The Conference on Faith and History Comes to Grand Rapids in October 2018

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The Fall 2018 meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) will be meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan from October 4-6, 2018.  This year’s conference theme is “History and the Search for Meaning: The CFH at 50.  Mark your calendars!

I am happy to report that we have secured the following keynote speakers:

Thursday Night Plenary: Peggy Bendroth, Congregational Library—“The Spiritual Practice of Remembering”

Friday Afternoon Plenary: Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Syracuse University—Title TBD

Friday Banquet Speaker: Beth Barr, CFH President

Saturday Morning Plenary: Robert Orsi, Northwestern University, “History and Presence”

I hope to see you all there.  Let’s have a record turnout for our 50th anniversary conference.  Stay tuned.  The Call for Papers will be released in a few months.

Historians “get in the way of death”

Resurrection

And in the process we “practice resurrection.”

Yesterday was a long day of meetings about unhappy things.  I needed a reminder of why I do what I do and why I do what I do where I do it.

Chris Gehrz’s powerful reflection on the work of historians was just what I needed. Thank you.

Here is a taste:

…history can serve as both an academic and spiritual discipline, a way of getting in the way of death and practicing resurrection.

First, history gets in the way of death.

Not that history stops people from dying — neither its subjects nor its practitioners — but it resists the power of death. For if Paul is right that death is the “last enemy to be destroyed,” then death is more than an event: it is an active force, one among the rulers, authorities, and powers that oppose God. Death doesn’t merely snuff out the spark of life; it seeks to strip humanity of the dignity inherent to being made of the image of God. Resurrection may bring change “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” but in the meantime, death lingers: slowly, methodically seeking to erase the meaning of mortal existence from our memory.

So if we practice the discipline of history, we act as a counter-force to death. We are not standing passively by the grave, but actively protecting against the decay of forgetting. For not only do we help preserve the evidence the dead leave behind, but we make meaning of lives that death seeks to render meaningless…

I don’t mean to claim too much with that phrase: we are not emptying tombs. Nor do we do the practical good that Claiborne and other neo-monastics have done when they “practice resurrection” by working to revive urban neighborhoods left for dead.

But I also don’t want to claim too little. It is no small thing to breathe life into what remains of the past by teaching, speaking, and writing about it. History is harder than most will ever know; it must be fueled by passion and compassion. Indeed, such “resurrection” is one of the most common ways that Christian historians fulfill Christ’s command to love our (temporal) neighbors: dedicating our time, energy, and gifts to bringing them — however briefly and figuratively — back to life, in all their messy complexity. We read historical texts, argues Fea, “for the purpose of learning how to love people who are not like us, perhaps even people who, if we were living at the same time, may have been our enemies” (Why Study History?, p. 131).

In the process, perhaps we might even bring some life back to our students and ourselves. Long before our physical demise, we suffer the creeping spiritual death of sin. Perhaps history can serve as a means of grace, reviving in us the ability to love God with our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Read the entire post at The Pietist Schoolman.

History as Love

adbb2-why2bstudy2bhistory-bakerI thought this excerpt from Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past would make for an appropriate Valentine’s Day post on history blog.

Love is at the center of the Christian life.  It is one of the “fruits of the Spirit” recorded in Galatians 5:22-23.  Jesus reminded us that “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).  His sacrificial death on the cross exemplified the ultimate act of love (Phil. 2:6-8).  In the Christian tradition, we flourish as human beings when we learn to live the “Jesus Creed”–loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Such sacrificial love for God and neighbor is the source of true joy and happiness.  In the words of St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  As theologian Miroslav Volf reminds us, ” At the core of the Christian faith lies the persuasion that…’others’ need not be perceived as innocent in order to be loved, but ought to be embraced even when they are perceived as wrongdoers… The story of the cross is about God who desires to embrace precisely the ‘sons, and daughters of hell.'”  Our lives should be one of “embrace” rather than “exclusion.”

The study of the past offers endless opportunities to exercise loving embrace to our fellow humans, even if they have lived in a different era and are no longer alive.  It is easy to manipulate the voices from the past to serve our own purposes in the present, and out of love we must not do this….This kind of presentism makes for bad history, and when looked at theologically, this kind of manipulation is also a failure to love–a failure to enter into the worlds of those who have gone before us with a spirit of compassion, selfishness, and empathy.  People in the past cannot defend themselves.  They are at the mercy of the historian.  This, of course, gives the practitioner of history a great deal of power.  But Christian historians will do their best to meet the people in the past as Jesus encountered the people he met during his earthly ministry.  They must relinquish power and avoid the temptation to use the powerless–those in the past who are at the mercy of us, the interpreters–to serve selfish ends, whether they be religious, political, or cultural.  The exercise of this hermeneutic of love means that we will read historical texts for the purpose of learning how to love people who are not like us, perhaps even people who, if we were living at the same time, may have been our enemies.  It forces us to love others–even a nineteenth-century slaveholder or Hitler–when they seem to be unlovable.  Failure to respect the people in the past is ultimately a failure of love.  It is a failure to recognize the common bond that we share with humanity.

A Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas Before Study

O ineffable Creator, Who, out of the treasure of Thy wisdom, hast ordained three hierarchies of Angels, and placed them in wonderful order above the heavens, and hast most wisely distributed the parts of the world; Thou, Who are called the true fountain of light and wisdom, and the highest beginning, vouchsafe to pour upon the darkness of my understanding, in which I was born, the double beam of Thy brightness, removing from me all darkness of sin and ignorance. Thou, Who makest eloquent the tongue of the dumb, instruct my tongue, and pour on my lips the grace of Thy blessing. Give me quickness of understanding, capacity of retaining, subtlety of interpreting, facility in learning, and copious grace of speaking. Guide my going in, direct my going forward, accomplish my going forth; through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

(I write about this prayer in Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past)

More “Abundant History”

history-and-presence-199x300Earlier today I posted some thoughts on the first few chapters of Robert Orsi’s History and Presence.  I did a little more digging and found some of Orsi’s early thoughts on the subject in a 2007  American Scholar essay titled  “When 2+2=5.”

The imagined story of Orsi’s grandmother in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a wonderful illustration of the difference between “presence” and “absence.” It further illuminates Orsi comment about museums in my previous post.

This difference of theological interpretation is fundamental to the identities of these two divisions of the Christian world (the history of the Orthodox faith is another matter), and it is the pivot around which other differences, other identifications, accusations, lies, and hatreds have spun (and in some places at some times still spin). Catholics in the United States in the middle years of the 20th century, for instance, claimed that Protestant support for birth control was yet another expression of corrupted and disembodied Protestant modernity. What do you expect from people who think the Host—the Communion wafer, which is, for Catholics, the real presence of Christ—is nothing? Catholics I have spoken to who grew up in Catholic towns in rural Nebraska in the 1940s and 1950s told me they were deeply ashamed of their large farm families because they knew the children in nearby Protestant towns made fun of their parents’ fecundity, associating Catholics with the body and sex in a nasty schoolyard way. Catholic statues weep tears of salt and blood, they move, they incline their heads to their petitioners; recently in the diocese of Sacramento, California, which is near bankruptcy as a result of sexual abuse lawsuits, the eyes of a statue of the Blessed Mother leaked what believers saw as blood. Religious historians in the last decade or so have taught us that Protestant popular culture is also replete with images and objects and that there are divisions among Protestant churches over the meaning of the Eucharist. But still the basic differences between a religious ethos that is based on the real presence and one that is not are deep and consequential.

This divide between presence and absence, between the literal and the metaphorical, between the supernatural and the natural, defines the modern Western world and, by imperial extension, the whole modern world. Imagine one of my Italian Catholic grandmothers going to see a statue of the Virgin Mary in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She climbs the museum’s steep steps rising up from Fifth Avenue and pushes through the crowds and into the rooms of medieval art, where there are many lovely statues of the Blessed Mother, whom my grandmother knows and loves. My grandmother wants to touch the statues. She wants to lean across the velvet ropes to kiss their sculpted robes or to whisper her secrets and needs. But this is not how modern people approach art. For them, the statues are representations, illustrative of a particular moment of Western history and the history of Western art, and are to be admired for their form and their contribution to the development of aesthetic styles over time. There’s nothing in them, no one there. The guards rush over and send my grandmother back out to the street.

This is a parable of two ways of being in the world: one associated with the modern (although this is complicated, clearly, since my grandmothers lived in the modern world after all, and you can find believers in cathedrals throughout the world today petitioning statues); the other with something different from the modern. One is oriented toward presence in things, the other toward absence. As the guard rushing over shows, the difference is carefully policed—as carefully policed as the difference between Jesus in the bread and wine and Jesus not in the bread and wine was policed on that August morning in Paris or at the base of Campion’s scaffold—although with less dire consequences. Certain ways of being in the modern world, certain ways of imagining it, are tolerable and others are not. Especially intolerable are ways of being and imagining oriented to divine presence.

Read the entire essay here.

A Historiography With the Gods as Agents

Back in August we featured Orsi’s History and Presence in the Author’s Corner.  You can read that interview here.  Over the last few weeks I have finally gotten a chance to dig deeply into this book.  I am taking it slowly.  It is a thought-provoking work.

Orsi wonders what the practice of history might look like if “the transcendent broke into time.”  How might we envision a historiography in which “the gods” are active agents and we, as historians, make an effort to try understand what they are doing.  What intrigues me the most about this suggestion is that it comes not from David Barton or some other providential historian of the Christian Right that we criticize here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but from a Professor of Religious Studies and History and the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies at Northwestern University.

Unlike the aforementioned providential historians, Orsi is not suggesting that we try to discern the workings of Providence in the world.  Instead, he starts with the assumption that God and the gods are present and have been present to millions of people in the past.  (He draws the word “presence” from the Catholic doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist).  He writes: “I am inclined to believe that presence is the norm of all human existence, including in religion, and absence is an authoritative imposition” (p.6). He is asking his readers “not to make the move to absence, at least not immediately, not to surround presence with the safeguard of absence, but instead to withhold from absence the intellectual, ethical, and spiritual prestige modernity gives to it, and to approach history and culture with the gods fully present to humans.” (p.8).history-and-presence-199x300

Orsi calls for an “Abundant History” that rejects the secular inclination to interpret “presence”–such as a Marian apparition or a pilgrimage to a shrine or a vision–according “to the authorized interpretive categories” of the political, sociological, ideological, technological, scientific, and economic.  He urges us to avoid explaining religious phenomena as social constructions.  Orsi adds:

In an intellectual culture premised on absence, the experience of presence is the phenomenon that is most disorienting, most inexplicable.  This puts that matter of “translation” and “bracketing” into a new light.  Constraints on the scholar’s imagination become, by means of his or her scholarship, constraints on the imaginations of others, specifically those whose lives the scholar aims to present and understand. There is a double intellectual tragedy here, for once their reality is constrained by ours, they no longer have the capacity to enlarge our understandings of our imaginations.  This is the price of ontological safety. (p.64).

Orsi concludes this chapter by wondering:

The past may act upon us in such a profound way as to erase our intentions of remaining outside of it.  This is the vertigo of abundant history.  It comes upon historians as a result of their training and disciplining.  But it may be that this is what abundant historiography is: approaching events that are not safely cordoned off in the past, that are not purified, but whose routes extend into the present, into the writing of history itself.

I am about halfway through the book and it is giving me a lot to think about.  I recently took a break from reading and listened to Ed Linenthal‘s interview with Orsi on the Process Podcast produced by the Organization of American Historians.  You can listen to it here.

There is one section in the podcast in which Orsi talks about museums as places where “figures of presence are gathered.”  These sacred objects–Orsi gives an example of a Buddhist deity–are meant to be touched and spoken to, but the practice of museum protocol means that they must remain behind glass walls.  This, Orsi notes, enforces a “code of absence” in the museum.

The conversation with Linenthal is fascinating since he is not only the outgoing editor of The Journal of American History, but he also has a background in religious studies and has written a lot about sacred spaces in American civil religion.

Orsi admits that there is “little tolerance” in academia for the kind of abundant history he is talking and writing about.   He claims that he doesn’t know how to convince his colleagues that this kind of “real presence” is part of the “empirical world.”

I’ll keep reading.  Stay tuned.

History Education and Identity Politics: An Exchange with a K-12 History Teacher

College-classroom

My recent post “Is There a Tension Between History Education and Identity Politics” seems to be resonating with some people.  I am especially happy that it is resonating with K-16 teachers.  Some good discussion seems to be happening.

One of the teachers who has engaged with the piece at my Facebook page is Leslie Smith, a history teacher in San Bernardino, California.  I met Leslie in October 2011 when I was in California to work with the teachers of the San Bernardino School District. My visit was part of the district’s Teaching American History grant programming.  As the curriculum coordinator for the district, Leslie was responsible for running the grant. If I remember correctly, I did presentations on Protestantism in America and the American Enlightenment. (I was there under the auspices of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute for American History).  More importantly, I got to know Leslie and we have continued our friendship through social media.

Here is what Leslie wrote in response to my original post.  I should add that she is not only an outstanding history teacher, but she is also a practicing Catholic.

Leslie: I see the tension that you mention and want to celebrate it because before there was *no* tension, at least not in the narrative taught in k-12 classrooms. It was a national narrative of great men (read fairly-wealthy, white men) did great things and that’s why America is great. Beginning, middle, end of story. And now students are being taught a different narrative that may be increasing their narcissism. Although I wonder how much of this is caused by other factors, I do see the narcissism you speak of. I would think that what they need isn’t one narrative or another but a willingness, the ability, and the time to complicate history education with multiple narratives.

I would argue that it is in dealing with and maintaining balance with tension that is where the work lies (perhaps Opus Dei). Without tension, we are left with flaccid tools that neither fulfill their purpose nor serve any use. It is hard work to maintain a balance with this tension, but so much is at stake. We must seek the Spirit of God living within us and at the same time see His face in those we meet. We must see ourselves in history and encounter new/different people as they were in history. Peter was a betrayer *and* a fisher of men. Washington was a slave owner *and* a great leader. We are sinners *and* made in Imago Dei. The *or* is easier but not the truth and will essentially get us no where. The same is true with history education *and* identity politics.

In the end, I worry about any single story. I would soooo love to sit with you and discuss this at length. There has GOT to be more time and effort put in building useful bridges between k-12 and university education, especially in the humanities. We can’t afford not to.

And here is my response:

John: Leslie: Yes–I would love to come back out to California and have this conversation. Your point in the first paragraph on the great men narrative is on the mark, but I am not convinced that we need to abandon some type of national narrative in favor of a U.S. history course defined by identity politics. Even if the narrative deals heavily with the failures of Americans to live up to their ideals (as King reminds us in the Letter from a Birmingham Jail) it will still show kids that the promise of America has always been a contested and unfulfilled one and that there is a lot more work to do.

I will be the first to say that the teaching of historical thinking skills should be the primary goal of a K-12 history course. But the 2016 election has also convinced me that the study of history must play some kind of civic role as well.  As I have argued in Why Study History?, I don’t think the teaching of historical thinking skills and the “history as civics approach” are mutually exclusive. Good historical thinking skills produce good democratic citizens. But such civic lessons should also come through the kind of narrative I described above.  

As for the Holy Spirit–I could not agree more. Again, I touch on this in Why Study History?. The kind of empathy necessary for historical understanding to take place and for empathy to contribute to our life together in this country and beyond is for me connected to the spiritual disciplines. I was just listening to a Ted Talk in which a political commentator–a non-believer– was saying that empathy is a “meditative practice” for her when she deals with conservatives who do not like her liberal politics.  I am not entirely sure that we can muster the inner strength alone to practice and teach the kind of empathy I talk about in this piece and elsewhere.  I can get away with this kind of talk at Messiah College, where most of my students share my Christian faith. But just in case some of my critics out there are reading this, I would NOT advocate this kind of approach to empathy in a public K-16 history classroom, even if an approach to empathy informed by the spiritual disciplines might be the presuppositional base upon which the teacher operates.  

Thanks for the conversation.

 

Is There a Tension Between History Education and Identity Politics?

dickinson_college_18_college_classroom

Please help me think through this.

In my last post, I embedded a video of Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust and writer Leon Wieseltier discussing the role of humanities in everyday life.  In the course of their discussion they talked about the way in which the humanities teaches empathy.  Faust is a historian.  She suggested that the study of history challenges students to see the world through the eyes of others.  Wieseltier agreed.  Empathy is needed for democracy to thrive. It is cultivated through the imagination.  And the humanities trigger the imagination.

As readers of this blog know, I have been arguing this for a long time.  On Sunday I gave a lecture on this subject at a local church in my area and have led similar public discussions on this topic in the past.  The relationship between historical thinking, empathy, and democracy is at the heart of my book Why Study History? and, in many ways, at the heart of my vocation as a historian who takes seriously my responsibility to the public.

When I teach I want my students to empathize (not necessarily sympathize) with the so-called “other.” I want them to understand people in the past on their own terms.  I want to do the best I can to get my students to walk in the shoes of people who are different than them.  (I know, I know, you have all heard this from me before!) Yesterday I was laboring in my American Revolution class to get students to understand Shays’s Rebellion from both the perspective of the men in Boston governing Massachusetts and the perspective of the rural Massachusetts farmers who were getting squeezed by the breakdown of a moral economy and high taxes.  I wanted them to grasp why those in power articulated a language of republican virtue.  I also wanted them to understand the sense of desperation, hopelessness, and anger that the farmers felt. Primary documents, of course, were our guide in this exercise.

As I write, I am reminded once again of Sam Wineburg’s words about historical thinking and how this practice relieves us of our narcissism:

For the narcissist sees the world–both the past and the present–in his own image.  Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.  History educates (“leads outward” in the Latin) in the deepest sense.  Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology–humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.

If humanities and history education is about leading students outward then what do we do about students in our class who only want to see themselves in the past?  What do we do with the students who only want to look inward?  What do we do with students who (whether they realize it or not) only want to see the world through the lens of identity politics? What do we do with the students who resist this kind of humanities education because they are angry and resentful about the way their people have been treated in the past?  (These students don’t want to hear a lecture about empathy).  What do we do with the privileged student who could care less about such an exercise?

I started thinking about these things more deeply after I read Columbia University historian Mark Lilla‘s  New York Times op-ed “The End of Identity Liberalism.”  Here is a taste:

But the fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country. (The achievements of women’s rights movements, for instance, were real and important, but you cannot understand them if you do not first understand the founding fathers’ achievement in establishing a system of government based on the guarantee of rights.)

When young people arrive at college they are encouraged to keep this focus on themselves by student groups, faculty members and also administrators whose full-time job is to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.” Fox News and other conservative media outlets make great sport of mocking the “campus craziness” that surrounds such issues, and more often than not they are right to. Which only plays into the hands of populist demagogues who want to delegitimize learning in the eyes of those who have never set foot on a campus. How to explain to the average voter the supposed moral urgency of giving college students the right to choose the designated gender pronouns to be used when addressing them? How not to laugh along with those voters at the story of a University of Michigan prankster who wrote in “His Majesty”?

Read the entire piece here.

After this piece appeared, Steve Inskeep interviewed Lilla on National Public Radio.  In this interview Lilla said that he is anti-Trump, a supporter of transgender rights, and a liberal who wants nothing to do with identity politics.  We learn that one of his colleagues at Columbia, after reading his piece, called him a white supremacist. (Another one defended him).

Here is a taste of his NPR interview:

LILLA: Identity liberalism, as I understand it, is expressive rather than persuasive. It’s about recognition and self-definition. It’s narcissistic. It’s isolating. It looks within. And it also makes two contradictory claims on people. It says, on the one hand, you can never understand me because you are not exactly the kind of person I’ve defined myself to be. And on the other hand, you must recognize me and feel for me. Well, if you’re so different that I’m not able to get into your head and I’m not able to experience or sympathize with what you experience, why should I care?

INSKEEP: Who were some of the groups that liberals have appealed to in ways you find to be counterproductive?

LILLA: To take one example, I mean, the whole issue of bathrooms and gender – in this particular election, when the stakes were so high, the fact that Democrats and liberals, more generally, lost a lot of political capital on this issue that frightened people. People were misinformed about certain things, but it was really a question of where young people would be going to the bathroom and where they would be in lockers. Is that really the issue we want to be pushing leading up to a momentous election like this one? It’s that shortsightedness that comes from identity politics.

INSKEEP: I’m just imagining some of your fellow liberals being rather angry at you saying such a thing.

LILLA: Well, those are the liberals who don’t want to win. Those are the liberals who are in love with noble defeats, and I’m sick and tired of noble defeats. I prefer a dirty victory to a noble defeat. The president who did the most for black Americans in 20th century history was Lyndon Johnson, and he got his hands dirty by dealing with Southern senators, Southern congressmen, horse trading with them, cajoling them, learning what not to talk about. And he got civil rights passed and Great Society programs. That should be the model. Get over yourself.

I am inclined to agree with Lilla here, especially when he talks about identity liberalism in terms of narcissism, isolationism, and navel gazing. If Lilla is right, then how do we teach history and the humanities (more broadly)?  Identity liberals want white people to empathize with people of color. I am entirely on board with this.  But is it wrong to challenge a student of color to empathize with white people?   If education is about looking outward, what do we do about a form of identity politics that teaches students (of all identities) to look inward or to always see themselves as victims? (And in the wake of the election of 2016 I have found both whites and people of color seem to be playing the victim).  Can I expect a black student to empathize with the writing of a 19th-century pro-slavery advocate in the same way that I expect a white student to empathize with 19th-century enslaved man or woman?

My thinking on this issue is complicated by the fact that I am an American historian. I know, as the late historian Edmund Morgan put it, that “American freedom” has always gone hand-in-hand with “American slavery.”  I am convinced by scholarship that connects the rise of American capitalism to slavery.  I know the history that people of color, women, and the poor have inherited.  This makes teaching empathy through history a task fraught with difficulties.

I believe that the voices of all people need to be heard. I teach them because I believe that all human beings are important.  (I guess you could call this my own version of identity politics). My faith tells me that human beings are created in the image of God and thus have dignity and worth.  I am committed to a Christian narrative that understands the human experience through the interplay of the Imago Dei, sin, and redemption. This narrative shapes my teaching.  To me this narrative is more important than liberal identity politics informed by race, class, and gender. And since I teach at a college that claims to celebrate this narrative, and defines itself by this narrative (I hope it does), I want my students to come to grips with the meaning of this narrative as the most important source for understanding their lives and their identities. This narrative should shape how white students understand students of color and how students of color should understand white students.  It best explains our shared destiny as people of Christian faith.  This is part of the reason I find myself turning over and over again to Reinhold Niebuhr’s “spiritual discipline against resentment.” His approach seems to provide a real way forward.

I also still believe–old fashioned as it might sound–in a national narrative. As an American historian I think it is more important than ever that my students understand the story of the United States and the ways in which the values put forth by the founders have and have not been applied in our attempts to create “a more perfect union.” If political jealousy is indeed a laudable passion, then citizens need to know what to be jealous about. Yes, I understand the way that the liberal identity politics of race, class, and gender, and the internationalization of American history, has shaped my field.  I have learned much from this approach.  But I am coming around more and more everyday to the civic role that U.S. history plays in the strengthening of our democracy.

So, in the end, how do I teach students–all students–the kind of historical thinking that relieves them of their narcissism in an age of liberal identity politics? How do I teach my subject of expertise to students who are too often grounded in an approach to the world that trains them to always look inward? How do I teach history to students conditioned to see only themselves in the stories I tell about the past?

I am sure I will take some heat for this post.  But I am really interested in an honest dialogue. I realize that I don’t have this all figured out and would really like some help in thinking it through.  Thanks.

“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.

Robert George: A Christian Scholar on the Spiritual Disciplines

Confessing History Available for Pre-OrderAs many of you know, I am very interested in the ways that my Christian faith informs what I do as a scholar, historian, and teacher.  Back in 2011 I joined my friends Jay Green and Eric Miller in editing Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation. My book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past has a couple of chapters that reflect my interest in the integration of faith and history.

If I get a chance to continue writing about faith and the academic vocation I would like to explore the way that spiritual practices or spiritual “disciplines” might inform the work of Christian scholars. (Perhaps such a study might revive my own inconsistent efforts at engaging in these practices).

So much of the conversation on faith and scholarship, at least in the field of history, revolves around Christian epistemology, philosophy, or theology.  It is driven largely by those Christians who associate with the Reformed Protestant tradition.  In Confessing History we tried to push this conversation away from the epistemological questions long associated with what Douglas Sweeney has called the “Calvin School” of Christian historiography, and into the area of calling/vocation and practice.

It seems like there could be a third way of thinking about connecting faith with history. We know how Christian theology and philosophy inform the presuppositions of believing historians.  We are starting to learn, thanks to the authors in Confessing History, about how believing historians might practice their craft as scholars, teachers, and public scholars.   But we don’t have a lot of work on how things like prayer, fasting, Bible reading, and other spiritual disciplines might influence our work.  (I discussed this a bit in Why Study History?, but a good place to start is A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, and Methods).

I was thus very encouraged and inspired today reading Kevin Spinale’s interview with Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University and one of America’s leading Catholic intellectuals. George talks to Spinale about how the spiritual practices of his Catholic faith informs his work as a scholar, teaching, and public intellectual.

Here is just a small taste:

Prof. George, how do you pray?

GEORGE-WI

Robert George

On my knees, the old-fashioned way—not always, but I do find that being on one’s knees in a posture of prayer facilitates trying to remove oneself from all of one’s cares and concerns. It’s valuable to remove oneself from one’s normal routines and put oneself in the presence of God for that conversation. So, to me the posture matters. Of course, one can’t always be on one’s knees.

I often pray when I am driving, for example, if I am alone. I like to pray with people, a lot, with friends—some of whom are Catholic, some of whom are not. I am happy to pray with just about anyone who wants to pray. But there is something special about—especially at the end of the day—being on one’s knees before God, in that posture and praying.

Is there a particular text or devotion that you ordinarily use to initiate or shape prayer?

That can vary extraordinarily widely. Sometimes it is petitionary prayer: something I am concerned about; something that I want to ask for God’s help with, assistance with, blessing upon. It might be a person; it might be a cause; or it might be an event. Often, I find myself praying for help in thinking things through, trying to discern what I am supposed to be doing.

It is difficult for me and I have to make an effort at this, but I try to remember the importance of prayers of praise in addition to petitionary prayer. That is something I have to discipline myself to do; otherwise I find myself always in the asking mode. It is very easy. I do not have to think much about petitionary prayer.

It is very easy if I feel or judge there to be a need—I find myself very easily moving into prayer to ask for God’s help with that need. But I recognize that it is very important to give God the praise he is due, and I have to discipline myself to remember to do that. It does not come as immediately or effortlessly as petitionary prayer.

I like the old-fashioned forms of prayer, although I do not restrict myself to them. The rosary is great—praying the rosary is valuable. The traditional forms of prayer that I was taught when I was a boy, what we Catholics call the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, I still say all those prayers—the guardian angel prayer, I still say all those prayers.

In part, I like these traditional prayers because of their simplicity. Jesus said that we are supposed to be childlike in our faith, and those prayers are prayers that are prayed by children as well as adults. We learned them as children, most of us, and they continue with us in our adult life. We should never regard ourselves as too sophisticated for these prayers. Saying those prayers is a help in maintaining the kind of faith that Jesus said we should have: the faith of those little children who were clamoring to get onto Jesus’s lap, whom the disciples were trying to shoo away—Jesus says, “No, no, no, let them come. … Your faith should be like their faith.” [Mark 10:13-16]

Read the entire interview here, including George’s thoughts on vocation, suffering, spiritual desolation, and Catholic higher education.

Big Changes in the Christian Historians’ Blogosphere

AnxiousBench_P30_bh

The Supreme Court of the United States is not the only “bench” that is experiencing a change of personnel.

As John Turner of George Mason University reports, Thomas Kidd, the prolific historian of American Christianity at Baylor University, will be leaving The Anxious Bench to help start a new blog (with Justin Taylor) at The Gospel Coalition. (More on that below).

Turner writes:

This week, one of our other original contributors has taken up a new post at The Gospel Coalition. I have known Thomas Kidd for nearly two decades, since we were in graduate school together at Notre Dame. It was through his initiative that The Anxious Bench came into being, and he has enriched us with a steady stream of thoughtful and powerful posts over the past four years. He has also served as our blogmeister.

I greatly admire the way that Tommy writes with purpose, clarity, and faith. What my friend has modeled through his publications has greatly inspired and shaped my own work. We will miss you at The Anxious Bench, but we offer our best wishes on your new assignment, Tommy!

Kidd will be replaced at the Anxious Bench by one of our favorite bloggers: Chris Gehrz, the chair of the history department at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Gehrz will take over Kidd’s regular Tuesday slot and will serve as blogmeister.  Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know Gehrz from his own blog–The Pietist Schoolman.

Gehrz recently announced his new gig in a post at The Pietist Schoolman.  Here is a taste:

Even after the imbalanced swap of Kidd for Gehrz, this particular bench remains a deep one, with some truly impressive “historians of broadly evangelical faith [sharing] their reflections on contemporary faith, politics and culture in the light of American and global religious history.” I doubt that Philip Jenkins needs much introduction, and John Turner (for the leading role he’s played, as a historian from outside the LDS fold, in the “Mormon moment“) and David Swartz (for his groundbreaking work on politically progressive evangelicalism) may be familiar to long-time readers of this blog. Beth Allison Barr regularly corrects my mistaken assumptions about medieval Christianity. And each month Agnes and Tal Howard each contribute thought-provoking posts on everything from Puritanism to snake handling.

Fans of The Pietist Schoolman will be happy to know that Gehrz will continue to maintain his regular posts at the site.

As for Kidd, he has teamed up with Justin Taylor (of Between Two Worlds fame) to start Evangelical History.  Here is a taste of Kidd’s description of the new venture:

Welcome to the Evangelical History blog of The Gospel Coalition! This blog is a partnership between Justin Taylor and Thomas Kidd (me). Many of you will know Justin from his influential Between Two Worlds blog, which will be continuing at TGC while he and I also collaborate on this initiative.

What do we mean by “evangelical history”? Justin and I both have broad interests in the history of evangelical Christianity, and the history of Christianity, so those will be a major focus here. But we’re also interested in a Christian view of all kinds of history: political, military, social, and other topics.

I don’t know if I can handle all this movement before the August 1, 2016 MLB trading deadline!

What Should Historians Be Thinking About?–A 5-Part Series

TidwellEarlier this week I was in Waco, Texas where I spent a day thinking together with the Baylor University History Department faculty and graduate students about the future of history, particularly as it relates to church-related colleges and universities.

In addition to the vibrant and intellectually curious Baylor crowd, I was joined by historians George Marsden, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, and Timothy Larsen.

Our host, historian Thomas Kidd, asked us to spend twenty minutes talking about whatever we wanted to talk about related to the state of the field, the future of Christian history, our current research projects, etc.  Each talk was followed with ample discussion.

Over the next five days I will be sharing some of the things I said on this occasion under the title “What Historians Should be Thinking About.”

The series will start tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

More on History and Hope

Last week I wrote a couple of posts in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s piece “Hope and the Historians.”  I began by posting a quote from the article.  I then published a reader feedback post with some commentary on Coates’s piece.  Here is what I wrote:

I don’t know of any historians worth their salt who begin their investigations of the past in search of something “hopeful.” I need to think about this some more, but I am not sure that “hopefulness” is a category of historical analysis.  I am not sure who Coates is referring to here. Perhaps he is referring to folks who dabble in the past to make political points in the present.  I would not call these people “historians.”

I would also say that Coates is making a theological statement here.  His remarks about human nature have an Augustinian quality to them,  Coates’s words read like a rebuke to the progressive view of human history that defines our profession.


My tentative suggestion that “hopefulness” is not a “category of historical analysis” got the attention of Chris Gehrz over at the Pietist Schoolman.  Chris writes: “John tentatively declines to describe hopefulness as a ‘category of historical analysis’ and instead concludes that ‘Coates is making a theological statement here.’  I’m not sure it’s that easy, at least for historians who adhere to a religion that holds hope to be one of its three cardinal virtues.  

Gerhz goes on to make an argument for why Christian historians should integrate the theological idea of hope into their work:

So what does this mean for the Christian historian? If, to paraphrase the same apostle, we may not interpret the past as others do who have no hope, what would that look like? Christian hope has meaning precisely because it requires us to be honest about the need of sinners for redemption and restoration. But hope both reaches back before the Fall, to God’s good intentions for Creation, and reaches out past the Cross, to the impossible reality of the Resurrection….
Even if I could convince Coates that my theological conviction does not preclude professional integrity, he might just retreat to an earlier line in his essay: “Hope may well be relevant to their personal lives, but it is largely irrelevant to their study.” In short, he’d suggest that I can do no more than keep private belief in a separate compartment, out of the way of public practice.
Since we don’t even share a belief in God, I’m not sure I could make any further progress with Coates. (Whom I really do admire, this important disagreement notwithstanding.) But for fellow Christians, let me suggest that we not abandon “hope-learning integration.”
Consider how we read the birth accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. To a significant degree, they provide evidence undergirding a Coatesian interpretation of history: the bureaucratic caprices of a distant emperor whose local client engaged in mass murder with no apparent repercussions suggest the tenacity of injustice. But in the seemingly irrelevant story of a poor young woman, her carpenter husband, and their newborn son, those sources also support a very different interpretation of the movement of history.
Of that child’s “kingdom there will be no end,” his mother was promised. But it’s not like the kingdoms of Caesar and Hitler, writes Ben Corey: “It’s an upside-down kingdom that grows in upside-down ways.” In a blog post reprinted by Mennonite World Review the same day that The Atlantic published Coates’ essay, Corey found hope in the decline of an American Christianity wedded to political power and nationalist ideology.
Time will tell if Corey is right that “we are at an interesting point in history and are standing right in the middle of a death/growth cycle,” but isn’t it possible that his principle might work in retrospect as well as prospect? If so, then Christian historians ought to be attentive to the past signs of growth for a kingdom that “operates on principles that are contrary to anything else we find in the world.” Such a truthful-hopeful interpretation will likely make much of evidence that may seem to be beneath our notice — evidence the size and significance of a mustard seed, or a bit of yeast.
I agree entirely with Gerhz’s thoughts about hope.  I believe in hope.  I like how Christopher Lasch described hope (and distinguished it from optimism) in The True and Only Heaven:
Hope does not demand a belief in progress.  It demands a belief in justice: a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of things is not flouted with impunity.  Hope implies a deep-seated trusted in life that appears absurd to those who lack it. 
If Eric Miller is correct in his magisterial Hope in a Scattering Time, Lasch was not a Christian.  He did not view hope as a theological concept.  I do.  I cannot understand hope apart from a Christian understanding of redemption.  The kingdom of God is both now and not yet.  As a Christian I am called to work toward building that kingdom by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my Creator.  My faith also teaches me that because of the brokenness of this world, even the best attempts at reform or change or moral progress will have limited results.
So let me revisit a question raised by Gehrz:  What does hope mean for the Christian historian?  I think it means a lot for a historian interested in historiography, the philosophy of history, or what theologians offer refer to as eschatology.  But I am not sure how useful it is for the practice of doing history, of resurrecting the past (so to speak), of understanding human activity as it exists over time. 

I think historians should interpret, describe, write about, etc. people in the past who had hope. For example, I don’t see how one understands the history of slavery without understanding the meaning of hope.   Historians should not shy away from hope as a concept that has motivated millions and millions of people in the past.  They should take it seriously in their work.
I also don’t want to be understood here as saying that there are no resources in the Christian faith to help the historian in her work.  As I argued in Why Study History?, the theological concept of “sin” is a very useful (and to some degree verifiable) idea to help explain human behavior.  So is the Imago Dei, the idea that all human beings have worth and value and should thus find a place in the stories we tell about the past.  These theological beliefs seem more useful because they explain, from a Christian point of view at least, the identity of the human beings we study.  Hope, on the other hand, is something we strive for, we pray for, we seek.   

In the correspondence and comments I have received about my original posts several folks have suggested that as Christians they cannot embrace Coates’s hopelessness. I agree with them.  But like the doctrine of “providence,” I am not sure how a belief in “hope” gets us any closer to understanding the past.

Others have brought up the teaching of history as a hopeful act.  Again, I agree that teaching students to hope (and work) for meaningful change in this world is a very good thing.  I also think that students can be inspired by hopeful people who they encounter in the past.  But I don’t see how a historian’s belief in hope–Christian or otherwise–helps us make sense of the past.

I know my thoughts here are very scattered and rough (please remember that this is a blog). I am willing to be persuaded.  In fact, there is a part of me that wants to be persuaded.  I remain hopeful that someone can convince me that hope might be a useful tool in my Christian historian’s toolbox in the same way that it is a Christian virtue I want to cultivate in my life.

Ian Clary on Evangelical Historiography and Christian History

Evangelical Quarterly is running a nice essay on evangelical historiography by Ian Clary of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies in Louisville. The piece is titled “Evangelical Historiography: The Debate Over Christian History.”

Clary summarizes some of the literature on doing history as a Christian–the kind of stuff we explored in both Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation and Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

Read Clary’s essay here.

Call for Papers: 30th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

From the Conference on Faith and History Facebook page:

Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity

The 30th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History
CALL FOR PAPERS

October 20-22, 2016
DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION: March 15, 2016 for the General Conference (October 20-22) and April 15, 2016 for the Student Research Conference (October 19-20)
Plenary Speakers: Kate Bowler Thomas S. Kidd, Veronica Gutierrez

The General CFH Conference chair, Beth Allison Barr, has issued a call for papers for the Fall 2016 Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History at Regent University in picturesque Virginia Beach, Virginia. The deadline for submission is March 15, 2016 for the General Conference (October 20-22) and April 15, 2016 for the Student Research Conference (October 19-20). The conference theme will be “Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity,” but papers on any topic will be considered.

In today’s political and social climate, issues of race, gender, and identity continually polarize much of public discourse and historical scholarship. As Christian historians, our challenge is to address these contentious issues in ways that responsibly deal with contemporary events, with the past, and with our faith. We seek to bring our research and our faith into engagement with our culture, an often complicated and contentious pursuit. As historians, what is our responsibility in addressing current discourses and debates over race, gender, and identity?
What are the ways in which our work and our theology should shape our engagement in the present? In what ways should today’s debates over race, gender, and identity shape our research and our teaching?

Here is a non-exhaustive list of ideas you may want to consider for paper and panel sessions.
*Christian Historians’ Responsibility to the Church concerning Gender Roles
*Engaging Issues of Race, Gender, and/or Christian Identity in Global history
*Christian Historians’ Response to Issues of Race and/or Gender within Academia
*Christian Historians’ Response to the Treatment of Women in the Professional Academy
*How Christian Intellectuals Have Engaged Race and/or Gender
*How Race and/or Gender Impact Religious History
*How Theology Shapes Understandings of Race and/or Gender
*Teaching Women’s History and its Significance as Christian Historians
*Teaching about Race as Christian Historians
*Engaging Race and/or Gender in Survey Courses
*Writing Gender History
*Christian Historians, Issues of Race and/or Gender, and Trigger Warnings within the Classroom
*Christian Historians and Engagement with Political Debates on Race, Gender, and Identity

If you have ideas for sessions, individual papers, or panel discussions, please send them to Beth Allison Barr
(Beth_Barr@baylor.edu) at Baylor University of Josh McMullen (jmmcmullen@regent.edu) at Regent University.

The Author’s Corner with Jay Green

Jay Green is Professor of History at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.  This interview is based on his new book Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions (Baylor University Press, 2015)

JF: What led you to write Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions
JG: The book is in many ways a culmination of more than twenty years of thinking about and wrestling through the relationship between faith and history in my own life and work.  I’ve been teaching our survey of Historiography (required course for junior-level majors) for about a decade, and working within a Christian institution means dealing squarely with the implications of faith for historical study as a necessary component of the class.  Over the years I began to develop the five-part typology I explore in the book as a template to get my students to think about the fact that different people have meant a variety of different things when they aspire to do history “Christianly.”  It occurred to me that laying this out in a more formal way might make for a useful book. 
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Christian Historiography?
JG: There is no such thing as a single “Christian interpretation of history.”  Instead, a series of sometimes conflicting, sometime complementary “versions” of Christian historiography have developed among contemporary scholars and writers during the past few generations, some of which are more worthy of emulation than others. 
JF: Why do we need to read Christian Historiography?
JG: I hope that the book finds an audience among Christian laity, students, history teachers, or working historians striving at some level to reconcile their identities as both believers and interpreters of the past.  To the extent that historiography is species of intellectual history, I think a good many non-Christian observers might also have an interested in becoming better acquainted with the contours of this rich and varied conversation on faith and history.  It’s my hope that the book will serve as a kind of primer that offers a “lay of the land” for how contemporary Christian historians have worked through the challenges of their dual identities.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
JG: I was obsessed with American history since the day my grandmother gave me a picture book of American history when I was five years old.  It was always my favorite subject in school, and I never really seriously considered majoring in anything else when I got to college.  I studiously avoided the path of teacher certification in college, making graduate school almost inevitable.  Meanwhile, I began to note the lifestyle of my Taylor University professors who seemed to fill their days with reading books, talking with one another and with their students about books, and writing books.  It wasn’t until then that the “historian’s vocation” really became clear in my mind.  While I never once took it for granted that I would ever become gainfully employed doing this sort of work, I became convinced that it was a path that I wanted—even needed—to follow. 
JF: What is your next project?

JG: I am working on a new book that looks at Christian dimensions of public history.  It explores the centrality of memory in Christian experience, theology, and practice, the transcendent features of public commemoration, the religious significance we impose on material artifacts, and our moral and religious obligations to preserve, interpret, and recount collective memories in publicly accessible ways.  
JF: Thanks, Jay!

Tal Howard Leaves Gordon for Endowed Chair at Valparaiso University

Tal and Agnes Howard
My old employer, Valparaiso University, keeps attracting quality historians.  Last month I learned that my friend and prolific historian Tal Howard is leaving Gordon College to become the Phyllis and Richard Dusenberg Chair of Christian Ethics and Professor of History at Valpo.  For the last decade or so Tal ran the honors program and the Center for Faith and Inquiry at Gordon.  His wife Agnes, a fine historian in her own right, will also be joining the faculty of Christ College, Valparaiso University’s honors college. Congrats Tal and Agnes!
Here is an article from the Gordon College student newspaper:
Tal Howard’s office in the Center for Faith and Inquiry feels similar to a sanctuary. The walls are lined with bookshelves filled with historical and influential academic volumes on ethics, Christianity and philosophy. The hours in this room spent deep in thought and in meaningful conversations seem to have saturated the walls and floor with an air of the profound.
The office will only remain Howard’s for one more year. After spending more than a decade at Gordon, he and his family plan to head west to Indiana, where he will start a new chapter of his career as a professor at Valparaiso University.
The ties that the Howards have made in Massachusetts made leaving a “difficult decision,” Howard said.
“I don’t expect the heartache to fully heal,” he said, explaining that leaving is an “excitement with a lining of sadness.”
Agnes, Howard’s wife and a history professor at Gordon, agreed. “While there are things to look forward to, it is sad to leave dear friends and community at Gordon,” she said.
Nevertheless, Howard said he’s excited for the future, adding that his new position will give him ample time for writing and research for the three books he has under contract.
At Valparaiso, Howard will serve as Professor of History and the Humanities and holder of the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christian Ethics. Howard’s wife, Agnes, will be appointed as lecturer at Christ College, the four-year honors college at Valparaiso. Howard came to Gordon 15 years ago as a professor in the history department. He held that position for four years before the college received a $2 million grant, with which he developed the Center for Faith and Inquiry (CFI), which houses the offices of the Jerusalem and Athens Forum (JAF) honors program, the Faith Seeking Understanding lecture series and the Respectful Conversations scholarship and symposia.
Since then, Howard has been directing JAF’s first 11 cohorts, doing “a lot” of writing and researching, directing the CFI and continuing to serve as a member of the history department faculty.
Agnes has taught various first- year courses, most recently The Great Conversation and in the history department. She has also been involved with Gordon-in-Orvieto. “I have enormously enjoyed getting to know students here, both in my own classes and in the JAF groups,” she said.
Howard wears a lot of hats, but colleagues and students say they are consistently struck by his humility and ability to facilitate deep thinking.
Ryan Groff, Administrative Director of the CFI, first met Howard during his interview for JAF while a student.
“It wasn’t a grill session, but more a conversation on my interests and what I appreciated at the time, which was absolutely a result of Tal’s personality,” he said.
While in JAF, Groff said he was struck by Howard’s ability to ask a question and have conversations, not just explain an opinion. “His personality sets that tone for the program,” Groff said. “The table that Howard sets is inviting.” Matthew Reese ’15, JAF alumnus and current CFI Apprentice, said Howard “is one of the most reputable researchers at Gordon. … But he’s humble. For someone who doesn’t know who he is, he can be an unassuming person to be around, but he’s quite the academic giant and extraordinarily brilliant, but at the same time without losing any of his personality.”
Reese said Howard taught him how scholarly research functions.
“As someone who is thinking of going into academia, it’s really helpful to learn to be academic,” Reese said.
Howard said one lesson he’s learned during his time at Gordon was the value of interdisciplinary conversation and the importance of people in shaping those conversations. As he leaves, he wants to be remembered for his work with JAF, where he hopes students will continue to have a deep understanding of tradition, recognize that faith has many intellectual resources, and ask deeper questions about themselves and their society, while letting a love and joy of learning flourish.
Howard is looking forward to finishing up his last year with JAF, the 12th cohort (“A nice, Biblical number,” he said) and a term packed with influential lecturers for the Faith Seeking Understanding series.
In his email to JAF alumni announcing his departure, Howard wrote that “establishing JAF and working with its many wonderful students has been one of the greatest pleasures and honors of my life; through it … I have received an education.”

A Busy Week in the Messiah College History Department

Philip Deloria will deliver the 2014 American Democracy Lecture

We in the Messiah College History Department try to give our students an array of opportunities to learn outside of the classroom.  Last Spring our students studying digital history and Pennsylvania history spent a lot of time doing archival research.  This semester the students in our public archaeology course are hard at work studying a farm connected with a nineteenth-century Anabaptist group known as the “Bermudian Brethren” and uncovering an eighteenth-century Lutheran church building that has been buried for 250 years in the congregation’s graveyard.  Several students continue to work on our Digital Harrisburg Project while others provide research support for an array of faculty research projects.  We have put a new Public History concentration in place and have been working as well on a new concentration in “Administrative Studies.”  In the past few years our students have interned at historical sites all over the mid-Atlantic.  It has been a fun ride.  I like to think that we are hard at work in creating a new kind of undergraduate history department.

In addition to all of our regular extra-curricular activity, the next few weeks will be particularly busy in the Messiah College History Department.  We are very excited to announce (or re-announce) the following events:
On Thursday, October 23, 2014, Philip Deloria will be on campus to deliver the American Democracy Lecture, the most important lecture in the life of the department.  I am sure many of you know Deloria’s work. He is a professor of history and administrator at the University of Michigan and a scholar of native American history.  His talk “American Indians in the American Cultural Imagination” promises to be an excellent talk. Learn more about it here.  Also check out the Facebook “event” page.
Tibebe Eshete

On Thursday, October 30, we will hold our annual “Faith and History” lecture.  This year’s lecturer is Tibebe Eshete, our new visiting lecturer in African history and the author of the definitive work on the evangelical movement in Ethiopia.  In the 1970s Tibebe was a young Ethiopian Marxist who was active in the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie.  His talk will describe his journey from Marxism to Christian faith and his understanding of the historian’s vocation. The lecture will be held in Boyer Hall room 335 at 4pm. If you are in the area feel free to stop by.  It should be a good one.

Finally, on November 4 the History Department will sponsor its annual “Career and Graduate School” event.  This year we will focus on careers. Our speakers will be two Messiah College history alums who have gone on to do amazing things with their degrees.  Beth Baggett was a Messiah College history major who currently works as an executive in the New York City fashion industry.  Caitlin Babcock, another Messiah history alum, works for a non-profit organization focused on the assimilation of new immigrants.  It should be a great afternoon.  Stay tuned for more information.  If you ever wondered what you can do with a history major you need to be at this event.
We continue to try to make the Messiah College History Department an intellectually vibrant place that merges a classic liberal arts history education with the kind of experiential learning that allows our students to build their resumes and develop transferable skills that will be useful in the marketplace.

Tweeting the 2014 Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

If you have been reading this blog or following my twitter feed (@johnfea1) you know that I just returned from the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH).  This year’s CFH was special.  It was held in Malibu, California on the campus of Pepperdine University.  Lori Hunnicutt and her team at Pepperdine did an amazing job of hosting the 300 Christian historians who attended the conference,

But this year’s conference was also special because of the program.  Jay Green of Covenant College brought together a very impressive array of Christian historians and intellectuals to discuss the conference theme “Christian Historians & Their Publics.”

It is fair to say that this was the best CFH meeting ever held–both in terms of location and program. I have already started blogging about some of the sessions and hope to do a few more posts throughout the week  But to get us rolling, here are some of my favorite tweets from #cfh2014: