Tag Archives: American History

Ramírez, “Migrating Faith”

In October, the University of North Carolina Press releases: “Migrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century,” by Daniel Ramírez (University of Michigan). The publisher’s description follows:

Daniel Ramírez’s history of twentieth-century Pentecostalism in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands begins in Los Angeles in 1906 with the eruption of the Azusa Street Revival. The Pentecostal phenomenon–characterized by ecstatic spiritual practices that included speaking in tongues, perceptions of miracles, interracial mingling, and new popular musical worship traditions from both sides of the border–was criticized by Christian theologians, secular media, and even governmental authorities for behaviors considered to be unorthodox and outrageous. Today, many scholars view the revival as having catalyzed the spread of Pentecostalism and consider the U.S.-Mexico borderlands as one of the most important fountainheads of a religious movement that has thrived not only in North America but worldwide.

Ramírez argues that, because of the distance separating the transnational migratory circuits from domineering arbiters of religious and aesthetic orthodoxy in both the United States and Mexico, the region was fertile ground for the religious innovation by which working-class Pentecostals expanded and changed traditional options for practicing the faith. Giving special attention to individuals’ and families’ firsthand accounts and tracing how a vibrant religious music culture tied transnational communities together, Ramírez illuminates the interplay of migration, mobility, and musicality in Pentecostalism’s global boom.

Bendroth, “The Last Puritans”

In October, the University of North Carolina Press will release “The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past,” by Margaret Bendroth (executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England’s first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth’s critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

Bendroth chronicles how the New England Puritans, known for their moral and doctrinal rigor, came to be the antecedents of the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal of all Protestant denominations today. The demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists, Bendroth argues, to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination’s storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms–from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants–as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.

Goodman, “American Philosophy Before Pragmatism”

Pragmatism has been called America’s most distinctive contribution to American Philosophy Before Pragmatismphilosophy. And pragmatism has certainly influenced American law–see, for example, the contributions of Richard Posner to jurisprudence. Here is a new book that explores American philosophical thought before the 20th century pragmatist explosion, American Philosophy Before Pragmatism, by Russell B. Goodman (University of New Mexico), to be released in September by Oxford University Press. The publisher’s description follows.

Russell B. Goodman tells the story of the development of philosophy in America from the mid-18th century to the late 19th century. The key figures in this story, Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, the writers of The Federalist, and the romantics (or ‘transcendentalists’) Emerson and Thoreau, were not professors but men of the world, whose deep formative influence on American thought brought philosophy together with religion, politics, and literature. Goodman considers their work in relation to the philosophers and other thinkers they found important: the deism of John Toland and Matthew Tindal, the moral sense theories of Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, and David Hume, the political and religious philosophy of John Locke, the romanticism of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant. Goodman discusses Edwards’s condemnation and Franklin’s acceptance of deism, argues that Jefferson was an Epicurean in his metaphysical views and a Christian, Stoic, and Epicurean in his moral outlook, traces Emerson’s debts to writers from Madame de Stael to William Ellery Channing, and considers Thoreau’s orientation to the universe through sitting and walking.

The morality of American slavery is a major theme in American Philosophy before Pragmatism, introduced not to excuse or condemn, but to study how five formidably intelligent people thought about the question when it was–as it no longer is for us–open. Edwards, Franklin and Jefferson owned slaves, though Franklin and Jefferson played important roles in disturbing the uneasy American moral equilibrium that included slavery, even as they approved an American constitution that included it. Emerson and Thoreau were prominent public opponents of slavery in the eighteen forties and fifties. The book contains an Interlude on the concept of a republic and concludes with an Epilogue documenting some continuities in American philosophy, particularly between Emerson and the pragmatists.

Petro, “After the Wrath of God”

In April, the Oxford University Press released “After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion,” by Anthony M. Petro (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:

On a cold February morning in 1987, amidst freezing rain and driving winds, a group of protesters stood outside of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Amherst, Massachusetts. The target of their protest was the minister inside, who was handing out condoms to his congregation while delivering a sermon about AIDS, dramatizing the need for the church to confront the seemingly ever-expanding crisis. The minister’s words and actions were met with a standing ovation from the overflowing audience, but he could not linger to enjoy their applause. Having received threats in advance of the service, he dashed out of the sanctuary immediately upon finishing his sermon. Such was the climate for religious AIDS activism in the 1980s.

In After the Wrath of God, Anthony Petro vividly narrates the religious history of AIDS in America. Delving into the culture wars over sex, morality, and the future of the American nation, he demonstrates how religious leaders and AIDS activists have shaped debates over sexual morality and public health from the 1980s to the present day. While most attention to religion and AIDS foregrounds the role of the Religious Right, Petro takes a much broader view, encompassing the range of mainline Protestant, evangelical, and Catholic groups–alongside AIDS activist organizations–that shaped public discussions of AIDS prevention and care in the U.S. Petro analyzes how the AIDS crisis prompted American Christians across denominations and political persuasions to speak publicly about sexuality–especially homosexuality–and to foster a moral discourse on sex that spoke not only to personal concerns but to anxieties about the health of the nation. He reveals how the epidemic increased efforts to advance a moral agenda regarding the health benefits of abstinence and monogamy, a legacy glimpsed as much in the traction gained by abstinence education campaigns as in the more recent cultural purchase of gay marriage.

The first book to detail the history of religion and the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., After the Wrath of God is essential reading for anyone concerned with the intersection of religion and public health.

Marbury, “Pillars of Cloud and Fire”

In August, the New York University Press will release “Pillars of Cloud and Fire: The Politics of Exodus in African American Biblical Interpretation,” by Herbert Robinson Marbury (Vanderbilt University).

At the birth of the United States, African Americans were excluded from the newly-formed Republic and its churches, which saw them as
savage rather than citizen and as heathen rather than Christian. Denied civil access to the basic rights granted to others, African Americans have developed their own sacred traditions and their own civil discourses. As part of this effort, African American intellectuals offered interpretations of the Bible which were radically different and often fundamentally oppositional to those of many of their white counterparts. By imagining a freedom unconstrained, their work charted a broader and, perhaps, a more genuinely American identity. In Pillars of Cloud and Fire, Herbert Robinson Marbury offers a comprehensive survey of African American biblical interpretation.

Each chapter in this compelling volume moves chronologically, from the antebellum period and the Civil War through to the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, the black power movement, and the Obama era, to offer a historical context for the interpretative activity of that time and to analyze its effect in transforming black social reality. For African American thinkers such as Absalom Jones, David Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Frances E. W. Harper, Adam Clayton Powell, and Martin Luther King, Jr., the exodus story became the language-world through which freedom both in its sacred resonance and its civil formation found expression. This tradition, Marbury argues, has much to teach us in a world where fundamentalisms have become synonymous with “authentic” religious expression and American identity. For African American biblical interpreters, to be American and to be Christian was always to be open and oriented toward freedom. 

Baker and Smith, “American Secularism”

In September, the New York University Press will release “American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief Systems,” by Joseph O. Baker (East Tennessee State University) and Buster G. Smith (Catawba College). The publisher’s description follows:

A rapidly growing number of Americans are embracing life outside the bounds of organized religion. Although America has long been viewed as a fervently religious Christian nation, survey data shows that more and more Americans are identifying as “not religious.” There are more non-religious Americans than ever before, yet social scientists have not adequately studied or typologized secularities, and the lived reality of secular individuals in America has not been astutely analyzed. American Secularism documents how changes to American society have fueled these shifts in the non-religious landscape and examines the diverse and dynamic world of secular Americans.

This volume offers a theoretical framework for understanding secularisms. It explores secular Americans’ thought and practice to understand secularisms as worldviews in their own right, not just as negations of religion. Drawing on empirical data, the authors examine how people live secular lives and make meaning outside of organized religion. Joseph O. Baker and Buster G. Smith link secularities to broader issues of social power and organization, providing an empirical and cultural perspective on the secular landscape. In so doing, they demonstrate that shifts in American secularism are reflective of changes in the political meanings of “religion” in American culture.

American Secularism addresses the contemporary lived reality of secular individuals, outlining forms of secular identity and showing their connection to patterns of family formation, sexuality, and politics, providing scholars of religion with a more comprehensive understanding of worldviews that do not include traditional religion.

Stoll, “Inherit the Holy Mountain”

In May, the Oxford University Press released “Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism,” by Mark Stoll (Texas Tech University). The publisher’s description follows: 

In Inherit the Holy Mountain, historian Mark Stoll introduces us to the religious roots of the American environmental movement. Religion, he shows, provided environmentalists both with deeply-embedded moral and cultural ways of viewing the world and with content, direction, and tone for the causes they espoused.

Stoll discovers that specific denominational origins corresponded with characteristic sets of ideas about nature and the environment as well as distinctive aesthetic reactions to nature, as can be seen in key works of art analyzed throughout the book.

Stoll also provides insight into the possible future of environmentalism in the United States, concluding with an examination of the current religious scene and what it portends for the future. By debunking the supposed divide between religion and American environmentalism, Inherit the Holy Mountain opens up a fundamentally new narrative in environmental studies.

McVicar, “Christian Reconstruction”

In April, the University of North Carolina Press released Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatismby Michael J. McVicar (Florida State University). The publisher’s description follows: 

This is the first critical history of Christian Reconstruction and its founder and champion, theologian and activist Rousas John Rushdoony (1916–2001). Drawing on exclusive access to Rushdoony’s personal papers and extensive correspondence, Michael J. McVicar demonstrates the considerable role Reconstructionism played in the development of the radical Christian Right and an American theocratic agenda. As a religious movement, Reconstructionism aims at nothing less than “reconstructing” individuals through a form of Christian governance that, if implemented in the lives of U.S. citizens, would fundamentally alter the shape of American society.

McVicar examines Rushdoony’s career and traces Reconstructionism as it grew from a grassroots, populist movement in the 1960s to its height of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. He reveals the movement’s galvanizing role in the development of political conspiracy theories and survivalism, libertarianism and antistatism, and educational reform and homeschooling. The book demonstrates how these issues have retained and in many cases gained potency for conservative Christians to the present day, despite the decline of the movement itself beginning in the 1990s. McVicar contends that Christian Reconstruction has contributed significantly to how certain forms of religiosity have become central, and now familiar, aspects of an often controversial conservative revolution in America.

Green, “Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding”

In July, Oxford University Press will release “Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding” by Steven K. Green (Williamette University, College of Law). The publisher’s description follows:

Among the most enduring themes in American history is the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. A pervasive narrative ineverything from school textbooks to political commentary, it is central to
the way in which many Americans perceive the historical legacy of their nation. Yet, as Steven K. Green shows in this illuminating new book, it is little more than a myth.

In Inventing a Christian America, Green, a leading historian of religion and politics, explores the historical record that is purported to support the popular belief in America’s religious founding and status as a Christian nation. He demonstrates that, like all myths, these claims are based on historical “facts” that have been colored by the interpretive narratives that have been imposed upon them. In tracing the evolution of these claims and the evidence levied in support of them from the founding of the New England colonies, through the American Revolution, and to the present day, he investigates how they became leading narratives in the country’s collective identity. Three critical moments in American history shaped and continue to drive the myth of a Christian America: the Puritan founding of New England, the American Revolution and the forging of a new nation, and the early years of the nineteenth century, when a second generation of Americans sought to redefine and reconcile the memory of the founding to match their religious and patriotic aspirations. Seeking to shed light not only on the veracity of these ideas but on the reasons they endure, Green ultimately shows that the notion of America’s religious founding is a myth not merely in the colloquial sense, but also in a deeper sense, as a shared story that gives deeper meaning to our collective national identity.

Offering a fresh look at one of the most common and contested claims in American history, Inventing a Christian America is an enlightening read for anyone interested in the story of-and the debate over-America’s founding.

Scribner, “A Partisan Church: American Catholicism and the Rise of Neoconservative Catholics”

In March, the Catholic University of America Press released “A  Partisan Church: American Catholicism and the Rise of Neoconservative Catholics” by Todd Scribner (Education Outreach Coordinator at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). The publisher’s description follows:

In the wake of Vatican II and the political and social upheavals of the 1960s,Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 1.07.07 AM disruption and disagreement rent the Catholic Church in America. Since then, a diversity of opinions on a variety of political and religious questions found expression in the church, leading to a fragmented understanding of Catholic identity. Liberal, conservative, neoconservative and traditionalist Catholics competed to define what constituted an authentic Catholic worldview, thus making it nearly im- possible to pinpoint a unique “Catholic position” on any given topic. A Partisan Church examines these controversies during the Reagan era and explores the way in which one group of intellectuals—well-known neoconservative Catholics such as George Weigel, Michael Novak, and Richard John Neuhaus—sought to reestablish a coherent and unified Catholic identity.

Their efforts to do so were multilayered, with questions related to Cold War politics, US foreign relations with Central American dictator- ships, the economy, abortion, and the state of American culture being perhaps the most contentious subjects. Throughout these debates neo- conservative intellectuals voiced their opposition to positions staked out by the Catholic bishops of the United States and to other schools of thought within American Catholicism.

While policy questions were an important component of Catholic identity, a more fundamental disagreement was reflected in the neo- conservative concern that a significant fraction of church leadership had embraced a misguided ecclesiology, one that misconstrued the re- lationship between the church’s mission and political life. In this book, Todd Scribner, of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, traces out the contours of these disagreements by focusing on neoconservative Cath- olic thought and identifying the distinct manner in which they ad- dressed matters of grave importance to the post-Vatican II church.