Place and Scholars' Roles



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Karen Johnson
As readers of my posts may discern, I am very interested in questions concerning where people live out their lives, how they live in those places, and the consequences of both.  Housing segregation plays a prominent role in my book project on Catholic civil rights activism (hopefully to be in print in about 18 months!).  In the past year and a half, I've had the opportunity to read widely and think further about the connections between places, religion, and race.  I'd like to share some of my thoughts, and welcome your feedback, as I explore not only Catholicism, place and race, but evangelicalism, place, and race as well.
American society is one in which places have been replaced by space, which has led to a culture of homelessness.*  Homelessness is often conceived as a problem plaguing the poor and marginalized who stay in shelters or live on the streets.  Yet homelessness also includes the affluent who have few ties to a particular place, who do not have a place that can orient them to the world.  According to the writer Wendell Berry, "our present leaders – people who have wealth and power – do not know what it means to take place seriously: to think it worthy, for its own sake, of love and careful work.  They cannot take any place seriously because they must be ready at any moment, by the terms of power and wealth in the modern world, to destroy any place."**  This destruction could be literal, or the severing of ties because one moves to indulge career aspirations.

Saint Valentine's Pleasures



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Adam Park 


The season of romance is upon us. Or, at least, a day of romance. And by some accounts, Christians romance best.

So, what's their secret? Well, it can be found in their rich material culture. Since the early 2000s, Christian marital aid and lingerie websites have been providing the adventurous faithful a wide range of romantic accessories. From nipple clamps, sex swings, and penis rings to edible underwear, prostate massagers, and beads (that you don't wear around your neck), these online marital aid ministries offer many earthly delights for holy matrimony. A most fleshly doxa, indeed.

The raison d'être for online Christian marital aid ministries, however, is not merely to aid in the enhancement of romance. Such ministries exist to provide, in the words of one website, "a safe, non-pornographic place to shop for all your Christian sex toy and romance needs, while keeping Christ at the center of your marriage." When it comes to Christian marriage, pleasure is the solution. But when it comes to shopping for pleasure-inducing goods, pornography is the problem. Packaging, product imagery, foul descriptions and vulgar toy names, and seductively-posed lingerie models have besmirched the market. The overly-sensuous agora is simply too titillating. Understanding marriage as between a husband and a wife, such ministries hold that any sexual stimuli that occurs outside of that closed relationship is misplaced and ill-gotten. To channel Douglas, pornography is erotica out of place. Christian marital aid ministries therefore whitewash. And here's how.

Reexamining the Original Patriots



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Jonathan Den Hartog

I had hoped to find a way to connect a blog post this morning to football events over the week-end. The connections this year were not as clear as in previous years. So, the best I can do is--"If you're thinking about the New England Patriots for good or ill, think about about the Original Patriots!" And, I won't even limit that to the New England variety.

Rather than digging into a full review today, I want to offer a notice of a book I'm working through. This past month I've enjoyed reading Daniel Dreisbach's Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers.

Although other books already exist on the subject, it's an effective measure of how significant the Bible was in public debate during the founding era that yet another interpretation is justified.

Dreisbach is humble enough to delineate what he is not claiming while still making broad claims for the Biblical text influencing the discussion around the American Revolution and the new nation. In this claim, Dreisbach puts a lot of emphasis on the concept of "discourse," with biblical themes pervading discussions, often on multiple sides of an issue (as for example the debate between Patriots and Loyalists). In this, the author places much stress on the publicly Protestant nature of the colonies. Because Protestantism emphasized the Scriptures, it is no surprise that the cadences and phrases of Scripture worked their way into public speech and writing--often without attribution. In this story, Dreisbach offers an "interdisciplinary study" that ties together "history, religion, biblical literature, law, and political thought" (9).

One positive contribution Dreisbach makes early on is to distinguish between the array of uses to which Americans put the Scriptures. He creates a typology of uses, starting with Scriptural quotations to enrich a common language and vocabulary and to enhance the power of rhetoric through connection with an authoritative text. More substantively, he finds the founding generation using the Scriptures to define normative standards for evaluating public life, illuminating the role of Providence among nations, and gaining insights into the character and designs of God's interaction with humans. This framework can be helpful to anyone encountering Revolutionary rhetoric.

Rather than being comprehensive in the treatment of the Bible, Dreisbach spends significant time with a few passages that were used often and that illustrate significant themes. These passages include calls for liberty from Great Britain (Galatians 5:1), pictures of robust American liberty (Micah 4:4), and calls for righteous behavior for both the people (Micah 6:8, Proverbs 14:34) and the rulers (Proverbs 29:2).

American Catholic Historical Association Annual Meeting: Recap



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[Thanks to Pete Cajka for this recap of the ACHA Annual Meeting.]

Peter Cajka

This blog post highlights the salient themes of the 2017 meeting of the ACHA and offers readers of RiAH an in-depth look at few panels of potential interest. The 2017 ACHA – a conference of impressive geographical and chronological reach – addressed the job market, archives, digital humanities, and publishing, in addition to its usual run of topics related to Catholic history.


 ACHA 2017 featured a bevy of biographical investigations. On the program one will find the usual suspects: Gregory the Great, Francis Spellman, William Bourke Cockran, Pius IX, Charles Peguy, Roncalli, Borromeo, JFK, Teresa of Avila, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Luther, Dante, Cardinal Newman, and Hecker. Our normal biographical subjects are often men of the cloth, but even here, presenters at the ACHA managed to offer new perspectives. John Timmon, a missionary who traversed the Mississippi River, served as the Prefect Apostolic the Republic of Texas, and later became the first bishop of Buffalo, New York, was the focus of an entire panel. John E. Rybolt of Depaul University looked at Timmon’s years as a Vincentian; independent scholar Patrick Foley investigated Timmon’s work as a Mississippi River missionary; and Paul Lubienecki from the Steel Plant Museum gave a paper on Timmon’s time in the Lone Star State.

Presenters at the ACHA 2017 also introduced audiences to a number of relatively new names. This included papers on Albert Foley SJ, Archbishop Humberto Medeiros, Benedict Bradley O.S.B., Ray Wilkins, Gordon Zahn, Francis Sampson, and Walter Ciszek SJ. Conferences like these help to bring persons of significance, some of whom have been relegated to the deep past or our memories, onto historians’ collective radar. Marian J. Barber of the Catholic Archives of Texas placed Catholic writer Phyllis McGinley in the context of 1950s and 1960s suburbanization. The pastoral environment of American suburbia directly inspired McGinley’s poetry and books, which, Barber noted, earned McGinley a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and a spot on the cover of Time Magazine in 1965. McGinley is an important literary figure and deserves a mention among the era’s most important female writers. 

The Mormon Path to be All-American: Good for One, Maybe Not for the Other



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Today's guest post comes from Stephanie Griswold. Stephanie is a grad student in history at San Diego State University interested in researching new religious movements. She's writing her thesis on the history of the FLDS, their family structure, and leadership changes since the mid 1970s. You can find Stephanie on Twitter @_SGriz_.

Stephanie Griswold

A lot is changing in society in regard to transgender acceptance. Both the military and now the Boy Scouts have officially accepted the open participation of trans people.

With this fascinating step I am reminded of another time when military service and scouting were viable steps towards the acceptance of a marginalized group: Mormons, and in particular, Mormon men. The United States was hostile to the new and American-born religious movement for almost the entirety of its first 100 years. Entire books, such as Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color, have been written about how early Mormons struggled to not only legitimize themselves as a faith, but in nationality, gender, and race. Nativist sentiments lashed out against white, American-born people who followed Joseph Smith Jr. after his establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1930, affiliating their new brand of Christianity as heretical, un-American, and non-white. Mormons, as exhibited in Reeve’s book, were associated with every marginalized group of the time: Asian, Muslim, African American, Native American, and even immigrant.

New York’s Puck magazine, 1884
The main issue provoking such a hostile reaction was the early Mormon principal of plural marriage. Polygamy offended every white Christian sensitivity of the nativist movement, making it much easier to malign Mormons as hedonistic, immoral, and in many ways similar to the stereotyped depictions of African American and Arabs. Mormon men particularly were thought to be white slavers, enslaving white women in their harems. This was so engrained in the perception of Mormons that the Republican Party of the mid 1800s vowed to fight the “Twin Relics of Barbarism” slavery and polygamy. This, among many other pseudoscientific notions of the time, allowed for the othering of the Mormons as a totally mongrel race who merely appeared white, perhaps even making them more dangerous.

Judge magazine, 1882
Polygamy, however, was one of the main tenets of Mormon masculinity. In 1890, after years of state and federal legislation, persecution, and prosecution of polygamists, LDS church president Wilford Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto disavowing the principle of plural marriage, not only granting Utah statehood but kowtowing to societal pressures of other white, Christian Americans. This drastically changed accepted constructs of Mormon manhood within the religion.

Mormons worked hard to gain acceptance into the American mainstream and Mormon men were at the forefront of this attempt to gain racial and gender citizenship. The 20th century brought the opportunity for them to gain both racial and gender acceptance while bringing their families and religion with them. In changing the definition of a righteous Mormon man to monogamous and heterosexual, who did not partake in tobacco or alcohol, and was seen active in the community through mission projects they became ideal candidates for acceptance.

Religion, Attire, and Adornment in North America



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Today's guest post comes from Dave Krueger, an independent scholar of American religious history. He is the author of Myths of the Rune Stone: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America and is currently working on an article about the history of Muslims in Philadelphia. Connect with him via his website or on Twitter at davidkrueger01.

David Krueger

Philadelphia is a great place to people watch, particularly for scholars like me with an interest in material expressions of religion. Whenever I take a walk down 52nd Street in my West Philly neighborhood, I’m intrigued by the fashion choices that people make. At the edge of the University City district, I will occasionally see white hipsters in tight jeans riding fixie bikes, but on this street, it is more typical to see African Americans donning apparel that is typically recognized as “Islamic.”

Some women wear colorful hijabs (headscarves) covering their hair, while others wear black niqabs that cover the face and abayas that cover all but the hands. Some men wear kufis (skull caps) on their heads and beards of varying lengths – sometimes dyed with a reddish tint. Some men wear kifayas (scarves) and thobs (long, ankle-length shirts) that are common in the Middle East, and others don vest coats and izzars (skirts) that are typical in South Asia. At times, a stroll down 52nd Street can feel like a visit to Lahore or to Riyadh. However, the nearly ubiquitous inclusion of Timberland boots reminds me that that I’m walking down the streets of an American city.

What can a study of these eclectic assemblages of apparel and adornment teach us about Muslim life in the U.S.? In the Middle East, a kifaya is used to shelter oneself from the sun, but what utility does it have on a cold winter day in West Philly? Does the wearer use it differentiate himself from his Christian and non-religious neighbors? Does it signify that he is a certain kind of Muslim, perhaps one who embraces a stricter, and perhaps, more “authentic” expression of Islam? Is the donning of a kifaya a way to protest American racism by identifying with a post-colonial aesthetic? What role do the Timberland boots play? Are they worn simply for comfort, or does the wearer use them to project a distinctly Islamic masculinity?

Vote With Your Informed Conscience: Catholics and the Election of 2016



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Peter Cajka 

Catholics did not necessarily tell fellow Catholics which candidate to vote for in this election season. Nor did Catholics tell their co-religionists which political party God supports. Instead, Catholics advised one another to “inform their consciences” before casting a ballot. 


A brief analysis of a document renewed by the bishops in 2015,  Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (FCFC), can demonstrate why Catholics often advise one another to form their consciences on voting (and other matters). The Church will not, indeed, it cannot, it is said, tell Catholics exactly how to vote. Political life is too messy and the Christian message cannot be realized in a single party’s platform. “Unfortunately, politics in our country often can be a contest of power interests, partisan attacks, sound bites, and media hype,” FCFC explains. Therefore, it concludes, “The Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by the moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being.” When the dint of democratic politics renders The Good unclear, and The Truth is obscured, the Catholic Church provides moral resources so the individual can form his or her own conscience. According to this notion, the Catholic Church does not explicitly command, rather, it sets a moral context in which individual Catholics can form his or her own conscience. It is then is up to the individual to improve the subjective dimension of moral life (conscience) by forming the conscience with a variety of objective Church teachings. “The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well formed conscience,” the document explains, adding that “The formation of conscience includes several elements.” These elements include prayer, reading the Catechism, diving into Scripture, and studying the particular political situation. 


The notion of the informed conscience has a long history in American Catholic life but it has come recently to occupy an important place in political theology, particularly as it pertains to the concrete act of voting. During the summer and fall of 2016, advice to vote with an informed conscience echoed across the United States. The advice appeared in popular Catholic media. Jesuit James Martin advised Catholics in a YouTube video posted on November 6 to follow informed consciences when punching their tickets. “The Church forms consciences, it doesn’t dictate them,” Martin assured.  Thus, the Catholic Church had a duty  to help Catholics form their consciences. Homilies and pastoral letters hailed from priests and bishops in Pennsylvania, Colorado, New York, and North Dakota, entreating the voting faithful to form and follow conscience on November 8. 


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