A Night in Colorado Springs

UCCS Campus from the Bluffs

I’m on the road (or in the air) today trying to find my way back to Pennsylvania through the snow, but I wanted to say a very quick word about last night’s lecture in Colorado Springs.

Jeff Scholes of the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (UCCS) Philosophy Department and Director of the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life was a wonderful host.  The UCCS History Department also sponsored the event and I am pretty sure my friend Paul Harvey was the point person on that front.  We had a great turnout for a lecture titled “The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”  Thanks for everyone who came out last night and I am sorry I could not hang around longer to answer all of your questions and here are all of your stories.  Feel free to follow this blog or my twitter feed to keep the conversation going!

“I Could Listen to Her/Him All Day”


We’ve all gone to a history lecture and said WOW, “I could listen to that speaker all day.”  Who are your favorite history lecturers?  I am not referring as much to classroom teachers as I am people who can hold a room as a plenary speaker at an academic conference or public lecturer?

Here are four I have enjoyed in recent years:

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Heather Cox Richardson

Ed Ayers

Kate Bowler

We Have a Title!


Yesterday I was at Calvin College to try out some of the material from my forthcoming book on Donald Trump.  A lot of smart people at Calvin gave me a lot of things to think about as I wrap-up the manuscript.  Thanks to Kristin Kobes Du Mez of the Calvin College History Department and Kevin Den Dulk of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics for inviting me to speak.

At the start of my lecture I announced the book’s title:

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

Let me know what you think.  The book will be out with Eerdmans in the Spring.

Here is how I closed my lecture at Calvin:

When Donald Trump speaks to his followers in the mass rallies that have now become a fixture of his populist brand, he loves to use the phrase “believe me.”  The internet is filled with video montages of Trump using this signature catch phrase.  (He says it even more than “Make America great again!”):

            “Believe me folks, we’re building the wall, believe me, believe, me, we’re building the wall.”

“I love women.  Believe me, I love women.  I love women. And you know what else, I have great respect for women, believe me.”

“I am the least, the least racist person that you’ve ever met, believe me.”

“The world is in trouble, but we’re going to straighten it out, OK.  That’s what I do. I fix things.  We’re going to straighten it out, believe me.”

And, perhaps most importantly:

“So let me state this right up front, [in] a Trump administration our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended, like you’ve never seen before. Believe me.”

Why do the the court evangelicals and their followers believe in Donald Trump?  They believe in this man because fear paralyzes them, power seduces them, and nostalgia blinds them.  Donald Trump will be gone in 2021 or 2025.  Let’s pray that he does not take the evangelical church with him.

“Court Evangelicals” Lecture at Calvin College


If you are in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area stop by on Wednesday and say hello:

“The Court Evangelicals: Who Are Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisers and Where Did They Come From?”

Since the election of Donald Trump, a group of leaders from a variety of evangelical traditions have served as advisers to the President on matters of faith and public life. John Fea has called these advisers Trump’s “court evangelicals.” Like the religious members of the king’s court during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, Trump’s court evangelicals seek power and worldly approval by flattering the “king” rather than speaking truth to power. Who are these court evangelicals? Do they have a political theology? What are the historical forces behind their “unprecedented access” to the Trump White House? This lecture will situate these religious leaders in a longer history of evangelical political engagement.

About the speaker

John Fea is Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 2002.

His first book, The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), was chosen as the Book of the Year by the New Jersey Academic Alliance and an Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. His book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011) was one of three finalists for the George Washington Book Prize, one of the largest literary prizes in the United States. It was also selected as the Foreword Reviews/INDIEFAB religion book of the year.

John is also co-editor (with Jay Green and Eric Miller) of  Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation. (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), a finalist for the Lilly Fellows Program in Arts and Humanities Book Award.  His book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past was published in 2013 with Baker Academic. John’s book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society appeared in March 2016 with Oxford University Press.

John’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in The Journal of American History, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The William and Mary QuarterlyThe Journal of the Early RepublicSojourners, Explorations in Early American CulturePennsylvania HeritageEducation Week, The Cresset, Books and CultureChristianity Today, Christian Century, and Common Place.  He has also written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Fox NewsUSA Today, Al-Jazeera, Washington Post, CBS News, New York Daily News, AOL News, Houston Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Harrisburg Patriot News, Salt Lake City TribuneChicago Sun-TimesReligion News Service, and other newspapers.  He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, a blog devoted to American history, religion, politics, and academic life.

Co-sponsored by the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics. This talk is part of monthly history colloquia series. These lectures are open to the Calvin community – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends – and all are welcomed and encouraged to attend. Come early to enjoy refreshments and conversation, and feel free to ask questions or join the discussion at the end.


Another Defense of the Lecture


Miya Tokumitsu, an art historian at the University of Melbourne, is the latest academic to defend the virtues of the lecture in an age when “lab-and project-based learning…flipped classrooms and online instruction” are gaining in popularity.  Tokumitsu, in a recent piece at Jacobin, argues that the lecture “remains a powerful tool for teaching, communicating, and community building.”

Here is a taste:

Lectures are not designed to transmit knowledge directly from the lecturers’ lips to students’ brains — this idea is a false one, exacerbated by the problematic phrase “content delivery.” Although lecturers (hopefully) possess information that, at the beginning of a lecture, their students do not, they are not merely delivering content. Rather, giving a lecture forces instructors to communicate their knowledge through argument in real time.

The best lectures draw on careful preparation as well as spontaneous revelation. While speaking to students and gauging their reactions, lecturers come to new conclusions, incorporate them into the lecture, and refine their argument. Lectures impart facts, but they also model argumentation, all the while responding to their audience’s nonverbal cues. Far from being one-sided, lectures are a social occasion.

The regular timing of lectures contributes to their sociality, establishing a course’s rhythm. The weekly lecture, or pair of lectures, draws students together at the same time and place, providing a set of ideas to digest while reading supplementary material and breaking into smaller discussion sections. Classrooms are communities, and typically lectures are the only occasion for the entire group to convene physically. Remove the impetus to gather — either by insinuating that recorded lectures are just as effective or by making the lecture optional — and the benefits of community disappear.

Read the entire piece here.  Tokumitsu seems to favor plenary lectures alongside smaller discussion groups and discussions of texts.

Learning to Pronounce “Quincy”: My Visit to Eastern Nazarene College


It’s  pronounced “Quinzy.”

This was one of the many things I learned earlier this week when I visited Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Massachusetts to deliver the History Department‘s annual Donald Yerxa Lecture.  I have delivered a lot of lectures named after people, but I think this was the first time I ever gave a lecture named after 1). A person who was still alive and 2). a person who I know and who as recently as last month was asking me when he might receive an overdue referee report for a journal he edits.  🙂

Some of you know Don Yerxa from the many interviews he has conducted with prominent historians in the pages of Books and Culture and other publications.  Others might recognize his name from his leadership of the Historical Society.  Christian historians know him as the current editor of Fides et Historia, the academic journal of the


Don Yerxa

Conference on Faith and History.  This week I learned that Don was also deeply committed to Eastern Nazarene College, his alma mater and the school where he spent his entire career as a history professor (among other roles).

It was a great day in Quincy.  I got up early on Monday morning to meet with some very wide-awake students in Nick Pruitt‘s 7:45am politics class.  Nick is completing his dissertation in American history at Baylor University under the direction of Barry Hankins and is at Eastern Nazarene this year on a term appointment.  I had no idea that Nick had landed this position.  I had just seen him a few months earlier during I talk I gave at Baylor.

Nick’s students were eager to talk politics.  We talked about the (limited) role that historians can play in political elections, Historians Against Trump (and why I supported it), and the political sensibilities of the students at Eastern Nazarene College (which are all over the map!).

Later in the day I visited Bill McCoy‘s Critical Readings in History course.  Bill is the chair of the Eastern Nazarene History Department and one of the last Yerxa hires.  His gracious hospitality even included a bowl of New England clam chowder at a seafood stand on the beach!  Eastern Nazarene has some very bright and engaged history majors.  They are reading my Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past and came with a lot of questions for me.  The two-hour class went by very quickly and the conversation was spirited.

fea-at-encMy evening Yerxa Lecture was titled “The Power to Transform:” History, Christian Thinking, and American Democracy.”  I tried to take some of the themes of Why Study History? and connect them to our depressing political culture, the weakness of Christian thinking in evangelical churches, and the decline of the humanities.  This all sounds pretty depressing, but I did try to offer some hope and a way forward.

Thanks to Bill for bringing me to Eastern Nazarene, Nick for hosting me in his class, Don for having a career that is worthy of a lecture series, and the Eastern Nazarene students for making me feel at home.

The Bible Cause in East Tennessee


Last week I drove down Interstate 81 into the Cumberland Gap to give the annual Kincaid Lecture at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.  I had never been to this part of Tennessee before and it was a beautiful day for driving. (I also had my satellite radio tuned to channel 20–E Street Radio!).  The university is located adjacent to Cumberland Gap National Park.

I had never heard of Lincoln Memorial University before Tom Mackie, the Director of the Lincoln Library and Museum, invited me to visit.  My lecture was titled “The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origins of Christian America.”  It focused on the creation of the American Bible Society, the role of benevolent associations and Christian reform movements in antebellum America, and the American Bible Society’s attempt to supply a Bible to every American family and do it in two years (1829-1831).


Lincoln Memorial University has a fascinating history.   As its website notes:

Lincoln Memorial University grew out of love and respect for Abraham Lincoln and today honors his name, values, and spirit. As the legend goes, in 1863 Lincoln suggested to General O. O. Howard, a Union Army officer, that when the Civil War ended he hoped General Howard would organize a great university for the people of this area.

Mackie runs a museum and library that contains the largest collection of Lincoln artifacts in the country and some important archival collections of prominent figures from the 19th-century.  During my tour of the library I got to see Lincoln’s cane, English china that Lincoln purchased in 1858, a traveling exhibit on Lincoln and the Constitution, a piece of Lincoln’s hair, porcelain vases created to promote the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, every picture of Lincoln ever taken, and a bunch of ephemera commemorating Lincoln’s death and legacy.  Mackie is completing a doctoral dissertation on this ephemera that situates Lincolnalia in the fields of memory, material culture, and dime store museums.  It is going to make a great book.

On the Road in September and October 2016

ba0e0-boesontheroad-bmpIt’s going to be a busy couple of months:

September 21: I’ll be talking about the revised edition of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? on “The Ride Home with John & Kathy on WORD-FM Pittsburgh

September 22: I’ll be giving the Kincaid Lecture at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee: “The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origins of Christian America.”

September 26:  I’ll be in Quincy, MA where I will be delivering the Donald Yerxa Lecture in History at Eastern Nazarene College.

September 29:  I will be guest on “Breaks@Messiah College,” a local online video show. I’ll be discussing social media and the 2016 POTUS election.

October 1:  I am looking forward to spending the day in Philadelphia with the students in my Revolutionary America course at Messiah College.

October 6:  It’s off to Houston where I will be giving a lecture on the history of the American Bible Society at the Dunham Bible Museum on the campus of Houston Baptist University.

October 13:  I will be leading a discussion of my book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society at the “Religions in America” workshop at the University of Chicago.

October 24:  I will not be traveling on this day, but I am looking forward to Skyping with students from South Carroll High School in Sykesville, MD on the writing and podcasting of history.

October 27:  Back to Chicagoland to speak in chapel at Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL.  I’ll be talking about the Bible in America.

October 28:  I am looking forward to discussing The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society with Doug Sweeney’s classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.

October 31: I’ll be spending the day at Centre College in Danville, KY and will offer a public lecture  on “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”

I hope to meet you on the road this Fall!

At Lincoln Memorial University


Next week  (Sept. 22) I am making my first visit to Harrogate, TN. I will be delivering the Kincaid Lecture at Lincoln Memorial University.  My lecture is titled: “The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origins of Christian America.”

Here is the press release from LMU:

Harrogate, Tennessee, August 18, 2016—Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) and the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum will present the 2016 Kincaid Lecture Series at 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2016. Dr. John Fea will present The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origin of Christian America based on his book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford University Press, $29.95).

 “While his book gives us a seminal history of an organization that has influenced American and world cultures, Dr. Fea’s presentation will closely examine the bible of Lincoln’s time and how it shaped policy and society during the Civil War,” Museum Director Thomas Mackie said. “I am sure his insights will inspire each of us to examine how the Bible is impacting the current election.”

In The Bible Cause, Fea examines the American Bible Society (ABS), whose primary mission at its founding in 1816 was to distribute the Bible to as many people as possible. In the book, Fea demonstrates how the organization’s mission has caused it to intersect at nearly every point with the history of the United States. Today, ABS is a Christian ministry based in Philadelphia with a $300 million endowment and a mission to engage 100 million Americans with the Bible by 2025.

“The Bible Cause is far more than a definitive history of the American Bible Society, though it succeeds admirably in that respect,” said Margaret Bendroth, executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives. “John Fea also tells a broader story about American culture, how religion came to play such a central role in shaping national identity and how, in turn, secular ideals have shaped American belief and behavior. It is an important story, told with affection, care and thoughtful critique.”

Fea serves as professor and chair of the department of history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and is the author of a blog entitled The Way of Improvement Leads Home. He teaches courses including United States History to 1865, Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Civil War America, Teaching History and Social Studies, History of American Evangelicalism and Pennsylvania History.

Fea is the author or editor of four other books including Why Study History?:Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic); Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press); Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (University of Notre Dame Press) and The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press).

Supported by the Dr. Robert L. Kincaid Endowed Research Center, the lecture is free and open to the public. A book signing and dessert reception will take place at 6 p.m. in the museum. For more information or to register, contact Program and Tourism Director Carol Campbell at 423.869.6439.

The Dr. Robert L. Kincaid Endowed Research Center promotes the scholarly study and public understanding of the influence created by the Judeo-Christian Ethic upon the era and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum is located on the historic campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Housing one of the top five Lincoln and Civil War private collections in the world, the Museum is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.  For more information about this and other programs at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, call 423-869-6235.

Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee.

The Spring 2016 Lecture Series at the David Library of the American Revolution

David LibraryThe David Library of the America Revolution has announced its Spring Lecture Series, “Fighting and Fulfilling the American Revolution.”  Here is what you can expect:

On Wednesday, February 24 at 7:30 PM with “A Sea Change: Naval Warfare in the American Revolution during the Spring of 1778,” a lecture by Dennis M. Conrad. There were significant changes in the nature of naval warfare in the spring of 1778, including the internationalization of the naval war, a re-direction in British strategy, and the emergence of significant Loyalist privateering activity, to name but a few. Dr. Conrad is Documentary Histories Technical Lead at the Naval History and Heritage Command. Using materials taken from the newly-published Naval Documents of the American Revolution, volume 12, he will provide a new and exciting perspective on America’s naval heritage.

On Tuesday, March 15 at 7:30 PM, DLAR will present “Maryland Immortals: Washington’s Elite Regiments and the Band of Brothers Who Led Them,” a lecture by combat historian Patrick K. O’Donnell.  In August 1776, General George Washington found his troops outmanned and outmaneuvered at the Battle of Brooklyn. But thanks to a series of desperate charges by a single heroic regiment, famously known as the “Immortal 400,” Washington was able to evacuate his men and the nascent Continental Army lived to fight another day. Drawing on his new book,Washington’s Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution, Mr. O’Donnell will tell the “boots on the ground” story of the “Maryland Line,” one of the Continental Army’s first elite outfits, which fought not just in Brooklyn, but in key battles including Trenton, Princeton, Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse and Yorktown.  Patrick K. O’Donnell is the author of ten books, includingBeyond Valor, Dog Company, and First SEALs.

DLAR will welcome T. H. Breen on Tuesday, April 12 at 7:30 PM to present “George Washington’s Journey to the American People.”  In the first months of his presidency, George Washington boldly transformed American political culture by organizing a journey to all thirteen original states, a demanding tour designed to promote the strength and prosperity of a fragile new republic. The trip taught Washington the power of public opinion in securing support for the federal union, an achievement that he saw as the fulfillment of the Revolution.  Professor Breen’s new book is George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, and Gordon Wood says “(Breen) has given us new insights into the acute political skills of our first president and the state of the county in the 1790s.”

On Friday, April 22 at 7:30 PM, Don Glickstein will present “No One Told Them the War Had Ended: The Revolution After Yorktown, from Arkansas to India.”The popular myth is that heroic, patriotic Americans under George Washington defeated the British at Yorktown, the Revolution was over, and Americans were exceptional. But Mr. Glickstein, author of the new book, After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence, points out that Yorktown only meant the defeat of one British army-it did not mark America’s defeat of the British. Washington, George III, and their allies vowed to fight on, and that fighting-which expanded after the French entered the war in 1778-spanned the world, from Hudson Bay to South America, Cape Town to Arkansas, Gibraltar to Schenectady.

Historian Todd Braisted will return to the David Library on Sunday, May 1, 2016 at 3PM to lecture on “Grand Forage 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign.”  1778 marked a crucial period in the American Revolution. The French entry into the war forced the British to completely alter their strategy. The unenviable task of carrying out London’s strategy fell upon the new commander in chief in America, Sir Henry Clinton. In the midst of detaching 10,000 troops across North America, Clinton led his full army into the field one last time that autumn, gathering supplies, striking at Washington’s advanced posts, and hoping for one last big push at the Continental Army.  Mr. Braisted is the author of the new book Grand Forage 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign and the creator of royalprovincial.com, the world’s largest website dedicated to Loyalist military studies.

Lectures at the David Library are free and open to the public – however, seating is limited and the lectures are very popular.  Therefore, reservations are absolutely necessary. Please call 215.493.6776 ext. 100 or send an email to rsvp@dlar.org. All events take place in the Feinstone Conference Center at the David Library of the American Revolution, 1201 River Road (Rt. 32), in Washington Crossing PA. 

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #85

Southern Methodist University

Want to get some context for this post? Click here

I am writing from my hotel room in Dallas across the street from the beautiful campus of Southern Methodist University.  As noted in a previous post, last night I gave a lecture to about 75 students and faculty entitled “The American Bible Society and the Creation of the Christian Nationalism.”   The lecture was drawn from Chapter One and Chapter Two of the project. Some of you who have been following along will remember that these were the two chapters that served as my “sample chapters” for potential publishers.  Last night was the first time I shared my ABS research in a public forum of this nature and I got some good questions from the audience that will force me to do a better job of refining my arguments.

As I spent time editing the lecture on the plane from Philadelphia to Dallas I realized that the prose in these chapters still need a lot of work.  What I thought was in pretty good shape in August now seemed overly wordy and full of extraneous information that was unrelated to my argument.  

On a related matter, the demands of my academic life at Messiah College combined with my visit to Dallas made for a very unproductive writing week.  While I continue to do background reading for my chapter on the ABS benevolent empire, I have still not started writing the chapter.  Here’s hoping for a return next week to a more regimented writing schedule.  

Most of the research is now in place for the story of the ABS through World War I.  It is now a matter of putting that research into accessible prose.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #84

Caruth Hall on the campus of Southern Methodist University

Want to get some context for this post? Click here

This morning I returned to Chapter One and Chapter Two. Actually, I condensed the chapters into a 40-minute public lecture that I will giving tomorrow night at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  In the process, I realized that there is a lot of information in Chapter One that is repeated in Chapter Two. This made it easier to condense the two chapters into one lecture, but such repetition does not bode well for a book manuscript.  Preparing this lecture has allowed me to streamline some of my prose and avoid unnecessary repetition.  

This morning reminded me how important it is to take on speaking engagements or conference presentations when working on a book manuscript.  Even if the audience does not offer helpful suggestions for improving the project, the opportunity to think about the best way to communicate your material to audiences of all kinds is an invaluable exercise.  I find that it often helps my writing more than it does my public speaking.

See you in Dallas.