Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Author's Corner with Matthew A. Sutton

Matt Sutton is Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of History at Washington State University. This interview is based on his new book, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Belknap Press, December 2014).

JF: What led you to write American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: I have long been interested in the history of American evangelicalism as well as the role of premillennialism in it, especially in the twentieth century. Much of this interest is academic. But I also vividly remember going to a weekend seminar on the end times as a 14-year-old—the speaker convinced me that the Antichrist was alive and that his rise to global power was imminent. Maybe my research is a way to work through my teenage traumas?

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: First, that what most differentiated fundamentalists and their evangelical successors from their liberal Protestant counterparts in terms of how they actually lived was the conviction that the world was rapidly descending towards the Biblical apocalypse, which shaped their views on the economy, politics, education, science, popular culture, morality, global events, and much more. Second, that for too long historians have succumbed to the rise (to 1925)-fall (Scopes trial to end of WWII)-rebirth (Billy Graham and the new evangelicals) narrative of twentieth century evangelicalism; instead, I argue that fundamentalists never withdrew from mainstream culture and that the similarities between interwar fundamentalism and post-war evangelicalism are far greater than people like Carl Henry have led historians to believe.

JF: Why do we need to read American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism?

MS: I hope it is a lively narrative that will change how we think about fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and the relationship between the two.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MS: I began college as a religion major but during my first semester I had a history class. Almost immediately I fell in love with history, and found it to be an effective way to get at questions of religion and politics.

JF: What is your next project?

MS: After writing a book on Aimee Semple McPherson, this book, and a text on the rise of the religious right, I am now moving away from evangelicalism and tackling the relationships between religion and politics in a new way. I am doing research for a book on religion and American espionage and covert actions in World War II.

JF: Thanks Matt!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Colonial History of My Home Town

Growing up in Montville, New Jersey I never knew (and probably didn't care) that there were so many 18th-century Dutch houses in town. A recent article on the subject at the Alternative Press includes a few quotes from my freshman lacrosse coach, Michael O'Brien.  Here is a taste:

MONTVILLE, NJ - Perhaps you knew that Montville has more than fifteen Dutch stone houses dating back to the 1700s. Perhaps you knew that only three states have them – New York, Delaware and New Jersey. But did you know that the Dutch people didn’t build them in their own country, because there was not enough stone, which makes them unique to the world?
 
Montville Township Historical Society President Kathy Fisher has a lot to say about Dutch stone houses.
 
“They would always build them a certain way,” states Fisher. “They would be built to face the south so they would stay warm naturally. There was not a lot of wasted space; for example, the entrance to the house was into a room, not a hallway, in order to be efficient. And Montville is very lucky to have so many!”

*Christianity Today*: Volume 1, Number 1

Today my History of American Evangelicalism course at Messiah College is reading chapter three today in Molly Worthen's stimulating treatment of post-war evangelicalism: Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.  (Stay tuned for some forthcoming "Office Hours" episodes covering the book).

Much of chapter three focuses on Christianity Today, the flagship periodical of the neo-evangelical movement.  So this morning I went to the Messiah College library and asked the librarian if I could borrow the original issue of the magazine. (Thanks, Michael Rice!)  It was published in October 1956.

When I tweeted the picture below, one of the current CT editors, Ted Olsen, responded:





Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #96

For some context for this post click here.

Those of you who have been following this series probably wonder why I have not been posting updates on the ABS projects.  Frankly, it is because I have taken a couple weeks away from the project in order to tend to other writing projects, carry out the functions of my day job as a professor and department chair, and tend to some family matters.

When I started this project I was optimistic about writing every day (both in terms of the book and the updates), but November has not been kind to me.  Too many volleyball videos to edit, public lectures to give, papers to grade, and leaves to rake.

But I have not given up hope.  I am already starting to feel my second wind and hope to start making more progress soon.  I even cleaned my home office last weekend.  Stay tuned.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Virtual Office Hours: Fall 2014 - Episode 12

Thoughts on George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture
Part IV

The Author's Corner with Bill Leonard

Bill Leonard is James and Marilyn Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Professor of Church History at Wake Forest University. This interview is based on his new book, A Sense of the Heart: Christian Religious Experience in the US (Abingdon Press, November 2014).


JF: What led you to write A Sense of the Heart​?

BL: An editor from Abingdon Press called me to ask if I would be interested in writing a new text that would survey American Christianity, or religious experience in the US. I chose the latter opportunity since for many years I have taught graduate seminars on Religious Experience in America. I have often thought of writing a text on the topic and this was just the incentive I needed. I have long understood religious experience to be an important resource examining the shape and diversity of American Christianity in its various forms. The phrase, "a sense of the heart," comes from Jonathan Edwards' work, A Treatise on Religious Affections, and describes something of the nature of religious experience within and beyond Edwards' own understanding of religious experience and conversion.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Sense of the Heart?

BL: The book explores the nature and diversity of religious experience in light of such distinct religio-cultural issues as pluralism, voluntarism, religious freedom, democratic idealism, and Protestant privilege in the US. This unique environment not only shaped the nature of experience with the Divine, but also provided a milieu in which multiple individuals and groups cultivated encounters with the Sacred.

JF: Why do we need to read A Sense of the Heart​?

BL: The book can be a helpful resource for several reasons: 1) It provides a one-volume survey of the history, theology and practice of religious experience in multiple contexts from the colonial period to the 21st century; 2) Americans have nurtured varying, often intense, religious experiences that informed spiritual identity, united and divided Christian communities, and made some type of "conversion" normative for all who would claim a relationship with Christ and the church; 3) Through it all, religious experience became one way in which the "objective" idea that God loves human beings and offers them salvation, becomes a "subjective" reality in the lives of specific individuals. This text pursues those issues. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

BL: I grew up reading and loving history. My father passed on to me his love of history, reading history to me before I learned to read for myself. As native Texans we read Texas history together from early in my life. I think I learned the heroes of the Alamo before the names of the Apostles! My interest in history was nurtured by multiple mentors at every phase of the educational journey--men and women who were themselves captivated by historical studies with different approaches and specializations. Dr. Alice Wonders, chair of the Religion Department at Texas Wesleyan University, was an important mentor who encouraged me to pursue historical studies with an eye toward teaching. Dr. William Estep, well know church historian from my seminary studies, shaped my interest in teaching Christian history; and Dr. Earl Kent Brown at Boston University helped me focus my work in areas of American religion. He guided my dissertation in elements of American Protestant mysticism. My own experiences among Baptists in the South--conversionism, revivalism, varying "plans of salvation" led to some of my earliest research into religious experience and my concern to communicate those studies to new generations of students. 

JF: What is your next project?

BL: Right now I am preparing a new edition of an earlier work entitled, Word of God Across the Ages: Using Church History in Preaching. It offers suggestions at to utilizing historical studies homiletically and provides a variety of sermons with focus on the theology and spirituality of certain historical figures from St. Paul to Sojourner Truth, to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am also doing initial research for a study of religion in Appalachia, particularly as much of the region's religious culture is being impacted by the impinging mass culture of the larger American religious and secular society.

JF: Good stuff, thanks Bill.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Confessions of a young, prolific academic

Suzy Hansen reviews Elizabeth Lunbeck, The Americanization of Narcissism

Historians of capitalism

Should biography be classified as history?

Is the United States Supreme Court and Ivy League clan disconnected from reality?

David Abulafia reviews Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto 

Some tips on conference papers

Bruce Springsteen, "Unfortunate Son," and patriotism

Conservatism is a preservation project

Mencken's memoirs

Another interview with Jill Lepore

The Juntocast: Education in early America

Rand Paul: Christian pacifist

Where did early American painter Jacob Eichholtz sit?

Evangelicals and gender

If you want to cheat on your exam don't do it in Randall Balmer's "Sports, Ethics, and Religion" class

Brian Franklin recaps a conference on religion and politics and Southern Methodist University

19th-century Quaker abolitionists

The "suicide letter" written to Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Can You Pass This Literacy Test?

It was used in 1964 by the state of Louisiana to prevent Blacks from voting.  Watch some Harvard students take the test:



Read more about the test here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bruce Springsteen Inducts Brian Williams Into the New Jersey Hall of Fame

Speaking at the 2014 New Jersey Forum

I am honored to be giving one of the plenary addresses at the 2014 New Jersey Forum, held this year at Kean University in Union, New Jersey on November 21 and 22.

The conference theme is "New Jersey at 350: Innovation, Diversity, Liberty." My talk will be at 9:30am on Saturday, November 22 and it is entitled "New Jersey's Presbyterian Rebellion."

I am looking forward to the lecture, but I am also thrilled to see so many outstanding scholars who are connected to the conference, either through organizing it or presenting at it.  They include Ronald Becker, Sara Cureton, Larry Greene, Timothy Hack, Mary Rizzo, Brooke Hunter, Joseph Klett, Maxine Lurie, Jonathan Mercantini, Richard Veit, Graham Hodges, James Gigantino, Alison Isenberg, Spencer Crew, Jonathan Sassi, Jean Soderlund, Jonathan Lurie, Brian Greenberg, and Neil Maher.

I hope to see many of you next weekend!  This is going to be a great conference.

"The 13 Colonies" Gilder-Lehrman Seminar at Princeton is Back!

The Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History just released its Summer Seminars for 2015.

Once again I will be doing a seminar on the 13 colonies at Princeton University for K-8 history teachers.  Head over to the Gilder-Lehrman website to learn more about how to apply for these free seminars.  If you are selected, Gilder-Lehrman covers all your expenses for the week, including travel to Princeton.

In addition to attending daily lectures and preparing a lesson on colonial America, the members of last year's seminar spent a day touring Philadelphia, took a twilight walking tour of early American Princeton, and spent a couple of hours in the Princeton rare book room examining copies of seventeenth and eighteenth-century texts.  The food at Princeton was pretty good too.  So were the accommodations and the ice-cream at The Bent Spoon!

Most Popular Posts of the Last Week

Here are the most popular posts of the last week at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

1.  Sunday Night Odds and Ends--November 9, 2014
2.  L.D. Burnett on "Secular Academic Homiletics"
3.  The Social History of American Fundamentalism
4.  On Scholars Writing for the Public
5.  Revisiting Why Study History?
6.  Baby Boomers Respond to the Juvenilization of American Evangelicalism
7.  What Do You Do When You Are Proctoring An Exam?
8.  Allen Guelzo Introduces His Gilder-Lehrman Online Civil War Course
9.  God and the Declaration of Independence
10. Song of the Day

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Scholars Writing for the Public

I was recently talking with an Ivy League humanities professor who does a lot of writing and speaking in public (non-academic) venues.  I asked the professor what his/her department chair thought about all of this public activity.  "My chair doesn't like it," the professor said. "My department chair thinks I should be writing scholarly articles and 'producing knowledge.'  I get no credit for the public work that I do."  (This professor, of course, has written important scholarly works in addition to writing and speaking for the public).

This is a shame, but it continues to be reality in the academy.

With this in mind, I agree with just about everything that David Leonard of Washington State University says in this article on public writing.  Here are some excerpts:

Hello, my name is David, and I am a scholar who writes for the public. Sometimes I even blog. I offer that mea culpa because, all too often, I am judged for not segregating my work behind the velvet rope of scholarship. I am not alone, as plenty of scholars are refusing to stay in the lane of the ivory tower, taking their talents to the pages of newspapers, websites, and television.
But that still raises eyebrows. I once heard an administrator refer to public writing as a pathology of sorts, akin to video-game addiction. To him, public writing was all about immediate gratification and ego rather than a scholarly advancement of knowledge. It was a sign of weakness, evidence of inadequacy as a scholar, proof that today’s public intellectuals were not real professors.
In that view, still held by many, a "peer reviewed" journal article read by 12 people is of great value while a piece written for a website, and read by more than 100,000, is a distraction from legitimate work. I have been told on several occasions that the work of writing for online publication (whether via a blog or for respected outlets like Huffington Post) is “easy” and a “waste of time.” Unlike scholarship, which is about knowledge production and intellectual debate, public writing is said to be about personal gain and pleasure resulting from public fanfare...
...But instead of being unnecessary or antithetical to academic work, I would argue that public writing is -- at its core -- what we do as teachers, intellectuals, and scholars. It's another form of teaching, a public pedagogy that engages "students" outside the classroom, and inside, too....

...Public writing is also work that bridges theories, methods, and knowledge that is often locked behind pay walls, or stuck inside books that cost as much as a new pair of Air Jordans. Essays written for a general audience often help to place scholarly research, and break down boundaries between the two. Unable to write dozens of pages on a topic, scholars writing for a mainstream publication unmask what is important in their research and how it matters.
Public writing is also a means to engage other scholars, especially those outside the academy. Professors do not have a monopoly on knowledge production; look no further than Ta-Nehisi Coates, an American writer for The Atlantic whose work on culture and politics is as "scholarly" and intellectually rich as that of any academic. Others, like Gary Younge, Jamilah Lemieux, Mychal Denzel Smith, and Dave Zirin are the forefront of important scholarly debates even if they are not taking place inside the Ivory Tower.

The Author's Corner with Thomas S. Kidd

Thomas Kidd is Professor of History at Baylor University. This interview is based on his new book, George Whitefield : America's Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write George Whitefield : America's Spiritual Founding Father​?

TK: George Whitefield, the most important preacher of the First Great Awakening, has been the subject of several excellent academic and Christian biographies, but as his 300th birthday approached (it is this December 16), I thought that it was time for a fresh approach to Whitefield, one that might blend strengths of the previous approaches. As an evangelical Christian, I admire many aspects of Whitefield’s ministry, but I am also seeking to place him fully in the religious and cultural milieu in which he lived.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of George Whitefield : America's Spiritual Founding Father?

TK: George Whitefield was the key evangelical leader of the eighteenth century. Although it is undeniable that he was formed by factors such as the theater culture of the eighteenth century, and the century’s emerging commercial economy (approaches taken by previous academic biographies of Whitefield), Whitefield’s fundamental motivation lay in his evangelical convictions about sin and salvation, and this is the framework in which he would have seen himself.

JF: Why do we need to read George Whitefield​​ : America's Spiritual Founding Father​​?

TK: It is not difficult to make the case for Whitefield’s importance, not just in religious history, but in eighteenth-century Anglo-American history generally. He was the most famous person in America before the Revolution, he was in his time the most influential leader of the Great Awakening, and he transformed the art of preaching, as well as the print and media culture of the era. (He also maintained a peculiar and intriguing friendship for thirty years with the self-described “Deist” Benjamin Franklin.) This is someone that all Americans – but especially American Christians – should know.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

TK: I was a political science major as an undergraduate at Clemson University, but I was drawn more and more to reading and writing in history, my minor. Several key professors encouraged me to consider graduate school. Once I discovered the work of prominent religious historians such as Perry Miller and George Marsden (my eventual doctoral advisor), I was hooked and wanted to devote my career to history teaching.

JF: What is your next project?

TK: My Baylor colleague Barry Hankins and I are finishing a history of Baptists in America, which should be out by mid-2015. Next I am writing a broad history of early America, and I am also planning on doing a religious biography of Benjamin Franklin.

JF: Can't wait to read them! Thanks Thomas.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Google is Looking for Potential Employees Who Demonstrate "Intellectual Humility"

This a very interesting post on why Google does not often hire college graduates from the so-called "top schools."  Here is a taste:

Google looks for the ability to step back and embrace other people’s ideas when they’re better. “It’s ‘intellectual humility.’ Without humility, you are unable to learn,” Bock says. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure.”

This reminds me of something I once read in a book called Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

As historian John Cairns notes, empathy "is the passport to gaining a genuine entry into the past as a foreign land, and something distinct from our time.  Empathy requires the historian to step into the shoes of historical actors in order to see the world as they did, to understand them on their own terms and not ours.  Historian John Lewis Gaddis writes, "Getting inside other people's minds requires that your own mind be open to their impressions--their hopes and fears, their beliefs and dreams, their sense of right and wrong, their perception of the world and where they sit within it...

The practice of empathy will inevitably lead to humility.  It does so in one of three ways.  First, an engagement with the past in all its breadth and fullness, the entry into such a "foreign country," should decenter us.  It makes us realize our own smallness in the vast course of human history....Second, the practice of history cultivates humility because of the limited nature of the discipline.  Since historians are often so far removed from the past they study, there is no way of ever knowing for sure that their interpretations are correct.  Because of the "pastness of the past," the historian must come to grips with his or her own finiteness, realizing that he or she can never fully understand it in all its fullness and complexity....Third, history teaches humility in the sense that the past can sometimes shame us.  In the process of seeing ourselves as part of a larger human story, we also see that the people who have gone before us were capable of tremendous atrocities.  The story of human history is filled with accounts of slavery, violence, scientific racism, injustice, genocide, and other dark episodes that might make us embarrassed to be part of the human race.  If our fellow human beings can engage in such sad, wrong, or disgraceful acts, then what is stopping us from doing the same?  History reminds us of the inherent weakness in the human condition and the very real possibility that our fellow human beings are capable of horrendous things.  This should humble us, for "there but for the grace of God, go I."

Let's hope someone at Google reads this and starts hiring some well-trained history majors.

The Social History of American Fundamentalism

To what extent were the leaders of the fundamentalist movement representative of the rank and file evangelicals in the pew?  Did the King's Business and similar journals reflect the thinking and practice of ordinary fundamentalists?  How many theologically conservative church-goers saw the need to separate from mainline denominations during the so-called Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the 1920s?

The students in my "History of American Evangelicalism" course keep raising questions like this as we work our way through George Marsden's magisterial Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925.  They are good questions.  (For more about our reading of this book see my last three virtual office hours.  You can watch them here and here and here).

I think it goes without saying that Marsden has provided us with an intellectual history of the fundamentalist movement.  His narrative is focused heavily on ideas--common sense realism, Baconianism, premillenialism, dispensationalism, Keswick holiness, modernism, inerrancy, etc...

As I have been teaching this book, and my students ask questions about fundamentalism in the pews, I wonder if it is actually possible to write a history of fundamentalism from the bottom-up.  Where would the historian find sources?

I am sure there have been efforts to write the fundamentalist story, or at least part of it, from the perspective of social history or the history of everyday life.  Does anyone know of any authors who have made this attempt?  My work in early America has prevented me from keeping up with the most recent work on the history of American fundamentalism.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Song of the Day

I am not a Notre Dame fan, but I do like Chicago:

Revisiting *Why Study History?*

This semester I have had the rather strange experience of teaching my book, Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. Frankly, I really do not like teaching my own stuff. In my experience, the best history classes are the ones in which three voices--the students, the professor, and the author of the primary or secondary source--are engaging with one another.  In an ideal history classroom the students respond to the professor's ideas, but they also interact with the ideas presented by the author of the reading under consideration on that particular day.  Similarly, the professor responds to the students and offers his or her opinion on the argument presented in the book.

When I am teaching my own book it feels like we are missing one of the essential voices in the conversation.  Rather than a 3-dimensional intellectual experience it feels more like a two-dimensional experience.

Having said that, I have enjoyed revisiting some of my thoughts on history and historical thinking this semester with my Introduction to History students at Messiah College.  I have been Tweeting (@johnfea1) some of my thoughts from the book, but the passage below is too long to tweet:

We need to do a better job of teaching young people to interact with sources and documents from past worlds in a way that requires them to listen and understand before casting judgment.  I rarely here young, progressive, evangelical Christians who want to fight for social justice speak about their callings or vocations in terms of the study of history or some other humanities related topic.  Yet it seems to me that a liberal arts education focused on these disciplines is, without question, the best place to learn the kinds of skills essential to be a world-changer.  The study of African history is not going to feed the poor.  The study of colonial America will not bring relief to the oppressed.  The study of the Russian Revolution is not going to alleviate the plight of the "least of these."  But when taught correctly, history will impart the virtues necessary to end the culture wars, transform our ways of thinking about others, and, in some small way, bring meaningful change to the world.

Sam Wineburg on Historical Thinking

I always need to remind myself of this quote by Wineburg.  I have it on my office door.

For the narcissist sees the world--both the past and the present--in his own image.  Mature historical understanding teaches us to do the opposite: to go beyond our own image, to go beyond our brief life, and to go beyond the fleeting moment in human history into which we have been born.  History educates ("leads outward" in the Latin) in the deepest sense.  Of the subjects in the secular curriculum, it is the best at teaching those virtues once reserved for theology--humility in the face of our limited ability to know, and awe in the face of the expanse of history.--Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

Oral History Help

As part of my American Bible Society project I need to conduct several interviews.  I would like to purchase a new digital recorder and want some advice.  I realize that there are multiple websites out there that provide suggestions on this front, but I tend to get overwhelmed with all the options.  The last recorder I bought was a bit too sophisticated for a beginner like me to figure out and I ended up inadvertently losing some interviews.

Can anyone recommend a good digital recorder that is very user friendly? I am not a professional oral historian, but I do want something decent and reliable.

Thanks.

Springsteen Discusses His New Children's Book With Jon Stewart

Actually the book was written and illustrated by Frank Caruso.  The interview starts at the 13 minute mark.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What Do You Do When You Are Proctoring an Exam?

Today I proctored (along with my co-teacher Cathay Snyder) the second exam in my United States history (to 1865) survey course.  As I sat there staring out at the 60+ students in the room I began to wonder what my colleagues do when they are proctoring an exam.  Here are some options:

1.  Pace throughout the room to see if anyone is cheating
2.  Sit in the front of the room and watch to see if anyone is cheating
3.  Grade papers from another class
4.  Read a book
5.  Surf the internet/check social media sites
6.  Prep for your next class.
7.  Text message
8.  Start to grade the exams as they are handed in
9.  Leave the room and wander the hallways
10.  All of the above


Virtual Office Hours: Fall 2014 - Episode 11

Thoughts on George Marsden's Fundamentalism and American Culture
Part III

The Author's Corner with Emily Blanck

Emily Blanck is Associate Professor of History at Rowan University. This interview is based on her new book, Tyrannicide: Forging an American Law of Slavery in Revolutionary South Carolina and Massachusetts (University of Georgia Press, November 2014). 

JF: What led you to write Tyrannicide?

EB: It is a long history. When I first entered Graduate School at William and Mary, I became very interested in the history of slavery in New England and the law because I encountered Lucy Terry Prince, a former slave who had defended herself in court and fought for her son to go to a white college soon after the Revolutionary War. So many aspects of this fascinated me... But especially two issues: The presence and absence of slavery in Massachusetts and the way a black woman had access and felt empowered to use the courts.

So, I began to explore slavery and the law in Massachusetts as a PhD student at Emory University. When researching Massachusetts slavery and the law I discovered something else that entranced me, a letter from the Chief Justice in Massachusetts, William Cushing, in 1783 to South Carolina's Governor, Benjamin Guerard explaining the status of ten South Carolina fugitive slaves released from Massachusetts' jails. The letter surprised me, again, for many reasons, but especially because it reverberated with antebellum antagonism over slavery.

This began my journey to uncover the story of these slaves, a story I call the "Tyrannicide affair" after one of the vessels that escorted the slaves to Massachusetts, and to compare the law of slavery in both South Carolina and Massachusetts. For my book, I chose to dig deep into the tumultuous world of the black experience during the Revolution to explain the social, political, and legal context in which this story lived. It led me to the Constitutional Convention and the writing of the Fugitive Slave Clause.


JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Tyrannicide?

EB: Tyrannicide argues that slave law (and the law that ended slavery) in Massachusetts and South Carolina had very different local contexts, drawing each state to regard their enslaved black populations in very different ways, writing divergent slave law, and eventually ending slavery in Massachusetts. This case elucidates the nature of that difference as these two states are drawing together in a Union, culminating in the writing of a Constitution that silently affirms the United States as a nation of slavery. 

JF: Why do we need to read Tyrannicide?

EB: This book provides a new and exciting story for us to understand the complex nature of slave law in Revolutionary America. Slavery and slave law was not developing in a vacuum in each state but was a dynamic interchange between local and national interests. This negotiation allowed the United States to form into a strong union, but the local dissonance provided the foundation for the deep cracks that slavery caused in the Constitution that other historians have already noted. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

EB: I began college at University of Texas at Austin as a classics major, but was poor in languages. I began to look for other interests when I took US History from a popular professor, Dr George C. Wright. He taught us that US History was not a litany of Presidents but was an examination by historians of ordinary people. I loved learning about it, I loved the empowerment that came with historical interpretation, and I became passionate about understanding the roots of inequality in our country. I changed my majors to History and African American Studies and researched US History as much as I could at a huge university like Texas. I took a couple of years off to decide what to do after graduating, but quickly got drawn back into researching history and applied to Graduate School.

JF: What is your next project?

EB:  I am coordinator of American Studies at Rowan and wanted to continue my study of slavery with an American Studies angle. I have decided to write my next project on the holiday, Juneteenth. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in Texas on June 19th, 1865, over two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. This celebration quickly spread throughout Texas, then as Black Texans left the state during and after the Great Migration, it moved to cities throughout the US. In the past twenty years, a grassroots movement has successfully pressed for it to be recognized as a state holiday in 44 states! 

JF: Looking forward to it, thanks Emily!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author's Corner

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

Marilynne Robinson on Jonathan Edwards

Leisure

Salon discusses slavery and capitalism with Edward Baptist

The state of American Studies

Clem Price, R.I.P.

Patrick Carey reviews John Pinheiro's Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War.

New website for the Benjamin Franklin Podcast

Stephanie Kingsley is the new social media editor at the American Historical Association

The revisionism of Rush Limbaugh

Historiann wants to kill the conference interview

How religious people voted on Tuesday

World War I and progress

Reading list on the history of religion and capitalism

Young Anabaptist historians

The Junto takes on the career of Alfred Young

Christian muckraking

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Baby Boomers Respond to the Juvenilization of American Evangelicalism

Last Sunday was the final day of a 4-week class on recent evangelicalism (since 1960) that I taught at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  The topic for this last class was the history of evangelical youth culture.

I prepped for this session by reading Thomas Bergler’s excellent The Juvenilization of American ChristianityThe book is basically a history of twentieth-century Christian youth ministry in America. It focuses mostly on Catholics, mainline Protestants (especially Methodists), and evangelicals.

Bergler’s coverage of evangelical youth ministry centers on Youth for Christ, the organization founded in the 1940s by fundamentalists (or were they neo-evangelicals?) such as Jack Wyrtzen and Percy Crawford. Some of you may know that Billy Graham was an evangelist with Youth for Christ before he started his own ministry.

Bergler argues that the leaders of Youth for Christ were successful in preaching the Christian gospel to evangelical young people. By making Christianity fun and exciting, and by encouraging teenagers to “take a stand for Christ” in their schools, thousands and thousands of kids became evangelical Christians. Youth for Christ leaders were cool. They used popular forms of music, organized informal “small groups,” tended to be “seeker-friendly” in their approach, and turned the Christian gospel into an attractive commodity. 

Bergler suggests that this approach to youth ministry was high on emotion and light on doctrine.  Youth for Christ preached a feel good Christianity that gave high school students what they wanted, but not necessarily what they needed. He is thus not surprised by Christian Smith’s recent study characterizing 20th century Christian young people as “moral therapeutic deists.” Youth for Christ, he argues, rarely produced “mature” Christians. 

But Bergler takes the argument further. Evangelical adults, many of them the product of Youth for Christ clubs and rallies, are duplicating the Youth for Christ philosophy of ministry in evangelical congregations today. This “juvenile” approach to Christianity is prevalent in “seeker-friendly” megachurches, the evangelical love of “small groups,” feel-good” praise music, and an obsession with celebrities.

As you may recall from my previous posts, my “students” in this class are all evangelical baby boomers.  Many of them had very positive experiences with Youth for Christ.  One family said that they knew Jack Wyrtzen personally and credited Youth for Christ for sustaining their ongoing commitment to the Christian life.  Others felt that I (or perhaps Bergler) was being too hard on evangelical youth ministry.  Sure the theology was shallow and the focus was more on fun than deep Christian thinking, but many insisted that the cultivation of mature Christians was not the primary purpose of Youth for Christ.  The goal of the YFC clubs was to win young people to Christ and then let the local churches handle their maturation in the faith.

As much as I affirmed the way that Youth for Christ changed and transformed young lives, very few people in the room were willing to admit that their favorite youth ministry had been partially successful because it preached a rather undemanding version of the Christian faith.  Because so many people were bothered with how I (using Bergler) portrayed Youth for Christ, I fear that the class may have missed the larger historical point that I (again, using Bergler) was trying to make about how YFC's philosophy of ministry has influenced today’s megachurches.

It was an interesting four weeks. Some of the people in the class seemed to really enjoy it. Others seemed a bit uncomfortable discussing subjects like evangelicals and politics (I used James Davison Hunter’s argument that politics may not be the best way to change the world) or evangelical views of the Bible (I implied that one did not need to believe in biblical inerrancy to be a committed evangelical).

After finishing this class I realized that I am still learning how to bring good historical scholarship to the church.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society--Update #95

For some context for this post click here.

My work on the ABS project still remains in a funk.  I did very little writing this week as life and my day job intervened.  I need a serious jumpstart.  Chapter Five is taking way too long to complete.  Why can’t I get excited about writing about benevolent societies in the early republic?

Thank goodness my research assistants are forging ahead.  Katie has done a lot of research on 19th and 20th century ABS efforts in Mexico and the Levant.  It looks like she will be moving forward into the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.  Alyssa has set me up nicely for a chapter on the Good News Bible.  She is now working on the ABS role in the United Bible Societies.

At the moment I have written four chapters. Most, if not all, of the research is in place for Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 14.  At this point I have written about 40,000 words.  According to my contract with Oxford University Press I have 100,000 more to go.  My editors estimated that the finished product will be 384 pages long. 

Stay tuned