Michael Limberg on Day 2 and Day 3 of the Spring Meeting of the American Society of Church History

Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minnesota
Michael Limberg, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut and a seasoned correspondent for The Way of Improvement Leads Home (check out his posts from the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association), is in Minneapolis this week for the Spring Meeting of the American Society for Church History.  Here is second and final post from the conference.   You can read his first post here.  –JF

It’s been a busy couple of days at the American Society for Church History Spring Meeting.  Between the graduate student reception and practicing for my presentation last night, I didn’t have a chance to write a post for Friday.  I won’t try to recap all the panels from the last two days, but here are a few notes on interesting developments from the panels and conference events.

Missions, race, and immigration have been recurring themes in the sessions I’ve attended.  Many of the papers on missions have been concerned with figuring out a new historiographic paradigm for missionary work, somewhere between celebrating missionaries as heroic figures and castigating them as exploitative agents of imperialism.  In every panel on overseas missions, the comments pushed for more inclusion of sources that would convey the voices of the missionized as well as the missionaries.  Papers in my panel by Andy Dibb and Andrew Russell took good steps in that direction by including voices from a series of revival movements in Africa and a Swedenborgian church movement started by black South Africans.  Many of the papers, ranging from early American topics to contemporary church movements, focused on how and why churches reached out to racial outsiders.  Phillip Gollner’s paper on Swedes participating in the anti-Mormon movement during the late 1800s and Mark Grandquist’s work on Lutheran churches in Minnesota working with African immigrants were two of a number of examples.  Immigration history was tied into that question.

A brown-bag lunch on Friday with Robert Ellison and Keith Francis introduced an expanding set of resources for pursuing sermon studies as a growing sub-field with the help of online databases.  (Marshall explains what the term and field include and accomplish here).  They argued for the importance of sermons as a way to understand events or trends in the larger society, but acknowledged the difficulty of sorting through the haystack of published sermons.  Ellison demonstrated the capacity of the searchable database with links to digitized sermons he will soon launch through the Marshall University’s Center for Sermon Studies.  Clearly this is a project that will require some crowdsourcing to begin to encompass all the possible sources, so look for the website to go live soon and look for a call to help expand the catalog.

James Laine’s plenary session on meta-religion and Christianity looked very interesting, but I skipped it in favor of a different kind of exercise in church history.  After my panel on Saturday morning, I heard about an ecumenical service for victims of the Armenian Genocide taking place at the St. Paul Cathedral.  I’ve been writing about the Armenian Genocide and the U.S. humanitarian response this spring as part of my dissertation, so I took the chance to go.  Archbishop Nienstedt  spoke, as did the leaders of a number of other Twin Cities denominations.  It was a moving service.   I got the chance to step back from my academic historian perspective and get a different look at this tragedy. The Cathedral is another of my favorite places to visit in the Twin Cities, so I took a few minutes to wander around and admire it again as well.


I won’t be attending the conference events today, so this marks the end of my first ASCH meeting.  I appreciated the welcome I received.  Getting to talk early twentieth century missions and religiously-influenced social movements with Christopher Schlect, Paul Putz and others gave me some new ideas for my research.  I also heard a little of some ongoing informal discussions about the future of ASCH.  The rapid rise of religious scholarship connected to other historical fields (such as the “religious turn” among foreign relations historians that helped bring me to this conference) means that ASCH is no longer as unique and might need to rethink its specific identity or mission.  However those discussions play out over the next months, I hope to attend another ASCH meeting soon.

Michael Limberg on Day 3 at the AHA

Thanks to Michael Limberg for his posts this weekend.  Here is his latest.  It’s a good one–JF

Today (Sunday) has been an 8-plus hour blur of back-to-back panels and conversations.  I’m exhausted and my mind is spinning.  I have a lot of notes to review- I was writing down ideas and books and people to contact in the margins of my notebook all day long.  My forays into the warren of the book exhibit have also resulted in a staggering list of books I should read (just in case it wasn’t long enough already).
I started the day by finding myself sitting next to Mark Noll and John Wigger at breakfast.  I had to desperately hope the coffee kicked in quickly enough to have a good conversation with them and the other Conference on Faith andHistory breakfast attendees!  Typically I have at least two cups of coffee in the morning before trying to interact with adults (which is good for everyone involved). Lesson learned: go to Starbucks first even if there will be coffee at the breakfast.  I enjoyed meeting a few new scholars and reconnecting with a couple of others despite my caffeine-deprived state. 
From there I went down the hall to the roundtable on Kate Bowler’s recent book Blessed:A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.  We had to liberate a few extra chairs from an empty room down the hall to fit all the attendees, and it was a lively crowd.  Jay Green and Randall Stephens contributed their comments.  Brantley Gasaway read the comments from John Turner, who had to leave for a family emergency.  Many of their comments centered on Bowler’s decision to focus beyond the typical story of televangelists and scandals to examine the Prosperity Gospel’s historical roots and its lived experiences for many believers.  Bowler’s evenhanded presentation prompted John Turner to claim that “This is surely the least-snarky history of the prosperity gospel ever written by an outsider.”  Bowler’s approach prompted a discussion among all the attendees of “methodological agnosticism” and the ways historians can and should critique or push their subjects.  Bowler conducted parts of her research through observation of Prosperity Gospel revivals and church services; she advises other observers to avoid sitting in a back corner for this, as she was hit in the head several times by enthusiastically-swung flags. She described how her work had been influenced by ethnography as well as by the admonition to “take religion seriously”.  Blessed is now on my (long) list of books to read.
I also attended a panel titled “Contesting the Meaning of ‘International’Governance: Minorities and the League of Nations” because of the connections of a couple of the papers with my dissertation.  There are a number of young scholars in both the United States and Europe producing new work on the League of Nations, humanitarian aid, and international movements during World War I and the 1920s and 1930s, so I enjoyed meeting a couple of people who attended and presented.  I now have some ideas that might lead to some new intellectual crises and major changes to my dissertation, but that’s the risk and the benefit of attending a conference. 
Finally, I went to a panel co-sponsored by the AHA and the American Society for Church History on American Evangelicals Looking Abroad.  I arrived a couple of minutes late and ended up having to sit on the floor along one of the walls due to the crowd.  This was another of the panels organized to honor Grant Wacker, so all of the presenters were his former students from Duke and the University of North Carolina. 
Matthew Sutton’s paper, “The Global Apocalypses of Billy Graham,” showed how Graham’s premillennial vision of an immanent apocalypse remained part of his ministry from the 1950s to the present.  Apocalyptic rhetoric added a sense of urgency to Graham’s ministry and evangelical revivalism more broadly.  Connecting to foreign policy, Sutton noted that many evangelicals have tended to be very interested and cognizant of world crises and current politics because of their drive to understand these events in light of the end times.
David King’s paper, “Seeking to Save the World: American Evangelicals and Population Control” pointed out that, before the 1980s, American evangelicals largely supported the use and distribution of birth control in the developing world.  At one point, evangelical leaders even endorsed Planned Parenthood for its ability to promote family values in planned, happy families.  Global evangelical ministries such as World Vision began actively working with USAID to run family planning programs.  By the 1970s and 1980s, however, pushback from Christians in the global South at the 1973 Lausanne Conference and other forums (as well as the burgeoning culture wars) had begun to make American evangelicals back off from their support for population control.
Brantley Gasaway argued that progressive evangelicals have sought to influence foreign policy by showing that American Christians could support Palestinians and reject Christian Zionism.  Progressive evangelicals such as Jim Wallace and Ron Sider applied their calls for social justice and an end to inequality to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  They crafted theological arguments to counter dispensationalism and waged a public relations campaign to reach the religious public and policymakers alike. 
Finally, Sarah Ruble used Christianity Today’s coverage of Iraqi Christians to explore how American evangelicals identified with a global Christianity and construct critiques of U.S. foreign policy.  She noted that the magazine’s correspondents and editors tended to evaluate the efficacy of U.S. foreign policy by how it affected the rights and freedoms of global Christians.  During the Iraq War, articles celebrated the new freedoms Iraqi Christians (particularly Iraqi evangelical Protestants) enjoyed.  The same articles also tempered their support for the US war effort by pointing out the new risks and fears Iraqi Christians faced as a result of the invasion.
This panel showed me that just as foreign relations scholars are increasingly following Andrew Preston and William Inboden in thinking about religion in foreign policy, religious scholars are increasingly thinking of how foreign policy fits in the study of religion.  This panel would fit well at a conference of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and I hope these scholars would consider doing that and furthering this dialogue.  I and many who offered comments today were struck by how all the papers in this session, as well as Kate Bowler’s book, grappled with how American expressions of Christianity might be truly “exceptional” and how it is global.  That’s a question I’m struggling with as well as I write my dissertation, so I hope to hear and take part in more of those discussions in the future. 
Now I’m safely back home, still with a full stomach after indulging my not-so-secret addiction to falafel at the Middle Eastern food truck across the street from the hotel.  I also discovered an intersection with Starbucks locations on two of its four corners, which might just prove Billy Graham’s point that that apocalypse is nigh. But at least I had no trouble caffeinating up for the train ride.  My time at the AHA has been short but full.  Thanks to John Fea for giving the chance to share some of it!

Michael Limberg on Historians and War at the 2015 AHA

Michael Limberg checks back in.  Here is what he was up to on Saturday afternoon at the 2015 AHA–JF
The panel I attended this afternoon was likely the most emotionally intense and fraught panel I can remember witnessing.  This is perhaps understandable, as this was the session sponsored by MARHO (The Radical Historians’ Organization) and Historians Against War (HAW) titled “What is the Responsibility of Historians Regarding the Palestine/Israel Conflict?”  It was a packed room; most of the attendees seemed to be affiliated with HAW but there were a scattering of unaffiliated others like myself.  HAW has introduced several resolutions for tomorrow’s AHA business meeting that would criticize the state of Israel for suppressing the academic freedom of Palestinian intellectuals.  They hope to get these resolutions approved for general discussion and a vote by all AHA members.  
The presenters (Leena Dallasheh, Linda Gordon, Joel Beinin, and Barbara Weinstein) introduced several different positions on both why and how a professional organization such as the AHA or historians individually should take a moral and political stance on these issues.  Several other academic organizations, including the Modern Language Association (MLA) and Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) have recently attempted to discuss similar resolutions or even debated the possibility of a “cultural boycott” of Israel as part of a Boycott, Divest, andSanction movement.
Their discussions have generated substantial contention and criticism both from within their organizations and in the wider media.  The session today also rankled a number of attendees.  Some who disagreed with the premise that Israel deserves to be criticized and others disagreed that historians in general (particularly non-Middle East specialists) had any special or professional obligation to act.  Tempers flared a little in the audience comments period, though everyone managed to keep it civil. 
While this particular debate might not be on the radar for many readers of this blog, I was fascinated to see the range of opinions expressed at this session about the role of historians as public intellectuals, informed citizens, and teachers.  Like some others at this session, I am hesitant to say an academic organization dedicated to such a wide umbrella of scholarly exchange and professional development is the best place to mount a political critique.  On the other hand, I am also committed to teaching my students that their historical skills (gathering and analyzing evidence, contextualizing, challenging accepted wisdom) can be used to understand and shape their actions for the political and ethical challenges they face today. 
I  also thought of discussions over the last few years in the Conference on Faith and History, of which I am also a member, on the relationships and responsibilities of scholars to their churches and the religious public.  I left the session today with even more questions about professional responsibility than I had when I entered, but it was a very valuable experience.  I’m curious to hear what comes of the measures proposed at the business meeting.
Otherwise, my conference swag count to date includes: three free books, two free pens, innumerable handouts and lists of available publications, several bookmarks, and a goodly supply of crackers and cheese (which totally counts as swag if you’re a grad student trained to seek out free food at any opportunity).  I also took the chance to wander a little in the rain tonight to see a bit of New York City.  My current home in rural Connecticut is just down the road from cornfields and cows, so taking in Times Square and the hustle and bustle of a weekend evening in Manhattan was a good adventure.  
On Sunday I’m looking forward to the Conference on Faith and History breakfast and a couple of religious history panels, one on Kate Bowler’s work on the Prosperity Gospel and another in the afternoon on American Evangelicals Abroad.

Michael Limberg On His First Day At AHA 2015

Michael Limberg is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut who is writing a dissertation on how U.S. philanthropists, missionaries, and diplomats worked to change and modernize a changing Near East in the decades following World War I.  We are thrilled to have him writing for The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  Here is his first dispatch, written earlier today.–JF
I’m currently ensconced on a Metronorth train traveling from New Haven to Grand Central Station.  From there it will be a brief brisk walk to the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan to register and attend my first panel.  As someone who usually drives to conferences and archives, I’m enjoying the chance to work while traveling. 

This is my second AHA; I presented a paper at AHA 2013 in New Orleans, but I’m not presenting anything this time around.  This will be a short trip, only two days out of the conference’s four-day run.  I’m attending this year to network, hear some papers of interest, get a glimpse into the job interview process, and possibly score a deal or two at the book exhibit.  I’m much more familiar with the annual conference for the Society of Historians for American Foreign Relations, my primary sub-field, so I look forward to the chance to hear some papers on religious history and global history.  No obvious spotting of other conference-bound historians on an early-morning train so far.
After getting slightly lost wandering through Manhattan, I found the hotel and raced through registration with barely enough time to make my 10:30 panel.  (No lanyards in sight) 

The panel (AHA 106, History, Economics, and the Wide-Ranging Impacts of the 1973 Oil Shock on U.S. Foreign Relations) was well-attended.  It was co-sponsored by the Historians of American Foreign Relations, my usual crowd.  The three papers had disparate foci on corporations, the rhetoric and structure of the international economic order, and traditional state-to-state economic and military aid.  As pointed out by the commentator, Amy Offner, they all shared a common purpose in challenging the popular and political narrative of the 1973 oil embargo as a crisis or challenge to U.S. power abroad.
BetsyBeasley’s paper argued that large “oil services” companies, including Halliburton, actually found the oil crisis a beneficial opportunity to increase profits and diversify by moving away from direct investments.  These companies actually posted record profits in 1973 and 1974.  They marketed their expertise and know-how to global producers, accelerating a shift in the work of U.S. oil companies begun in the 1950s and 1960s.  Beasley’s paper was the most interesting for me, raising questions about the gendered language of expertise and the marketing of free market and service economics. 

ChristopherDeitrich’s paper examined competing visions for the international economy put forward by global south/OPEC nations and by the United States at a 1974 United Nations special session.  He argued that Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State tried to counter proposals for a New International Economic Order focused on justice and equality for disenfranchised nations by framing free market capitalism as “common sense” economics.  Kissinger’s model used a similar-sounding rhetoric of equality but in fact sought to limit economic policy choices for developing or postcolonial nations.  I’m intrigued by the possibility of examining these competing economic and rhetorical models the next time I teach a US Foreign Relations course, since I had trouble this semester getting my students to historicize the neoliberal free market economic model that has been prevalent in policy during the last several decades.

David Wight focused on US aid policies toward Egypt in the wake of both the oil crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  He argued that the Treasury and State Department’s programs to send military and economic aid to Egypt failed in their short-term goals for economic and political liberalization.  Despite this failure, however, attempts to encourage corporate investments and military equipment sales in conjunction with Arab petrodollars contributed to the strengthening of US-Egyptian diplomatic ties during the late 1970s. 

As one of the presenters stated, these papers show examples of economics as “politics by other means”, highlighting the fuzzy lines between the two in many circumstances.  The papers showed some of the strengths of new work on political economy being done in foreign relations scholarship, particularly in incorporating elements of image analysis, pop culture sources, or gendered analysis.

From here I’m off to a contentious-looking panel titled “What is the Responsibilityof Historians Regarding the Palestine/Israel Conflict?” and a quick tour of the book exhibits, but I hope to check in again later tonight!