I used to have a friend who occasionally wore a t-shirt with a picture of Billy Sunday and the caption “Evangelical with an Attitude.” (Hi Fred!).
I thought about my friend and his shirt when I read Liva Gerson’s latest at JSTOR Daily: “Pop-Culture Preaching in the 1910s.” The piece draws on Margaret Bendroth’s Religion and American Culture essay “Why Women Loved Billy Sunday: Urban Revivalism and Popular Entertainment in Early Twentieth-Century American Culture.”
Here is a taste:
Evangelical megachurches like Hillsong Church—mainly known outside Christian circles as the spiritual home of Justin Bieber—often come under fire from more traditional Christians for drawing crowds with dynamic rock-star pastors rather than Biblical teaching. As religion historian Margaret Bendroth writes, however, the dilemma of the entertaining, sexy preacher has long been an issue. In the 1910s, for example, a former baseball player named Billy Sunday drew huge crowds of both sexes to blunt, provocative revival meetings.
In the early twentieth century, Bendroth writes, Protestant leaders worried about the “feminization” of their churches that had occurred in the Victorian Era. Sunday presented himself as a solution to the problem of “more feathers than whiskers” in the pews. Decrying “off-handed, flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, ossified, three-carat Christianity,” he held services just for men. In these services he railed against vice, supported the cause of temperance, and waved a huge American flag.
Read the rest here.
The biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History took place on October 3-6, 2018. I am honored to have served as the program chair for the meeting.
Lectures by Margaret Bendroth, Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Beth Allison Barr, and Jemar Tisby (undergraduate conference) are now available for viewing here. (Robert Orsi’s lecture will not be available).
The Fall 2018 meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) will be meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan from October 4-6, 2018. This year’s conference theme is “History and the Search for Meaning: The CFH at 50. Mark your calendars!
I am happy to report that we have secured the following keynote speakers:
Thursday Night Plenary: Peggy Bendroth, Congregational Library—“The Spiritual Practice of Remembering”
Friday Afternoon Plenary: Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Syracuse University—Title TBD
Friday Banquet Speaker: Beth Barr, CFH President
Saturday Morning Plenary: Robert Orsi, Northwestern University, “History and Presence”
I hope to see you all there. Let’s have a record turnout for our 50th anniversary conference. Stay tuned. The Call for Papers will be released in a few months.
Check out Katy Lasdow‘s interview with Peggy Bendroth, Executive Director of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston. It is part of the Junto’s series on “Where Historian’s Work.”
Here is my favorite part of the interview:
JUNTO: When we spoke, you stressed the importance of storytelling as a means of getting a variety of people interested in history. How does storytelling factor into the work that you do? How does it connect to your research and writing?
BENDROTH: I invite a lot of academics to give talks at the Library—we have a monthly “History Matters” series that brings in a mix of people in our downtown area. I get twitchy when a presenter starts talking about “negotiating” and “complicating” and “constructing.” It’s not that these words are bad—they’re great at academic conferences and I love most of them dearly. But (and I’m overstating a bit) the people in our audience profoundly do not care. It’s not that they can’t understand the concepts—I’m sure most of them could—but that’s not why there are there. I think that, like most human beings, they are looking for connection. They want to hear about other human beings, other lives, stories that make someone from the past both totally foreign and utterly familiar.
We should never forget that. I’m not saying that every historian has to be David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin—would that we could sell that many books! But if we can’t explain our ideas in clear simple language that the average person, they we don’t really understand them ourselves.
JUNTO: Any other thoughts on career diversity for Early Americanists?
BENDROTH: I do have a word of caution. Combining the life of the mind with lots of administrative responsibilities is not for beginners! If you do not already have a scholarly agenda, a network of friends, and some solid achievements on your resume, the job will devour you. It is so much easier to answer an email or plan a meeting than it is to think and write. My day is full of 10 to 20 minute slots where I’m waiting for a phone call or between meetings, and I used to think I could (or should) switch over to some more academic intellectual task. It took me way too long to realize that this is ineffective and ultimately exhausting—you can only care about so many things at once. Thinking and writing requires days at a time, a place apart from your office and computer. It sometimes means going for a walk, “wasting” time staring out windows. Scholarly work also means having the support of a visionary board and regular explanations to your staff that “working at home” is not a euphemism for goofing off.
Read the entire interview here.