the death of beloved martyrs for black rights, and issues of religious corruption. The Spiritualism of the Cercle Harmonique situated their practice in their immediate world of New Orleans, the region of the American South, the nation-state of the U.S., the politics of the Atlantic world, and issues of cosmic proportion. Their séance table opened up a vast and complex world.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: This book contends that the Cercle Harmonique envisioned the proper social, political, and religious ordering of the material world through communication with a wise spirit world. Through their séances the Cercle Harmonique connected with an idealized society whose members provided the Afro-Creoles with a republican ideology to combat politically destructive forces on earth and create a more egalitarian world.

JF: Why do we need to read A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: A Luminous Brotherhood weaves together a number of threads about the long nineteenth century in America: race, liberal religion, politics, anti-Catholicism, the Atlantic world’s age of revolutions, reform, utopian impulses, republican thought, slavery, and more. Though it focuses on a small group of Afro-Creoles, the story it tells is much bigger. The practice of the Cercle Harmonique allows us to sharpen our conclusions about those topics.

The Cercle Harmonique articulated a strong critique of racism and white supremacy that still has resonance today. They and the spirits they communicated with argued that racial identity had no real meaning. Bodies were only material envelopes that temporarily encased our spirits. Bodies only had meaning in the material world, whereas our spirits existed long after. One spirit even wondered if people would have followed Jesus had he been black. White supremacy was a real problem for the Cercle Harmonique and remains one today. The Afro-Creole Spiritualists I studied offer a rich example of the intersections between religion and race in America, and A Luminous Brotherhood provides a close look at how religion can provide strong critiques to societal norms and injustices. The book also reveals how religion simultaneously supports such societal norms and injustices. As I tell my students, American religion is complicated, and my book reflects that too.

Additionally, A Luminous Brotherhood is the first full-length study of the New Orleans Cercle Harmonique and one of the first academic texts on American Spiritualism to provide a close look at the practice and records of a nineteenth-century Spiritualist group. Previous works on American Spiritualism typically focus on major figures and ideas but fail to offer a deep look at the everyday practice of Spiritualism. Since much of the Cercle Harmonique’s séance records are intact, A Luminous Brotherhood looks at the spirits who communicated with the Cercle Harmonique, explores the significance of their presence, and situates them in the context surrounding their communication. The book examines what the spirits said and asks why.

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

EC: I’m not so sure that I decided to become an American historian but rather just became one. During my time as an undergraduate student at Austin College and then an M.A. student at the University of Missouri, I was drawn to the interplay between religion and culture but not from a historical perspective. It wasn’t until I started my doctoral work at Florida State University that I began to study American religious history proper. I describe myself as being haunted by the stories that archives hold and feel the need to tell them. I encourage my students to consider the historical context of every source we examine. Just about all my academic work and class materials examine people, trends, communities, practices, ideas, and conflicts from America’s past. Even now there are times that I think of myself as a historian—I am trained in historical methods, after all—but I also think of myself squarely in the field of religious studies. I’m not surprised that I’ve become an American historian, but I think of that as one element of my academic identity.

JF: What is your next project?

EC: I have a couple projects in the works. I’m working on two edited volumes, one on digital humanities and material religion and the other on race and new religious movements. I’m also in the early research stages of my next full-length monograph, Jesuits, Native Americans, and Colonialism in the Pacific Northwest. While the historiography on Jesuit missions typically focuses on the seventeenth-century evangelists in New France, this work will interrogate the interactions between Native Americans and Jesuits in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike those earlier Jesuits, the Italian Jesuits out west operated more systematically and as part of the federal push to “civilize” and evangelize Native tribes in this region.

JF: Thanks, Emily!

The Anti-Christ in New Hampshire

bible_Geneva

If you have been following the GOP presidential race, you know that New Hampshire has fewer evangelicals than Iowa or South Carolina. But though evangelicals do not make a large swath of the population in the Granite State, it does have its fair share of born-again Christians.  One of them is apparently Susan DeLumus, a member of the state legislature. DeLumas is supporting Donald Trump.  She obviously has no problem with Trump’s recent squabble with Pope Francis because, after all, the Pope is the anti-Christ.

Here is a taste of an article on DeLumas:

In response to her own Facebook post of three snippets of scripture from the Geneva Bible, Rep. Susan DeLemus (R) wrote: “The Pope is the anti-Christ. [sic] Do your research.” In another response, DeLemus said “I’m not sure who the Pope truly has in his heart.”

She told Politico that she was generally referring to the papacy, rather than Pope Francis in particular.

“I was actually referencing the papacy. And what I wrote after that ‘do your research,’ if you read the Geneva Bible, which is the Bible I use when we study, the commentary is – actually by the founders of the United States actually, the Protestant Church – their commentary references the papacy as the anti-Christ,” DeLemus said.

DeLumus is correct about the Geneva Bible.  Here is a taste of the notes on Revelation 13:12 that appeared in the 1560 edition:

13:12 17 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein 18 to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 

(17) The history of the acts of this beast contains in sum three things, hypocrisy, the witness of miracles and tyranny: of which the first is noted in this verse, the second in the three verses following: the third in the sixteenth and seventeenth verses. His hypocrisy is most full of lies, by which he abuses both the former beast and the whole world: in that though he has by his cunning, as it were by line, made of the former beast a most miserable skeleton or anatomy, usurped all his authority to himself and most impudently exercises the same in the sight and view of him: yet he carries himself so as if he honoured him with most high honour, and did truly cause him to be reverenced by all men. 

(18) For to this beast of Rome, which of civil Empire is made an ecclesiastical hierarchy, are given divine honours, and divine authority so far, as he is believed to be above the scriptures, which the gloss upon the Decretals declares by this devilish verse. “Articulos solvit, synodumque facit generalem” That is, “He changes the Articles of faith, and gives authority to general Councils.”
Which is spoken of the papal power. So the beast is by birth, foundation, feat, and finally substance, one: only the Pope has altered the form and manner of it, being himself the head both of that tyrannical empire, and also of the false prophets: for the empire has he taken to himself, and to it added this cunning device. Now these words, “whose deadly wound was cured” are put here for distinction sake, as also sometimes afterwards: that even at that time the godly readers of this prophecy might by this sign be brought to see the thing as present: as if it were said, that they might adore this very empire that now is, whose head we have seen in our own memory to have been cut off, and to be cured again.

I Wonder What This Sermon Will Be About?

This picture comes from the Facebook page of my friend John Craig Hammond.

Hillary and the Bible

Community Bible Church is located in Portage, Pennsylvania.  I did find it interesting that the church’s statement of faith has an article condemning the “Romish doctrine” of purgatory, an article condemning transubstantiation, and an article about the United States being a “sovereign and independent nation” that “ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction.”

The Author’s Corner with Antoinette Sutto

Antoinette Sutto is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Mississippi. This interview is based on her new book, Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists: Maryland and the Politics of Religion in the English Atlantic, 1630-1690 (University of Virginia Press, 2015).

 

JF: What led you to write Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?

 

AS: I wanted to write about politics and religion in the early modern English world – how ideas about subversion and conflict and threats to law and order were shaped by ideas about religion and allegiance. Maryland was an ideal place to do this because in the seventeenth century, it was a colony run by Catholics that formed part of a growing empire ruled by Protestants. As I discovered in the course of researching and writing, the process of extending lines of authority across the Atlantic forced seventeenth-century people to confront the same questions about law, loyalty and confessional difference that caused a civil war and a revolution in the British Isles.

 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?

 

AS: The book argues that the violent and colorful history of early Maryland is most intelligible when placed in the context of the troubled politics of religion of the seventeenth-century English Atlantic. Ironically, some of the most specifically American aspects of Chesapeake life – the challenges of diplomacy between Indian nations and Europeans, the ups and downs of the tobacco trade – proved so destabilizing because they seemed to fit within familiar European narratives of conspiracy and subversion.

 

JF: Why do we need to read Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists?

 

AS: This book explores the local, regional and imperial politics of Maryland (and to some extent Virginia) in the 1600s. But the scope of the book is larger than the Chesapeake itself. It’s about the history of ideas in the early modern world, and especially about how ideas and material circumstances – trade, disease, demography, economic expansion – are connected. Parts two and three of the book are about the interaction between the American continent and the English Atlantic and describe how the politics of the American continent and American people, many whose activities and concerns were not known to Europeans, meshed with the tensions of the English Atlantic to create a crisis in the Chesapeake. The book also grapples with the category of Atlantic history – whether and under what circumstances it is useful and how best to do it.

 

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

 

AS: When I took the PSAT in high school, the test included a questionnaire about your career plans. I remember filling in the bubbles for “history major” and “historian” for college plans and career, but I don’t remember why!  Later, I began my academic training as a history of early modern England, but I moved into early American history because I have always been fascinated by the moments at which Europeans’ plans and preconceptions about America (and Native Americans) encountered real people, landscapes and experiences.

           

JF: What is your next project?

 

AS: My next project will be about Puritanism in the colonial world and the United States. I want to write a book not about the Puritans themselves, but about how later colonists and Americans understood them. It’s a way to explore ideas about origins, nationality and changing understandings of how to write history.

JF: Thanks, Antoinette! 

Muslims Are the New Catholics

Yesterday we linked to John Turner’s Anxious Bench essay “Muslims are the New Mormons.” Turner is not the only one making historical analogies these days.  In a recent essay at Religion Dispatches Patricia Miller reminds us that 19th-century Americans were not always very friendly to Catholics.

Here is a taste of her piece: “When Catholics Were the Muslims“:

A well-known national figure tries to rally Americans to the danger posed by a poorly understood minority religious group that’s increasingly making its presence felt in the country. He charges that their faith is a “political” religion inimical to American concepts of civil and religious liberty. He speaks darkly of how it treats women, cloistering them from the world. And he claims the press is held captive to its agenda and is failing to alert Americans to the growing threat at their door.
No, it’s not Donald Trump talking about Muslims, it’s a prominent Presbyterian minster talking about Catholics in the 1830s, and it serves as a reminder that when it comes to political demagoguery, Catholics were once the Muslims.
Robert Breckinridge was a leader of the Old School Presbyterians and the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Baltimore, a city that had one of the largest Catholic populations in the country in the 1830s. He hailed from a politically prominent Kentucky family (his father was Thomas Jefferson’s attorney general), which gave him national clout even early in his career.
Breckinridge, along with his brother John, the previous pastor at Second Presbyterian, used the pulpit to whip up concern about the growing population of Irish and German Catholic immigrants, who he held couldn’t be good Americans because they owed their fealty to the pope.
Read the rest here.

Americans Demonizing Religious Minorities

The title of this post does not apply to Donald Trump or Muslims in America.  It applies to this 1915 Missouri newspaper:


The Menace

Matthew Pearce explains it all at The Los Angeles Times.  Here is a taste:

The year was 1915, and the strange new newspaper in Aurora, Mo., had grown so quickly in its first four years that rail officials had to build extra tracks for all the paper and printing materials suddenly rolling into town.
The Aurora post office, according to one account, more than tripled its staff to handle mail to and from the publication’s astonishing 1.5 million weekly subscribers — a circulation that dwarfed the largest daily newspapers in New York and Chicago.
Hatred had become big business in southwestern Missouri, and its name was the Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper whose headlines screamed to readers around the nation about predatory priests, women enslaved in convents and a dangerous Roman Catholic plot to take over America.
“The cowardice of a Roman thug has no parallel in either the human or animal kingdom,” the newspaper frothed in one 1914 edition, calling for “men with red blood in their veins” to defend women and children from Catholics. “If we are compelled to live in this county with Romanists, as our weak-kneed Protestant critics say we are, the Romanists will have to be taught their place in society.”

America’s deep and widespread skepticism of Catholics is a faint memory in today’s post-Sept. 11 world. But as some conservative politicians call for limits on Muslim immigration and raise questions about whether Muslims are more loyal to Islamic law than American law, the story of Aurora’s long-ago newspaper is a reminder of a long history of American religious intolerance.

Read the entire piece here.

The Founding Fathers and a Usable Past: Religious Liberty and Anti-Catholicism

Earlier today I wrote a post on David Barton’s claim that the founding fathers of the United States did not employ anti-Catholic rhetoric.

Shortly after the post went live I received this tweet from “Paul”:

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It’s a great question. I  have spent some time pondering it today.  Paul understands what David Barton may have had in mind with his statement about the founders’ view of Catholicism. The similarities between Catholics in the eighteenth century and Muslims today are obvious.  The founders thought Catholics had to conform to republican ideals.  And today, Barton believes (because whatever the founders said is always right) Muslims must do the same thing.

Barton insists that the founders would only accept Catholics if they were willing to embrace republican principles.  This is true to an extent.  Many of the founders did believe that Catholicism was incompatible with republicanism.  Many also believed that Catholicism was little more than superstition.  But I can’t think of any colonial or revolutionary-era policy that prohibited Catholics from entering the country.  Whatever sense of nativism did exist in eighteenth-century America paled in comparison to what happened in the early nineteenth-century.

So there is a sense in which Barton may have some of the founders on his side.  Many of them were indeed skeptical of Catholics becoming republican citizens due to their papal loyalties.

But the founders also believed in religious liberty–not just for Protestants or Christians, but for all self-respecting citizens who came to these shores, including Muslims.

The founders distrusted Catholic outsiders.  The founders believed in religious liberty.  Both are true.

The legacy of the founders is a complicated one.  This is something we must always remember before we start to invoke them in contemporary debates.

David Barton: The Founding Fathers Were Not Anti-Catholic

Here is David Barton’s thoughts on this topic at today’s Wallbuilders Live radio show:

This is one of the things that people don’t get…they say that the founding fathers were anti-Catholic. No they weren’t, they were pro-republican form of government.  Until American Catholics were able to prove that they were republican in their thinking–and that’s what Charles Carroll did, that’s what Thomas Fitzsimmons did, Daniel Carroll, several signers, they were the Catholics who came along and said ‘look, where not like the Catholics in Europe, we really like people-centered government, we like republican forms of government….”

The founding fathers weren’t anti-Catholic in that sense, they were pro-republican form of government until Catholics could show that they supported that form of government over monarchy, then that was a problem.

Barton is right.  Many of the founding fathers did not trust Catholics because they did not believe that Catholics could be good republican citizens.  I would call this anti-Catholicism.

But I see what Barton is doing here.  He is suggesting that the founders’ opposition to Catholicism was political, not religious.  (As if the founders believed that these could be separated).

Really?

Tell that to John Adams:  in 1765 he wrote:

..the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy, that ever was conceived by the mind of man,w as framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandisement of their own order.  All the epithets I have here given to the Romish policy are just: and will be allowed to be so, when it is considered, that they even persuaded mankind to believe, faithfully and undoubtedly, that GOD almighty had instrusted them with the keys of heaven; whose gates they might open and close a pleasure–with a power of dispensation over all the rules and obligations of morality–with authority to license all sorts of sins and crimes–with a power of deposing princes, and absolving subjects from allegiance–with a power of procuring or witholding the rain of heaven and the beams of the sun–with the management of earthquakes, pestilence and famine.  Nay with the mysterious, awful, incomprehensible power of creating out of bread and wine, the flesh and blood of God himself.  All these opinions, they were enabled to spread and rivet among the people, by reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity; and by infusing into them a religious horror of letters and knowledge.  –Adams, “A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law,” August 12, 1765.

I could keep quoting.  See my discussion in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Al Mohler Doubles Down on Pope Francis

As many readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know, conservative evangelicals and Catholics came together in 1994 to write “Evangelicals and Catholic Together.”  It was an attempt to unite Catholics and Evangelicals in a common witness for Christianity and the public good. The document was endorsed on the evangelical side by Chuck Colson, Richard Land, J.I. Packer, Bill Bright, Os Guiness, Mark Noll, Richard Mouw, Pat Robertson, and Thomas Oden. At the time, this was a veritable evangelical all-star team.

Four years ago I participated in one of the final meetings of Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good at Georgetown University.  I gave a paper on the history of evangelical political engagement. (Not sure if it was ever published–plans were in the works).  On the evangelical side, this group included Ron Sider, Michael Gerson, Timothy Shah, Richard Cizik, Galen Carey, Bryan McGraw, Stephen Monsma, and Mark Rogers.  The Catholic side included Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, E.J. Dionne, John Borelli, Kathleen Caveny, and others.

In 2008, Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom wrote a book titled Is the Reformation Over: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism.  In the course of the book Noll and Nystrom showed how Evangelicals and Catholics have put aside their distrust of one another and have been working together on matters they could agree upon–moral issues that would advance the common good.

I am guessing that Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, would have some serious problems with these efforts at bridging the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals.  For Mohler, the Reformation is not over, it is alive and well and must be invoked with force to critique the arrival of Pope Francis in the United States.  Rather than seeking common ground on the issues that Southern Baptist evangelicals and Catholics have in common, Mohler has decided to be divisive.

Do evangelicals and Catholics differ theologically?  Of course they do.  Absolutely.  And these differences should not be ignored.  But my critique of Mohler is more related to his style and approach.  His default reaction is to promote differences at a time when evangelicals should be finding common with Catholics and Francis.  There is a time to talk about the differences between Catholics and Evangelicals.  This is not one of them.  For example, if you read this blog, Michael Gerson has offered a better way.

Over the course of the last two days, Mohler has argued the following points in his daily briefings:

  • Mohler believes that the  Pope is a leftist.  First, I have addressed the issue of using political categories to describe Catholic social teaching here and will have an op-ed at Fox News on this topic appear either later today or this weekend.  Second, I would advise Mohler to wait to judge the Pope’s visit.until it is actually over.  For example, today at the UN the Pope noted that there are fundamental differences between men and women. I am predicting that we will get more on marriage and abortion this weekend in Philadelphia. 
  • Mohler is bothered by the fact that the Pope didn’t mention the name of Jesus Christ in his speech to Congress.  I find this critique of Francis’s speech before Congress to be rather silly.  Those who are upset about this fail to realize that the Pope’s entire message to Congress was deeply rooted in the teachings of Christ.  
  • Mohler believes that the Pope is minimizing doctrine in favor of piety.  As a result, he thinks that Francis is avoiding a “direct confrontation with the secularizing culture.”  First, Francis is not Benedict.XVIth.  He is a pastor and pastors are concerned with piety.  Church doctrine is important to Francis, but it is not his point of emphasis. He places more emphasis on living his faith in the world than debating how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.  Don’t get me wrong, doctrine is important, but so is practice. Second, I just don’t understand how Mohler can think that Francis is not directly confronting the culture.  Both his speech in Congress and at the UN were prophetic.  He spoke Biblical truth to power. 
  • Mohler believes that the papacy is not biblical.  He is offended by people who believe that they will get “sacramental grace” by touching the Pope or his garments.  Fair enough.  Most Protestants are with Mohler here..  But some evangelicals see the Pope’s visit as an opportunity, while others see it as an opportunity to be divisive.  Mohler has chosen the latter. 
  • Mohler thinks that the Pope is not really humble.  Why? Because he calls himself the “Vicar of Christ” and “Bishop of Rome.”  He flies on a chartered plane.  And he lives on expensive real estate in the Vatican. In my opinion, this seems a bit below the belt, but I will let my readers decide.
  • Mohler believes that evangelicals are not criticizing the Pope’s views because they are trapped in a “culture of civility.” I am guessing that Mohler thinks I am trapped in that culture as well. 
So why have I been picking on Mohler this week?  Because he seems to speak for a lot of conservative evangelical Southern Baptists.  There are other evangelicals, like me, who are not comfortable with the way he is approaching Francis’s visit.
Are you an evangelical Southern Baptist?  Does Mohler speak for you when he writes and talks about Francis?