In January, HarperCollins Publishers will release “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage,” by Stephen Prothero (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:
In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win.
Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam.
As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.
Posted in Christina Vlahos, Scholarship Roundup
Tagged American History, Books, Christianity, Islam, Law and Culture, Law and Religion, Protestantism, Religion and Political Theory, Religion and Politics, Religion and Society, Religion in America, Same-sex Marriage, Secularism
In December, the Oxford University Press will release “Born of Conviction: White Methodists and Mississippi’s Closed Society,” by Joseph T. Reiff (Emory & Henry College). The publisher’s description follows:
The dominant narrative of the role of white citizens and the white church in Mississippi’s civil rights era focuses on their intense resistance to change. The “Born of Conviction” statement, signed by twenty-eight white Methodist pastors and published in theMississippi Methodist Advocate on January 2, 1963, offered an alternative witness to the segregationist party line. Calling for freedom of the pulpit and reminding readers of the Methodist Discipline’s claim that the teachings of Jesus permit “no discrimination because of race, color, or creed,” the pastors sought to speak to and for a mostly silent yet significant minority of Mississippians, and to lead white Methodists to join the conversation on the need for racial justice. The document additionally expressed support for public schools and opposition to any attempt to close them, and affirmed the signers’ opposition to Communism. Though a few individuals, both laity and clergy, voiced public affirmation of “Born of Conviction,” the overwhelming reaction was negative-by mid-1964, eighteen of the signers had left Mississippi, evidence of the challenges faced by whites who offered even mild dissent to massive resistance in the Deep South.
Dominant narratives, however, rarely tell the whole story. The statement caused a significant crack in the public unanimity of Mississippi white resistance. Signers and their public supporters also received private messages of gratitude for their stand, and eight of the signers would remain in the Methodist ministry in Mississippi until retirement. Born of Conviction tells the story of “the Twenty-Eight” illuminating the impact on the larger culture of this attempt by white clergy to support race relations change. The book explores the theological and ethical understandings of the signers through an account of their experiences before, during, and after the statement’s publication. It also offers a detailed portrait of both public and private expressions of the theology and ethics of white Mississippi Methodists in general, as revealed by their responses to the “Born of Conviction” controversy.
In November, Routledge will release “Political Religion and Religious Politics: Navigating Identities in the United States,” by David S. Gutterman (Rutgers University, New Brunswick) and Andrew R. Murphy (Willamette University). The publisher’s description follows:
Profound demographic and cultural changes in American society over the last half century have unsettled conventional understandings of the relationship between religious and political identity. The “Protestant mainline” continues to shrink in numbers, as well as in cultural and political influence. The growing population of American Muslims seek both acceptance and a firmer footing within the nation’s cultural and political imagination. Debates over contraception, same-sex relationships, and “prosperity” preaching continue to roil the waters of American cultural politics. Perhaps most remarkably, the fastest-rising religious demographic in most public opinion surveys is “none,” giving rise to a new demographic that Gutterman and Murphy name “Religious Independents.” Even the evangelical movement, which powerfully re-entered American politics during the 1970s and 1980s and retains a strong foothold in the Republican Party, has undergone generational turnover and no longer represents a monolithic political bloc.
Political Religion and Religious Politics: Navigating Identities in the United States explores the multifaceted implications of these developments by examining a series of contentious issues in contemporary American politics. Gutterman and Murphy take up the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque,” the political and legal battles over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act and the ensuing Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, the national response to the Great Recession and the rise in economic inequality, and battles over the public school curricula, seizing on these divisive challenges as opportunities to illuminate the changing role of religion in American public life.
Placing the current moment into historical perspective, and reflecting on the possible future of religion, politics, and cultural conflict in the United States, Gutterman and Murphy explore the cultural and political dynamics of evolving notions of national and religious identity. They argue that questions of religion are questions of identity — personal, social, and political identity — and that they function in many of the same ways as race, sex, gender, and ethnicity in the construction of personal meaning, the fostering of solidarity with others, and the conflict they can occasion in the political arena.
In November, the University of Virginia Press will release “Loyal Protestants & Dangerous Papists: Maryland and the Politics of Religion in the English Atlantic, 1630-1690,” by Antoinette Sutto (University of Mississippi). The publisher’s description follows:
Loyal Protestants and Dangerous Papists analyzes the vibrant and often violent political culture of seventeenth-century America, exploring the relationship between early American and early modern British politics through a detailed study of colonial Maryland. Seventeenth-century Maryland was repeatedly wracked by disputes over the legitimacy of the colony’s Catholic proprietorship. The proprietors’ strange policy of religious liberty was part of the controversy, but colonists also voiced fears of proprietary conspiracies with Native Americans and claimed the colony’s ruling circle aimed to crush their liberties as English subjects. Conflicts like these became wrapped up in disputes less obviously political, such as disagreements over how to manage the tobacco trade, without which Maryland’s economy would falter.
Antoinette Sutto argues that the best way to understand this strange mix of religious, economic, and political controversies is to view it with regard to the disputes over the role of the English church, the power of the state, and the ideal relationship between the two—disputes that tore apart the English-speaking world twice over in the 1600s. Sutto contends that the turbulent political history of early Maryland makes most sense when seen in an imperial as well as an American context. Such an understanding of political culture and conflict in this colony offers a window not only into the processes of seventeenth-century American politics but also into the construction of the early modern state. Examining the dramatic rise and fall of Maryland’s Catholic proprietorship through this lens, Loyal Protestants and Dangerous Papists offers a unique glimpse into the ambiguities and possibilities of the early English colonial world.
In November, the University of Massachusetts Press will release “Not a Catholic Nation: The Ku Klux Klan Confronts New England in the 1920s,” by Mark Paul Richard (State University of New York at Plattsburgh). The publisher’s description follows:
During the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan experienced a remarkable resurgence, drawing millions of American men and women into its ranks. In Not a Catholic Nation, Mark Paul Richard examines the KKK’s largely ignored growth in the six states of New England—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont—and details the reactions of the region’s Catholic population, the Klan’s primary targets.
Drawing on a wide range of previously untapped sources—French-language newspapers in the New England–Canadian borderlands; KKK documents scattered in local, university, and Catholic repositories; and previously undiscovered copies of the Maine Klansmen—Richard demonstrates that the Klan was far more active in the Northeast than previously thought. He also challenges the increasingly prevalent view that the Ku Klux Klan became a mass movement during this period largely because it functioned as a social, fraternal, or civic organization for many Protestants. While Richard concedes that some Protestants in New England may have joined the KKK for those reasons, he shows that the politics of ethnicity and labor played a more significant role in the Klan’s growth in the region.
The most comprehensive analysis of the Ku Klux Klan’s antagonism toward Catholics in the 1920s, this book is also distinctive in its consideration of the history of the Canada–U.S. borderlands, particularly the role of Canadian immigrants as both proponents and victims of the Klan movement in the United States.
In November, the Cornell University Press will release “For God and Globe: Christian Internationalism in the United States between the Great War and the Cold War,” by Michael G. Thompson (University of Sydney). The publisher’s description follows:
For God and Globe recovers the history of an important yet largely forgotten intellectual movement in interwar America. Michael G. Thompson explores the way radical-left and ecumenical Protestant internationalists articulated new understandings of the ethics of international relations between the 1920s and the 1940s. Missionary leaders such as Sherwood Eddy and journalists such as Kirby Page, as well as realist theologians including Reinhold Niebuhr, developed new kinds of religious enterprises devoted to producing knowledge on international relations for public consumption. For God and Globe centers on the excavation of two such efforts—the leading left-wing Protestant interwar periodical, The World Tomorrow, and the landmark Oxford 1937 ecumenical world conference. Thompson charts the simultaneous peak and decline of the movement in John Foster Dulles’s ambitious efforts to link Christian internationalism to the cause of international organization after World War II.
Concerned with far more than foreign policy, Christian internationalists developed critiques of racism, imperialism, and nationalism in world affairs. They rejected exceptionalist frameworks and eschewed the dominant “Christian nation” imaginary as a lens through which to view U.S. foreign relations. In the intellectual history of religion and American foreign relations, Protestantism most commonly appears as an ideological ancillary to expansionism and nationalism. For God and Globe challenges this account by recovering a movement that held Christian universalism to be a check against nationalism rather than a boon to it.
In October, the Cornell University Press will release “Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age,” by David Mislin (Temple University). The publisher’s description follows:
In Saving Faith, David Mislin chronicles the transformative historical moment when Americans began to reimagine their nation as one strengthened by the diverse faiths of its peoples. Between 1875 and 1925, liberal Protestant leaders abandoned religious exclusivism and leveraged their considerable cultural influence to push others to do the same. This reorientation came about as an ever-growing group of Americans found their religious faith under attack on social, intellectual, and political fronts. A new generation of outspoken agnostics assailed the very foundation of belief, while noted intellectuals embraced novel spiritual practices and claimed that Protestant Christianity had outlived its usefulness.
Faced with these grave challenges, Protestant clergy and their allies realized that the successful defense of religion against secularism required a defense of all religious traditions. They affirmed the social value—and ultimately the religious truth—of Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. They also came to view doubt and uncertainty as expressions of faith. Ultimately, the reexamination of religious difference paved the way for Protestant elites to reconsider ethnic, racial, and cultural difference. Using the manuscript collections and correspondence of leading American Protestants, as well the institutional records of various churches and religious organizations, Mislin offers insight into the historical constructions of faith and doubt, the interconnected relationship of secularism and pluralism, and the enormous influence of liberal Protestant thought on the political, cultural, and spiritual values of the twentieth-century United States.
In August, the Cornell University Press released “Christian Imperialism:
In 1812, eight American missionaries, under the direction of the recently formed American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, sailed from the United States to South Asia. The plans that motivated their voyage were no less grand than taking part in the Protestant conversion of the entire world. Over the next several decades, these men and women were joined by hundreds more American missionaries at stations all over the globe. Emily Conroy-Krutz shows the surprising extent of the early missionary impulse and demonstrates that American evangelical Protestants of the early nineteenth century were motivated by Christian imperialism—an understanding of international relations that asserted the duty of supposedly Christian nations, such as the United States and Britain, to use their colonial and commercial power to spread Christianity.
In describing how American missionaries interacted with a range of foreign locations (including India, Liberia, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, North America, and Singapore) and imperial contexts, Christian Imperialism provides a new perspective on how Americans thought of their country’s role in the world. While in the early republican period many were engaged in territorial expansion in the west, missionary supporters looked east and across the seas toward Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Conroy-Krutz’s history of the mission movement reveals that strong Anglo-American and global connections persisted through the early republic. Considering Britain and its empire to be models for their work, the missionaries of the American Board attempted to convert the globe into the image of Anglo-American civilization.
This month, Baylor University Press releases “Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia: The History and Transformation of a Free Church Tradition,” by Malkhaz Songulashvili (Ilia State University). The publisher’s description follows:
Malkhaz Songulashvili, former Archbishop of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia (EBCG), provides a pioneering, exacting, and
sweeping history of Georgian Baptists. Utilizing archival sources in Georgian, Russian, German, and English—translating many of these crucial documents for the first time into English—he recounts the history of the EBCG from its formation in 1867 to the present.
While the particular story of Georgian Baptists merits telling in its own right, and not simply as a feature of Russian religious life, Songulashvili employs Georgian Baptists as a sustained case study on the convergence of religion and culture. The interaction of Eastern Orthodox, Western Protestant, and Russian dissenting religious traditions—mixed into the political cauldron of Russian occupation of a formerly distinct eastern European culture—led to a remarkable experiment in Christian free-church identity. Evangelical Christian Baptists of Georgia allows readers to peer through the lens of intercultural studies to see the powerful relationships among politics, religion, and culture in the formation of Georgian Baptists, and their blending of Orthodox tradition into Baptist life to craft a unique ecclesiology, liturgy, and aesthetics.
In October, the Oxford University Press will release “Baptized with the Soil: Christian Agrarians and the Crusade for Rural America,” by Kevin M. Lowe (an independent scholar of American religious history). The publisher’s description follows:
In the early twentieth century, many Americans were troubled by the way agriculture was becoming increasingly industrial and corporate. Mainline Protestant churches and cooperative organizations began to come together to promote agrarianism: the belief that the health of the nation depended on small rural communities and family farms. In Baptized with the Soil, Kevin M. Lowe offers for the first time a comprehensive history of the Protestant commitment to rural America.
Christian agrarians believed that farming was the most moral way of life and a means for people to serve God by taking care of the earth that God created. When the Great Depression hit, Christian agrarians worked harder to keep small farmers on the land. They formed alliances with state universities, cooperative extension services, and each other’s denominations. They experimented with ways of revitalizing rural church life–including new worship services like Rural Life Sunday, and new strategies for raising financial support like the Lord’s Acre. Because they believed that the earth was holy, Christian agrarians also became leaders in promoting soil conservation. Decades before the environmental movement, they inspired an ethic of environmental stewardship in their congregations. They may not have been able to prevent the spread of industrial agribusiness, but their ideas have helped define significant and long-lasting currents in American culture.