Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Reflecting on Religion and Citizenship in Chattanooga, Part Two: Speaker Roundup

Yesterday morning I posted about my experience at the "Religion and the Making of American Citizens" teacher's institute in Chattanooga.  I spent most of that post discussing Tracy McKenzie's talk on the role of religion in the history classroom.  Though I found McKenzie's talk to
be the most engaging, there were other excellent presentations during the two-day event.  I don't have the time or space to address the content of all of the sessions, but here are a couple worth noting:

On Friday night, following McKenzie's talk, the teachers were treated to a lecture by Daniel Dreisbach of American University.  He discussed the ways the Founding Fathers used the Bible in their revolutionary-era discourse. Dreisbach made a compelling case that the Bible was very important to the founding generation as one of the sources (along with Whig political thought, Enlightenment thought, the classics, etc...) that influenced their political ideas. They quoted it, referenced it, and even appealed to its language without directly referencing it. Dreisbach did not dwell on whether or not the Founders used the Bible correctly (at one point he said that their constant appeal to the Book of Deuteronomy was "tortured"), but that was not his assignment.

On Saturday afternoon, Molly Worthen of the University of North Carolina challenged the teachers to pay more attention to women, especially religious women, into their courses.  After tracing the dominant role that women have played in American religious history, she offered Jarena Lee, Lottie Moon, and Catholic sisters as examples of women who teachers might incorporate into their lessons.  Worthen is a phenomenal public speaker and I could tell that the teachers were engaged with her presentation.  A very interesting conversation ensued during the Q&A period about complimentarianism and egalitarianism. It allowed Worthen to draw on her extensive knowledge of American evangelicalism (including interviews of women professors at Dallas Theological Seminary!).  I am now even more eager to read her new book, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.

I was flattered to learn that the students were given a copy of my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction as part of their course materials.  My talk focused on the religious beliefs of some of the major American founders.  (Although I felt very guilty doing this with Daniel Dreisbach in the room, since he has done so much to call our attention to the religious beliefs of the so-called "Forgotten Founders.").  I argued that while the personal religious beliefs of the founders were certainly interesting, it was perhaps more important, in light of the conference theme on citizenship, to think about how they saw the relationship between religion and public life regardless of what they believed in private.  

Thanks again to Jonathan Yeager, Lucian Ellington, and Wilfred McClay for inviting me to spend part Common Core.  (This may merit a separate post).
of the weekend with this great group of teachers.  I have already had a few post-institute connections with some of them.  Today I even shared a few things I learned from them in informal conversations with my Teaching History class at Messiah.  I especially want to thank the guys at my table on Friday night who enlightened me to some of the issues they are facing with the