Guaranteed Pure: A Conversation with Tim Gloege

Heath Carter

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Tim Gloege regarding his important new book, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (UNC Press), which led us into some larger questions having to do with the histories of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and capitalism in the United States.  The book is available now and qualifies as a must read.  

HC: For those who haven't read the book yet, can you offer a sneak preview of some of the ways in which you argue the Moody Bible Institute and Business contributed to the Making of Modern Evangelicalism?  

TG: Yes, absolutely, and thanks for this opportunity to talk about the book, Heath. 

Guaranteed Pure tells the story of a group of businessmen, ministers, and evangelists that developed a particular strain of evangelicalism—what I call “corporate evangelicalism”—during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. The center of gravity of this network was the Moody Bible Institute (MBI), founded in Chicago in 1889 by the salesman-turned-revivalist Dwight L. Moody. The story begins in the 1870s when Moody stood at the center of a dynamic, if unstable, network of self-described “Christian workers” committed to evangelizing the urban “masses.” It traces the failure of that project and MBI’s transition, after Moody’s death, to a new focus on influencing middle-class Protestantism. Under a new regime, headed by the promotional genius and president of Quaker Oats, Henry Crowell, they battled liberal theology and modified its evangelical message to insure it was safe and attractive to the “respectable” middle classes. During the 1910s and early 1920s, MBI became a virtual headquarters for an emerging fundamentalist movement. 

The book traces a number of ways that MBI and business contributed to the making of modern evangelicalism, but I’ll highlight three. First, it brokered a set of connections between evangelicalism and a new set of economic identities, assumptions, and techniques. It began with Moody’s construct of a “Christian worker.” This constituted a new religious identity for laypeople, based on new realities of industrial work and especially the desires of elite businessmen for submissive employees who worked hard. This identity in turn influenced their interpretation of holy writ. The Bible became analogous to a work contract—filled with promises and requirements for God’s employees. Under Crowell, MBI shifted the primary identity from Christian worker to savvy consumer. What God required of faithful believers, they taught, was to choose and consume “pure religion.” 

But perhaps more important were the bedrock assumptions that underlay both these economic identities and their religious analogs. It was a vision of the world in which society consisted primarily of individuals constructing identities by making rational choices. Thus, it was not coincidental that modern conservative evangelicalism developed contemporaneously with modern consumer capitalism; they share a similar ideological foundation (one, interestingly, that is often at odds with the findings of modern post-Darwinian science). 

First Baptist, Depreston: Megachurches and Making Suburbia

Charity R. Carney

Strip malls. Chain restaurants. Gated communities. Starbucks… So many Starbucks. And megachurches. One of the main features of today’s suburban landscape is the megachurch. Megas offer entertaining services, architecture that mimics the surrounding material environment, and a sense of community that seems to fit the suburban lifestyle. For sprawling suburbs many megachurches have even built satellite campuses so that the Sunday commute isn’t too burdensome. Large, seeker-sensitive churches (some preaching prosperity) seem to do particularly well in the suburbs, which have provided homes for more than 75% of megas in United States since the late-1980s.1 The suburbs have contributed to the evolution of modern American evangelicalism’s rituals, doctrines, material culture, community structures. While we can still lament the rise of pre-fab houses and “Californian bungalows in cul-de-sacs” (see Courtney Barnett’s brilliant new homage to the suburbs, Depreston), it is important to recognize the diversity of suburbia and the ways that it has affected religion and religious practices.

The Short, Secret Life of Academic Articles

Laura Arnold Leibman

In How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, Katherine Hayles notes the "shockingly small rate at which [academic] articles are cited (and presumably read)."  The news is bleak enough for the sciences, in which 22.4% of all articles aren't cited even once within the first five years, but that unfortunate statistic pales compared to humanities articles, 93.1% of which fail to be cited even once five years after they appear in print.  Regardless of the greater prestige given to books in our field, this is dismal news (Hayles 3-4).  The story gets incrementally worse for those us not in the social sciences.  As David Hamilton points out, "Within the arts and humanities (where admittedly citation is not so firmly entrenched), uncitedness figures hit the ceiling. Consider, for example, theater (99.9%), American literature (99.8%), architecture (99.6%), and religion (98.2%)" (Hamilton 1991, 25).  Certainly things may have improved for the better since Hamilton's article appeared due to the rise of electronic databases like JSTOR and Project MUSE and the willingness of people to place offprints online on and Research Gate. Even so, given the amount of time and affection many of us put into writing academic articles, these statistics are more than a little depressing. 

In some ways these paltry statistics belie my own experience: articles often influence my own thinking the most.  Are there things we could (or should) be doing to make academic articles more visible in the circuit of ideas?  Like most scholars, I focus my published reviews of other scholars' work on their books; hence I'd like to dedicate this post to a few articles that either I return to again and again, or (if the articles are recent) I expect to return to repeatedly in the future.  I hope this list will not only lead others to these gems, but also encourage readers to present their own lists of favorite article in the comments or to review articles in future posts on RiAH.

Here is my current Top Five:

Grant Announcement: The Historical Society of The Episcopal Church

Michael Utzinger

The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church invites applications from individual scholars and academic and ecclesiastical groups for grants to support significant research, conferences, and publications relating to the history of the Church of England, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and Anglican and Episcopal churches in North America.

Grants are usually modest, generally $1,000-$2,000, though more or less may be awarded depending on number of awards and amount of funds available in any year. Typical grants include travel to archives, collections or resources, dissertation research, and seed money for larger projects.

The deadline for submission is May 1, 2015.

Applications must include:

  1. A statement of the subject and purpose of the project of no more than 500 words;
  2. A bibliography or reference list of the project, no more than a single page;
  3. A concise curriculum vitae;
  4. A projected total budget for the project and specific amount requested (with detail of how it will be used).  If less than the total budget, it must be made clear how a grant would help and what other resources are available or being pursued;
  5. At least two letters of recommendation or support (in the case of a graduate student, we expect one will be from the project's main supervising professor);
  6. A sample of recent scholarly writing (an article, essay, or chapter of no more than ten pages).

To submit an application, send an email with all materials attached (PDF preferred) to If total file size is over 5MB, you may send the files as separate emails. If one file is over 5MB, contact the Director of Operations ( for directions on how to submit.

Grant recipients are announced in July. It is expected recipients will make an appropriate submission to Anglican and Episcopal History.

A list of previous grantees can be found on the Society's webpage:

Divided by Faith, or Ambivalent Miracles? (Or Both).

Paul Harvey

Recently I wrote a thing on an excellent new book by Nancy Wadsworth,Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing. This work continues the ongoing discussion initiated by the important work Divided by Faith. Below is the beginning portion of my thoughts, and just click on the link at the bottom to follow the rest. Last year, by the way, our contributor Karen Johnson interviewed the author in a two-part series; you can find that here and here. (Note: a brand new piece for The Atlantic explores similar themes on evangelicals and racial politics, focusing particularly on Southern Baptists. Thoughtful piece and well worth reading for those interested).
Ambivalent Miracles

Nancy D. Wadsworth, Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing, University of Virginia Press, 2014, 319pp., $39.95 Nancy Wadsworth’s stimulating new work on the politics of racial healing came to my attention just as news about national protests stemming from the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York took center stage in national news broadcasts. Social media buzzed with various reactions to the unprosecuted killings of unarmed black men, including numerous comments made by professional athletes. Just before a Monday night football game — and right after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson case — a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, Benjamin Watson, weighed in on Twitter: “So many thoughts on#Ferguson. My heart is full and I don’t know where to start. Lord help us. All of us. Black & White. Anger Fear Despair.” He then immediately followed up with a multifaceted facebook post which communicated his anger and frustration over the killings, connected them to experiences of African Americans through generations of American history, condemned violent responses to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, expressed empathy for police officers making split-second decisions, and looked for hope in the gospel of Christ. Watson’s words leapt to mind while I was reading Nancy D. Wadsworth’s Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing A key section of that post almost perfectly captures the ambivalence of the subtitle of Wadsworth’s book:

Continue Reading Here

American Religion and the New Materialism


Sonia Hazard

What’s so new about new materialism? New materialism is more than a buzzword or this Tuesday’s theoretical vogue. It’s a reconceptualization of material things—chairs, altars, books, robes, neurons—and how these chunks of matter move us, speak to us, and make incessant demands on our thought and practice. What is new about new materialism is its argument that things are agents, in their own rights, with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own.” This is not a playful statement. Things and their powers are serious business.

For this year’s American Academy of Religion in Atlanta (November 21-24), I’ve been involved (with the indefatigable Karen Bray) in organizing a panel on new materialism in religion, called “Between Philosophy and a Phenomenological Hard Place: New Materialism as a Methodology in the Study of Religion.” It’s co-hosted by the Philosophy of Religion Section and the Theology and Continental Philosophy Group. American religionists will find much of interest in the panel: the point is to convey an expansive sense of what new materialism—not only as a philosophy but also as a method—can do throughout the various subfields in the study of religion, including American religion. The panel is designed not only for thing devotees but also the thing-curious.

I will open the session by offering a lively introduction to new materialism, drawn from an essay in Religion and Society. I’ll describe its stakes and its relation to more common approaches to materiality in the study of religion. Even in religious material culture studies, the generative power of things receives short shrift. Things tend to be regarded either as secondary symbols of human culture, or as the background against which human subjects conduct their activities.

Three panelists, each representing different subfields in religious studies, will offer remarks that enact the first panelist’s methodological provocation in concrete, case-based ways that speak to the concerns of their subfields. Hillary Kaell will be the first to engage new materialism’s methodological provocation in her ethnographic work on wayside crosses in Quebec. Her remarks are titled, “Seeing the Invisible: Ambient Catholicism on the Side of the Road.” Karen Bray, a philosophical theologian, will follow her, with a paper on “Material Laments: Things that Pray and Temples that Feel.” Then, Peter Anthony Mena, a historian of late antique religion, will offer a reading of Origen in his called “Noetic Bodies: Origen of Alexandria, the New Materialist.” Whitney Bauman will respond and John Modern will chair.

American religion will be very much a part of this conversation, both at the American Academy of Religion meeting and in new materialist scholarship in the future. It is our hope that the panel’s multidisciplinary approach will inspire in a diverse audience an excitement around these new theoretical and methodological tools, and embolden them to put such ideas into practice concretely. No doubt, there also will be vigorous debate.

Comparing the First Gilded Age to the Second Gilded Age

Janine Giordano Drake

How does the present-day climate of organizing around wealth inequality compare to that of the Gilded Age? According to Steve Fraser in his new The Age of Acquiescence, it does not even light a candle.

According to Fraser, while the first Gilded Age was full of militant workers who did not give up in the face of Pinkertons, labor injunctions and a legal system that benefited the upper-class, the present age has acquiesced. While the first Gilded Age boasted of popular writers like Henry Demarest Lloyd, Edward Bellamy, and Henry George, each of whom gave the working classes a language to analyze and protest wealth inequality and the ways it destroys the fabric of American democracy, the present day fetishizes businessmen as populist heroes. While the first Gilded Age honored working class clergy-heroes, like Edward McGlynn, and made room for Eugene Debs' claims that socialism was a Christian idea, the religious leaders of the present Gilded Age overwhelmingly promote the status quo.

Fraser's overarching thesis may or may not be overstated. As popular reviewers like Naomi Klein and Jon Wiener remind us, Fraser does not see the Black Freedom Movement nor the Women's Liberation Movement, nor the numerous grassroots movements which have persisted and grown since then, impacting the social consciousness of the mainstream with regards to wealth inequality. For, they ran alongside an era that glorified business leaders and oppressed discussions on wealth distribution and radical social equality. Fraser is probably shortsighted in his assumption that rules governing the workplace (rather than the point of consumption or reproduction) are the best ways to trace interest in topping wealth and social inequality.

Yet, Fraser also has a point that the success of these 1960s movements has not significantly transformed the production or distribution of American wealth. For, as Fraser expertly shows, in spite of the success of these movements, the "Second Gilded Age" has glorified the worker as a "free agent," allowed the destruction of the labor movement and the laws workers built to defend unions, and enabled the phenomenon of "limousine liberalism." Sure, there are present-day groups organizing in response to wealth-inequality. But, compared to the thousands of workers who went on strike for months and months, even in the face of Pinkertons and labor injunctions and real poverty, we have acquiesced. His point is that the obstacles workers faced in the late nineteenth century were every bit as bad, and worse, than they are in the early twenty-first century. Yet, the first era saw massive protest, and the second has not. This point is compelling.

Interview with Jodi Eichler-Levine, Author of Suffer the Little Children

Samira K. Mehta

Jodi Eichler-Levine. Suffer the Little Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature. (New York: New York University Press, 2015) 

Tomorrow, NYU Press will re-release Jodi Eichler-Levine's Suffer the Little Children, a fabulous 2013 book that will now
be available in paperback!

SKM: As I read Suffer the Little Children, I was really struck by your use of language, in two senses. First, your word choice was elegant and even playful. I love how you referred to chosenness as as a “‘wild thing’ in its own right.” Given that you were writing about literature, did you feel a particular imperative to polish your own prose?

JEL: Yes. Writing about literature did make me want to bring forth my best prose, which emerged dialogically with the authors I was studying. There’s a quote from Mikhail Bakhtin about how we always come upon language as “already inhabited”-- I actually use it in my acknowledgements. It has stuck with me because I feel it deeply when I write. So, Sendak’s Wild Things and abundant language; Julius Lester’s poetic magical realism; Virginia Hamilton’s idiomatic use of African American folklore… all of these were planted in my head and sprouted out into the book. Finally, while playfulness is not unique to children’s literature, I think engaging with that genre brought a bit more jouissance to my work.

SKM: Also, on the subject of wording, you have a note about the challenges of using language of race and ethnicity throughout your text, particularly given internally diverse and historically shifting naming practices. Could you say a bit about the challenges of choosing terms as you talk about both African American and Jewish American experience?

JEL: It’s probably evident in that note that I am deeply ambivalent about this challenge. It’s one that I am still figuring out. One of my solutions is to try to borrow tricks from German: throw as many words together as you can at once, but with spaces in between them to be grammatically correct; hence: “Jewish and African Americans.” I tried to give those two adjectives the freedom to modify “Americans” on their own or together. I also use also “ethno-religious” at some points because those concepts are so very entangled. I’m deeply aware of the power of naming and not so comfortable with that power. I also am an “insider” to Jewish Americans, but not anyone in the African diaspora … but worry that the term “Jewish American,” too, gets coded as “Ashkenazi”. 

Frederick Douglass, William Jay, Abolition, and Christianity in Antebellum America

Jonathan Den Hartog

With the on-going interest in Frederick Douglass (his Narrative made it to the Junto's 2015 Primary Source Documents Final Four! David Blight is writing a major biography of him!), I found Douglass making some very interesting comments in a much lesser-known work than his Narrative. In May 1859, Douglass addressed a primarily African-American audience at Shiloh Presbyterian Church to deliver a "Eulogy of the Late William Jay" (available via GoogleBooks). 

Douglass had much to praise about Jay. He opened by stating that "In the death of WILLIAM JAY, the cause of Emancipation in the United States has lost one of its ablest and most effective advocates." Douglass suggested that Jay would be ranked alongside "the venerated names of WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, THOMAS CLARKSON, and GRANVILLE SHARPE," the leading British abolitionists. The only difference was that Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Sharpe had lived to see the fulfillment of their abolitionist cause and Jay had not. Nonetheless, Jay's character and work merited honor. "All that is commanded in virtue--all that is exalted and sublime in piety--all that is disinterested in patriotism--all that is noble in philanthropy...stand out gloriously in the life of William Jay."

Douglass praised Jay's contribution as a writer supporting abolition. In "Letters, essays, pamphlets, books, newspaper articles" Jay advocated for abolition. "The pen was the weapon of his choice, and the weapon of his power." Further, Jay's contributions were timely. "Mr. JAY...wrote precisely at the right time. No great occasion escaped him. He was ready for every emergency." In the constellation of abolitionist efforts, Jay's great efforts were devoted to using the moral suasion of the word to convince others of the evil of slavery.

Douglass also made much of Jay's early commitment to abolition. A leader, rather than a band-wagon joiner, Jay "was not behind the chiefest apostle of immediate emancipation." Further "impartial history" would give Jay "the credit of having affirmed all the leading principles of modern Abolitionism long before modern Abolitionism was recognized as a reformatory movement." Jay's commitment to abolition dated long before it was a large or popular phenomenon in the North. He was working for the cause when there were few laborers alongside him.

Douglass's eulogy mentioned two other important components of Jay's involvement in abolition. One was that Jay was part of a line of anti-slavery advocates. This began with his father John Jay, who as governor had signed into law New York's gradual emancipation act. It continued with William's son John, who as an active lawyer had dedicated himself to opposing slavery through legal means. On this point, Douglass exclaimed, "Abolitionism seems hereditary in the family!"

The other point was William's care for fugitive slaves. Not only concerned about them in life, in his will he had left $1,000 for promoting the "safety and comfort of fugitive slaves," many of whom passed through New York.

Reading "Catholics in the American Century" at the ACHA

Today's guest post from Peter Cajka recaps a panel held at the recent spring meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association. Peter is a PhD candidate at Boston College where he works on religion in modern American history. He is currently writing a dissertation that explores how and why ideas of conscience became central in American Democracy and Christian ethics between 1961 and 1985. A full report of the conference will follow in a few weeks, to be posted by Notre Dame PhD student Michael Skaggs.

Peter Cajka

In response to a call for more book panels and historiography at its conferences, the American Catholic Historical Association convened a session on Catholics in the American Century: Recasting Narratives of U.S. History. The book features essays by Robert Orsi, Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas Sugrue, R. Marie Griffith, David G. Gutierrez, and Wilfred McClay. It’s the product of a conference convened in 2008 by the Cushwa Center of the University of Notre Dame. Cushwa asked historians who normally write about other topics (labor, cities, Protestant women, the nineteenth century self, ethnicity) to write essays on American Catholicism. The general goal of the volume is to present a case for why studying Catholics will help us to understand American History more deeply. A second goal of the volume is to make a few suggestions about how this task might be accomplished. In this blog post I offer two quick snapshots from the collection itself before summarizing points made at the panel.

Pacific Studies: A Brief Introduction (Part II), featuring a bibliography

Charles McCrary
Continued from part I

Pacific history, particularly done from an American and/or European perspective, has a different history and historiography. These histories are situated in a long tradition of Western knowledge production about the Pacific, and are generally quite conscious of this fact. For over two hundred years, Americans and Europeans have used the Pacific as a site of knowledge production, including botanical, geological, mineralogical, zoological, and of course anthropological knowledge. These encounters have determined the shape of many narratives of Pacific history. British and French
Louis-Antoine de Bougainville
histories of adventurers like James Cook and Louis-Antoine de Bougainville were popular in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. These histories traded on familiar tropes of New World exploration, but often with variations on those themes. Pacific Islanders in these histories were often depicted as savage cannibals. Of course, some Islanders did in fact practice cannibalism, though it was almost always practiced against conquered tribes or opposing kingdoms. An American whaler, for example, would have little chance of being eaten. Islanders were exoticized as savages, but Europeans and Americans were also celebratory of the “natural beauty” of the islands and Islanders. Naturalness cuts both ways. In light of these issues and others, questions about how to frame these interactions, and who—or what—are the subjects of Pacific history remain difficult and central.

There are multiple venues for Pacific history. Here I will give an overview of a few, and at the end of the post I’ll provide a brief bibliography. My intended audience here is American historians who are largely unfamiliar with Pacific history but would like a short guide for where to look if they would like to incorporate it into their research and/or teaching.

Pacific Studies: A Brief Introduction (Part 1)

Charles McCrary

This is part two of a series on the Pacific Ocean and part one and a two-part post providing a short historiographical overview of "Pacific studies" and "Pacific history."

Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, after Louis Choris, "Temple du Roi dans la baie Tiritatéa" (1822)

In the first post in this series, I asked about the place of the Pacific in American religious history, how historians of American religions might better incorporate the Pacific into our existing narratives and frameworks, and, if we were more conversant in Pacific history, how our larger narratives might change. Today and tomorrow, I want to back up a little bit and provide a short introduction to the Pacific studies/history. I studied 18th– and 19th–century Pacific history for a comprehensive exam last year. In my reading I focused largely on exchange among Europeans, Americans, and Pacific Islanders, so my posts will be geared toward those topics. Others, especially those with expertise in the twentieth century, East Asia, and/or the Philippines, should make suggestions in the comments. Today’s post focuses on “Pacific studies” and the Tomorrow I will take up historical work on the Pacific, done by historians working in the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Island nations.

First, of course, we have a thorny definitional question: What is “the Pacific”? Much work under the labels “Pacific studies” and “Pacific history” focus on the islands of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, although there are scholars who contest these categories. The divisions between Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, probably first made by Jules Durmont d’Urville in 1832, relied on essentially racial categories. Some scholars have defined the Pacific as a geological feature or ecological system, the “tide-beating heart of earth.” Islanders were mobile for many centuries before Europeans ever arrived, so determining how people got where they did is a difficult task for anthropologists. If the study of the Pacific is a study of Islanders, then there are many outstanding questions about classification and categorization, and many of the data needed to make these claims are beyond the realm of traditional historical study.

CFP: Still Guests in Our Own House? Women and the Church since Vatican II

From Loyola University Chicago's Michelle Nickerson, comes the following CFP, with a deadline of June 1, 2015.

Still Guests in Our Own House? 
Women and the Church since Vatican II 
November 6 - November 7, 2015 
Loyola University Chicago 


  • What has and has not changed for women in the Church since the Second Vatican Council?  
  • What positions do women have and what roles do they play in the Church today? 
  • What is the future for women in the Church? 
  • What should be the agenda of engagement for the next half century? 
In Fall 2015, Loyola University Chicago will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II with a public symposium. 

Women's lives across the globe have changed dramatically since the Council, and these changes have had a powerful effect in the Church as well. Women have taken on new roles, challenged traditional teachings, and raised new questions. What role did and does the Council play in this complex development?

At "Still Guests in Our Own House," scholars will address the issues raised by these questions. Please join us in what promises to be a lively exploration of the Council's history and impact on women by proposing a paper, panel, or roundtable. 

Keynote: M. Shawn Copeland, Professor, Department of Theology, Boston College 

Responder: Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Associate Professor, American Studies, and Director, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism 

We invite interested scholars to submit a 100-200 word proposal for a panel, roundtable or paper by June 1, 2015 to A decision will be conveyed by June 15, 2015. 

The Symposium is sponsored by the Carolyn Farrell, BVM, Professorship in Women and Leadership, the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, the Department of Theology, the John Cardinal Cody Chair in Theology, the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Life, the Catholic Studies Program, and the Department of History. It is free and open to the public. For more information, see

Christian Nation, Christian Libertarianism


by Lincoln Mullen

Kruse, Kevin M. One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

One Nation Under God, Kevin Kruse’s new book on How Corporate America Invented Christian America, is a fascinating narrative of the connections between religion, big business, and patriotism and governance in the United States from the New Deal to Ronald Reagan. The book is justly receiving praise and widespread attention, including several reviews here at Religion in American History (by Michael Graziano and Darren Grem) and coverage in the New York Times and on NPR. Since there are a number of reviews or summaries of the book available, I am going to take for granted that you know the basic shape of the book. In this review I intend to cast the book’s argument into relief from the perspective of nineteenth-century American religious history in order to highlight the contribution that the book makes.

One Nation Under God is a history of how the idea that the United States is a Christian nation was deployed in the middle of the twentieth century. There were several possible historical moments when this idea could have arisen. One is during the revolutionary period: Kruse deftly “sets aside the question of whether the founders intended America to be a Christian nation and instead asks why so many contemporary Americans came to believe this country has been and always should be a Christian nation” (xiii). Another contender is the Cold War period. This book takes the Cold War into account, to be sure, but it offers an important corrective by tracing the idea of “one nation under God” to business opposition to the New Deal in 1930s and 1940s. As Kruse writes about the addition of that phrase to the pledge of allegiance, the change was “the result of nearly two decades of partisan fighting over domestic issues. The Cold War contrasts were largely a last-minute development, one that helped paper over partisan differences” (109). But there is a third contender for the origins of the Christian nation idea: the nineteenth-century United States. This critical period for understanding church-state concerns has been re-examined in recent years by scholars such as Sarah Barringer Gordon, Steven K. Green, and David Sehat.

The Religious and The Political, Or, Why the Nation of Islam Bamboozles My Students

Matthew J. Cressler

What we usually call "the religious" and "the political" have been practically inseparable in my course on African American religions this semester. After all, how can students think about practices, communities, institutions, and experiences born in no small part of involuntary migration and servitude - born of Atlantic world empire and slavery - without thinking about power, governance, and resistance? I would venture to guess that this is true of many (maybe most) courses on American religions and it carries special weight in African American religious studies. One way I tried to impress this upon my students was through a discussion of Eddie Glaude's "very short introduction" to African American Religion (Oxford, 2014). In it, Glaude argues that, if the category is to have any usefulness, the study of "African American religion" must be more than simply the study of the ways African Americans happen to be religious. Instead, Glaude draws on J.Z. Smith and others to insist that
"African American religion is the invention of scholars who, with particular aims and purposes, seek to describe, analyze, and theorize the religious practices of African Americans under a particular racial regime [white supremacy in the United States]" (8).
Glaude's approach, as well as that of my course, thus "assumes that the political and social context in the United States is a necessary though not sufficient condition of any study of something called African American religion" (7). To this end, we have examined and entered into debates about the inseparability of Christianity, slavery, and slave revolt; imaginings of "Africa" and the construction of African American (religious) identity; and black churches as a counter-public sphere, among other topics. All this is to say that, for my students and myself, the realms of "the religious" and "the political" have never been far from each other.

Then we came to the Nation of Islam and these blurred boundaries were built back up in no time.

Technology enabled Churches

John Crow

Last month the Barna Group released the latest in its surveys regarding the use of technology in America’s Protestant churches. Entitled, Cyber Church: Pastors and the Internet, the report notes that an overwhelming number of pastors and church leaders are embracing technology in the church for both personal use and for ministry. Wanting to get a direct assessment of the use of technology in the church, I reached out to Phil Cannizzaro, president of InfoTank, an Atlanta technology services company. InfoTank serves the technological needs of many Christian institutions within the Atlanta-metro area. Clients include Peachtree Presbyterian, the largest church within P.C.(USA), having over 7000 members, North Avenue Presbyterian Church, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, All Saints Catholic Church, Ambassadors for Christ, an Atlanta-based evangelical ministry, Women's Community Bible Study, and numerous Christian schools including Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta Youth Academy, and Whitefield Academy.

Cannizzaro was quick to point out that, in general, churches use the same technology as any other profit or non-profit companies. The difference is not what is used, but how it is deployed. One area that he points out is a significant driver of technology use is church membership management. This is an area that the Barna Group makes no reference to, but Cannizzaro says is a major concern for every church he services. Capterra, a business-to-business technology consulting firm, lists over 50 different software packages in the church membership management space. Varying in cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, these software packages attend to various needs within the church including membership management, accounting, tithe and donation management, sermon management, and attendance tracking. The more sophisticated software packages often have web server modules that allow members to directly access and manage their account, updating contact information and tracking church giving. As the Barna Group points out, the larger the church and the more financial resources it has, the more likely it is to adopt technology to offer services and solve problems. Cannizzaro notes that the churches that have greater economic resources are willing to invest in customizations to software packages whereas churches with fewer resources are more willing to use software as is “straight out of the box.” One last point Cannizzaro makes about church management software is that the software packages are generally three to five years behind in technology adoption. Even though the market is large for church management software, it has its limits and there is no incentive for being innovative. Only once a technology is ubiquitous in other areas of society, is it likely to show up in the church management space.

In a 2008 report about technology use in Protestant churches, the Barna Group found that two thirds of churches had large screen projection systems in the sanctuary. Cannizzaro notes that his Protestant church clients also have projection systems in their sanctuaries and will use it in a variety of ways during services. One note of contrast, however, is that his Catholic Church clients do not have screens or projection systems within the sanctuary and have no interest in getting them in the future. Another Protestant/Catholic differences he finds in is the streaming of church services. Most of the Protestant churches he services broadcast their Sunday services on the internet. None of his Catholic church clients broadcast their Masses, and he said you’d be hard pressed to find many that do. It would seem while Protestant churches are interested in getting their Sunday Services to anyone in any way, Catholic churches are more focused on getting members to physically attend Mass and not participate through the mediation of online streaming video.

The Jews of Cleveland: a Conference Summary and Reflection on Local Studies

Rachel Gordon

Last week at the Cleveland Historical Society, a group of academic contributors to a forthcoming volume on the Jews of Cleveland met. Primarily historians and religionists from North America and Israel, we discussed our chapters-in-progess and the Jewish history of Cleveland.

Why Cleveland?

For decades, scholars of the Jewish experience have sought to expand our gaze beyond the obvious centers of Jewish life in America. Yet, Ohio -- important as it has been in the history of Reform Judaism, and in terms of early 20th century Jewish population growth -- still gets short shrift. Cincinnati and Cleveland have significant Jewish histories

Our topics are varied and include Cleveland Jews and the Civil War, Orthodox Judaism in Cleveland, Cleveland Jewish family history, Jewish interracial neighborhood activism, the city's Jewish education offerings, Superman's Cleveland origins, Jewish urban flight, and the mid-twentieth century founding of Cleveland synagogues.

With the beginnings of Cleveland communal Jewish life in 1839, when a group of 19 Jew immigrated from Unsleben, Bavaria, the city included two large Reform synagogues by 1850. Like other major American cities, Cleveland felt the second phase of Jewish immigration to America as Eastern European Jews fled persecution in the last decades of the 19th century. It was in Cleveland's garment industry, second only to New York's in the early 20th century, where these Jews largely found work.

By the 20th century, as our conference presentations revealed, Cleveland's diverse population had begun to give the lie to a unified Jewish community, with various stripes of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews in coexistence. In her keynote address, historian Hasia Diner exhorted conference attendees to reconsider use of the term, "Jewish community" -- a phrase that many use interchangeably with "American Jews," but which often suggests a false consensus.

Diner also posed the question: why do we scholars choose our topics of study at a particular moment in history? Recalling that many cities and towns conducted community studies in the mid-twentieth century, in honor of the tercentennial celebration (1954) of Jewish life in America, Diner challenged us to think about what it is that we value about these local studies in 2015.

I thought back over the past two weeks of world news, which had brought reports and reactions to Israel's election. American Jewish responses were sundry. What I noticed along with this diversity of reactions was how important it felt to many Jews to make clear that they did not necessarily agree with other Jews. "Other Jews do not speak for me," has felt like a common theme in American Jewish reactions to current events, particularly those relating to the Middle East, over the past year. As a minority in the American population, Jewish anxiety about being lumped together with all other Jews seems realistic. I hear the reflexive assumption, in my classrooms, that all Jews, or all Mormons, or any member of a religious minority group, must think and act like other members of the group. Local studies such as this one about Cleveland remind readers that even the smallest groups contain diversity within. We just have to be willing to look for it.

Conference Recap: National Museum of American History's Religion in Early America Symposium

Today's guest post comes from Charles Richter, a PhD candidate in American Religious History at George Washington University. He studies irreligion and its critics, apocalypticism, and their intersections with American culture. Charles attended the Religion in Early America symposium hosted by the National Museum of American History last week. Following Charles' lead, readers are welcome to submit guests posts from conferences or while visiting archives this spring and summer. Submissions should be emailed to Cara.

Charles Richter

Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History could be forgiven for thinking that religion has not played a large role in the nation’s history. Most are more interested in seeing Dorothy’s ruby slippers anyway, but the stories told by the official repository of artifacts from United States history have largely steered clear of involving religion to any meaningful degree. This is about to change, thanks to the work of many prominent scholars of American religion. On March 20, NMAH hosted a symposium on Religion in Early America, organized by Stephen Prothero, to introduce the museum’s plans regarding religion and to discuss some major issues in its representation.

Mormon sunstone capital from the original Nauvoo temple
(currently on display at the National Museum of American History)
Photo by Charles Richter, 2015
Introducing the symposium, NMAH director John Gray announced both an exhibit on religion in early America scheduled to open in 2017, on the second floor of the newly remodeled west wing, and the museum’s goal to hire a permanent curator of religion. The initial exhibit will be curated by David Allison, associate director of curatorial affairs, and guest curator Peter Manseau, whom many readers of this blog will know from his recent book One Nation Under Gods. The exhibit will include such artifacts as Lucretia Mott’s cloak, George Washington’s christening robe, and the Jefferson Bible, on which the museum recently performed significant conservation work.

In his opening and closing remarks, Prothero, who had initially been brought to NMAH on a fellowship following the God in America PBS series, described religion in America as “connected, contested, and complicated.” The challenge for the museum is to represent the interconnected nature of the stories of religion in America while also acknowledging the conflicts, not only between religious traditions, but also over the interpretations and definitions of religion itself. The exhibit and symposium both address three major themes: religious freedom, religious growth, and religious diversity.

Amusing Archive Finds

Emily Suzanne Clark

How many times have you read something in the archives or in a primary source that made you smile, chuckle, or even lol? For some research topics, the answer might be never. But hopefully everyone finds topics for the classroom that allow us to think about funny things in American religious history.

This is on my mind because in both my courses last week, Religions in America and African American Religions, my students had primary source readings that made some of them (and me) chuckle. Last week in my African American Religions class, students read excerpts from the FBI's files on the Moorish Science Temple from the 1930s and 1940s. These are a great read for students because they reveal so much about how outsiders saw the Moorish Science Temple, the politics of monitoring raced religions, and still the files describe some elements of the Moorish Science Temple. As a class we commiserated over our frustration at what's blacked out in the declassified files. And the place of employment of one interviewee's brother made us smile. The interviewee's brother, who helped keep order at the meetings, worked in a "potato chip shop." Something about the idea of a store that specializes in and sells potato chips makes me smile. No, not lol levels, but still some amusing archives. After the jump break I share what's funny from my own current research—what I like to call seance snark.

Where is the Pacific in American Religious History?

Charles McCrary

Note: This post is the first in a series on the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t really plan a series, but the introduction to this post quickly became too long. So, this post serves just as an introduction to the series. Please ask questions and make suggestions in the comments section, and I’ll try to address them in future posts.

American religious history is going global. As many historians move away from the nation-state as a way to organize their objects of study and instead trace other themes—capitalism or environmental change, for example—they are taken beyond the geographic bounds of the United States. The upcoming Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture will feature sessions on “American Religion and Global Flows” and “‘Religion in the Americas’ as an Organization Program.” At the 2013 AAR meeting in Baltimore, a panel considered the theme “Placing the Subfield: North American Religions, Religion in the Americas and Beyond.” Those of us paying attention to the job market likely have noticed an increase in the number of calls focusing on Latin America, the Caribbean, and/or “the Americas.” Not all of this interest has to do with the decline of the nation-state. In fact, studies of religion and government are on the upswing, with “empire,” “American in/and the world,” and “foreign relations” all providing valuable frames for the study of religion. Even in cases where confining studies to the United States might make sense, there are ways that a global approach might be beneficial. Studies of American religious freedom, for example, often center on historical interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. But these stories are bolstered by discussions of global secularity, constitutionalism around the world, and the role of religion and secularism in international relations. In short, we do need to ask important questions about what exactly our subfield is about, and in what ways geography should define “American religious history” (or “American religions” or “religion in the Americas”.) In what networks do we plot “religion”? I do wonder about graduate programs changing to “the Americas”—why not “the world”? Or “global flows”? Should Brazil be more a part of our subfield than Canton? Or Tahiti?

So, after that introduction full of things everyone knows already, I’ll get to my real question: Where is the Pacific in American religious history?

Evangelicals and the Business of One Nation Under God

The following is Darren Grem's review of Kevin Kruse's best-selling new book, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.  You can find Mike Graziano's earlier review of Kruse's work here.  Darren E. Grem is Assistant Professor of History and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi.  His first book, Corporate Revivals: Big Business and the Shaping of the Evangelical Right, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.  

Darren Grem

 “A nation with the soul of a church.”  We all know the quip.  G.K. Chesterton, right?  He was wrestling with the question “What is America?”  Here’s what else he had to say, from his 1922 book What I Saw in America:

America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.  That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in The Declaration of Independence. . . . It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice and that governments exist   to given them their justice, and that their authority is for that reason just.  It certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from which these equal rights are derived.

Chesterton’s reading of religious meaning into a foundational document like the Declaration of Independence is the kind of striving that Kevin M. Kruse’s One Nation Under God historicizes.  According to Kruse, this narrative—that America is a “God blessed” or even “Christian” nation bestowing equal rights and religious freedom on its citizens and others—is of recent vintage, and corporate Americans played a key role in popularizing it after World War II.  I won’t rehash Mike Graziano's fine review for this site.  But I would like to consider where Kruse’s book fits into the series of recent books that consider the role of businessmen and corporate America in constructing religious categories and narratives in modern American history.  Then, I will suggest how Kruse’s book also reaffirms some problems and shortcomings in the present historiography and where we might go next in writing the corporation into our understanding of the modern religious past.

Some favorite books in honor of Women's History Month

Carol Faulkner
"Progress of Woman," Library of Congress

Several years ago, Kelly Baker published a series of posts (here, here, and here) on favorite scholars of gender and American religion for women's history month. Inspired by her example, I decided to put together a special post for this month (though, really, every month is women's history month for me). In order not to duplicate Kelly's lists, I asked a group of colleagues to name their favorite book on women and American religion. While I stuck with "American," I tried to consult scholars with different specializations and time periods.

The scholars, and their choices, follow the break. Readers, I hope you will add your favorites, and tell us why, in the comments section.

Across the Confessional Divide

Today's post is by Margaret Abruzzo, Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Alabama -- and in Fall 2014, a Cushwa Fellow. She is currently researching her second book, on changing conceptions of  sin, wrongdoing, and moral responsibility in 18th and 19th century Anglo-American thought.

Margaret Abruzzo

If nobody is perfect, what does it mean to be a good person? And why do “good” people do bad things? Although these sound like timeless questions, during the 18th and 19th centuries, these questions sparked new puzzlement as older explanations for human moral failing came under attack. Previous generations had blamed sin on passions, self-interest, or innate depravity, but increasingly positive perceptions of human nature and the human capacity for goodness weakened these explanations. The growing popularity of the notion that morality brought earthly rewards—or at least made people happy—made it ever more difficult to explain why “good” people still behaved badly. Confidence in human nature did not make evil disappear; it just made it much harder to explain.

The Problem of American Lutheran Histor(iograph)y

Today's guest post comes from Tim Grundmeier, a PhD candidate in history at Baylor University. Tim's dissertation will examine Lutheranism and American culture in the Civil War era.

Tim Grundmeier 

The problem—perhaps even the scandal—of American Lutheran historical scholarship is that there is not much American Lutheran historical scholarship. In 1964 Henry May famously proclaimed “The Recovery of American Religious History.” He wrote: “Puritanism, Edwardsian Calvinism, revivalism, liberalism, modernism, and the social gospel have all been brought down out of the attic and put back in the historical front parlor.” Over the last fifty years, Catholicism, Mormonism, African American religion, fundamentalism, Judaism, metaphysical religion, and a host of other traditions also have found their way into the parlor. But Lutheranism still remains up in the attic, stuck in a dusty old box.

The bibliography of Mark Granquist’s Lutherans in America: A New History, just published this January, attests to this. This book is the first comprehensive treatment since The Lutherans in North America, edited by E. Clifford Nelson and first published in 1975.* It contains many welcome improvements. Not only does Granquist cover the last forty years of American Lutheran history, but his single authorial voice yields a better narrative flow than his predecessor’s multi-author approach. He avoids getting bogged down in the intricacies of denominational politics, but does not shortchange American Lutheranism’s institutional, cultural, and theological complexity. Particularly commendable is his evenhanded analysis of recent Lutheran controversies: the conservative takeover of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the 1970s, the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the 1980s, and contemporary debates and schisms over such issues as ecumenism and sexuality. In short, Granquist’s book stands as the most complete synthesis of American Lutheran history currently in print.

Teaching American Jesus in 2015

Elesha Coffman

After several semesters teaching church history to seminarians, I got a chance to teach American religion to undergrads again, so I went back to a text I hadn't taught in a while, Stephen Prothero's American Jesus (Farrar, Strous and Giroux, 2003). I still like the book a lot and find it very useful as both an (admittedly incomplete) overview of American religious history and as a model for the cultural analysis of artifacts. A few things seem different this time around with the book, though, and I wondered if other people who teach it have made similar observations.

1. Many students struggle with what I would deem the book's pretty basic theological language. Granted, I have not taught undergrads at my current institution before, so I cannot make a longitudinal comparison. Still, I expected terms such as "Calvinism," "creeds," and "second person of the Trinity" to be, if not familiar, at least manageable in context. Not so, for about half of my students.

I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from such a small sample if it weren't for the same phenomenon cropping up among seminary students. Seminary colleagues of mine lament that some students begin an MDiv now needing what would have been deemed a remedial level of biblical and theological instruction 20 years ago. Surely this complaint has been raised for generations. Still, I feel like I do see effects of a widespread erosion of theological literacy (another topic Prothero has addressed) in the undergrad classroom, and these make my instructional task more difficult.

2. The near-absence of Muslims is really conspicuous. Aside from a few lines about the Nation of Islam in the "Black Moses" chapter, Islam makes only very fleeting appearances in the book. Efforts made by Hindus and Buddhists to interpret and appropriate Jesus get more attention. But because Western observers have waded so deeply into debates about "true" Islam since 9/11 and the onset of the War on Terror, it would be nice to see how Muslims have engaged in debates about Jesus. Who came before Reza Aslan?

What Parish Are You From?

Karen Johnson

For much of the twentieth century, many people in northern cities with large Catholic populations, people often asked one another where they lived with the question: "what parish are you from?"  No matter if you were a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Jew, Catholicism, and its way of dividing up the faithful in geographic territories, pervaded the city.

There's a great body of literature on the relationship between Americans' faith, neighborhoods, and racial politics with one of the most well-known being John McGreevy's 1996 Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Urban North.  McGreevy's book is comprehensive, and among other things, he demonstrates that we must account for religion when we consider racial change in America's northern cities.  For teaching, though, I prefer to help students go deep in a subject, rather than wide.  This semester in my American Cities and Suburbs, we're looking at one parish from a few different views as a window into race and religion in the city.

I'm using Eileen McMahon's What Parish Are You From? A Chicago Irish Community and Race Relations to help students explore the ways communities put boundaries around themselves, as well as how they have navigated the racial change that has been so central to the narrative of U.S. urban and suburban history.  McMahon's book traces the changing notions of community in St. Sabina's parish.  The book is accessible to students and, because it offers a case study, provides students with the opportunity to know a community at a deeper, more substantive level.  It also complicates their notions of white flight as simply racist by showing how Catholicism shaped parishioners' experience of racial change.

God Bless the Genealogists

Laura Arnold Leibman

Rabbi Malcolm Stern, Author of
First American Jewish Families
Genealogy fever has swept the nation.  Commonly considered the second most popular American hobby, genealogy is surpassed in the number of devotees only by gardening. Genealogy similarly holds the second place internet record for "most visited category of website," with only pornography capturing the American gaze more frequently (USA Today).  Genealogy helps Americans understand who they are, where they came from, and how they fit within the larger narratives of American history.

Religion has played an important role in genealogy's rise in prominence.  The Mormon Church's interest in baptizing the dead has encouraged the church to dedicate tremendous resources to mapping the past.  Equally crucially, many of the early American documents desired by genealogists (including marriage and burial records) were often originally created and kept by religious organizations.  Religious practice can also fuel the desire for knowledge about one's ancestors.  In my own field, which covers both converso and early Jewish American families, people sometimes turn to genealogical research to make sense of their personal religious life stories.  Furthermore, genealogy fever has helped channel vasts amounts of human and financial resources into digitizing early records that can help foster scholarship on American religious communities.  God bless the genealogists! Genealogists make our scholarly lives easier; however, they also challenge us in productive ways to rethink our audience and create more interactive and accessible modes of history making.

Same-Sex Marriage in Early America

Seth Dowland

In September, Carol Faulkner wrote an excellent post on Rachel Hope Cleves' excellent new book, Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America, which details a 44-year marriage between two Vermont women, who lived together from 1807-1851. Having just finished teaching the book to students in my course, "Religion & Gender in American History," I wanted to return to this fascinating work, hopefully building on rather than duplicating Carol's post.

One of the book's most fascinating themes is the way Charity and Sylvia adopted conventional gender norms in their marriage. For historians of same-sex relationships, this isn't a new conclusion, but Cleves does a marvelous job demonstrating how overtly the two women embodied gendered roles. Charity Bryant, seven years older than Sylvia Drake, took on various masculine roles: she was listed first in property records, fixed furniture, shopped at markets, and acted as the disciplinarian for their nieces, nephews, and other children in the town. Sylvia cooked, cleaned, and comforted. One visitor to their home, Hiram Hurlburt (what a name!), said bluntly, "Miss Bryant was the man." Even so, Sylvia thought of herself as an equal partner in the women's tailoring business -- theirs was a gendered but not patriarchal relationship. This gendering helped Charity and Sylvia position themselves as a married couple.

The role of the church (both women were Congregationalists) in Charity and Sylvia's marriage is probably of most interest to readers on this blog. Sylvia and Charity were spiritual giants in their community by the time they reached middle age. Townspeople sent their children to apprentice with the two women, and not just because they were good seamstresses; the expectation was that time with such pious women would positively influence young souls. The ministers in town expressed deep regard for Charity and Sylvia. Several of Charity and Sylvia's ministers carried on lifelong correspondence with the two women, and one even referred to Charity and Sylvia as "my superiors." To be sure, Charity and Sylvia spent their entire lives thinking of their sexual relationship as deeply wicked, and Charity showed an aversion to attending church on Sunday. They could never speak openly of each other as spouses and lived in fear of judgment.

My class's most interesting conversations emerged as we considered the multi-faceted way Christianity intersected with Charity and Sylvia's relationship -- and the differences in how same-sex couples experience the church today. Charity and Sylvia lived in a world where same-sex marriage was not a political issue. As a result, their relationship was not "threatening." So long as they kept quiet about their sexuality, Charity and Sylvia were free to become spiritual giants in their community. Yet they always talked about themselves as "failed Christians" and never escaped the weight of their "wickedness," even as everyone around them praised their piety. This seems like a near inversion of the relationship many same-sex couples have with their churches today.

After the Monkey Trial: Christopher M. Rios Interview


I recently received a copy of Christopher Rios’s After the Monkey Trial: Evangelical Scientists and a New Creationism (Fordham University Press, 2014), and posed a few questions to the author. Dr. Rios teaches at Baylor University, and also works as the Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies.

Phillip Luke Sinitiere (PLS): What is the main argument in After the Monkey Trial, what central points do you make about modern evangelicalism and scientific thought?

Christopher Rios (CR): My main argument, simply put, is that the most prominent evangelical scientists of the twentieth century actively resisted the antievolutionary movement that developed after World War II. That is, between the 1950s and the 1980s, when “creationism” came to dominate American evangelicalism and gained considerable international support, a noteworthy group of evangelical scientists in both the US and UK sought to demonstrate that Christianity and science, or more properly theology and science, were not mutually exclusive categories that required acceptance of one only by rejection of the other but were complementary ways of viewing the world. My book thus furthers our understanding of how modern evangelicalism was never monolithic in its view of science. Even when considering the mid twentieth century, the attempt to define evangelicals or evangelical faith according to a particular view of science is misguided.  Clearly, no small number of evangelicals, especially fundamentalist evangelicals, rejected evolution. Many did so for theological reasons, others on scientific grounds. A few even claimed to demonstrate scientific evidence against it. But as demonstrated by the groups that I wrote about, the American Scientific Affiliation and the Research Scientists’ Christian Fellowship, other evangelicals accepted and even advanced modern science, including evolution.

PLS: The birth of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), and a splinter group, the Creation Research Society (CRS) in the US, was contemporaneous to the birth of the Research Scientists’ Christian Fellowship (RSCF) in the UK. This seems to add a crucial transatlantic component to the story. Yet it also occurred around the same time that modern evangelicalism was undergoing tremendous intellectual evolution, in essence what historian Molly Worthen has recently termed a “crisis of authority” about the Bible, history, and modern life. Can you talk about the intellectual currents of the mid-twentieth century that influenced these scientific groups, all of which in one way or another attempted to live their faith in relationship to modern intellectual life?

CR: Yes. The transatlantic bit of this story is important, in part because of how it demonstrates the influence one side had on the other, in part because of the way similar events on both sides occurred without awareness of the other. This last point is best explained by common cultural forces at work in both parts of the world. Let me mention three.  

Southern Baptist Women: An Interview with Betsy Flowers (Part II)


Kate Bowler

Today's interview is the second of a multi-part interview with Elizabeth Flowers about her wonderful new book Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women since World War II.

Elizabeth Flowers is Associate Professor of Religion at Texas Christian University, where she teaches courses in American religious history, women in religion, the history of evangelicalism, and world religious traditions. Her current research interests include religion, the body, and childbirth practices, and she is working on an edited volume considering shifting notions of gender in the Sunbelt South. During rare but valued free-time, Betsy enjoys trips to family in Memphis, where she can find real barbecue, having coffee with her husband Darren, whose love of Elvis and world cup soccer she happily indulges, cheering for her eight year-old son’s team, the Jedi, and reading women’s memoirs.
Kate: Historians always love when real life issues are actually attempts to re-write the past. How have both the conservatives and the moderates narrated the history of Southern Baptist women in leadership to their benefit? 

Betsy: This is a great question, and one that I treat at some length in the book, particularly around conflicting conservative, moderate, and we might add progressive interpretations of the history of the Woman’s Missionary Union as: a woman’s auxiliary that was submissive to and served the SBC’s male leadership; or the organization that ran the denomination alongside and with its male counterparts until mid-century; or as a group of maverick women who functioned as a thorn-in-the-side to Southern patriarchy and eventual right-wing conservative ideals. I even wrote a separate article here about the contested history and biography of famed Southern Baptist missionary to China, Lottie Moon, which involved her billion-dollar named offering. I could say a lot about divergent understandings of Baptist and evangelicals too, which range from that of a rag-tag bunch of radicals who early-on promoted women’s preaching; a populist movement in the mold of William Jennings Bryant and plainfolk religion; or those who supported and propped up the Southern hierarchy and establishment as it involved race and gender. I discovered accusations on both (all) sides as to the other’s being “un-baptist,” “historically selective,” or practicing (I love this one) “historical hanky-panky” when it came to women in ministry.

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