CFA: 2017 American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Archives Fellowship Program

Lauren Turek

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Archives recently announced that it is accepting applications for its 2017 fellowship program, which may be of interest to those who study American Jewish history or American religious history more broadly. This year, the JDC Archives will award five or six fellowships to deserving scholars engaged in graduate level, post-doctoral, or independent study to conduct research in the JDC Archives, either in New York or Jerusalem. Research topics in the fields of twentieth century Jewish history, general history, and humanitarian assistance will be considered, as well as other areas of academic research covered in the JDC archival collections. The fellowship awards range from $2,500-$5,000.

The JDC Archives documents the relief, rescue and rehabilitation activities of the organization, from its inception in 1914 to the present. The repository houses one of the most significant collections in the world for the study of modern Jewish history. Comprising the organizational records of JDC, the overseas rescue, relief, and rehabilitation arm of the American Jewish community, the archives includes over 3 miles of text documents, 100,000 photographs, 1100 audio recordings, 1300 video recordings, 95 oral histories, and 157 recorded historic speeches and broadcasts.

Secularism, Religious Freedom, and Global Politics: a CFP

Charles McCrary

The Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion (SECSOR), the southeastern region of the AAR, recently released its call for papers (due October 1). I bring this to your attention for multiple reasons, all of which are meant to encourage you to submit a paper. SECSOR is in Raleigh, NC, March 3-5, 2017. Scholars from anywhere, even if your home institution is outside the region, are able to attend and participate. SECSOR is always a good time, a small conference that’s not too small, with good papers and conversation. Also, my birthday is often during SECSOR, and next year is no exception; so, you can come to my birthday party. And there are lots of great sections—some of which are chaired by RiAH bloggers, including Mike Graziano, Andy McKee, Molly Reed, and blogmeister Cara Burnidge, as well as many friends of the blog. But the most specific reason I’m writing is to tell you about a new section (er, technically, “consultation”)! That section, which zealously covets your submissions, is titled Secularism, Religious Freedom, and Global Politics.

Here is the call for papers:

“Proposals from any disciplinary or methodological perspective on topics related to secularism, religious freedom, and global politics are welcome. We are especially interested in proposals related to (1) the roles of religious freedom in international relations and foreign policy; (2) critical accounts of ‘freedom’ or ‘religious’ in the production of ‘religious freedom;’ (3) conceptualizations and consequences of the public and private; (4) discourses of religious freedom in historical or contemporary debates about refugees.”

The 30th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History

Mark Edwards

Just a quick note to say that the early registration deadline for the next Conference on Faith and History meeting at Regent University is fast approaching.  Once again, organizers have assembled an impressive list of panels, presentations, and keynote speakers.  You can find the conference program here.

Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity

The 30th Biennial Meeting of the Conference on Faith & History

October 20-22, 2016 at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia

Plenary Speakers

Kate Bowler (Duke Divinity School)

Thomas S. Kidd (Baylor University)

Verónica Gutiérrez (Azusa Pacific University)

Jay Green (Covenant College)

Hesburgh Research Travel Grants & Five Questions with Edward Hahnenberg

[Last year, Cushwa began offering a new series of research travel grants for work in the papers of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C. Since Hesburgh was involved in so many areas of 20th century intellectual, political, social, educational, and religious life, we are excited to see his papers made accessible to scholars of American history and politics as well as of Catholicism. The grants will be awarded on a twice-yearly schedule, with deadlines on October 1 and April 1, and we encourage submissions from scholars in any discipline for this fall's cycle (see the website for details.)

The first five recipients were named in April, and several have already begun work. Today's blog post features a conversation with one of them, Edward Hahnenberg of John Carroll University. Hahnenberg, a systematic theologian, knew Fr. Hesburgh personally and became interested in his life and thought while a student at Notre Dame.]

What's New? What's Next?

Elesha Coffman

Many readers of this blog likely received an email recently from the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, which is starting to plan its 2017 Biennial Conference. Among other questions, the message asked, "Given what you know about our field and about our conference, what areas require our focused attention?"

In addition to reminding me to mark my calendar for a conference that's always lively and interdisciplinary in the best way, this question made me think about trends in the study of American religion--a topic that is extra important for me now that I'm at an institution (Baylor) that trains graduate students. What's new in our field, broadly conceived? And, although historians wisely shy away from predicting the future, what might be next?

Paul Putz's most recent preview of forthcoming books (found here) suggests some trends. Attention to economics--some of which might go under the heading of the "business turn" in American religious history, some of which might not--runs through four September titles: Julie L. Holcomb, Moral Commerce: Quakers and the Transatlantic Boycott of the Slave Labor Economy; Harvey Cox, The Market as God; Matthew Pehl, The Making of Working-Class Religion; and Marcia Walker-McWilliams, Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality. The topic of sports makes a run a bit later in the year, with books by Timothy B. Neary (Crossing Parish Boundaries: Race, Sports, and Catholic Youth in Chicago, 1914-1954), William J. Baker (Of Gods and Games: Religious Faith and Modern Sports), and Steven Fink (Dribbling for Dawah: Sports among Muslim Americans) in October and November. Foreign policy, missions, liberal religious expressions, print culture, and environmentalism all appear on the list multiple times, and there seem to be especially strong crops of books on Mormonism and Judaism.

What strikes me most, though, is the amount and variety of work on race, especially though not exclusively on African American concerns. The titles are too numerous to recount here. Members of our guild are making valuable contributions to national conversations on racial ethics and aesthetics, Reconstruction and lynching, civil rights and social justice, with scopes of vision ranging from small towns to the transatlantic world. There is so much to learn and teach here.

What else is new or emerging in our field? What would you like to hear about at RAC, or ASCH, or in the seminars you're taking or teaching? What are we, as a guild, doing well, and what can we do better?

New Books in American Religious History: 2016 Year in Preview, Part Three (September-December)

Paul Putz

It's time for part three of the 2016 book preview list. This one will cover books published in September through December. If you missed the first two lists, here is part one and here is part two.

The usual preface: I've listed the books in roughly chronological order based on the month of their tentative release date. Although I've tried to include as many relevant and interesting titles as I could find, I'm sure that I left out some deserving books. Sometimes this is because publishers don't have updated information on their websites, and sometimes it's because I just missed it. Please feel free to use the comments to add to this list and I can update the post as needed.

As for how I define what is "American" in American religion (to say nothing of what is "religion" in American religion), for the purposes of these lists I mostly follow Kathryn Gin Lum's response in this IUPUI RAAC forum. There, she articulated an understanding of "America" as the region that eventually became known as the United States. That definition does have problems, of course, which is why your contributions to this list -- contributions which envision "America" differently -- are more than welcome.

Now, on to the books! (after this collage to add some color to any social media links)

Evaluating the Social Gospel Movement

Janine Giordano Drake

Historians are currently debating an important question: To what extent was the Social Gospel movement empowering for working people? To what extent was it defeating? I expect the debate to run for a while.

First, Heath Carter's 2015 Union Made firmly argues that it was editors of working class newspapers, union leaders, and their rank-and-file colleagues who "made" the Social Gospel movement. That is, they advanced a version of Christian producerism and demanded that they were in fact deserving of a greater share of the blessings of economic productivity.  Carter locates this producerist tradition in the nineteenth century, so he identifies Anglo-Protestant artisans and working class intellectuals like Andrew Cameron as representative examples of this Gilded Age, working class Christian tradition.  Carter sees the roots of the Social Gospel in the conservative, Anglo-Protestant trade-union movement of the nineteenth century. He thus identifies the Social Gospel as a generative, empowering, working class movement in early twentieth century Chicago.

A second new book on the subject also explores Christian producerist protest within the Gilded Age. It, too, seeks to contextualize the protests and pleas of Christian artisans and workers as they became marginalized within a quickly-industrializing city. But, rather than illustrating the creation of the Social Gospel as a triumph for workers, the second is a story of the defeat of a working class social gospel. It shows how the Christian producerist movement in New York City got destroyed by big business, the Catholic Church, and political machines.

Perhaps it is significant that the second book is about New York, rather than Chicago. It focuses on Catholics, rather than Protestants, and it follows the Knights of Labor more closely than it follows the American Federation of Labor.

Nonetheless, Edward O'Donnell's Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality  illustrates the extent to which working class people were thwarted in their efforts to advance a very similar "social gospel" (which Carter describes).* Put another way, the social gospel advanced by Henry Geroge was destroyed by the 1890s. It did not advance the cause of American workers in the long run, and certainly did not neatly dovetail with the Social Gospel movement of clerics and reformers in the Progressive Era.

One key difference between the books is in the ways the two authors, looking at two different cities, view the "working class" differently. To Carter, highly-skilled, trades-union men in Chicago are (at least one key component of) the working classes. To O'Donnell, working class Christian producerism coheres much more closely around the Irish-American Knights of Labor and the tenant, frequently immigrant, classes. O'Donnell illustrates a Central Labor Union in New York profoundly aware of the differences in class among its members. Carter illustrates a trades union assembly in Chicago that rejects radicalism as an "ism" rather than a set of poorer, non-Protestant, and less empowered compatriots.  O'Donnell's working classes are seeking a remedy to the growing urban inequality between Gilded Age rich and poor. Carter's working classes feel disempowered economically and socially, but they are not really interested in broad social levelling. In fact, they are on their way toward substantive cooperation with the Anglo-Protestant elites of the city within the coming, Progressive Era.

Boxing and the YMCA War Dogs


Adam Park 

As a long-time champion of physical health and moral goodness, the YMCA easily found national purpose in the First Great War. It was all but destined. A newly tasked "arm of the Federal Service" by "executive order of the President," the Y became "militarized." Apropos, the Y forged deadly assassins in its religious furnace. Charged with the vital task of keeping the American Expeditionary Forces in shape, the Y not only sought to build character, but to train efficient and effective killers. Here's a brief tale of how they did it.


An Interview with Susan Trollinger and Bill Trollinger: Righting America at the Creation Museum


I spoke recently with Susan Trollinger and Bill Trollinger about their new book, Righting America at the Creation Museum.

Susan L. Trollinger is Associate Professor of English at the University of Dayton. Her research interests include visual rhetoric, classical rhetoric, and the study of Protestant fundamentalism and Young Earth Creationism in American culture. William Vance Trollinger Jr. is Professor of History in the History and Religious Studies Departments at the University of Dayton, as well as Director of UD's Core Integrated Studies Program. His research interests include American evangelicalism and fundamentalism, Protestant print culture, creationism, and the Ku Klux Klan

PC: In the introduction you talk about the need, when studying the Creation Museum, to “slow it all down” – could you talk about what you mean by that?

ST: We borrow that reading strategy from people like Sut Jhally, who bring together semiotics and content analysis to enable us to see patterns in texts that otherwise might elude us. Jhally, for instance, uses this strategy for his work on music videos. Music videos can seem to say a lot of different things when it comes to male and female sexuality. But by slowing music videos down and looking at them carefully, by de-contextaualizing them in this way, he shows us that music videos in fact say the same thing about male and female sexuality again and again. And, by the way, what they say is not good for men or women. We were borrowing that methodology. When you go into the Creation Museum there is so much going on: you have dioramas—both life-size and miniature, lots of signage and placards, videos, films, objects displayed in glass cases, an ever-present sound track. All kinds of things are going on, and we just wanted to slow it all down, take it apart, and look very carefully at it. What exactly are the arguments being made? How are they being made? What kind of evidence is being offered in support of their claims? Does the reasoning make sense? How is the visitor positioned in relationship to the dioramas? In our book, we try to take the visitor out of what can be an overwhelming experience in the museum, and slow it all down so they can see what is underway—so that they can see, for instance, that as they move through the museum they are on a narrative path. That is walking along that path, they are inhabiting a certain story and a certain argument. We try to help our reader get a clearer understanding of that story, that argument, and how it is constructed?

Digital History and Houses of Worship

Jonathan Den Hartog

The definite highlight of my summer has been participating in a NEH-sponsored Summer Seminar on "Doing Digital History." It was co-led by Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan, and RiAH's own Lincoln Mullen came in as a guest lecturer for several days. And, because of the program's commitment to openness, the resources from the seminar are all available.

The program had a number of benefits for me, including learning about many available digital tools and reflecting on the ways I could use them in both my teaching and research. Also, I could potentially show up at a ThatCamp and participate. And, I came to appreciate much more the points Lincoln Mullen was making in his posts from earlier this year (here and here).

The Seminar also exposed me to many types of digital history projects that have been done, as examples of possibilities opened up by digital tools.

To that end, I wanted to point RiAH readers to the "Houses of Worship" project housed at the University of Minnesota and headed by Jeanne H. Kilde. The project seeks to document religious sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul between 1849 and 1924.  For that period, they have identified 250 congregations and 500 sites of religious and ethnic activity, including clubs, hospitals, settlement houses, and schools.

The project does several interesting things. First, it documents the congregations and organizations, providing short descriptions of each item. In this, they make good use of records, including WPA documentation housed at the Minnesota Historical Society. Second, the visual resources are beneficial, as they connect the descriptions of many sites to images of of those sites or of their surroundings. Finally--and what I was most taken by--was the mapping of the locations to show where they were and where they stood in relation to other sites. This mapping grew even more useful as it is connected to a time-slider to demonstrate how locations changed over time.

This project strikes me as of more than just local interest. It is true that the data appealed to me, living in the Twin Cities and driving past some of these locations. But, this project should be of interest to many more people than just Minnesotans. The project helps remind us of the spatial component of lived religion (hence the need for maps!). Obviously, the interior spaces are of most importance to believers, and what counts is the spiritual matters engaged in. Yet, exterior space also matters, as buildings communicate and even bear witness to outsiders. Thus, how buildings exist in community space is an important factor, as well as how those buildings are positioned in relationship to one another.

Further, this project could inspire others to do local histories of congregations in cities and locales and to understand the relationships of congregations and groups to each other.

Introducing America's Public Bible (Beta)


by Lincoln Mullen

It’s the start of August, and I don’t want to presume on the good graces of this blog’s readers. So in the spirit of late summer, I’m finally getting around to briefly describing of one of my summer projects in the hope that you find it fun, leaving a fuller accounting of the why and wherefore of the project for another time.

America’s Public Bible is a website which looks for all of the biblical quotations in Chronicling America. Chronicling America is a collection of digitized newspapers from the Library of Congress as part of the NEH’s National Digital Newspaper Program. ChronAm currently has some eleven million newspaper pages, spanning the years 1836 to 1922. Using the text that ChronAm provides, I have looked for which Bible verses (just from the KJV for now) are quoted or alluded to on every page. If you want an explanation of why I think this is an interesting scholarly question, there is an introductory essay at the site.

The project offers you two ways of exploring how the Bible was used in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century newspapers. First, you can use an interactive chart, which lets you put in the reference to any of the 1,700 or so most quoted Bible verses and see the changing patterns in their usage. For example, you might find that “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34) peaked in 1865, that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13) grew in popularity during World War I, or that “Suffer little children to come unto me” (and its variations) was the most popular verse in this collection of newspapers. You can also see the trends for collections of verses arranged in topics that I’ve chosen from you, if your knowledge of biblical references is rusty.

The trends in how three verses (John 15:13; Proverbs 14:34; and Luke 18:16) were used over time. Notice the very different temporal patterns of usage.
The trends in how three verses (John 15:13; Proverbs 14:34; and Luke 18:16) were used over time. Notice the very different temporal patterns of usage.

Front Porch Strategy: Sacred Space and Demonic Grounds

Today's guest post comes from Laura McTighe, a doctoral candidate in North American Religions at Columbia University and a Charlotte Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellow. She comes to her doctoral studies through nearly twenty years of grassroots work to end criminalization and advance community-led healing. You can find more of her writing online here.

Laura McTighe

"We believe in the revolutionary things that happen on a southern front porch."

It was mid-December, but that affirmation hung in the air like humidity in July. Three and a half-years prior, on May 29, 2012, Women With A Vision (WWAV) had been made home-less, after still-unknown arsonists firebombed and destroyed their New Orleans offices. On October 19, 2015, this quarter-century-old black feminist collective walked into their first home since the fire, complete with a sprawling front porch that emptied into Broad Street's foot traffic. We christened that front porch with a  conversation about the word "resilience," that dubious slogan of the city's official Hurricane Katrina 10th anniversary celebrations. What exactly did resilience mean when 99,650 black New Orleanians were still displaced, and thousands more were living in prison cells as a result of intensified policing? "Oh, right..."

As the rush hour traffic crawled by, we reflected on the vital work that WWAV was doing to hold the experiences black women--especially those born and raised in New Orleans--as relevant and important. We imagined how bring these stories to the forefront could help to expose the battle for space and history actively underway in the new New Orleans. When we took this picture, WWAV's Executive Director, Deon Haywood, had just claimed the front porch as a site where this organizing could take place and have a place--where revolutionary things happen. That affirmation prompted the recollection of another in WWAV's history. Twenty-five years ago, WWAV was just an idea, thought up by eight black women on a front porch in Central City.

Sitting on WWAV's new front porch in New Orleans, Louisiana. (L to R: Shaquita Borden, Mwende Katwiwa, Deon Haywood, Nakita Shavers, Laura McTighe, Nia Weeks; Photo by: Desiree Evans)


I have been a partner to the WWAV family for nearly a decade now. As a doctoral student at Columbia University, I've spent the last four years designing, researching and (now) writing a collaborative ethnography of activist persistence alongside my WWAV colleagues. Together, through an amalgamation of oral history, collective storytelling, and archival tracing, we've been working to document the ethics of survival, struggle, and renewal that guided WWAV's work from their founding in the early years of the AIDS epidemic through to their present in the post-Katrina new New Orleans. What's mattered most? Space. Specifically, front porch space.

As a scholar of religion in America, space has long been a critical analytical category for understanding how something we might call "religion" is produced through and productive of embodied and emplaced encounters, contests, and practices.

Ben Sasse, Donald Trump, and the Beginning and End of the Religious Right: (Mostly) A Repost

Charles McCrary

Last week at the Republican National Convention Donald Trump officially became the Republicans’ nominee for president. There is much to say about what Trump—and, probably more importantly, Trumpism—means, what effects his candidacy has had, and so on. We have a number of theoretical tools and historical examples from which to draw some conclusions. In recent months there have been lots of bad pieces about Trump and some good ones. (I’ve especially appreciated the analyses from Kerry Mitchell, Elijah Siegler, and Finbarr Curtis.) Trump’s place in American religious history is unclear to me, other than as a reaffirmation that white nationalism must remain a key part of our narratives.

A number of commentators noticed the RNC’s lack of social conservatism and talk of the “family values” of the Religious Right, including reproductive issues. Maybe the culture wars—or, as Peter Thiel put it during his RNC speech, the distracting “fake culture wars”—are over. Maybe the Religious Right has lost so much power, by ceding it so totally to one party, that their influence is basically nil. I admit that this conclusion does seem plausible. But we’ve heard premature pronouncements of the Religious Right’s death before. Many times. Now, here I could say something about how “the evangelicals” don’t exist, or we could parse “social conservatism.” Instead I’ll just say that it’s probably true that most people don’t care what James Dobson has to say anymore, but it’s also very unlikely that social conservatism is dead, even as it probably cannot be the primary calling card of a successful national politician. Recently, “religious liberty” has become, in popular discourse and in legislation, social conservatives’ chosen method of opposing cultural and legal changes regarding sex and gender. It is noteworthy, I think, that the most effective opposition to civil rights advances for minority groups (LGBT people) is to reframe the matter as an impingement upon the rights of a different “minority” group (evangelicals or social conservatives.) At any rate, though, these issues probably aren’t going away any time soon, and to whatever extent the “Religious Right” survives, it likely will be as a self-consciously oppositional, reactionary force.

Which leads me to today’s repost. Jesus wasn’t the only important Republican missing from the RNC last week. Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a key leader in the #NeverTrump movement, opted to skip the convention and instead “take his kids to watch some dumpster fires.” I wrote about Sasse on this blog a couple years ago, before he had won his Senate seat and before anyone thought Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee. I’ve reposted that piece here. I think it worth revisiting because Sasse locates the origins of the Religious Right in a self-consciously oppositional politics, a movement that defined itself against its opponents. When I wrote the piece, I was thinking about the Tea Party and the obstructionist strategies of the Republicans in Congress, who seemed to lack a coherent ideology or program other than opposition to President Obama. But now, two years later, we might have other things in mind. Throughout the RNC, speaker after speaker told us very little about Donald Trump and very much about his opponent and her faults. In his speech Trump advanced almost no policy ideas or plans for the future, but he did say a lot about what he opposes, what we should fear, and the dangers from which only he can save us.

OK, without further undercooked ado, here is the piece. I’ve left it unedited, save for a few typo corrections.

Sportianity at Forty: Rereading Frank Deford's Series on Religion in Sport

Paul Putz

In 1976 Frank Deford wrote a three-part series for Sports Illustrated on "Religion in Sport." Deford focused special attention on what he called "Sportianity." This world of sports-specific evangelical ministries included the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes In Action, Baseball Chapel, and Pro Athletes Outreach, and was represented in Deford's piece by coaches and athletes (Roger Staubach, Alvin Dark, Tom Landry), sports chaplains (Billy Zeoli, Tom Skinner), and organizational leaders (Arlis Priest, Dave Hannah).

Although Deford also discussed Catholics, Muslims, and Jews, his digressions into non-evangelical groups were usually meant to serve as a contrast to the deficiencies of the Sportianity style. In Deford's view, the leaders of Sportianity were so obsessed with the "competition for dotted-line converts" that they ended up captive to the world of big-time sports. They were, Deford concluded, "more devoted to exploiting sport than to serving it."

Mainstream media, including the New York Times, had taken note of the prominence of evangelicals in athletics before Deford, but no major journalist had so thoroughly dissected the phenomenon. The series caused a stir, especially among those associated with evangelical sports ministries. NFL linebacker-turned-evangelist Bill Glass, for example, opined that Deford's series was "the biggest pile of garbage that has ever been perpetrated on the American public." Others took a more sympathetic view. Gary Warner, editor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' monthly periodical, thought that Deford may have been unfair in some of his characterizations, but that many of his critiques hit the mark.

I was talking about Deford's series recently with Art Remillard (hey, did you know Art is writing a "religious history of sports in America" and is also blogging about it?). Art pointed out that this year is the fortieth anniversary of Deford's essays. So, in the spirit of arbitrarily commemorating things in ten-year increments, I decided to go back and reread the Sports Illustrated series. Here are four things that caught my attention.

Of Turkish Politics and Texas Charter Schools

Elesha Coffman

I am not going to pretend to understand what's going on in Turkey right now, but the attempted coup has turned a media spotlight on cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived for many years in exile in the Poconos. Gulen might or might not have anything to do with the coup; he denied any involvement and suggested that Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might have staged the whole thing to tighten his hold on power. Gulen is, however, more clearly linked to an extensive charter school network in the United States, including Harmony Public Schools, the largest charter network in Texas. The schools generally advance a STEM-focused curriculum and are not accused of religious indoctrination, though they have aroused concerns related to financial transparency and preferential treatment of Turkish teachers and contractors. (Some Fethullahist schools outside the U.S., by contrast, are overtly religious.) Additional concerns about the American schools surfaced earlier this summer, when the Turkish government lodged a complaint with the Texas Education Agency.

Given my research background, I look at this story and think, Americans United for Separation of Church and State should be all over this! This is exactly the kind of scenario the organization was founded to combat! AU is not, in fact, all over it, though religion in public schools, government subsidies of religion, and school vouchers are three of the group's top 10 issues. AU did mention Gulen once in a 2012 piece on charter schools. That AU isn't taking particular notice of this story is a useful reminder of how mobile the "wall of separation between church and state" has been over the years, even for the most prominent organization devoted to bolstering it.

Fear, Florida, and Faith-Based Prisons

Today's guest post comes from Brad Stoddard. Brad is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at McDaniel College. He is currently revising his dissertation, an ethnohistory of Florida’s faith-based correctional facilities. 
Brad Stoddard

Roughly three years before his 2006 arrest and subsequent conviction for accepting illegal kickbacks as head of Florida’s Department of Corrections (DOC), James Crosby shocked the correctional world and beyond when he announced that Florida’s DOC was going to convert Lawtey Correctional Institution into the nation’s first faith-based prison. Several states, including Florida, already operated faith-based correctional dormitories, but Crosby wanted to create something bigger and bolder. An entire faith-based prison would be that something.

As a graduate student researching my dissertation on Florida’s faith-based correctional facilities, I wanted desperately to interview Crosby, who has been somewhat reclusive since he was released from prison. When he agreed to the interview, I asked him what motivated him to create a faith-based prison. His answer surprised me, but in hindsight perhaps it shouldn’t have, as it echoed a sentiment I’d heard several times before in the course of my research.

Religion and the War of 1812

Jonathan Den Hartog

As part of our 4th of July celebrations, my family and I went to a local historic site (Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, for those interested in the Upper Midwest).  As part of the day's festivities, costumed reenactors staged a mock battle of a skirmish from the War of 1812. The connection to the site itself was loose, and I was left wondering if the audience was able to place the events being acted out in anything beyond "people in old-timey costumes fire at other people in old-timey costumes and the Americans won." Having some sense of the War of 1812 has become even more important to me, as that topic has dominated my research and writing this summer.

For this blog, I thought I might also share some reflections on religion in the War of 1812 and what more could still be said.

First, we need to point to the "standard" work on the subject--William Gribbin's The Churches Militant: The War of 1812 and American Religion. Gribbin published the book in 1973, and it seems like this would be a great topic to revisit, now 40 years later. With our greater knowledge of so many things from the Early Republic, it would seem a terrific time to revisit the subject.

We know more about the politics of the Early Republic and party ideals and functioning. We have had better works on the War of 1812, itself, thinking of books by Alan Taylor, Donald Hickey, Nicole Eustace, and Paul Gilje. We have a better sense of religion in the early republic and how it impacted both Democratic-Republicans and Federalists. And, we have so much greater access through digitization projects that a wealth of material would be more readily available and richer than Gribbin was able to pull together. With these resources, the space would seem to be wide open for greater consideration of religion in the War of 1812.



This is a guest post from Craig Gallagher. Craig is a PhD candidate at Boston College whose work focuses on religion in the seventeenth and eighteenth century Atlantic world.

Any scholar of Early American history who has earned their Ph.D. in the last half-decade has had to contend at some point with Perry’s Miller’s declension model for New England Puritans. Miller’s model held that Puritanism hit its intellectual height in the mid-seventeenth century in the Massachusetts Bay colony, before entering into inevitable decline as New England modernized in the eighteenth century, even as they left a lasting philosophical legacy that laid the foundations of the American nation. Despite the first of his seminal works that put forth this model – The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Harvard UP, 1939) – having been published in the first half of the twentieth century, most graduate students still find themselves debating its merits in historiography classes today, even when discussing religion in colonial American regions outside of New England.

Religion and American Foreign Relations: Reflections on the 2016 SHAFR Annual Meeting

Lauren Turek

I have just returned from the Annual Meeting of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), which convened at the beautiful Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego.

The stunning Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice
I am happy to report that, as Andrew Preston noted while commenting on one panel, the range of papers included in this year’s program makes clear that “religion is now a standard topic in diplomatic history,” something that would not have been true even a decade ago. Indeed, SHAFR offered up numerous panels and individual papers of interest from established scholars as well as from graduate students working on cutting edge research for their dissertations.

I would like to share a brief overview of the exciting work that scholars presented on the history of religion and foreign policy. As is the case with all great conferences, each session boasted multiple panels that I would have liked to have attended, but since I (sadly) can only be in one place at once, I will not be able to offer a full accounting of each panel that addressed religion in some way. Instead, I will discuss two of the panels I attended and then, at the end of this post, I will provide a list of all of the papers that pertained to religion and perhaps other attendees can fill in the gaps in the comments section. This will also serve as a snapshot of some new and forthcoming work in the field.

Weddings, Religion, and the Universal Life Church: An Interview with Dusty Hoesly

Charles McCrary

Wedding season is upon us! If you attend a wedding this summer, you might notice that the officiant is not a professional clergyperson but a friend or relative of the couple. In preparation to officiate a wedding this summer I, like millions of other non-clergypersons, was ordained by the Universal Life Church. (In closely related news, send your congratulations to Cara Burnidge and Mike Graziano!) But what is the ULC? And how does it fit within the landscape of contemporary American religion? To find out, I turned to Dusty Hoesly, a PhD candidate in American religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His article “‘Need a Minster? How About Your Brother?’: The Universal Life Church between Religion and Non-Religion” provides a helpful overview to and insightful analysis of the ULC. Today, RiAH welcomes him for an interview that might be just the wedding-season prep scholars of religion need.

Hi Dusty. Thanks for doing this interview. Let’s start with some history. How did the Universal Life Church begin? In what context did it arise?

Thank you for inviting me to share my work with you and the RiAH readers.
The ULC logo

Kirby Hensley (1911–1999) began “Life Church” in his home garage in Modesto, California, in 1959, then incorporated it as the Universal Life Church in 1962. Although he was illiterate, he had served as an itinerant minister and church planter for Baptist congregations and then the Assemblies of God, working in North Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma, California, and other states. However, his views were seen as too idiosyncratic, so he did not remain at any church for too long. Frustrated with theological orthodoxies imposed on him by denominational authorities and congregations, he decided to create a church that would allow anyone to believe whatever they wanted. The ULC’s sole creed became “to do that which is right,” as each determines for themselves what that means. Hensley also sought to ensure First Amendment freedoms for all people. If everyone has their own religion, as he claimed, then everyone should benefit equally from religious liberty protections and enjoy the same benefits accorded to more established religions and to their clergy. Thus, the church ordained anyone for free and for life, with no theological commitments required. It became the most famous and the largest mail-order ministry in America, ordaining over one million ministers by 1971 and spawning thousands of charter churches under its auspices. It also held mass ordinations on college campuses, organized annual national conventions, and published periodicals and other materials.

Making Pauli Murray's Home a National Historic Landmark

Paul Harvey

Just a quick intervention here to post this important message, sent to me originally by Ann Little (aka Historiann) on twitter (and here is the facebook post about it):

We have just been told that the deadline for letters of support is JULY 1st. Visit the link below to learn more about the national impact of Pauli Murray’s life and the historical significance of her family residence.
Please send your letters of support by JULY 1 to Mr. Paul Loether, Washington Office, National Park Service, addressing them to with a blind copy to with “Pauli Murray NHL” on the subject line, and a U.S. Mail copy to The Secretary of the Interior, Ms. Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington DC 20240. Thank you! If you have questions or other comments, they should also be sent to the same addresses.
Here's the link where you can learn much more about this effort, about Murray's life, and also about some very important recent books about her life:

The Arrival of Television in US and Italy: A New "Holy Crusade?"

January, 1954 cover of Information
[This month's Cushwa post is courtesy of Federico Ruozzi of the Department of Education and Human Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (Italy) and the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies, Bologna (Italy). We hosted him last summer and loved hearing about his fascinating research on the Catholic Church and the news media, so we asked him to take this year's final travel grant research report post. Looking forward to this summer's crop of new arrivals -- and hope you are all enjoying your research and writing time!]

Federico Ruozzi

A reporter once asked Bishop Fulton Sheen if he thought Christ would use Television were He on earth today. The bishop said: "yes, for television is just a means of transportation. Christ used the most modern means of transportation in His day when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey."

Looking for Religion in "Boys Among Men"

Paul Putz

Over the past few months I've settled into that ABD mode where nearly everything I read is filtered through a dissertation-colored lens. Since my dissertation is focused on the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the cultural history of the "Christian athlete," this has done a number on the excessive amount of sports journalism that I consume. Not even Jonathan Abrams's new book could save me.

Abrams has worked for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, but it was with ESPN's Grantland (RIP) that he became the writer whose pieces were heralded on twitter with their own hashtag (#AbramsAlert). His oral histories became particularly important sports internet events, especially after his piece detailing the "Malice at the Palace" – the 2004 brawl involving the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons, and more than a few fans. With a reputation for snagging insightful interviews and turning them into fascinating in-depth features, Abrams had a sizeable audience waiting in anticipation this year for his first book project, Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution.

Boys Among Men lives up to its hype as the definitive story of the "prep-to-pro" era in NBA history. Initiated in 1995 when Kevin Garnett elected to skip college and enter the NBA directly from high school, it effectively ended in 2005 when the NBA instituted an age minimum of 19. The prep-to-pro era saw both new superstars emerge from high school (Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, and Dwight Howard, among others), and also cautionary tales: players like Korleone Young, Leon Smith, and Robert Swift who entered the league before they were ready (or so the typical narrative went) and squandered their bright futures. It was the highly publicized presence of the cautionary tales that gave NBA executives public cover to change their rules and end the prep-to-pro pipeline.

Abrams brilliantly narrates the stories of the well-known prep-to-pro successes and failures, as well as those who were stuck somewhere in between. If you consider yourself a basketball fan, this is a book you should add to your summer reading list immediately. But this is a blog about religion, not sports journalism, and I am writing a dissertation about "Christian athletes" not prep-to-pro players. As I read the book I looked to see what, if anything, religion had to do with Abrams's story.

Social Activism and Gender at Joel Osteen's Church: Part 2 of an Interview with Phil Sinitiere

Karen Johnson

Phil Sinitiere recently published Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity. With 40,000 attenders each weekend, Lakewood is America's largest mega church, and its pastor's reach extends well beyond the weekend service, with best-selling books, podcasts, and sermons on satellite radio and cable television.  Phil argues that if we want to understand American evangelicalism today, we must account for Osteen and Lakewood Church. Last month I posted the first part of an interview Phil and I conducted that discussed race and class at Lakewood (for Arlene's interview with Phil, go here).  This month, I'm posting the second part of the interview, which addresses social change and gender at Lakewood.

KJ: Joel Osteen preaches a message of personal transformation and second chances.  How is it typical of American evangelicalism?  How is it different?  I was also surprised that despite the individualistic nature of Osteen's message, members of his congregation are working to fight human trafficking and participating in marches for social justice.  How did that happen?

PS: Osteen’s message of second chances connects to the history of Pentecostalism and the myth of American identity that promises the possibility of remaking oneself. At the same time, the idea of a spiritual second chance—if I can term it that way—is perennially Christian as well. My interest in the book does not consider this question in a theological perspective; rather I explore the historical roots and cultural meaning of Osteen’s prosperity gospel. Rooted in 19th century New Thought as Kate Bowler’s Blessed expertly documents, as the prosperity gospel intersected with Pentecostalism and later neopentecostal the message of starting over resonated culturally in the U.S. and gave the movement wider resonance. At Lakewood, and especially the context of Houston that some journalists and observers have described as a second chance city, the discourse of a spiritual makeover became extraordinarily popular. 

To Be or Not to Be ... an ASCH Member

Elesha Coffman

Those of you who are, or who have been, ASCH members should recently have received an e-mail from ASCH president Ron Rittgers, urging you to pay your 2016 dues if you have not already done so. "The ASCH is currently facing unprecedented financial challenges on a number of fronts," the e-mail indicated, "and your membership dollars have never been more important to the Society. Revenue from membership dues is significantly behind where it should be at this time of the year, and the shortfall is making it difficult to plan and provide the kind of high quality annual meeting that we all value so highly, among other things."

I've written before about the tense relationship between ASCH and AHA, and about affordability in academic guilds. There's an ASCH council meeting scheduled later this month, and I expect it to address both the AHA-ASCH relationship and the affordability of our annual meetings. Going into the discussion, I would love to know what any of you think about either of these topics.

If you are an ASCH member, or if you are not a member, why? No judgment, I'm just really curious how people in different sub-fields, institutions, and stages of their career view ASCH membership. Who, and what, is membership for?

If you attend the AHA/ASCH winter meeting, do you attend sessions sponsored by, and interact with members of, a variety of represented societies (AHA, ASCH, the American Catholic Historical Association, others) or do you mostly stick to one group? How important is it, to you, that all of these historians are meeting together? Do you prefer big, multifaceted conferences or small, focused ones?

Whether you belong to ASCH or another academic society, what does that society do for you? What do you wish it did more or less of? How would it affect you if the society ceased to exist?

If you'd rather contact me personally than post your thoughts here, feel free to email me at Thanks!

Outsiders in a Promised Land: Interview with the Author

Janine Giordano Drake

In a well-researched account of religious activism in the Oregon Territory from the late nineteenth century to the present, Dale Soden's Outsiders in a Promised Land (also reviewed by Paul Putz, here) draws several meaningful conclusions. He shows that despite the fact that the region has always had a reputation as the least "churched" region in the country, religious activists have had an outsized influence within the region. For, as outsiders, they have frequently seen themselves as leaders in renewal and reform.  In casting an historical glimpse over the long period from the late nineteenth century to the present, Soden illuminates the long-term repercussions of both Victorian and Social Gospel work in the region.
I "sat down" with Soden over email and asked him a few questions. As you'll learn by the end of the interview, Soden was one of Paul Harvey's history professors!

Modern Fitness; or, The Origin of the Species

Adam Park

A curious thing has recently taken hold of the American health and fitness scene. It's been around for a while, to be sure. But it's really really around now. Foreword-thinking exercise and diet theories look backwards for inspiration. Pursuant that ubiquitous muscular Christian logic, Americans have forsaken modern "civilization" for love of prehistoric "nature." And in so doing, modern health and fitness culture has reverently articulated a most great and wonderful story of human origins, of human purpose.

Here's the academic rub to all this barefoot running, kettlebell swinging, gluten hating stuff. In Charles Taylor's terms, this move back to nature serves as a "recovery of transcendence." For the betterment of their visible selves, Americans are getting something invisible. Not only is "nature" the metric by which many Americans measure the legitimacy of health trends, but such Americans locate "nature" within themselves. Humans embody a kind of evolutionary imperative, so it goes, in which our created-ness is manifest. Our bodies "know." The larger significance of this nature, then, is that it salvages overcivilized bodies and provides buffered, overcivilized minds with a meaningful account of themselves. A lot of this collective nostalgia has to do with an "ethic of authenticity," as the idea is that an un-self-aware population has to be brought back to their more natural state. Our early hominid ancestors had it right. Overly domesticated Americans with all their overly domesticated things are but sad derivatives, decrepit and unnatural. Modern (meta)physical culture is engaged in a quest for the ancient real.

In the Beginning Was the Word (Part 2)

Jonathan Den Hartog

With posts falling on June 6, I have tried to keep a World War II-theme--see here and here.

This month, though, I wanted to continue thinking about Mark Noll's In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783. Even after finishing my piece last month, I found there were still more points I wanted to make. So, with that in the background, let me jump right into additional observations about Noll's book:

First, I'd like to commend Noll's attention to and careful delineation of the intersection of the Bible and slavery in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Noll traces how the impact of the Scriptures actually "Deepened" through its Great-Awakening-inspired transmission to slaves throughout the Atlantic World. Noll contends this movement was particularly marked by its taking up and personalizing of the biblical text. Recognizing and building on other scholars such as Vincent Carretta and Jon Sensbach, Noll calls this development the formation of "The Biblical Black Atlantic" (211). Noll traces biblical themes both in well-known figures such as Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano and lesser known figures Jupiter Hammon, John Marrant, David George, and Quobna Cugoano. In these figures, Noll connects biblically-rooted language among Africans and African-Americans in the American colonies, Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa. Noll's recognizing this public usage of the Bible is important and expands our vision of the place of the Bible for all levels of society, in many different places, in the eighteenth century.

Next, it's worth noting several of the other interesting by-ways that Noll illuminates.

For example, Noll helpfully points out the significance of versification of the Bible. Although chapters had been marked previously, verse numbers were inserted for the first time in the Geneva Bible (1557) and then, with further significance, in the King James Bible. Noll sees versification as significantly democratic: individuals could now point to single points in the Scripture as reference, rather than draw broad allusions to extended passages. Any literate person could read or find a passage. At the same time, versification allowed for proof-texting and the assembling of, in an empirical fashion, texts scattered throughout the Bible. Thus the Scriptures could be enlisted into "engineering projects" (123) of systematization and programmatic endeavors. Even the verse markings themselves, then, created a certain flavor of biblicism in British North America.

Noll also reminded me that no English-language Bibles had been printed in the colonies. Royal monopolies had guaranteed that all Bibles had to be printed in England and then shipped to the colonies. Native American language Bibles could be printed, such as the Algonquian translation done by John Eliot, but English Bibles had to come from England. This observation helped make more sense of the Bible produced by Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken. It actually was a revolutionary act when Aitken published an "Authorized Version" in America in 1782. The significance of the Aitken Bible lay, then, not in that Congress endorsed it (though it did), but in the fact that it represented the new nation's ability to produce Bibles for a spiritually-hungry population.

Lessons from a Year on Fellowship

Hunter M. Hampton

Twelve months ago, I started my fellowship year to work on my dissertation. I was equally excited and nervous. Nothing to that point in my academic career, from preschool to comprehensive exams, had prepared me for a year without teaching, grading, or deadlines. I started looking around for any guide or advice on this year, but little appeared. I am certainly not an expert on the field of sabbaticals or fellowship years, but I hope these lessons are helpful for my comrades fighting to finish their dissertation or tenured professors working on their last book.

1. Make a schedule
This I know seems obvious. Everyone has some sort of schedule each day, even on days when you say you don’t have anything to do. That being said, a year with literally no regularity or rhythm is a different monster. The best advice I received on this is to treat your day, week, month, quarter, and year, like a business.  Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art – a must read for any writer – calls this “incorporating yourself.” In “real corporate jobs,” bosses set your to-do list with short, intermediate, and long-term goals (or so I am told.) Adopting that same strategy into a writing schedule is incredibly helpful. I did this with daily word counts, weekly word counts, a specific date to finish chapters, and a total sum of work to accomplish by the end of the year. Checking off something everyday from my to-do list gave me the tiny sense of accomplishment necessary to keep plugging along. A second part of making a work schedule is building in off time. Just like other jobs, I quit working at 5pm each day, only worked on the weekends if I didn’t hit that week’s deadlines, and enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas break. These breaks allowed me to stay fresh and sane (for the most part) throughout the year.

Chicken Chaplains: A Business Made in Heaven

Andy McKee

At the end of a short video about Tyson Food's chaplaincy program, Dr. David Miller, identified earlier in the same video as "Princeton University Project Director Center for the Study of Religion and Author" states, "If I could give you a little pill that you could put in the water at the cafeteria, the canteen, everyone have it, and that pill would make everyone be a little bit more loyal, a little bit more engaged, have a little bit higher loyalty, be a little more creative, a little bit more absenteeism, and assuming there are no negative side effects, would you take that pill?" "Well of course!" Miller states, all while having an apparent conversation with himself. If one is hesitant about any potential repercussions about using metaphors about drugging your employees, you need not worry because as the video fades out, Miller gives us his gotcha moment: there are no real drugs at play. Instead, "well we've just described workplace chaplaincy."

For Tyson and others, however, this pill or program can't keep workers from using the restroom, and recently big chicken has been making headlines undergoing fire from groups bringing to light the horrible conditions of poultry workers, highlighted by the routine denial of bathroom breaks. And this isn't the first time. Coupled with recent legislative bills anti-whistleblower, or ag-gag laws passed in various states across the country, and the fact that four companies – Tyson, Pilgrim’s Perdue, and Sanderson Farms – control roughly 60% of the poultry industry and employee some 250,000 workers. This is not a small issue. Coupled with concerns over claims of animal cruelty, polluting the environment, and bankrupting contract farmers, the chaplaincy program sidesteps these issues by tying into some apparent universal construction of spirituality.

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