University of Michigan Historian Melissa Borja Joins “The Anxious Bench” Blog


Here is a taste of Chris Gehrz’s interview with Melissa Borja:

In your two guest posts earlier this summer, you wrote about the intersection of migration and religion. What initially drew you to this field?

My fascination with the immigrant experience began with my own upbringing. My mother and father immigrated from the Philippines in 1976 and 1980, and I was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan. Growing up as Asian American kid in Michigan in the 1980s was a complicated experience. The same year I was born, a Chinese American man named Vincent Chin was murdered in Detroit by white autoworkers. The repercussions of that event had an important impact on the Asian American community, which organized a powerful response to seek justice. It also had an enormous impact on how Asian American families like my own navigated the racial politics in our own communities, where the auto industry was a core part of the local economy and where anti-Asian hostility was on the rise as American auto-makers faced stiffer competition from Asian auto manufacturers. So, throughout my childhood, I was grappling with some of the typical questions that immigrant kids face—questions about how to negotiate being both American and Filipino—and, in addition to that, I was also trying to make sense of the reality of racism. In particular, it became clear to me from a young age that racism needed to be explored and understood beyond the black-white binary.

Like many female historians of my generation, I also owe my career path partly to the American Girl books! I absolutely loved reading the Kirsten books, which explored the experience of 19th century Swedish immigrants. Since Kirsten was also an immigrant girl in the Midwest, I felt an instant connection with her, and I even used to try to braid my hair like hers in fourth grade. But while the books encouraged me to think about immigration with a historical perspective, they also frustrated me because I knew that other histories (of Asian immigrants in particular) were not part of the Europe-centered narrative that the Kirsten books and my school textbooks  emphasized. So, I thank Kirsten for pointing me in the direction of studying history, and especially Asian American history.

I later became interested in religion in college. The terrorist attacks of September 11 occurred just as I was moving into my sophomore dorm room. At the beginning of college, I knew I was going to concentrate in history, but because of 9/11, I began thinking about religion as another fascinating and important form of social difference. A week after 9/11, I enrolled in my first religion course—a course on personal choice and global transformation, where I heard a compelling talk by the great religious historian David Hall about how scholarship about the past can be a meaningful way to intervene in the present. Later, as I grew concerned about the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment that erupted in the aftermath of 9/11, I took courses about religious pluralism with Diana Eck, and I also began to study Arabic, with the intention of eventually going to graduate school to research the religious diversity of post-1965 immigrants.

Read the entire interview here.

Chris Gehrz Reviews *Believe Me* at The Anxious Bench

Believe Me Banner

I have yet to hold a published copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, but I understand that others have copies.    The reviews have already starting rolling in.  Over at The Anxious Blog (Patheos), Chris Gehrz has written a very generous review.  Here is a taste:

Perhaps that makes it seem like he pulls his punches on an issue like racism. But I’d read Fea’s approach differently.

For example, in the first half of ch. 5, on Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again,” Fea confronts evangelicals with the historical and theological problems inherent in the idea of America as a Christian nation. (Familiar territory for him.) Then while the rest of that chapter reveals the racist and xenophobic subtexts of Trump’s appeals to nostalgia, Fea holds back from indicting white evangelicals themselves. Instead, I think he trusts that such readers who have made it that far in Believe Me can make the connection themselves and question — maybe for the first time — just why they yearn to revive what Russell Moore dismissed as “the supposedly idyllic Mayberry of white Christian America. (“That world,” Moore continued, “was murder, sometimes literally, for minority evangelicals.”)  

Maybe such readers won’t ask that question, or even read the book in the first place; since 2016 I’ve had my own doubts about the possibility of changing evangelical hearts and minds. But there’s some evidence even in recent weeks of conservative Protestants rethinking their commitment to a Trump-led culture war. And believe me, if any historian can succeed in getting American evangelicals to take an even longer, more honest look at themselves in the mirror of their own past, it’s John Fea.

Read the entire review here.

Chris Gehrz: “Can Patheos Continue to ‘Host the Conversation on Faith’?”

Anxious-Bench-squareThis morning we highlighted Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s recent post at The Anxious Bench.  Du Mez has some serious concerns about the direction Patheos is moving.

Now Chris Gerhz, the blogmeister of The Anxious Bench, has entered the conversation.  He has similar concerns about Patheos.  Here is a taste of his post:

I hope that Patheos continues to host such a diversity of voices, across and within channels, but I think it’s fair for Kristin to ask whether Warren’s termination signals that Patheos “will be hosting a censored, invitation-only conversation? Are there topics we would do well to avoid?”

But even if we get more details and stronger reassurance, I’ve got a separate concern that’s been on my mind for several months now: that Patheos doesn’t host a conversation so much as a cacophony.

Go to and you can find any number of voices speaking — but only rarely to each other. With the notable exceptions of Hart, McKnight, and Progressive blogger James McGrath, I rarely get the sense that other Patheos bloggers are all that interested in what The Anxious Bench has to say. But I’m guilty of this, too: as often as I find myself reading other Patheos blogs, I rarely write posts in response to them — whether to agree, disagree, or simply provide historical context.

Read the entire post here.

Another Patheos Blogger Wants to Know What is Going on at Patheos

Anxious-Bench-squarePatheos bloggers continue to ask questions after the website unceremoniously dumped Warren Throckmorton.

Here is a taste of historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez‘s latest post at The Anxious Bench:

Does Patheos in fact host the conversation on faith? Or is this a sign that it will be hosting a censored, invitation-only conversation? Are there topics we would do well to avoid? (To be clear, these questions are not meant to “disparage” the site, simply to inquire about its strategic objectives going forward).

As someone who writes on feminism, on Focus on the Family, on racism and Christian nationalism, on conservative Christians and sexual abuse, on #MeToo and the church, and, yes, on Donald Trump, this question is of particular interest to me. (To be clear, I’ve never received any editorial directives from Patheos leadership; Throckmorton’s removal, however, seems to have come without warning).

Beyond censorship, I suppose there’s also the question of whose pockets we’re padding. The revenue generated from the ubiquitous ads goes somewhere. I can’t imagine my blog posts contribute in any significant way to the net wealth of folks like President Trump’s personal lawyer—he has other more lucrative streams of income, I presume.

Read the entire post here.

What Happens When You Teach a Graduate Seminar on “Women, Gender, and Sex in U.S. Religious History” to a Class That is Over 85% Men?


Andrea Turpin, a history professor at Baylor University, reflects on such an experience in a recent post at The Anxious Bench.  She uses her observations from this graduate seminar, as well as her experience teaching an undergraduate class on women and gender that was almost 90% female, to say some important things about history and diversity.

Here is a taste:

Too often the term “diversity,” and even the concept, comes loaded with all the baggage of the culture wars, and we reflexively either embrace it or reject it accordingly. (Indeed, as I was thinking about these things this week, a controversy along these lines broke out at Duke Divinity School.) So what difference does it really make, intellectually and spiritually, who our conversation partners are — in terms of our classmates and pewmates, the authors we read, and the voices from the past that we seek out?

Since I had a ready-made experiment at hand to help me answer this question, I periodically asked both classes to respond emotionally to what we had been reading or discussing. After all, in my view one of the great spiritual and intellectual benefits of studying history is that it can help students develop empathy for those who are different alongside critical thinking about themselves, others, and their world. I first tried this question on the graduate class after we discussed Rebecca Larson’s Daughters of Light (Knopf, 1999), about traveling Quaker female preachers in colonial America. The book is a bit hagiographic, but it paints a compelling picture of women who lived very full lives and whose spiritual and intellectual contributions were valued by the men of their community. I am not a Quaker and do not share all their theological convictions, but I always find the book moving and have had women students report a similar experience. No man in the course had that emotional response — though they did have thoughtful insights on the book’s strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, my great joy of class that day was watching one man have the sudden realization that he had not particularly felt for any of the book’s women in their triumphs or struggles — but that he had been moved by the account of a husband who had been left behind while his wife, with full support from the Quaker community, went on an extended preaching mission.

Meanwhile, the undergraduate class watched the movie Suffragette, about British women fighting for the right to vote in the early twentieth century. The movie is crafted to induce emotional responses — I wept openly at my kitchen table the first time I screened it — so every student certainly had one. But different things stuck with male and female students. It was one of the course’s two men who made the observation, part way through class discussion, that the movie featured three types of male characters: the suffragettes’ allies, their opponents, and men somewhere in between who were wrestling through competing impulses. He could give incredibly nuanced summaries of the attitudes of the different male characters and what might have accounted for them.

Turpin concludes:

What should we make of these stories? Perhaps the most obvious point is that students, and indeed all of us, tend to respond most easily to those people in history with whom we identify in some manner. Knowing our own history is a basic human need that helps us develop our sense of place and purpose in the world. Identifying with historical actors also helps pull us into their story. Once we’re there, we realize that these people are not only familiar, but also different, as denizens of the “foreign country” that is the past. They are paradoxically therefore also a gateway to widening our sympathies. Including diverse voices in the curriculum thus serves the spiritual and intellectual needs of multiple types of students.

The flip side is also true: having a diverse classroom population expands the minds and sympathies of all students. The presence of the two men in my undergraduate class meant that the class’s women were constantly confronted with the question of how what we were studying affected men as well. And my presence and that of the female graduate student meant that the men in my graduate class could not content themselves with merely dispassionately analyzing a book. The presence of students of color in both classes had a similar effect.

Read the entire post here.

“The Anxious Bench” at the Conference on Faith and History Biennial Meeting

cfhOver at The Anxious Bench, blogmeister Chris Gehrz of Bethel University offers a preview of what Christian historians can expect at next month’s biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.  It looks like Anxious Bench bloggers–past and present–will be speaking at the conference.  The list is an impressive one: David Swartz, Tommy Kidd,  John Turner, Kristen Kobes Du Mez, Beth Allison Barr, Andrew Turpin,  Blake Hartung and Gehrz.

I am still not sure if I will be able to attend due to a schedule conflict, but it looks like it’s going to be a great weekend in Virginia Beach.

Here is a taste of Gerhz’s post:

The connections between this blog and CFH have historically been strong. Beth was just elected to serve as vice president of CFH, and she’ll succeed Jay Green as president when his term concludes. Tal just finished a stint on the CFH board, and I’ll join that body starting at its next meeting. John Fea, one of our co-founders and previous contributors, has served on the CFH board and will coordinate the program for the 2018 biennial meeting.

And next month Anxious Bench-ers will be all over the terrific program(adeptly coordinated by Beth) for the 30th biennial meeting of CFH, hosted by Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA. After the undergraduate conference on Oct. 19-20, the professional conference will run from the evening of the 20th through the afternoon of Saturday the 22nd.

If you’re planning to attend CFH 2016, you’ll find us at the following sessions:

Read more here.