RiAH @ AHA 2017



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The new year is quickly approaching--and, for the sake of beloved celebrities, not soon enough.  In between writing spring syllabi and course schedules, it's time again to set AHA schedules. Once again, I've made a round-up of Religion in America History at AHA 2017. The full list includes panels at AHA and its affiliated societies like American Society for Church History and American Catholic Historical Association. (A brief list of RiAH contributor panels can be found below.) I'm looking forward to seeing RiAH contributors and readers there. As always, readers are welcome to submit their review of conference panels as guests posts via email to cara [dot] burnidge [at] uni [dot] edu.

RiAH Contributor Panels At-A-Glance

Thursday, January 5
  • 3:30-5PM Is Collaboration Worth It? A Roundtable Discussion, Colorado Convention Center, Room 501 featuring Blogmeister Emeritus Paul Harvey & the intrepid Ed Blum
  • 5:30-6:30 Reception for Bloggers & Twitterstorians Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Ballroom F
Friday, January 6
  • 8:30-10:00AM New Directions in American Religion & Internationalism Colorado Convention Center, Room 702 featuring Cara Burnidge, Matt Sutton, Emily Conroy-Krutz, & Chris Nichols 
  • 3:30-5PM 
    • Bringing Sport into the Game: New Scholarship at the Intersection of Christianity & Sports in the 20th Century U.S. Colorado Convention Center Room 702 featuring Matt Sutton, Hunter Hampton, Seth Dowland, 
Paul Putz, Arlene Sanchez-Walsh
    • Sacred Answers to Secular Questions: Religious Critiques of Democratic Politics in Antebellum America Colorado Convention Center, Room 704 with Michael Pasquier
  • 7:30-9:00PM ASCH Extraordinary Business Meeting Hyatt Regency Centennial Ballroom B
Saturday, January 7
  • 10:30AM-12PM 
    • Whose Backlash? Liberal Religious Responses to Conservative Populism, 1965-85 Sheraton Denver Downtown, Director’s Row H with Brantley Gasaway and Karen Johnson
    • The Future of Catholic History: What Do Graduate Students Want to Know? Sheraton Denver Downtown, Governor’s Square 16 with Peter Cajka
  • 1:30-3:00PM The New Academic Hagiography: Perspectives, Methods, and Analysis Colorado Convention Center 705 with Elesha Coffman
The full list of Religion in America History at AHA 2017 panels can be found at this link. 

American Religious Sounds Project



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Lauren Turek

Two years ago, David Stowe posted here about the launch of the Religious Soundmap Project of the Global Midwest, which sought to capture the sounds of diverse religious practice in the Midwest and share them via a digital platform. As the project website notes, Isaac Weiner of the Ohio State University and Amy DeRogatis of Michigan State University began the project in May 2014. Student researchers made field recordings of "'canonical' [religious] sounds like Islamic prayer calls or Buddhist chanting" as well as "'non-canonical' sounds in homes and workplaces, during public festivals, ambient noises, and in ostensibly 'secular' gatherings such as school graduations or football games," then created a digital soundmap of these recordings for the public to explore. In this way, Weiner and DeRogatis sought "not to resolve definitively what counts as religious sound, but to present varied sounds that might invite new ways of thinking about religion in the Midwest."

This pilot program proved tremendously successful, and Weiner and DeRogatis have built on this success with the creation of a new, expanded digital religion project that should be of great interest to the readers of this blog: the American Religious Sounds Project. Similar to the Religious Soundmap Project of the Global Midwest, the American Religious Sounds Project will involve students and researchers capturing high-quality audio recordings of diverse religious practices and the creation of a digital archive to preserve and share these recordings. This new project has a national rather than regional scope though, and Weiner and DeRogatis report that their ultimate goal is to "construct a digital platform that integrates sound, images, and text to offer new insights into the complex dynamics of American religious pluralism."

According to the site, the following questions animate the project: "What does religion in the United States sound like? Where should one go to hear it? How might we understand religious diversity differently if we begin by listening for it?" These are compelling questions. As an archive, the project will certainly be of great value to future historians, but the project also obviously holds tremendous pedagogical potential for those who are currently offering courses in American religion and religious history.

For this reason, this project will be an exciting one to track, and Weiner and DeRogatis have created a blog just for that purpose. In keeping with the current holiday season, their post from December 21st highlights the sounds of a diverse array of secular and religious celebrations, from a Pagan Krampus parade to a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.












Spring Preview: Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism



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Catherine R. Osborne 

(posting for the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame)

I wanted to take a moment, now that the end of semester gradefest has died down, to highlight upcoming grant deadlines and events that will take place at Notre Dame this spring.

1) Grants! Research Travel Grants (for travel to the ND archives) and the Hibernian Research Award (for research on an Irish or Irish-American subject) are due December 31. Additionally, you can gear up for the next round of Theodore M. Hesburgh Research Travel Grants, which support research projects in any academic discipline that draw on the Hesburgh papers. These are so great for any projects involving government, international relations, etc, during the mid 20th century. They are due April 1.

2) Lecture! Timothy Neary, associate professor of history and coordinator of the American Studies program at Salve Regina University, will speak on "For God and Country: Bishop Sheil's Vision for Youth Sports," on Feb 10 at Notre Dame.

3) Retirements! From the point of view of history of religion, we have two very significant retirements this year at Notre Dame: Thomas Kselman and Mark Noll. I interviewed Professor Kselman for this blog last fall, and a symposium in his honor will be held at Notre Dame on March 9.

Mark Noll's students have organized a multi-day conference for March 30-April 1. There is much more information available here, and while I would under other circumstances say more in this space, we will be devoting our March 21 post to a conference preview. Please do explore the site and register for the conference, and if you are not able to travel for it, be assured that we will cover it here.

4) Conferences!

The Seminar in American Religion will meet on April 1 to discuss John T. McGreevy's new book, American Jesuits and the World: How an Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global (Princeton, 2016). Commentators for this seminar are Thomas Bender of New York University and Laurie Maffly-Kipp of Washington University in St. Louis. Most readers of this blog are familiar with the Seminar, but just in case: it meets twice annually and is open to the public. Commentators address the book before discussion is opened to the audience, which generally consists of scholars from across the Midwest. More information is available by writing to cushwa@nd.edu.

Finally, Cushwa's spring semester will conclude with an international conference titled "Too Small a World: Catholic Sisters as Global Missionaries," which will meet from April 6-8 at Notre Dame. The conference program and registration information are available here.

5) Newsletter

Our fall newsletter is available here. As usual, it contains not only a variety of event recaps, conference announcements, interviews, and upcoming deadlines, but also a roundup of recent book and article publications in American religious history and in international Catholic history. The spring newsletter has a submission deadline of January 15, and will become available in March.

Decision on ASCH-AHA Relationship



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Elesha Coffman

After all of the discussions and surveys and blog posts, it's finally time for the members of the American Society of Church History to decide on the society's relationship with the American Historical Association going forward. That relationship changed two years ago when the AHA centralized conference registration, which raised the cost of attending the meeting while removing a key reason to pay for ASCH membership. (For the back-story, see my post from April 2015.) Much grumbling about registration costs and an alarming drop in ASCH membership have ensued.

This decision is the topic for the ASCH Extraordinary Business Meeting scheduled for Friday, January 6, from 7:30-9:00 p.m. in the Hyatt Regency Centennial Ballroom B. If you have a stake in this matter, please attend! The meeting is open to anyone at the conference, though only ASCH members will be able to vote. Other major administrative changes for the society are coming soon as well, so stay tuned.

Charisma and the Sacralization of American Politics, 1870-1940



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Jeremy Young

Welcome to Jeremy C. Young, our guest blogger! Jeremy is an assistant professor of history at Dixie State University and the author of The Age of Charisma: Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

The letter began simply enough.  “Dear Friend & Brother,” wrote S. B. Morris of Homer, New York, on October 31, 1896, “I am forty five years old. … I am a traveling salesman & travel all over N.Y. state.”  Next, Morris proceeded to the reason for his letter: a description of his recent conversion experience.  “On the night of August 2d while in my room in the city of Schenectady N.Y.,” he explained, “a convicting Power fell on and I was Brought to believe that you were advocating a righteous cause.”  After describing the aftermath of his conversion, Morris offered his correspondent a Christian blessing.  “Now I will close my letter,” he concluded, “by saying – may God bless you and keep you for His namesake.”

What made the letter surprising was that Morris wrote it not to a Protestant evangelist but to Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.  “From that night (Aug 2) until now I have done all I could to help your election,” Morris declared proudly, “and I am longing for the 3d of November when I can cast my ballot for you.”  Similarly, the “righteous cause” Morris mentioned was not Christianity but democracy, “the verry [sic] cause that Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln taught us.”  When Morris was not discussing his political conversion or using religious language, he was describing how he had disrupted a political meeting of William McKinley supporters by loudly championing his candidate.  “I yelled for Bryan and I got struck several times on the head,” Morris reported with satisfaction, “but I am still shouting for Bryan just the same.”


One of the central questions I had to answer in researching my book on turn-of-the-century charisma was how to determine whether a given leader was actually charismatic.  Charisma is an enigmatic quality, both ineffable and deeply subjective; who was I to say that Theodore Roosevelt was more or less charismatic than, say, Woodrow Wilson?  Ultimately, I realized that I was asking the wrong question; charisma was not a characteristic of leaders, but a relationship between them and their followers.  By observing how Americans described their leaders, then, I could let followers do the work of identifying charisma.

Consider two letters, written eight years apart.  “I have read with a good deal of interest,” wrote William F. Ryan to presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison in 1888, “every speech that you have made, and am free to say they are full of good American common sense. … I sincerely hope that you will be successful in the coming election for I think it essential to our country’s success.”  In 1896, Alphonse J. Bryan wrote William Jennings Bryan (no relation) a very different missive.  “I have watched…this campaign,” wrote Alphonse Bryan, “and its success was ordained by God, before it commenced. … I believe you the second Moses, not of Egypt but of America, who will lead back the poor blind oppressed laborer…to the road of Salvation. … When a man sees a Savior…elected for President then there is indeed cause for joy.”

In the hundreds of letters I read over the course of my research, the language of Protestant revivalism was an infallible indicator of the charismatic leader-follower relationship.  Letters that described merely a political affinity read much like Ryan’s: affable and encouraging, but largely unemotional.  Letters that described a charismatic emotional connection, on the other hand, drew heavily on the language of religious experience.  Comparisons with Moses, Jesus Christ, and other biblical leaders were commonplace.  Other writers openly declared Bryan to be a divine agent: “I feel (I Know) God sent Christ to save sinners, Abraham Lincoln to free the 4,000,000 black slaves and God has sent you to save 50,000,000 white slaves,” O. C. Coulter proclaimed without a hint of irony.

Bryan was not the only politician to receive this sort of letter.  In a letter to Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, Ethel Truman praised the leader’s “Christ mind” and assured him, “You are spiritual you are eternal;” after one of his speeches, she insisted, “I saw the Angel of Life hold your hand!”  “Comrade Jesus walks beside [you]; / and we – we throng behind,” wrote Miriam Allen De Ford in a 1920 poem about Debs.  Meanwhile, author Sara Cleghorn treated Debs’ apparel as a veritable saintly relic: “I wish,” she wrote, “when the coat wears out that Eugene Debs wore at his trial, I could have a little piece of it to keep in my Bible.”  African American leaders Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey received similar treatment.  “Garvey was sort of a god, an idol,” recalled UNIA member John Rousseau; “I was fully aware that he was our savior.”  “You are our Moses,” wrote W. J. Cansler to Washington, “destined to lead our race out of the difficulties and dangers which beset our pathway and surround us on all sides.” 

Why did charismatic followers think of politicians in this way?  Could they really not tell the difference between political leaders and Biblical ones, between the temporal and the spiritual?  Despite Alphonse Bryan’s protests to the contrary, it is doubtful he truly believed Bryan was a “Savior” in the way Jesus was.  More likely, followers turned to religious language in an attempt to come to grips with their own emotional experience.  Charismatic followership introduced into their lives emotions they had never felt before – emotions, in many cases, that they had never seen anyone experience outside of a religious setting.  They described their leaders in religious terms not to accentuate the mystery of charisma, but to dispel it: to connect the unfamiliar experience of charismatic followership with the familiar one of religious conversion.


This sacralization of followership, this blurring of the lines between the secular and the sacred, was the defining characteristic of American charismatic movements.  Charisma was not religion for followers, but it could feel quite similar; charismatic political interactions seemed suffused with spiritual energy.  “If you win this battle,” J. E. Tibbins wrote to Bryan, “you will not only be President, but you will be King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.”  Tibbins knew Bryan was not literally Jesus Christ, but for many turn-of-the-century Americans, the difference between the two did not seem so great.

CFP: Embodiment, Corporeality, and the Senses in Religion Conference



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Call for Papers: 
Embodiment, Corporeality, and the Sense in Religion
An Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference
University of Texas at Austin 
April 8-9, 2017 

Across the broad diversity of religions that humans have developed throughout history, the body is a constant. Through the body and the senses, people experience ritual, sacred space, and personal devotion. Our bodies shape our thinking and how we communicate religious concepts, and the body and the embodied experience of life are important subjects of religious thought. This conference will explore the role of embodiment, corporeality and the senses in religion. Submissions from all disciplines and fields are welcomed.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:
  • Religious phenomenologies of perception. 
  • Sensory and sensual experiences of the sacred. 
  • Disability and bodily diversity in religion. 
  • Habitus and piety. 
  • Experience of sacred spaces and landscapes. 
  • Sport and physical discipline in religion. 
  • The senses and religious imagery. 
  • Moral understandings of the body and embodiment. 
  • Affect and emotions in religion.
Keynote speakers:
  • Sally Promey (Yale University) 
  • Brittany Wilson (Duke Divinity School) 
Submission details:
  • Deadline January 6, 2017 
  • Submissions must include--
    • Paper title
    • Name
    • Department and institutional affiliation
    • 250-300 word abstract 
    • 1-2 page CV 
    • Listed potential A/V need
  • Submit to utgradconf@gmail.com 




Religion at the End of a Revolutionary Semester



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Jonathan Den Hartog

Back at the beginning of the fall semester, in early September, I laid out some ways I would be integrating religion into my class on "The American Revolution and Early Republic." Now, with the semester drawing to a close, it seemed like a good moment to reflect and see how those plans came to fruition.

I'm pleased to say my students "got" much of what I was trying to do.

My favorite moments came as students brought religious perspectives into the historical debates they reenacted. In debating independence, students argued whether Romans 13 implied "unlimited submission" or if obedience could be discontinued at some limit. For many historical debaters, this was a central question--as, indeed, James Byrd indicated it was at the time.

Another historical moment came when a student playing a Roman Catholic Marylander complained about all the anti-Catholic language she heard from patriots, as they equated "popery" with tyranny. She rightfully asked whether she should join such a movement.

A third historical moment came when a "frontiersman" from Kentucky reported that his political views of the world had been shaped by the Methodist Circuit-rider that visited his house regularly.

These imagined moments assured me that students were, in fact, internalizing some of the dynamics I was describing.

We had further highlights, too.

Samuel Seabury
I thought my students did extremely well with using religious categories to understand the Loyalists, and to do so with empathy. Understanding the perspective of someone like John Joachim Zubly helped them wrestle with the complexities of resistance and revolution. I appreciated that many of them had heard about Samuel Seabury, and they found it ironic that Seabury would return as an Episcopal Bishop in Connecticut. This concern for the Loyalists has also shown up in some student research projects.

Discussing establishment and disestablishment at the state level also opened some eyes, as it was part of a church and state arrangement that many of the students had perhaps never considered. In talking about disestablishment, I made sure to give credit to the Baptists, who remained committed to "soul liberty," even as they had opportunities to join establishments.

Students even did a good job of showing interest in the conflicts of religion and politics between the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.

Tracing religion as an important theme through the course helped make interesting connections, when individuals showed up in different settings. This time around, I was impressed with how Timothy Dwight helped to connect anti-French politics in the late 1790s, religious outreach in the 2nd Great Awakening, higher education (Yale), and a developing American literary culture (as a "Connecticut Wit" and author of "Greenfield Hill").

Finally, since the semester is not quite over, I'm looking forward to sharing with the class the hot-off-the-presses book that just arrived on my desk--Daniel Dreisbach's Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers.

Altogether, the questions about religion in the era of the American Revolution that I was raising came to resonate well with the students and helped them understand the passions, hopes, and struggles of an era of upheaval.

Pause. And Begin Again. Tracy Fessenden on Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion



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Tracy Fessenden delivered this comment at the 2016 AAR meeting in San Antonio on Jason Bivins's work Spirits Rejoice: Jazz and American Religion, The first comment, from Paul Harvey, was previously posted here.
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A Pedagogy of the Not-ShockedTracy Fessenden

Jason Bivins’s Spirits Rejoice! is inspiration and solace to me I contemplate what pedagogy and scholarship might look like in the months and years to come, what either might include.  Those of us who hoped for a different result on November 8 fall roughly into two groups. Call these groups the shocked and the not-shocked: those for whom the energies that drove and delivered this outcome feel painfully new and strange, incomprehensible, and those for whom they feel painfully familiar.  On November 9 educators in Arizona began to work to ensure that our state’s 2000-odd undocumented college students be afforded “arrangements for the continuation of their degree programs” in the event of their promised “arrest, imprisonment, and deportation” under the coming Administration.  
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