Review of From Bible Belt to Sunbelt

Randall Stephens

Books & Culture posts part of my review of Darren Dochuk's From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. Subscribe to Books & Culture--read loads of great on-line material and receive the print version.

"The Sunbelt Coalition: Evangelicals and Politics in a New Light"

In 1968, Christian Life magazine featured a story on "The Reagans and Their Pastor." The Hollywood-star-turned-governor explained: "While prayer always has been a part of my life, I have spent more time in prayer these past months than in any previous period I can recall." He had much to pray about in that rocky election year. But when not praying, Reagan now and then slipped into jeremiad mode. Mild-mannered and affable in the eyes of many, Reagan raged at that "mess in Berkeley." The cold warrior morphed easily into the culture warrior. Civilization seemed to be collapsing. Juvenile delinquents and their liberal élite enablers wanted to wreck the Golden State. In response, Reagan promised constituents that he would stand firm against hedonism, crime, and all manner of sin. And though the situation was grave, he was not above cracking a well-timed joke. The typical campus radical or hairy young libertine, Reagan famously quipped, "dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheeta."

Southern California's conservative Christians, many who came out West from the southern plains, naturally took to the Gipper. He spoke their language. Darren Dochuk reflects on Reagan's popularity among those faithful in his wonderfully written and expertly researched From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism.

In the early 1970s, evangelicals halfheartedly supported Richard Nixon, who, along with being shifty, was once too cozy with silk-stocking Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller. Later in the decade, evangelicals from Atlanta to San Diego began to cast a suspicious eye on Jimmy Carter. In their view, the Baptist president from Plains, Georgia, was a liberal appeaser, soft on communism, and softer still on moral degeneracy (code for homosexuality, abortion, and feminism). Reagan, by contrast, would not vacillate on family values, thought supporters. Neither was he a seedy political chameleon. . . .

A sampling of other material in Books & Culture's Jan/Feb issue that might be of interest to readers of this blog:

Timothy Larsen
Faith Under Fire: Americans in World War I.

George Marsden
Invisible Faith: The Life and work of Henry Luce.

James L. Guth and Lyman A. Kellstedt
Why We Get Along: Religion and public life in the U.S.

John G. Stackhouse, Jr.
A Christ We Can Follow: The new kenotic theology

Robert Bruce Mullin
The First Great Schism: AD 400 to AD 600.

David A. Skeel
Emigrant Nation: Italy, giving and receiving.

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen
The Second Sex, the Second Time Around: A new translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking book.

John H. McWhorter
The Sondheim Reckoning: A composer speaks his mind.

Donna Freitas
Boy Books
An endangered species?

Otto Selles
Funny Girl: A memoir by comedian Sarah Silverman.

Stranger in a Strange Land: John Wilson
The Milosz Year: Longing for "the restoration of all things."

Alan Jacobs
Recommended Reading

Beyond the Protestant Nation: Religion and the Narrative of American History

Paul Harvey

We hadn't yet posted notes on the Saturday and (dreaded) Sunday morning sessions at the AHA in Boston, more on that forthcoming. But we definitely want to highlight one session of huge significance, which unfortunately got stuck in the no-man's-land of the Sunday morning (Jan. 9) at 8:30 a.m. slot at the AHA. Despite the unfortunate time placement, the panel "Beyond the Protestant Nation" ought to be one of the most interesting of the whole conference, and certainly of great interest for American religious history/studies scholars. I'm pasting in the abstract below, with the following note from panel organizer Chris Cantwell of Cornell University:

"The round table grew out of a conversation Orsi and I repeatedly return to, where it seems that scholars who work on Protestants are able to make far bigger claims about American history than historians who work on other religious traditions. The protestant work ethic, for example, tells us about the foundations of America's capitalist ethos. Catholic street feste, however, tell us about immigrants; not about America. Out of this conversation Bob and I put together a round table that features scholars who do not work on traditionally defined Protestantism to ask how would the American historical narrative change if we gave the questions and concerns of non-Protestant religions the same interpretive strength as Protestantism receives."

Here's the abstract:

Beyond the Protestant Nation: Religion and the Narrative of American History

American historians, like their counterparts in other fields of historical inquiry, have become increasingly interested in integrating religion into our historical narratives. Prominent religious figures now appear in survey courses; we see theological ideas contributing to the formation of political philosophies and programs; and we use popular ritual practices to convey the culture of an era. But in studying the most religiously diverse country in the world historians have implicitly perpetuated an interpretive hierarchy of American religious life that inflates the illuminating power of certain religious communities and circumscribes or even ignores the historical (and historiographical) contributions of others. For instance, exploring the contours of the Protestant work ethic or evangelical conceptions of the state tell us, scholars argue, about the foundation of America’s capitalist ethos or our core political values. Catholic street feste to particular saints or changes within Reformed Judaism, however, are about urban culture or the immigrant experience—about Catholics and Jews, not about “America.”

This roundtable seeks to bring the deeply rooted Protestant and religious presuppositions of American historiography to light to challenge its assertions. Historians who insist on the historical primacy of Protestantism (singular) are not describing the past; they are implicitly reproducing a particular nationalist ideology that has long equated the identity and wellbeing of the United States with “Protestantism.” “Protestant,” moreover, entails assumptions about the kind of religiosity that has been consequential in American history. Embedded in the enduring and unchallenged identification of America as “Protestant” is an implicit argument about religion and modernity that endorses specific ways of being religious. Jewish orthodoxy, Mormon revelation, Catholic devotionalism, spiritualist meetings, Pentecostal tongue speaking, and other ways of being religious are excluded or defined as historically marginal.

This roundtable proposes to invert this interpretative hierarchy to ask how the American historical narrative change if the historiographical questions and concerns of non-Protestant religious groups were given national significance. What questions would rise in importance? What questions would decline? How would our periodizations change? In short, the round table seeks to ask what it would mean to re-imagine the American historical narrative from a more robustly plural religious perspective—not to include other religious idioms in our stories, but to rethink the narrative itself from a post-“Protestant” perspective? The round table convenes a number of scholars who work on religious traditions other than “Protestant” to explore this question of a post-Protestant historiography. Lila Berman considers the consequences of Protestant paradigms in Jewish studies, where authors have contorted Jewish beliefs to underline their seamlessness with America’s “Protestant” values. Wallace Best argues that assumptions about the Protestant nature of African-American religiosity have obscured the spiritual beliefs of admittedly secular and non-believing black activists. Robert Orsi suggests that the way Catholics have been “American” demands revisions of the idea of a singular American modern. Catherine Albanese asserts that though loosely organized and poorly defined, metaphysical religiosities have been a potent “third force” in American history that has inflected and shaped much of what we see as purely mainline and evangelical Protestantism. Richard Bushman highlights the distinctive perspectives Mormons brought to many phases of American history and how these have engaged and shaped the contours of the nation.

Though each participant brings a particular insight to the panel, the roundtable hopes to put these perspectives in conversation with the audience to explore the possibilities of a post-Protestant historiography as a field.

God's Own Party: Interview with Daniel K. Williams, Part 2

by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Today completes my interview with Dan Williams about his book God's Own Party. For reference, you can read part 1 of the interview here and here. Read part 2 in its entirety here.

BB: You are one of a number of scholars writing about the Christian Right, thoughtfully archiving and critically reflecting on its history (and in many ways what is happening currently). For interested readers, how do you situate your work alongside other scholars of the Christian Right?

DW: Most of the other studies of the Christian Right that have been published recently (or that will soon appear in print) are narrower in scope than my work. Darren Dochuk has produced a highly insightful study of evangelical political mobilization in California during the postwar era, and Steven Miller has published an excellent study of Billy Graham’s role in creating a Republican South. Other scholars have studied the Cold War’s influence on the Christian Right, the place of megachurch pastors in contemporary political culture, or gender issues in conservative evangelicalism, among other topics. Many of those studies are excellent resources, and I think that readers who are interested in the topic may find it helpful to read those works alongside mine. I am certainly the beneficiary of a larger trend in the profession that is giving new attention to political conservatism and religion in postwar America. I have gained a lot of insights from conversations with other scholars in the field and from the works that they have produced. I look forward to more studies of conservative evangelicalism from emerging scholars in the field during the next few years. But most of these studies do not offer the breadth that my survey of the movement does (nor do they claim to do so).

My work is the most comprehensive, broadly based narrative history of the Christian Right currently in print. As a result, I think that my work highlights connections, long-term trends, religious nuances, and diversity within the movement that previous studies may have overlooked. One of the central themes of my book is that the contemporary Christian Right has deep historical roots. It did not emerge merely as a reaction to the cultural shifts of the 1970s. Instead, its success depended on alliances with the Republican Party and religious developments that had started decades earlier. In order to understand the Christian Right, one must understand something about the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s, the impact of World War II and the Cold War on conservative Protestants, and the division – and then reconciliation – between fundamentalists and evangelicals in the 1950s, as well as shifts in their understandings of race, gender roles, and the place of Catholics in the nation. I think that my work provides this.

I also emphasize the partisan history of the movement to a greater degree than most other scholars do. A central theme of the book is the argument that the Christian Right’s success depended on its alliance with the Republican Party, so the story of the Christian Right is essentially the story of the making of this alliance. Thus, my book draws on the archives of presidential libraries and evangelical publications to trace the development of this partisan alliance in much greater detail than most other works on the Christian Right do.

AHA Interviewing Advice and Some More Sessions of Note

Paul Harvey

Randall posted a few days ago about some sessions of note in religious history at the upcoming American Historical Association/American Society of Church History meeting, Jan. 6-9 in Boston. I thought I would note in addition, first, that for you graduate students who follow the blog here, Tenured Radical and John Fea both have posted excellent suggestions for job interviewing at the AHA, no one's favorite thing to do for sure but the suggestions here are valuable (I think I made every single mistake that Tenured Radical warns you against back in my day; wish someone had told me this then).

Also, a couple of our commentators here added a couple more sessions of interest in addition to those which Randall posted, and I thought I would repost those here for those who didn't see the comments on that post so wouldn't have seen those sessions noted.

1. The Black Women's Intellectual History Project is sponsoring a session on Friday morning (Jan. 7) from 9:30-11:30 on transnational perspectives on black women's religious leadership. Jon Sensbach, Natasha Lightfoot, and Eve Troutt Powell will be giving papers.

2. Cosmopolitanism and Religion in the Turn of the Twentieth Century U.S. Left
AHA Session 102
Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 3
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Orleans Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Syracuse University

“Has He Paused and Taken Thought?” Mark Twain's "War Prayer," Pacifism, and the Impact of Empathy
John Pettegrew, Lehigh University
Spiritual Unity, Social Progress: The National Federation of Religious Liberals and the Legacy of the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions
Amy Marie Kittelstrom, Sonoma State University
Holidays for Humanity's Future: Festivals at New York's Ethical Culture School, 1890–1920
Emily Mace, Princeton University

Leigh Eric Schmidt, Harvard University

After Pluralism


Paul Harvey

For those (looking in the mirror here) inclined to refer to "pluralism" a little too easily as an unqualified good, standing apart from history, here's an important new work calling for attention to the concept, and to what come after what was supposed to be the end of history: Courtney Bender and Pamela Klassen, ed., After Pluralism: Reimagining Religious Engagement. It's an edited collection of essays from across nations and disciplines, and features some top-flight folks in American religious studies; Table of Contents is here, excerpt of the book is here. Winnifred Sullivan is featured in the work, discussing de facto "naturalized" religious establishments and the law; Tracy Leavelle and Michael McNally weigh in with contributions on the complexities and perils of pluralism and Native American "religious freedom." A brief excerpt from the intro suggests some of the challenges the book takes on:

The details of European and North American cases reveal greater complexity and complication, if not contradictions, in the formations of pluralism. In the United States, for example, a secular state that is presumed to neither encourage nor discourage religious identity unites some variants of religious plurality as admissible under law while excluding other religious groups as insufficiently tolerant. At the same time, the idioms of tolerance, multicultural or religious celebrations, simultaneously depoliticize and depublicize particular religious interests. In the face of these normative paths to “religious” recognition, scholars must acknowledge and inquire further into the processes by which gaining religious recognition in the United States requires that groups take a seat at a multireligious table. The stories told in this volume call attention to a growing recognition that the varying cultures of religious pluralism in which we live are always directed toward and galvanized by multiple fields of knowledge and power.

Citizens of a Christian Nation, Redux

Paul Harvey

Several months ago Ed Blum posted his thoughts on Derek Chang's Citizens of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century (and some other books dealing with religion and war) here. My review of Chang's fine book has just come out in the Journal of American History, and I'm posting it in below.

White northern Baptists in post-Civil War America perceived themselves as “emissaries of the Christian nation.” They carried the gospel of Christ and of American civilization to the freedpeople of the South and to Chinese immigrants in the West. They sought to create a “conduit for the inclusion of alien populations into the brotherhood of Christianity and the nation.” For them, this was part of the new birth of freedom. In doing so, however, they also produced “discourse of difference that made that inclusion yet more difficult.” In seeking to “uplift” African Americans and Chinese, they perpetuated “racial difference through culture and religion” (68-69). The heathen black and the heathen Chinese could be transformed, but they also had to be transformed. In return, the African American and Chinese immigrant subjects turned the language and institutions of uplift and nationalism to their own benefit. Especially by working to establish independent institutions and find leadership roles within them, “their example undermined a significant part of the ideological foundation on which white evangelical uplift was based” (125).

So Derek Chang argues in this engaging study of the work of the American Baptist Home Mission Society in North Carolina (mostly in Raleigh, focused on the building of what became Shaw University) and in Portland among the Chinese community there. Chang gives the evangelicals their due. In the face of Klan violence in the South and anti-Chinese hooliganism in the Northwest, American Baptists worked to develop institutions that would incorporate the freedpeople and the Chinese into a Christian brotherhood.

Ultimately, neither the well-intentioned evangelicals nor their freedom-seeking African American and Chinese subjects fulfilled their dreams and goals as they wished, for “acts of racial terror limited the radical hopes of the home mission project and frustrated the attempts of evangelicals, blacks, and Chinese to fashion an inclusive nation through such interracial enterprises” (157). In the end, while the white Baptists took refuge in a “strain of evangelical nationalism that emphasized orderly hierarchy and stability over redemptive quality and democracy,” African Americans and Chinese “continued to fight for the transformation they desired, using mission resources to “position themselves in the larger battle over their place in the civic order” (158).

Focusing on freedpeople in and around Raleigh, North Carolina and Chinese immigrants in Portland Oregon, Chang’s comparative research and theoretical reflections shed fresh light on the subject of post-war religious reconstruction. Specialists will enjoy the endnotes, where Chang dialogues at length with fellow scholars. More general readers likely will be surprised by the efforts of white elites in Portland to restrain anti-Chinese violence. Despite being “permanent aliens,” for a time the Chinese in the Northwest enjoyed a degree of social inclusion never experienced by African Americans, who theoretically were included in the nation through the postwar constitutional amendments. In the end, both groups suffered at the hands of the virulent racial terrorism of the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Their American century would have to wait.

A Trippy, Merry Christmas

Randall Stephens

What do mycology, psychotropic drugs, and psychedelic colors have to do with Santa and his eight tiny, wide-eyed reindeer? Maybe nothing, but then again . . .

Harvard--the same school that sponsored Timothy Leary's experiments with criminals and LSD, before said professor was thrown out on his ear--has a new Christmas tradition: "Students and faculty gather to hear the story of Santa Claus and the psychedelic mushrooms," reports NPR.

Donald Pfister, Harvard professor and curator of Harvard's Farlow Reference Library and Herbarium, tells NPR:

explained that back in 1967 an amateur scholar named R. Gordon Wasson published a book arguing that Amanita muscaria was used in ancient ceremonies by shamans in the Far East. Other scholars then chimed in, noting that in Siberia, both the shamans — and the reindeer — were known to eat these mushrooms. Man and beast alike hallucinated.

You can see the Christmas connections, Pfister said.

"This idea [is] that reindeer go berserk because they're eating Amanita muscaria," Pfister said. "Reindeers flying — are they flying, or are your senses telling you they're flying because you're hallucinating?"

Look at the Christmas decorations here, he said.

Scientists have found that reindeer deliberately forage for magic mushrooms in the snow. (They also eat fermented berries and get tipsy and aggressive. Whose been naughty?) And what gives Santa that jolly "Ho, Ho, Ho" and rosy color?

See also the response of critics of the theory, who say, no way! Too many other variables, in the view of doubters. (Reminds me of the great Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz debate, or, "Dark Side of the Rainbow.")

Turn off your mind, relax, and sing Jingle Bells!

Black Entrepreneurship, Religion, and Civil Rights

Paul Harvey

One of my favorite books over the last year or two was Suzanne Smith's To Serve the Living: Funeral Directors and the African American Way of Death, which I blogged about previously here.

This morning, the author, Suzanne Smith (George Mason University), was interviewed on Morning Edition on NPR, talking about the black businessman A. G. Gaston, a figure pretty well known to civil rights historians but largely unknown outside of that. Check out the interview here.

The funeral business proved instrumental in the lives of a lot of ministers, including nineteenth-century minister-entrepreneurs who got in on the ground floor of modern undertaking, as "colored embalmers," and twentieth-century ministers who used their funeral business income to subsidize their activities in other areas, including the original sponsor of Mahalia Jackson's singing tours and radio performances.

Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era

Paul Harvey

Now on to the 2nd review from this month's Choice. Haven't seen it yet, but I bet this book draws a lot of interest:

Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era: God, Darwin, and the Roots of America's Culture Wars, by Adam Laats

Laats, Adam. Fundamentalism and education in the Scopes era: God, Darwin, and the roots of America's culture wars. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. 258p index; ISBN9780230623729, $85.00. Reviewed in 2011jan CHOICE.

Laats (education, Binghamton Univ., SUNY) argues that a significant transformation in US religion and culture can be traced to the 1920s and the Scopes trial. Fundamentalists began the decade aggressively defending their majority conservative Protestant domination of public schools not only against Darwin, but also for prayer and Bible reading. They ended the decade a vocal minority, sometimes embracing and sometimes rejecting the pejorative stereotypes that the trial and media coverage created. Chronological chapters trace the rise, then fracturing, of fundamentalism, focusing on a handful of major figures and charting their responses to educational issues through their publications. State legislative battles trace the little-known advances of fundamentalist school reform in the years after Scopes and before the 1960s court decisions that reversed them. Laats pays little attention to the content of textbooks, curricula, and classrooms. The legacy of the era, he argues, was the creation of a separate system of education in the growth first of seminaries and Christian colleges--such as Dallas Theological Seminary, Bob Jones University, and Wheaton College in Illinois--and later of conservative Christian private schools founded to preserve biblical authority as much as racial segregation. Extensive notes. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- K. Gedge, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

American Buddhism as a Way of Life


Paul Harvey

A couple of new books of note, with short reviews from Choice:

1) American Buddhism as a Way of Life

I'll put the Choice reviews up as separate posts. First, for American Buddhism:

American Buddhism as a way of life, ed. by Gary Storhoff and John Whalen-Bridge. SUNY Press, 2010. 217p index afp; ISBN 9781438430935, $75.00; ISBN 9781438430942 pbk, $24.95. Reviewed in 2011jan CHOICE.
This useful series of essays focuses on ways Buddhism has been transmitted to the US in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Beginning with an analysis of the influence of pivotal Buddhist teachers Alan Watts and D. T. Suzuki, this book proceeds to evaluate some basic elements of the fusion of the many forms of Buddhism into American culture, along with the pivotal tensions created by that fusion. One of the most valuable features of these discussions is the selection of such a wide range of examples illustrating a central point: that in spite of the apparent conflict in basic categories (e.g., Buddhism's emphasis on no self, impermanence, and interdependence versus the American culture of individualism, self-reliance, privacy, and self-promotion), large numbers of Americans, though not formally "Buddhists," have been profoundly influenced by Buddhism, while Buddhism has in turn demonstrated that it can adjust to American culture. The result is an original, representative, and thoroughly informative look at "American Buddhism" introducing itself into and becoming an accepted part of American life. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers; general readers. -- J. M. Boyle, formerly, Dowling College

God's Own Party: Interview with Daniel K. Williams, Part 1

by Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Baldblogger presents part 1 of an interview with Dan Williams, author of the recently published God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Find previous posts on Dan's book here and here. John Fea, over at The Way of Improvement Leads home, offers his take here. There's also a great audio interview at Barry Lynn's site Culture Shocks. Dan is an assistant professor of history at the University of West Georgia.

Baldblogger (BB): God’s Own Party maintains that in order to understand evangelical political ascendancy vis-à-vis the 1980 presidential election, one must begin by examining the culture wars of the 1920s. Briefly connect the dots for us. Why is it important to consider this historical trajectory in order to understand evangelical Christianity and modern Republican politics? Does this perhaps help to explain your choice of subtitle—The Making of the Christian Right—as opposed to The Making of the Religious Right?

Dan Williams (DW): The contemporary Christian Right subscribes to a particular view of the relationship between Christianity and the public sphere that can be traced back to the fundamentalist movement of the early twentieth century. Fundamentalists of the 1920s believed that secular influences threatened the nation’s Christian identity, and that if Christians did not enter the political arena to defend the nation’s Christian values, the nation would face divine judgment and possible destruction. The conservative evangelicals who formed the modern Christian Right in the late twentieth century held this same view of America’s unique religious identity and the necessity of preserving the nation’s Christian values by fighting secular influences through politics. The culture wars of the late twentieth century were thus very similar to the culture wars of the 1920s.

Even some of the particular issues at stake in those culture wars were similar. Fundamentalists of the 1920s were concerned about sexual licentiousness, changes in gender roles, the state of the family, and the secularization of public education. Evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s were concerned about these same issues. That’s not surprising, because late-twentieth-century American conservative evangelicalism was a direct theological descendent of early-twentieth-century fundamentalism. In fact, many of the conservative evangelical leaders of the late twentieth century had parents who had called themselves “fundamentalists” and had identified with the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s. Some had even worn that label themselves before exchanging it for the less pejorative term “evangelical.”

My book traces the story of evangelical political activism from the early twentieth century to the present, because the Christian Right is deeply rooted in the evangelical politics of the previous three generations. I think that some studies of the Christian Right have underestimated the connections between late-twentieth-century evangelical politics and those of an earlier era, but I think that one contribution that a historian can make to this discussion is to trace that political lineage.

Media reports of evangelical political activism in the 1980s commonly used the term “Religious Right” to refer to the movement, as though it were generically or ecumenically religious rather than distinctively Christian. During the 1990s, the phrase “Christian Right” became more common, perhaps because of the use of the term “Christian” in the most prominent Religious Right organization of the decade, the Christian Coalition. Today both terms are commonly used.

In my view, the term “Christian Right” is a more accurate descriptor, because the movement’s theology and worldview have always been distinctively Christian. Nearly all of the movement’s leaders have been evangelical Christians. Although a few Orthodox Jews and a number of conservative Catholics support some of the Christian Right’s goals, the movement’s leadership has always come from a rather narrow range of evangelical Christian denominations. And the movement’s history can be understood only in the context of the history of twentieth-century conservative Christianity, especially evangelical Protestantism.


Read the rest of part 1 of my interview here.

Saving the World? The Changing Terrain of American Protestant Missions, 1910 to the Present

March 24-25, 2011

Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC

The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College (IL), with a grant from the Lilly Endowment, is sponsoring a two-day conference at Duke Divinity School to explore the evolving nature of American Protestant missions since the famed Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910. Through lectures and panel discussion a number of distinguished scholars will examine the American mission enterprise over the last century while discussing the extent to which America continues to play a role in the shaping of global Christianity.

Participants include: Thomas Kidd (Baylor University), Mark Noll (University of Notre Dame), Robert Priest (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Dana Robert (Boston University), Marsha Snulligan-Haney (Interdenominational Theological Center), Brian Stanley (University of Edinburgh), and Grant Wacker (Duke Divinity School)

For more information and to register, please visit

Myth of American Religious Freedom: Now Published

Paul Harvey

We've blogged here before about David Sehat's The Myth of American Religious Freedom, which I had the privilege of reading in pre-release. The book is now out, with Oxford, and it's a real intellectual treat which is sure to spark discussion and debate. Previously I promised to blog about it along with Sarah Gordon's Spirit of the Laws, and I still intend to do that, when I can steal the time to engage the works at the level they require. Anyway, here is more about the book, cross-posted from U.S. Intellectual History:

The Myth of American Religious Freedom

Dear Readers: I'm delighted to announce the early release of my book, The Myth of American Religious Freedom. Here is the jacket copy from OUP:

In battles over religion and politics in America, both liberals and conservatives often appeal to history. Liberals claim that the Founders separated church and state. But for much of American history, David Sehat writes, Protestant Christianity was intimately intertwined with the state. Yet the past was not the Christian utopia that conservatives imagined either. Instead, a Protestant moral establishment prevailed, using government power to punish free thinkers and religious dissidents.

In The Myth of American Religious Freedom, Sehat provides an eye-opening history of religion in public life, overturning our most cherished myths. Originally, the First Amendment applied only to the federal government, which had limited authority. The Protestant moral establishment ruled on the state level. Using moral laws to uphold religious power, religious partisans enforced a moral and religious orthodoxy against Catholics, Jews, Mormons, agnostics, and others. Not until 1940 did the U.S. Supreme Court extend the First Amendment to the states. As the Supreme Court began to dismantle the connections between religion and government, Sehat argues, religious conservatives mobilized to maintain their power and began the culture wars of the last fifty years. To trace the rise and fall of this Protestant establishment, Sehat focuses on a series of dissenters--abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, socialist Eugene V. Debs, and many others.

Shattering myths held by both the left and the right, David Sehat forces us to rethink some of our most deeply held beliefs. By showing the bad history used on both sides, he denies partisans a safe refuge with the Founders.

Thur and Fri Sessions on American Religion at the Jan 2011 AHA

Randall Stephens

I think it would be safe to say that the American Historical Association annual meeting has never featured as many panels on religious history (with loads devoted to American religious history) as the 2011 conference does. I paste many of these below, though I've probably missed some. I was unable to get the "chair" and "comment" notes on here. But, you can get a general picture of the range of panels. I've only gone through Thursday and Friday. Will post the rest later.

THURSDAY, JAN 6, 3:00-5:00pm

The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s: Activist Protestants or Intolerant Americans? Hynes Convention Center, Room 103

Joint session with the Immigration and Ethnic History Society Evelyn Sterne, University of Rhode Island
“We Put the Bible in the Schools”: The Ku Klux Klan on Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range David J. LaVigne, College of St. Benedict and St.
John’s University
The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England Catholics in the 1920s Mark P. Richard, Plattsburgh (State University of New York)
The Hooded Schoolhouse: School Reform, State- Building, and Cultural Intolerance in the 1920s Thomas R. Pegram, Loyola University Maryland
Leonard Moore, McGill University

The Righteous Fast: Nation of Islam, Mormon, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives Marriott Boston Copley Place, Fairfield Room

Amy Bentley, New York University
The Role of Public Humiliation and Fasting in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Disaster Ken Albala, University of the Pacific
The Interplay of Scientific and Religious Authorities in Mormon and Nation of Islam Fasting Practices Kate Holbrook, Boston University
The Feast at the End of the Fast: Yom Kippur’s Break Fast Rituals and American Judaism Nora Rubel, University of Rochester
R. Marie Griffith, Harvard Divinity School

The State of Abolition Studies: From the Sacred to the Secular? Hynes Convention Center, Room 306

Chair:David B. Davis, Yale University Panel: Christopher L. Brown, Columbia University
Stephen Kantrowitz, University of Wisconsin-Madison James Sidbury, University of Texas Manisha Sinha, University of Massachusetts at Amherst John W. Stauffer, Harvard University

Keywords in American Religious History: Diaspora, Sexuality, Liberalism, Pentecostalism, Martyr
Hynes Convention Center, Room 303

David Harrington Watt, Temple University
Elizabeth McAlister, Wesleyan University
Kathryn Lofton, Yale University
Matthew S. Hedstrom, University of Virginia
Randall J. Stephens, Eastern Nazarene College

American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Religion, War, and Nation: Philadelphian Quakers in the Revolutionary Atlantic Marriott Boston Copley Place, MIT Room

Jenna Gibbs, Florida International University
Cowards, Cheats, Conspirators: The Anti-Quaker Campaign in Philadelphia, 1775–1800 Sarah Crabtree, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Reading, Writing, Working, and Sailing: Finding the Haitian Revolution in a Quaker Household James Alec Dun, Princeton University
Richard Godbeer, University of Miami

American Society of Church History Session 4 Mormon History Association Session 1
Women’s Ritual and Religious Authority in Early Mormonism
The Westin Copley Place, St. George Room D

Philip Barlow, Utah State University
Nineteenth-Century LDS Marital Rites and the Not- So-Patrilineal Family Kathleen Flake, Vanderbilt University
Eliza R. Snow and the Expression of Female Authority in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism Jill M. Derr, Brigham Young University
Women’s Birth and Death Rituals in the Lived Religion of Mormonism, 1870s–1920s Susanna Morrill, Lewis and Clark College
James Hudnut-Beumler, Vanderbilt University

FRIDAY, JAN 7, 9:30-11:30am

Sanctifying Social Struggles across the Mid-Twentieth-Century South
Hynes Convention Center, Room 311

Lisa McGirr, Harvard University
The Christian Left, Agricultural Labor Unions, and the Sacralization of Rural Life in the 1930s Alison Collis Greene, Yale University
Prophetic Front: New Era School of Social Action and Prophetic Religion and the Fight Against Jim Crow in the 1930s Jarod Roll, University of Sussex
Restructuring, Religion, and Antiunionism in the Post- World War II Upland South Ken Fones-Wolf, West Virginia University Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, West Virginia University
James R. Green, University of Massachusetts at Boston

Same-Sex Marriage in Historical and Transnational Perspective
Hynes Convention Center, Room 111
Joint session with the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History

Kenneth Sherrill, Hunter College, City University of New York
“Out of the closets and into the chapels!”: Same-Sex Weddings and the Battle for Marriage Equality Karen M. Dunak, Muskingum University
“Don’t Forget that Matrimony is a Holy Act, Even When It Is a Civil Ceremony”: Changes in Sexual Norms and the Conceptualization of Gay Families in Scandinavia Since the 1990s
Jens Rydstrom, Centre for Gender Studies, Lund University
Marriage and American Citizenship: Polygamy and Same-Sex Marriage Christine Talbot, University of Northern Colorado
Felicia A. Kornbluh, University of Vermont

Sacred Politics: Rethinking the Rise of the Religious Right
Marriott Boston Copley Place, Tremont Room
Joint session with the American Society of Church History R. Marie Griffith, Harvard Divinity School

Carl McIntire and the Anticommunist Origins of the Religious Right Markku Ruotsila, University of Helsinki
God’s New Grand Narrative: The Intellectual Mobilization of the Religious Right, 1970–2000 Molly Worthen, Yale University
When the Religious Right Almost Turned Left: Born- Again Activism before the Moral Majority Darryl G. Hart, Temple University
Leo P. Ribuffo, George Washington University

American Society of Church History Session 8
Religion and the Reforming Spirit in America
The Westin Copley Place, St. George Room C

Dan McKanan, Harvard University
Subcultural Expertise and the Limits of Reform in America
Dana Logan, Indiana University
Profits of Religion: Anticlericalism and the Labor Movement
Kip Richardson, Harvard University
Reforming Sex: C. Everett Koop and the Moral Politics of Public Health Anthony Petro, New York University
Dan McKanan

FRIDAY, JAN 7, 2:30-4:30pm

Sacred Belief, Secular Action: The Politics of African American Religions in the Early Anglo-Atlantic World Hynes Convention Center, Room 101

Gregory T. Knouff, Keene State College
“We Expect Great Things”: Puritanism, Black Petitioning, and the Origins of American Abolitionism Christopher Cameron, The University of North
Carolina Charlotte
“Has God appointed us as their slaves?” Black Reformers and Sacred Politics, 1787–1807 Dianne W. Cappiello, Cornell University
“The Bad Thing”: Obeah and the Politics of Afro-Caribbean Religion among Slaves in Berbice (British Guiana) Randy M. Browne, University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill
Jason R. Young, University at Buffalo (State University of New York)

Revisiting the Teaching of Religious History Hynes Convention Center, Room 103

Janet Bordelon, New York University
Teaching Sacred Literature in Secular Spaces
Janet Bordelon
Teaching American Religion at a State University in the Bible Belt, Part 1 Keith A. Pacholl, University of West Georgia
Teaching American Religion at a State University in the Bible Belt, Part 2 Daniel K. Williams, University of West Georgia
Wanting to Be Standardized: State Standards, Standardized Tests, and the Teaching of Buddhism Thomas W. Barker, University of Kansas

Publishing the Sacred: The Religious Uses of Popular Print in Early America Hynes Convention Center, Room 311

Robert A. Gross, University of Connecticut
The Neo-Platonist of New Jersey: Daniel Leeds, Mystic, Schismatic Sara S. Gronim, Long Island University,
C.W. Post Campus
“Heavens” and “Firmament”: Popular Science and “Declaring the Glory of the Lord” in Christian Periodicals in the Early American Republic Lily Santoro, University of Delaware
Debunking Denominationalism in Early American Religious History T. J. Tomlin, University of Northern Colorado
Daniel A. Cohen, Case Western Reserve University

American Society of Church History Session 14
Rethinking American Slavery and the History of Christianity
The Westin Copley Place, St. George Room D

John W. Stauffer, Harvard University
From Slave Trader to Abolitionist: “Quaker Tom” Robinson of Newport, Rhode Island Elizabeth Cazden, independent scholar
Francis Wayland, Religion, and Antislavery in America, 1830–65 Matthew Hill, Gordon College
“These Silken Ties”: Ecclesiastical Compromise and the Problem of Slavery in the Presbyterian Schism of 1837–38 Adam Borneman, independent scholar
The 1857–58 Businessmen’s Revival and Slavery, the Elephant in the Room Mark Draper, Trinity International University
John W. Stauffer

American Society of Church History Session 16
Narratives of Contemporary Christian Expansion
The Westin Copley Place, Essex Ballroom Northeast

Ann D. Braude, Harvard Divinity School
The Other Camp of the Saints: Comparing Christian and Muslim Narratives of Global Expansion in the Modern Era Philip Jenkins, Pennsylvania State University
What Happens Beyond Christendom?
Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame
Twentieth-Century Mission Studies and the Narrative of “World Christianity” Dana L. Robert, Boston University
The Audience

A Mexican Drug Cartel and Self-Proclaimed Messiah

Emily Clark

I grew up in San Antonio, and it is never dull here in the borderlands. I went to high school with kids who parents were in the US “illegally,” and I played select soccer with a girl from the valley who regularly saw people passing through her backyard on their way north from Mexico. Though in this past week, immigration has taken a back seat to drug trafficking. The recent death last Thursday of La Familia leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, or El Chayo or El Más Loco, put the Mexican drug war back to the front pages of newspapers and the top of search engines. After a two day shootout between the cartel and Mexican Federal Police officers, El Chayo was found dead. Coming just days before the feast of La Virgen de Guadalupe, Moreno was shot in an atmosphere charged with religious, social, and political significance.

Politics, violence, power, and religion combined in a visible and tragic manner with La Familia Michoacana, commonly referred to as La Familia – an organized crime syndicate and drug cartel. La Familia drew attention to themselves in 2006 when they rolled the heads of five petty criminals on the floor of a Mexican discoteca accompanied by a note: The family does not kill for pay, it does not kill women or innocents. Only those who deserve to die will die. Everybody understand: this is divine justice (note originally in Spanish). With this act, La Familia introduced themselves as the new moral compass for Mexican and borderland life. Under their leader Moreno the group took on religious overtones, as he called himself “the savior of the people,” and a “messiah” for the Mexican poor. Each member received a copy of La Familia’s “bible,” written by Moreno which explained the group’s philosophy and justified the mandate of “divine justice” to new recruits. Here is an often cited quotation from his book, titled Pensamientos (Thoughts): Today, we need to prepare to defend our ideals so that our struggle will bear fruit (and) organize so as to go down the best path, perhaps not the easiest, but the one that can offer the best results. In July of 2010, a list of the group’s mandatory reading surfaced in the media, which included evangelical author John Eldredge's popular Wild At Heart: Discovering the Secrets of a Man’s Soul. Eldredge’s book is a kind of new take on “muscular Christianity,” and as described by the author, “a call for men to engage as husbands, fathers, members of their community. So there is this call to be a hero, to live a life that matters, to make a difference.” Eldredge’s moral and masculine appeal for action found a welcome home in Moreno’s philosophy, which views the protection of life, land, and integrity at stake.

La Familia’s headquarters remained in Mexico, but they also operated in multiple areas of the US – primarily Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. It is well known for its violent tactics to punish those in their way, both ideologically and in their lucrative drug business. Dumping the murdered bodies of Mexican Federal Police officers in the summer of 2009 solidified stopping La Familia a prime objective of the Mexican government and of the US. Though, this would not be easy. Not only are drug cartels hard to catch (watch Harrison Ford in Clear and Present Danger if you don’t believe me), but La Familia gained the loyalty and love of many locals. The group gave money and food to the poor and donated to schools and charities. In his official profile, the Mexican government wrote that Moreno “erected himself as ‘the Messiah,’ using the Bible to preach to the poor and obtaining from them unconditional support.” In western Mexico, a parade this past Sunday combined a peace march in honor of Moreno with images of another divine protectress, La Virgen de Guadalupe. Young girls carrying an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe walked just ahead of an onslaught of La Familia sympathizers outfitted with signs for their beloved, slain “messiah.” One marcher carried a sign for Moreno reading: Nazario Siempre Vivira en Nuestro Corazón (Nazario will always live in our hearts). A boy in the parade bore a sign stating: Sr. Nazario Para Los Estudiantes Tus Ideales Siguen Vivos (Mr. Nazario, for the students your ideals remain alive).

Despite what one may think of La Familia’s religious philosophy, they represent a role religion plays which is not to be taken lightly. Organizing, mobilizing, and inspiring members of La Familia, El Chayo proved the force religion has in political and social affairs. Though vastly different in many ways from the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, religion worked in comparable ways for both La Familia’s leaders and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Shuttlesworth. In A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, David Chappell deems the Civil Rights Movement the Third Great Awakening in American history elucidating the way Christianity united and propelled the movement. Moreno may not have taken a page from King’s “turn the other cheek” way of thinking, but religion mustered La Familia’s members and appears in mourners’ lament for their fallen leader.
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