Religion and Presidential Remembrances

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Over at The Washington Post, Kimberly Winston teaches us that much of the pageantry we are seeing surrounding the death of George H.W. Bush has deep spiritual roots.

Here is a taste of her piece:

“The need to create meaningful rituals around death is very deep in our DNA,” said S. Brent Plate, an associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. “Death erases some of the dividing elements between religions. It shows us we are all human, all mortal. So this week is about the death of George Bush, but it is really about the collective faith of us all.”

Here is some context for the rituals you will see as the nation pays its last respects to its 41st president:

As Bush’s body traveled to Washington, D.C., from Houston, where he and the late first lady Barbara Bush lived after 1993, it was accompanied all the way. In addition to family and friends, a group of former staffers flew with the body, and an entourage of military service members was always nearby.

Like all presidents, Bush is being given a state funeral, a complicated and highly orchestrated set of military and state traditions that are secular in appearance, but have foundations in religion.

The practice of watching over a body springs from the oldest religious traditions. Scholars say the ancient Romans took the custom with them as they conquered the Mediterranean and Europe. By the Middle Ages, the practice was wrapped into Christianity and came with the first European settlers to the New World.

Read the rest here.

Winnifred Sullivan on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Case: What is Religion?

Cake baker

Indiana University religion professor Winnifred Fallers Sullivan wants to know how the Supreme Court defines religion.  Here is a taste of her piece at The Immanent Frame,
Is Masterpiece Cakeshop a Church?“:

Let us weigh in where angels fear to tread. Where is the religion in this case and what kind of religion is it?

Mr. Phillips’s religion is described by Justice Anthony Kennedy as follows:

Phillips is a devout Christian. He has explained that his “main goal in life is to be obedient to” Jesus Christ and Christ’s “teachings in all aspects of his life.” And he seeks to “honor God through his work at Masterpiece Cakeshop.” One of Phillips’ religious beliefs is that “God’s intention for marriage from the beginning of history is that it is and should be the union of one man and one woman.” To Phillips, creating a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding would be equivalent to participating in a celebration that is contrary to his own most deeply held beliefs.

That is all. That qualifies Mr. Phillips for constitutional attention.

What do we know about Mr. Phillips’s religion from this? We know that he calls himself a Christian. We are told that he understands this to mean that his whole life should reflect fidelity to the teachings of Jesus. Virtually all Christians (perhaps a strong majority of Americans) could affirm something like this. Presumably that would not be enough to qualify a person for special legal treatment. What more is required for such treatment is a bit murky.

If we look to the religious claims in past cases, before the sincerity test was standardized, we see that Mr. Reynolds in the famed Mormon polygamy case said he would be damned if he did not practice plural marriage. The Court made a careful, if bigoted, analysis of Mormon religious teaching. The Amish families in the Yoder case said that sending their children to high school would destroy the Amish religious community. The Court reported lovingly and at length on the Amish religious way of life. Mr. Smith and Mr. Black said that ingesting peyote was a sacramental mandate, central to their weekly worship. Dissenting justices rehearsed the history of peyote use in the Native American Church and speculated about the Church’s benefits for remediating Native American alcoholism.

The Court no longer traffics in such amateur philosophizing about religion and religious practice. Religion today has become standardized and formatted for the purposes of laws protecting religious freedom.

What else does the Court report about Mr. Phillips? What makes this Colorado baker so obviously deserving of special treatment, when Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Smith and Mr. Black were not? According to the Court,

  1. He is “devout.”
  2. He believes that God intends marriage to be restricted to heterosexual couples.
  3. He believes it would be wrong for him to sell a cake he created to a same-sex couple for their wedding.

Let us consider each of these in turn and how they add up to the core of what counts as religion today….

Read the entire piece here.

Author’s Corner with Michael Altman

altmanMichael J. Altman is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. This interview is based on his new book, Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American Representations of India, 1721-1893 (Oxford University Press, 2017).    

JF: What led you to write Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu?

MA: The book actually began as my MA thesis at Duke. I came into grad school unsure if I wanted to study religion in America or colonial India. After taking seminars in both, I started wondering if I could draw the two interests together. I was talking about this with Tom Tweed, who was teaching at UNC-Chapel Hill then, and he mentioned that no one had done much work on all the references to Hinduism in nineteenth century sources. With the help of Lila Prasad and Jason Bivins, I started digging around and found a lot of really interesting stuff in the archives. I wrote the thesis and new that I had more than enough material to expand it into a dissertation. So, I went to Emory and wrote my dissertation on representations of Hindu religions in nineteenth century America. I then heavily revised the framing of that dissertation for Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu. The book is much sharper than the dissertation. I pay particular attention to the language used by the sources to represent religion in India and I don’t assume that all of the representations are somehow referring to the same object, Hinduism. Rather, I’m particularly interested in how each representation functions to serve the interests of various Americans engaged in cultural, religious, and political conflicts about what it means to be American.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu?  

MA: Americans represented religion and people in India in a variety of ways during the nineteenth century and those representations functioned within conflicts over what counted as religion and American. Americans argued about “those people over there” in their fights about what it mean to be “one of us.”

JF: Why do we need to read Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu?

MA: There are three reasons you need to read this book. First, American religious historians have largely ignored the role of Asian religions in America during the nineteenth century. This book begins to open up space to see how Asia, and specifically India, played an important role in American religious history earlier than we usually think. Second, the book uses India and Hindus as a case study for telling the larger narrative of the rise of comparative religion and religious studies in American history. In that sense it historicizes the field of comparative religion and begins to put comparative religion into American religious history. Third, the book also offers a new approach to “religion” in American history that takes a genealogical approach. By that I mean that I am most interested in how categories are formed in culture. For example, Hannah Adams discussed “Hindoos” within a framework where there were four religions in the world: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and heathenism. But in 1893 “Hinduism” was one ten “world religions” at the World’s Parliament of Religions. How did that conceptual change in what counted as religion happen?

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

MA: I’m not sure if I am. Readers can tell me if what I’ve done in the book is American history or not. While I was doing my Ph.D. in Religion, I was privileged to work with great American and church historians like Brooks Holifield. So even though my training and work falls more within religious studies, I’ve benefited from spending time with and reading a lot of excellent American historians (this blog included). I like to think of myself as moving in between American history and religious studies and trying to draw on both of them in my work.

JF: What is your next project?

MA: I have two projects I’m getting started on right now. First, I’m working on a cultural history of Mohandas Gandhi in America. Like Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu, I’m interested in the variety of ways Gandhi was represented in American culture from the 1930s to today. It’s not a biography of Gandhi, more like a biography of the idea of Gandhi. Second, I’m also working on a very meta-level genealogy (or maybe it’s a historiography?) of the connections between American Religious history, Christianity, liberal political philosophy, and the English Civil War.

JF: Thanks, Mike!

Do We Really Live in a Disenchanted World?

DisenchantmentJason A Josephson-Storm, a religion professor at Williams College, thinks that disenchantment is a myth.  Over at Immanent Frame he writes about his new book The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of Human Sciences.

Here is a taste:

A great many theorists have argued that precisely what makes the modern world “modern” is that people no longer believe in spirits, myths, or magic. Even theorists who have challenged grand narratives of secularization often assume that modernity produces a disenchanted world. The age of myth is allegedly over, the spirits have vanished, and vibrant nature has been subjugated.

In The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences, I argue that as broad cultural history goes, this narrative is wrong. Our era is far from mythless, belief in spirits continues to be widespread, vitalized nature has been a persistent philosophical counter-current, and even attempts to suppress magic have failed more often than they have succeeded. Hence, I contend that the whole notion of “modernity” as rupture that undergirds a host of disciplines is itself a myth.

Read the entire piece here.

It sounds as if anyone who studies lived religion, or actually practices a religious faith, will resonate with this new book.

Episode 19: American Prophets

podcast-icon1America has long been a home to prophets. Tenskwatawa, Joseph Smith, Anne Hutchinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. have all spoken truth to power. In today’s episode, John Fea and Drew Dyrli Hermeling discuss America’s prophetic tradition. They are joined by documentary filmmaker Martin Doblmeier whose film, An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, documents the life and theology of one of America’s most outspoken and revered prophets.

More “Abundant History”

history-and-presence-199x300Earlier today I posted some thoughts on the first few chapters of Robert Orsi’s History and Presence.  I did a little more digging and found some of Orsi’s early thoughts on the subject in a 2007  American Scholar essay titled  “When 2+2=5.”

The imagined story of Orsi’s grandmother in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a wonderful illustration of the difference between “presence” and “absence.” It further illuminates Orsi comment about museums in my previous post.

This difference of theological interpretation is fundamental to the identities of these two divisions of the Christian world (the history of the Orthodox faith is another matter), and it is the pivot around which other differences, other identifications, accusations, lies, and hatreds have spun (and in some places at some times still spin). Catholics in the United States in the middle years of the 20th century, for instance, claimed that Protestant support for birth control was yet another expression of corrupted and disembodied Protestant modernity. What do you expect from people who think the Host—the Communion wafer, which is, for Catholics, the real presence of Christ—is nothing? Catholics I have spoken to who grew up in Catholic towns in rural Nebraska in the 1940s and 1950s told me they were deeply ashamed of their large farm families because they knew the children in nearby Protestant towns made fun of their parents’ fecundity, associating Catholics with the body and sex in a nasty schoolyard way. Catholic statues weep tears of salt and blood, they move, they incline their heads to their petitioners; recently in the diocese of Sacramento, California, which is near bankruptcy as a result of sexual abuse lawsuits, the eyes of a statue of the Blessed Mother leaked what believers saw as blood. Religious historians in the last decade or so have taught us that Protestant popular culture is also replete with images and objects and that there are divisions among Protestant churches over the meaning of the Eucharist. But still the basic differences between a religious ethos that is based on the real presence and one that is not are deep and consequential.

This divide between presence and absence, between the literal and the metaphorical, between the supernatural and the natural, defines the modern Western world and, by imperial extension, the whole modern world. Imagine one of my Italian Catholic grandmothers going to see a statue of the Virgin Mary in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She climbs the museum’s steep steps rising up from Fifth Avenue and pushes through the crowds and into the rooms of medieval art, where there are many lovely statues of the Blessed Mother, whom my grandmother knows and loves. My grandmother wants to touch the statues. She wants to lean across the velvet ropes to kiss their sculpted robes or to whisper her secrets and needs. But this is not how modern people approach art. For them, the statues are representations, illustrative of a particular moment of Western history and the history of Western art, and are to be admired for their form and their contribution to the development of aesthetic styles over time. There’s nothing in them, no one there. The guards rush over and send my grandmother back out to the street.

This is a parable of two ways of being in the world: one associated with the modern (although this is complicated, clearly, since my grandmothers lived in the modern world after all, and you can find believers in cathedrals throughout the world today petitioning statues); the other with something different from the modern. One is oriented toward presence in things, the other toward absence. As the guard rushing over shows, the difference is carefully policed—as carefully policed as the difference between Jesus in the bread and wine and Jesus not in the bread and wine was policed on that August morning in Paris or at the base of Campion’s scaffold—although with less dire consequences. Certain ways of being in the modern world, certain ways of imagining it, are tolerable and others are not. Especially intolerable are ways of being and imagining oriented to divine presence.

Read the entire essay here.

A Historiography With the Gods as Agents

Back in August we featured Orsi’s History and Presence in the Author’s Corner.  You can read that interview here.  Over the last few weeks I have finally gotten a chance to dig deeply into this book.  I am taking it slowly.  It is a thought-provoking work.

Orsi wonders what the practice of history might look like if “the transcendent broke into time.”  How might we envision a historiography in which “the gods” are active agents and we, as historians, make an effort to try understand what they are doing.  What intrigues me the most about this suggestion is that it comes not from David Barton or some other providential historian of the Christian Right that we criticize here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but from a Professor of Religious Studies and History and the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies at Northwestern University.

Unlike the aforementioned providential historians, Orsi is not suggesting that we try to discern the workings of Providence in the world.  Instead, he starts with the assumption that God and the gods are present and have been present to millions of people in the past.  (He draws the word “presence” from the Catholic doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist).  He writes: “I am inclined to believe that presence is the norm of all human existence, including in religion, and absence is an authoritative imposition” (p.6). He is asking his readers “not to make the move to absence, at least not immediately, not to surround presence with the safeguard of absence, but instead to withhold from absence the intellectual, ethical, and spiritual prestige modernity gives to it, and to approach history and culture with the gods fully present to humans.” (p.8).history-and-presence-199x300

Orsi calls for an “Abundant History” that rejects the secular inclination to interpret “presence”–such as a Marian apparition or a pilgrimage to a shrine or a vision–according “to the authorized interpretive categories” of the political, sociological, ideological, technological, scientific, and economic.  He urges us to avoid explaining religious phenomena as social constructions.  Orsi adds:

In an intellectual culture premised on absence, the experience of presence is the phenomenon that is most disorienting, most inexplicable.  This puts that matter of “translation” and “bracketing” into a new light.  Constraints on the scholar’s imagination become, by means of his or her scholarship, constraints on the imaginations of others, specifically those whose lives the scholar aims to present and understand. There is a double intellectual tragedy here, for once their reality is constrained by ours, they no longer have the capacity to enlarge our understandings of our imaginations.  This is the price of ontological safety. (p.64).

Orsi concludes this chapter by wondering:

The past may act upon us in such a profound way as to erase our intentions of remaining outside of it.  This is the vertigo of abundant history.  It comes upon historians as a result of their training and disciplining.  But it may be that this is what abundant historiography is: approaching events that are not safely cordoned off in the past, that are not purified, but whose routes extend into the present, into the writing of history itself.

I am about halfway through the book and it is giving me a lot to think about.  I recently took a break from reading and listened to Ed Linenthal‘s interview with Orsi on the Process Podcast produced by the Organization of American Historians.  You can listen to it here.

There is one section in the podcast in which Orsi talks about museums as places where “figures of presence are gathered.”  These sacred objects–Orsi gives an example of a Buddhist deity–are meant to be touched and spoken to, but the practice of museum protocol means that they must remain behind glass walls.  This, Orsi notes, enforces a “code of absence” in the museum.

The conversation with Linenthal is fascinating since he is not only the outgoing editor of The Journal of American History, but he also has a background in religious studies and has written a lot about sacred spaces in American civil religion.

Orsi admits that there is “little tolerance” in academia for the kind of abundant history he is talking and writing about.   He claims that he doesn’t know how to convince his colleagues that this kind of “real presence” is part of the “empirical world.”

I’ll keep reading.  Stay tuned.

American Academy of Religion Elects a Theologian as Its New Vice-President

I have never been to a meeting of the American Academy of Religion. I don’t usually run with the religious studies crowd, but as a historian of American religion and a person of faith I am often interested in what goes on at this massive annual meeting.   I am also interested in the AAR because many of the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home are members. 

This year, probably because I am on sabbatical and have time, I followed the #aarsbl15 twitter feed. I learned a lot in the process. (Thanks for all the religious tweeters out there!).  I also published reports from the floor of the conference.  (Thanks so far to John WilseyMary Beth Connolly, Andrew Henry, and David Krueger). 

Until I read Matthew Hunter‘s informative blog post I had no idea that the AAR elected David Gushee, an evangelical theologian, to the position of vice-president.  Matt’s post also helped me to realize why the election of a theologian to a position of leadership in the AAR might be considered controversial.

Here is a taste of Matt’s post:

Gushee’s election was controversial because some people in the AAR think the organization should represent scholars who study religion using disciplines like history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. Theologians are “doing” religion, and therefore they don’t really belong in the leadership. This election was especially controversial because the VP will become the President and this year both nominees were theologians. So, for some people in AAR, this is like having a research-subject (psychiatric patient) as the head of a psychiatric research association. It’s okay for religious people to be scholars as long as their scholarship is not itself a form of religious practice. This is where the State of the Union and the State of the AAR converge. Even though a LOT of Christian seminarians, theologians, biblical scholars and other religious people are members of AAR and many AAR sub-groups are “religious” in nature, AAR has reflected a post-Christendom context (the last 3 Presidents were not theologians of any religious tradition). But does it now? Is this a “victory” in some sort of culture-war?
 
I don’t know how Gushee feels about the resistance to his election or if he feels any resentment coming at him. He seems like a very gentle person who would not hold any grudges, but after all he was elected, and maybe that indicates that AAR isn’t as post-Christendom as some people think. I anticipate a movement of non-religious scholars to “take back the AAR” in future elections. For conservative Christians in the AAR, Gushee’s stance on LGBT folks in the church (still a clear minority opinion in Christian institutions) is still indicative of post-Christendom society or even secular ideals of individualism creeping in to the church. I don’t know if Gushee feels any resentment coming at him from that corner of the AAR either.


Read the entire post here.

New Study: Most Americans Prefer the King James Version of the Bible

The Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) has just released a report on “The Bible in American Life.”  Philip Goff, Arthur E. Farnsley II, and Peter Thuesen conducted an extensive survey to learn how the Bible is used “by ordinary Americans in everyday life, outside formal services.”  

Here are some of the key findings:
  • There is a 50/50 split among Americans who read any form of scripture in the past year and those who did not. Among those who did, women outnumber men, older people outnumber younger people, and Southerners exceed those from other regions of the country.
  • Among those who read any form of scripture in the past year, 95% named the Bible as the scripture they read. All told, this means that 48% of Americans read the Bible at some point in the past year. Most of those people read at least monthly, and a substantial number-9% of all Americans-read the Bible daily.
  • Despite the proliferation of Bible translations, the King James Version is the top choice-and by a wide margin-of Bible readers.
  •  The strongest correlation with Bible reading is race, with African Americans reading the Bible at considerably higher rates than others.
  •  Half of those who read the Bible in the past year also committed scripture to memory. About two-thirds of congregations in America hold events for children to memorize verses from the Bible.
  • Among Bible readers, about half had a favorite book, verse, or story. Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd…” was cited most often, followed by John 3:16.
  • Bible readers consult scripture for personal prayer and devotion three times more than to learn about culture war issues such as abortion, homosexuality, war, or poverty.
  • There are clear differences among Bible readers consulting scripture for specific reasons. Age, income, and education are key factors.
  • Those reading the Bible frequently consult it on culture war issues more than two times the rate as those who read it less frequently.
  • Less than half of those who read the Bible in the past year sought help in understanding it. Among those who did, clergy were their top source; the Internet was the least cited source.

  • Among Bible readers, 31% read it on the Internet and 22% use e-devices.
  • Bible reading differences among religious traditions followed predictably the historic divides between Protestants and Catholics, and between white conservative and white moderate/liberal Protestants. However, reading practices defy some stereotypes about certain groups.
Read the entire study here.

Is Washington D.C. Godless?

Not according to Joshua DuBois, former head of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.  He thinks Washington D.C. is actually a very religious place.  Here is a taste of his recent article at The Daily Beast:

Everyone knows about the politicians and interest groups—mainly conservative—who wear their faith on their sleeve. Yet across the ideological spectrum, Washington is filled with people at the height of political power who are practicing their faith seriously and profoundly, but largely out of public view. I recently spoke to some of these people about the role that religion plays in their private and public lives. What their stories make clear is that—in coffee shops, vibrant local congregations, congressional offices, and White House corridors—God is far more present in Washington than most Americans realize.

Read the entire piece.

A Religious History of the Mustache

Erik Campano interviews Allan Peterkin, author of One Thousand Mustaches: A Culture History of the Mo.  I had no idea that the mustache was seen by Christians as a mark of the Beast.  Here is a taste:

EC: Was there actually some kind of religious reaction to the 70s ‘stache?

AP: To the gay mustache, for sure. It certainly was an emblem of being gay — the clone look, it was called — very militaristic, hyper-masculine. Back in the 60s, the hippies would wear long hair, straggly beards, and sometimes the mustache with long hair, and probably pushing the envelope, saying that this is a taboo style, but I’m free to do what I want, and it’s also highly sexualized. On the other hand, it was very popular particularly in the British military. You could tell an officer’s rank by how bushy his mustache was allowed to be.

Marti on Hollywood and Religion

Gerardo Marti reminds us that Hollywood and religious films have a long relationship.  In his recent piece at The Christian Century, he chronicles this history.  Here is a small taste:

Herbert A. Jump was an especially articulate enthusiast for the use of motion pictures. His 1911 pamphlet The Religious Possibilities of the Motion Picture argued that film is the most important invention since the printing press. Films would make the gospel story vivid and interesting. For Jump, film projectors could become consecrated machines that attract the unchurched:
The great cry of the unchurched millions ought to ring in our ears permitting us no rest until we have availed ourselves of every conceivable device to attract them to the higher life in Jesus Christ.
 
Across the country, some churches purchased projection equipment, installed permanent machines in their auditoriums, and integrated film clips into their Sunday services. Short films became sermon illustrations. Other films were shown before Sunday school. Some pastors rented equipment and raised giant screens in large, outdoor venues. By 1920 more than 2,000 churches were actively using motion pictures in their services, and up to 15,000 church schools and clubs were using them as part of their ministry.
But the great majority of church leaders avoided films altogether. The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America established its Committee on Religious Pictures in 1923 to prime the pump for more pictures. They hoped to connect the motion picture industry with the needs of churches and help church leaders understand the problems involved in meeting the demand—especially their cost to produce. Little happened. Two years later, they tried again and it flopped again. Funds simply failed to turn up to support the expense of moviemaking for such a limited audience.

Amerian Revolution Conference in Williamsburg

America LLC is sponsoring a conference on the American Revolution in Williamsburg on March 22-24.  As Boston 1775 points out, this is not an academic conference.  It is designed for the general public, including “independent researchers and history buffs.”  Here is the list of speakers and their topics:

Edward G. Lengel, Head of Faculty: “Revolutionary Rivals: Horatio Gates and George Washington”
Douglas Cubbison: “Man on a Mission: John Burgoyne and the Campaign of 1777”
Joshua Howard: “The Swamp Fox: Francis Marion, Revolutionary War Hero of South Carolina”
James Kirby Martin: “Benedict Arnold: Revolutionary America’s Heroic General”
Andrew O’Shaughnessy: “Fighting with Friends and Enemies Simultaneously: Sir Henry Clinton”
Jim Piecuch: “Frustrated Ambitions: “Light Horse Harry Lee’s Conflicts On and Off the Battlefield”
John V. Quarstein: “Closing the Door on Cornwallis: The Battle of the Capes September 1781”
Glenn F. Williams: “Lord Dunmore’s War: Training Ground for Continental Officers

Two Panel Discussions:

  1. “The Best and Worst Military Commanders of the Revolutionary War”
  2. “A Revolutionary War Bookshelf: What You Should Own and What Books will be Published Soon”

Optional Friday Bus Tour to Petersburg, Green Spring and Spencer’s Ordinary (includes lunch) led by William Welsch

Learn more about the package here.

The folks at American History LLC do a nice job of bringing American history to public audiences.  In fact, I have signed on to do a three day tour with them in early June titled “Religion, Rebellion & the Founding Fathers.”  I hope you will consider joining us.

The Jacobsens: "From MIT to Ava Maria, Penn State to Pepperdine"

As I have noted before at this blog, my Messiah College colleagues Jake and Rhonda Jacobsen have been very active in exploring the role of religion on college campuses. There most recent book on the subject is No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education.

Today’s Inside Higher Ed has a nice interview with the Jacobsens.  Here is a taste:

Q: Your title, No Longer Invisible, refers to a resurgence of religion on college campuses. Was religion ever truly “invisible” in higher education? How does religious expression in college differ now from in the past?

A: Religion has never been truly “absent” from higher education. There have always been religious individuals among the faculty, staff, and student bodies of American colleges and universities, and religious or spiritual questions — the big questions of human meaning and purpose — have always been part of higher learning. The historic religions — like Christianity, Judaism, Islam — have also always been subjects of study, though certainly not at every school. So, in one sense, religion has always remained part of the college experience. 

That said, there was a time during the mid- to the late-20th century when many institutions of higher learning tried to bracket religion from campus life. Religion was deemed a private affair, something to keep to oneself, and religious questions were not supposed to intrude into the curriculum. The hope was for religion to be invisible.

There were a variety of reasons for taking this approach, including longstanding tensions between science and theology and between a generally enlightened view of the world (as in “the Enlightenment”) and the more parochial orientations of traditional faith. But the immediate motivation in the second half of the 20th century derived from the theory of secularization: the belief that society as a whole was becoming less religious and that religion itself might be headed toward oblivion. Some leading educators assumed that they should be preparing students to live in a world where religion was no longer a significant factor in personal or social life. At this current point in history, the theory of secularization has lost its credibility. It is evident that religion in a multiplicity of forms continues to have significant influence in the contemporary world, and religion has returned to visibility in higher education.

One point needs to be underscored. Religion as it has “returned” to colleges and universities is not equivalent to what was there a half-century ago. Religion in America today is pluriform, by which we mean it is both pluralistic — there are many different religions represented in American society — and it is religio-secularly “brackish,” meaning that there are very fuzzy borders separating religious beliefs and behaviors from deeply held secular beliefs and behaviors. Religion has returned to visibility in higher education partly because it is no longer possible to segregate religious or spiritual orientations from other ways of life and thought.

Religion and Public History

Christ Church, Philadelphia

Chris Cantwell of the Newberry Library raises a very good point on his Twitter feed (@cdc29):

“For a field rooted in the study of the past’s commemoration & veneration, the study of public history has done a poor job of considering religion.”

As Cantwell reminds us, many historic sites have a “sacred” quality to them, evangelicals have their Creation museums and Jesuslands, and many sites are marketed to religious communities.  Yet it seems that public historians have not addressed such sites in any meaningful way.

Any thoughts on this?  My initial reaction is that Cantwell is right, although I do think the work of Ed Linenthal has taken religious belief seriously in his public history scholarship.

Religion in Mayberry

Here is an interesting post by Mark Silk on religion in the fictional town of Mayberry.  He writes:

Mayberry had its preacher: Rev. Hobart M. Tucker of Mayberry’s All Souls Church (of undetermined denominational identity). Played by William Keene, Tucker appeared in six of the show’s 249 episodes–hardly a fair representation of the salience of religion in Western North Carolina but not too bad for religion-averse prime time sitcoms of the 1960s. His ministry was a mild send-up of the Peace of Mind spirituality of the postwar period. In one episode, Aunt Bea singles out his sermons on happiness for praise. In another, a guest preacher from New York all but puts the congregation to sleep with a sermon on the need to relax–perhaps not quite the right message for the sleepy little Southern town that time forgot. The road from Mayberry’s pulpit leads straight to the Simpsons’ Rev. Tim Lovejoy

And don’t forget the famous “Church in the Wildwood” scene from the third season.  I cannot embed it, but you can see it here.

Silk is not particularly interested in Andy Griffith’s faith, but I am.  Griffith was a lifelong Democrat who supported the Affordable Care Act and, according to one obituary, “was a person of incredibly strong Christian faith and was prepared for the day he would be called ‘Home to his Lord.'”  He also had a successful career in gospel music.

No Longer Invisible

Congratulations to my colleagues Jake and Rhonda Jacobsen whose new book No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education will be published next month with Oxford University Press.

The website of the United Methodist Church has a nice writeup on the book and their work, which included visits to 50 public and private schools of higher education. 

Here is a taste:

Religion is back on campus, but in forms that might surprise those thinking only in terms of the traditional roles of organized churches in higher education.

The science-oriented Massachusetts Institute of Technology has hired its first paid chaplain, overseeing 22 volunteer chaplains, whose goal is to make sure students of all faiths are comfortable with each other.

At the University of Southern California, a young Hindu lawyer is dean of the Office of Religious Life; his predecessor was a female rabbi.

Even the Mormon church’s Brigham Young University has a prayer room for the small number of Muslim students who have enrolled there, taking comfort in the school’s conservative values.

These are among the findings from two professors at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., who spent four years visiting 50 public and private schools of higher education, ranging from small community colleges to large research universities.