How to Teach the Capstone



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Emily Suzanne Clark

Calling all American religion scholars! Calling all friends of the blog! Calling all Humanities professors! I request the teaching expertise of our readers. 

The beloved Boom's Taxonomy
(image from Vanderbilt's Center for Teaching)
Starting next academic year I will be the Director of Undergraduate Majors for the Religious Studies department at Gonzaga University. (Is there a patron saint of college curricula? If so, pray for me.) We've also been having conversations about redesigning our major and minor in Religious Studies, in part because the core curriculum of the University has changed and because it's good to revisit these things regularly. Part of our conversation has centered on how to cap the major; in other words, what should the senior seminar or capstone class look like? We currently do a senior thesis and are trying to better scaffold it into the program. We recently introduced a junior seminar for majors to prepare them for that senior thesis but that course may be cut by the registrar's office due to low enrollment. This prompts me to wonder, should we try something different? If so, what? If a student is not going to graduate school for religious studies, should they write a senior thesis or would something else serve them better?

"Enduring Trends and New Directions: A Conference on the History of American Christianity in Honor of Mark Noll"



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[Good morning! This month the Cushwa Center has invited James Strasburg and Jonathan Riddle to post a preview of the upcoming conference "Enduring Trends and New Directions: A Conference on the History of American Christianity In Honor of Mark Noll." Strasburg and Riddle are the co-chairs of Mark Noll's retirement conference and are also PhD candidates at the University of Notre Dame working under Noll's direction. Below the jump, their post includes information about the (free!) conference, as well as a brief interview with Noll himself. Hope to see you there!]

James Strasburg and Jonathan Riddle (with special interview guest Mark Noll)


"It Isn't Entirely Unfortunate Rhetoric"



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Elesha Coffman

As part of my research on Margaret Mead, I've been reading a stunning book with the totally 1971 title A Rap on Race. The book is the transcript of a series of conversations between Mead and James Baldwin, touching on race, religion, politics, culture, and more. In honor of the new movie I Am Not Your Negro, the audio has been posted on YouTube. The blog "Brain Pickings" features several sets of quotations, including this one on religion. I'm finding it equally thrilling and disturbing how current the conversation sounds, with its warnings about urban violence, the collapse of a sense of community, the perils of unchecked consumption, and persistent tensions surrounding immigration. Here's a portion that reminded me of Ross Douthat's Feb. 4 New York Times column, in which Douthat wondered how those who praise the Great White Men of U.S. history and those who seek to bury them might ever share a vision of America.

Mead: Well we still think ... have the sort of notion, as expressed in Felicia Hemans' poem, "Ay, call it holy ground,  The soil where first they trod! They have left unstained what there they found--Freedom to worship God."

Baldwin: That is very unfortunate rhetoric.

Mead: It isn't entirely unfortunate rhetoric. When Kruschev came to this country, somebody thought up a radio program of books we would like to send him so he could understand the United States. I picked this poem to show how people in the United States associate religion with freedom. That's what they associate it with; that's what they talk about all through middle America: "Right to go to my church and nobody is going to stop me!" The Russians associate religion totally with oppression. It is a very different picture and it got pickled in these early days when there were so many religious refugees of one sort or another. So this is part of our image of what is American, yours and mine, because our ancestors came here together. We share a notion of a kind of people that formed the ideals of this country and the ideals against which we have always been measuring the country and finding it faulty. But the ideals were here. I mean, Jefferson did postulate ideas of democracy that one could follow.

Baldwin: Yes, but he also owned slaves.

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. 


The Steve Bannon School of American History



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Michael Graziano

Recent news reports indicate that Steve Bannon, formerly the Executive Chair of Breitbart News and currently Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to President Trump, will join the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. There’s a lot to be said about Bannon and his relationship to Jews, Muslims, women, and other racial and religious minorities. But there is also a surprising lack of information about Bannon given his new prominence. That may be in part because, as Bloomberg’s Joshua Green notes in a fascinating long-read, Bannon’s life has been “a succession of Gatsbyish reinventions.” (Side note: I encourage you to read Green’s piecewritten when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were still the presidential frontrunnersand remind yourself that its subject now has a permanent seat at one of the most select meetings in DC alongside the Secretaries of State and Defense.)

A permanent seat on the NSC’s Principals Committee is a striking promotion, even by Gatsby’s standards. Though it’s been overshadowed by the roll-out of new policies targeting Muslims and refugees, Bannon’s new role is worth reflecting upon. Bannon has had Trump’s ear for a while now, too. Understanding the administration might mean understanding Bannon.

Most news coverage portrays Bannon as a strange fit for the NSC. He is viewed as an outlier because he has not been employed by traditional foreign policy institutions: the Department of State, the CIA, NGOs, etc. Even so, for many critics it is less his résumé than his ideas that are cause for concern. Yet I think it is a mistake to view Bannon as entirely alien to the national security complex. Bannon’s ideas about the relationship between race, religion, and national security make him an important public intellectual for this new moment in American national security policy.

Anti-Bannon signs during the Women's march
The NSCand American national security policyhas always been political. Decisions about what constitutes a threat to US security, and appropriate responses to it, are inescapably political questions. Shortly after its creation under President Truman, National Security Council Report 68 [1950] (often abbreviated to NSC-68) called for a spiritual “counter-force” to challenge the “fanatic faith” of the Soviet Union. Like the Cold Warriors of years past, Bannon has a remarkably well-defined worldview through which he perceives specific threats to, and values of, the United States. National security policy in the United States has long been in conversation with (and, at least since the Cold War, dependent upon) such a narrative. Given Bannon’s prominence, it’s worth considering how he sees the world, and how these narratives might influence how he thinks about national security.

Sikh Captain America



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Cara Burnidge

One of my favorite topics to discuss in both my world religions and religion in America classrooms is Sikhs. There are a few ways that I bring this topic into the classroom: as a matter of classification ("What/Who is a "world religion"/"American religion"?); as an example of minority/majority religions (Sikhs live as a religious minority wherever they are in the world); and, most often, as a poignant example of how the "map is not territory": the Pew Research Center's demographics reflect the social, political, and cultural context of the world/America. There are around 24 million Sikhs in the world (by the numbers alone, the fifth largest religion in the world); yet most Americans are unaware of Sikhs.

In addition to these avenues for bringing Sikhs into the conversation about who and what is "American" or "religious" in American religion, another way to introduce Sikhs to our classrooms is through Sikh Captain America. Far more than a comedic stunt, Sikh Captain America provides an important moment of reflection on American identity in the 21st century.  

Religion and the CIA: A Trove of Declassified Intelligence Documents in CREST



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Lauren Turek




On January 17, the Central Intelligence Agency posted some 930,000 text-searchable declassified documents on its FOIA reading room web page. The New York Times detailed some of the interesting materials this release made available to the public, noting that "technically, you could have gained access to the files before, but only if you drove to the National Archives building in College Park, Md., where there were four computers you could use to sift through the C.I.A. Records Search Tool, known as Crest." Now these materials are readily available to the public online.

These documents hold obvious value for those of us who work on national security topics, but the NYT article makes clear that there are also many documents of potential interest to scholars and students of American religious history. Indeed, one of the first documents mentioned in the article is a CIA report on "spiritualist healers in New Mexico."

This public and text-searchable access to the CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) may prove useful not only for scholarly research in American religious history, but also in the classroom. By virtue of the fact that they contain information that policymakers once considered sensitive or top secret, declassified documents have a way of enlivening discussions about primary sources. Additionally, the CREST database is a tremendous resource for students working on major research papers—students can search for any keyword or combination of keywords pertaining to their topic and find a wealth of interesting documents, all of which are available as PDFs, and all of which researchers can download and read through.

To illustrate the possibilities of this exciting new resource, I have performed a few searches in CREST and turned up the following examples of documents that pertain in some way to religion in American history, foreign policy, or national security. Click on the Document Number to visit the CIA catalog page and access the full PDF of each document.

These samples just scratch the surface of the material now accessible through this database. I look forward to bringing some of these documents in to my U.S. foreign relations course this semester and hope others find them helpful as well.

AAR CFP now available



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Cara Burnidge (two cfp posts in one day!)

The Call for Papers is now available for the American Academy of Religion's 2017 annual meeting. This year the AAR is in Boston, MA from November 18-21.

 For those who have never navigated it before, the AAR's Call for Papers can be overwhelming. There are guidelines for submitting and participation requirements to follow, not to mention an overwhelming set of program units (all with their own cfps), additional and concurrent meetings, job workshops, and THATcamp.

While overwhelming, methodologically inconsistent, and theoretically incoherent, the AAR's "Big Tent" structure can work to the benefit of graduate students and others looking to present at a large, national conference. For whatever it might be worth, here's what I do when the CFP comes out each year:

Rethinking Religion and the Civil Rights Movement: A Panel at AHA/ASCH



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Today's guest post comes from Joseph Stuart. Joseph Stuart is a PhD student at the University of Utah, whose doctoral work examines the relationship of race and gender in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. His prior work has examined the role of race in the formation of New Religious Movements in America, specifically Mormonism and the Nation of Islam. You can find him on Twitter @jstuart87.
 
Joseph Stuart

Many history and religious studies courses throughout the country regularly assign David Chappell’s A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow to students—and for good reason. It’s an excellent book that addresses both black and white people, takes religious beliefs seriously, and connects theology and religious culture to broader currents of American history. In short, it’s a book that is at home in courses on religion, civil rights, race, or postbellum American history.

While there have been several books published after Chappell’s in 2004, I believe that there are still many aspects of religion and the Civil Rights Movement left to address. New studies like Stephanie Hinnershitz’s marvelous book on Asian American religionists fighting for civil rights on the West Coast and Kerry Pimblott’s excellent work on religious revolutionaries and gender in Chicago are excellent examples of how historians are rethinking the role in the Civil Rights Movement. There are still many more points of analysis that historians can explore in studies of the Movement.

The 2018 meetings of the AHA/ASCH would be an ideal place to present new work on race, religion, gender, sexuality, or intellectual histories of the Civil Rights Movement. I plan to organize a panel on the history of religion, race, and the Civil Rights Movement for the 2018 meeting of the American Historical Association, possibly in conjunction with the American Society of Church History. This panel idea generated from my own work on the histories of race and gender that contributed to religious opposition to the Movement from a variety of groups.

My own paper will address the different ways that African-Americans religious leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X defined black masculinity in their fights for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s. Any paper that broadly addresses race and religion in the Civil Rights Movement would fit very well with such a panel.

If you’re interested in joining the panel, or have thoughts about race, religion, and civil rights, please email me at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] edu. I hope to hear from those interested in joining/forming a panel!



Greenawalt, Exemptions: Necessary, Justified, or Misguided? (Review)



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Charles McCrary

Kent Greenawalt, Exemptions: Necessary Justified, or Misguided? (Harvard University Press, 2016)

With his multiple-choice question subtitle Kent Greenawalt is not wondering if religious exemptions in general are necessary, justified, or misguided. Rather, he acknowledges that in a given case any three of these might be an apt descriptor. The hard part is figuring out which one applies and, perhaps harder still, the criteria by which we should decide. These criteria and tests can be murky and debatable, but Greenawalt’s book expertly guides the reader through the various arguments and counterarguments before explaining and defending his own view. For this reason, Exemptions is valuable not only for its arguments but for how clearly Greenawalt explains the history and debates and considerations surrounding a range of issues, from military service to drug use to same-sex marriage.

Religious exemptions are fairly straightforward in theory and complicated in practice (what isn’t?). The basic problem is as follows. The law demands and prohibits certain actions. Religions do too. Sometimes, the law requires something a religion forbids. Sometimes, religions require something that the law generally forbids. So, sometimes the state grants an exemption from the law, lest people be compelled to break their religious commitments or violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. But, of course, not just any religious belief entails an exemption from just any law. You can see where this is going…

Reconstructing the Peace Movement



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Guest Post by Lilian Calles Barger

Lilian Calles Barger is an independent intellectual, cultural and gender historian and frequent podcast host for New Books Network. Her book tentatively titled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.


At the 2017 meeting of the AHA/ASCH, I presented a paper entitled “Rosemary Radford Ruether:
The ‘Megamachine’ and the Construction of an Eco-feminist Pacifism.”  Ruether is a pioneering feminist Catholic theologian and part of the vanguard of feminist theology that took shape in the 1970s. A prolific writer, her work reflects the radicalization of feminism, the new ecology, the resurgence of pacifism brought on by Vietnam, and the emergent liberation theologies. She intervened at a time when feminism’s relationship to pacifism was changing and under threat of a complete severing.

Ruether noted that the peace movement had moved away from the non-duality of virtue that had characterized nineteenth-century Christian radicalism. She summarized her ideas in a 1983 essay “Feminism and Peace” published in the Christian Century where she offered a historical foundation for what I am calling “eco-feminist pacifism.”  In the essay, she ties peace to both ecology and the liberation of women and turns to the Garrisonian tradition which called on both men and women to oppose slavery, the subordination of women and to promote peace and arbitration. Ruether noted how this radical tradition expressed no bifurcation of virtue between men and women but rather called a common humanity to peacemaking.  [1]

Making American Religious History



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Cara Burnidge

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the presidential inauguration behind us, the semester is now in full swing for many of us. If you're like me, then your classes are beginning with primers on how to think critically about religion in American history. Today provides us with a fantastic, current  example to share with our students.
At 10 AM EST this morning, most news channels began covering the National Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral. Washington National Cathedral is no stranger to presidential politics, supporting and legitimizing past presidents and political causes through their space and services. Yet, this service was not without some controversy. Current and former deans of the church disagreed about the choice to host Trump. Some Christians focused on number of evangelical leaders represented at the event. Even though this National Prayer Service hosted a larger variety of faith leaders than previous services, the number of evangelical leaders was double that of past National Prayer services.

National prayer services provide one way to study religion in American history and culture: institutional; formal, structured services; led by clergy; largely (though not exclusively) male. This might be what most expect to study when they enroll in an American religion class. We could disrupt this stereotype in these early weeks (or throughout our classes), by encouraging our students to see the diversity of American religion on display currently and in the past--and introduce them to the robust conversations and debates found in our field's historiography.

We can share clips and images from C-SPAN and Twitter or share the split screen at a variety of channels. In these places, another form of American religion is on display and in the making. These displays are not in the pews of formal religious institutions, but in the streets of Washington, D.C. and numerous other cities across America. The Women's March on Washington (and other cities) includes religious leaders like Sister Simone CampbellRabbi Sharon Brous and these Episcopal women, practices like indigenous women dancing in solidarity and protest, and images like the one below.

New Books in American Religious History: 2017 Year in Preview, Part One (January-April)



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Paul Putz

It's time for part one of the 2017 book preview list! This one will cover books published from January through April.

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)











ASCH News



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Elesha Coffman

For those of you who didn't get the updates in Denver (an unusually small winter meeting--any theories on why?), there was a lot of big news from the American Society of Church History, including new dates to be aware of.

Regarding next year's winter meeting, the ASCH council passed a motion to meet adjacent to, rather than in conjunction with, the AHA. The text of the motion: "Assuming the ASCH is able to secure adequate hotel space, the Society will hold its own meeting alongside but not as part of the AHA in 2018." Effectively, this should return the ASCH winter meeting to its old format: ASCH sessions will be held in a hotel near the AHA headquarters hotel(s), and ASCH members will be strongly encouraged to stay in that hotel, because filling the hotel rooms is how a group negotiates things like use of meeting space and--if we're lucky!--free breakfast. ASCH members will once again register for the meeting through ASCH, not through AHA, which should lower the overall cost of attendance and keep the registration fees flowing into ASCH coffers. On the negative side, registering through ASCH will mean loss of access to the AHA book display (again, a return to the way things used to be, with ASCH and AHA folks wearing different nametags) and ASCH sessions not showing up in the AHA program book or app. People who register for AHA or ASCH would be equally able to attend sessions sponsored by either group. Anyone presenting at a session, however, must be registered for that group's meeting--or, in the case of jointly sponsored sessions, they must be registered for both meetings.

Co-sponsored sessions become especially important in this scenario. ASCH has not, traditionally, pitched many of these to the AHA, but other affiliate societies, notably the Conference on Latin American History, have. Under the AHA's "one meeting" model, co-sponsored sessions were a way for affiliate societies to get more panels on the schedule. An independent ASCH meeting won't have this issue--we can schedule as many sessions as we have room for, without worrying about the "slots" designated by the AHA--but it will have a program visibility issue. In other words, if you want AHA people to know about your session, it would be a good idea to request co-sponsorship and get the session listed in both the ASCH and the AHA program books. To this end, the ASCH has moved its CFP deadline up to February 15, to coordinate with the AHA deadline. If you are proposing a full session, think about whether you would like to apply for co-sponsorship. The ASCH program committee will also watch the submissions for co-sponsorship candidates, i.e. sessions broad or significant enough to attract an AHA audience. Because appearing on a co-sponsored panel is likely to incur extra costs for participants, ASCH will try to provide assistance for graduate students and contingent faculty members who find themselves in this situation. ASCH leaders believe that the tradeoff--more cost, but a lot more visibility for the presenter and the society--is worth the extra effort.

In other ASCH news:

Announcement: Lake Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship



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Lake Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship

Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy will offer a one year doctoral dissertation fellowship of $22,000 for the academic year 2017-2018.

This doctoral dissertation fellowship will be given to a graduate student whose research engages and intersects issues within religion and philanthropy or faith and giving. The fellowship is intended to support the final year of dissertation writing.

The fellowship award will be paid in three installments: $10,000 at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year; $10,000 at the mid-point of the 2017-2018 academic year; $2,000 upon the successful completion of the dissertation.

The application process for the 2017-2018 Lake Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship is now open. All applications materials must be received by January 31, 2017.

For applicant criteria and application procedures, visit the Grants and Scholarships page: https://philanthropy.iupui.edu/institutes/lake-institute/grants-scholarships/dissertation-application.html

MLK and Confronting America's Past



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Cara Burnidge

It could be the ice storm across the Midwest and the generally dreary whether, but this year I find myself in a more reflective mood than in past Martin Luther King, Jr. Days. It's hard not to feel like this year is different. The legacy of King and the Civil Rights Movement are openly under fire as the President-Elect and others question the integrity of one of the nation's pivotal civil rights leaders. Americans and American institutions present themselves as honoring King when their past or present is openly known to have obstructed his efforts or oppose his positions. The consequences of not knowing the history of the Civil Rights Movement, like the horrors activists endured and the depths of the racial injustice in America, seem more apparent than ever. To teach religion in America at this time is both a privilege and an awesome responsibility.

What a week we will have in front of us. We begin it with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and we end it with the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump.

These historic bookends remind me of what I consider to be most poignant aspect of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington, D.C. When visiting the memorial, most stand in awe, looking up at King emerging from the stone of hope. It is a beautiful work of art, no doubt. King certainly rose above the society he was born into. But when I visit it, I prefer to stand beside King and face the direction he faces. When you do, you see the intentional efforts of the monument's designers to have King face the Thomas Jefferson memorial. The symbolism, the National Parks Service explains, highlights the trinity of leaders honored in D.C.:
"The plans aimed to create an entire city to remind us “what we should be trying to achieve as a nation, as a society [and] as human beings on this planet.” For the “I Have a Dream” speech, King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and referenced the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson. The symbolism helped to reinforce core American values that appealed to all Americans, highlighting the injustice perpetuated by segregation."
I like to see it a different way. I imagine King to be staring down Jefferson, holding the man and his words accountable in American culture and law. I imagine Jefferson not being able to look up, on, or out without being reminded of who was left out of ideals and his America for so long. It creates a tension rather than a harmony in my mind. A poignant and unavoidable tension in American history that deserves reflection. To honor that tension, rather than any one triumph, I like to stand beside the King memorial and imagine that I too confront America's past.

Two Books on Evangelicalism in the Non-Union Era



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Janine Giordano Drake

Why did we see a decline in discussions on unions within evangelical churches in the late twenteith century? How has this decline impacted the beliefs, practices and theologies of evangelical Christians? A number of books have addressed the rise of a new kind of "Christian capitalism" in recent years. These include Tim Gloege's Guaranteed Pure, Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Walmartand Ken and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf's Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South. But, I want to point our attention to two 2016 books which carry on this question particularly well, and which really talk to one another. They would pair very well within a graduate seminar.

The first, Darren Grem's The Blessings of Business: How Corporations Shaped Conservative Christianity, shows how many companies in the second half of the twentieth century combined their previously separate divisions of "production/sales" and "mission work" within a new product called Christian business. These new corporations advertised themselves as Christian businesses, for they hoped that both employees and consumers would sponsor their corporate mission while also enjoying their products and services. Chick Fil A, for example, advertised its Sunday closures and celebrated traditional families with male breadwinners. Other companies invited employees to voluntary Bible studies and made sure that consumers knew their values.

Grem also shows how the postwar phenomenon of a "Christian business culture" reshaped conservative evangelicalism into a culture deeply comfortable with consumer choice. The close relationship between evangelical businessmen and evangelical ministers meant that late twentieth century evangelicalism saw a wide variety of Christian-branded commodities.

The second, Janis Thiessen's Not Talking Union: An Oral History of North American Mennonites and Labor shows the ways that not-talking about unions has reshaped the theologies and practices of contemporary Mennonites, and led to contemporary tensions among different groups of these evangelicals. The book is a rigorous oral history of Mennonites' theologies of work and God, and does not directly follow change over time. But, it illustrates with exquisite clarity the ways that Mennonite business practices have been affected by the "Christian business culture" which Darren Grem explores.

Race and Religion: Double Publication



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Jonathan Den Hartog


Even as the AHA and ASCH meetings are kicking off--and don't forget Cara's handy guide below--it seemed fitting to notice our blogmeister (emeritus) Paul Harvey's double publication of Christianity and Race in the American South and Bounds of Their Habitation: Race and Religion in American History.

Earlier this week, Paul showed up on the Research on Religion Podcast. Tony Gill runs a great podcast for all kinds of scholars of religion, and he conducted an effective interview on Christianity and Race in the American South.

In the podcast, I was particularly taken with two ideas. One was Paul's goal to historicize evangelicalism in the South and place it within larger historical frames. The other was the discussion of the westward expansion under Manifest Destiny (with displacement of natives and expansion of the slave system) as an expression of one religious vision coming into competition and conflict with another. That is, just as some varieties of white evangelicals were justifying expansion through religious language, they were being challenged by other evangelicals demanding more justice, also from biblically-inspired perspectives.

Then, if you were looking for a shorter introduction, Paul also just showed up in "The Author's Corner" at the Way of Improvement.

For those in Denver, I understand Bounds of Their Habitation is available at the Rowman & Littlefield booth.

Altogether, I think Paul has given us a lot to chew on in the new year.



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.
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