Jortner, “Blood from the Sky”

This month, the University of Virginia Press releases “Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic,” by Adam Jortner (Auburn University).  The publisher’s description follows:

In the decades following the Revolution, the supernatural exploded across the American landscape—fabulous reports of healings, exorcisms, magic, and angels 4828.jpgcrossed the nation. Under First Amendment protections, new sects based on such miracles proliferated. At the same time, Enlightenment philosophers and American founders explicitly denied the possibility of supernatural events, dismissing them as deliberate falsehoods—and, therefore, efforts to suborn the state. Many feared that belief in the supernatural itself was a danger to democracy. In this way, miracles became a political problem and prompted violent responses in the religious communities of Prophetstown, Turtle Creek, and Nauvoo.

In Blood from the Sky, Adam Jortner argues that the astonishing breadth and extent of American miracles and supernaturalism following independence derived from Enlightenment ideas about proof and sensory evidence, offering a chance at certain belief in an uncertain religious climate. Jortner breaks new ground in explaining the rise of radical religion in antebellum America, revisiting questions of disenchantment, modernity, and religious belief in a history of astounding events that—as early Americans would have said—needed to be seen to be believed.

Evans, “The Social Gospel in American Religion”

In April, New York University Press will release The Social Gospel in American Religion: A History by Christopher H. Evans (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows:

the-social-gospelA remarkable history of the powerful and influential social gospel movement.

The global crises of child labor, alcoholism and poverty were all brought to our attention through the social gospel movement. Its impact on American society makes it one of the most influential developments in American religious history.

Christopher H. Evans traces the development of the social gospel in American Protestantism, and illustrates how the religious idealism of the movement also rose up within Judaism and Catholicism.

Contrary to the works of previous historians, Evans demonstrates how the presence of the social gospel continued in American culture long after its alleged demise following World War I. Evans reveals the many aspects of the social gospel and their influence on a range of social movements during the twentieth century, culminating with the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. It also explores the relationship between the liberal social gospel of the early twentieth century and later iterations of social reform in late twentieth century evangelicalism.

The Social Gospel in American Religion considers an impressive array of historical figures including Washington Gladden, Emil Hirsch, Frances Willard, Reverdy Ransom, Walter Rauschenbusch, Stephen Wise, John Ryan, Harry Emerson Fosdick, A.J. Muste, Georgia Harkness, and Benjamin Mays. It demonstrates how these figures contributed to the shape of the social gospel in America, while arguing that the movement’s legacy lies in its profound influence on broader traditions of liberal-progressive political reform in American history.

Warren, “God’s Red Son

In April, Hachette Book Group will release God’s Red Son: The Ghost Dance Religion and the Making of Modern America by Louis S. Warren (University of California, Davis). The publisher’s description follows:

 gods-red-son-pnIn 1890, on Indian reservations across the West, followers of a new religion danced in circles until they collapsed into trances. In an attempt to suppress this new faith, the US Army killed over two hundred Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek. Louis Warren’s God’s Red Son offers a startling new view of the religion known as the Ghost Dance, from its origins in the visions of a Northern Paiute named Wovoka to the tragedy in South Dakota. To this day, the Ghost Dance remains widely mischaracterized as a primitive and failed effort by Indian militants to resist American conquest and return to traditional ways. In fact, followers of the Ghost Dance sought to thrive in modern America by working for wages, farming the land, and educating their children, tenets that helped the religion endure for decades after Wounded Knee. God’s Red Son powerfully reveals how Ghost Dance teachings helped Indians retain their identity and reshape the modern world.

Gorski, “American Covenant”

This month, Princeton University Press releases “American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present,” by Philip Gorski (Yale University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Was the United States founded as a Christian nation or a secular democracy? Neither, argues Philip Gorski in American Covenant. What the founders actually envisioned was k10976a prophetic republic that would weave together the ethical vision of the Hebrew prophets and the Western political heritage of civic republicanism. In this ambitious book, Gorski shows why this civil religious tradition is now in peril—and with it the American experiment.

Gorski traces the historical development of prophetic republicanism from the Puritan era to the present day. He provides close readings of thinkers such as John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Hannah Arendt, along with insightful portraits of recent and contemporary religious and political leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Gorski shows how the founders’ original vision for America is threatened by an internecine struggle between two rival traditions, religious nationalism and radical secularism. Religious nationalism is a form of militaristic hyperpatriotism that imagines the United States as a divine instrument in the final showdown between good and evil. Radical secularists fervently deny the positive contributions of the Judeo-Christian tradition to the American project and seek to remove all traces of religious expression from the public square. Gorski offers an unsparing critique of both, demonstrating how half a century of culture war has drowned out the quieter voices of the vital center.

American Covenant makes the compelling case that if we are to rebuild that vital center, we must recover the civil religious tradition on which the republic was founded.

Blankenship, “Christianity, Social Justice, and the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II”

In November, the University of North Carolina Press released “Christianity, Social Justice, and the Japanese American Incarceration during World War II,” by Anne Blankenship (North Dakota State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Anne M. Blankenship’s study of Christianity in the infamous camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II yields insights both far-reaching 81txz2b1mtgland timely. While most Japanese Americans maintained their traditional identities as Buddhists, a sizeable minority identified as Christian, and a number of church leaders sought to minister to them in the camps. Blankenship shows how church leaders were forced to assess the ethics and pragmatism of fighting against or acquiescing to what they clearly perceived, even in the midst of a national crisis, as an unjust social system. These religious activists became acutely aware of the impact of government, as well as church, policies that targeted ordinary Americans of diverse ethnicities.

Going through the doors of the camp churches and delving deeply into the religious experiences of the incarcerated and the faithful who aided them, Blankenship argues that the incarceration period introduced new social and legal approaches for Christians of all stripes to challenge the constitutionality of government policies on race and civil rights. She also shows how the camp experience nourished the roots of an Asian American liberation theology that sprouted in the sixties and seventies.

 

Rogers, “Unpopular Sovereignty”

In February, the University of Nebraska Press will release “Unpopular Sovereignty: Mormons and the Federal Management of Early Utah Territory,” by Brent Rogers (Brigham Young University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Newly created territories in antebellum America were designed to be extensions of national sovereignty and jurisdiction. Utah Territory, however, was a deeply productimagehandlercontested space in which a cohesive settler group—the Mormons—sought to establish their own “popular sovereignty,” raising the question of who possessed and could exercise governing, legal, social, and even cultural power in a newly acquired territory.

In Unpopular Sovereignty, Brent M. Rogers invokes the case of popular sovereignty in Utah as an important contrast to the better-known slavery question in Kansas. Rogers examines the complex relationship between sovereignty and territory along three main lines of inquiry: the implementation of a republican form of government, the administration of Indian policy and Native American affairs, and gender and familial relations—all of which played an important role in the national perception of the Mormons’ ability to self-govern. Utah’s status as a federal territory drew it into larger conversations about popular sovereignty and the expansion of federal power in the West. Ultimately, Rogers argues, managing sovereignty in Utah proved to have explosive and far-reaching consequences for the nation as a whole as it teetered on the brink of disunion and civil war.

McBride, “Pulpit and Nation”

This month, University of Virginia Press releases “Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America,” by Spencer McBride.  The publisher’s description follows:

In Pulpit and Nation, Spencer McBride highlights the importance of Protestant clergymen in early American political culture, elucidating the actual role of 5005religion in the founding era. Beginning with colonial precedents for clerical involvement in politics and concluding with false rumors of Thomas Jefferson’s conversion to Christianity in 1817, this book reveals the ways in which the clergy’s political activism—and early Americans’ general use of religious language and symbols in their political discourse—expanded and evolved to become an integral piece in the invention of an American national identity. Offering a fresh examination of some of the key junctures in the development of the American political system—the Revolution, the ratification debates of 1787–88, and the formation of political parties in the 1790s—McBride shows how religious arguments, sentiments, and motivations were subtly interwoven with political ones in the creation of the early American republic. Ultimately, Pulpit and Nation reveals that while religious expression was common in the political culture of the Revolutionary era, it was as much the calculated design of ambitious men seeking power as it was the natural outgrowth of a devoutly religious people.

On the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

At the Library of Law and Liberty this morning, I have a post on the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom of 1786, the anniversary of which America marked last week. Among other things, I describe how Jefferson deftly combines Enlightenment and Evangelical Christian arguments to support religious freedom. Here’s a sample:

It’s fascinating, therefore, to go back and read the statute in its entirety. Three things stand out. First is the skillful way Jefferson combines two dramatically different strands of thought to justify religious freedom—Enlightenment Liberalism and Evangelical Christianity. (As a good lawyer, Jefferson knew how to make an argument in the alternative). “Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself,” the preamble declares; “she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error.” Through free debate, people could reason their way to truth, in religion as in other matters. No justification existed, therefore, for prohibiting people from expressing their religious opinions and trying to persuade others.

This Enlightenment defense of free inquiry was not likely to convince everyone, though, so Jefferson added an argument from Evangelical Christianity as well. Religious freedom was the plan of “the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either.” Establishments had resulted in “false religions over the greatest part of the world,” including, presumably, Catholicism and Islam. The point was clear: a good Evangelical Christian should support religious freedom, for Christianity’s sake. This combination of Evangelical and Enlightenment reasoning is a major theme in American church-state law, and it’s interesting to see how far back it goes.

That Jefferson, he was one shrewd lawyer. You can read the whole post here.

Smith, “Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography”

In March, Westminster John Knox Press will release Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography by Harold Ivan Smith (Carondolet Medical Institute). The publisher’s description follows:

eleanorMore than fifty years after her death, Eleanor Roosevelt is remembered as a formidable first lady and tireless social activist. Often overlooked, however, is her deep and inclusive spirituality. Her personal faith was shaped by reading the New Testament in her youth, giving her a Jesus-centered spirituality that fueled her commitment to civil rights, women’s rights, and the rights of all “little people” marginalized in American society.

She took seriously Jesus’ words and despite her life of privilege, she made the needs of those on the margins her priority. Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography provides insight into one of America’s most famous women, particularly the spiritual influences that made her so active in social justice issues.

Schmiesing, “Merchants and Ministers”

This month, Lexington Books released Merchants and Ministers: A History of Businesspeople and Clergy in the United States by Kevin Schmiesing (Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty). The publisher’s description follows:

merchants-and-ministersTwo of the most influential forces in American history are business and religion. Merchants and Ministers weaves the two together in a history of the relationship between businesspeople and Christian clergy. From fur traders and missionaries who explored the interior of the continent to Gilded-Age corporate titans and their clerical confidants to black businessmen and their ministerial collaborators in the Civil Rights movement, Merchants and Ministers tells stories of interactions between businesspeople and clergy from the colonial period to the present. It presents a complex picture of this relationship, highlighting both conflict and cooperation between the two groups. By placing anecdotal detail in the context of general developments in commerce and Christianity, Merchants and Ministers traces the contours of American history and illuminates those contours with the personal stories of businesspeople and clergy.

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