Is the Founder of The Veritas Forum Behind an Anti-Muslim Facebook Campaign?

Jullberg

What is going on with Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder of the Veritas Forum?  Here is a taste of Asysha Kahn’s piece at Religion News Service:

Fact-checking website Snopes linked the network to Kelly Monroe Kullberg, the founder and president of The America Conservancy, whose aims, as Kullberg has described online, are “advancing Biblical wisdom as the highest love for people and for culture.” All 24 Facebook pages had financial ties to Kullberg directly or organizations she helps lead.

Posts on the network decry “Islamist Privilege and Sharia Supremacy” and claim that Islam is “not a religion”; that Islam promotes rape, murder and deception; that Muslims hate Christians and Jews; that Muslims have an agenda to “spread Sharia law and Islam through migration and reproduction”; and that resettling Muslim refugees is “cultural destruction and subjugation.”

The tactics seem to mirror the playbook of Russian troll farms, with page titles purporting to originate with diverse demographic groups like “Blacks for Trump,” “Catholics for Trump,” “Teachers for Trump” and “Seniors for America.”

Snopes found that Kullberg and her associates’ agenda appeared, at least in part, to be working to re-elect President Donald Trump in 2020. The “astroturfing” campaign — referring to efforts made to look as if they come from legitimate grassroots supporters — was at least in part funded by right-wing political donors, including a prominent GOP donor who served as a fundraiser and campaign board member for 2016 presidential candidate Ben Carson.

I was happy to contribute to the Khan’s report:

“If you would have told me about this investigation 20 years ago I would have been very surprised,” said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College and author of the book “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.” But given Kullberg’s more recent politics, he said, it’s hardly shocking.

Once a mainstream evangelical Christian figure, Kullberg is the founder of the The Veritas Forum, a prominent non-profit organization that partners with Christian college students to host discussions on campus about faith. The discussions attract non-evangelical, non-Christian and secular speakers as well as leading mainstream evangelical voices.

Her 1996 book “Finding God at Harvard: Spiritual Journeys of Thinking Christians” topped bestseller lists. Now based in Columbus, Ohio, she has served as a chaplain to the Harvard Graduate School Christian Fellowship and spent time as a missionary in Russia and several Latin American countries.

Most recently, Kullberg appears to have shifted further right politically, taking what Fea described as a “pro-Trump, Christian Right, culture war posture” laced with anti-social justice rhetoric. The American Association of Evangelicals, for which Kullberg is the founder and spokeswoman, is “essentially a Christian Right organization whose supporters read like a list of evangelical leaders who have thrown their support behind Donald Trump as a savior of the country and the church,” he said.

“She seems obsessed with the influence of George Soros on progressive evangelicals and believes that social justice warriors have hijacked the Gospel,” Fea noted.

Read the entire piece here.

While running the Veritas Forum, Kullberg worked with Christian speakers such as Francis Collins, Robert George, Os Guinness, Tim Keller, Peter Kreeft, Madeleine L’Engle, George Marsden, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Alister McGrath, Richard John Neuhaus, Alvin Plantinga, John Polkinghorne, Dallas Willard, Lauren Winner, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and N.T. Wright.  She put some of these speakers into dialogue with the likes of Anthony Flew, Christopher Hitchens, Nicholas Kristof, Steven Pinker, and Peter Singer.

In her new role with the “The American Association of Evangelicals” she works with court evangelicals and pro-Trump evangelicals such as Eric Metaxas, James Garlow,  Everett Piper, Tim Wildmon, Wayne Grudem, Steve Strang, David Barton, and Lance Wallnau (the Trump prayer coin guy).

The divisions in American evangelicalism are widening.   The American Association of Evangelicals (AAE) is now the conservative, Christian Right alternative to The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Here is how it understands its relationship to the NAE:

Kullberg is also a leader with Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration (EBI) a more conservative evangelical immigration group that appears to be an alternative to the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT).  While the EBI includes many of the culture warriors I mentioned above, the EIT includes people like Leith Anderson (President of the NAE), Shirley Hoogstra (President of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities), and Russell Moore (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission).

New alignments are forming.  Evangelicalism is changing and fracturing.

2020: Are We Amusing Ourselves to Death?

Beto 2

Journalist Ross Barkan reflects on the “eternal presidential sweepstakes” with the help of Neil Postman.  Here a taste of his piece at The Baffler:

The Beto/Trump hand gesture skirmish—Trump jerks and floats his arms and hands around in even odder ways—was another inanity of this 2020 campaign, one that is sure to be followed by many more. This is because a campaign of this length demands programming. As cable channels peaked in the early 2000s, TV producers realized they had a lot of dead-time to fill and only so much money to spend filling it. Hence, the birth of reality TV: SurvivorAmerican Idol, and, to the detriment of our future selves, The Apprentice. They were all aspirational, promising us stardom, great wealth, or the kind of self-discovery that can keep any average schmuck alive on a desert island.

Today, the hours, days, weeks, and months of the perma-campaign must be filled, too. Beto’s hands, Amy Klobuchar’s salad comb, Bernie’s head bandage, Elizabeth Warren’s beer chug, Cory Booker’s girlfriend, Kamala Harris’s musical tastes while she smoked pot in college. No triviality is too trivial for an underpaid journalist somewhere to bundle into an article, video, or meme in the hopes of attracting attention and driving fleeting dollars to a collapsing media ecosystem. The perma-campaign is the apotheosis of reality TV because the stakes are so high—we are choosing a world leader with the power to drop civilization-annihilating bombs, and therefore every plot twist in the extended marathon can be justified in the solemn, self-satisfied way a political reporter will defend just about every absurd practice of the profession. 

Beto, Bernie, Biden, Kamala, and more—these are characters the American people must get to know through their TV screens and social media. This year and next, they are all Democrats, and they are auditioning for us. They will speak to us, rally for us, and construct events in states ten months before a vote. Why? Well, the show needs content. And if you aren’t producing content, you are irrelevant. Imagine a presidential candidate deciding to take April, May, and June off, arguing that an entire six months of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses is probably enough to win votes. The horror! What will be tweeted, Instagram storied, Facebook lived, and packaged into lively, anecdote-addled reporting for a New York Times political memo?

Thirty-four years ago, the media theorist Neil Postman published a book that is distressingly relevant today. Amusing Ourselves to Death was a prescient indictment of TV culture that drove to the heart of the matter in ways few academic texts ever do. Postman’s problem wasn’t so much with TV itself—people have a right to entertain themselves—but with how the rules of this dominant technology infected all serious discourse. He fought, most strenuously and fruitlessly, against the merger of politics and entertainment.

We’ve only metastasized since Postman’s time, with the internet and smartphones slashing attention spans, polarizing voters, and allowing most people to customize the world around them. What’s remained constant, at least in certain quarters, is the principal of entertainment: most political content operates from this premise first, that it must captivate before it informs. The image-based culture triumphs. Beto told you in a crisp three minutes and twenty-nine seconds why he wanted to be the leader of the free world.

Read the entire piece here.

Rules of Engagement

 

Civil Discoure

I wrote this on my Facebook page last night in response to the ongoing conversation on my John Allen Chau post.  I thought I would post a version of it (slightly edited) here.  –JF

 

Recent posts about the “presuppositions” of those commenting prompted me to write this long note to everyone who participates in conversation here at my Facebook page (which I see as an extension of my blog).

I hope everyone realizes that the people on this page come to the conversation with all kinds of presuppositions. Some of the people posting here are evangelical Christians. Others are Christians who may not identify with evangelicalism. Some are Jewish. Some do not identify with any faith. This is what makes these kinds of conversations on Facebook so difficult and awkward. As one of the few people (and maybe the only person) here who knows something about the presuppositions of just about everyone by virtue of the fact that it is my page, I can see how most folks are talking past each other. One problem with my Facebook page and my blog is that I have readers who share my faith and others who do not.  Much of my career and work has existed in both the evangelical community and the academy. I thus have conversation partners in both worlds. I think a conversation about Chau might look very different among fellow evangelical Christians than it might among those who are not Christians. This is indeed a mixed group, but it doesn’t have to be a problem.

I like to think that my Facebook page is a place where it is difficult to remain in our silos.

I hope evangelicals (and there are many here) can learn to appreciate the insights of non-evangelicals, even if they disagree.  I hope they realize that this space is not an extension of a Sunday morning service.  Evangelicals who come to the table must come with a public voice.  This does not mean that they abandon their religious convictions at the proverbial door.  It means that they come with a realization that not everyone in the conversation may share their presuppositions and then behave accordingly. I realize that this is hard for some evangelicals.

I also hope that non-evangelicals or non-Christians also realize that this is a public space where many kinds of people come to read and discuss. My blog and Facebook page is not  an extension of the faculty lounge. My non-evangelical academic friends have a lot of work to do in respecting and listening to people with different presuppositions and ways of viewing the world. Some folks do this better than others.

All of us are prone to self-righteousness in spaces like this. I hope we can learn from each other and find common ground and not demonize those with whom we have deep and fundamental disagreements. On an issue like Chau, it is very, very hard to find common ground. But we must try.

If this is not a project that interests you or you do not have the inclination to engage in a civil way with people who see the world differently, I would encourage you to just stay in your social media silo where everyone thinks the same way you do.  You will be more comfortable there.

But if you do want to engage in a spirited but civil fashion, you are always welcome at my page.

And I will try to be less cranky! 🙂

Alan Jacobs on “Recency Bias”

McCain in bed

Great stuff here from Jacobs.  I did not know the practice of taking the long view–a mental habit historians know well—could be viewed as the antidote to a phenomenon with such a technical name.  “Recency bias.”

Here is a taste:

Increasingly, I think, the people who rule our society understand how all this works, and no one understands it better than Donald Trump. Trump knows perfectly well that his audience’s attachment to the immediate is so great that he can make virtually any scandal disappear from the public mind with three or four tweets. And the very journalists who most want to hold Trump accountable are also the most vulnerable to his changing of the subject. He’s got them on a string. They cannot resist the tweets du jour.

This tyranny of the immediate has two major effects on our political judgment. First, it disables us from making accurate assessments of threats and dangers. We may, for instance, think that we live in a time of uniquely poisonous social mistrust and open hostility, but that’s only because we have forgotten what the Sixties and early Seventies were like.

Second, it inclines us to forget that the greatest of social changes tend to happen, as Edward Gibbon put it, insensibly. Even when they seem sudden, it is almost always case that the suddenness is merely a very long gradual transformation finally bearing fruit. There’s a famous moment in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises when one character asks another how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” the man replies. “Gradually and then suddenly.” But the “suddenly” happened because he was previously insensible to the “gradually.” Likewise, events are always appearing to us with extreme suddenness — but only because we are so amnesiac that we have failed to discern the long slow gradual forces that made this moment inevitable.

And so we float on, boats with the current, borne forward ceaselessly into an ever-surprising future.

Read the entire post at Snakes and Ladders.

Another Post About People Who Tweet About Wendell Berry

Riverside-Drive-Harrisburg-City-Island-1422x711

Some of you will recall this post from last week.  Since my critical review of Matt Stewart’s piece “Stop Talking about Wendell Berry on Twitter,” several other folks have responded to it at the Front Porch Republic.  So far the only person to really defend all of Matt’s piece is Eric Miller.

I actually brought this debate up very briefly yesterday in our live podcast episode, “Flourishing in a Digital World.”  I imagine that my friends Eric and Matt think it is heresy to even consider putting the word “flourishing” together with “digital world,” but this is exactly what we tried to do yesterday at Messiah College.  Frankly, I was blown-away by how our guests connected their digital footprints as historians, writers, community activists, bloggers, social media-users, and story-tellers to particular places and communities.  I hope you get a chance to listen to this special bonus episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Podcast when we release it next month.

In the meantime, I encourage you to read Tara Ann Thieke’s critique of Stewart’s essay: “Alone Together on the Internet.”  Here is a taste:

Wendell Berry was able to reject the computer. I think it was the right decision. But his choice and his work have come to us through the connections he made by going to Stanford and Europe, teaching at NYU, earning himself an audience, and allowing the publishing industry to use the best technology at their disposal (including computers) to make his work accessible. Later on, once he was well-established, audiences were able to hear out his reasoning for preferring the pen to the keyboard (a choice I agree with; most of my writing is first done in notebooks with a trusty blue rollerball pen). The computer was still a fundamental part of the supply-chain connecting Mr. Berry to the reader; we are none of us islands and the supply-chain is inescapable except to true hermits.

And this:

Twitter and social media have allowed me, an arm-chair amateur, to use the system’s tools to advocate for a different vision. While I am surrounded by the cultural consequences of all these wires and flashing screens, these tools have permitted me to find other wandering voices. Do I talk about Wendell Berry on Twitter? Guilty. But I have also started several clubs through Meetup which allows those of us who share these interests to meet face-to-face. Other armchair amateurs, caught in the confines of suburbia, of work, of the ceaseless din of advertising, have found one another through the threadbare wires not closely guarded enough.

We schedule gatherings through Facebook to watch Wendell Berry documentaries. We talk on Twitter and move on to start discussion groups elsewhere; people drive from 50 miles away to come discuss the Inklings, those foes of Mordor, once a month. We gather in an old park to serve the homeless. Imperfect? Always. But Joel Salatin wrote that expecting a first-time cook to bake a perfect cake is as silly as expecting a baby to suddenly stand and walk rather than stumble. Social media, in particular private Facebook groups and Twitter connections, have allowed those of us afraid of stumbling to receive mutual encouragement, advice, and solidarity.

Read the entire piece here.  I guess I identify more as a Wendell Berry evangelical than a Wendell Berry fundamentalist. 🙂

Melania: “Adults Need to Take the Lead”

Here is FLOTUS telling people that “adults need to take the lead” in encouraging good habits on social media.

Either:

  1. Melania and her speechwriters are absolutely clueless
  2. Melania is trying to send a message to her husband.

You decide which one, or perhaps offer another option.

Is Social Media Scholarship?

Olaf

Yesterday I was in Northfield, Minnesota where I gave a talk about blogging, The Way of Improvement Leads Home (the blog), and the relationship between social media and civic engagement.  I spoke as part of a series on digital publishing sponsored by faculty and staff from Carleton College and St. Olaf College.  (Thanks to the DeAne Lagerquist for the invitation!)

During our conversation several professors talked to me about the possibility of starting their own blogs.

I don’t pretend to believe that our blogging model at The Way of Improvement Leads Home is normative.  We post a lot here and have developed a unique approach.  So yesterday I tried to suggest some ways that busy academics might make blogging work for them as teachers and scholars.

One model for academic blogging comes from Mark Carrigan in his recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, “Social Media is Scholarship.”  It is excellent.

Here is a taste:

Before I created a research blog, I used to carry a series of ornate notebooks in which to record my ideas, reflect on what I had read, and sketch out my plans — or rather I tried to carry them. Inevitably I forgot them at the most inopportune moments, reducing me to scribbling notes on scraps of paper, only to fail to transcribe them at a later date. Even when I managed to record my notes, my overly-enthusiastic scrawls often proved indecipherable when I came back to them.

In contrast, my research blog is accessible to me wherever I have a mobile phone or computer. The expectation that others might read my notes forces me to work out what I am trying to say, rather than scribbling down in shorthand ideas that might feel meaningful to me at the time but are often confusing later.

Sharing those blog posts through my social-media feeds often leads to useful conversations — at a much earlier stage in the research process than would otherwise be the case. It creates an awareness of what I’m working on, and has often been the first step in eventual invitations to speak or collaborate. The fact that I can categorize and tag my online notes helps me see connections between different projects I am working on, highlighting emerging themes and deepening my understanding of how the topics fit together. Having my notes online also makes them extremely easy to search, providing a fantastic resource when I am writing papers and chapters.

My point is not that everyone should use a research blog. There are many reasons why it might not be suitable for you: (1) Without a smartphone, a blog would be much less useful; (2) some people find that writing by hand actually helps, rather than hinders, the creative process; and (3) many academics are uncomfortable with sharing work-in-progress online with an unknown audience.

Exactly which technology works for which person will depend on many factors. But in my case, moving from a research notebook to a research blog helped me become a more efficient and effective scholar. Rather than being an unwelcome drain, social media has helped me use my time more effectively.

Read the entire piece here.

Should Young Academics Be On Twitter?

f91dc-twitterOliver Bateman, a historian and journalist, explores this question over at The Atlantic.

Here is a taste:

Scholarly research has lent credence to anecdotal claims about social media’s growing importance as a networking tool for academics at all stages of their careers. In a 2012 paper that represented one of the first systematic studies of social media’s impact on academia, George Veletsianos, a professor at Royal Roads University in British Columbia, analyzed the usage patterns of academics. He concluded that “the participation observed on Twitter presents opportunities for … scholarly growth and reflection,” though it was still too early to make a definitive statement about what that might entail. (He also noted, rather tellingly, that “online practices may not be valued or understood by peers and academic institutions even though scholars themselves may have found scholarly value in participating in online spaces.”)

Four years later, the researchers Charles Knight and Linda Kaye evaluated the social-media practices of academics at a large university, determining that these academics’ “use of the [Twitter] platform for enhancing reputation is an implied acknowledgement of the importance of research within higher education and the increasingly public engagement agenda.” Professors on the campus they studied were far more likely to use Twitter for this purpose than they were for pedagogical reasons: “Academics want to use Twitter to inform the wider community of their activities rather than engage their students.” Networking, it seems, is one of social media’s principal purposes for those in academia.  

“Twitter is great for academic networking, because it can be an awesome way for introverts and people who aren’t already in close proximity with the people they want to talk with to start building genuine relationships,” said Jennifer Polk, a friend and academic and career coach who runs the From PhD to Life website. “Of course, it’s all public [unless you adjust your security settings], so you should be professional—whatever that means in your field. And I recognize that in this context, ‘professional’ is a loaded term.”

Read the rest here.

I think Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites are great resources for networking, sharing ideas, and raising questions.  (Perhaps this is simply stating the obvious at this point in my career). Graduate students and young academics should be using them for these purposes.

But I also think graduate students and young academics should always remember that while social media is a very democratic space, academia is not.  Academic life, in order to function properly, must have some degree of hierarchy based on expertise and experience.  In other words, a young scholar who submits a journal article or book for review will inevitably have a senior scholar evaluate the manuscript and make a decision on it.  Senior scholars at colleges universities will often have a lot to say about who gets hired in their departments.  In the course of searches for academic appointments and fellowships that have residency requirements, the search committee will often contact outside scholars who might be familiar with the candidate’s work and sense of collegiality.  And yes, I have been asked about a job or fellowship candidate’s sense of collegiality based on their social media presence.  It has actually happened more than once.

I entertain several of these requests a month.  I have even been in a position where a person argued with me on Twitter in a very unprofessional way and then applied for a job in my history department.  When I saw the application I went back to review the series of tweets this person had written, but they were deleted.  This person did not get the job.  There were stronger applicants in the pool that better served the needs of our department.  But I would be lying if I said that this Twitter exchange did not influence the way I thought about this person’s application. And I can tell a host of other stories like this from other committees on which I have served.

In the best of all possible worlds, decisions about publishing and teaching jobs should be made entirely on the merits of a candidate’s scholarship or teaching, but we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.  Young academics should have this in mind whenever they tweet or post.  I am often amazed when I see graduate students picking fights on Twitter or Facebook with senior people who one day might have to make a decision about the course of their future career.  Hopefully, for the sake of the candidate, that senior scholar will lay aside their memory of these social media exchanges and judge the candidate on the merits of their work.  But to do so requires a superior degree of discipline and professionalism.

Who Do You Hang Out With? (On Facebook)

f15c5-facebookshirtI was recently a guest on a Messiah College web show called “Breaks.” (The show will drop in a couple of weeks). The topic was technology and politics.  One of the things we discussed on the program was how we tend to only “follow” and “friend” people on social media who share our political convictions.  I argued that such political silos are not good for our democracy since they are not conducive to understanding those with whom we differ.

I thought about my appearance on this show when I read my friend Scott Huelin’s proposed social experiment for Facebook users.

Here it is:

Go to Donald Trump’s page and see how many friends like it, go to Hillary Clinton’s page and see how many friends like it, and then go to Gary Johnson’s page and see how many friends like it. Then, copy and share.

I decided to play along. (I also added Jill Stein and Evan McMullin to my list).  The results:

Hillary Clinton: 44

Gary Johnson: 25

Donald Trump: 20

Jill Stein: 9

Evan McMullin: 9

How politically diverse is your Facebook feed?

A Few Reasons Why Historians Should Consider Twitter

5bf22-twitter-logo-hashtagI am sold on Twitter. (You can follow me @johnfea1).  I rarely use my feed to post personal or mundane things about my life (although some may beg to differ).  Instead, I use it professionally–to promote my work at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, share links and the tweets of others, provide coverage of history conferences and lectures, and network with other historically-minded people.

I follow a lot of people on Twitter.  I do this for two reasons.  First, I am always looking for links that I can use on this blog.  Second, I am generally curious about the ideas of like-minded people.  I follow a lot of K-12 history teachers because they often share some great resources that I can pass along to the students in my “Teaching History” course or even re-purpose for my own courses.  I follow clergy because I want to get a better sense of their world so that I can be more effective in bringing historical thinking to local congregations. I follow #twitterstorians because so many of them are doing incredible things in their teaching and scholarship.

So needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed “Motorcityclio” recent post about historians, social media, and networking.  Here is what she has to say about Twitter:

Filling your Twitter feed with university departments, scholars, and academic publications is easy enough, but what do you do once you’ve developed an academic social network? Like networking at a conference, you need to be a bit more proactive than we, as academics, are sometimes comfortable with. The good news is that we can still hide behind our computer screens to a certain extent! So here are six ways to use social media to build your network.

  1. Promote yourself. Have a new publication? Get mentioned on your department website? Find something exciting in the archive? Tweet it! Promoting yourself – or even just congratulating yourself on very real accomplishments – can feel icky. But, as we’re all often told, the only way to get yourself out there is to put yourself out there. You’ll be amazed by how much support you get!
  2. Use hashtags. There are TONS of academic hashtags out there. There are hashtags that can connect you with other scholars in your field and with other graduate students. Some of my favorites are #PhDchat and #PhDlife (this one is usually pretty hilarious). If you have other favorites, leave them in the comments!
  3. Interact with other scholars. I have used Twitter to chat with other scholars about their work, my work, the Olympics, the election, running socks, and a lot of other things. Building a network shouldn’t just be about having somewhere to discuss your project or the job market (although it’s great for these things – I just had a chat with a PhD candidate in English about the job market today!). It should also be about building support, in many forms.
  4. Get help! I contacted one of my former students – Amanda Sterling, now the Social Media Coordinator at the Corning Museum of Glass – for any input she might have on this post, and she made the excellent suggestion of using Twitter for help with research. As Amanda says, “Whether you need to pull contemporary material directly or you need help tracking something down, social media can help you with your work.” If we’re all willing to travel to archives to track stuff down, why not use the networks of lots of other academics to help?
  5. Establish yourself. Amanda also suggested that using Twitter to promote yourself and your work, and to engage in discussions with other scholars, helps to establish yourself as an expert in your field. This is particularly useful when you consider how long publication can take. Let everyone know you’ve already arrived!
  6. Follow conferences. Finally, Amanda points out that given that most conferences now actively cultivate hashtags associated with the conference and sometimes panels, you can “attend” conferences that you might not be able to afford to see in person. This is another way to keep yourself current on new scholarship and find people who are interested in the same things you are.

Read the entire post here.

7 “Indispensable Christian Academic Twitter Accounts”

d3132-twitter-logo-hashtagChris Gehrz of Bethel University in Minnesota asked his readership at the Pietist Schoolman to share with him “some indispensable Christian academic Twitter accounts.” Here are the results of the survey:

Christena Cleveland (@cscleve) of Duke University

Drew Hart (@druhart), soon to join me on the faculty of Messiah College.  (I should also add that I taught Drew in a U.S. survey course back in the day–before he was famous).

Alan Jacobs (@ayjay) of Baylor University

O. Alan Noble (@thealannoble) of Oklahoma Baptist University

James K.A. Smith (@james_ka-smith) of Calvin College

Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie) of The King’s College

Read all about these tweeters here.

Believe it or not, I also made the cut (@johnfea1). Chris had some nice words to say:

If he never did anything on Twitter, I’d still still hope to be John Fea when I grow up: I don’t know any other historian who so adeptly draws on his academic training for the benefit of public audiences, let alone conservative Christian audiences whose Platonic ideal of a historian is often David Barton. But on top of his widely-read blog, acclaimed books, and new podcast series, John’s decision to take a sabbatical during the election year of all election years has resulted in some pretty compelling tweeting as well. There’s no shortage of opinions about politics on Twitter, but John’s refreshing blend of historical context, insightful analysis, irenic engagement, and humor stands out. 

Thanks, Chris.  Now I need to get back on Twitter and follow some of these folks!

Andrew Henry on Blogging and Graduate Students

Andrew Henry is a Ph.D candidate in Religious Studies at Boston University.  He is a scholar of Late Antiquity and the host and creator of Religion for Breakfast. Follow him @andrewmarkhenry Andrew is covering the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Atlanta for us this weekend.  Here is his first dispatch: “Religious Studies Blogging Comes of Age, but Grad Students Need Not Partake?”  –JF


Even a few years ago, academic bloggers of religion needed to defend their online endeavors to their colleagues. In a market where ideas are currency, why would you share these ideas publicly for free and especially without the careful vetting process of peer review?

It seems, though, that academic blogs of religion have come of age, or at least, that is what James McGrath announced at the start of the AAR/SBL panel on Blogging and Online Publishing. Formerly dominated by personal blogs, the religious studies blogosphere now features slickly designed sites ranging from non-profit web journals such as Ancient Jew Review to inter-disciplinary platforms like The Religious Studies Project which produces regular podcasts, interviews, and articles from leading scholars in the field.

The AAR/SBL panel featured several heavy-hitters to showcase this newly triumphant religion blogosphere—Bart Ehrman, Wil Gafney, and Lawrence Schiffman.

All three panelists shared a deep commitment to public engagement. An academic blog, they argued, can be a vital aspect to your teaching and research as you share complex ideas with a broader audience. Moreover, academic blogs offer an opportunity for academics to collaborate on projects, providing instant feedback to half-formed ideas that can eventually grow into a larger project such as an article or monograph.

Despite these benefits, all three panelists strongly cautioned graduate students away from blogging. Graduate students, according to Bart Ehrman, should be focused on their research. Blogging is a huge “time suck” that can slow down their progress toward finishing their dissertation. The other panelists warned that graduate students might inadvertently torpedo their careers by writing something that will be held against them in a hypothetical interview for a tenure-track job.  Of the three panelists, only Wil Gafney saw some benefit in graduate students blogging, though she did note the possible negative effects blogging could have on job searches outweighed the benefits. 

It seems that academic blogging is great, but, according to this panel, the risks outweigh the benefits.

After tweeting this unanimous opinion, something of a firestorm erupted on Twitter. Several newly-minted tenured professors cited their blog as a critical factor that secured their job. Others stridently defended graduate student blogging, saying blogs can help hone writing ability, develop ideas, and forge professional relationships between academics.

In a battle of anecdotal evidence, though, what advice should graduate students follow? The blogosphere of religious studies has clearly justified its existence, but where the graduate student fits into this community still remains tenuous.

Why Historians Should Consider Facebook and Twitter

Every now and then a post like this appears somewhere on-line.  Here are a few examples:

All of these posts (and others like them) provide very solid reasons for why academic and professional historians should use Facebook and Twitter.  I recommend reading them whenever they appear.
But let me offer a slightly different perspective.
When academic historians write and talk about using social media the conversation is always limited by the boundaries of the profession.  Social media can help historians network.  Social media can help historians share their work.  Social media can help historians share resources (usually in the form of links) with other historians.  All of this assumes that the people we follow or “friend,” and the people who follow and friend us, are all academic or professional historians.
My approach to social media has been different in the sense that I have not separated my professional life from certain aspects of my personal life.  Yes, there should be boundaries between the two and I have tried to keep them.  But people who follow me on Facebook or Twitter will also have to deal with the occasional (or not so occasional) photo of my family, a post on the New York Mets, or the latest fan-boy commentary on Bruce Springsteen.  I tend to approach life in an integrated fashion–perhaps to a fault.
The people who follow me on social media are very diverse.  I have conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans, evangelical Christians and atheists, academics and aunts and uncles, Mets fans and Yankee fans, and everyone in-between.  I like it this way.  
Sometimes we argue on Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes my liberal friends are shocked by the comments that appear on my feed.  Sometimes my conservative friends feel the same way. I prefer such diversity over the posts I read on many Facebook or Twitter accounts where all of those contributing to the conversation are of one ideological bent.  
Are you on social media?  How diverse is your following or list of “friends?”  Or do you find yourself preaching to the choir with every post or tweet?  
OK–back to historians.  As someone who wants to write for public audiences through blogging and other popular outlets, I love social media because I get to see what a diverse group of people are thinking about and how they are responding to the ever-changing world around them. The conversations that happen on social media–either on my sites or the sites of others–fuel my writing and provide me with ideas.   Sometimes it is less about posting and more about sitting back and reading the posts of others.
So join the conversation at Facebook or @johnfea1. Or perhaps open a Twitter or Facebook account of your own.

One more thing:  Those of us trying to provide bring solid content to social media outlets always prefer “retweets” over “favorites” on Twitter and “shares” to “likes” on Facebook

Christian Historians and Social Media: Part Five

Over at Religion in American History, Jonathan Den Hartog wraps up a week’s work of coverage of the Christian Historians and Social Media panel at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

For an introduction to the session and the series of posts that have appeared this week, see Jonathan Den Hartog’s post at Historical Conversations.  I also live-tweeted the session from the platform. You can read those tweets @johnfea1 or #cfh2014.  You can also read my contribution to the roundtable here.  Chris Gehrz’s contribution to the roundtable can be found at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman.  And Paul Putz weight in here.

Here is a taste of Jonathan’s wrap-up:

In the session, we were fortunate to have some live-tweeting going on. Some of it even came from our panelists! Chris Gehrz collected the relevant tweets here. For even more, you can follow the twitter hashtag #CFH2014. (This may generate some reflection on how a live-tweeted session may be communicated differently to the twitterverse than as experienced by participants.)

We have also had some web feed-back, with reflections from Warren Throckmortonand John Wilsey.

We wanted to use the Comments section of this post as a final place for interaction. If this conversation is of interest anywhere, it should be to the readers of and contributors to this blog.

So, with all of that background material, the digital floor is now open for comments and questions.

Christian Historians and Social Media: Part 4

Paul Putz (tall guy in the back row wearing a jacket, blue shirt, and dark tie) was part of a very distinguished group of faculty and graduate students from Baylor University who attended the CFH meeting in Malibu

Today is Paul Putz‘s turn to post the presentation he gave at the Christian Historians and Social Media panel at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History.  Paul is a graduate student in history at Baylor University. I thought his presentation added a much-needed perspective on how we historians can and should use social media. Paul was MUCH more prepared for this session than I was.  While I tried to string together some random thoughts scribbled on a small piece of paper, Paul read a stirring paper that did a wonderful job of linking the practice of blogging with Christian virtues.  Somebody hire this guy!

For an introduction to the session and the series of posts that have appeared this week, see Jonathan Den Hartog’s post at Historical Conversations.  I also live-tweeted the session from the platform. You can read those tweets @johnfea1 or #cfh2014.  You can also read my contribution to the roundtable here.  Chris Gehrz’s contribution to the roundtable can be found at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman.

Here is a taste of Paul’s post:


I’ll begin with a potential drawback to online engagement: the issue of time management. Blogging and tweeting does not a historian make. I cannot put on my CV, “Had link to a blog post retweeted by Paul Harvey.” As a graduate student, I need to be learning how to understand and engage with the scholarship of historians who have come before me. I need to be digging into archives, writing and reading as much as possible, and learning how to effectively teach undergraduates. There is no doubt that blogging, tweeting, and facebooking can take up time that should be going towards developing the skills needed to be a historian.

With that said, thinking of online activity as merely superfluous to the serious work of the graduate student misses its potential to help one develop the skills needed to be a historian. After all, I do have the option to choose what I blog about. Most of my blog posts are either condensed versions of research I have done for a paper or for a class, or they are reviews of books that I would likely read even if I wasn’t going to blog about them. The blogging, then, becomes a public expression and extension of the activities that I am already doing (or should be doing) as a graduate student. With book reviews in particular, it forces me to carefully read and assess a book and think about how it fits in with relevant historiography. Since my words will be public for all to see, and since the author himself or herself might read my review, there is an added pressure for me to fairly describe the shape and argument of the book.

Of course, this awareness that anyone – and particularly, that established historians – could read what I write leads to another potential problem: the desire for affirmation. As a graduate student, I should be developing my own voice and beginning the process of stepping out with confidence in my own assessments. The unseen pressure of an imagined audience of historians waiting to pick apart a misstated phrase can hinder that process. This problem is not unique to online writing, however. Graduate students experience the same anxiety, perhaps on a smaller scale, when writing papers for their professors. Online writing, then, can become another arena in which to fight a tendency already present in the offline classroom. As for other measures of affirmation that are unique to the online experience – page views, favorites, likes, and retweets – I will have more to say later in this paper.

Christian Historians and Social Media: Part 3

Chris’s notes from the session

Today is Chris Gehrz‘s turn to post the presentation he gave at the Christian Historians and Social Media panel at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, held last weekend in sunny Malibu, California. Many of you will know Chris from his excellent blog, The Pietist Schoolman.  But did you know that he runs 3 other blogs as well?

For an introduction to the session and the series of posts that will appear all week, see Jonathan Den Hartog’s post at Historical Conversations.  I also live-tweeted the session from the platform. You can read those tweets @johnfea1 or #cfh2014.  You can also read my contribution to the roundtable here.

Here is a taste of Chris’s post:

Then there’s this blog, which started in June 2011 as a summer experiment and is still going strong over a thousand posts later. I’ve had several goals for this blog, probably none more important to my professional development than the way that blogging has forced me to work regularly at my writing. It’s also been my attempt to reach a public that goes beyond the academy: family, friends, fellow church members, and complete strangers read this blog.
Unlike John, I didn’t start the blog because I had a book to market. But blogging has no doubt provided a platform — e.g., for our forthcoming book on Pietism and Christian higher ed, for securing a handful of speaking engagements — and fundamentally reshaped my professional image at Bethel and well beyond. (“Oh, you’re the Pietist schoolman,” said the environmental historian who ended up sitting next to me at the CFH banquet last Friday night.)
Two problems that I emphasized at the conference:
1. I write less often than a John Fea, but I write much longer posts than John. On average, probably 1000-1200 words. (This one will end up around 1800, I think.) Granted, that often includes quotations of not insignificant length, but attempting to generate that much original content much five times a week (plus a Saturday links wrap that includes a fair amount of commentary) had me close to burned out this summer — when I scaled back to a thrice-weekly schedule and then started a four-week sabbatical.
2. “Exploring Christianity, history, education, and how they intersect” is broad enough that I regularly veer between audiences in a single week, and I struggle with the problem of striking the right tone. (I do have one technique that tends to serve me well in these struggles…)

Christian Historians and Social Media: Part 2

Tweeting from the platform

Today is my turn to post my presentation at the Christian Historians and Social Media panel at the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History, held last weekend in sunny Malibu, California.  For an introduction to the session and the series of posts that will appear all week, see Jonathan Den Hartog’s post at Historical Conversations.  I also live-tweeted the session from the platform. You can read those tweets @johnfea1 or #cfh2014  –JF


1.  How did I begin blogging?

When my first book appeared in 2008, a publicist at the University of Pennsylvania Press suggested that I start a blog to help promote it.  I took her up on her suggestion, signed up for a Blogger account, and began blogging at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Many of my early posts were related to the book or the character of Philip Vickers Fithian (the subject of the book), but as I developed a small (very small) readership I began branching out into other topics.  I eventually decided that I would narrow my focus to American history (with an emphasis on early American history and American religious history, my fields of specialization), American religion, and the academic life.  As my readers know, I reserve the right to take excursions into politics, Bruce Springsteen, writing sheds, and music.  After all, it is my blog.

2.  Platform Blogging

The Way of Improvement Leads Home has become an important part of my professional profile.  In this sense, I have sought to forge an alternative academic/intellectual life than most academic historians.  It has become a platform.  Most of my work as a speaker, writer, and teacher, builds off of this platform. There are several series of posts that have become staples at the blog.  They are “Sunday Night Odds and Ends,” “So What CAN You Do with a History Major?” “John Fea’s Virtual Office Hours,” and “The Author’s Corner.” Most recently I have been blogging my way through the writing of my forthcoming book on the American Bible Society. I have received book contracts and speaking engagements based on this platform and I have used the blog in my teaching and as part of my outreach to the larger public. This is why I spend anywhere from 1-2 hours a day blogging.

3.  My Philosophy of Blogging

Everyone blogs differently.  My model for blogging is Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish.  Though I do not post as regularly as Sullivan (blogging is not my full-time job), I do try to throw up at least 2-3 posts a day.  My posts are often links to other articles or blog sites that I find interesting with a sentence or two of my own commentary. Because I post so regularly, I have developed a loyal following.  Many of my readers check in every day, so when I have something important to say (or at least what I think is important) in an original contribution I already have a built-in readership.

4. Is Blogging Scholarship?

Not in the traditional sense, because it is not peer reviewed.  But I do think that blogging is a form of public scholarship and should be considered as a form of teaching or service when professors go up for tenure and promotion.  Having said that, if scholarship is understood in a much wider way–such as the various forms of scholarship promoted by educator Ernest L. Boyer–blogging could very well be considered scholarship.  A lot of this depends on the institution.  I discussed this last Spring at a session on blogging at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians.

5.Conclusion
I blog out of a passion to reach a larger audience.  My readership at The Way of Improvement Leads Home includes academics, graduate students, history buffs, pastors, and Christian laypeople.  I think my blog bridges the gap between the study of American history and the church.