July 1st, 2014
By: James Hudnut-Beumler
The editors asked me to contribute to this author’s feature, which focuses on recent books in religious history and their back-stories, so to speak. The book that they had in mind was my In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar: A History of Money and American Protestantism. They indicated that I could write about how the book came to be written, the books that didn’t get written out of the research conducted, and any unplowed fields that I might have found along the way available to other scholars, or some combination of these themes. I accepted the challenge because I have always been interested in other’s “book stories” and because this book, my fourth, had emerged from the greatest forest of possibilities to-date and hence seemed worth writing about for others.
June 27th, 2014
By: Sally Dwyer-McNulty
Examining the interpersonal dynamics surrounding Catholic uniforms for Common Threads, I found three subgroups the most readily interpretable: those who make the clothing rules, those who follow the rules, and those who violate the rules. But other actors, often women, old and young, fictive and real take up a role regarding uniforms — they are the observers. Applying Michel Foucault’s insights about the practices that enforce norms in Discipline & Punishment: The Birth of the Prison, these uniform monitors comprise a network that participates in identifying rule violators and disciplining them. Foucault refers to this network, one that is informal and usually outside of the traditional institutional framework of power, as part of the “mechanism of discipline.” Nevertheless, through their policing Catholic gaze, these often unrecognized inspectors of attire and behavior claim a degree of authority, and assist in sustaining the material and behavioral dimension of Catholicism.
June 24th, 2014
By Matt McCook
The religious faiths of the founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson, have been the subject of so much recent scholarship and polemical writing, Arthur Scherr’s title, “Thomas Jefferson Versus the Historians: Christianity, Atheistic Morality, and the Afterlife” led me to wonder which historians Scherr’s Jefferson would battle. It was clear from the opening paragraph that historians who supposedly champion the position of the Religious Right were the intended opponents. Although all respondents on this blog have mentioned that Scherr casts his net too widely in identifying the culprits, the critique bears repeating. Polemical works on all sides deserves to be called out by serious scholars, but not all scholars who argue that Jefferson was more Christian or more comfortable with some degree of cooperation between church and state are necessarily writing on behalf of the Religious Right. I find little similarity between the works of David Barton and the scholarship of James Hutson, Paul Conkin, Edwin Gaustad, or even Daniel Dreisbach. Their works are not merely provocative, as unsupported polemical assertions are, nor would they claim their conclusions were above historical revisionism. Rather, they have contributed reasonable assertions based on available evidence that demand attention; their contributions are not so easily dismissed.