Wednesday, April 30, 2014

James Kloppenberg on Barack Obama and Progressive Christianity

Check out Tiffany Stanley's interview with Harvard intellectual historian James Kloppenberg.  

Stanley is the managing editor of Religion & Politics, a web magazine published by the Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis.  Kloppenberg is the author of Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition.

Here is a taste of the interview:

"R&P: How did you decide to write Reading Obama, a project analyzing the president’s own writings and speeches and archives?  

JK: I was in England teaching at the University of Cambridge as the Pitt Professor of American History. Part of holding that professorship is accepting invitations to visit universities to give talks. I was working on a big history of democratic theory in Europe and America. I had a couple of talks in place that I would propose to people, then I would say, “Well I know there’s a lot of interest in the new president. Would you like a papaer on eighteenth-century democratic theory, or would you like me to talk about Obama?” And almost everybody asked me to talk about Obama. When I was coming back to the U.S. for a symposium on the presidential election, knowing I would be giving talks on Obama, I reread Dreams from My Father on the way here and read The Audacity of Hope on the way back. I was impressed by how good those books were, so I began looking around to find what analyses had been done of his writings. I found almost nothing. The assumption was that Dreams from My Father was just something you would do if you had been elected the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, which is what they call the editor of the review, and that The Audacity of Hope was a campaign book of the sort that every politician writes. I’ve read a fair number of those campaign books. The Audacity of Hope is very different. The depth of analysis, the self-awareness that was present, the understanding of the issues of American history—in the way that academic historians understand American history—all of that struck me as extraordinary. I began looking more into Obama’s intellectual formation, and by the time I got back to the U.S. at the end of my year in Cambridge, I was committed to doing something more than just a version of the talk I had given a number of times. At that point I began interviewing the people who had taught Obama, the people who had worked with him, the people who had known him at different stages in his life, and this picture of him as this deeply thoughtful moderate who saw all sides of all issues began to fall into place. I kept hearing the same thing from people who had known him in many different situations and many different stages of his life. At that point, I thought, I’ve got something to say that I haven’t seen in anything else that’s been written about him."

Read the rest here.