Thank You for Being a Friend: RiAH, Liberal Protestants, and an Apology

Mark Edwards

It was nearly five and a half years ago that I got an email from Darren Dochuk inviting me to review a book for Paul Harvey's Religion in American History blog.  My first thought was, "what's a blog?"  Second thought: "Who's Paul Harvey?"  As a technological dinosaur, I was unaware of the role that digital media had begun to play in building and advancing intellectual community.  Having been an Assistant Professor of, well, religion in American history for five years, with a book about to come out on that topic, my lack of awareness of Paul and RiAH  showed how terribly alone I was as a scholar.

In retrospect, I feel like joining Team Harvey (obligatory sports reference accomplished) has served entirely selfish purposes: RiAH has been an essential means of my continuing education.  The blog is more to me than a place for posting book reviews, sharing research, reflecting on current events, and publishing notices--as valuable as all those are.  It's a central place where I have seen modeled and tried to practice the virtues of the humanities student.  It also brought me out of isolation and into a number of wonderful, edifying networks and friendships.  For that, I am immensely grateful to Paul and everyone else who has sustained the RiAH conversation these past ten years.

By way of reminiscing, I thought I'd share my second post.  It's on how I saw the study of liberal Protestantism at that moment.  Alot has changed since then for the better, although I wonder if the questions and issues raised by everyone then are still relevant.  NOTE: If you do read the post and several comments, please forgive my misreading of Kevin Schultz's Tri-Faith America, my shameless book plug, and my wrongheaded "fight" with Ed Blum about liberal Protestants and race.  You'll see that Kevin and Ed were very gracious with me, which is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned while at RiAH.

Know Your Archives: Presbyterian Historical Society

Andrea L. Turpin

Happy 10th birthday, RiAH! One of the things I have most appreciated about this blog is its breadth. In the words of John Fea, paying tribute to blog founder Paul Harvey, RiAH combines “opinion, news from the profession, historical reflection on current events, and new research” and also fosters a “sense of community” around these shared interests. I love that I can come here to read about research in progress, how religious history intersects with current events, and also tips for best practices on all aspects of teaching, researching, and writing about the history of American religion. In large part these objectives are accomplished by having so many contributors with diverse passions centered around a common theme.

I only joined this illustrious company in 2017, so I figured the best tribute I could offer this month would be to add a piece to one of the great series on the blog, Know Your Archives.

I spent two weeks last month at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia researching for my second book project, on how Protestant women’s organizations navigated the fundamentalist-
Presbyterian Historical Society (author's photograph)
modernist controversy. The Presbyterian Historical Society is the national archives of the PC(USA) denomination, and I was privileged to be a recipient of one of the Society’s very generous Research Fellowships (following in the footsteps of fellow RiAH blogger Paul Putz). While I was there, I also had the privilege of meeting fellow recipient Anna Holdorf and fellow RiAH blogger Monica Mercado, who was in Philly for a conference. The PHS Research Fellowship application deadline for next year is February 2, 2018 and everyone should apply! I cannot recommend the archives highly enough as a source of information on American religious history.

Thomas Jefferson, Slavery, and Religion: Rethinking an American Icon

The Cushwa Center would like to introduce one of its new postdoctoral research associates, who will be overseeing the center's monthly blogging at RIAH.  Benjamin J. Wetzel specializes in American religious, political, and intellectual history in the period from 1860 to 1920.  Ben looks forward to working with fellow postdoc Pete Cajka (already well-known to readers of this blog) at the Cushwa Center in the coming academic year.

Benjamin J. Wetzel

Thomas Jefferson's reputation has suffered in recent years.  In 2015, at the College of William & Mary (his alma mater), students covered Jefferson's campus statue with post-it notes reading "racist" or "slave owner."  Last month, the University of Virginia began plans to honor the labor of slaves who literally built the university, reminding the public again of Jefferson's own life-long ownership of slaves.  At a more trivial level, the reputation of Jefferson's rival Alexander Hamilton has witnessed a stunning revival thanks to the popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda's extraordinary musical.

In this context, then, comes John B. Boles's new biography of the third president.  At 626 pages, Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty (Basic, 2017) is, in the words of Gordon Wood, "the fullest and most complete single-volume life of Jefferson" since 1970.  Indeed, Boles offers a sprightly narrative that illuminates most facets of Jefferson's life.  This review will focus on only two elements of the book, however: Boles's interpretation of Jefferson's relationship with slavery, and Boles's treatment of Jefferson's religious views.

RiAH at 10: On The Importance Of Book Links

Paul Putz

Paul Harvey signing books for
one of the members of his fan club
All this #10thAnniversay stuff has made me sentimental, so I went back and looked at my first RiAH blog post. It was posted in May 2013, and it involved a discussion of Kanye West, Jesus, and Paul Harvey's and Ed Blum's book The Color of Christ. Its sole redeeming quality, so far as I can tell, was that it included a link to the Amazon page for The Color of Christ. The lesson: post links to other people's books and they might let you write for their blog.

For me the best part of RiAH has been the people who come with it, the online network of scholars who write, read, or comment on the blog. Even unknown grad students like me can find a place at the table. Most of the conference panels in which I've participated and the research ideas I've pursued (including my switch in dissertation topics) have been influenced in some way by people I've connected with because of RiAH. While I'm lucky that my home institution provides a supportive environment for grad students, the academic world outside Baylor has felt like a warm and inviting place largely because of people I've met through RiAH.

It's also thanks to RiAH that other scholars in the field have any clue who I am. They may not know what I research, but they sometimes have a vague sense that I might be the person who compiles lists of new and forthcoming books for RiAH. Apparently the lesson I learned from my first post, that linking to other people's books can bring goodwill, has stuck with me.

I started writing for RiAH the summer before I entered the PhD program at Baylor. It's now the summer before my last year, and here I am. RiAH has been one of the constants of my PhD experience, and all for the good. Thanks to Paul Harvey for starting this thing and thanks to him and everyone else for making it a welcoming space for grad students to explore ideas, develop their voice, and become more comfortable in the strange world of academia.

RiAH at 10: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badges!

Elesha Coffman

I like academic conferences. Always have. Way back when I was the editor of Christian History magazine, I attended a Conference on Faith and History meeting in San Diego and then the American Society of Church History winter meeting in San Francisco, searching for new story ideas and potential authors. My husband, Eric, was with me in San Francisco, and we found ourselves in an elevator with two tweed-coated male historians who were so engrossed in their conversation that they were just riding up and down, oblivious to whatever floor they were supposed to be heading to. When we were out of earshot, Eric asked me, "Are these your people?" and I knew that the answer was "Yes." Soon I had left journalism for grad school in the history of American religion.

This blog has functioned, for me, primarily as an extension of academic conferences. My very first posts, in summer 2011, recapped the Religion and American Culture conference, which had raised two huge questions: "Do Religion Scholars Read the Bible?" and what is the "Future of Religion in America?" In my first job, at a school with just two historians and one religion scholar on faculty, I did not get to have these conversations, and I wasn't ready for them to end when I departed from Indianapolis. The inestimable Paul Harvey allowed me to throw my thoughts onto the blog and keep the ball rolling.

One of my favorite conference photos, from Mainz 2014
In the past six years, I've previewed and reviewed numerous other conferences here, as well as shared updates from the American Society of Church History, of which I became a council member in 2015. (Don't forget to renew your membership and stay at the ASCH hotel in D.C. in January!) People I've "met" through RiAH I subsequently met, and often presented alongside, at real-life conferences, where our interactions were enriched by the sustained conversation made possible at this blog. In New York, or Chicago, or wherever, instead of, "Hello, what is it you work on?" while we squint at each other's nametag, it's, "So good to see you, I loved that book review you posted, you're taller than I expected, and how is that new class going?"

In my view, the whole field functions better because we can meet here even when we can't meet in person. Thanks for this tremendous feat of event-planning, Paul!

RIAH @ 10: Wooooo!

Michael J. Altman

I wrote Paul an email saying something to the effect of:
“Hi, I’m Mike. Your blog ignores Asia. I can write about Asia.”
I still can’t believe Paul let me on this blog. The idea that you’d just give me the ability to post something without anyone reading it or editing it is insane. The freedom to just put ideas out there and then get a response from a ready-made audience who was interested. The challenge of figuring out how to provoke that audience, how to get them to engage, was intoxicating.

I’ve tried to walk a line between history and religious studies in my work. I learned how to walk that line by writing for this blog. How do I take the theoretical work I do and make it not just intelligible, but useful, for someone trained in a history department? What can I learn from these historians?

This blog is my academic baby book. I went from a baby just out of coursework to a professor with a published book. It’s all there in the posts. Along the way, this blog helped me find my voice. It allowed me to play, experiment, pick up this idea and set it back down again, and send up test balloons. I think it functioned that way for a lot of us young scholars and it still does. It’s an independent wrestling circuit where we can try out new moves, try on new characters, and see what really gets the crowd going. Paul Harvey is our Ric Flairthe world champion always willing to put the young talent over.

And that’s the real truth of this blog. It was Paul’s blog but it was never about Paul. There are senior scholars who publish as much as they possibly can. There are senior scholars who try to get others published as much as they can. Paul is the latter. I still can’t believe he let me write here. It was one of the best things that happened to me as a scholar.

There could have been less fantasy football, though.

Thoughts on Being "Laverne and Shirley" to Paul Harvey's "Happy Days"

John Fea

Paul Harvey is Cheers, I am Frasier. Harvey is Dallas, I am Knots Landing. Harvey is The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I am Rhoda (or maybe Lou Grant).

Hopefully you are picking up the theme.  My blog "The Way of Improvement Leads Home" will always be known as a somewhat inferior spin-off to Paul Harvey's "Religion in American History." (RiAH).

When I was asked to write something for the 10th anniversary of RiAH, I dug up an old post at The Way of Improvement Leads Home that captures my blogging journey and the role that Paul and RiAH has played in it. Here is a taste of that post: 

Whatever blogging "career" I might have I owe to Paul Harvey.  On July 5, 2007 I found Harvey's new blog (it was a solo operation then) called Religion in American History and wrote a comment on a post I liked on W.E.B. DuBois. Here is what I wrote: 

Paul: Great post. I found your blog on the Cliopatria blogroll and have enjoyed reading it so far. --John 

About an hour later, Paul responded: 

John: Thanks! Please spread the blog address to Am. religious history folks, and let me know if you have any interest in contributing to the blog -- Paul 

I decided to take the plunge and within a few days I was listed as the blog's first "Contributing Editor." On July 7, 2007 (7-7-07) I wrote my first blog post-- a review of a Boston Review essay by Lew Daly on Catholicism and the common good. I have since written 58 posts for Harvey's blog, including [at the time] one of his most popular, and still try to contribute something worthwhile every now and then.

Paul's vision for a blog that would combine opinion, news from the profession, historical reflection on current events, and new research seemed to be a wonderful outlet for my rather eclectic interests in American history, religious history, and academic life.  But I was also taken by the sense of community that Paul always fostered at the blog.  I tried to cultivate this kind of online community when I started The Way of Improvement Leads Home in 2008.

It has been very exciting to watch the RiAH grow and become a place where many younger scholars in the field can try out their ideas.  I know that this is the kind of online space Paul wanted to create back when he began this venture a decade ago.

I have not blogged at RiAH in a long time, but I still check-in every day.  I always learn something in the process.

Congratulations to all who have been involved in the leadership of RiAH--Paul Harvey, Kelly Baker, Randall Stephens, Cara Burnidge, and Michael Hammond (I hope I am not forgetting anyone here).  I think it is fair to say that your work has brought a new vibrancy to the field of American religious history and American history broadly.

And I will always be honored to be Trapper John M.D. to Paul Harvey's MASH!

Religion in American History: A Short Syllabus

Editor's Note:  As Jonathan and Chris have recently pointed out, July 2017 marks the beginning of Religion in American History's tenth year. Happy birthday to us! Throughout the month we'll be celebrating and reflecting upon the contributions shared and inspired through the blog...not to mention its intellectual and creative founding father, Paul Harvey. Today's post comes from another pillar of the RiAH community, Ed Blum, who--to the surprise of no one--models a longstanding RiAH value of sharing and highlighting the work of others.

Edward Blum

The blog always felt like a big classroom to me – where we could bring up books, ideas, evidence, and everything else. I routinely use posts from the blog in my class and so I thought it would be fun to put together a little list of materials for some main themes in American religious history. Please forgive my excessive focus on the twentieth-century … since students seem to like it the most that’s where I gravitate in the classroom.

Contact and Colonialism
The American War for Independence and Early Nationhood
Nineteenth-Century Bonanza
Modernism and Fundamentalism
Great Depression, WWII, and Cold War
Civil Rights Movements
Pluralism versus the New Right

RiAH at 10: An Appreciation

By Chris Cantwell

The thing I remember most about the summer of 2007 was feeling lonely. Having passed my comprehensive exams at Cornell University in upstate New York the prior summer, my partner and I had recently made the decision to relocate to Chicago so I could conduct my dissertation research. It was an exciting move as I had grown up about an hour and a half west of the metropolis and had long been fascinated by its history. But it was also an isolating experience as I didn't really know anyone in the city proper. Research only reinforced this sense isolation. My days became spent holed up in archives or alone at my desk reading, writing, reading, and reading some more. At times my only solace was this new thing called Facebook, which my Cornell colleagues demanded I join so we could keep in touch after we moved. But on the afternoon of July 26, 2007, I received an invitation to join an even larger community of friends, colleagues, and fellow travelers.

The first post as it appears in the
WayBack Machine.
I know the exact date because I checked. That day a member of my dissertation committee, Derek Chang, forwarded me an announcement about this new blog called Religion in American History that had launched only a month earlier. When I clicked on the link I was taken to a post authored by a historian I had not heard of before who was writing about a book by another historian I didn't know. The author, of course, was Paul Harvey, the blog's founder, and the post was about Ed Blum's then new book on the religious history of W. E. B. DuBois. I was immediately struck. Here was a network of scholars whose interests aligned with my own; who engaged in conversations on issues relevant both to academic research an the wider world. Here was a community.

Over the course that summer I followed along as Paul Harvey electronically introduced me to a multitude of historians I had yet to meet. And over the course of the next several years Religion in American History became one of the primary means by which I found a circle of friends and colleagues that continues to inspire and sustain me to this day. RiAH turned ten last month; and ten years ago this month I stumbled across the blog. I can think of no better use of my post for this month than to celebrate the community that RiAH now sustains. From the simple, 154-word post Paul wrote on Ed's new book has grown a vibrant network of researchers, writers, and thinkers that now, as John McGreevy recently wrote, "steers the field." This is absolutely something to marvel at and celebrate.

So happy birthday, Religion in American History. Here's to ten years of community and conversation. And here's to blogmeister Paul Harvey, who saw the need and took the effort to anchor and mediate what we so value.

CFP: Material and Visual Culture of the American South

Emily Suzanne Clark

The Journal of Southern Religion and MAVCOR Journal (published by the Center for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion) are pleased to announce a call for submissions for a joint issue titled "Material and Visual Cultures of Religion in the American South."

We are interested in submissions in a range of formats: original scholarly articles, review essays, photo essays, interviews with southern religious artists and/or religious professionals, object narratives, or retrospectives of previously published work (one's own or others'; books or films). Both journals enable submissions containing rich digital materials of various sorts and we highly encourage submissions with visual, audio, video, or other types of media.

Please direct submissions and inquiries to both Journal of Southern Religion associate editor Emily Suzanne Clark ( and MAVCOR Journal editor and curator Emily Floyd ( We wish to receive final submissions for peer review no later than April 1, 2018. Click here for a link to the formal call for papers.

Happy Birthday, RiAH!

Jonathan Den Hartog

Blogmeister Cara Burnidge has pointed out that this month the Religion in American History Blog turns 10. Happy Birthday!

2007 seems a long time ago professionally, as this rather fresh Ph.D. had just completed his first year of teaching in Minnesota. Even out of graduate school, I quickly became aware of the Religion in American History blog. It was a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of American Religious History and monitor what people were thinking about.

Several years later, I appreciated the invite from blog founder Paul Harvey to contribute. One of my earliest posts was this one, a review of a novel about American missionaries abroad.

I appreciate Paul's grace as I learned the ropes, whether of etiquette (not stepping on someone else's post!) or of technology, as one of my posts broke the site (hint: Microsoft products and blogger don't play well together).

Participating in the blog has allowed me to stay in touch with the community of scholars of American religion. This could be in the comments section of any post or in the emerging discussion as post builds on post. The blog thus has worked to foster a digital community, and I've appreciated that, even if I couldn't make it to every conference in the field.

Through the blog, I've appreciated the opportunity to remind the world of the on-going work and importance of religious developments in colonial, Revolutionary, and early republican America.

Finally, I continue to enjoy reading the blog as new ideas get shared, as new writers come on strong (welcome, Andrea Turpin!), and as Paul Putz keeps my reading list stocked with more titles than I can get to!

Here's to many more years for the RiAH community!

What is America? Who is America? Who's is America?

Cara Burnidge

Declaration of Independence

Frederick Douglass, "What To The Slave Is the Fourth of July? " (1841), Black Perspectives

Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, 1848

Emma Lazarus, "The New Colossus" (1883); Steve Macone, "The New 'New Colossus'" (2017)

Irvin Berlin "God Bless America" (1918; 1938); performed by Kate Smith

Langston Hughes, "I, Too, Sing America," 1926 [poem only]; with analysis from Smithsonian historian David Ward

Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again" [with images]; [read by James Earl Jones]

Allen Ginsberg, "America" (1956; performed ?)

Odetta, "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (1956); performed Johnny Cash; performed by Joan Baez

Martin Luther King, Jr. "The American Dream," (1965)

Jimi Hendrix, "Star Spangled Banner," (1969); Whitney Houston, "Star Spangled Banner," (1991)

Ray Charles, "America the Beautiful" (1972)

Woodie Guthrie, "This Land is Your Land"; performed by Bruce Springsteen (1985)

Simon & Garfunkel, "America" (1968); David Bowie, "America" (2002)

Neil Diamon, "America," The Jazz Singer, 1980

James Brown, "Living in America," 1985 [Rocky IV]

Toby Keith, "Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue" (2001)

Nas, "America"  (2008)

Cimorelli, "Made in America" (2013)

Lecrae, "Welcome to America" (2014)

Los Angeles Team, "Somewhere in America," Brave New Voices 2014 Finals

Rihanna, "American Oxygen," 2015

President Barack Obama, "Amazing Grace" (2015)

"Hallelujah," performed by Kate McKinnon (2016)

"Immigrants: We Get the Job Done" (2017)

"Make America Great Again" performed by First Baptist Church in Dallas [lyrics here & full program]

Six Questions With Kyle Roberts: The Rise of Evangelical Gotham


Kyle Roberts is Associate Professor of public history and new media at Loyola University Chicago and director of the Jesuit Libraries Provence Project. I recently interviewed Kyle about his new book, Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860 (University of Chicago Press).

PC: What happens to early American Religious History – and American history – if we locate evangelical revivals in New York City rather than at Cane Ridge? What should we rethink?

KR: In graduate school in the early 2000s, the scholarship that I found most engaging was about evangelicalism and urban religion. Yet the two rarely overlapped. Antebellum evangelicalism was often told as a rural story – more likely to focus on camp meetings on the frontier than on outpourings of the spirit in urban churches. We knew more about Cane Ridge in 1801 than Allen Street in 1832. Works of urban religion tended to be post-Civil War studies of religious groups moving into urban environments created by others and trying to make them their own. I wanted to know what role the religious played in building the modernizing city in the first place. No city grew at a more transformational rate than New York in the first half of the nineteenth century, so I thought I would look there.

Know Your Archives 2: Archives II (NARA-College Park)

Cara Burnidge

For the past month, I've been thinking about American religion in the world. Following RAAC 2017, I drove to College Park, Maryland for three weeks of research at the National Archives at College Park (or, Archives II).  Every other year, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations meets in D.C. and many members (myself included) use these D.C. years to do research. Two birds, one travel expense stone. Building off of Lauren's fantastic review of this year's SHAFR meeting and Mike's Know Your Archives: NARA edition, I'd like to give everyone a few more tips for researching at Archives II in College Park (where State Department records are held) and share some very important news for any colleagues working on the World War I era. 

First, who should consider researching at A2 or writing about religion in US  foreign relations? Anyone who's research interests intersect with the US government's actions abroad. As I wrote in Religious Influences in American Foreign Policy for ORE, "Any civilian who served as an informant, as a formal or informal diplomat, or who aided in creating policy decisions will intersect with NARA. Any federal employee who appealed to a religious figure, group, or event to aid in the implementation of foreign relations will also intersect with NARA." So...lots of us.

Next, how can you make the most of a trip to A2?

Reflections on SHAFR @ 50 Annual Meeting

Lauren Turek

This past weekend, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations celebrated its fiftieth anniversary (as well as the fortieth anniversary of the journal Diplomatic History) at its annual meeting in Arlington, VA. Just as I reported last year, the conference included a number of panels and roundtable discussions on the topic of religion in American history and foreign relations. There were, in fact, so many good panels on religion that I could not even attend all of them owing to my unfortunate inability to be in multiple places at once! As such, in addition to providing my own overview of the exciting work that scholars showcased at the SHAFR meeting this year, I have included some reflections from other attendees as well.

Most of the panels that I attended reflected in some way on missionaries and missionary work, though the listing of panels that I have included at the end of this post does make clear that there were many panels at the conference that examined religion and foreign relations beyond missionary work (and that there were papers on a diverse array of faith traditions, including Judaism and Islam).

The first religion-themed panel that I attended was a roundtable discussion about David Hollinger's forthcoming book Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America, which is due out in October. Daniel Immerwahr organized the roundtable, with Hollinger offering an overview of the project, Melani McAlister, Madeline Hsu, and Andrew Preston providing commentary on the book, and David Engerman moderating. Hollinger outlined his argument that the mainline Protestant missionary project played a key role in "deprovincializing" America, fostering multiculturalism in American life and ecumenicism in American churches in the years between 1890 and the Vietnam war. He suggested that missionaries, the children of missionaries, and the organizations that supported missionary endeavors created what he termed "missionary cosmopolitanism," which contributed to a nascent embrace of other cultures and a strong critique of colonialism—a critique which spurred debates about the missionary project itself and a turn toward more humanitarian aid. Hollinger also revealed how the missionary project, and the cosmopolitanism it inspired among the groups he examined, led these missionaries to engage in debates over the role of the United States in the world in this period. He argued that the alliances some of these Protestants developed with colonized peoples through their missionary work pushed them to embrace an idealism about the potential for U.S. foreign policy to act as a force of morality in international relations, advancing humanitarian and anti-colonialist goals. Hollinger shared a number of wonderful, engaging anecdotes about missionaries such as Kenneth Landon, who ended up briefing Franklin D. Roosevelt and working for the OSS during World War II because he was one of the only experts on Thailand the State Department could find, and about the role some missionaries played in enforcing humane interrogations of POWs in the Pacific theater. Yet, as he concluded, the Vietnam war "shattered their idealism" about the "morality of American policy."

Adventures in the Archives: Tips for Minimizing Expenses, Maximizing Time, & Having Fun

Andrea L. Turpin

“It takes a village to nurture a book into being, and I have been privileged to be part of one that stretches from coast to coast.” This is the opening sentence of my book's acknowledgments section, and I thought of it recently when a Baylor history colleague solicited archive stories to share with her graduate class on archival research (wish I’d had one of those!). The stories that jumped to my mind related to creative ways to fund archival visits and maximize time there—which for me very much depended on a network of friends and supporters.

As it happens, I write this from Philadelphia, where I am spending two weeks at the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society researching for my next book project. Stay tuned next month for my “Know Your Archives” post on this excellent resource for American religious history. In the meantime, here’s an adapted version of the tales and tips that I passed along to our graduate students on how I conducted my dissertation research.

As a single woman, I made a great American road trip and did all my archival research in one year. Then I processed and wrote it up the following two years, rather than alternately researching and writing. During my research year, I visited 12 archives housed in 10 cities, from Boston to Berkeley. I had a blast, came home with some great finds, and managed to spend almost none of my own money above regular expenses. I admit luck and the nature of my topic played a role, but this is the advice I would give graduate students just diving into archival research:
Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

1. Apply for grants. Lots of them. I tell students they can write a strong travel-to-collections grant proposal with a formula something like this: “I am writing on X, which has been overlooked. We need to rectify the fact that X has been overlooked because it will significantly change our understanding of Y (which should be something a reasonable number of people care about). Your specific archives are essential for this project because Z. I am the right person to undertake this research because ABC.”

When selling my students on the glories of researching the history of higher education, I note that choosing that topic for my dissertation/first book meant that it was easy to make the case that a college or university archive should give me a grant: I wanted to write on their institution, which is always flattering, and their institution is always the sole place that houses the archives of their institution. I would add that college archives are excellent—and often overlooked—sources for American religious history, with relevant sources ranging from curricular records, to faculty and administration papers, to the records of student organizations. I found that Princeton University, the University of Michigan, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study all offer unusually generous travel-to-collection grants.

CFP: Newberry Library Seminar on Religion and Culture in the Americas (Deadline is June 30)

By Karen Johnson.
I am thrilled to announce that the Newberry Library in Chicago is hosting a seminar on Religion and Culture in the Americas this year.  If you're working on a project and would like feedback, please apply.  You'll have the opportunity to share your ideas, to receive formal feedback, and to hear comments from attendees.  The deadline for a proposal is soon: June 30!  I have found the Newberry's seminars (the library hosts a wide range of groups) to be incredibly helpful, both for learning what others are doing in a deep and sustained manner, and for receiving feedback on my own work. 

Read on for the the official description:

Is there such a thing as working class religion?

Janine Giordano Drake

Is there such a thing as working-class religion? 

In his recent book, The Making of Working Class Religion, Matthew Pehl argues that there is such a thing. For Pehl, "worker religion," is a pattern of idioms and symbols that are co-constituted in the workplace and in religious communities. When we assess working people's religious experiences through the category of "working class religion" (rather than "faith" or "belief," which differ by tradition), we come to see the ways that Catholics, Protestants and Jewish workers had common experiences which informed their religious identities. That is, Pehl argues, workers experienced class through their religion, and religion through their class. The one category cannot be understood without recognizing the way the other category helped constitute it.

How does this theory impact the way we read the history of the working classes in Detroit?

According to Pehl, it was partially religion that brought workers into the labor movement and kept them there. White, ethnic Catholic workers came together under iconography that celebrated Christ-the-worker. Black Protestant migrants from the South came together under Southern idioms and cultural symbols that deeply connected with agricultural work and Southern religion.... Pehl convincingly argues was not just workers who were organized by the UAW, but whole working class religious groups which the United Auto Workers shaped and was ultimately shaped by. Their balance of left-wing but not Communist politics, for example, was deeply shaped by the Detroit Archdiocese. The Detroit Archdiocese, however, was also deeply shaped by the number of Catholic workers in Detroit. 

When the heyday of the Detroit UAW fell (with the automation of the car industry and the de-industrialization of Detroit), so also did the heyday of "worker religion." Class-based religious consciousness, held together in large part through the UAW and the common experience of the shop floor, fragmented in the 1960s. As large number of working class whites left the city for white collar jobs and the suburbs, Detroit's religious consciousness was remade along the lines of race rather than class. 

The book balances theory and social history extremely well. I would highly recommend it for any class in Religious Studies or Working Class History.

For a critical discussion of the book, however, I'd love to assign this book alongside Kate Bowler's Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. Both books are fantastically well-written, but they each address poverty and the prosperity gospel/ Word of Faith movement of the 1930s through a very different lens. Bowler addresses the role of class and material conditions of poverty in the rise of the movement, but for her, the 1930s was a moment of impossibilist prayers for scarce material blessings. For Pehl, however, the 1930s was a moment of profound gains for labor due to the very "working class religion" that the 1930s produced.  Of course, part of the discrepancy is the fact that the two historians focus upon different regions of the country. Poor Americans in the rural South, of course, experienced the Depression differently from the employed working classes in Detroit. However, the two books trace the origins and effects of the Word of Faith movement pretty differently. 

For Bowler, the Word of Faith movement is not really a class phenomenon; it is an American phenomenon. It is little more a response to poverty than a response to an American culture which fetishizes health and wealth, and an American Christianity which has historically accomodated those cultural values. For Pehl, however, that desire for material prosperity which led to the Word-of-Faith movement in the 1930s needs to be read primarily as function of Detroit's social history. The Word of Faith movement in Detroit, Pehl suggests, arose only because of the way it brought together the collective histories of Detroit's working class Protestants. Pehl challenges us to trace all religious beliefs as a outgrowth of specific, class and material conditions.

Overall, I'm very excited about the flowering of new scholarship on religion in the Great Depression. Alison Greene's No Depression in Heaven speaks to these subjects as well, but for that we'll have to wait until next month. 

The R&AC Conference: Taking Religion "Seriously"

Adam Park

"Why so serious?"--The Joker

With tongue perpetually in cheek, admittedly, I get a little nervous when people get "serious." My skittish ears are therefore perked at the very mention of the s-word. In all its stern demand, the s-word happened a lot this weekend at my favorite conference ever--the Religion & American Culture Conference. And, not incidentally, the s-word happens a lot in Religious Studies. "Taking religion seriously," so it goes. As Michael Altman Twittered (sp.?) the first morning of the conference: "what does it mean 'to take X seriously'? I've heard a lot of that this morning." I second that Twitter query. Though testing my incessantly satirical nerves, I think it worthwhile to explore the nature of our cultivated tone, our asserted imperative, our assumed position, our seriousness. 

Here's what I think is going on. As Charlie McCrary suggested in his previous post, "taking religion seriously" has much to do with assertions of proximity or intimacy to our subject(s). And as Elizabeth Pritchard so insightfully argued, the scholarly injunction to take religion "seriously" is laden with secular liberal assumptions about the existence of a power-neutral space within which to discuss a given topic. Both points taken. Additionally, here's some other things I think we mean when we issue calls to take X "seriously." 

Know Your Archives Series

Cara Burnidge

Now that RAAC2017 has come and gone,* summer is in full swing. For me, and I suspect many readers too, that means it's time for archival research. Fortunately, we've accumulated a quite a few posts for those who might be researching for the first time or heading somewhere new. Here's a round-up of what we've posted previously.
For those unable or uninterested in heading to an archive, contributors have highlighted some digital sources:
Now that you've found your archive and/or your material, you might want to consider what comes next. Mike Graziano wrote about his archival workflow in "Research Tools and the Dissertation"

While we're on the subject of archives, if you're interested in engaging students through archival work, Emily Clark has some posts that may help: "Taking Classes to the Archives" and "Students in the Archives."

If you're spending some time in an archive not mentioned below, send us a post sharing your experiences--the same goes for digital sources, workflow tips, and teaching ideas. Posts and post ideas should be sent to cara [dot] burnidge [at] uni [dot] edu.

*Stay tuned for RAAC2017 reflections. Those posts are on in the queue....

Primary Source: Eisenhower on D-Day

Jonathan Den Hartog

As my June entries have traditionally fallen on the anniversary of D-Day, I've enjoyed using the entry to highlight topics around religion in World War II. For previous entries, see here and here. 

Via the National World War II Museum

Today, briefly and with minimal analysis, let me share Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's Orders of the Day for D-Day:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944 ! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground.

Our Home Fronts have given us an superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your devotion to duty and skill in battle.
We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

I would observe that not only does Eisenhower conclude by beseeching "the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking," but he had earlier assured the soldiers that the "hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you." Eisenhower posed the D-Day invasion as a "Crusade" that properly had the support of American and international prayers. All participants could enter the fray with a sense of a just cause for the violence that was awaiting them. A one-page order thus points to many questions about faith, war, violence, and nationalism.

Voice, Irony, and Writing Seriously about Religion

Charles McCrary

A few weeks ago, at a dissertation defense, the discussion turned to the topic of voice. In his dissertation, as in many of his blog posts here at RiAH, Adam Park[1] wrote in a tongue-in-cheek, ironic, at times even sarcastic voice. But what does this voice imply or presume? This question exposed a central yet often under-discussed aspect of scholarly writing: Who is writing this? In Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction, Stephen Pyne defines voice as the “transtextual persona of the author” (48). What, or who, is this persona? What is your persona, scholarly writer? In this post I want to think through this question of voice, specifically ironic voice, and how it relies on readers’ and writers’ assumptions—and what this discussion might have to do with the injunction to “take religion seriously.”

Scholarly personas commonly take on ironic voices. Pyne notes, “Irony requires distancing. Literary irony results from an incongruity, a distance, between what a speaker says and what he means, a gap perceived by the reader. Historical irony involves an incongruity, or distance, between what is said (or thought, believed, or expected) and what actually happens” (48). Historians and other scholars often use this latter form of irony when discussing past events, since the writer (and, in many cases, the reader) knows how the story is going to turn out. This sort of irony is a great source of both tragedy and humor. We can write about what someone did to prevent the Civil War, or why Microsoft made the Zune, or how news media in 2015 covered reality-television-star Donald Trump’s spectacular presidential campaign.

Fundamentalism, Feminism, and Other Curse Words: Teaching Controversy with Civility

Andrea L. Turpin

Every semester I tell my history students the same bad joke: fundamentalism and feminism are actually a lot alike—they are both f-words that we hurl at our political enemies depending on which side of the spectrum we’re on. Which is to say that for the average American these words function not according to some dictionary definition but rather as a catch-all insult for someone too far to the right or the left, respectively.

In fact, my informal polls of students, friends, and random people who will answer my questions indicate that there is no widely agreed upon definition of either word in common parlance. I am one of those relatively rare Americans who runs in both blue and red circles, so while my polls aren’t scientific, they do actually capture a bit of the breadth of perspectives on these concepts. So I’ve learned that when teaching my feminist-leaning students about fundamentalism or my fundamentalist-leaning students about feminism, I first have to cut through a great deal of highly charged emotion. A few different approaches have proved fruitful.

First is simply helping students become aware of the functional definitions of these words that they are carrying around in their heads. For example, I will ask my classes for their associations with the word “feminism.” I get a lot of answers similar to the ones Kristin Kobes Du Mez enumerated in a recent blog post on common misconceptions about feminism. Most associations are negative, with “man-hating” leading the pack.

I then share with students some of the reforms that have been advocated by women and men who have identified as feminists and that I suspect students would all support—things like women’s suffrage and equal pay for equal work. (Most are shocked to learn that employers have only been required to pay men and women the same for the same work since 1963!) We talk about the fact that feminism itself is a wide spectrum encompassing many different viewpoints and attitudes. As Du Mez points out, there is as much variation among those who own the word “feminist” as among those who own the word “Christian.”

5 Questions on Catholics and Suburanization with Stephen Koeth

Shane Ulbrich

Stephen Koeth, C.S.C.
[This month's Cushwa post features an interview by Shane Ulbrich with Research Travel Grant recipient Stephen Koeth, C.S.C., about his work on the postwar suburbanization of American Catholics. Stephen, a Holy Cross priest, is a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University. His writing has appeared in The Journal of Church and State and U.S. Catholic Historian.]

SU: Tell us about how your project developed. 

 SK: My dissertation explores the postwar suburbanization of American Catholicism by examining the creation and expansion of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in suburban Long Island, which throughout the 1960s was one of the fastest growing Catholic communities in the country. It describes how Catholic pastoral leaders grappled with the rapid exodus of the faithful from urban ethnic neighborhoods to newly built suburbs, and how Catholic sociologists and intellectuals assessed the effects of suburbanization in reshaping definitions of family, parish, and community. I also hope to trace how changing experiences of family and community, the economics of suburban life, and efforts to build and maintain suburban Catholic schools altered lay Catholics’ view of the state and their voting habits, thus transforming Catholicism’s role in American politics from the New Deal to the Reagan Revolution. This topic first began to take shape when I read Tom Sugrue’s contribution to Catholics in the American Century, one of the most recent volumes in the Cushwa Center Studies of Catholicism in Twentieth-Century America series. Sugrue pointed out that “the history of Catholic suburbanization … and its implications for Catholic politics remain mostly unexamined.” And yet, Sugrue argued, suburban Catholics contributed to a “growing grassroots rebellion against taxation,” to “the erosion of support for the state,” and to “the challenge to liberalism” that reconfigured American politics through the 1960s and 70s. [1] I read Sugrue’s observation as a challenge and opportunity to bring together my long-standing interest in how Catholics have shaped their American identity with coursework in urban history I undertook as a doctoral student at Columbia University with the great historian of suburbanization, Kenneth Jackson.

The Recurrent Reinhold Niebuhr

Elesha Coffman

Apologies for the repost, but I thought that a pair of articles at Christianity Today might be of interest to readers of this blog as well. In the main piece, Steven Weitzman describes "The Theology Beneath the Trump-Comey Conflict." In a companion sidebar, I offer five reasons why Reinhold Niebuhr continues to make headlines nearly 50 years after his death. Both articles feature links to other resources that take their ideas to a greater depth. Read up, and be the hit of your weekend barbecue!

Of "Of Gods And Games"

Paul Putz

There is only one rule when reviewing sport history books in a forum that is not focused primarily on sports: you must use a sports metaphor or allusion at some point. Allow me to check that box right off the bat (and no, that last phrase doesn't count): William J. Baker's Of Gods And Games: Religious Faith and Modern Sports (University of Georgia Press, 2017) is kind of like an end-of-the-season sports highlight show. Clocking in at about seventy-five pages, it provides a primer on a few of the key themes that scholars of sports and religion have explored, while at the same time offering a couple intriguing hints at what might be on the horizon next season.

There. The painful part is done. No more forced sports comparisons, I promise.

For historians doing the sport and religion thing, Baker is impossible to ignore. His 2007 book Playing With God: Religion and Modern Sport (Harvard University Press) stands as the single best volume on the history of sport and religion in the United States. It stands out in part because of Baker's historical methodology and narrative presentation, a marked contrast from much of the published scholarship on religion and sports that focuses on questions like "Is sport a religion?" or (when written by Christian insiders, as it often is) "Does sport corrupt 'true' or 'good' Christian theology?"

Teaching _The First Thanksgiving_

Jonathan Den Hartog

The semester is winding down--there's just a stack of blue books in front of me, along with a few random essays and an independent study project. I almost begin to believe there is a summer break within reach.

At this time of the semester, then, further reflection on recent teaching experience seems appropriate.

Several years ago, I pointed to R. Tracy McKenzie's book The First Thanksgiving. At the time, I voiced appreciation for the book--it's excellent--but I wondered how I could work it into my teaching.

This semester, I gave it a try.

In the Spring Semester, I teach our History Methods class for majors and minors--usually freshmen and sophomores but an occasional upperclassman slips in, too.

After spending the class talking about the issues of historical thinking, sources, and historiography, I deployed The First Thanksgiving as a way of "wrapping up" the course. For me, the book tied together all those themes.

The value of the book for teaching comes from the fact that it is explicit in its methods. It not only provides a narrative about the First Thanksgiving, it is clear in describing for non-specialists how and why the ideas are put together. Separate chapters emphasize evidence, historical context, taking the Pilgrims on their own terms, the foreignness of the past vs. contemporary uses of the past, and changing interpretations. McKenzie has done a great job in demonstrating historical thinking applied to an easily-recognized event.

One additional topic that could prove worth discussing in many classes would be McKenzie's writing from a confessional perspective. McKenzie is up-front in his identity as an evangelical Protestant, and in fact he consciously shapes the entire book out of those presuppositions. Additionally, a burden from the book is to address McKenzie's own faith community and how it handles "saints" from the past.

To handle the book, I blocked out several class periods. I guided the discussion and found that the best way to organize student reflection was to un-weave three strands in the book. So, we built our discussion around what the book helps us learn about the Pilgrims themselves, the methods McKenzie uses and discusses, and the pieces of contemporary moral and religious reflection he offers.

Students reflected on all three, although I was a bit surprised at how invested they were in the narrative. This is perhaps a credit to McKenzie's writing style. Getting to method and moral concerns took more prodding. Still, the conversation was valuable.

Before I use the book again, I'll have to address two issues. First, I will have to reexamine class pacing. Student comments indicated they felt handling the book was rushed. I will have to see if I can clear more space in the syllabus to let student understanding percolate. Second, I'm still not sure if it makes sense to use the book as a "wrap up" or to deploy it throughout the course on each of the issues we touch on. My one worry is that students would get sick of the Pilgrims by Week 8 and miss the larger points McKenzie is trying to make and which he traces across chapters.

So, I hope to use the book again, but I will need to refine my approach. Fortunately, that's one more use for the summer.

I'll close with questions: what other books have readers found work well for teaching a Methods class or making methodology clear? And, if you've used McKenzie's book, what has been your experience?

The Reformation as a Psychological Event: Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation with Erich Fromm


Peter Cajka

The new release tables at Hodges Figgis – a three-story bookstore in downtown Dublin – greet frequent shoppers like me with a spate of fresh books on Luther, Reformation historiography, Calvin, and the Counter Reformation. As we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, it may be useful to consider how the event gets interpreted by thinkers unconstrained by the rules of academic history. Modern thinkers, for or against, Protestant or Catholic, have never shied away from discerning the Reformation’s deeper meanings. A guest at a dinner party I attended a few months ago (we wondered briefly into a conversation on religion) called the Reformation “the first human rights movement in history.”

Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst with ties to the Frankfurt School, pursues a much bleaker interpretation of the Reformation in Escape from Freedom, a book he published in 1941. The Renaissance and the rise of the market economy broke down the medieval world, began his argument, liberating men and women from social ties. “The individual was left alone and isolated,” Fromm wrote, “he was free.” Freshly aware of their individuality, Fromm argued that Luther and Calvin offered millions of people (in the middle and lower classes) an escape from this freedom. Calvin and Luther, consciously and unconsciously, encouraged followers to relinquish the self to a completely sovereign God. “Protestantism was the answer to the human needs of the frightened, uprooted, and isolated individual who had to orient and to relate himself to a new world,” Fromm grimly concludes.

New Books in American Religious History: 2017 Year in Preview, Part Two (May-August)

Paul Putz

It's time for part two of the 2017 book preview list! This one will cover books published from May through August. (If you missed part one check it out here). Shout out to Hunter Hampton, who culled through the university press catalogs to help me put this list together.

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)

CFP: Religion and Politics in Early America & A Recent H-Diplo Roundtable of Interest

Lauren Turek

This past month, I have come across two pieces of information that may be of interest to the readers of this blog. The first is a call for papers from the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, which is holding a conference next year on Religion and Politics in Early America. The details are as follows:

Call For Papers – Religion and Politics in Early America (Beginnings to 1820)
St. Louis, March 1-4, 2018

Conference Website:

Sponsored by:
The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics
The Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy
The Society of Early Americanists
St. Louis University
Washington University in St. Louis

Seeking Panel and Paper Proposals
We seek proposals for panels and individual papers for the special topics conference on Religion and Politics in Early America, March 1-4, 2018, in St. Louis, Missouri. Individual papers are welcome, but preference will be given to completed panel submissions.

This conference will explore the intersections between religion and politics in early America from pre-contact through the early republic. All topics related to the way religion shapes politics or politics shapes religion—how the two conflict, collaborate, or otherwise configure each other—will be welcomed. We define the terms “religion” and “politics” broadly, including (for example) studies of secularity and doubt. This conference will have a broad temporal, geographic, and topical expanse. We intend to create a space for interdisciplinary conversation, though this does not mean that all panels will need be composed of multiple disciplines; we welcome both mixed panels and panels composed entirely of scholars from a single discipline.

Panels can take a traditional form (3-4 papers, with or without a respondent), roundtable form (5 or more brief statements with discussion), or other forms.

Panel submissions must have the following:

1. An organizer for contact information

2. Names and titles for each paper in the panel.

3. A brief abstract (no more than 250 words) for the panel.

4. A briefer abstract (no more than 100 words) for each paper.

5. Brief CV’s for each participant (no more than two pages each).

Individual paper submissions must include the following:

1. Name and contact information

2. Title

3. Abstract (no more than 150 words)

4. A brief CV (no more than two pages)

Please send your proposals to by Friday, May 26, 2017.

If you have any questions, please email Abram Van Engen at

The second recent item of interest is a roundtable review that H-Diplo published earlier this month. Samuel Moyn (Harvard University), Stephen Hopgood (SOAS, University of London), James Loeffler (University of Virginia), and Janice Gross Stein (University of Toronto) reviewed Michael N. Barnett's book The Star and the Stripes: A History of the Foreign Policies of American Jews, which Princeton University Press published in 2016.

The roundtable, with author response, is very robust and provides an excellent overview of the book, which is on an understudied topic in the field of American foreign relations and religion. To access the review, follow this link:

older post