The Author’s Corner with Adam Wesley Dean

Adam Dean is Assistant Professor of history at Lynchburg College. This interview is based on his new book, An Agrarian Republic: Farming, Antislavery Politics, and Nature Parks in the Civil War Era (University of North Carolina Press, December 2014).

JF: What led you to write An Agrarian Republic?

AD: The project began in a legal history class I took during graduate school at the University of Virginia. Like many graduate students, I was trying to figure out a dissertation project during my third year in the Ph.D. program. Professor Charles McCurdy, now retired, suggested I examine an 1872 court case entitled Hutchings v. Low for a seminar paper. The case, which involved the very survival of Yosemite as a nature park, opened up a whole new world that I needed to explore.


The main opponent of Yosemite, George W. Julian, was a Radical Republican from Indiana. Julian was concerned that state and national parks threatened land rights for small farmers in the West. I discovered that many northerners during the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s believed that small farms provided for the best land use practices and helped create the ideal society. Their vision of the future for both the South and the West was fundamentally agrarian. This story differed from the tired cliché repeated ad nauseam about the Civil War–that it was a conflict between an “industrial” North and an “agrarian” South. After all, farmers comprised roughly sixty percent of the population in the free states in 1860. 

I wrote the book to not only show that the North was agrarian, but also to demonstrate how northerners’ backgrounds as farmers shaped their views towards politics, land-use, and slavery. 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of An Agrarian Republic?

AD: The Republican Party of the Civil War era believed that small farm ownership for multiple generations led to material prosperity, national loyalty, and physical beauty. Understanding 19th-century Republicans as small farmers helps explain their opposition to slavery in the West, wartime Union policy, the opposition to nature parks, and the land redistribution schemes of Reconstruction. 


JF: Why do we need to read An Agrarian Republic?

AD: Historians cannot hope to understand the debate over slavery in the West, soldier’s reactions to plantation agriculture, and the early opposition to Yosemite and Yellowstone without understanding the agrarian world that the Republican Party grew out of.
I believe that the Republican Party also had new ideas about land use in American history. When I started An Agrarian Republic, I was tempted to label the Republican promotion of small farms as an extension of Thomas Jefferson’s agrarianism. Unlike Jefferson, however, Republicans believed that slavery destroyed the land. This misuse of nature, they believed, created an autocratic and aristocratic society. 


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

AD: Wow, what a difficult question! I became interested in U.S. History in high school thanks to some particularly engaging teachers. Growing up in Utah, however, the Civil War was never really on the radar. When I attended college at UCLA, I planned on becoming a lawyer. Dr. Joan Waugh, who is the Civil War and 19th-century expert in the UCLA history department, convinced me it was possible to become a history professor. I decided to apply to Ph.D. programs during my final year of study at UCLA. I was admitted to the University of Virginia and had the honor to serve as Dr. Gary W. Gallagher’s advisee and to work with Drs. Michael F. Holt, Edward L. Ayers, Brian Balogh, Peter Onuf, and Edmund P. Russell. 


JF: What is your next project?

AD: My next book will focus on the role of non-elite southern whites during Reconstruction. The working title is “White Trash and Oppressed Yeomen: How Impressions of Non-Slaveholding Whites Shaped Republican Policy.” While many historians, including Heather Cox Richardson, Eric Foner, William Gienapp, Michael Les Benedict, Eugene Berwanger, Jonathan Earle, William Freehling, Mark Lause, and myself have examined the origins of the Republican Party and its policies, few have explored the party’s attitudes towards non-slaveholding southern whites. 

By contrast, I intend to study Republican perceptions of non-slaveholding southern whites from the party’s inception in 1854 through the end of Reconstruction. From the early days of the party through the end of Reconstruction, Republicans viewed non-slaveholding whites as decrepit and ignorant because slaveholders prevented the poorer classes in southern society from achieving material progress. Republican views on non-slaveholding whites were key to the construction of the party’s most powerful message in the 1850s–the existence and malevolence of the “slave power.” These impressions also informed Republican behavior during the secession crisis and opening years of the Civil War. Fordham University Press awarded this book project a contract in July 2014. It should be out in late 2016.


JF: Looking forward to reading it! Thanks Adam.

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

The Author’s Corner with Louis P. Masur

Louis Masur is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University. This interview is based on his new book, Lincoln’s Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion (Oxford University Press, April 2015).

JF: What led you to write Lincoln’s Last Speech?

LM: I was invited to deliver a lecture in which I speculated about what would have happened had Lincoln lived. That led me to reread his final speech, delivered three days before his assassination, which is devoted almost entirely to his plans for reconstruction. From there I worked back to the beginning of the war and realized that there was a story about Lincoln and wartime reconstruction that has not been fully told.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Lincoln’s Last Speech?

LM: The book argues that reconstruction did not begin in 1865, or even 1863 when Lincoln issued his Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction, but rather from the very start of the war when consideration of how the seceded states would return to the Union became both a means and an end toward winning the war. The book’s epigraph, from Shakespeare, “When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentlest gamester is the soonest winner,” offers another argument about Lincoln’s approach to reconstruction, one in which he desired justice but also mercy.

JF: Why do we need to read Lincoln’s Last Speech?

LM: The book helps us to understand reconstruction in a new way and offers a portrait of Lincoln that focuses on his efforts to restore the Union.

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

LM: I majored in history and English in college and when I graduated I applied to law school and graduate school. When I was offered a scholarship to graduate school I decided to go because I thought that whatever happened on the job market, and at that time in the early 1980s there was an employment crisis, I would have the personal satisfaction of earning a doctoral degree and publishing a book.

JF: What is your next project?

LM: I’m undecided about my next project. This is my second Lincoln book, and it is hard to leave him behind, but I have written on a range of topics in my career and I plan to move onto something else. I am not sure what just yet.

JF: I understand, thanks Lou!

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

The Author’s Corner with Francis Bremer

Francis Bremer is Professor Emeritus of History at Millersville University. This interview is based on his new book, Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism (Palgrave Macmillan, March 2015).

JF: What led you to write Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism?

FB: When I began studying early New England and puritanism, I examined broad themes that tended to focus on clergymen and their role in shaping the region’s culture and its engagement with English history. Typical of this work was Congregational Communion: Clerical Friendship in the Anglo-American Puritan Community, 1610-1690 (1994). Starting with my study of John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father (2003) I have been focusing more on individuals, and this biographical approach heightened my awareness of the variations within what one might call the orthodox consensus of New England. During my research for Building a New Jerusalem: John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds (2012) I came to question whether the New Haven church required a narrative of personal conversion for admission. Further investigation led me to doubt how widespread that “requirement” was, but also to realize that aside from their possible use as membership criteria, shared experiences were a tool of evangelization. This led me to explore other ways in which lay puritans helped to shape each other’s faith, an investigation that led to this book.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism?

FB: Because of a commitment to the idea that grace enabled ordinary believers to understand the message they read in Scripture, and because they drew little support from the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, puritanism began as a movement that was rooted in lay activities such as sermon gadding, conferencing, and lay prophesying. The role of the laity in shaping belief and practice eventually found expression in congregationalism and was an important force until the latter seventeenth century, when clergy gradually came to hold greater influence in the churches and in the way the puritan past was remembered.

JF: Why do we need to read Lay Empowerment and the Development of Puritanism?

FB: Much of our understanding of puritanism is rooted in the accounts of early historians such as William Hubbard, Cotton Mather, Samuel Clarke, and Daniel Neal. As clergymen these writers emphasized the role of the clergy in shaping the movement and downplayed the vitality of lay religious activity in its formative years. Subsequent scholars relied largely on the writings of these authors and on the vast corpus of writings published by puritan clergy. This has contributed to a paradigm in puritan studies which emphasizes the role of the ministers, overstates the uniformity in puritan orthodoxy, and – in the case of New England – tends to treat New England as Boston writ large.

In his recent book on Silence: A Christian History (2013) the English historian Diarmaid MacCulloch observed that religious institutions “create their own silences, by exclusions and shared assumptions, which … silences are often at the expense of many of the people who could be thought of as actually constituting the Church.” Among those rendered silent in the early history of puritanism are the lay believers who gathered in private homes to pray, read and discuss scripture, and share their own religious experiences. During the late sixteenth century it was often lay pressure that was responsible for the refusal of parish clergy to wear vestments or perform what were seen as papist ceremonies. Where a sympathetic clergyman was not available to preach lay believers often filled the gap – Oliver Cromwell preached in private homes around St. Ives in the 1630s; John Winthrop often preached by way of prophesying in early New England. The religious life of the Plymouth colony for most of its first decade was directed by the lay elder William Brewster. Lay men and women noted for piety drew groups of fellow believers to listen to their views – Brigit Cooke in Kersey, Suffolk and Anne Hutchinson in Boston, Massachusetts are examples. Religious discussions occupied soldiers around the campfires of the New Model Army in the 1640s. The sharing of religious experiences were means whereby lay men and women could help others to understand their own spiritual struggles. These and other similar activities are removed from under the veil of silence by this book.

In exploring such themes I became more aware of some of the broad continuities that connected mainline puritans and some that we have become accustomed to dismissing as radicals. As noted years ago by Geoffrey Nuttall, the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding believers to religious truth was a key element in puritanism as broadly conceived – including the Quakers as well as those who persecuted them. In his “Christian Charity” lay sermon, John Winthrop expressed the hope that if the colonists faithfully sought God, they might come to “see much more of his wisdom, power, goodness and truth than formerly we have known.” Many, though not all puritans were open in this way to the hope that further light might lead them closer to their God, though the debate among them on where to erect the perimeter fence delineating acceptable belief and behavior from that which was not was often fierce. It is my hope that this book will not only focus deserved attention on the laity, but encourage readers to think of puritanism as a broad spectrum of beliefs rather than one or two “orthodoxies” struggling to impose a uniform system of belief. And the diversity within the mainstream of that spectrum becomes much more evident as we look beyond Massachusetts to the way puritanism emerged outside of Boston and to the debates to define a new religious order in England in the 1640s and 1650s.

The latter part of my book looks at how the clergy and their allies in the civil government sought to regulate and control lay power and influence. Key to this effort was placing a primary emphasis on education rather than inspiration as a requirement for religious leadership. There was a substantial movement in New England in the latter seventeenth century to carve out greater authority for ministers within their congregations and for councils of churches over individual congregations. The movement was not uniformly successful and, suggested but not explored in the final chapter, the debate would break out with new intensity during the revivals of the eighteenth century.

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

FB: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in the past, but it was during my college years at Fordham University that I became to think of history as a career. My focus on seventeenth century puritanism came about through a confluence of circumstances. Having spent many summers vacationing in New England I had an interest in that region of the country. And a series of theology courses at Fordham stimulated what has become a life-long interest in religious thought. This was a period when intellectual history and religious history were dynamic fields in the study of American history. Merle Curti and John Higham were prominent historians. New England studies were still shaped by the work of Perry Miller and Edmund Morgan. The new social histories of New England by John Demos, Kenneth Lockridge, Darett Rutman, and Philip Greven pointed to new ways to look at the region, but accepted its basic puritan character. I did my M. A. thesis at Columbia working under Alden Vaughan, and focused on New England’s reactions to the English Civil Wars, questioning Miller’s views as expressed in “Errand into the Wilderness.” I have been toiling in the same vineyard ever since.

JF: What is your next project?

FB: I’m still vacillating, but am considering a new biography of Roger Williams. Two questions intrigue me: Can we establish with greater precision the ways in which his relationship with Sir Edward Coke shaped his ideas? How did Williams express his spirituality after he came to renounce the possibility of there being a true church and a true ministry in his times? The latter question was posed more sharply as I worked on my study of lay empowerment. Though we think of him as a clergyman, Williams never served a parish in England and was never ordained for a post in a New England church. His abandonment of the search for a true church presumably meant that he never had his children baptized and never received the Lord’s Supper during the last decades of his life. Did he actually pray with others? It strikes me that in answering these two large questions may very well lead to a substantially different understanding of Williams.
JF: Very interesting. Thanks Frank!

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

The Author’s Corner with William D. Green

William D. Green is Associate Professor and Sabo Senior Fellow at Augsburg College. This interview is based on his book, A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007).

JF: What led you to write A Peculiar Imbalance: The Fall and Rise of Racial Equality in Minnesota?
WG: I was interested in understanding why so many leaders of the modern civil rights movement (Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, to name a few), had formative connections with Minnesota, which historically had one of the nation’s smallest communities of African Americans. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it also was in Minnesota where Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells joined other black leaders at the state capitol to debate a new agenda for civil rights; and residence of a black St. Paul attorney-Fredrick McGhee, chief counsel for Washington’s organization and close friend of DuBois-who first mentioned the need for the Niagara Movement, which, for some, was a precursor to the NAACP. I set out to determine whether this was mere coincidence or something else altogether, whether the “Land of Sky-Blue Waters” (a loose translation of the Dakota word from which the state derived its name) truly provided fertile ground for “radical” racial politics? To answer the question, I went back to what I believed was the beginning-1837. I soon realized that this book would become the first of more such efforts to come. 
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Peculiar Imbalance?
WG: Situated, during the antebellum years, in what then was the far northern corner of organized America, it was the political reform-minded leadership coming largely from upstate New York and New England states, who steered the territory away from the rigid caste system of “black codes” that had spread westward through midwest states. Even when the racism of Jacksonian America settled in Minnesota, it was possible for disenfranchised blacks, largely due to the patronage of political and business leaders, to gain access to economic opportunities that certain enfranchised whites–immigrants, in general; Irish Catholics in particular-did not have, thereby creating “a peculiar imbalance” among the residents of antebellum Minnesota. 
JF: Why do we need to read A Peculiar Imbalance?
WG: Though the book examines the evolution of political equality for black Minnesotans, it does so within a backdrop in which the conventional lines that designated race in antebellum America were blurred on the Minnesota frontier. Being “French” meant being racially-mixed, and a slave at Fort Snelling could become a man of property and respect as a resident of French-speaking Pig’s Eye (soon to be “St. Paul”). The race-infused lines that designated cultural identity could take peculiar twists and turns. Caucasians of Anglo-American descent residing in pre-territorial Minnesota were not considered “white” by the Anglo-Americans who later became their neighbors. Light-skinned men of African descent were designated “M” for “Mulatto” in the first census and “N” for “Negro” in the second. To be Catholic was to always be viewed as a foreigner. And a person’s political standing likewise shifted in time. An Indian was eligible to vote in 1851 “if he had adopted civilized habits” (meaning, at least, wearing pants), but lost the right in 1857 if he did not speak and read English. In contrast, the language requirement did not apply, for example, to German immigrants who could only speak in their native tongue. A Peculiar Imbalance navigates this little understood history of a territory with a racially- and culturally diverse population as it became a state that would, in sort order, become predominately white. And yet, this book examines ultimately what it means to be Minnesotan through a construct of race and the vision of a few determined leaders who would not countenance a society that would otherwise seek to stratify free men. 

This is, indeed, a Minnesota story. But it is as well a story about the American West, for the book sheds light on the impact of civilization as it envelopes a society already in transition, documenting the uneasy process by which one pluralistic community became part of a nation indivisible. A clear example of this is reflected in the Eliza Winston case, a fugitive slave set free in a Minneapolis courtroom. In the aftermath Minnesotans were poised to launch their own fratricidal conflict over the issue of slavery. But upon receiving news of Fort Sumter, just a few months later, they rushed to enlist thereby making their state the first to send volunteers into the federal army after Lincoln had issued his call to arms to preserve the Union. In this, fundamentally, A Peculiar Imbalance is an American story. 
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
WG: My interest in becoming an American historian began when I was very young. Born in Massachusetts, and growing up in Nashville and New Orleans, I was always mindful of history. My parents enabled my interest by taking me to different historical sites every year. Years later, during a time in my life that I called “my detour”-I was a lawyer at the time-I published my first article in history. It was after a long evening in the law library when I returned to my office to find a stack of reprints that had been left on my desk. At that moment, I knew I wanted to return to the academy to teach and research history. 
JF: What is your next project? 
WG: The sequel to this book, titled Degrees of Freedom: The Origins of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865-1912, will be coming out this May. I am presently finishing another project that documents why four Lincoln Republicans left the campaign for black equality in the 1870s.
JF: Looking forward to seeing it! Thanks Bill.

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

The Author’s Corner with Andrew Burstein

Andrew Burstein is Charles Phelps Manship Professor at Louisiana State University. This interview is based on his new book, Democracy’s Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead (University of Virginia Press, April 2015).


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

AB: The seed of the idea for this book was planted some years ago when I saw, in Washington, President Kennedy’s notes from which he adlibbed remarks to a 1962 gathering of forty-nine Nobel laureates at the White House: “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge . . . ever gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” I began, then, to keep track of the partisan politicians who have professed that Thomas Jefferson, if he were alive today, would mirror their views.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Democracy’s Muse?

AB: The emotive founder was the first, but by no means the last, to designate his nation as “the world’s best hope.” This book charts, in their often colorful and at times desperate language, the strong statements of presidents, congressmen, and public intellectuals, from FDR’s time to Obama’s, as they have struggled to define what the “Jeffersonian ideal” means to modern America.

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

AB: Jefferson’s political sentiments have reverberated across time and space in enchanting ways. Mikhail Gorbachev said that he frequently turned to Jefferson when he was fashioning reform of the Soviet system. At present, Jefferson remains a flashpoint in national conversations about the inherently secular or religious character of the American republic. And then there’s his sex life. Democracy’s Muse is as concerned with popular culture as with the pathos and pathology of the present partisan environment—the book ultimately weighs in on what we can and cannot know about the historical Jefferson, and why that question matters.

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

AB: My path was more circuitous than that of most historians in that I majored in Chinese history and politics in college. I spent more than a decade doing business in China and Japan. I was nearly forty when I returned to academia, exchanging the study of Maoist political culture for that of early America. The only shared element I can think of in reflecting on my bifurcated historical travels is a fascination with the revelatory nature of language. Chinese ideographs explain a great deal about Chinese perspectives; from that study, I developed an interest in, and sensitivity to, the desirable goal of teasing greater meaning out of early American texts.

JF: What is your next project?

AB: I co-authored the book Madison and Jefferson (Random House, 2010) with my partner, Professor Nancy Isenberg. We plan to collaborate on another book—another political pairing out of America’s past.

JF: Good stuff, thanks Andrew!

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

The Author’s Corner with Virginia Scharff

Virginia Scharff is Distinguished Professor of History at The University of New Mexico. This interview is based on her new book, Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West (University of California Press, April 2015).

JF: What led you to write Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West?

VS: Since 2003, I’ve held the position of Women of the West Chair at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles (though my day job is as Distinguished Prof. of History and Associate Provost for Faculty Development at the University of New Mexico). At the Autry, I’ve worked on programs, publications, and exhibitions, including Home Lands: How Women Made the West (2010). I’m co-curator of a new exhibition, Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West, due to open April 25, and this edited volume is one of two which will be companions to that exhibition. I asked ten wonderful historians of the U.S. to contribute essays inspired by objects in the exhibition, written for general, rather than scholarly readers. I think the contributors did a wonderful job, and I also wrote the introduction, edited their essays, and contributed a piece of my own.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West?

VS: The history of American expansion westward and the history of the struggle over slavery have been told as two separate stories. But we believe they are intertwined strands of a single story.

JF: Why do we need to read Empire and Liberty: The Civil War and the West?

VS: Readers will find here a whole lot of “Aha!” moments that will make them see American history differently. Did you know, for example, that the last Confederate general to surrender was a Cherokee leader? Did you realize that what became the West was home to unfree labor of various types, both centuries before the Civil War, and long after emancipation? Did you know that the first law giving American women the vote was passed in Wyoming Territory in 1869? John, you probably did, but a lot of people will find a lot to ponder here.

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

VS: I have always been fascinated with our history, and have been particularly interested in women’s and environmental history, though I write all kinds of things. I am committed to the idea that we will be a better country if we know our history, warts and all.

JF: What is your next project?

VS: I’m working on a historical novel set in nineteenth-century America.

JF: Thanks Virginia!

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

The Author’s Corner with Sam Haselby

Sam Haselby is Visiting Assistant Professor of American Religion and Political Culture at Columbia University. This interview is based on his new book, The Origins of American Religious Nationalism (Oxford University Press, February 2015).

JF: What led you to write The Origins of American Religious Nationalism?

SH: I was reading the European literature on nationalism, Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchman, Linda Colley’s Britons, George Mosse’s The Nationalization of the Masses, and others. I found them fascinating, and asked Eric Foner who wrote the version for the United States. He said, no one, that’s a good idea. An argument I had with Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity focused my interest in nationalism and changing class relations on religion in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century America.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Origins of American Religious Nationalism?

SH: The American Revolution posed, rather than answered, the question of American nationality. The answer came with the colonization of continent, more specifically from the resulting crisis of governance on the frontier. Both the birth of popular American Protestantism and the advent of systematic Anglo-American missionary must be understood as responses to this crisis, and each had deep and enduring effects on American political culture.

JF: Why do we need to read The Origins of American Religious Nationalism​?

SH: It gives a more historical understanding of the role of religion in forming American nationalism, and vice versa.

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

SH: As an undergraduate at Macalester College, reading The Education of Henry Adams. It provided me with a way of coming to terms with a certain ambivalence about the U.S.

JF: What is your next project?

SH: It’s about Anglo-American missionaries and the opium trade as an important chapter in the history of globalization.
JF: Can’t wait to hear about it! Thanks Sam.

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

The Author’s Corner with Angela Tarango

Dr. Angela Tarango is Professor of Religion at Trinity University. This interview is based on her new book, Choosing the Jesus Way (University of North Carolina Press, April 2014).

JF: What led you to write Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: When I was a graduate student at Duke University, my interest swung towards Pentecostalism. My advisor, Grant Wacker, who knew I was also interested in Native American history, told me that the Assemblies of God had a history of missionary work among Native Americans. I wrote my very first paper on this topic for Grant’s missionary history class, and it morphed into my dissertation. Then I transformed the dissertation into this book. Really, I wrote this book to try to fill in a gap in American religious history—books have been written about African-American, Latino, and White Pentecostals, but few realized that a fairly robust population of Native American Pentecostals existed, and that they are not a new phenomena. Most scholars think Native Pentecostalism is a new trend but really, converts start popping up in the historical record not very long after the Azusa street revival.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: That Native American Pentecostals took the classic evangelical/Pentecostal theology of missions, the indigenous principle, and transformed it into a tool to argue for more tangible power and authority to run their own missions. This allowed them to criticize and stand up to the ethnocentric and at times racist ways that the white leaders of the Assemblies of God treated them from within a Pentecostal framework.

JF: Why do we need to read Choosing the Jesus Way?

AT: It is the first book to give an in-depth look at the history of Pentecostal Native Americans in the twentieth century. It also challenges the idea that Native people never engaged traditionally white denominations in substantial and meaningful ways. It is important because it addresses their religious lives of modern Native American Christians, and all too often American historians tend to relegate Native peoples to a 19th century past—they are perceived as having disappeared, or that Christianity is an entirely colonialist endeavor. That is not to say that it hasn’t been, but my book shows how some Native people chose to belong to a Christian denomination and that their actions actually changed the course of that denomination. Finally, I think people will find it compelling because it tells a history that so few people are even aware exists.

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

AT: Officially, in college (Wellesley College) when I fell in love with the study of American religious history while under the tutelage of Steve Marini. But probably unofficially when I was about 9 years old and my parents took me to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and our Navajo guide told us his peoples’ story of the Long Walk. I remember being really angry I wasn’t taught this in school, and I was really angry that such a horrible thing had happened to the Navajo people. That same year I refused to build a mission (growing up in California all fourth graders have to do these projects where they build replicas of the missions) because my parents taught me that they were a colonialist construct. I do believe that is what I said to my fourth grade teacher—the poor woman was baffled. So I got the alternative assignment of building a Native village instead, which I did. So I guess I was a little rebel from the get-go.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: I am working on two big projects. The first is to look at how, in some modern tribes, casino revenues are used to preserve culture; whether it be in the form of the arts, language, traditional music and religion, certain tribes have made the active decisions that casino money will be used to revitalize traditional aspects of the tribe. This raises really interesting questions of tribal identity and how a tribe defines their culture. My other project is a biography of Jacob C. Morgan, who was a mid-twentieth century leader of the Navajo people, a tribal chairman, a boarding school survivor, Calvinist Christian (He was a missionary to his people for the Reformed Church), Navajo nationalist, and foe of the BIA commissioner John Collier. Morgan is quite a character and in many ways he embodies the complexity of mid-twentieth century Navajo life.

JF:  Thanks, Angela!


Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Charles Marsh

Dr. Charles Marsh is Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. This interview is based on his new book, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Knopf, April 2014).

JF: What led you to write Strange Glory?

CM: I began working on “Strange Glory” in the spring semester of 2007, when I served as the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Visiting Professor at Humboldt University in Berlin. With a cozy office on Burgstrasse just across the River Spree from the Berliner Dom, soon enough I made my first trip to the Staatsbibliothek, the capacious city library designed by Hans Scharoun near the Postdamer Platz, and there, with the kindly assistance of the director of special collections, gained access to the Dietrich Bonhoeffer archives.

This collection, which had been recently obtained from the estate of Bonhoeffer’s biographer and dearest friend Eberhard Bethge, filled more than twenty-five cases and included lectures, letters, books, photographs, notebooks, and journals; and while many of the documents appeared in the sixteen volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, the singularities of Bonhoeffer’s life, the evidence of which I held in my hands—his registration papers for a new Audi convertible, a bank slip from the joint account he shared with Eberhard, numerous files of magazine articles and pamphlets on the American Negro and race relations in the U.S, inventories of his wardrobe and library, landscape photographs he took in North Africa, a postcard from Waco, Texas, a brief correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi—all of this illuminated an intriguingly different image than the one I had carried with me since writing a doctoral dissertation on his philosophical thought 25 years earlier. I felt the gentle nudge into biography.

His is a remarkable story for its drama and intrigue (and at least in my account, its moments of high comedy) and for the wisdom his theological genius imparts to the challenges facing Christians in the 21st century.

In the decades since he was executed on Hitler’s orders for the crime of high treason in the concentration camp in Flossenburg on the morning of April 9 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer has become one of the most widely read and influential religious thinkers of our time. His life and legacy have inspired campaigns for social justice, for human and civil rights, and recently young environmental ethicists like my friend Larrry Rasmussen, and my colleague Willis Jenkins, have found resources in his writings for developing theological models of environmental ethics and sustainability. His more popular works make biblical faith intelligible to believers and nonbelievers alike—Discipleship and Life Together, books written amidst the chaos and fury of the Kirchenkampf—without reducing complex ideas to clichés. No other Christian thinker crosses quite so many boundaries while yet remaining exuberantly—and one should add—generously Christian. His story brings together liberals and evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants, Christian and Jews, in shared admiration of an indisputably authentic witness.

Born into privilege into a family of and prodigiously talented humanists, at the age of 14, the young Dietrich announced that “he would become a theologian.” When one of his skeptical older brothers protested: “Look at the church. A more paltry institution one can hardly imagine—and you hardly ever go yourself.”–Dietrich replied, “In that case, I shall reform it!” By the age of twenty-one, this golden child of the Berlin Grunewald had already written a doctoral dissertation that would be hailed by Karl Barth as a “theological miracle.” He would complete his second dissertation by the age of 2[4]. But this restless soul with an uncommon hunger to see new places and to experience life beyond his native land would travel widely and whenever possible. Between 1924 and 1932, he journeyed to Italy and Libya, to Spain, France, and Morocco, to Cuba, Mexico, and the United States. Encounters and experiences during these travels form the first third of my narrative—challenged Bonhoeffer to rethink his vocation as theologian and pastor and his notions of citizenship and patriotism, and finally to embark upon what he would call “the turning from the phraseological to the real.”

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Strange Glory?

CM: I want the reader to be swept up into a vivid narrative that follows the journey of this golden child of the Berlin Grunewald, striving under the pressure of enormous historical events to see clearly, to act courageously and the live life to the fullest, from youthful proponent of German martial theology to Christian dissident and conspirator, and finally to the gallows of a Gestapo prison. I want the story to inspire and move, delight and surprise, but to appear finally as an artful telling of a beautiful life.

JF: Why do we need to read Strange Glory​?

CM: I’m pleased that Eric Metaxas has inspired such a spirited and intense conversation on Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy. Nevertheless, I wanted to tell the story anew by relying primarily on a treasure of recent archival and scholarly discoveries, on letters, journals, and other documents, as well as my own interviews. I spent a lovely afternoon in the home of Eberhard Bethge, shortly before his death, talking candidly about aspects of Bonhoeffer’s character that had been largely ignored. Metaxas’s book also offered me a cautionary tale on the political misuses of biographical writing; had I not been able to see what havoc his own heavy-handed political agenda wreaked on the telling of Bonhoeffer’s life I might have been inclined to tweak it in the direction of my partisan biases.

In fact, while I was working on my “Strange Glory”, I took all the Bonhoeffer biographies in my library and hid them in the basement. I did this so I could re-imagine the narrative arc, which was my main concern. The arc, the plot and the cast of characters in Metaxas’s biography—and all other biographies quite frankly, rely on Eberhard Bethge’s magisterial 1969 landmark biography. I felt it was time to wrestle Bonhoeffer free of his best friend’s protective grasp. The title Strange Glory

My colleague Victoria Barnett, who is the director of the Committee on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the U. S. Holocaust Museum in Washington and General Editor of the 16-volume Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, said to me many years ago that after a lifetime of intense scholarly work on Bonhoeffer’s writings, she still don’t really know who he is. I’ve tried to get at this elusive mystery of character.

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

CM: I’m flattered that you would call me a historian; but my graduate training was in philosophical theology. I wrote a dissertation on Bonhoeffer’s relation to modern German philosophy that was published in 1994 by Oxford University Press as Reclaiming Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Promise of His Theology. Around the same time, a few years into my academic year, while teaching theology at a small liberal arts college in Baltimore, I was surprised to discover that my thoughts and dreams, and increasingly my journals and notebooks, were filled with memories of my childhood in the Deep South. I had planned to write a book on the doctrine of the Trinity, but I had trouble concentrating on this marvelous sacred mystery. And truth be known I seem to suffer from some kind of doctrinal attention deficit disorder. In any case, I put the book on the Trinity on hold, and twenty years ago this summer, got in my Honda wagon morning and headed south with little more than a full tank of gas, a microcassette recorder and a credit card, and plowed ahead into the unfamiliar territory of narrative nonfiction and historical research.

In time, three books emerged from this intellectual journey without maps. Historians and scholars before me had acknowledged the religious motivations of the civil rights movement; but in paying attention to the personal testimonies and all the documentary materials—sermons, church bulletins and minutes, hymnbooks and Sunday school curriculum, denominational newspapers and occasional publications, Biblical expositions on segregation and white supremacy, unpublished (and published) memoirs, and my own interviews with participants and those gathered by other scholars—a theologically vital field of unexplored questions emerged. In short, I came to see the civil rights movement as theological drama and to write theology, or at least probe matters theologically, in the form of historical narrative. Suffice it to say, historians have been more welcoming of my efforts than theologians.

JF: What’s your next project?

CM: I’m talking to my editor at Knopf George Andreou about a book on the world of theology, on the strange and fascinating things that theologians do. I’ve been reading Tom Wolfe’s early non-fiction, so that may give you a sense of where I’m heading here.

JF: Sounds interesting. Thanks Charles!
Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Robert F. Rea

Robert Rea is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Christian Lincoln University. This interview is based on his new book, Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past (InterVarsity Press, July 2014).
JF: What led you to write Why Church History Matters?
RR: For many years I needed an accessible textbook to help inspire inquiring, Bible-focused students to value and to study the Christian tradition—to introduce students to the meaning of tradition, to explain of Christians understand tradition, to draw contemporary Christians to participate in the life of the whole Church throughout the centuries, and to make the crucial connection between historic Christians and current life and ministry.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Why Church History Matters?

RR: We need the entire Christian family—across cultures, continents, and centuries—to know who we are and are becoming, to live in community with the whole Church, and to practice accountability with the whole Church, expanding our horizons and filling gaps in our theology. This happens only by knowing Christian history, which enhances Bible study and every other Christian ministry—preaching and teaching, systematic theology, spirituality, worship, mission, ethics, compassion, ecumenism, cultural engagement, and more.

JF: Why do we need to read Why Church History Matters?
RR: “This book is a call to Christians who love the Bible to study historic Christians and their wisdom and experiences…to understand the Bible and theology better and to experience a fuller Christian life.” Multiple illustrations help the reader on this journey, with recommendations for further investigation.

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

RR: Actually, I am a church historian—an historical theologian—covering Christianity throughout the centuries. This includes the history of American Christianity.

JF: What is your next project?

RR: I will work in the life and spirituality of John Cassian, an important fifth century church father. His passing along the tradition of the desert fathers in two works, Institutes and Conferences, became foundational for Christian spirituality. He also relayed the desert understanding of grace theology, often overlooked in the West, but formational for Eastern Orthodox grace theology.
JF: Can’t wait to read about it. Thanks Bob!
Thanks to Megan Piette for organizing and facilitating The Author’s Corner