The Author’s Corner with Steven Green

the third disestablishment

Steven Green is the Fred H. Paulus Professor of Law and Affiliated Professor of History and Religious Studies at Williamette University. This interview is based on his new book, The Third Disestablishment: Church, State, and American Culture, 1940-1975 (Oxford University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Third Disestablishment?

SG: Many things led me to write The Third Disestablishment.  I have written extensively about the ongoing dynamic of religious disestablishment in the 18th and 19th centuries.  My thesis has been (and continues to be) that there were various levels of disestablishment — political, institutional, legal, cultural — and that they occurred in incremental steps and at different times.  In essence, disestablishment was not perfected with the enactment of the 1st Amendment and, quite clearly, there was never a consensus on what it meant.  The Third Disestablishment brings this narrative forward to the mid-20th century where the Supreme Court formally embraced separation of church and state as the meaning of the Establishment Clause.  The book examines the cultural forces behind this embrace.  I felt that this was a story that had not been fully told before.

I also wrote the book in order to explore the background of the ongoing controversy over whether separation of church and state is/was the correct model.  The book also seeks to address why separationism arose, then fell into disfavor, at least as a legal principle.   Finally, on a personal level, in my earlier career as a 1st Amendment lawyer, I encountered several of the figures and organizations discussed in the book, though in their much later years.  This motivated me to examine the initial dynamic that led them to become involved in this issue.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Third Disestablishment?

SG: The book responds to more recent interpretations that maintain that separation of church and state became a legal and popular construct in mid-century due chiefly to residual Protestant suspicions of Catholicism.  It also maintains that even in its heyday, church-state separation was a contestable and indeterminate concept, and that its demise both legally and culturally began much earlier than has otherwise been maintained.

JF: Why do we need to read The Third Disestablishment?

SG: While numerous books have been written on the development of church and state, this book provides a fresh perspective by interweaving the cultural and legal developments of the period into  comprehensive narrative.  It examines the cultural backdrop to the Court’s adoption of its modern church-state jurisprudence.  It explores the roles of leading figures of the time, including Reinhold Niebuhr, John Courtney Murray, Paul Blanshard, Cardinal Francis Spellman, Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, John F. Kennedy, and several consequential Supreme Court justices.

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

SG: I have been interested in the interaction between religion and politics/law in US history since undergraduate school.  I made the decision to enter a history PhD program after practicing law for 4 years.   Since then, I have had an amazing career that has allowed me to do legal advocacy, teaching, and scholarship in the area of religion, law, politics and history. 

JF: What is your next project?

SG: I am writing a book for Cornell University Press in its religion in public life series on–you guessed it–the development of church-state separation in American history.

JF: Thanks, Steven!

Let’s Remember That Evangelicals Led the Way in Opening Higher Education to Women

Holyoke

Mount Holyoke College

Baylor University historian Andrea Turpin provides some historical context to the entire Paige Patterson mess.  Here is a taste of her piece at The Conversation:

Southern Baptist Convention leader Paige Patterson was asked to step down early Wednesday morning following a meeting of the board of trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he served as president. With a following of over 15 million, Southern Baptists are America’s largest Protestant denomination.

Trustees were responding to a petition by over 3,000 Southern Baptist women regarding what they called Patterson’s “unbiblical” remarks on womanhood, sexuality and domestic violence. In an audio recording from 2000 that surfaced recently, Patterson was heard counseling a woman to stay with her abusive husband. In another sermon, he commented on a 16-year-old girl’s body. And even as the trustees met, news broke that Patterson allegedly advised a female seminary student not to report a rape to the police.

It would be easy to assume evangelical Christian educators like Patterson uniformly discriminate against women because they believe the Bible teaches women to submit to men. But, as a historian of women, religion and higher education, I know that the story is not that simple: Evangelicals actually led in opening higher education to women.

The very first college in world history to offer a bachelor’s degree to women, Oberlin, did so in 1837, with the goal of training more people to spread the evangelical gospel.

In other words, theologically conservative Christians pioneered women’s higher education for theological reasons.

Read the rest of the piece here.  And check out our Author’s Corner with Turpin here.

The Author’s Corner with Adam Laats

9780190665623Adam Laats is a professor of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership at Binghamton University. This interview is based on his new book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Fundamentalist U?

AL: Over the years, as I researched the history of conservatism and evangelicalism in American education, I couldn’t help but notice the enormous influence of the network of conservative-evangelical colleges and universities. Back in the 1920s, the parlous state of higher education was one of the first concerns of conservative-evangelical intellectuals and activists. Back then, the linchpin of fundamentalist culture-war strategy was the notion of establishing their own, independent, interdenominational, fundamentalist colleges and universities. I wanted to know how the network of these evangelical institutions developed over the course of the twentieth century.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Fundamentalist U?

AL: Evangelicalism stubbornly resists definition. In order to understand it, we should look at the dynamics of its institutions, not only at the statements of its leaders.

JF: Why do we need to read Fundamentalist U?

AL: Anyone who hopes to understand American evangelicalism should study its institutions, and colleges, seminaries, institutes, and universities have been among the most influential evangelical institutions. Why did “fundamentalists” separate from “evangelicals?” How has creationism evolved? What does it mean to be a good, godly spouse or parent? How can white evangelicals confront the legacy of white Christian racism? These issues roiled evangelicalism throughout the twentieth century, and institutions of higher education were often the stages on which the debates played out.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American historian, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

AL: I fell into it backwards. I taught high-school history and English and became fascinated with the weird ways schools function as social institutions. I wanted to understand schools, so I began studying their history. I’m still hoping to figure it out.

JF: What is your next project?

AL: I’ve moved back in time to the early 1800s. Back then, a British reformer named Joseph Lancaster promised he had found the solution to urban poverty. By implementing his “system,” cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston hoped to develop schools that would teach low-income children how to read, write, cipher, and show up on time for work. It didn’t work. I’m trying to figure out why so many prominent leaders, including Governor DeWitt Clinton of New York and philanthropist Roberts [sic] Vaux of Philadelphia believed in what one early historian called Lancaster’s “delusion” of school reform.

JF: Thanks, Adam!

Slavery at Princeton University

MacLean House Princeton

Check out Alex Carp‘s piece at The New York Review of Books on slavery and American colleges and universities.  This particular excerpt deals with slavery at Princeton:

Last fall, after more than four years of research, Princeton became the latest university to present its results. Princeton was the site of a George Washington victory over British forces and housed the Continental Congress. All of the university’s founding trustees, and its first nine presidents, owned slaves. Slaves owned by the university’s fifth president—two women, a man, and three children—were auctioned off under the so-called “liberty trees” outside his house, two sycamores planted around the time of the repeal of the Stamp Act and pointed out on campus tours through this year only as evidence of the college’s devotion to the American Revolution. (Princeton is one of the rare American institutions older than its country. The university was on its sixth president by the time the ink dried on the US Constitution.) According to Martha Sandweiss, the historian who led the project, Princeton epitomizes “the paradox at the heart of American history: from the very start, liberty and slavery were intimately intertwined.”

Slavery was not uncommon in New Jersey, and even once abolition began, it took generations to complete. An 1804 law granted emancipation only to New Jersey slaves born after July 4 of that year, and only after they had served what one historian has called a “term” of slavery that could last for as many as twenty-five years. One result of this gradual abolition was that many New Jersey slaveholders sold enslaved children born after that deadline to plantations out of state, which reduced the number of enslaved people in New Jersey without emancipating anyone. Another was the transition to institutions that closely resembled slavery: towns throughout the state established “poorhouse farms,” where the vagrant or indigent would be confined to work or were sometimes rented out. Businessmen traveling from New Brunswick to New York at the turn of the nineteenth century—a trip that could take the better part of three days, generally by carriage and boat—would come across “stray negroes” who could be jailed, then sold to pay jail expenses, if they failed to explain themselves sufficiently. The last child registered for gradual emancipation—a girl named Hannah, born in 1844, before legislators replaced the category with something called “apprentices for life”—remained enslaved until barely two weeks before the Confederacy’s 1865 surrender. Princeton’s entanglement with slavery, Sandweiss said when describing the project’s findings last fall, is “typical of other eighteenth-century institutions. And it makes us quintessentially and deeply American.”

At its best, this wave of research demonstrates the ways in which slavery and its legacies have built the world we live in: how the ideas and institutions born in one era do not entirely cast off the forces that shaped them as they move through time. There is no evidence that Princeton University itself owned slaves, but by the early nineteenth century its main building, Nassau Hall, was adjacent to a private farm where enslaved people tended to cattle and worked in a cherry orchard; on the other side of the building, slaves worked in the taverns and other businesses on Nassau Street. Before they could enroll in courses, prospective students had to pass exams in Latin and Greek administered personally by the president; Sandweiss speculates that students arriving for their exams early on their first morning would be greeted at the president’s doorstep by “an enslaved person—the first person on campus a prospective student might meet.” As the college began to chase planter wealth, its antebellum student body grew disproportionately Southern and repeatedly clashed withPrinceton’s community of free African Americans. The school’s Civil War memorial is one of the very few in the country to list the names of the war dead without noting on which side they fought—Sandweiss knew of only one other, at a boarding school—and the university began to grow to its modern size through gifts from a family fortune made by providing financial and shipping services to Cuban slave plantations until at least 1866, the year after slavery’s abolition in the United States.

Read the entire piece here.

Author’s Corner with Johann Neem

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Johann Neem
is a Professor of History at Western Washington University. This interview is based on his new book, Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America (John Hopkins University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Democracy’s Schools?

JN: I decided to write this book for two reasons. First, and foremost, I worried that citizens and policy makers did not have a “go to” book for the formative era of American public education. The leading books in that field were influenced by the culture wars—and thus they were highly critical of the potential of public education. Scholars on the right and left agreed that schools promoted “social control” and served elites, not ordinary people. At a time when our public discourse of education is increasingly vocational and instrumental, I wanted to clear the space to remind Americans today why we had public schools in the first place: to develop the capabilities of citizens; to promote human flourishing for each individual; and to bring together a diverse society.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Democracy’s Schools?

JN: Democracy’s Schools argues that there exists a longstanding and productive tension between the demands of “democratic education” and of “education in a democracy.” Democratic education emphasizes civic goals and the liberal arts and was often promoted by elite reformers such as Horace Mann, whereas education in a democracy depends on local control and schools tied culturally and politically to citizens themselves.

JF: Why do we need to read Democracy’s Schools?

JN: We need Democracy’s Schools because we’re adrift today. At a time when we tend to focus on narrow skills and economic training (“college and career readiness,” in the words of the Common Core—see my essay on the subject), it is worth looking back to an era when public schools served democracy’s needs and represented democratic values. It is worth remembering why reformers sought to increase access to the liberal arts. And it’s worth recognizing that the public schools have a responsibility not just to reflect our differences but also to bring a diverse people together. In short, we need Democracy’s Schools to remember that in the dirty bathwater of our education history there is still a baby worth caring for.

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

JN: I was a history major in college, but had intended to go into education policy. I wrote my senior thesis on civic education in a democracy, so in some ways I have returned to my roots in this new book. I decided to become an American historian after taking Gordon Wood’s class on the early American republic and realizing that the questions that most intrigued me were being asked by all Americans– whether rich or poor, white or black, male or female– in the decades following the American Revolution.

JF: What is your next project?

JN: I’m not sure. I am continuing to write about education, democracy, and higher education reform. I have started doing some work on the historic relationship between the humanities and American democracy, not just in schools but in society more broadly. We’ll see where it goes!

JF: Thanks, Johann!

Slavery at Harvard

Faust and Coates

Drew Gilpin Faust and Ta-Nehisi Coates

I just came across this article Lydialyle Gibson’s essay in Harvard Magazine titled “A Vast Slave Society.”  It is a report on a one-day conference at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute on slavery at America’s first institution of higher education and other colleges and universities.  Speakers included Drew Gilpin Faust, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lizabeth Cohen, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Adam Rothman, James T. Campbell, Craig Steven Wilder, Vincent Brown, Natasha Trethewey, Annette Gordon-Reed, Sven Beckert, Julian Bonder, Daniel Coquillette, Alexandra Rahman, Alejandro de le Fuente, Hilary Beckles, Max Price, Christiane Taubira, and Daniel Carpenter.

Here is a taste:

OTHER SPEAKERS, including Faust, echoed that same sentiment, though with less specificity. “We cannot successfully move forward as a university, as a nation, or as citizens, without acknowledging this history and making it important to the understanding of our present,” said Harvard’s Beckert. “And to be meaningful, that acknowledgement will have to have economic and political consequences; it cannot be purely symbolic or rhetorical.” Stanford historian James T. Campbell, who a decade and a half ago led Brown’s effort to research its own past, said, “There has to be some response in the present to what you know about the history.” Conceding the impossibility of any full remedy, he added, “Nothing you do in the present even approaches the significance and scale and scope of the crime. That doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.” Adam Rothman, a Georgetown historian involved in that university’s archival effort, asked how many in the audience thought his university ought to help subsidize the education of people descended from slaves that it had owned in the early 1800s. Most hands went up.

As schools move forward in their efforts to reckon with centuries-old questions that have suddenly become urgent, Coates offered a few bits of advice. For one thing, he said, “Do not limit the study of enslavement to slavery.…Recognize that the plunder of enslavement does not end with enslavement.”  He also counseled them to “listen, and don’t be self-congratulatory, and don’t get too mad.” People will be angry with them, he warned, and with good reason. “The worst thing you can do is retreat into your shell.…You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to listen, and you’ve got to hear that anger. It comes from a deep, deep place.”

Read the entire article here.

 

Benjamin Rush on Religious Education

6e84c-rushIn 1786 Benjamin Rush wrote “Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic.”It is a classic example of what historians and political theorists call “civic humanism.” At one point Rush states that goal education is to “convert men into republican machines.” Religion and Christianity is mentioned a lot in this essay, but Rush often mentions it in a utilitarian way.  In other words, religion is good when it serves the needs of a virtuous republic.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the document:

I proceed in the next place, to enquire, what mode of education we shall adopt so as to secure to the state all the advantages that are to be derived from the proper instruction of youth; and here I beg leave to remark, that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.

Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. “But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament.”

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.

 

Are Christian Colleges Partly to Blame for the Overwhelming Evangelical Support for Donald Trump?

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Mid-American Nazarene University

Adam Laats of the SUNY-Binghamton’s Graduate School of Education is writing a fascinating book on fundamentalist and evangelical colleges.  His working title is “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education.” When completed, this will be the definitive history of evangelical higher education in 20th-century America.

Laats has shared some of his research in a recent History News Network piece titled “What Were White Evangelicals Thinking?” The piece tries to explain why over 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump.  Laats begins by pointing to the well-rehearsed reasons for why evangelicals pulled the level for The Donald: anti-Hillary sentiment, the Supreme Court, and the longstanding link between evangelicals and the GOP.

But Laats wants to offer another reason for why evangelicals supported Trump. He writes:

All those factors are true and important, but they are not sufficient to explain Trump’s popularity among white evangelicals.  If we really want to understand it, we need to grasp the true contours of the evangelical intellectual tradition.  That tradition has always made room for Trump’s brand of flag-waving, chest-thumping, America-First populism.  On the campuses of evangelical colleges and universities—the intellectual citadels of American evangelicalism—Trump-like attitudes have always found congenial homes.  

Laats then goes on to describe Christian nationalist sentiment at Wheaton College in 1935, Moody Bible Institute in 1947, and Bob Jones University in 1963.

“Leaders” of these schools did promote Christian nationalism during the 20th-century.  Laats is correct.  But then he takes his research and launches into the present.  He writes:

This sort of star-spangled spirit isn’t just a relic of Cold War Americana.  Into the twenty-first century, too, evangelical colleges and universities have harped on an in-your-face patriotism.  Last year, for example, administrator Randy Beckum at Mid-America Nazarene University was demoted and embarrassed.  His crime?  In a chapel talk, Beckum reminded his evangelical audience that their religious values should come before their Trumpish ones.

As Beckum put it, “We have to be very careful about equating patriotism with Christianity.”  Even more careful than Beckum imagined, apparently.  For questioning the knee-jerk Americanism so prevalent among his students, Beckum found himself the target of evangelical attack and ridicule.

I am familiar with the Mid-America Nazarene case that Laats cites.  He has described the case correctly.  But I would also add that nearly all evangelical colleges would have allowed, if not endorsed, the views that Beckum presented in the Mid-America Nazarene chapel.  In other words, Mid-America Nazarene University is hardly representative of evangelical Christian colleges today.  For every Liberty University or Mid-America Nazarene there are dozens and dozens of evangelical colleges who reject this kind of Christian nationalism and Trumpism.

I would venture to guess that the overwhelming majority of the faculty and administrators at evangelical colleges and universities in the United States DID NOT vote for Donald Trump.

If students at evangelical colleges voted for Trump–and there were many who did–it was not because they were fed pro-Trump rhetoric from their faculty.  In fact, I know several faculty and graduates from the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University who strongly opposed the Trump presidency.

Laats continues to compare Cold War evangelical colleges to evangelical colleges in 2016:

At evangelical colleges and universities, this tradition has always played a leading role in defining evangelical identity.  White evangelicals are a religious group, true, but they have also always been energized by a vague yet powerful patriotic traditionalism.  Like other enthusiastic Trump supporters, white evangelicals have been fueled by a combative culture-war patriotism.  They have always defined themselves by their proprietary attitude about “our” America, the one they hope President Trump will make great again.  

Were evangelical colleges fused with a  “combative culture-war patriotism” during the Cold War?  Yes.  But I don’t think this defines most evangelical Christian colleges today.

Having said that, I am not convinced that evangelical colleges are the best way of measuring evangelical support for Trump in November 2016.  Most evangelicals, both in the Cold War and today, did not or do not attend Christian colleges.

NOTE:  Since I am a fan of his work and respect his scholarship, I sent this post to Laats before I published it here.  He asked for an opportunity to respond and I gladly agreed. Stay tuned.

The Author’s Corner with Jennifer Oast

OastJennifer Oast is Associate Professor of History at Bloomsburg University. This interview is based on her new book, Institutional Slavery: Slaveholding Churches, Schools, Colleges, and Businesses in Virginia, 1680-1860 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Institutional Slavery?

JO: It started with a primary document that puzzled me about fifteen years ago.  My master’s thesis examined the Bray Schools, which were colonial-era schools for slave children funded by British philanthropists.  While researching the school in Williamsburg, Virginia, I came across a list of the children in attendance in the 1760s; on this list, the College of William and Mary was named as the owner of two of the children.  This surprised me greatly, because while I thought I had learned a lot about slavery as a graduate student, I had never learned that slaves could be owned by a college, as opposed to an individual.  I started looking for as many examples of slave owning institutions as I could find, such as other schools and colleges, church congregations, and the public, and this became the topic of my dissertation and, ultimately, the basis of my book.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Institutional Slavery?

JO: Slaves owned by institutions faced unique challenges (and sometimes opportunities) that set them apart from traditional slaves. Although slave owning by institutions has been largely forgotten, it is impossible to fully understand the commitment of southern whites to maintaining the slave system without realizing how truly pervasive it was throughout society as well as how many southern whites became beneficiaries of slavery because of slave owning by a local institution.

JF: Why do we need to read Institutional Slavery?

JO: Institutional Slavery is the first book to focus on the lives of slaves who were owned by institutions in Virginia.  While the records are often scarce, I have been able to piece together some really fascinating stories about some of the slaves who were owned by institutions.  For example, many were owned by institutions but hired out annually so that their income became an endowment for the institutions to which they belonged, such as church congregations.  This meant that they were hired out to different owners every year, in some cases for their entire lives, creating tremendous family instability.  Other slaves worked at the institutions which owned them, such as the slaves who worked on college campuses, and this opened up its own sets of challenges.  For example, how would the relationship between slaves and students be negotiated on the campuses where they all lived and worked?  So Institutional Slavery provides insights into slave life outside of the traditional plantation setting.  I think that many who might pick up my book, historians and the public alike, are starting to question the complex connections between slavery and southern universities, churches, businesses, and other institutions.  This book lays bare some of those connections and will, I hope, inspire others to continue to research how institutional slavery functioned elsewhere in the South.

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

JO: I grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Civil War history permeates the culture, and I was fascinated by American history even as a child.  Wonderful Social Studies teachers in middle and high school inspired me, and I also grew to love American history more as I started researching my own family history when I was sixteen.  I am sure I was the only teenager in my high school who was excited to turn eighteen so she could get into the Library of Congress reading rooms!  There was never any question that I would major in History when I went to William and Mary, only what I would do with the degree.  After graduation, I taught in a public high school for two years, but missed being a student myself so much that I returned to my alma mater for graduate work.  Looking back, it is hard to picture myself doing anything else.  I’ve been very fortunate that so many opportunities have opened for me to pursue my passion for history.

JF: What is your next project?

JO: In Institutional Slavery, I touch briefly on slaves owned by the state of Virginia in the last chapter, but I have conducted more research on publically-owned slaves and plan to study this in more depth. 

JF: Thanks, Jennifer!

What Does It Mean for a College to be "Fundamentalist?"

Adam Laats, a historian of education at SUNY-Binghamton and the author of the I Love Your But You’re Going to Hell blog, is working on what promises to be a very interesting book on the history of Christian higher education.  (We wrote about it here).

In the course of his research Laats is wrestling with the question of what makes a fundamentalist college “fundamentalist.” 

After discussing how definitions of fundamentalism put forward by Joel Carpenter and Matthew Sutton do not explain the fundamentalism that he is encountering in the history of these colleges, Laats writes:

But such definitions don’t seem to match the ways fundamentalism has been defined in its leading institutions. At the colleges I’m studying—schools such as Wheaton CollegeBob Jones UniversityBryan CollegeBiola UniversityThe King’s College, and similar schools—there’s more to the school than just theology.
When these schools called themselves “fundamentalist” (and they DID, even relatively liberal schools such as Wheaton), they meant more than theology. They meant more than just “radical apocalyptic evangelicalism.” They meant more than just “not-Mennonite-or-Pentecostal.”
Defining fundamentalism as it was used in fundamentalist institutions is a trickier issue than simply defining fundamentalist theology. By and large, when schools talked about themselves as “fundamentalist,” they meant that the professors and administration all signed on to fundamentalist theology. But they also meant that the students would have a vaguely conservative atmosphere in which to study. No smoking, no dancing, no etc. They also meant that students would be controlled and guided in their life choices. And they also meant that students would be more likely to socialize with similarly fundamentalist friends and future spouses.

Laats is on to something here.  Fundamentalist colleges certainly uphold fundamentalist theology, but what makes such colleges “fundamentalist” has a lot more to do with student life and their approach to learning.  I would say that fundamentalist colleges–both today and historically–have survived because they are safe places.  The are not only safe places where young fundamentalists can find Christian friends and spouses and be protected from the “immorality” of the secular university, but they are safe places because a young fundamentalist can attend such a college and leave with his or her faith in tact.  

Fundamentalist parents are often more concerned with indoctrination (in fundamentalist doctrine), purity, and separation from the “world” than education.  They fear the kinds of ideas–biblical criticism, evolution, etc.–that will destroy their child’s faith.  If you are an adult fundamentalist who believes that the “world” is full of threatening intellectual forces that could jeopardize the soul of your son or daughter, it makes perfect sense that you might send him or her to a fundamentalist college.  The separatist impulse of American fundamentalism is best illustrated in the movement’s approach to higher education.

I am looking forward to Laat’s book.

The Wren Building at the College of William and Mary

Chris Gehrz of Pietist Schoolman fame brought to my attention this interesting article on the Wren building at the College of William and Mary. (Chris is a William and Mary grad).  

I love old academic buildings (Nassau Hall at Princeton is my favorite for a variety of reasons).  I have been in the Wren Building a few times and have tried to wander through it whenever I am in Williamsburg.  It is a great old building that is still in use for academic purposes.

Here is a taste of Sarah Ruiz’s article on the Wren from The Flat Hat, the student newspaper of the College of William & Mary.

…The Wren is the United States’ oldest academic building but it was not always used for education. It served as a field hospital in two wars, and functioned as the Virginia capitol twice.
“It’s really fascinating to me to think about what rooms they used and how this building actually functioned as the Virginia government,” Kern said.
There were other moments in the building’s history, however, that threatened its existence. The Wren suffered through three fires in its time: once in 1705, just five years after its construction, and again in both 1859 and 1862. According to Kern, one professor’s account from the night of the 1859 fire tells the story of College President Bejamin Ewell rousing the grammar school boys from their beds on the second floor, and then rescuing important artifacts from the burning building. Among those artifacts were portraits of James Blair and his wife, the College seal and the Charter itself.
“The official apparatus of the College is saved during that fire,” Kern said. “The descriptions of all of that suggest an attention to the history of the College, and also give us this insight into how people are using the spaces at that moment. That’s a particularly exciting window into what must have been a terrifying night for lots of people.”
In 1881 the College building was again threatened when the school was forced to close its doors due to lack of funds until 1888. During these “silent years,” President Ewell continued to ring the Wren’s bell at the start of every academic year. Associate Director of Historic Campus Kimberly Renner said these moments of disuse are a testament to the building’s endurance….

Fundamentalist U

Laats’s first book: “The Other School Reformers”

If you are not reading Adam Laats’s blog I Love You But You’re Going to Hell I encourage you to bookmark it or put in in your feed.  Laats teaches in the Graduate School of Education at SUNY-Binghamton and has written extensively on religion and the culture wars as they relate to American education.

I have been reading Laats for a year or so, but I just recently learned of his new book project: “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education.”  Here is Laats’s description of this well-funded project:

In my new book, tentatively titled Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education, I’m exploring the complex history of evangelical and fundamentalist higher education. In many ways, these schools have functioned as institutional hubs in the kaleidoscopic world of conservative evangelicalism. From Reagan to Romney, from Cruz to (Jeb) Bush, politicians hoping to woo the conservative religious vote have visited conservative schools such as Bob Jones and Liberty University…

Schools such as Bob Jones and Liberty, as well as Wheaton College, Biola, The King’s College, and a host of other institutions, have educated generations of evangelicals in the distinctive intellectual and cultural traditions of their faith. Students at these schools agree to more rigid lifestyle rules than they would on secular campuses. And they agree to have their educations shepherded by faculties who have signed on to detailed statements of faith. Just as alumni of the Ivy League might brag about their alma maters, so alumni of these schools feel a distinct connection to their colleges. Politicians hoping to prove their conservative credentials want to jump on that bandwagon.
But that does not mean that these colleges are somehow monolithic.  The differences between these schools often loom larger than their similarities, at least in the world of evangelical Protestantism.  What does it mean to be “creationist?”  What changes are healthy, and what are dangerously heterodox?  And what is the proper, Godly relationship between men and women?  There is no single “evangelical” answer to these questions.  Just as at pluralist campuses, evangelical campuses have been rocked by controversy on all these issues.
But there is a palpable sense of connection.  There is something that unites the fractious world of evangelical higher education.  And in this book, I’m asking questions about it:  What did such schools hope to teach each new generation of evangelical student?  How did they hope to raise up new generations of faithful young people in a country that was slipping farther and farther into secularism?  And, importantly, how did students respond to these efforts?
If we hope to understand America’s continuing culture wars, we must make sense of the many meanings of these institutions.  After all, our culture wars aren’t between one group of educated people and another group that has not been educated.  Rather, the fight is usually between two groups who have been educated in very different ways.
I’ll be traveling over the next year or so to a set of non-denominational evangelical schools such as Bryan College, Wheaton College, Biola University, Bob Jones University, and others.  I’ll be looking in their archives at the residue of student life and learning across the century.
As I do so, I’ll keep posting updates in these pages about my evolving argument.  And I invite input from readers who’ve attended such schools.  How did going to a conservative evangelical college shape you?  How did you rebel or conform to the school’s expectations?
Stay tuned.  This looks like a really interesting project that will no doubt make a big splash in the Christian college world.

Studying Slavery at the University of Virginia

The Virginia public university founded by Thomas Jefferson has announced that it has appointed a commission to study the history of slavery at the institution.  Here is a taste of an article on the subject in UVA Today:

Investigating and commemorating a major part of the University of Virginia’s past will be the focus of U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan’s newly established Commission on Slavery and the University. 

The commission, comprising 27 U.Va. faculty and staff members, students, alumni and local residents, will further the efforts of multiple groups exploring U.Va.’s historical relationship with slavery and provide an institutional framework to guide research and gather resources on the contributions of enslaved laborers to the University. 

“The commission builds on the effort of many members of our University community who have worked to raise awareness of the University’s relationship with slavery and to commemorate the role of enslaved persons in appropriate ways,” Sullivan said. “The commission will now carry this work forward with the help of community partners who share our concern about this issue.” 

Her specific charge to the commission is to “provide advice and recommendations on the commemoration of the University of Virginia’s historical relationship with slavery and enslaved people.”

Led by co-chairs Dr. Marcus Martin, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, and Kirt Von Daacke, associate professor of history in the College of Arts & Sciences, the group will investigate the interpretation of historically significant buildings and sites on Grounds related to slavery and propose projects that would educate students, faculty, staff and visitors about enslaved individuals who worked at U.Va., as well as commemorate their work.

Read the rest here.

Protecting the Freshmen

At Messiah College we take care of our first-year students. We thus find this advice from a Leipzig University statute from the year 1495 to be very useful today as we welcome close to 700 newbies to campus:

Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen. Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation.

via Ask the Past 

Messiah College first-year students are introduced to the Yellow Breeches Creek

Franklin, Whitefield, and the University of Pennsylvania

Over at The Anxious Bench, Thomas Kidd reminds us of the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield.  The two giants of the eighteenth century worked together in establishing the academy that would eventually become the University of Pennsylvania.  Here is a taste:

One of the most fascinating exchanges between them came in 1750, when Whitefield replied to Franklin’s plans for the Philadelphia Academy, the forerunner to the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin and the academy trustees had recently acquired the “New Building,” a spacious venue which Whitefield’s supporters had originally erected for the itinerant’s preaching. Now Franklin sent Whitefield a copy of his Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (1749), which made a powerful case for liberal arts education in a time when the colonies still only had four colleges (Harvard, Yale, the College of New Jersey, and William and Mary), and Philadelphia had none. Whitefield was delighted with the plan, and happy to have the New Building put to such a use (especially if it remained available for preaching).

The main problem Whitefield had with Franklin’s proposals – a problem that reflected the fundamental spiritual divide between the men – was that Christianity seemed to be an afterthought. Franklin did note that students would receive instruction in the value of public and private religion, “and the excellency of the CHRISTIAN RELIGION above all others.” But this brief reference came only on page 22 of a 32 page document, and to Whitefield, this was not enough. In the excerpts below from the itinerant’s lengthy letter to Franklin in February 1750, Whitefield cast his own vision for Christian liberal arts education. But Franklin was more concerned with nonsectarianism than evangelicalism, and his vision ultimately won out, making Penn America’s first university with no denominational commitment.

In addition to their work together on the University of Pennsylvania, Franklin and Whitefield also envisioned the establishment of a colony in Ohio Territory.

I am looking forward to Kidd’s forthcoming biography of George Whitefield.