The Author’s Corner with David Kirkpatrick

KirkpatrickDavid C. Kirkpatrick is Assistant Professor of Religion at James Madison University.  This interview is based on his new book A Gospel for the Poor: Global Social Christianity and the Latin American Evangelical Left (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write A Gospel for the Poor?

DK: Writing this book was an exciting journey that took me to five countries and allowed me to interview fascinating characters around the world. I was especially motivated to bring the voices of marginalized yet deeply influential Christians into established and ongoing conversations. As I started the project, I began to uncover ways in which the influence of Latin Americans had been hidden or excluded, including through translation and adoption by American leaders. As a Spanish speaker myself, I was also motivated to translate Spanish materials for an English-speaking audience and to narrate the ways in which these leaders navigated their bilingual world. At times, progressive Latin American evangelicals used their bilingualism to their advantage, saying one thing in English and another in Spanish. This type of historical recovery motivated me throughout the project. But more importantly, I think their story was worth telling: A Cold War generation of Latin Americans who demanded a place at the table of global evangelical leadership, seeking to strip Christianity of its white, middle-class, American packaging. Within a fraught and contested space, they sought to construct a gospel for the poor.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Gospel for the Poor.

DK: In A Gospel for the Poor, I argue that the intellectual scaffolding of the Evangelical Left was built not in the American public square but in Cold War Latin America. In this context, transnational conversations provoked the rise of progressive evangelical politics, the explosion of Christian humanitarian organizations, and the infusion of social justice into the very mission of evangelicals around the world and across a broad spectrum of denominations.

JF: Why do we need to read A Gospel for the Poor?

DK: A Gospel for the Poorfuses the worlds of Pope Francis and Billy Graham. Many of the main characters in the book are familiar to readers—Graham, John Stott, Carl F. H. Henry, Stacey Woods (founder of InterVarsity-USA), Gustavo Gutiérrez, and others. This story not only recasts well-known Christian leaders but also argues for the importance and inclusion of lesser-known activists such as René Padilla, Orlando Costas, and Samuel Escobar. In order to do so, I utilized a far-flung set of archival materials mostly outside the United States—dusty boxes in René Padilla’s Buenos Aires garage, binders in Samuel Escobar’s apartment in Valencia, Spain, John Stott’s travel diary at Lambeth Palace library in London, long-thought-lost meeting minutes from Seminario Bíblico in San José, Costa Rica, papers of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Oxford, and, of course, the collections at Wheaton College to name a few. Alongside bilingual interviews, this subaltern dataset flavors the narrative and reframes key events and leaders.

A Gospel for the Poor seeks to answer key questions about progressive Christianity such as, why did many evangelicals in the North greet these ideas as family rather than foein contrast to their reaction to the so-called Social Gospel of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Thus, we turn not to centers of power but to a revolutionary Latin American university environment, examining a cluster of political and social forces reshaping the post-war Americas:  rural-urban migration flows, the resulting complications of urbanization, and the rapid expansion of the universities, where Marxist ideas of revolutionary change presented a growing appeal to students around the world. In turn, this produced a renaissance of social Christianities in the U.S. and buttressed an increasingly interventionist evangelical foreign policy, as well.

For the Evangelical Left, they required theological justification for their political action and when searching for words to describe a gospel for the poor, key members turned to the Global South and language that was forged within the Cold War. In the words of Emerging Church leader Brian McLaren, the Latin American Evangelical Left provided a “different theological ecosystem.”

Ultimately, A Gospel for the Poor contributes to an exciting ongoing conversation on evangelical internationalism and social Christianity. In this story, progressive Latin Americans became trailblazers, playing the role of controversial truthtellers and prophets, bringing to bear the reality of the Majority World into the consciousness of powerbrokers in the North. The role of progressive Latin Americans as a bridge between younger, emerging evangelical leadership in the Global South and the evangelical establishment was crucial to the task of challenging loyalties. In fact, it is fair to say that one cannot understand the contextual turn of global evangelicalism in the postwar period without understanding their role within it.

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

DKMy path to becoming an historian of World Christianity was rather circuitous. I have long been fascinated by the relationship between the United States and Latin America, with all their crucial intersections whether migration, religion, or politics. In college, I studied Spanish and lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, between my sophomore and junior years. Through many journeys prior and since, I fell in love with Latin American culture and history. In conversations and research, the shadow of the United States was ever-present. In grad school, I fell in love with archival research and interviewing—a love relationship that still motivates my work. But perhaps more than anything, two mentors shaped my journey as an historian—Doug Sweeney at TEDS and Brian Stanley at Edinburgh. They took me under their wing and, through hundreds of hours of mentorship, taught me how to think, research, and write. To me, they are also tremendous examples of Christian voices in our contentious contemporary world. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

JF: What is your next project?

DK: I have two current book projects that are well under way, both surrounding the issue of global religious violence. I am co-editing a collection of essays with Jason Bruner provisionally titled A Global Vision of Violence: Persecution, Media, and Martyrdom in World Christianity. We have a tremendous lineup of scholars with diverse perspectives. My second monograph is titled Blood and Borders: Violence and the Origins of the “Global War on Christians.” Blood and Borders situates American evangelicalism within in a transnational frame and foreground religious violence against Protestants in Latin America. It provides a fresh take on how American evangelicals view themselves, their neighbors, and their place in the world—a world that declared war on their perceived global family.

DK: Thanks, David!

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

How to capitalize headlines

What the heck is going on at Oberlin College?

American treasure-hunting

The New York Times tackles slavery

Sugar and slaves

Brenda Wineapple reviews Stephanie McCurry, Women’s War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War

Sarah Jones reviews Lyz Lenz, Godland: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America

American exclusionism

Confederate monuments manipulate history

Segregation and present-day traffic jams

The bobblehead hall of fame

A historian of communication on why digital platforms favor conservatives

Philip Jenkins on mesmerism

Struggling Christian colleges

The Declaration of Independence: myths and legends

Neem: We Cannot “Think Critically” Without Knowledge

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Johann Neem is on fire.  Earlier today we linked to his Chronicle of Higher Education piece calling for the elimination of the business major.  Now we link to his Hedgehog Review piece on “critical thinking.” I have ordered his book What’s the Point of College?: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.

Neem argues that critical thinking cannot take place without knowledge–the kind of knowledge one learns in a particular discipline.  Or, as he puts it, colleges and universities should understand skill development “in relation to the goods of liberal education.”

Here is a taste:

Advocates of critical thinking contrast thinking critically with learning knowledge. College professors, they proclaim, teach a bunch of stuff (facts, dates, formulae) that students don’t need and won’t use. Instead, students need to have intellectual and cognitive skills. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has proclaimed, “the world doesn’t care anymore what you know” but “what you can do.”

There are two problems with this perspective. First, it is fundamentally anti-intellectual. It presumes that the material colleges teach—the arts and sciences—does not matter, when, in fact, this is the very reason colleges exist. Second, these claims are wrong. Cognitive science demonstrates that if we want critical thinkers, we need to ensure that they have knowledge. Thinking cannot be separated from knowledge. Instead, critical thinking is learning to use our knowledge. The most effective critical thinkers, then, are those who learn history or physics. The stuff we learn about matters.

In many ways, the turn to skills is a defensive response. At a time when the humanities, in particular, are under attack, what better way to defend the humanities’ “useless knowledge” than by demonstrating that these are means to a larger end: critical thinking? However, one must acknowledge that these defenses reflect the capitulation of academics to utilitarian and pragmatic pressures. Lacking a convincing argument for the knowledge that anthropologists or historians have to offer, they instead proclaim that history and anthropology will serve employers’ needs better than will other fields. But if that’s the case, why does one really need to know anything about anthropology or history? Why should colleges hire anthropologists or historians instead of professors of critical thinking?

This is not an abstract question. When we turn from higher education to the K–12 system, we see that the focus on skills over knowledge has transformed the curriculum. Increasingly, especially under the Common Core State Standards, students devote their energies to learning skills, but they may not learn as much history or civics or science. Therefore, in contrast to the anti-intellectual rhetoric of many reformers, critical thinking must be defended because it encourages students to gain more insight from the arts and sciences.

Read the entire piece here.

Stephen Colbert Presents the Christian Gospel to Anderson Cooper

Here is the entire interview:

The stuff in the tweet below begins at about the 13:00 mark.

Teaching Reading Through Historical Sources

Paxton_massacre

Do you want to teach your students how to think historically?  Do you want to teach them to read in a deeper way?  Do you want to teach them about the past?

If your answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes” (as it should be), you will like this piece at Education Week. Reporter Sarah Schwartz spent some time with the teachers attending a Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History summer seminar on native American history at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Gathering in small groups around folding tables laden with 250-year-old maps, pamphlets, and images, the teachers thought aloud about what the documents could tell their students—and what questions the pages couldn’t answer.

“Even before getting into information—who wrote this?” said Mark Stetina, a local middle school history teacher, pouring over a political cartoon and imagining how he would introduce it to his students. “Then, almost more important is—who’s missing?” he said. This question of missing voices was central to the day’s workshop, part of a project at the Library Company called Redrawing History. The library has digitized hundreds of documents about this massacre, but almost none are from Native American sources. Now, the organization is working with native artists to create an original graphic novel that attempts to recover some of those voices.

For teachers, the workshop offered a look into the archives and lessons on how to use the forthcoming novel. And it raised a question about teaching history: How do you paint a full picture of the past for your students when some voices have long been silenced?

Since the introduction of the Common Core State Standards a decade ago, teachers have been encouraged to give primary sources a more prominent place in the classroom. The standards emphasize close analysis of texts across subject areas, which in history and social studies can mean reading these kinds of archival documents. In the years since, both the U.S. Library of Congress and the National Archives have expanded their digital collections in an effort to make resources available for teachers.

Read the entire piece here.

By the way, you can view of a lot of the sources used in this Gilder-Lehrman seminar at the Digital Paxton website.

Slavery Was America’s First Big Business

COtton

Cornell University history professor Ed Baptist talks with Vox‘s P.R. Lockhart about his 2014 book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American CapitalismHere is a taste:

P.R. Lockhart

When you talk about the sort of myth-making that has been used to create specific narratives about slavery, one of the things you focus on most is the relationship between slavery and the American economy. What are some of the myths that get told when it comes to understanding how slavery is tied to American capitalism?

Edward E. Baptist

One of the myths is that slavery was not fuel for the growth of the American economy, that it actually the brakes put on US growth. There’s a story that claims slavery was less efficient, that wage labor and industrial production wasn’t significant for the massive transformation of the US economy that you see between the time of Independence and the time of the Civil War.

And yet that period is when you see the US go from being a colonial, primarily agricultural economy to being the second biggest industrial power in the world — and well on its way to becoming the largest industrial power in the world.

Another myth is that slavery, in and of itself as an economic system, was unchanging. We fetishize machine and machine production and see it as quintessentially modern — the kinds of improvements in production and efficiency that you see from hooking up a cotton spindle to a set of pulleys, which are in turn pulled by a water wheel or steam engine. That’s seen as more efficient than the old way of someone sitting there and doing it by hand.

But you can also get changes in efficiency if you change the pattern of production and you change the incentives of the labor and the labor process itself. And we still make these sorts of changes today in businesses — the kind of transformations that speed up work to a point where we say that it is modern and dynamic. And we see these types of changes in slavery as well, particularly during cotton slavery in the 19th-century US.

The difference, of course, is that this is not the work of wage workers or professional workers. It is the work of enslaved people. And the incentive is not “do this or you’ll get fired” or “you won’t get a raise.” The incentive is that if you don’t do this you’ll get whipped — or worse.

The third myth about this is that there was not a tight relationship between slavery in the South and what was happening in the North and other parts of the modern Western world in the 19th century. It was a very close relationship: Cotton was the No. 1 export from the US, which was largely an export-driven economy as it was modernizing and shifting into industrialization. And the slavery economy of the US South was deeply tied financially to the North, to Britain, to the point that we can say that people who were buying financial products in these other places were in effect owning slaves and were certainly extracting money from the labor of enslaved people.

So those are the three myths: that slavery did not cause in any significant way the development and transformation of the US economy, that slavery was not a modern or dynamic labor system, and that what was happening in the South was a separate thing from the rest of the US.

Read the entire piece here.

Conservatives, Reactionaries, Liberals and the Left

Andrew Sullivan‘s recent piece at New York Magazine is helpful and worth your time.  Here is a taste:

But there is a place where conservatives and reactionaries find common cause — and that is when the change occurring is drastic, ideological, imposed by an elite, and without any limiting principle. This is not always easy to distinguish from more organic change — but there is a distinction. On immigration, for example, has the demographic transformation of the U.S. been too swift, too revolutionary, and too indifferent to human nature and history? Or is it simply a new, if challenging, turn in a long, American story of waves of immigrants creating a country that’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope? If you answer “yes” to the first, you’re a reactionary. If “yes” to the second, you’re a liberal. If you say yes to both, you’re a conservative. If you say it’s outrageous and racist even to consider these questions, you’re a card-carrying member of the left.

In a new essay, Anton explains his view of the world: “What happens when transformative efforts bump up against permanent and natural limits? Nature tends to bump back. The Leftist response is always to blame nature; or, to be more specific, to blame men; or to be even more specific, to blame certain men.” To be even more specific, cis white straight men.

But what are “permanent and natural limits” to transformation? Here are a couple: humanity’s deep-seated tribalism and the natural differences between men and women. It seems to me that you can push against these basic features of human nature, you can do all you can to counter the human preference for an in-group over an out-group, you can create a structure where women can have fully equal opportunities — but you will never eradicate these deeper realities.

The left is correct that Americans are racist and sexist; but so are all humans. The question is whether, at this point in time, America has adequately managed to contain, ameliorate, and discourage these deeply human traits. I’d say that by any reasonable standards in history or the contemporary world, America is a miracle of multiracial and multicultural harmony. There’s more to do and accomplish, but the standard should be what’s doable within the framework of human nature, not perfection.

Read the entire piece here.

Johann Neem: “Abolish the Business Major”

Neem 1It is hard to argue with Western Washington University historian Johann Neem on this point.  The business major is an “anti-intellectual” degree program that should have “no place in colleges.” Why? Neem develops his thoughts in his new book What’s the Point of College?: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.  In an essay at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Neem argues that business majors should be abolished because:

1. Business majors earn just as much money as liberal arts majors.

2. Business degrees do not teach the skills that employers value.

Here is a taste of his piece:

Ultimately, then, the reason to abandon business degrees is because college is not for anything and everything. A college graduate ought to be a different kind of person than someone who did not attend college. The issue is not just skills, but character. It is not about being for or against business, but rather about ensuring the specific kinds of education that a college degree should represent. A good college education offers access to the knowledge requisite to be a thoughtful interpreter of the world, fosters the academic skills necessary to develop meaningful interpretations on one’s own, and cultivates intellectual virtues. In other words, college is defined by its content — by the kinds of things that one ought to think about.

The business major is for students who want a college degree without a college education. The philosopher Tal Brewer has written that the very notion of business school is an “oxymoron.” The word “scholar” derives from the Greek word for leisure. Colleges are places where people step aside from the world of need — from the world of business — to engage in reflection. “Devoted to discussion and thought unfolding under its own internal demands,” a college cannot with integrity offer “training for the sort of life that has no place for such thought.” Business schooling is “a scholé of the negation of scholé.”

Business is an activity that we engage in to achieve other goods. A college graduate must be educated to think about those goods thoughtfully and critically, especially because markets are cultural institutions, shaped by what we value. But the very existence of the business major teaches students that the end of business is business. In reality, each good or service has its own distinct purposes, practices, and virtues.

Read the rest here.  Someone had to say it.

The Size of Greenland

Mercator_projection_Square

Greenland is way too big on this map

Trump apparently wants to buy Greenland.

Much like the presidential election of 1844 centered around the annexation of Texas, perhaps the 2020 election will focus on the annexation of Greenland.  Trump can channel his inner James K. Polk.  Some of you remember that Polk wanted Texas so that white supremacy and slavery could spread.  Maybe Stephen Miller is whispering in Trump’s ear with a racist plan to send undocumented immigrants to Greenland.

But I digress.  🙂

If Trump does manage to buy Greenland, the United States would pass Canada as the second-largest country in the world.  Only Russia would be larger.

Over at The Washington Post, Andrew Van Dam shows how world maps deceive us into thinking Greenland is larger than it actually is.  Here is a taste of his piece “The Acquisition of Greenland Would Trump the Louisiana Purchase“:

But while Greenland is mind-bendingly vast, most Americans probably believe it to be even vaster. As New York Times reporter Nate Cohn pointed out Thursday night on Twitter, most of us grew up viewing the world through a descendant of the map projection pioneered by 16th-century Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator.

Mercator’s projection displays the world with relative accuracy around the equator, but heavily distorts areas near the poles. As one of the northernmost landmasses in the world, Greenland is also one of the most distorted — it has become something of a poster child for Mercator’s shortcomings.

Read the entire piece here.

Saved By Bruce

blinded-by-the-light-yt-thumb-5f40ad83b5dc50ac221cecf17a83235e

Earlier this week I saw Blinded by the Light, the feel-good movie about a Pakistani teenager named Javed Kahn living in Luton, England during the Thatcher years.  Javed’s depressing life is transformed after he is exposed to the the music of Bruce Springsteen.  I wrote about the movie here.

I really enjoyed Richard Brody’s review of Blinded by the Light at The New Yorker. Here is my favorite paragraph:

Yet what’s heartwarming about “Blinded by the Light” is its pursuit of easy unanimity, which it achieves by borrowing plot elements that have the ring of authenticity and then sweetening and contrivedly assembling them so as to denature them. Javed’s life is changed one day at school, when a classmate named Roops (Aaron Phagura), who’s Sikh, approaches him and, in an encouragingly friendly gesture, offers him cassettes of two albums of his musical hero: “the Boss.” Javed is puzzled. Roops clears up the mystery: “The Boss of us all.” When Javed listens to Bruce Springsteen, the lyrics swirl around him on screen and he is transformed. What’s odd about the way that the movie handles Javed’s awakening is that its result is a monomaniacal fixation on Springsteen. Javed’s discovery of the Boss’s music doesn’t unlock the door to music for him, or to rock music, or to personal poetic rock at large, the way that a discovery of Beethoven might open up a world of classical music, or a discovery of François Truffaut might spark the discovery of cinema, or that of Virginia Woolf might ignite the discovery of novels. Rather, the movie looks benignly, even beatifically, at Javed’s cult of personality, as he fills his room with Springsteen posters, imitates Springsteen’s way of dressing, and seemingly listens to nothing but Springsteen’s albums. Far from sparking Javed’s curiosity, Springsteen sparks his incuriosity.

Read the entire review here.

The *Western Stars* Documentary is Coming

Springsteen’s most recent album, Western Stars, will be the subject of a music documentary that Warner Brothers will release this Fall.  Here is Variety:

Warner Bros. has nabbed global rights to “Western Stars,” the upcoming music documentary co-directed by Bruce Springsteen. The film will be released on the big screen and will open in theaters this fall after its world premiere at September’s Toronto International Film Festival.

“Western Stars” is Springsteen’s first studio album in five years and the film marks his directorial debut. It weaves in archival footage along with Springsteen’s narration, and shows him performing all 13 songs on the album, alongside a band and a full orchestra, in a nearly 100-year-old barn on the singer’s property.

The film was also overseen by Thom Zimny, a frequent Springsteen collaborator. Zimny directed the Boss in “Springsteen on Broadway” and “Bruce Springsteen: Hunter of Invisible Game” (2014), and picked up a Grammy Award for “Wings on Wheels: The Making of Born to Run” (2005).

“Bruce lives in the super rarified air of artists who have blazed new and important trails deep into their careers,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Picture Group. “With ‘Western Stars,’ Bruce is pivoting yet again, taking us with him on an emotional and introspective cinematic journey, looking back and looking ahead. As one of his many fans for over 40 years, I couldn’t be happier to be a rider on this train with Bruce and Thom.”

Read the rest here.

Naples

Teaching on the First Day of Class

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James Lang, an English professor at Assumption College, offers some good advice on how to engage students during the first day of class.  Any good teacher, he argues, will get four things accomplished on day one:

  1. Spark curiosity
  2. Cultivate community
  3. Get started with learning
  4. Set expectations

Lang develops these points in the context of different disciplinary courses.  Check out the piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education. It is definitely worth your time.

Is David Brooks the Last American Whig?

Brooks speaking

No newspaper, magazine, or website is credible these days until it publishes a “David Brooks spiritual pilgrimage” article. 🙂

Most of these pieces are reviews of his latest book The Second Mountain.  Check out examples of this genre at The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Columbia Journalism Review, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The Christian Century.

The latest Brooks spiritual pilgrimage piece can be found at America magazine where writer Bill McGarvey explores The New York Times columnist’s interest in the writings of St. Augustine and Dorothy Day.

What struck me most about McGarvey’s piece was a paragraph in which writer E.J. Dionne calls Brooks “the last living, surviving American Whig:

“David is the last living, surviving American Whig,” says E. J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist and Brooks’s frequent debate partner on NPR. In the mid-19th century, the Whig Party—typified by Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln—advocated for “old national greatness conservatism…internal improvements, use the government to build the country and its competitive capacity. But there was also a very strong moral and religious strain to the Whigs,” he says. “Even in David’s most conservative period, he was always drawn to the communitarian strains of conservatism.”

Read the entire piece here.

If you want to learn more about the Whig Party, start with Daniel Walker Howe’s book What Hath God Wrought or Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer PresidentIf you want to go even deeper, check out Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs or Michael Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

Hey Eric Metaxas, Please Stop Using Ethnic Slurs About Italians So Cavalierly

Watch this Salem Radio love-fest between Eric Metaxas and Sebastian Gorka:

Most readers of the blog know Metaxas.  He is a court evangelical, author, and host of the Eric Metaxas Show on Salem.  Gorka’s brief and controversial stint as a Trump adviser landed him a radio show on the Christian network.

In this exchange, Metaxas and Gorka are discussing CNN anchor Chris Cuomo’s recent profanity-laced outburst toward a man who was harassing him on a family vacation.  The CNN celebrity took offense to this man calling him “Fredo,” a reference to the weak Corleone brother in The Godfather.

Cuomo claimed that “Fredo” is an ethnic slur against Italians.  I am half-Italian and grew-up around a lot of Italian family members, but I have never heard the name of the late John Cazanale‘s character in The Godfather used as a slur–ethnic or otherwise. So on this point, Metaxas and Gorka are probably correct.

But Metaxas does not stop there.  He says, “you would think that someone had called him [Cuomo] a ‘no-good guinea, wop;’ and even that’s funny in this day and age.”

I am sure Metaxas will think I am a snowflake for saying this, but calling an Italian-American a “guinea” or a “wop” is NOT funny–not even in “this day and age.”  For many Italian-Americans, especially those of a certain generation, these terms still open-up old wounds.  Perhaps Metaxas should study some Italian-American history. 

Let me be clear.  We Italian-Americans now enjoy white privilege. Today, the words “guinea” or “wop” do not have the sting that they once had.  Things have changed over time for Italian-Americans.  I would thus never equate the discrimination Italian-Americans have faced with the the plight of African-Americans in our history.  (Although I know many Italian-American political conservatives who would make this kind of moral equivalence argument).

But many of us have also sat at the feet of elders who told us stories about the prejudicial treatment they once faced.  Some of these stories are not pretty.  A few of these elders are still alive.  Some of their wounds have not completely healed.

Italians No

It is also worth noting that Metaxas appears to defend Tucker Carlson’s recent “white supremacy is a hoax” line.

At one point in the conversation Metaxas says, “In America, we have the freedom to say stupid things.” Yup.

Emma Lazarus’s Biographer Weighs-In

Statue of Liberty

After the recent Ken Cuccinelli debacle, several outlets are doing a nice job of informing the public about Emma Lazarus and her relationship to American immigration history.  Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion interviews Princeton professor and Lazarus biographer Esther Schor.

The interview reminds us that Lazarus’s poem The New Colossus “has never represented America’s immigration policy.  It’s always been aspirational.”

Here is a taste:

Between the 1930s and now, it somehow went from an interventionist poem, making an argument not everyone agreed with, to something that a lot of people think of fundamentally American. By 1986, you write in your biography, at the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty, the poem was uncontroversially included. So, sometime between 1930 and 1986, what happened to change its status?

The poem began as a subversive poem. It’s literally subverting the meaning of the statue that the French intended it to have, which was to honor French republicanism and abolitionism. So Lazarus single-handedly changed what the statue meant.

That subversive poem becomes a bourgeois piety, at a certain point. The Cold War had something to do with it—in essence, the Statue of Liberty becomes a symbol of American liberty, as opposed to fascism. Irving Berlin set the poem to music and used it in “Miss Liberty” in 1949; the Statue of Liberty is also used in Saboteur, a 1942 Hitchcock movie. Then, “The New Colossus” is also taken up in the public schools as a recitation poem—it’s widely anthologized, read at civic gatherings. It’s hard to find a date, but I think the Cold War had a lot to do with it.

And my sense is it’s recovering its subversive power now. 

Yes, I wanted to ask your perspective on the recurrent resurfacings of the poem in our debate over immigration. On the left, the impulse seems to be to correct anti-immigration Trump officials by making reference to this poem’s ideals. Yet, the poem has always been representative of a particular point of view on American immigration—not a consensus position. It seems hard to point this out without undermining the authority of sentiments I basically agree with!

The poem has had its detractors, years before Stephen Miller. Most notably, David Duke, who published a whole chapter on Emma Lazarus in one of his books. Stormfront calls her the “Jewess who tried to ruin the U.S.” There’s an alt-right tradition of aiming right at the poem.

Think about it this way. What other left cause in this country, if we’re going to call immigration a “left” cause, which it is right now … what other cause has its poem? Where’s the health care sonnet, where’s the gerrymandering sonnet? We don’t have these. We happen to have this poem, and granted people have focused on two lines or a line and a half of it, but there it is. It just comes right out. I have this Google alert for “Give me your tired, your poor,” and at midnight I get all the uses of it, in the press. All over the world. I get things from Australia; Aberdeen, Scotland; Singapore… this poem is just on everybody’s lips.

Read the entire interview here.

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My Review of the Netflix Documentary “The Family”

The FamilyMy review is online today at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

Historians of American Christianity were hard at work trying to convince academics and the general public that evangelicalism was a religious movement, not a cover for a nefarious attempt to create a 17th century Puritan theocracy. The efforts of these historians, of course, did not come easy during the Age of Reagan, the Moral Majority and the so-called culture wars. Sharlet’s book didn’t help the cause.

But much has changed in the past decade. In fact, Moss and Sharlet’s documentary, which devotes the bulk of its coverage to developments in “The Family” after 2010, is quite timely. The Christian Right has found renewed energy since President Trump’s election. Christian nationalism, the idea that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation and needs to return to its religious roots, is on the rise. Many pundits and scholars wonder if the evangelical movement can be separated from the agenda of the Republican Party.

It’s time to examine Sharlet’s work (and now Moss’ work) with fresh eyes and for this reason alone, “The Family” is must viewing.

Read the entire review here.

A Review of Three New Washington D.C. Exhibits on the Women’s Suffrage Movement

women's Sufferage

Are you looking for one more quick get-away this summer?  Why not take a women’s suffrage-themed trip to Washington D.C.?

Over at The New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler reviews exhibits at the National Portrait Gallery, Library of Congress, and National Archives.  These exhibits, Schuessler argues, reveal the complexity of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Together, these shows — all curated by women — make up one of the richest explorations of women’s history yet assembled in the capital, or anywhere else. But they also offer a lesson in the messiness, complexities and compromises involved in any movement for social change — and the fraught politics of historical memory itself.

For years, the drive for women’s suffrage was presented mainly as the story of middle-class white women and iconic national leaders like Anthony and Stanton. That story began with the Seneca Falls Convention in upstate New York in 1848 and ended with the triumphant adoption of the amendment on Aug. 26, 1920, which resulted in the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in American history.

But in recent decades scholars have taken a less top-down view, emphasizing the movement’s multiple starting points and patchwork progress through hundreds of state and local campaigns. They have also excavated the role of African-American women, who were largely excluded from the major, white-led suffrage organizations and marginalized in the early histories of the movement, if they were mentioned at all.

Even before the centennial year began, there have been tensions over who and what to celebrate — or even how to sum up the amendment’s significance.

Read the entire piece here.