335 Union University Alums Protest Administrators and Faculty Signing the Nashville Statement

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The Jackson (TN) Sun reports:

Four names from Union University were on the list of signatures on the Nashville Statement from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on Monday, and a group of university alumni were unhappy that representatives from their alma mater chose to be associated with it.

The Nashville Statement is a list of 14 statements affirming biblical teaching on issues pertaining to gender and sexuality, according to the council. A number of evangelical leaders from across the country signed their name to the statement in agreement, including Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention president Steve Gaines and nationally known evangelist John Piper.

Union University, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, was represented on the list as well as its president Samuel “Dub” Oliver, dean of School of Theology and Missions Nathan Finn, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy C. Ben Mitchell and associate professor of political science Hunter Baker.

Since its release on Tuesday, the Nashville Statement has drawn both praise and condemnation from across the country. Some of those who support it appreciate it’s clarity. Some of those who oppose it think its harmful toward LGBT people. In Nashville, many in the city, including Mayor Megan Barry, take issue with the statements moniker and say it doesn’t represent the city’s inclusive views. The statement was named after Nashville because a draft of it was finalized last week in Nashville.  

“I was disappointed when I read the statement and saw Union’s name attached to it,” said Caraline Rickard, who graduated from Union in 2012. “I was disappointed because the message had a harshness to it that isn’t consistent with the message we’ve heard from most evangelical leaders.

“The statements were consistent with the point of view of Union as an institution, but the Union I knew as a student delivered that point of view in a loving and kind way, and not hateful like this seemed.”

Rickard drafted an open letter opposing the names from Union on the list from Union alumni, and 355 alumni or former students have attached their names to it.

Union issued a statement on the issue this week.

“The Nashville Statement provides biblical clarity and compassion about these issues in a time when it is needed most,” Oliver said in the statement. “At Union, we always want to speak the truth in love.

Read the rest here.   It should be noted that Union University was one of a handful of Christian institutions of higher education that left the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities over this issue in August 2015.

The Nashville Statement is a Disaster

 

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It is a disaster for all the reasons Chris Gehrz makes clear in his post today at The Pietist Schoolman.  (I should add the title of this post is mine). The so-called “Nashville Statement” is indeed “theology for the Age of Trump.”

I don’t really have much to add to Gerhz’s post.  I encourage you to read it.

Here is a taste:

So for those of you in that middle… Even if you admire at least some of its signers and affirm at least part of what it says on sexuality and gender identity, here’s why I think you should be bothered by the Nashville Statement:

While it claims to hold out a steadfast Christian witness against “[t]he secular spirit of our age,” it mostly succeeds in exemplifying theology for the Age of Trump.

I don’t just mean that releasing such a statement in the middle of an unprecedented national disaster — and in place of a much more urgently needed evangelical statement on white supremacy — exhibits what journalist Jonathan Merritt called “Trump-level tone-deafness.”

Nor that the authors have chosen to condemn “transgenderism” just days after Pres. Trump began to implement a ban on transgender persons serving in the military, only feeding the perception that whatever daylight separates Trumpism and evangelicalism is vanishing. (After all, that ban was reportedly discussed with Trump’s much-maligned evangelical advisers before he first tweeted his intentions last month.)

The Nashville Statement strikes me as theology for the Age of Trump because it’s being thrust into social media for little purpose other than to energize allies and troll enemies — distracting our attention from more pressing problems in order to demonize minorities whose existence causes anxiety among the many in the majority.

It’s not truth written in love of people who share innate human desires for love, self-worth, and identity, bearers of God’s image who know their own shortcomings far more acutely than what others presume to judge in them from afar.

It’s red meat tossed to the hungry members of a passionate, but small base. (Indeed, passionate because it’s small – and shrinking.) Part 2 of CBMW head Denny Burk’s follow-up blog post makes it sound like the Nashville Statement could conceivably stand in line with the historic creeds of the church universal. But this document is as un-catholic as you can get, speaking for a mostly-male, mostly-white slice of mostly-Reformed evangelical Protestantism in one country. Even then one of the co-founders of The Gospel Coalition didn’t even sign it. As far as I can tell, the only evangelical college presidents to endorse it represent schools that have quit the CCCU or never belonged to it. For no good reason, the document includes an article (#7) that excludes celibate gay Christians who might otherwise have been supportive. And there seems to be no representation of the African, Asian, and Latin American churches where theologically conservative Protestantism is actually growing fastest — nor of the Roman Catholic church, which only represents the majority of all Christians on the planet.

Read the entire post here.

One more thought:  I defend the right of the framers and signers of the Nashville Statement to release this statement and to hold the views on human sexuality they express.  And as much as I agree with everything Chris Gehrz wrote in his post, I hope that we might be able to work toward what John Inazu calls a “confident pluralism” on these matters.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Nashville Statement gets us any closer to this kind of pluralism.

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?

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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.

“Time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days”

Of if you don’t like Springsteen, here is Billy Joel:

“You can linger too long in your dreams. Say goodbye to the oldies but goodies, ’cause the good ole days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

Check out Domenico Montanaro’s piece at NPR on white nostalgia in classic rock ‘n’ roll music.

Here is a taste:

Probably the most famous from this nostalgia genre, though, came out five years later, with Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” It tells melancholy anecdotes — a man who was a star baseball player, a woman who pines to recapture her sex appeal of a younger day.

Around the same time as “Here Comes My Girl” and “Glory Days,” Billy Joel’s “Allentown,” was released. In 1982, it retold the story of a town that saw shuttered coal factories — despite generations since World War II (there’s that time again) working there, living decent, middle-class lives and spending “weekends on the Jersey Shore.”

But all that collapsed — and there was plenty of blame to go around, from the companies to the “union people” who “crawled away.”

Read the entire piece here.

Is There a Tension Between History Education and Identity Politics?

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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 Author’s Corner with Andrea Turpin

ANewMoralVision.jpgAndrea Turpin is Assistant Professor of History at Baylor University. This interview is based on her new book, A New Moral Vision: Gender, Religion, and the Changing Purposes of American Higher Education, 1837–1917 (Cornell University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write A New Moral Vision?

ATDuring my PhD program at Notre Dame I was reading up on the changing role of religion in American higher education when I noticed something quite striking: the leading books on that topic hardly mentioned women at all. This widespread omission in an otherwise excellent body of scholarship was stunning because American women first entered higher education in large numbers during the exact decades when more and more leading colleges and universities abolished required religious instruction and worship: the 1870s through the 1910s. I wanted to find out how these concurrent trends interacted, and what effects that interaction had on the education of both sexes and the subsequent ways male and female graduates shaped American society.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A New Moral Vision?

AT: A New Moral Vision argues that a group of reformers I call “evangelical pragmatists” led the initial push for women to enter American higher education in the decades before the Civil War, but that in the changed intellectual environment after the war leaders of trendsetting men’s, women’s, and coeducational colleges and universities all drew on women’s new presence in higher education to articulate a compelling alternative to previous evangelical approaches to student moral formation. In place of fostering conversion, these religiously liberal educators sought to foster in students of both sexes a surprisingly more gendered ideal of character and service than had earlier evangelical educators of either men or women, and this new moral vision expanded graduates’ opportunities in some ways but restricted them in others, which contributed significantly to the changing shape of American public life.

JF: Why do we need to read A New Moral Vision?

ATIf you’re an American historian, you need to read it because it makes the case for the centrality of higher education to the development of American culture, hopefully in a way that will be useful for teaching and research in a wide variety of fields within American history. For example, it explains how the contours of separate male and female cultures of public service during the Progressive Era trace back in part to leading participants’ undergraduate experiences. For historians of religion, the book also posits a new way of thinking about what we normally call the “secularization” of American higher education—and to some extent American culture—that I believe to be fairer to the religious liberals who oversaw this transition. For women’s and gender historians, its narrative is a striking example of the difference it makes to our understanding of the history of both sexes when we recover the role of women in aspects of American history where they have still been overlooked. The book explains how the entrance of women into higher education changed men’s higher education too and why this new reality meant that educating both sexes did not translate into as egalitarian a society as might have been expected.

Finally, I’d like to think the book will also be of interest to educated Christian laypeople for two reasons: First, it tells the story of a time and place when conservative Protestants were surprisingly more egalitarian in their gender ideals than liberal Protestants, and this fact calls into question some of our contemporary assumptions about the connections between theology and gender. Second, it provides a fuller backstory to contemporary Christian higher education by exploring the effects different approaches to that project have had in the past.

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

AT: Little-known fact: I started college as an astrophysics major! A couple months in I had a vocational de-conversion experience while staring at the board in a basement laboratory as the professor explained standard deviation. Suddenly I just saw Greek letters. I realized I didn’t want to spend my life doing that type of work, and that I preferred writing papers to doing problem sets. I loved the ideas of science, but not the practice. Fortunately, that semester I was also taking a wonderful history of western civilization class taught by Princeton professor Anthony Grafton and excellent preceptor Erika Hermanowicz (now at the University of Georgia). That experience convinced me to switch my major to history of science, which I loved. I particularly enjoyed investigating the interplay between science and religion. For my graduate work, I built on my initial interest in the history of scientific ideas by broadening out to intellectual history. Meanwhile, I chose to concentrate on American history to combat the ease with which we can take our culture for granted and assume that’s just the way things are. I wanted to help my students and readers realize that the culture we see around us is the product of a long trajectory of historical change—and that it is therefore changeable, by us. As American citizens, we have the great responsibility to discern what is good and fight to keep it and discern what is bad and fight to change it.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: My second book project is a history of women’s participation in the Protestant fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early twentieth century, a debate whose ramifications extend into the present culture wars. My working title is A Debate of Their Own: Women in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy. Even recent scholarship on this controversy has continued to focus on the beliefs and actions of men because men dominated the pulpits, periodicals, and even businesses that shaped much of the public conversation surrounding the debate. Meanwhile, historians interested in how gender played into these disputes have primarily focused on the theology of gender roles that these men articulated. Thus, even scholars concerned with the debate’s impact on women have focused on male sources. My book project examines the voices of the women themselves who entered into the religious tousle between the two parties. I ask what these women actually cared about—to what extent their concerns mirrored men’s and to what extent they voiced different priorities and took different approaches to conflict, especially as women often worked together in separate women’s organizations or auxiliaries.

JF: Thanks, Andrea.

 

When Was America “Great?”

Trump hatWhat does it mean to “Make America Great Again?”

Since Donald Trump released his campaign slogan I have been trying to call attention to the way Americans historians might help us understand it.  I am making an educated guess that on November 8, 2016 my work on this front will come to an end and I will be writing about Hillary Clinton’s use (and inevitable misuse) of the past.

To be clear, I do not think historians are primarily in the business of making value judgments on what parts of American history were “great” and what parts of American history were not “great.”  But we can help Americans make this decision for themselves. We can offer suggestions about the meaning of America.  We can make them aware of what America was like so that they can decide if they want to back a candidate who will take us there “again.” This is one way in which historians can, and must, contribute to this crazy election cycle.

In a recent report The Washington Post assumes that Trump’s campaign slogan is an appeal to life in the 1950s when things were truly “great.” The report offers some data on American life in that decade and compares it to the present day.

Check out the report here.  Here is a taste of the summary:

But, things are getting much better for most Americans. “If you look back in the last 50 years, a lot of things have really changed tremendously for women,” said Ariane Hegewisch, a study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “Education has opened up in a big way, and with that, access to better paying jobs.” Women saw not only an increase in employment and the financial independence that came along with it, but also gained political power as the glass ceiling began to crack.

People of color are seeing similar gains. Since the 1950s, with the decline of segregation and Jim Crow laws, there has been an increase in black individuals going to college, buying homes, living above the poverty line, leading businesses and governments, and succeeding along a variety of other measures.

Of course there are many who would argue that improvements for women and people of color are not the only way to measure American “greatness.”

(Thanks to my former student Phil Strunk for bringing this article to my attention).

Tweeting Kate Bowler on Female Evangelical Celebrity Speakers

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Kate Bowler mentioned Christian speaker Sheila Walsh (above) in her plenary address at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

This weekend at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History in Virginia Beach, Duke Divinity School historian Kate Bowler gave a plenary lecture titled “The Imperfect Saint: Disclosure and Power in American Megaministry.”  The talk focused on evangelical women celebrity preachers (think Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Sheila Walsh, etc…).

I tweeted (@johnfea1) the session at the hashtag #cfh2016. Over at Christian Century Carol Howard Merritt has posted some of those tweets and others and offered some commentary.

Here is a taste:

I have complicated feelings about this, and maybe Bowler does too. Her amazing NYT article connected with me on a different level than her book on prosperity gospel (although I loved them both), because I saw her scholarly work on health and wealth gospel within a personal context—a 35-year-old woman, (I hesitate to write it… but I will to make my case…) a spouse, and a mother, with stage four cancer.

We know that one of the most enduring works of spiritual memoir was written by a man—St. Augustine. But I have read books where I felt like I was leering into the bedroom window of a neighbor. I felt guilty, dirty, and fascinated. I wondered how the words would affect her children (as the child of a Christian author mom, my mind always wanders there).

I am on the final stages of a book that’s not a memoir, but it does delve into my past. As Meredith Gould described it, “You’re writing from a different place.” I’m not trying to explain large religious movements or even the inner workings of a congregation. I’m trying to describe what happens internally, and the only way I could recount it in detail was to talk about myself.

I made the shift for a couple of other reasons. I know what it’s like to read a scholarly work. I’m interested in the topic, but I’m also skimming a bit, because I’m not concerned about it on a dissertation level. Then, all of a sudden, I notice how my attention gets fully engaged in the words. I become fascinated, and I realize that the author has drifted into a personal narrative, and he or she is suddenly explaining the why. Why the topic matters—not because they want to present a paper at AAR, not because they want to gain tenure, not because they want to make a contribution to their field—but the real-life reason why the person cares. Then I’m fully participating.

Is that because I’m responding to some societal gender construct? And if I write on a personal level, then will my words only be read by women? Will they be disregarded? Maybe. But women read more books than men anyways.

Read the entire post here.

My Latest at Religion News Service: Christian Historians and Trump

Supporters of Trump stand during a prayer before a rally with Trump at Clemson University's livestock arena in Pendleton

Here is a taste:

(RNS) Donald Trump told a large crowd at Regent University in Virginia Beach last week that if elected president he would defend religious liberty, champion evangelical values, and repeal the so-called Johnson Amendment forbidding clergy from using their pulpits to endorse political candidates.

His message drew loud cheers from supporters gathered at the university founded by televangelist and former GOP presidential candidate Pat Robertson.

Within earshot of Trump’s voice, in a building adjacent to the Regent chapel, sat several hundred Christian historians, most of them evangelicals.

They were at Robertson’s university to attend the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History. The topic of the conference was “Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity.”

When Trump took the stage at Regent, Susan Fletcher, a historian who works for the Christian parachurch group The Navigators, was lecturing on how she talks about race with visitors to the Colorado Springs, Colo., organization. A session titled “The Inclusive Classroom” included papers on how to incorporate women and people of color into Christian college American history classrooms.

These thoughtful and nuanced presentations, and many similar sessions, stood in stark contrast to the way the GOP presidential nominee talks about race and gender.

Read the entire piece here.

Phyllis Schlafly: “One of the most important American political organizers of the second half of the 20th century”

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It is good to see The Nation acknowledge the contribution Phyllis Schlafly (1994-2016) made to American politics.

Here is a taste of Katha Pollitt’s piece:

 Painful as it is to acknowledge, Phyllis Schlafly, who died yesterday at the age of 92, was one of the most important American political organizers of the second half of the 20th century. In the 1970s, at a time when the women’s movement seemed to be soaring from strength to strength, she forged a reactionary grassroots women’s movement that defeated the Equal Rights Amendment at practically the 11th hour—a blow from which the feminist movement took decades to recover.

Schlafly’s genius was to recognize that conservative middle-class Christian homemakers were not submissive little hens interested only in trading recipes and getting the kids to church on Sunday. Like the liberal feminists they despised, these stay-at-home mothers wanted power, recognition, a field of action. All they needed to take to that field was a general, and Schlafly was a very good one. “In the ERA struggle, she was the expert debater, against all of us amateurs,” political scientist Jane Mansbridge author of the definitive history, Why We Lost the ERA, told me in an e-mail. That the entitlements conservative women were defending—to economic support from male breadwinners, social deference to homemaking, chivalrous respect for traditional femininity—barely existed as a matter of law, and were breaking down even as fitfully observed social custom, only made their fight more energetic.

Schlafly didn’t rest on her laurels for a minute. She went on to shape the women’s auxiliary of the Christian right into a powerful political bloc through the Eagle Forum, and she was a powerful influence inside the Republican Party until the day she died, albeit often behind the scenes. She helped make opposition to LGBT rights and abortion signature right-wing causes, with many prominent female leaders and propagandists. Sarah Palin is her spiritual granddaughter. So is Ann Coulter. And so is Michele Bachmann, who managed to combine wifely obedience with being in Congress and running in the 2012 presidential primary.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Colin Chapell

Ye that Are Men Now Serve HimColin Chapell is Instructor of History at the University of Memphis. This interview is based on his new book, Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him: Radical Holiness Theology and Gender in the South (University of Alabama Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him?

CC: I’ve always loved getting to explore how people’s beliefs change how they see the world.  Whether it is how Social Gospellers understood race or how Antebellum Southern writers understood their plantations, how people construct their identities and make sense of the all that’s around them fascinates me. 

As I started on this project, though, I was amazed at the fact that there were very few works that seriously considered how religious belief altered the construction of gender identity.  There are, of course, excellent works that examine how different gender roles and different institutional authority is divided among men and women.  However, with only a very few exceptions, how faith and theology alter conceptions of manhood and womanhood had been largely left out of the scholarly discussion.  I wanted to find out more and start to fill that gap.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him?

CC: Religious belief has a profound effect on how people understand manhood and womanhood.  In other words, theology matters not only to the roles people can take in institutions, but in the very foundations of how they understand personhood and what it means to embody masculinity and femininity.

JF: Why do we need to read Ye That Are Men Now Serve Him?

CC: I think that this is an important book for a couple of audiences.  First are those folks who do not think that religious belief is an authentic source of identity.  They, perhaps, feel that it is a veneer that covers over other, more reasonable in their minds, influences and interests.  The second group of people are those who feel that gender is a static and ahistorical category – what is manly today was manly 200 years ago and in all other cultures.  My book addresses both of these by arguing that religion and theology has a significant, indeed a defining, influence on how people perceive what femininity and masculinity means.      

Of course, all historians want their work to be relevant to the people around them, but I think that my work does have implications for our current culture.  So many people think that if others do not see the world as they do, then they must be WRONG.  What is often lost in this, is any attempt at understanding where other people come from or why they see the world differently.  If a few readers come away with the idea that they should attempt to understand why people see the world differently, then I will be really happy.

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

CC: I am one of the nerds who has known that I wanted to teach since about 8th grade.  Exactly which subject changed year to year as my favorite teachers changed subjects.  But, by the time I went to college, I knew I wanted to teach American history.  Then, as a freshman, I took one of Jay Green’s courses at Covenant College and found out how much I enjoyed research and writing as well as teaching.  All that’s to say that I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be a historian.      

I was, and am, fascinated by the ways in which the same events could be told from different perspectives and how different identities and different interests could radically alter how participants experienced it.  Additionally, I love getting to explore the foreign country we call the past.  Getting to know people through the sources they’ve left behind in archives, papers, letters, and diaries is fascinating.  Somedays, the archives can be a slog, but then, every once in a blue moon, you’ll hit that trove that completely opens up new ideas and fresh insights for you.  I think that being a historian is an incredible calling.

JF: What is your next project?

CC: I am in the very earliest stages of my next project, which looks at the ways in which people in the Holiness movement understood and performed their identity as sanctified individuals and as part of a community of perfect love.  I will be examining the ways they made connections across regional and racial lines in the U.S., as well as how they connected with their co-religionists in the English Keswick Movement and the Welsh Revivals of the early twentieth century.

JF: Thanks, Colin!

The Author’s Corner With Laurel Shire

ShireLaurel Clark Shire teaches history at Western University in London, Ontario.  This interview is based on her new book, The Threshold of Manifest Destiny: Gender and National Expansion in Florida  ( University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)

JF: What led you to write The Threshold of Manifest Destiny?

LS: I knew that I wanted to write about women and US imperialism in the 19th century. I was deeply influenced by scholars such as Amy Kaplan, Kristin Hoganson, and Laura Wexler, and I wanted to test some of the ideas about gender and U.S. expansion coming out of literary and visual studies using the tools of social and political history. I began to look at different contexts in which I might do that. I discovered Florida, an early 19th century frontier, had been remarkably underexplored by historians of Manifest Destiny and of women and gender. I also had friends and family I could stay with in Florida, and their generosity made the research possible on a grad student budget.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Threshold of Manifest Destiny?

LS: American political leaders leveraged gender norms – not only masculinity but also femininityin order to Americanize Florida, setting a precedent for U.S. policy in many subsequent frontier zones further West. They used white women’s presence in Florida to justify violence against Seminole peoples and to rationalize generous social policies for white settler families, many of them slaveholders. At the same time, they relied on white women’s material, domestic and reproductive labor to create homes and families there; the building blocks of permanent colonial settlement. In short, white women were indispensable to the process of settling Florida for the U.S., a process that displaced both Indigenous people and enslaved people of African descent.

JF: Why do we need to read The Threshold of Manifest Destiny?

LS: Gender history continues to be treated as a separate and ancillary subfield in a lot of American history, especially in political, military, and diplomatic history, even though very good historians have been making what was once a “hidden” history available to us for more than 40 years. My hope is that readers outside of women’s and gender history will read this book and will understand it as a model for how we might begin to integrate intersectional social history (history that accounts for how social categories of gender, race, class, and sexuality work together in significant, historically contingent ways) into general historical accounts of the American past. This book tries to marry cultural history to policy history, and I hope it’s successful and occasionally even entertaining.

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

LS: I never decided to become an American historian! I decided to get a Ph.D. in American Studies because I wanted the freedom to do interdisciplinary work in American cultural studies. Frankly, I was concerned that a History department would be too conservative for the kind of history I wanted to write. As a pragmatist and a materialist, though, I’ve never had much patience for theory that doesn’t prove itself useful “on the ground,” so my work ends up being deeply historically grounded. I fell in love with the 1830s and 1840s in a 19th-century American Studies seminar with Terry Murphy at GWU and wanted to write about that period. I assumed that when I hit the job market I would be a candidate for a job in American Studies or Women’s Studies, but then the market sorted me into history – in my first year on the job market, I only got interview invitations from History departments, and I ended up accepting a position in one. No one was more surprised than me. And then I learned that I really loved teaching U.S. history using American Studies tools.

JF: What is your next project?

LS: The next book is about women and migration in the 19th century. The work in Florida brought me into contact with many different kinds of migrants in the 19th century, but did not allow me to follow those who exited Florida, about whom I remain curious. I am broadly interested in how imperial and national borders shaped the lives of women in North America and the Caribbean, and also in how women’s experiences of race (privilege, enslavement, and displacement) or gender (subordination, widowhood, motherhood) may have transcended territorial limits, or served to expand or penetrate borders. In many ways, their diversity challenges and even explodes the very category of “woman” and reveals how the intersections of gender, race, nation, and borders continually remade social categories and opportunities. This project is shaping up to be a combination of microhistorical biography and macrohistorical context using digital methods in mapping and text analysis.

JF: Thanks, Laurel!

Spotted in Oxford: Cassandra Good’s *Founding Friendships*

One of the most popular features of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog is our Author’s Corner series in which we interview authors of new books.

Over the course of the next several days I will be posting pics of books we have featured in the Author’s Corner and that I spotted last week at the Oxford University Press bookstore in Oxford, England.

Here is Cassandra Good’s Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic.   Read her Author’s Corner interview here.

Good Oxford

Slate: “Uncle Books” Are Written Largely By Men For Men

McCullough_I

David McCullough: Author of “uncle  books”

Andrew Kahn and Rebecca Onion at Slate define “uncle books” as “tomes that you give an older male relative, to take up residence by his wingback armchair.”  In a very interesting article, Kahn and Onion, after research into 614 books published in 2015, conclude that most popular history is written by men, for men.

Here is a taste of their piece:

We examined a set of 614 works of popular history from 80 houses, which either published books we defined as trade history or landed books we defined as trade history on the New York Times Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction best-seller list in 2015. (For our full methodology, click here.) We found that 75.8 percent of the total titles had male authors. Interestingly, the effect was slightly less pronounced among titles that made the New York Times best-seller list—but only slightly (70.4 percent of those authors were male). University press and trade imprints had roughly the same proportion of male to female authors. The persistence of this imbalance, even among authors writing for presses that publish more academics, seems to reflect a continuing gender disparity among academic historians. In 2010, Robert Townsend of the American Historical Association wrote that among four-year college and university history faculty surveyed in 2007, only 35 percent were women.

Read the entire article for more about the methodology used by Kahn and Onion and the response of the publishing community to this trend.

 

Amy Sopcak-Joseph on “Rethinking the Warfront during the American Civil War”

Atlanta ShermanWe are happy to have Amy Sopcak-Joseph writing for us this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta.  Amy is a Ph.D candidate in early American history and gender history at the University of Connecticut.  She is writing her dissertation Godey’s Lady Book and serves as the co-liaison from the Society for the History of Authorship, Readership, and Publishing to the AHA.

Here is Amy’s first dispatch.–JF

Greetings from Atlanta!  

Much of my first day of the conference has revolved around logistics: early am flight and a layover and navigating the labyrinthine hotels.  I arrived with enough time to attend one late afternoon session, and it was well worth it!  The papers of Session 33, “Household War: Rethinking the Warfront during the American Civil War,” sparked a lively discussion about the ways in which the household was essential to warfare.

LeeAnn Whites’ paper, “Mothers and Their Soldier Sons: The Logistical Significance of the Domestic Line of Supply,” re-examined soldiers’ letters to their families and paired them with the letters they received from home.  Whites argued that letters (and packages) from home constituted an “emotional supply line” akin to the military supply line – letters supplied joy when they were plentiful and misery when they were scarce.  More importantly, women’s letters and packages provided a virtual form of the nurturing women usually did at home, overseeing their families’ diets and clothing needs.  Civil War soldiers, it is commonly known, didn’t enjoy the most diverse diet and sanitation wasn’t necessarily great which led to…. intestinal distress  She focused on two collections of letters from mothers to their sons, but the letters of wives to their husbands fulfilled the same role.  George Melish, an 18-year-old Union soldier from Vermont, received 160 letters from his mother.  He also received butter, cakes, pickles, stamps, and money, all sent because George had requested many of the items from home.  Whites pointed out that the Melish family had the means to purchase and send him all of these items, which likely supplemented his diet and kept up his spirits.  In comparison, Confederate soldier Rob Lowry often detailed his poor rations and the tattered state of his clothes to his mother, but he often told her not to further strain family finances to send him goods.  Lowry’s mother eventually had four sons in the army, and she didn’t have much money to begin with.  Whites’ ultimate point was not that Confederate families couldn’t afford to send provisions while Union families could.  Rather it was that the letters show that mothers wanted to nurture their sons by sending provisions whenever they could.  It was a war of the household to keep the men alive.

Lisa Tendrich Frank’s “‘To the Mattresses”: The Union Assault on Southern Households as Battle Strategy” focused on General Sherman’s Special Field Order 67 that called for the “evacuation” of civilians Atlanta. Sherman viewed households as a source of material and emotional support for soldiers, so he waged war on those households as a military strategy.  His goal was to cause instability through forcing civilians out of their homes, because refugees would be more concerned with their own day-to-day concerns than with aiding soldiers.  Scholars have emphasized the paternalistic rhetoric, that “evacuation” made it seem like the Special Field Order was intended to help civilians.  Frank argued that Sherman clearly saw households as enemies and he described them as hostile, like cornered animals – ultimately people are combatants regardless of sex.  Sherman’s decision to evict them from the city was a strategic move.  Women’s roles in the war warranted their eviction from the city.  Southern women supported the war from the beginning, so they must deal with its reality.

In Margaret M. Storey’s “‘Never Has Anything Been More Deserved’: Union Women and Hard War Tactics in the Western Theatre,” Union men and women worked to re-establish middle-class households among the rebel ruins in the west.  One of the privileges that Union officers enjoyed was that they could bring their wives and children to the front with them.  While it might defy logic to us now, their wives and children did indeed join them and Storey argued that this should be seen as part of military strategy.  The officers’ wives depicted Secesh women as disloyal and not respectable.  By occupying territories with their husbands, they replicated the middle-class lifestyle that they had enjoyed in the east – sometimes in the very houses that Confederates had abandoned.  One of Storey’s poignant examples was that of General McPherson’s Vicksburg ball in honor of the officers’ wives.  Men who had destroyed the households of their enemies in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys then celebrated domesticity.  This paper also sparked discussion of Sherman’s and Grant’s differing views of whether officers should even be able to have their wives with them.  Someone mentioned a forthcoming book, Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives, by Candice Shy Hooper, that I’ll be adding to my must-read list.  It’s due out in May 2016.

This was a great panel to kick off #AHA16 with – the papers were naturally in conversation with each other, all of them were well crafted and interesting, and they generated a number of comments and questions. Together, the papers highlighted the various ways that the distinction between homefront and warfront disappeared during the Civil War.

Looking forward to more thought-provoking panels tomorrow!

The Most Masculine and Southern Academic Event in the World?

OK, maybe the title is a bit of a stretch, but not by much.

The other day I was chatting with some friends about the 2015 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society which took place two weeks ago in Atlanta. According to its website, the Evangelical Theological Society was formed in 1949 “to foster conservative Biblical scholarship by providing a medium for oral exchange and written expression of thought and research in the general field of the theological disciplines as centered in the Scriptures.”

If our crack research team at The Way of Improvement Leads Home did its math correctly, there were 722 presenters at this year’s meeting. This does not include moderators or scholars who sat on panels or round tables. These speakers gave presentations on a whole host of theological, historical, and biblical subjects. You can get a taste of some of the session themes by perusing the program.

According to our research, 664 of the 722 presentations were delivered by men.  That is roughly 91%.  This means that 58 of the 722 presentations were delivered by women.  That is roughly 9%.

I welcome your reflections on this.

But wait, there’s more.

According to our rough counting, nearly 20% of the presentations at this year’s ETS meeting were made by scholars or graduate students affiliated with Southern Baptist institutions. (Again, this does not include moderators, commentators, or panelists who did not have a title associated with their presentation).

Five institutions: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary accounted for 88% of these presentations by Southern Baptists.

Again, I welcome your reflections on this.  I think there might be a research project here.

The Author’s Corner with Honor Sachs

Honor Sachs is Assistant Professor of History at Western Carolina University. This interview is based on her new book, Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier (Yale University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Home Rule?

HS: I went to grad school planning to study women and migration into the Deep South during the nineteenth century. But when I got to Wisconsin, everybody was talking about The Middle Ground and my interest in the West began to shift to an earlier time period. As I started poking around, it seemed like all roads led to Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. The eighteenth-century backcountry was having a historiographic “moment” but, for the most part, it was a scholarship of men – of land speculators, lawyers, hunters, soldiers, and statesmen. The experiences of women in early national expansion were largely invisible. One of the most important things that my advisor, the late Jeanne Boydston, taught me was to look critically at these places of invisibility. She taught me to question things that seemed natural or organic and to understand how they got that way. I wrote Home Rule as a way to figure out how manhood became naturalized into the early western landscape.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of HomeRule?

HS: I can even do that in two words: Families matter. Or, perhaps: Patriarchy matters. In the eighteenth century, it is hard to differentiate between the two.
In two sentences? Home Rule argues that myths of western bounty, prosperity, and self-sufficiency emerged against a backdrop of political instability, social unrest, and economic hardship. In the volatile context of early national expansion, political leaders achieved regional stability by incorporating ordinary men into a political culture that celebrated household order, patriarchal authority, and white supremacy.

JF: Why do we need to read Home Rule?

HS: Historiographically, Home Rule sheds new light on the experiences of ordinary women, slaves, children, and other marginalized populations in the early West and shows how gender and manhood became central to the project of national expansion. In a larger sense, I also think this book can help us better understand the present. Throughout my lifetime, I have watched the ways that ideas and myths about families and households have infused American politics. From the “family values” politics of the 1980s to current debates about same-sex marriage, our nation has placed debates about family structure and legitimacy at the heart of an ongoing conversation about national identity. Home Rule explains how such debates have been part of the American experience since the very beginning.

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

HS: Arguably, I have been a historian since I was ten. In fifth grade, my class took a trip to Washington D.C. (which was quite a feat coming from California!) and one of our stops was at the National Archives. I distinctly remember being mesmerized by the Declaration of Independence. It was this sacred text that we learned about in school, but when I saw it in person, I realized it was really just piece of paper. Real people wrote on that paper with real ink. Something about seeing an actual document gave me such a strong sense of connection with the past; it collapsed time. Real people before me did normal things like write stuff down on paper, just like I did in school. Something about seeing an actual document changed me. I appreciated the past on an emotional level, and when I thought about all the people who lived before me, I never felt alone. That was comforting. By the time I got to college, I had decided to go into journalism and study politics, but I always felt like something was lacking and wanted to understand the deeper roots of modern issues. I turned to history and began studying personal narratives. Again, I felt that same experience of emotional connection that I had when I was a kid. At that point, it became very clear that I had found my calling.

JF: What is your next project?

HS: I am currently writing a collective biography of a Virginia slave family. This family, named the Colemans, descended from an Apalachee Indian woman who was captured during the English raids on Spanish Florida in 1704. In 1772, some members of the Coleman family sued for freedom in Virginia claiming Indian ancestry and won. It was the first case to link maternal Indian ancestry with freedom and it ushered in a new wave of slave litigation in revolutionary and early national Virginia. For several generations, the Colemans sued for freedom in multiple Virginia jurisdictions, and they continued to do so even as they were bought, sold, and transported across state lines into Kentucky and Tennessee. Over the course of fifty years, Coleman plaintiffs became savvy about the law and worked with some of the new nation’s top lawyers, including Thomson Mason, Henry Clay, and John Marshall. Many of the Coleman suits are well known to historians of race and slavery, but until now, nobody has ever uncovered the family connections between them. Through careful genealogical research, I have been able to link Coleman plaintiffs to some of the most significant litigation on slavery and race in the early republic. Ultimately, the book will examine issues of race, slavery, family, ancestry, and law, throughout the eighteenth century and antebellum America.

JF: Thanks, Honor!

 

The Author’s Corner with Mary Rizzo

Mary Rizzo is Assistant Professor of Professional Practice and Associate Director of Public and Digital Humanities Initiatives for the Program in American Studies and the History Department at Rutgers University–Newark This interview is based on her new book, Class Acts: Young Men and the Rise of Lifestyle (University of Nevada Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Class Acts?

MR: I grew up in the 1990s, which was a time when a lot of really interesting subcultures, like skaters, riotgrrrl, and grunge, among others, flowered. It was also a moment when it seemed like no sooner then a subculture was formed than it was commodified by some giant corporation (we might call this Hot Topic-ification). What this meant was that the politics of authenticity was a constant topic of discussion among me and my friends, even if we didn’t know to call it that. When I got to grad school in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, I wanted to examine the prehistory of that 1990s moment, to understand how that process that I was observing had changed over time. I was also always interested in class identity, which is really under discussed in the US. By examining how young men tried to subvert their class background through style and how that became part of mass culture, I brought those two interests together.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Class Acts?

MR: When young middle-class men in the 1950s and 1960s adopted working-class styles it was both an effort to be cool that traded on their class and race privilege and an attempt to critique how middle-class masculinity was defined in the Cold War era. By the late 1960s and the 1970s, though, the rise of lifestyle marketing commodified these class acts to define lifestyle as a chosen identity, disconnected from material circumstances.

JF: Why do we need to read Class Acts?

MR: After I sent my final manuscript off to the publisher, I was watching tv at the gym and a commercial came on for a household fragrance spray. The tag line was, “Smell like the lifestyle you deserve.” I only wish I had been able to get that in the book! The word lifestyle has become so ubiquitous in our culture that commercials like that one can use it and assume everyone understands what they’re saying. But when we dig a bit below the surface, it becomes clear that lifestyle has a slippery definition. I was amazed to find out that the word lifestyle was really pretty new, only becoming commonly used after the 1960s. So, I wanted to explore the ideological work that the concept does in different historical contexts.

As I show in Class Acts, lifestyle turns identities based in material realities into consumer goods that seem to be equally available to everyone. But they are not. Some people, like African Americans, become the source material out of which other people build their lifestyles. For the fashion industry, for example, black culture and black models have been used to represent an exotic “them,” rather than being part of “us.” Lifestyle is used in politics as well. I open and close the book with discussions of the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. As another presidential campaign heats up—in which candidates who are wealthy and recipients of vast amounts of corporate money again will fight to be seen as just regular folks with lifestyles like the rest of us—we need to have some critical engagement with that term.

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

MR: I still get a thrill out of being called a historian! There are two main reasons I fell in love with history. The first is my mother. She grew up poor and only became middle class after marrying my father. Her stories about the New York City of the 1950s and 1960s were so different from the world I grew up in. When she told us about urban renewal displacing her family, or how women weren’t allowed to work enough hours to earn benefits at the grocery store she worked at, it made me want to understand why those things happened and how she—and by extension me—got from there to the Jersey burbs. Equally as important were the history teachers I had in high school and college. They were always the most engaging and, frankly, the wackiest, teachers I had. They made learning challenging but also fun. I remember one day in 10th grade history class we were going around the room telling our teacher what we wanted to write about for our final paper. I said Napoleon and, without missing a beat, he responded, “What do you have a complex?” That kind of joke, which treated us like adults, also assumed that we knew something already. Plus, I loved the content. History seemed to be about telling fascinating stories. I hope I’m doing those teachers justice with my own work.

JF: What is your next project?

MR: My next project looks at cultural representations of the city of Baltimore from 1954-early 21st century. For a city of its size, Baltimore has been represented over and over again, from the films of John Waters to The Wire (among many others). I’m fascinated by the interplay between cultural representation and cultural policy. How do the imaginary cities created by artists affect the real cities that we live in? How does public policy shape (intentionally or not), the kinds of cultural representations that artists create? What’s been amazing about working on this project is uncovering forgotten cultural texts, like Chicory, a poetry magazine that published work mainly by blacks living in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods from 1966-1983, and putting them alongside the more famous examples I use. It’s also been a thrill getting to talk to the people who made this art! I’ve interviewed theater directors, writers, actors, and editors so far.

JF: Thanks, Mary!


Crowdsourcing Books on the Founding Fathers Using Gender and Cultural History

Historians took to Twitter yesterday to answer Cassandra Good‘s question:

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Here were some of the books mentioned:

Andrew Burstein, The Inner Jeffeson

Catherine Allgor, A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation

Sheila Skemp, First Lady of Letters: Judith Sargent Murray and the Struggle for Female Independence

Lorri Glover, Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries  (Check out her Author’s Corner interview)

Cynthia Kierner, Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Nancy Isenberg, Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr

Kariann Yokota, Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation

Benjamin Irvin, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past

And let’s not forget Cassandra Good’s Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Men and Women in the Early American Republic  (Check out her Author’s Corner interview)



The Author’s Corner with Amy DeRogatis

Amy DeRogatis is Associate Professor of Religion and American Culture at Michigan State University. This interview is based on her new book, Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, November 2014)

JF: What led you to write Saving Sex?

AD: My interest in this topic began with a question by an undergraduate in my Religion and Gender class at Michigan State University. In the course we had been reading a book that discussed some ritual practices around marital sexuality in Orthodox Judaism. One student raised her hand and asked, “Where do Christians go to read about the proper ways to have sex?” I made a quick reply about evangelicals publishing lots of material about how not to have sex and returned to the topic of discussion. The question stuck with me and after class I ran a few Internet searches. I was unable to find any secondary material, such as a scholarly article that surveyed and analyzed the literature. I did eventually find lots of primary sources, and many of them were in Special Collections in the Main Library at MSU. This began a long process of reading many types of prescriptive literature about sex written by and aimed towards American evangelicals.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Saving Sex?

AD: In Saving Sex I argue that rather than denying the sexual body, evangelical sex writers present distinct visions of how sexual acts and rituals can be productive for individual and world salvation. Talking about sexuality allows evangelicals to carve an identity for themselves that sets them apart from secular American culture, even as they fervently embrace many aspects of that same culture.

JF: Why do we need to read Saving Sex?

AD: No one needs to read Saving Sex. If you decide to read it you will learn about some of the most popular evangelical writers and speakers on sexuality and some of the most pressing topics regarding evangelical sexuality and salvation. If you have ever wondered about chastity balls, why some evangelical youth make courting lists, what marital sexual practices are believed to be sanctioned by God, why illicit sexual practices might invite demonic forces, or why contraception is rejected in some evangelical circles, then this book will be of interest to you.

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

AD: I didn’t. I earned a PhD in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC-CH. My field is American religious history. I think of myself as primarily a religious studies scholar rather than a historian. I do, however, examine religious texts, groups, rituals, etc. within a historical framework. I didn’t have a moment when I decided to become an American historian, but I did realize that I wanted to study religion in combination with history, literature, art, and architecture when I spent a college year in Seville, Spain and wrote a research paper on the Jewish community in Seville prior to the Reconquest. After I returned for my last year at college I came to understand that my academic interests revolved around questions of religious identity. During that year I became interested in religious movements in the United States, and focused on that area of study when I attended Harvard Divinity School. The rest is history!

JF: What is your next project?

AD: In my next project I have returned to the nineteenth century the time period of my first book Moral Geography: Maps, Missionaries and the American Frontier. The book, Mormon King, will tell the story of the Mormon prophet James Jesse Strang who claimed to be the rightful successor to Joseph Smith. Strang saw and spoke with angels, found golden plates with new scripture, and received a highly contested letter of appointment from Joseph Smith. He eventually convinced over 12,000 people of his rightful position and led 2500 people to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan where he established a kingdom. While on Beaver Island, he crowned himself king, built a temple, established the Law of the Lord, and instituted plural marriage. He petitioned the Michigan State Legislature in Lansing to shift voting lines based on changed demographics and was subsequently elected to the Michigan House of Representatives two times. This may be the only time in U.S. history that a crowned monarch has also served in a state legislature. For many reasons he angered gentiles living on Beaver Island, Mackinac Island, and what is now Charlevoix in Northern Michigan. A few disaffected followers, with the implicit support of gentiles and the federal government, assassinated him in 1856. Within a few weeks, all of his followers were forcibly removed from the island and their land and property repossessed by the mob that pushed them out at gunpoint. 


I plan to examine Strang in the context of succession claims among the Latter-day Saints, and in relation to other millennial groups in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. I am interested in both the daily practices prescribed by Strang for how saints dressed, worked, ate, worshipped, and married as well as his larger theological views of the place of the gathered saints on Beaver Island for the spreading of the kingdom of God to the world. There are still Strang descendants living in Michigan, and I have had the opportunity to interview his great, granddaughter who descends from the youngest child of Strang’s first plural wife. Besides being a fascinating American religious history subject, for me, it has the added benefit of local significance.
JF: Thanks Amy, sounds intriguing.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner