The Author’s Corner with Cara Burnidge

APeacefulConquest.jpgCara Burnidge is Assistant Professor of Religion at University of Northern Iowa. This interview is based on her new book, A Peaceful Conquest:  Woodrow Wilson, Religion, and the New World Order (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write A Peaceful Conquest?

CB: A Peaceful Conquest is the result of me thinking about the American social gospel movement as both intimately connected to Christian ideas of proper governance, particularly American democracy, and as an example of American religious movements responding to their global context. 

As a graduate student, my primary research area was on the work of white social gospel ministers and the women of the settlement house movement. I knew from the primary sources that these themes were present, but when it came time to write a proposal for my dissertation, I had a hard time finding a hook that could make this project make sense without being the cliche of a PhD candidate who couldn’t speak succinctly about their own research. While sharing this conundrum in a meeting with a mentor, she asked simply “What about Woodrow Wilson? Have you thought about him?” I hadn’t. I didn’t consider myself a presidential historian and, to be honest, the vantage point of suffragists colored what limited considerations of Wilson I had had at that time. To be fair and start with the most obvious intersection between “on the ground” reformers and politicians, I began reading the The Papers of Woodrow Wilson and the most recent biography of Wilson at the time. I hoped to find a connection that would show that local and regional social gospel efforts made an impact beyond domestic policy concerns. Rather than a connection I could point to then move on, I found a treasure trove of of memos, letters, telegrams, speeches, and policy conversations that demonstrated the pervasive influence of social gospel thought in American foreign relations. The combination of primary and secondary sources convinced me that I had a different perspective to contribute to the existing historical conversation about Wilsonian liberal internationalism and American religion in this era based on my understanding of the social gospel movement.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Peaceful Conquest?

CB: I argue Woodrow Wilson’s religious identity, shaped by both southern evangelicalism and social Christianity, influenced his liberal internationalism and its legacies for American religion and politics in the twentieth century.

JF: Why do we need to read A Peaceful Conquest?

CB: It should come as no surprise that I am not the first person to write about President Wilson and that others have written great works examining the role of religion in Wilson’s presidency. In fact, Wilson is often the go-to example of a president whose religion “mattered.” What makes A Peaceful Conquest different from these works is its intentional placement of Wilson in the greater American religious landscape and its reconsideration of how we think of presidents and their religious identity. Methodologically, I consider Wilson’s religious identity as I would any other historical figure—intersectional. Race, class, gender, and religion are not separate “lenses” to clarify or frame figures, but constitutive parts that must be held together to understand the whole person and their historical context. Some readers may find this approach helpful for understanding recent public conversations about Wilson’s legacy. It also allows scholars to place Wilson in historical perspective as Americans think (and rethink) the place of white evangelicalism in American identity and the role of America in the world.

A Peaceful Conquest should be added to your reading list if you want to know more about how American religion shaped international politics; if you’re interested in how religious identity does (and does not) shape presidents and their policies; if you’d like to think about the peculiar ways religion is both present and absent from American democracy; if you’re wondering how the social gospel could have been central to American culture yet seemed to disappear after World War I; and if you’re wondering how or why the so-called “God gap” became central to the Democratic Party’s identity.

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

CB: As an undergraduate, I had the good fortune of having professors and mentors who treated me and other history majors as their equals. The History professors at Washburn University impressed upon us that history is a conversation among historians and they treated us as members of the guild well before we earned our credentials. Those conversations—arguments, debates, and more than one pontification on how history can save the world—convinced me that I was an American historian. More good fortune, generous mentors, and hard work helped me get to the position I am in now.

JF: What is your next project?

CB: My next project examines the King-Crane diplomatic mission, which surveyed residents of mandated territories of Palestine, Syria, and Transjordan to determine who they preferred to oversee their development toward democracy. I am considering how the State Department approached the role of residents’ religion and race in its commitments to advancing national self-determination and democracy in the Middle East.

JF: Thanks, Cara! Sounds like some good stuff.

The Author’s Corner with Timothy E.W. Gloege

Timothy Gloege is a historian and independent scholar based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This interview is based on his new book, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (University of North Carolina Press, April 2015).

JF: What led you to write Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism?

TG: It began, ironically enough, when I was taking a break from religious history. I had done a lot of research on conservative evangelicalism and, for a change, had taken up a more systematic reading in the history of The Gilded Age and Progressive Era, especially business and consumer culture. I was immediately struck with how this literature assumed a conservative evangelicalism that was at odds with the rise of modern capitalism, when I had seen the opposite at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and elsewhere. But even more striking to me were the many parallels that I saw between new ideas and techniques in business and conservative evangelical (or “fundamentalist”) belief and practice. I had been taught that fundamentalism was a reaction against modernity; now I wondered whether it might, in fact, be a product of modernity–modern business to be exact. 


I’ve always been drawn to work that brings disparate historiographies into conversation with each other (like Lisabeth Cohen’s combination of labor and consumer culture in
Making a New Deal). I thought that combining the histories of capitalism and religion held similar promise.

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

TG: Guaranteed Pure explains how two generations of evangelicals at the Moody Bible Institute created a modern form of “old-time religion” using new business ideas and techniques. This smoothed the advent of consumer capitalism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era and transformed the dynamics of Protestantism in modern America.

JF: Why do we need to read Guaranteed Pure?

TG: I think my book offers a new way for us to understand conservative evangelicalism that better explains not only why it has survived in twentieth century America but also thrived. In so doing, it also lets us interrogate some of the categories that structure our histories of Protestantism: terms like “evangelical,” “fundamentalism,” “conservative,” “liberal,” and “modern.” And then finally, I think it demonstrates how entwined religious systems are in their social and cultural milieux. If fundamentalists–the supposed culture rejecters–cannot escape being profoundly influenced by this environment, it seems difficult to suggest any other group could do better. So then it’s also a call for religious historians (perhaps especially, historians of evangelicalism) to take these broader contexts into consideration. 
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
TG: I decided I wanted to become a historian when I was an undergraduate–and at time when my study habits suggested I had no business pursuing it. Still, I was attracted by two core tenets of the profession. First was empathy: the requirement (for me, it was the permission) to refrain from passing judgment on anything that I could not first explain on its own terms. Second was the idea that everything is capable of changing over time–from our most mundane habits to our loftiest ideals–and most likely has. 

Having grown up in a largely ahistorical context, I found history to be liberating and slightly dangerous. Empathy allowed me to enter into the worlds and lives of people far different from myself. It gave me a safe space to try on new modes of thinking. Change over time simply gave me a framework that made better sense of the world we live in. The world became less Manichean–a starkly divided world of good and evil–and something more subtle and wonder-filled. It was like the introduction of color to a black and white world: both breathtaking and disorienting. 


I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be in a situation where I can continue these pursuits, both in my writing and in teaching when opportunities arise.

JF: What is your next project?

TG: There are two projects I’m pursuing at the moment. One, speaking of historical empathy, is a “life and times” biographical treatment of Reuben A. Torrey, an immensely important, but misunderstood, figure in the history of fundamentalism, pentecostalism, and (I’ll argue) the early social gospel movement in the late 19th century. His life demonstrates the fluidity of Protestantism during that time. The second project is also empathy centered: a reappraisal of the fundamentalist/modernist controversies (and its lead-up) through the perspective of the modernists, critically assessed.
JF: Both sound like great projects, can’t wait to see what you come up with. Thanks Tim!
 
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

Woodrow Wilson on Labor

1912:  From the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox:

  • Recording Title

    Woodrow Wilson on labor
  • Other Title(s)

    • On labor (Alternate title)
  • Author

  • Speaker

  • Genre(s)

    Speeches
  • Category

    Spoken
  • Description

    Political address
  • Language

    English
  • Label Name/Number

    Victor 35253
  • Matrix Number/Take Number

    C-12392/1
  • Recording Date

    1912-09-24
  • Place of Recording

    New York, New York
  • Size

    12″
  • Duration

    03:35

"The Rights and Progress of the Negro, 1908"

By William Howard Taft courtesy of the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox:

http://media.loc.gov/player/flowplayer.commercial.swf?0.4304900134447962<!–

  • Recording Title

    Rights and progress of the Negro
  • Other Title(s)

    • Rise and progress of the Negro (Alternate title)
  • Author

  • Speaker

  • Genre(s)

    Speeches
  • Category

    Spoken
  • Description

    Political address
  • Language

    English
  • Label Name/Number

    Victor 5554
  • Matrix Number/Take Number

    B-6330/1
  • Recording Date

    1908-08-05
  • Place of Recording

    Hot Springs, Virginia
  • Size

    10″
  • Duration

    01:44