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.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

W.E.B. Du Bois: An American Prophet?

To help preface our discussion on Thursday, I offer the following links to articles, essays, and other items of interest. This, like the post on Sister Aimee, will provide you with a wealth of information for your final project.

Start here with a short biographical sketch of Du Bois, and a photo-text exhibit on Du Bois's life.

The University of Massachusetts-Amherts contains the largest collection of Du Bois's papers, and hosts an on-line repository with tons of pictures and a large number of documents. (You can read "Credo" here.) In fact, the Afro-American studies department at UMass-Amherst takes it name from Du Bois. Here's another collection of things Du Bois (click on the animated map to see where in the world Du Bois traveled), and a short summary of his early life in Great Barrington.

Here's a report about the history of Du Bois's Encyclopedia Africana project, another project related to Du Bois's encyclopedia idea, and some pictures from Du Bois landmarks in Ghana.

I mentioned in the Du Bois lecture that he spent time studying in Germany. Read some thoughts about that here, and read Du Bois's musings on the "talented tenth."

In terms of Du Bois resources on-line, there's Professor Robert Williams's fabulous repository of Du Bois resources, the resources page at the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass-Amherst, Dr. Steven Hale's Du Bois on-line selections, resources from the Documenting the American South project, the Perspectives in American Literature (PAL) page, the reading room at Harvard's Du Bois Institute, documents from the FBI files of Du Bois (though redacted), Du Bois's New York Times featured author page (subscription required), the e-project at the University of Virginia Library (scroll down for Du Bois), and in other various places Paul Harvey points out.

Another interesting site comes from Dr. Richard Rath, a historian who does sensory history among other things, teaches at the U. of Hawaii and with some students developed a kind of soundtrack to Souls of Black Folk. It is amazingly cool, and a helpful resource in teaching. Check it out here.

Other on-line readings from Du Bois include Darkwater (1920) which includes an interesting story titled “Jesus Christ in Texas.” Du Bois's “A Litany at Atlanta” is a psalm of lament written in response to the 1906 Atlanta race riot.

Thursday night's discussion will focus on the work of Edward J. Blum, who has agreed to join us for class to discuss his recent book W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet (U. of Pennsylvania, 2007).

Ed has also written a few things for the University of Pennsylvania Press blog. Here's a piece about how Du Bois might respond to several contemporary high-profile atheists--interestingly enough a charge leveled many times over at Du Bois himself. Here's an editorial wherein Blum offers political advice to Barak Obama and the Democratic Party via the work of Du Bois. Finally, here's an entry celebrating Du Bois's birthday.

And while there are other on-line items regarding Du Bois I will highlight in class and subsequently post links to, you may want to listen to one of Blum's lectures when he spoke at the University of Houston in April. It will help to further contextualize ch. 4.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sports and Spirituality, Part 2

As something of a follow-up to the previous post on sports and spirituality, I also offer you these thoughts on religion and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Politics of the Spirit(s)

The question of faith and politics in American history is long, enduring, often highly-charged, and in many ways extraordinarily complex. And as the faith and faith tradition of the Oval Office's current occupant has received considerable attention, in this campaign season there of course have been many discussions about the faith of John McCain and Barack Obama (and previous Democratic contenders as well as Republican hopefuls).

Apparently both candidates have agreed to discuss their faith with well-known California pastor Rick Warren, as the Los Angeles Times and New York Times reports and as the Guardian details. While McCain's faith is the subject of some speculation--although as John Fea reports over at the Religion in American History blog he has spoken candidly--Obama has spoken openly about it, and there's even a book about the subject. And some even ask, "Is Barack Obama the Messiah?"

Whatever party one supports or doesn't support, and whatever candidate one supports or doesn't support, it seems that politics of the spirit(s) is the order of the day. It has a history, and for the foreseeable moments ahead, has a future too.

Any thoughts on the intersection of religion and politics as it pertains to the current Presidential race?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Of Muslims and Megachurch Models

Religion News Service reports that some U.S. mosques are adopting mega-models to accomodate Muslims across large cities.


Muslims begin to copy the megachurch multi-site model
By Mallika Rao

Muslim men pray at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in downtown Washington each Friday. The satellite prayer center, created by a board member of the All-Dulles Area Muslim Society, was started to help downtown workers who are unable to drive long distances for weekly prayer.

Many of these "mosque chains" brand themselves as progressive, and sometimes feature gymnasiums and mixed-gender prayer areas for men and women. Some groups even host weekly services at churches or synagogues with the expressed goal of fostering interfaith goodwill.

"If they weren't Muslim, they'd look like one of the biggest Catholic churches you'd ever seen, from an organizational standpoint," said Marshall Medaf, president of the Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation in Ashburn, Va., which last month agreed to rent prayer space to the All-Dulles Area Muslim Society.

The Society's main mosque is in neighboring Sterling, Va., near Dulles International Airport, but the mosque runs activities in seven branch locations. Full- and part-time staff and a host of activities are supported by $30 annual dues or $1,000 lifetime memberships.

"They have adult education classes, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts," Medaf said. "I think they're even working on their first Eagle Scout."

The high level of organization reflects a shift among U.S. Muslims from the "immigrant uncles" who once held sway in American mosques to younger native-born Muslims, said Muqtedar Khan, associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware.

"A certain kind of sophisticated thinking is now beginning to emerge because people who were born in the U.S. are taking over," said Khan. "There are lawyers in the Muslim community -- they weren't there before. The management is learning how to work things out."

Historically, mosques have faced logistical challenges in accommodating worshippers, especially for midday Friday congregational prayers, Khan said.

"Of the potential 35 prayers you have in a week, for 34 there will be only about 30 people. But for that one (Friday prayer) there will be like a thousand people showing up," Khan said. "Where do they park? They park on the road, they park here, they park there. The prayer starts exactly on time every day, so it becomes a huge bottleneck of space and time."

But where high demand once meant a new, independent mosque would spring up elsewhere, mosques today start planning a second location, much like a church might consider extending its reach to "multi-site" campuses.

And they have the extra bells and whistles that encourage allegiance.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where the South Bay Islamic Association and the Muslim Community Association operate nearly half of the area mosques, worshippers can get anything from Islamic-based psychological counseling to discounted prices on burial plots in Muslim-only sections of cemeteries.

The mantra is "mission and vision," said Rizwan Jaka, a board member and former president of the Dulles Society. "If somebody wants to operate a program within our mission and vision, they can do it," Jaka said.

Member-initiated activities like tree plantings and sewing lessons are run by the Society's nearly 200 lay leaders, Jaka said, creating "a free market of ideas and activities that's not centrally controlled."

But the larger philosophy behind multi-site mosques may have less to do with a free market approach and more with franchising, said Scott L. Thumma, a megachurch expert at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

"They're not saying, `We're going to send people and create a new mosque or plant an independent church.' They're saying, `We're going to make this a tentacle of what we already are,"' he said. "Certainly it puts the expansion of their congregation ahead of the expansion of the kingdom."

Mosque chains dispute that their growth is about power, saying their "American business models" ensure a higher quality of service.

"Because of how streamlined we are, you can get off the highway from anywhere and find a mosque that is well-maintained, well-structured and that will always be open," said Abeer Abdulla, media specialist for the nine mosques owned by the Islamic Society of Central Florida in Orlando.

And the additional programming doesn't hurt.

"We offer events that aren't just one person's vision. What we give is something that is formally approved by a committee."

Oversight also protects worshipers from "foreign political agendas" that may seep into an independent mosque that is funded (and staffed) overseas, said Bassem Chaaban, an 18-year member of the Central Florida congregation.

"If I go into any of the ISCF mosques, I know that just like the marketing material, the newsletters and the community announcements are the same, the imam is also following the same policy as all the imams in the other mosques, to have good relations with people of other faiths so we can understand that we are a part of this country," Chaaban said.

It's a change from the country's older, more established Muslim communities, such as Detroit's, where one mosque is likely to have the same no-frills programming as any other mosque.

"Our rituals and congregational chanting are all pretty much the same," said Victor Begg, co-founder of the Council of Islamic Organizations in Michigan, and a Detroit resident since 1969. "If I'm in the downtown area, I can just shoot over to any mosque for Friday prayers."

Such communities may feel pressure to change, however, as mosque chains continue to grow.

"Are we going to go national with this? That's yet to be decided," said Abdulla, of the Central Florida project. "But I hope we're a model that any person of faith would want to be a part of, if just to inspire them to create something similar."

[Pictured above: Madina Masjid (Houston), Islamic Society of Greater Houston Mosque.]

Of Mormons, Muslims, and Matthias

The subjects of Tuesday's class traced back to the early 19th century, a fascinating period in American religious history. [Questions to answer follow below in bold.] While the Second Great Awakening formed the centerpiece subject, the story of the prophet Matthias helps to make some sense of the revivals even as it helps to further contextualize the rise of Mormonism. To put it slightly different, whereas merchants competed in the early 19th cenutry's marketplace, ministers and prophets sought spiritual profits in the religious economy.

To further contextualize Matthias and his context, watch clips from the wonderful documentary The Mormons. Following this link, watch "The Early Revelations," "The Prophet Joseph Smith," "Opposition to the Church," and "Persecution, Exile, Assassination." In the comments section, discuss how the rise of Joseph Smith and Mormon add context to the story of Matthias's Kingdom.

And making a link to lived religion (pardon the pun), read about how Mormons live their beliefs and faith, and even about the musings of ex-Mormons. As a historian, it is not only interesting to read stories about why people convert to a certain faith and what sustains it, but also about the loss of faith, the evolution of faith, or what scholars call "deconversion." What strikes you about the Mormon conversion accounts and deconversion stories?

Another important and overlooked topic for antebellum religious history is that of Islam. Of those writing on the subject with whom I'm familiar, Michael Gomez is the one of the most important to read. (For the colonial period and beyond, this book will no doubt become one of the standards as well, and for the topic in general Sylviane Diouf comes high recommended, too.) His discussion of Islam in Exchanging Our Country Marks is most illuminating, drawing important transatlantic connections, and he's updated the research in the fine book Black Crescent. And above, there's also the famous painting of Yarrow Mamout.

Testifying to the important legacy of Islam in America, you might also find interesting a recent article about a Muslim museum in Mississippi, International Museum of Mulsim Cultures, as well as another recent article about the growth of Islam in America's Hispanic population. The article quotes TCU religion professor Hjamil Martinez-Vazquez, who is working on a book about Latino Muslims. From class discussion and from the Gomez reading, briefly discuss Islam in antebellum America, and how this adds to understanding of this period in American religious history.

Post comments by end of the day, Friday 7/25.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sports and Spirituality

There's a revolution going on in the soul and psyche of professional soccer player Chase Hilgenbrinck--he now has a new goal in life: to become a priest. He recently left the New England Revolution to enter seminary.

Says Hilgenbrink: "I felt called to something one time I thought that call might be professional soccer. In the past few years, I found my soul is hungry for something else....I discerned, through prayer, that it was calling me to the Catholic Church. I do not want this call to pass me by."

Read the full story here.

The topic of sports and religion has recently been the subject of considerable academic inquiry. My colleague over at the Religion and American History blog, Art Remillard--an avid runner--has brought attention to the topic with his posts on golf, and sports-in-general, where he highlights books such as Playing with God, O God of Players, and The Holy Trinity of American Sports. Art also highlighted recent work that considers some water-based sports as religion.

Closer to home there's the book Pigskin Pulpit, a study of Texas high school football written by a former professor of mine. Finally, there's even religious dimensions to sports in Houston--as this Sports Off Center clip suggests.

Any anecdotal stories that illustrate sport-as-religion, or any thoughts to offer about religion and sports?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Faith and Fighting: On Religion and the Civil War

Part of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, delivered in March 1865, reads:

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

It is both significant and interesting that Lincoln narrated a vexing moment in American history with religious rhetoric. Historian Ronald C. White, who calls Lincoln the "eloquent President," notes in a recent interview that Lincoln's religious rhetoric flushed as the Civil War wore on. Here's White:

Another continuing surprise was the remarkable development in his religious thought and sensibilities in the Civil War which come to fruition in the Second Inaugural. But there are evidences of this development in other speeches. I decided to include in the book the one speech that he never gave, which was his own private meditation, which he never thought anyone would ever see. It was found after his death. I thought this was a clue, not only to the way he wrote speeches, he wrote a lot of these little notes to himself, but also to his developing religious consciousness. I think his religious faith has sometimes been discounted or set aside with the assumption that he was saying these things for public consumption. His theological thinking revealed in the Meditation on the Divine Will was never meant to be seen by anyone.

While a post on religion and the Civil War could go on and on--material on this subject abounds on the Internet--one of the better blogs on Civil War topics, Civil War Memory, offers a helpful resource page, and the National Humanities Center provides perspectives on the South and the North during the conflict. Duke Divinity Bulletin has a brief but informative article on the topic as well. For wider context and classroom resources, some may want to refer to the recent volume America on the World Stage: A Global Approach to U.S. History (eds. Gary W. Reichard and Ted Dickson). Mark Noll has a chapter titled "Nineteenth-Century Religion in World Context," and J.D. Bowers offers a companion teaching chapter titled "Teaching Nineteenth-Century American Religion in a Global Context."

These of course are all good places to start, but on Thursday evening you will hear from historian Luke Harlow. Luke is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Rice here in Houston where he studies 19th century American religion--has a wealth of knowledge about religion and the Civil War. Luke is a fellow co-contributing editor with me over at the Religion in American History blog, and recently published a book on religion and American politics, co-edited with his Wheaton college history professor Mark Noll (now of Notre Dame).

And to stay focused on the theme of popular, or lived religion, we'll watch a brief clip from the movie Glory (1989). In it members of the 54th Massachusetts hold a prayer meeting the night before battle.
There's much to discuss here, but I'll leave you with this quote from Private Jupiter Sharts (played by Jihmi Kennedy): "Tomorrow, we go into battle. So Lordy, let me fight with the rifle in one hand and Good Book in the other. That if I should die at the muzzle of the rifle, die on water or on land, I may know that You, Blessed Jesus Almighty, are with me. And I have no fear. Amen."
And a question for scholars and/or other Civil War experts: to what extent does religion play a part in today's Civil War reenactments? In addition to battles and the like, are mock prayer services, mock revivals, or even Mass, held? Who reenacts the role of chaplains? Any Internet resources you might direct us to? Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Native American Revivalism

Last week we examined Native American religion under the auspices of Black Robe, which took us into New France and the world the Jesuits made. Today we encounter Samsom (or Samson) Occom, a Mohegan convert to Christianity and the subject of this recent book. What appears below describes, in his own words, his encounter with European Christianity, and his conversion. (Read the full version here.)

Think about how Occom's words about spiritual change compare to Flora or Phillis, or other historical figures we'll discuss.

From my Birth till I received the Christian Religion

I was Born a Heathen and Brought up In Heathenism, till I was between 16 & 17 years of age, at a Place Calld Mohegan, in New London, Connecticut, in New England. My Parents Livd a wandering life, for did all the Indians at Mohegan, they Chiefly Depended upon Hunting, Fishing, & Fowling for their Living and had no Connection with the English, excepting to Traffic with them in their small Trifles; and they Strictly maintained and followed their Heathenish Ways, Customs & Religion, though there was Some Preaching among them. Once a Fortnight, in ye Summer Season, a Minister from New London used to come up, and the Indians to attend; not that they regarded the Christian Religion, but they had Blankets given to them every Fall of the Year and for these things they would attend and there was a Sort of School kept, when I was quite young, but I believe there never was one that ever Learnt to read any thing, —and when I was about 10 Years of age there was a man who went about among the Indian Wigwams, and wherever he Could find the Indian Children, would make them read; but the Children Used to take Care to keep out of his way; —and he used to Catch me Some times and make me Say over my Letters; and I believe I learnt Some of them. But this was Soon over too; and all this Time there was not one amongst us, that made a Profession of Christianity—Neither did we Cultivate our Land, nor kept any Sort of Creatures except Dogs, which we used in Hunting; and we Dwelt in wigwams. These are a Sort of Tents, Covered with Matts, made of Flags. And to this Time we were unacquainted with the English Tongue in general though there were a few, who understood a little of it.

From the Time of our Reformation till I left Mr. Wheelocks

When I was 16 years of age, we heard a Strange Rumor among the English, that there were Extraordinary Ministers Preaching from place to Place and a Strange Concern among the White People. This was in the Spring of the Year. But we Saw nothing of these things, till Some Time in the Summer, when Some Ministers began to visit us and Preach the Word of God; and the Common People all Came frequently and exhorted us to the things of God, which it pleased the Lord, as I humbly hope, to Bless and accompany with Divine Influence to the Conviction and Saving Conversion of a Number of us; amongst whom I was one that was Imprest with the things we had heard. These Preachers did not only come to us, but we frequently went to their meetings and Churches. After I was awakened & converted, I went to all the meetings, I could come at; & Continued under Trouble of Mind about 6 months; at which time I began to Learn the English Letters; got me a Primer, and used to go to my English Neighbours frequently for Assistance in Reading, but went to no School. And when I was 17 years of age, I had, as I trust, a Discovery of the way of Salvation through Jesus Christ, and was enabl’d to put my trust in him alone for Life & Salvation. From this Time the Distress and Burden of my mind was removed, and I found Serenity and Pleasure of Soul, in Serving God. By this time I just began to Read in the New Testament without Spelling,—and I had a Stronger Desire Still to Learn to read the Word of God, and at the Same Time had an uncommon Pity and Compassion to my Poor Brethren According to the Flesh.

A "Divine Dramatist" of the 21st Century?

Last summer, Dan Smith, a self-styled "storyteller-preacher," circulated a song/video called "Baby Got Book," a play off of the 1992 song "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot. The song is about the Bible and its authority (read the lyrics here)--a staple doctrine of evangelical Christianity--and beckons a question (seriously): given what we've discussed about Whitefield and his use of cultural conventions to convey his message, is Dan Smith a kind of modern-day Whitefield? Why or why not?

And speaking of revival preachers, noted Edwards biographer George Marsden will soon published a shorter, updated version of his work on Edwards titled A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards. And here's some religious humor related to Jonathan Edwards. (HT: JEC blog)

The Past (and Future) of Religious Revival

Considered by historians to be the most important social movement in North American prior to the Revolution, the Great Awakening is the subject of numerous books, countless articles, and endless fascination. Some denominations lay claim to revivalism’s legacies, for example, while others scoff at the emotional zeal exhibited by many of its participants. Professional study of this period of revivalism has elicited a range of interpretations--from class conflict and social upheaval to egalitarian religion and nascent democracy.

While we will focus on George Whitefield and his meaning in American religious history for much of tonight’s class, I’d like to draw your attention to some other important points of discussion.

First, you should be aware of the latest full-length study of the revivals, Thomas S. Kidd’s The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. Kidd's exhaustive history of the revival--mostly focused on New England--elegantly discusses the intricacies of the Awakening--two of which involved egalitarian politics as well as manifestations of the miraculous, an important point we can connect to previous class discussion about popular, or lived religion. On this point in a recent interview about his book, Kidd noted:

The Great Awakening was shot through with mystical manifestations of the Spirit (trances, dreams, visions, healings, spirit journeys, etc.). Historians have often not known what to make of such episodes, and have only recently begun to look seriously at them as an integral part of evangelical history. Historian Douglas Winiarski has probably done more than anyone to alert us to the teeming presence of the miraculous in early evangelicalism. My sense is that the mysticism of the revivals fed their intensity, subversiveness, and individualistic tendencies. The belief in the Spirit led many common people to believe that they had a more profound experience with God than many of the state-supported, college-educated pastors. I certainly also have personal interest in the ways that experiences in the Spirit tend to fuel a kind of Christian egalitarianism.

The egalitarianism about which Kidd writes expressed itself amongst those he identified as radical evangelicals. And one upshot of the egalitarian quality of the Awakening centers on dimensions of African American religion, the second major point in this post. While I will tell you the story of Rebecca Protten and read quotations from Jon F. Sensbach's fabulous Rebecca's Revival, SUNY-Buffalo historian Erik Seeman, in addition to his fine book Pious Persuasions, published an important article in 1999 on the topic that includes transcriptions of several accounts of African American women who, according to the evidence, underwent spiritual change as a result of the revivals. We find on-line an Appendix with these transcriptions. Read the intro to the Appendix, and then read the confessions of faith here.

Questions to consider: How do the responses to revival preaching--as communicated by Flora and Phillis, compare with those of Whitefield, Nathan Cole, and others your read about? From the perspective of popular religion, how can historians analyze and interpret religious sentiment and spiritual feelings? Be prepared to discuss in class.

**For those interested, other scholars are working on various projects related to the Great Awakening. I'm sure there are others, but these are some studies of which I am aware. Sensbach is working on revival in the Atlantic World,
Douglas Winiarksi considers the revival in the larger context of eighteenth century Congregationalismism, and John Howard Smith examines some of the dimensions of Native American revivalism. For my own part, I consider the religious conflict the Awakening produced, and its effects on congregational life, and find that questions of theology led to much of the unrest.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"He had a loud and clear voice...": Preaching, Performance, and Early American Religion

Much of the next class will be devoted to discussing Harry Stout's Divine Dramatist, as well as revivalism in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Both revered and reviled during his lifetime, George Whitefield was America's first celebrity preacher. You might call him a holy maverick.

About George Whitefield, Benjamin Franklin once wrote: "He had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his words and sentences so perfectly, that he might be heard and understood at a great distance, especially as his auditories, however numerous, observ'd the most exact silence. He preach'd one evening from the top of the Court-house steps, which are in the middle of Market-street, and on the west side of Second-street, which crosses it at right angles. Both streets were fill'd with his hearers to a considerable distance. Being among the hindmost in Market-street, I had the curiosity to learn how far he could be heard, by retiring backwards down the street towards the river; and I found his voice distinct till I came near Front-street, when some noise in that street obscur'd it. Imagining then a semi-circle, of which my distance should be the radius, and that it were fill'd with auditors, to each of whom I allow'd two square feet, I computed that he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand. This reconcil'd me to the newspaper accounts of his having preach'd to twenty-five thousand people in the fields, and to the antient histories of generals haranguing whole armies, of which I had sometimes doubted."

Franklin went on to recount how he gave some of his money to the traveling minister. You can read the rest of the story here.

Also notable is the poem penned by an African American poet from Boston named Phillis Wheatley. Upon Whitefield's death in 1770 she wrote:

Hail, happy saint! on thine immortal throne,
Possest of glory, life, and bliss unknown;
We hear no more the music of thy tongue;
Thy wonted auditories cease to throng.
Thy sermons in unequalled accents flowed,
And ev'ry bosom with devotion glowed;
Thou didst, in strains of eloquence refined,
Inflame the heart, and captivate the mind.
Unhappy, we the setting sun deplore,
So glorious once, but ah! it shines no more.

Behold the prophet in his towering flight!
He leaves the earth for heaven's unmeasured height,
And worlds unknown receive him from our sight.
There Whitefield wings with rapid course his way,
And sails to Zion through vast seas of day.
Thy prayers, great saint, and thine incessant cries,
Have pierced the bosom of they native skies.
Thou, moon, hast seen, and all the stars of light,
How he has wrestled with his God by night.
He prayed that grace in ev'ry heart might dwell;
He longed to see America excel;
He charged its youth that ev'ry grace divine
Should with full lustre in their conduct shine.

That Saviour, which his soul did first receive,
The greatest gift that ev'n a God can give,
He freely offered to the num'rous throng,
That on his lips with list'ning pleasure hung.

"Take him, ye wretched, for your only good,
"Take him, ye starving sinners, for your food;
"Ye thirsty, come to this life-giving stream,
"Ye preachers, take him for your joyful theme;
"Take him, my dear Americans, he said,
"Be your complaints on his kind bosom laid:
"Take him, ye Africans, he longs for you;
"Impartial Saviour is his title due:
"Washed in the fountain of redeeming blood,
"You shall be sons, and kings, and priests to God."

Great Countess, we Americans revere
Thy name, and mingle in thy grief sincere;
New England deeply feels, the orphans mourn,
Their more than father will no more return.
But though arrested by the hand of death,
Whitefield no more exerts his lab'ring breath,
Yet let us view him in the eternal skies,
Let ev'ry heart to this bright vision rise;
While the tomb, safe, retains its sacred trust,
Till life divine re-animates the dust.
Questions to consider: what ultimately convinced Ben Franklin to contribute to Whitefield's cause--what about Whitefield was Franklin most impressed with? How does this compare to and contrast with Wheatley's recollection and commemoration of the divine dramatist?
Post your thoughts by 6pm CST, 7/15/08.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Religions of the Hart

Michael Hart, author of The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, in collaboration with the website, has compiled a list of the religions of the 100 most influential people in history (the criteria for his choices are in the book). Find that list here, and check out the runners up list here.

And since it is campaign season, here's a list of U.S. Presidents and their religious affiliations.

Search around at the site, and see what's there. In your opinion, what's the most interest statistic, or surprising statistic? Why?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More on Religion

Tonight's opening class covered a lot of ground, and I thought the discussion was good, full, enlightening, and rather engaging. I'm very hopeful it is a sign of good things to come.

I hope the religious literacy quiz was both enjoyable and informative. Perhaps you might give it to family members, friends, significant others, etc., and take the discussion from there. It would be interesting to hear the results on Thursday. In the meantime, here's the Daily Show clip we watched in class.

Here's a recap of the definitions of religion we discussed. We'll take this up with theoretical considerations on Thursday.

From Andrew Chesnut, formerly of UH and now at Virginia Commonwealth University: “System of beliefs and rituals relating to superhuman beings.” And from religious studies scholar Thomas Tweed: “Religions are confluences of organic-cultural flows that intensify joy and confront suffering by drawing on human and superhuman forces to make homes and cross boundaries.” And finally a meager offering (yes, that's a religious term!) from yours truly: human engagement with the superhuman through text, image, sound, ritual, or other intermediary in order to fashion individual identity, create meaning, and cultivate community.

You can find the Robert Orsi article we'll discuss Thursday here.

Finally, as you think about the religious staycation paper, I'd like to share my thoughts about where I'd go on a religious staycation. I'm one of the contributing editors to a collective blog that covers American religion, and I recently posted about religious staycations.


Welcome to HIST 4394 (American Religious History): One Nation, Many Faiths! My name is Phil Sinitiere, and I'll be your instructor this summer.

This class blog, I hope, will be a place to enrich class discussion, offer reflections on topics we don’t necessarily cover in class, and in general be a place to learn, and learn collaboratively.

Just a few ground rules before we get started: During this course I plan to post regularly on the blog, and most posts will have a question (or questions) to which you will be required to respond as well as a deadline by which you will have to respond. I will regularly update the blog (at various periods throughout the day), so you will want to check it once or twice daily. This will count as part of your class participation grade. As the blog timestamps your reply, late replies will lose one letter grade per day. And a word about the comments policy: As weblog manager reserves the right to delete inappropriate comments and meaningless observations. I'm of the conviction that substantive, constructive comments foster better discussion, so I look very forward to interacting with you here.


Since we will discuss many issues related to interpreation and point of view, I think it will be helpful for you to spend some time learning a little more about the authors of the books for this course. (Future posts will feature the authors of additional readings, but what follows covers the four main texts for this course.)

1. Patrick Allitt, Major Problems in American Religious History (Houghton-Mifflin, 2000)

2. Harry S. Stout, Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Eerdmans, 1991)

3. Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America (Oxford, 1995)

4. Edward J. Blum, W.E.B. Du Bois, American Prophet (Pennsylvania, 2007)

Ok, here's the opening blog assigment. These are the opening paragraphs on the class syllabus:

Albert J. Raboteau, religion professor at Princeton University and specialist in African American religious history, once wrote, “Like literature, history has the capacity to expand our vision of human lives and cultures. History also demonstrates the limitations of one’s own culture, its values, assumptions, and beliefs. To familiarize the alien and to alienate the familiar is one of the basic purposes of education” (from A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African American Religious History [1995]).

Raboteau’s punchy observation captures the aims of “American Religious History: One Nation, Many Faiths.” This course aims to expand your vision of American religious history; provide an open forum to discuss the complexities of religious experiences throughout America’s past; reflect on current trajectories and practices; to familiarize that which is unknown, or, to use Raboteau’s formulation, alienate that which is most familiar. To put it another way, religion is sometimes most operative where it is most hidden, and sometimes its visibility obscures its complexity. Although the parameters of a semester, let alone a short summer course, cannot begin to uncover fully all that which comprises religion in America, it can provide something of a framework, a working template for analysis, discussion, and evaluation.

Here are questions for consideration: What are your impressions of Raboteau's claims? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Does history--and the study of it--have the power to transform one's point of view? Why or why not? In your opinion, how might the study of religious history serve the same purpose? If so, what is the best way, in your opinion, to learn transformatively in the sense that Raboteau suggests?

Post your comments before class on Thursday, July 10, 6pm CST.