Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sister Aimee

Thursday's class will involve extensive discussion and analysis of one of the most important female evangelists in American religious history, Aimee Semple McPherson.

Of the books written about her, one of the most important and most recent is Matthew Avery Sutton's Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America. The book uses the life of Sister Aimee to better understand the politics of early twentieth century America, which it does masterfully. In it we see a complicated and complex woman of deep religious conviction, and a curious preacher concerned with communicating her message in relevant ways.
The PBS documentary on Sister Aimee we viewed clips of in class drew extensively from Dr. Sutton's book, and you can find a link to that here. Read the eyewitness accounts from Sister Aimee's church, Angelus Temple. I've actually taken a tour there with a religious history seminar I took 4 years ago, and it is an amazing building and apparently still a vibrant church.

You can Listen to Sister Aimee's sermons to hear how she presented her message, and you can view some photos here and here. Here's another interesting on-line photo exhibit. And there's even a movie about Sister Aimee, and she has also been the subject of plays and cast as movie characters. Two other sites worth checking out are here and here. You might also listen to this interesting interview with Matthew Avery Sutton.

Your assignment: Watch clips from the documentary posted below. View the first 20 minutes (it focuses closely on her time in California), and then from about 50:00 to 55:00 (you will her actual audio from Sister Aimee's teaching). Click here to view the documentary clips if the video doesn't work below.

Using information about Sister Aimee from our class discussion, as well as what you gleaned from the PBS documentary and Dr. Sutton's article, answer the following questions. Leave your answer in the comments: In what ways was Sister Aimee a woman of her times in early 20th century America? How does her work, preaching, and style of presentation compare to that of George Whitefield, or other ministers or religious celebrities we've discussed in class? Why?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Documenting American Religion

In order to facilitate more class discussion about primary source evidence, I've added two new links under "Documenting American Religion." The first link "Document Analysis Form," takes you to a pdf form to complete, and the second, "Document Analysis Worksheets," brings you to the National Archives website with multiple document forms for various types of documentary evidence.

You may choose either form to fill out for class. I will be collecting document analysis forms tomorrow 9/1.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Religion and Politics

To enrich our discussion and the 1980s and the rise of the Religious Right, this post provides additional resources for investigating the intersection of faith and politics.

(Read more about this picture of George W. Bush here.)

The subject of countless books and studies, and various documentaries, the rise of the Religious Right and its life in contemporary politics, most notably emerging during the 1976 and 1980 Presidential elections, and significant factor in the 2000 and 2004 election, is an integral part of understanding contemporary America. And, of course, discussions and questions about religious faith have been a part of the 2008 presidential campaign. The latest installment on the topic is Stephen Mansfield's book on Barack Obama's faith.

The well known evangelist Billy Graham was the subject of some important studies that appeared last summer--all on the topic of religion and politics. The ABC documentary "Pastor to Power: Billy Graham and the Presidents," is a nice companion to the book by Time writers Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy titled The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House. Since last summer, another important book to appear is Randall Balmer's God in the White House. Here's a radio interview with Balmer about his book.

Back to Billy Graham, Balmer's documentary on Graham is a good one, and Rice University sociologist William Martin wrote one of the most important biographies on Graham.

Here's a trailer for a documentary on George W. Bush's religious faith, and at the end there's a clip of him speaking at Second Baptist Church in Houston in 1999. There's also a picture of Bush on the campaign at this SBC in Stephen Mansfield's The Faith of George W. Bush.

In a previous post I mentioned the documentary The Jesus Factor (you can view the entire documentary on-line; this is a very helpful resource with tons of material for discussion). You may also want to check out historian Randall Balmer's 2006 essay "Jesus is Not a Republican." And here's a group supporting Jesus for President (and here too). Evangelical activist and author Jim Wallis here answers the question, "Was Jesus a Politician?" Finally, sociologist and author Tony Campolo weights in with "Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?"

The radio show Speaking of Faith also recently aired shows on evangelicals and politics. One is on the progressive evangelical Jim Wallis, the other on the conservative activists Rick and Kay Warren. Most recently, Speaking of Faith had a show on a generational dynamic in evangelical political action.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The End is Near...

Since tropical storm Edouard interrupted one class, we'll have to revise and improvise here at the end.

So, on Thursday we'll cover post-1960s American religious history including several key religious figures of the 1970s, the rise of the Religious Right, the resurgence (or rather the more visible) of the Religious Left, and then American religion in the 21st century.

I'll abbreviate my discussion of Lonnie Frisbee, perhaps the most famous Christian hippie preacher you've never heard of. David Di Sabatino put together a wonderful documentary, so you'll want to check out the website. Frisbee's life, ministry and significance in some ways still present the Religious Right (or what's left of it) with some challenges. In certain ways, as you will see, the spiritual manifestations present with Frisbee's preaching bring us full circle in terms of discussing popular religion and lived religion.

On Thursday we'll also spend some time talking about Jim Jones. His story began with such promise as he preached racial equality and (in essence) socialism in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s but ended dismally and tragically in 1978. I was only a year old when "it" happened, but ask your parents and they maybe can offer some memories of it. A new PBS documentary captures the triumphs, tensions, and tragedies of Jonestown. And here's an interesting site put together by some Rice students.

Finally, you should be well under way composing your final paper and putting together your PowerPoint presentation. We'll touch base and you can give a status report on Thursday, since it is due a week later on 8/14.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Religion & The Civil Rights Movement

While tonight's discussion will commence with W.E.B. Du Bois and religion, we will eventually make our way to the Civil Rights Movement. Here's a brief snapshot of some of the people, events, and items we will cover.

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X
Malcolm X is a critically significant figure in the Civil Rights Movement, and it is interesting to consider how his points of view changed over time. You may want to listen to a Malcolm X address from December 1964--the same month Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his Nobel Prize speech--and read more about Spike Lee's 1992 movie Malcolm X. It is also interesting to remember that both King and Malcolm X had fathers who were Protestant ministers.

We will view several clips from Lee's movie in class. After a life of crime and an arrest, Malcolm spent time incarcerated. It was of course in prison that things began to change. Here's a clip where the (re)education began. And here's dramatized where Malcolm had a religious encounter, and "submitted" to Allah. In these scenes Malcolm famously went on a pilgrimage (hajj) that radically transformed his life. And here are the moving scenes of Malcolm's assassination, followed the an equally moving eulogy and appearance by Nelson Mandela.

As helpful as these scenes are-and the movie is based on Malcolm's autobiography-perhaps equally important are the thoughts of University of Houston scholar Gerald Horne. His 1993 essay "'Myth" and the Making of "Malcolm X"" (subscription required) explores the international dimension in Malcolm's work, life, and witness.

Although not addressed directly in the movie, and important question is the relationship between Malcolm X and MLK. An important book on the subject is theologian James Cone's Martin & Malcolm: A Dream or a Nightmare (1992). Read an interview with Cone in which he discusses the book.

Also important is Manning Marable's forthcoming biography of Malcolm X. Marable is involved in the Malcolm X Project at Columbia, and has talked about this work in several places. Check it out here and here.

Other primary materials include some of the FBI files on Malcolm X. Read Ossie Davis's eulogy for Malcolm X here and watch a video here.

While MLK is well-known for his "I Have a Dream Speech," it is also important to think about the "outing" of his radical politics toward the end of his life. Focusing on King's life post-1963, the "radical" phase Harvard Sitkoff captures in his recent book, it is interesting to analyze the following King speeches for content, rhetoric, and references to religion in general and Christianity in particular: Nobel Prize Speech (December 1964), Mountaintop Speech (April 1968), and the God is Marching On (March 1965) address.

In addition to excerpts from King speeches, it will be well worth your time to read his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and the letter that prompted King's reply issued in 1963 by white Alabama clergy.

James Baldwin
James Baldwin is an important part of the CRM, and per the theme of this class, helpful as we try to better understand the central role of religion in the CRM.

The radio show Democracy Now recently devoted part of a show to Baldwin's legacy, interviewing his sister-in-law Carole Weinstein as well as actor Calvin Levels, who is performing a one-man-show of James Baldwin called "James Baldwin: Down From the Mountaintop." Read a review here.

Other Baldwin resources include a C-SPAN special here. Visit the blog of Professor Zero who has a page of Baldwin links. For those more familiar with Baldwin's work, there's tons to read here, or here. Or, read Baldwin quotes with links to other great sites.

Finally, artist Claire Burch has created some wonderfully stunning artwork with Baldwin as its subject, shares articles and letters, and offers poetic reflections with "Arrival of James Baldwin: Mysterious Circumstances." Finally, watch Baldwin footage on YouTube here.

Civil Rights Movement and Music
And for what it is worth, something to take note of: links to pages that deal with music and the CRM. Tunes 1, Tunes 2, and Voices 1, Tunes 3.

Counting the Cost with a Radical Faith: Non-white Participants in the Civil Rights Movement
Robert Graetz, a retired Lutheran minister who is white, participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and gave his time, effort, energy, struggle, and prayer to the CRM. His personal friends included Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

His story is one of a number of white people who participated in the CRM. Rabbi Abraham Heschel was also a key figure in the movement, and many people reflect on his legacy.

Graetz has published two books on his experiences (click here too). Read a review of his latest book here. Follow this link to watch an interview with Rev. Graetz (fast forward to 4:40), and listen here to another interview.

April 4, 2008 marked the 40th anniversary of MLK's death. Read Graetz's reflections here.

In addition to studying the life and witness of Robert Graetz, we will spend some time examining the stories of nuns who marched in Selma in 1965, and delve into the stories associated with Southern Baptist minister Clarence Jordan and his multiracial community, Koinonia Farm.

That's all.