Archive for January, 2012

Call for Discussants: Emotive Cognition & Sensuous Devotion in Catholicism

Monday, January 30th, 2012

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Chancellor Jackman Professor of Religion & Anthropology

University of Toronto



Lucius Moody Bristol Distinguished Professor of Religion

Florida State University



Kuno Francke Professor of German Art & Culture

Harvard University



Professor of Religion

Duke University


OCTOBER 26-27, 2012


Seminar Themes

  • Sensory stimuli (visual culture, tactile contact, silence and sound) and perception in relation to forms and experiences of devotion and to emotive cognition
  • Ambient emotional cueing, including the ways in which material culture predisposes and informs religious affect and understanding
  • The influences of specific emotions (love, fear, guilt, joy, gratitude) on devotion, perception, and cognition
  • The effect of moods evoked by sensuous devotion on cognitive evaluation of beliefs, events, and memories
  • Supernatural presence in statues and paintings, and interactive contemplation of these images
  • The living attributes (animation, bleeding, expression of emotion) and agency (performing miracles) of certain sacred images
  • Mental imagery
  • Emotive effects of architectural acoustics
  • Sensory intuition of divine presence
  • Empathetic identification with represented suffering
  • Emotive cognition of liturgical discourse
  • Individual and collective imagination (including traditions) as they pertain to emotive cognition and sensuous devotion
  • Any other themes pertinent to the seminar’s field of inquiry.


Seminar Format

The seminar is comprised of sixteen participants; four are presenters, upon whose work the seminar is based, and the others are discussants. Five of the discussants are selected through a national call for participants, and the others are selected from the Connecticut College community. The seminar will take place on October 26-27, 2012. It begins informally on Friday evening, meets on Saturday, and concludes with a dinner on Saturday evening.


Rather than reading their papers during the seminar, the presenters submit the papers one month in advance of the meeting date. The papers are circulated to all seminar participants, who agree upon selection to read the papers prior to the seminar and to prepare questions and discussion comments.


Each presenter is allotted seventy-five minutes on the program. The presentations entail a fifteen-minute opening statement (to identify themes, build context, show slides, or introduce discussion topics) followed by questions and by discussion led by the presenter.



Faculty interested in participating as discussants may apply by sending a brief letter stating the relevance of the seminar to research interests and a one-page biographical note or two-page curriculum vitae. The deadline for receipt of these materials is March 5, 2012. Decisions will be announced by the end of March. Please send your materials to Nancy Lewandowski,, using “Discussant Proposal” as the subject line. Discussants are not paid an honorarium or travel expenses but upon arrival are guests of Connecticut College (including hotel accommodations and meals). Please address any questions to Frank Graziano, John D. MacArthur Professor of Hispanic Studies,



The seminar meetings are open to the public without charge. To register, please send your name and email to Nancy Lewandowski, Please use “Seminar Registration” as the subject line.



The seminar will take place on the Connecticut College campus in New London, Connecticut. New London is located on Interstate 95, approximately midway between New York City and Boston (two hours to either by car). At a one-hour distance to the north and south, respectively, are Providence and New Haven. There are Amtrak, bus, and ferry (from Long Island) stations in New London, and the closest airports are Providence (the most convenient airport) and Hartford, both about one hour from campus.



This event is sponsored by Connecticut College’s Dean of the Faculty. Additional support was provided by the College’s Information Services and the Departments of Anthropology, Art History & Architectural Studies, and Religious Studies.

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The Politics of Exhibit Curation

Friday, January 27th, 2012

by Christopher J. Anderson

The American Civil War continues to fascinate academics, graduate students, and popular audiences. Each year dozens of books, theses, articles, and documentaries are produced that provide biographical sketches, perspectives on particular battles, and revisions of and reflections upon the war. The 150th anniversary of the conflict is upon us and universities and museums throughout the United States are holding conferences and hosting exhibits looking back on the intriguing and disturbing events of the war.

Recently I curated an exhibit on American Methodists and the Civil War at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. The process of building the exhibit and sorting out the multiple historical and religious interpretations surrounding the conflict caused me to reflect upon the politics of curation – the research, construction, and presentation of exhibits.

In his book Stagestruck Filmmaker: D.W. Griffith and the American Theater (University of Iowa Press, 2009) author David Mayer argues, “The American Civil War has never been a stable field with an agreed-upon historical interpretation. Rather, it was – and is – an evolving, contested subject which is host to vehemence, disruption, and difference, a palimpsest upon which fresh questions about the past are inscribed.” (121)

Mayer’s insight reminds us that the presentation and representation of texts, objects, photographs, labels, and even how one names an exhibit can generate boredom, interest, aggravation, and outrage. Exhibits are meant to draw attention to historical and/or contemporary issues so that viewers can both reflect upon the past and ask questions in the present. The contents of an exhibit also echo the educational backgrounds, interests, and biases of both curator and curatorial team. As a result, exhibits are often positioned historically, sociologically, theologically, politically, and even metaphorically in order to give voice to the voiceless and to champion certain ideological positions from history.

As we examine exhibits it is important to keep in mind that each display case, each individual object, and each text label are positioned to broadcast a certain perspective (whether the curator realizes this or not). The final product presents viewers with multiple interpretations, readings, and subtexts that help shape her or his perception of the events exhibited.

Religious Liberty

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

by Peter J. Thuesen

The Supreme Court’s decision on January 11 in a major church-state case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, nearly coincided with a special session at the ASCH Winter Meeting honoring the legacies of Edwin Scott Gaustad (1923-2011), a giant among historians of American religion and a specialist in First Amendment issues.

Though I never knew Edwin Gaustad personally, I remember seeing him at past ASCH conferences and have several of his books close at hand in my office, including The Great Awakening in New England (1957), George Berkeley in America (1979), Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson (1996), Church and State in America (1999; 2nd ed., 2003), and, of course, his monumental New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (revised with Philip L. Barlow in 2001).

I wish that Professor Gaustad, who died in Santa Fe last March, were around to comment on the Hosanna-Tabor decision.  The case is far from simple and will undoubtedly generate debate for years to come.  It involves a teacher at a Missouri Synod Lutheran parochial school who had to take a leave of absence after becoming ill with narcolepsy.  When the school asked her to resign her position altogether, she refused and threatened to pursue an employment discrimination claim based on a disability.  The school subsequently fired her, saying that as a “called” teacher who effectively served as a minister, she violated the church’s doctrine by pursuing legal action rather than trying to resolve the dispute internally.  The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the school’s action, citing the “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination laws.  Previously, that exception had been interpreted more narrowly to prevent scenarios such as a church’s being forced to retain an unwanted pastor.  Hosanna-Tabor now raises new questions about (1) who may be construed as a “minister,” and (2) what counts as a legitimately doctrinal exemption from anti-discrimination laws.

The case is the latest reminder that when it comes to defining the limits of free exercise, the devil is always in the details.  Indeed, important church-state cases have often arisen from seemingly inconsequential details – matters more mundane than a person’s employment discrimination claim.  Professor Gaustad put it memorably in the concluding paragraph to his Church and State in America (2003):

Sometimes the church-state cases reviewed here may look puny and barely worth worrying about: a 10-cent bus fare in New Jersey, a 50-cent peddling permit in Connecticut, a $5.40 annual tax bill in New York, a parade permit here, a schoolbook there.  But James Madison noted that the Bostonians’ refusal in 1774 to pay a threepenny-a-pound tax on tea was also just a piddling amount.  Yet ‘the people of the U.S. owe their independence and liberty,’ Madison wrote, ‘to the wisdom of descrying [discerning] in the minute Tax . . . the magnitude of the evil comprised in the precedent.’  To adapt a line from Michelangelo, religious liberty is made up of a series of trifles, but religious liberty is no trifle.

Though we can’t know what Professor Gaustad would have said about Hosanna-Tabor, his humane and accessible scholarship should be a model to us as historians of how to engage a wider public in thinking critically about momentous questions of religious liberty.


Peter J. Thuesen is Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), where he co-edits Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation.  His most recent book is Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine (Oxford, 2009), which won the 2010 Christianity Today Book Award for History/Biography.

The Smell of Catholicism

Friday, January 13th, 2012

by Thomas Worcester

I often write down possible topics for eventual research and for new courses I might like to teach sometime to our students at the College of the Holy Cross. Though institutional church history may not draw huge crowds these days, some other religious topics could well fill a classroom. The history of sin, from Adam to the Apocalypse, is one of my possible but not-yet-offered courses. (Would it include discussion sections, or even some community-based learning?)

Another possible course is on Catholicism as smell. For in Catholic tradition there is sin portrayed as stench, and sanctity as suave odor. St. Ignatius of Loyola invites those doing his Spiritual Exercises to ‘apply’ their imaginary senses, smell included, to contemplation of themes such as sin. Also, Catholics encounter the sweet smell of flowers in sanctuaries, at feast days, weddings and funerals, and perhaps from flowers placed before statues of favorite saints. There is St. Thérèse of Lisieux, called the Little Flower. There are the oils used in certain sacraments, blessings, and consecrations, and some of these oils have a distinct scent. There is incense in various qualities and strengths.

On this point, I still recall my ordination, more than two decades ago, when a particularly strong whiff of fragrant incense brought me to tears, tears of irritation perhaps, but also of consolation. These days, the Jesuits in Australia retain an excellent winery, and its vintages offer a menu of olfactory delights. Most recently, a company based in California has been marketing what they call the pope’s cologne, based, they say, on a formula for the cologne favored by Pope Pius IX. It is said to be made with same essences that his perfumers used, and to have ‘notes’ of violet and citrus! But even such notes, it would seem, did not endear Pius to his many enemies.

Despite this failure of papal odor to make a difference, have historians given too little attention to the smell of Catholicism?

Call For Papers: ASCH 2013 Winter Conference

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

The annual Winter 2013 meeting of the American Society of Church History (ASCH) will be held Thursday to Sunday, January 3-6, 2013, in New Orleans, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA).

We invite ASCH members and other interested scholars to submit paper and session proposals on any aspect of the history of Christianity and its interaction with culture, including proposals for formal papers, panel and round table discussions, consideration of a major recent book, critical assessments of a distinguished career, and other relevant themes and issues.

In addition to traditional categories relating to periods, geographical areas, and special topics, we will give special consideration to proposals that consider broader themes across periods or regions; engage in interdisciplinary discussion; place theological ideas in historical context; examine particular genres, source materials or methods; or treat the current state of the study of church history.

We also invite sessions that deal with pedagogical issues of concern in the teaching of the history of Christianity, or with issues in the publication and dissemination of research to specialist and general audiences. Panels should exhibit diversity of gender, rank, and scholarly location in their composition.

Proposals for entire panels/sessions are strongly preferred, though proposals for individual papers will also be considered. The committee welcomes international participation and particularly encourages proposals (whether for full panels or individual papers) from those who live and work outside the United States.

Sessions are typically two hours in length and allow for three or four papers, a formal response, and Q&A with the audience. In order better to group individual papers into sessions, such proposals for individual papers should address one of the following themes:

Christianity and public life, or the relationship of church and state
Christian responses to disaster and suffering
Christianity and race, or creole cultures

The deadline for proposals is March 15, 2012.

(For those interested in submitting joint proposals to the AHA and the ASCH, the deadline for AHA proposals is February 15, 2012. (See Paper proposals should consist of:

(1) a short description of less than 300 words
(2) a biographical paragraph or CV summary of the applicant, and
(3) a current mailing location, email address, and phone number for the proposed presenter.

Session proposals should contain all of the above for each of the presenters, as well as:

(1) the session title
(2) a brief description of less than 300 words outlining the theme or topic of the session, and
(3) biographical data and contact details for the chair and the respondent (which can be the same person).

Use of audio-visual equipment is limited to the hotel provider’s equipment, has become very expensive, and must be restricted to presentations for which it is strictly necessary. The proposed use of computers, internet, or projectors in the session must therefore be stated and rationalized in the proposal.

Please send proposals, preferably by email, before March 15, 2012, to the program committee at Acknowledgements and further information will be sent out as proposals are received. The program committee reserves the right to reconfigure sessions as needed.

NOTE: All program participants must register for the annual meeting and be members of the ASCH at the time of the Meeting.

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Useful History

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

by James Lewis

Reading Richard Heitzenrater’s presidential address in the December 2011 issue of Church History (terrific on the page and no doubt even better in person) made me wonder about the apparently modest interest in American church history in seminaries and among clergy.He reminds us that all historians employ “research, conjecture, and analysis” as their basic tools in producing an account of historic developments that is “credible, appropriate, and useful.” (It’s the criterion of usefulness I want to highlight in these brief reflections.) He also acknowledges that many ASCH members pursue their craft for perfectly appropriate personal and professional motives that have little to do with contemporary churches or their theological schools.

My question, however, writing from a seminary campus, is why American church history seems so useless (or at least marginal) to many clergy and theological students. Among other possible explanations, some claim that attention to Bible, theology, and pastoral care are more directly relevant to pastoral ministry, leaving history aside as an unnecessary luxury in a crowded curriculum.

But, to put the onus on us, perhaps some of the blame is ours. Perhaps, in Heitzenrater’s terms, American church historians have been more professionally comfortable with the tasks of research and conjecture but far more timid about offering the kind of analysis that can be genuinely useful to pastors and churches alike.

That’s not to say, of course, that claims aren’t made all the time in church and seminary about “what history teaches us”. But those claims are all too often made without the benefit of legitimate historical evidence. For that kind of history lesson, anything will do. But maybe it’s time for church historians to think more seriously about and to argue more boldly for the genuine usefulness of church history outside the classroom.

In doing so, however, we must remind ourselves and our students that our historical accounts can only be useful when grounded in appropriately rigorous research and conjecture. Only thus can we produce narratives of the past that are both credible and appropriate as well as useful to the church in the present. For pastors and church leaders, that kind of church history is “news they can use.”

Winter Meeting Live Blog

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

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Our official live blog for the 2012 Annual Winter Meeting will begin updating at 3pm Thursday, January 5, and will cover the meeting until Sunday at 1pm.

Congregational Studies Fellowships

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

The Congregational Studies Team is pleased to announce the availability of Fellowships* to support scholars who are interested in disciplined inquiry into the life of local communities of faith. These 18-month fellowships include $18,000 in research support, plus $2000 for related travel. In addition, Fellowships include a program of mentoring by a senior-scholar coach and participation in two summer consultations that bring together the Fellows and coaches with the Team.

Applications are encouraged from scholars in a variety of disciplines — from practical theology to the social sciences, from history to biblical studies and contextual education — for projects that involve learning from and about living communities of faith. Fellows will explore avenues for making that knowledge available for the sake of those communities’ well being, as well as developing strong academic contributions appropriate to their disciplines. Applicants should have completed their graduate work and be placed in a professional position at the time of application. We especially encourage early-career scholars to apply, but will consider applications from persons who have recently been tenured.

Note that the application deadline has been extended to 1 February 2012. For application information and instructions, see the PDF listed below, visit or contact the Engaged Scholars project office at Hartford Seminary (

Download this Announcement (PDF)
Download Application Instructions (PDF)


*This program is administered by the Congregational Studies Team: Nancy Ammerman, Anthea Butler, Bill McKinney, Omar McRoberts, Larry Mamiya, Gerardo Marti, Joyce Mercer, James Nieman (project director), Bob Schreiter, Steve Warner, and Jack Wertheimer.

Worst Job Candidate Ever

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

by Sarah Moslener

Oh academia you can’t pick me up

Soothe me with your words when I need your love

– Sia


This year search committees don’t even seem to bother acknowledging application materials.  I understand.  130 to 400 emails is a lot of work (and that doesn’t include rejection emails and invitations for interviews) for a department secretary and as a former program assistant, myself, I am sympathetic.  Those aren’t numbers anyone wants to deal with.  We’ve heard the explanations (over-saturated market, over-reliance on adjunct/part-time instructor) and the clarion calls for systematic overhaul. At times I find these discussions helpful and thoughtful, at others I want to dress up like Betty Page and burn my diplomas.

When I first anticipated the teaching life I was drawn to the contemplative work of Parker Palmer, Mary Rose O’Reilly, and Maria Lichtmann who write about teaching as if it were one of the Five Nobel Truths.  And so I believed it to be.  Until the first day I stepped into the classroom.  These days I find wisdom from the self-appointed Worst Professor Ever, Amanda Krauss, former tenure-track professor at Vanderbilt University.  Krauss, who left academia on her own accord, is re-creating herself as social media web guru and writing a book about leaving academia.

Unlike Krauss, I do still find the language of vocation meaningful and, despite my admiration of her, one of the reasons I have not taken her course.  Even as a former-Calvinist I can say without rancor that I truly feel called to teaching undergraduate students and researching and writing about American Christianity.   And if I could, I’d do it for free  on an adjunct/part-time basis which is probably where I will end up anyway.  But I need health insurance, food, and a place to live.  Unlike many adjunct/part-timers I don’t have a second income, nor any means of conducting a ponzi scheme.  But I have been fortunate since completing my degree at finding three years of uninterrupted full-time work.  Even though both of my jobs have been temporary and included a neck-snapping, 11th hour job offer and move out of state, I am one of the lucky ones

For many of us on the job market, practical and existential questions abound: How will I get health insurance next year if I’m not working full-time?  What does it mean to be a teacher without a classroom?  When is it time to give up altogether?  But the crisis doesn’t just raise questions about the individual well-being of scholar-teachers, but about the state of our field.  Most importantly, it gives us the opportunity to re-think the role of the religious historian scholar–what contributions do we make to public understandings of religion and are these meaningful contributions?  How does the study of religion relate to other parts of the academic curriculum?  How can we bridge the gap between confessional and non-confessional scholars–and should we?

The late Warren Nord argued that educational systems need to do a better job providing students with opportunities to view religion as “live options.”  Though I find some of Nord’s recommendations too narrowly defined by religion as belief alone, the idea of the study of religion as live option is worth pondering.  For the study of religion to be a live option, students and teachers need to experience their scholarship and teaching work as life-giving.  Academia does a great disservice by indoctrinating graduate students with the idea that anything less than tenure is failure.

So years on the adjunct circuit or part-time work or taking time off (by choice or not) is perceived as a set back, when it could just as easily provide valuable opportunities for integrating other aspects of life such as scholarship and activism/community organizing, teaching and religious community, or research and (heaven forbid) publishing with a popular press.   The parameters we have used to frame the role of the academic are far too restrictive for generating a field of study that is vibrant and relevant.  On second-thought, the role of the religious historian has everything to do with the personal well-being of the individual scholar-teacher.

Not long ago I first heard of a Visiting Assistant Professor at William and Mary named Sarah Hammond.  I never knew Sarah, but we had much in common as recent Phds, current VAPs, and US Religious historians.   She just published an article in the fall issues of Church History and was awaiting the publication of her first book. She had a position at a prestigious school that was currently seeking a permanent replacement for a retired faculty in her field.  According to close friends and colleagues, she was poised to become a key figure in the study of American religion.   But just days after the AAR/SBL meetings in San Francisco Sarah died unexpectedly. One of Sarah’s friends posted this response to Mark Oppenheimer’s article about Sarah:

I am now a professor, and I received the news of her passing just moments before teaching my graduate seminar. To explain to my students why I was walking into class with red and puffy eyes, I told them what had happened, and this led to an amazing discussion about the psychological stresses of academic life — the isolation, the constant self-doubt and self-criticism, the job-market uncertainty, etc. If there is anything positive to come from this horrible event, I hope that it will lead to a more open and accepting dialogue about mental illness issues, in academia and elsewhere.

As I consider the coming years and the various options that are (or are not) available to me, I hope at the very least to be part of a community of people striving to make the study of religion and culture continually relevant to academic life, but that is also attentive to the lives that comprise that community.  I believe this already exists, but only for a small number of people who have achieved the narrow standards of academic success.  Caring for the life of a religious scholar is far more valuable than academic success, a lesson I am just coming to accept for myself.

If I cannot put my own well-being above success, than I am no good to my students, colleagues, or myself.   Often times I feel I have to make a choice between health and success.  I keep moving forward because I hold onto the hope that it doesn’t have to be this way and we can make the academic life a community of people that cares for all of its members regardless of whether or not they are on the tenure track.

The “Mormon Question” in Presidential Politics

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

by Patrick Mason

Mitt Romney’s serious candidacy to become the Republican nominee for president has brought renewed attention to the “Mormon question” in national politics.  The debate over Mormonism’s relationship to the nation has periodically surfaced ever since the religion’s founder, Joseph Smith, quixotically threw his hat into the ring in the 1844 presidential race.  (Smith was murdered a few months before voters went to the polls.)

A common theme developed by nineteenth-century opponents of Mormonism and resurrected in recent months is that Mormonism, despite its quintessentially American roots, is fundamentally and inherently anti-democratic, and thus un-American.  Fears of a Latter-day Saint theocratic oligarchy—or the inclination toward it—have circulated ever since Smith led a veritable Mormon city-state in Illinois and Brigham Young presided over his “kingdom” in the intermountain West.

Historians of religion in America know that as far as Mormonism and politics goes, more has changed than has remained the same since Young’s “Great Basin Kingdom” dissolved in the face of overwhelming federal pressure and even violence in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  Latter-day Saints as a group haven’t articulated a distinctive political theology since they gave up polygamy in 1890 and Utah joined the Union in 1896.  Every election season the church circulates a disclaimer about its political neutrality that is read from every pulpit.  Indeed, the only thing remarkable about Mormon politics in the past century has been the degree of their assimilation to national norms.  To be sure, in recent decades Mormon Americans have disproportionately allied with the Republican Party, but so have Wall Street, the defense industry, and white evangelicals.

Of course, no one has suggested that Romney be formally disqualified because of his religion; even the most strident critics of Mormonism uphold Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits a religious test for any public office.  Rather, the issue is whether or not Romney’s (or any candidate’s) religious affiliation and personal beliefs should make a difference to individual voters—whether theology has a place in the voting booth.

Although this question has received considerable attention, with sophisticated positions taken on all sides, to a large degree the debate of whether religion should have any influence in voting behavior is moot.  Americans can and do take any set of values they wish into the voting booth with them.  Religion (speaking in the most generic sense) thus joins abortion, or Israel, or the environment, or tax policy, or who a voter would like to have a beer with, as a legitimate standard by which candidates are chosen or rejected in a democratic society.  And of course religious (and irreligious) worldviews often directly, if not always consciously, impact voters’ views on any of the other, “non-religious” issues that also shape their selection of candidates.

Mitt Romney’s candidacy, along with the popularity of The Book of Mormon Musical and various other pop culture phenomena, have raised the collective profile of Mormonism in public life.  In general Mormons have embraced the philosophy that any publicity is good publicity.  Yet in recent months, many Mormons have been upset by attacks, from both the religious right and secular left, on Romney because of his religion and on their religion because of Romney.  They have rightly insisted that people get their facts straight and not rely on outdated stereotypes, selective readings, and outright distortions.  The Romney candidacy thus provides Americans—including scholars of religion—an opportunity to look inward and consider the depth of their own commitments to truth-telling, tolerance, and robust pluralism.

But there is another side to the coin.  If Mormons feel it illegitimate for a certain percentage of voters or commentators to reject Romney out of hand simply because he is Mormon, then those same Mormons have a duty not to embrace Romney uncritically simply because he is a Mormon.  I have even heard lifelong Mormon Democrats (there is such a thing) say they would vote for Romney in a general election because he is “one of us.”  Identity politics is a long and hallowed tradition in America, applying to white evangelicals in their support of George W. Bush and African Americans in their support for Barack Obama.  But it is simply not consistent for Mormons—or anyone else—to decry the identity politics of others while unblinkingly practicing it themselves.

Mitt Romney may or may not become president—or even the GOP nominee.  But regardless of the final results, this election season gives all Americans yet another opportunity to reflect on the kind of society we want to construct, including the extent and meaning of religious pluralism in American public life.