Friday, 30 August 2013

UTC Weekend Institute

My colleague Lucien Ellington and I are organizing an institute at UTC for teachers. During the weekend of Friday, November 15 to Saturday, November 16, teachers will hear various experts speak on the theme of: "Religion and the Making of American Citizens: Past, Present, and Future." This weekend institute is sponsored by the Apgar Foundation and the
Center for Reflective Citizenship at UTC, which was founded by Lucien and former SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, Wilfred McClay.

This weekend institute is meant to offer training for local educators, approximately two dozen of whom will hear speakers talk about the importance of including religion in their teaching. The Center for Reflective Citizenship hopes to convince teachers that religion has played a vital role in America, from its founding to the present, and should be included in any basic courses on American history. As sponsors of this event, Lucien and I believe that religion is a subject worthy of serious attention by educated people, and so we hope to remind teachers of the influential religious traditions that have permeated American history and culture. 

Below is a draft of the program.

Friday, November 15
4:45pm-5:00pm Jonathan Yeager and Lucien Ellington, Welcome and announcements
5:00pm-6:30pm: Tracy Mckenzie (Wheaton College): "The Place of Religion in American Education"


Dinner and Keynote: 6:45pm-8:45pm:
Daniel Dreisbach (American University): "The Role of the Bible in the Political Culture of the Founders"
Saturday, November 16

8:30am-9:45am: John Fea (Messiah College): "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers"
10:00am-11:15am: Donald Clark (Trinity University): "The Impact of 19th and 20th Century Protestant Missionaries in East Asia"
11:30am-1:00 pm: Lunch and Keynote: Wilfred McClay (University of Oklahoma): "How and Why and What We Should Teach Our Students About Religion in the 21st Century"
1:10 pm-2:25 pm: Molly Worthen (UNC-Chapel Hill): "Women and Religion in American History"

2:30 pm-3:45 pm:
Michael Cromartie (Ethics and Public Policy, Washington D.C.): "Red God and Blue God: The Shifting Contours of American Religion and American Politics"

3:45-4:00 pm: Evaluations and Conclusion
If you know of any outstanding teachers who would be interested in attending this weekend institute, please have them contact me and I will gladly supply them with an application.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Jonathan Edwards and the "sweetness" of God

Today, in my course on "Jonathan Edwards's Life, Thought, and Legacy in American Religious Culture," we discussed some of the excerpts in A Jonathan Edwards Reader. Students came to class having read Edwards's "Personal Narrative" (pp. 281-96), "The Spider Letter" (pp. 1-8), "Beauty of the World" (pp. 14-15), "Miscellanies" (pp. 35-48), "Diary" (pp. 266-74), and "Resolutions" (pp. 774-80). We spent most of our time, however, discussing Edwards's "Personal Narrative."

For many of the students, reading Edwards's "Personal Narrative" changed the way that they viewed him. Most of the class admitted that before today's readings, they assumed Edwards was consumed with the subject of hell--the kind of preacher who took pleasure in telling people that they were going to suffer eternal punishment. After reading the "Personal Narrative," students were shocked to find multiple references to God as "sweet." They were amazed to read that Edwards seemed obsessed with the God's beauty, as opposed to his wrath.

After struggling to find consistency in his devotion to God, Edwards eventually found a "new sense," which he described as "quite different from anything I ever experienced before" (284). Once receiving this new sense, Edwards went on to refer to just about everything having to do with God as beautiful, excellent and, especially, sweet. Edwards wrote that "God's excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature." He saw thunder and lightning, which formerly terrified him, as sweet (285), and even sickness as a "sweet" time of connection with God's Spirit (290).

In our discussion today, I made the case that regardless of whether you like Edwards or share the same beliefs, he is at the very least a fascinating person, who is often misunderstood as the quintessential fire-and-brimstone preacher.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Material and Social Practices of Jonathan Edwards

One of the most helpful recent articles on Jonathan Edwards and print culture was written by Ken Minkema and Wilson Kimnach and published in volume 69 (October 2012) of the William and Mary Quarterly. There is also a really cool online exhibit that acts as a supplement to the journal article, "The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work: Jonathan Edwards’s Study: An Online Exhibition."

Click here, and you can view Jonathan Edwards's study as it would have appeared during his lifetime. You can then click on individual pieces of his furniture to receive further information.

bookcase chair galleys on the floor stool Desk Lazy Susan table

Saturday, 24 August 2013

OUP's "Evangelical Studies" Series

I recently saw the following advertisement for "Evangelical Studies" at Oxford University Press.

Take a look at the books in this series, along with the forthcoming titles.
  Cover for 
Gods Forever Family

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Civil War and Religion

If you are in the Chattanooga area on Thursday, September 19 at 5:30pm, please consider attending the first LeRoy Martin Lecture of the academic year. Ed Blum will be speaking at UTC on "Satan Was the First Secessionist: Devil Talk and the American Civil War" (abstract below).

Ed recently sent me his "prezi" presentation of the lecture, and it looks amazing! I hope to see you there.

Abraham Lincoln hoped that the "better angels of our nature" would stop halt the drive to war. They didn't. Instead, the Civil War unleashed demons on the nation and brought hell to earth. Whether in the diaries of soldiers, the political cartoons of newspapers, or the speeches of leading statesmen, biblical evil was on display in every facet of American society. In "Satan was the first Secessionist," award-winning historian Edward J. Blum brings us to the dark side of this Civil War and what uses the prince of darkness to shed new light on the war that almost destroyed America.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

A Difference of Opinions

Today, in my course on "Jonathan Edwards's Life, Thought, and Legacy in American Religious Culture," I talked about Edwards's extended family. We briefly discussed the importance of Solomon Stoddard as a patriarch in Northampton as well as Timothy Edwards as a father figure. But the majority of our time was spent on the "notorious" Elizabeth Tuttle, Edwards's grandmother.

The students came to class, having read the introduction and first two chapters in George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life. I read aloud Marsden's comments about Elizabeth Tuttle on page 22. After praising Edwards's paternal grandfather Richard (Elizabeth Tuttle's husband), Marsden wrote:

Timothy's mother, however, was a scandal and a disgrace. Three months after she married Richard Edwards, in 1667, Elizabeth Tuthill (or Tuttle) revealed that she was pregnant by another man. Richard nonetheless protected her by paying the fine for fornication himself and arranging to have the child raised by her parents. The problem proved to be much deeper. Elizabeth was afflicted with a series psychosis. She was given to fits of perversity... repeated infidelities, rages, and threats of violence, including the threat to cut Richard's throat while he was asleep... Elizabeth Tuthill Edwards' condition worsened with the burden of bearing six children to Richard, of whom Timothy was the eldest. Eventually she deserted her family for a number of years, staying away from Richard's bed when she returned. By 1688 her behavior became so erratic that Richard did something almost unheard of in New England: he sued for divorce.

I then asked for my students' impression of Elizabeth Tuttle, after reading Marsden's account. Predictably, the comments were unfavorable. "She sounds like a psycho," one student blurted out. Others mentioned her promiscuous lifestyle, wondering how her husband could have lived with such a woman for so long.

I then gave a synopsis of Ava Chamberlain's recent monograph, The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle: Marriage, Murder, and Madness in the Family of Jonathan Edward. Chamberlain presents an entirely different perspective of Elizabeth Tuttle. While admitting that Tuttle withheld sex from her husband Richard, Chamberlain suggests that she was traumatized by the brutal murder of her sister Sarah by her younger brother Benjamin in 1676. Sarah and Benjamin had been quarreling one evening and the latter decided to end the discussion by bashing the head of his sister with an ax.

The death of Sarah and her brother Benjamin, who was hanged for his crime, left the Tuttle family in shambles. Another sibling, David, was later pronounced a lunatic by the courts, and, unbelievably, another Tuttle girl was involved in a murder. This time it is Mercy, who killed her son Samuel in 1691. After performing her daily morning chores, Mercy proceeded to strike her teenage son with an ax repeatedly until her husband wrestled the weapon away from her grip before other children could be harmed. Chamberlain posits that Mercy was severely disturbed by the previous death of her siblings and probably killed her son in order to "free" him from the horrors that she assumed awaited him in this life. Pronounced mentally unstable, Mercy was spared execution and presumably lived the remainder of her life incarcerated.

Chamberlain argues that  Elizabeth Tuttle also suffered after the murder of Sarah and subsequent hanging of Benjamin. Around the time of the deaths of her siblings, Tuttle stopped having children and withheld sex from her husband Richard. Similar to Mercy, Tuttle also became less sanguine about raising children in the world at that time. For his part, Richard apparently was not content to live without sex. There is evidence that he had an affair with a woman named Mary Talcott, who he married after being granted a divorce by the Connecticut General Assembly (curiously, around the time of Mercy's murder).

Important to the story is the fact that there is no testimony from Elizabeth Tuttle about her relationship with Richard Edwards. Chamberlain is quick to point out that all the details of their marriage come solely from Richard. We only hear his side of the story: that he was cuckolded, that his wife threatened his life, and that Elizabeth was deranged. There are no extant documents from Elizabeth.

I purposely went over the different perspectives of Elizabeth Tuttle by Marsden and Chamberlain in order to show the class that scholars can and do disagree. I also wanted to encourage my students to have the courage to challenge scholars on certain points, and to be willing to dig deeper into the original sources. 

For a lengthier summary of Chamberlain's book, take a look at my forthcoming review that is scheduled to appear in the next issue of Church History.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Pivotal Moments in Christian History

UTC does not offer a general course on the History of Christianity. There are some specialized courses on the catalog, however, including "Early Christian Thought" and "Modern Christian Thought." I have become convinced that our department needs to have a general course for undergraduates that covers the basic narrative of Church History. So, I am thinking about offering a survey of the History of Christianity as a new course in the spring of 2014 or next year.

The challenge, as Miles Mullin and others have identified, is condensing the whole of Christian history into a single semester. Usually, courses on the History of Christianity at seminaries and graduate schools are broken up into two separate semesters. Often "The History of Christianity I" surveys the Early Church up to the time of the Reformation during a Fall semester, with "The History of Christianity II" picking up the narrative from the end of the Reformation to the present. As Mullin points out, it is very difficult to span two thousand years of religious history in one semester, and it is almost as challenging to find a textbook for students to use that is not overwhelming in details, laborious, or multiple volumes.

Despite these challenges, I am going to try teaching a one-semester course anyway. Although I have never taught Church History in this way, I am leaning towards taking the Mark Noll approach and focusing on special "turning points" in the History of Christianity, such as the Council of Nicaea, the East-West split, the Reformation, and so on. If I take this tactic, and I am allowed to teach this course, I will probably choose Noll's Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity as the textbook, which has recently come out in a third edition.

So, what should I call a one-semester course on the History of Christianity? This is another problem. Since this will most likely be an upper-level elective, no one at UTC will be required to take it. I will be competing against other offerings in our department, such as "Satanism, Witchcraft, and Spirit Possession" (this class always fills), "Holocaust and Genocide," and "Yoga and Tantric Mysticism." Would students use precious elective credits to take a course with a bland name like "The History of Christianity" or "Survey of Church History"?  In thinking about a title for my course, here's what I've come up with: "Pivotal Moments in Christian History." Let me know what you think. I would welcome suggestions for a different title.

OUP New Releases in Religion

Below are OUP's new releases in religion. Take a look:

Oxford University Press

August 2013

Religion in America is constantly evolving. In the case of Catholicism, cultural conflicts about the family have intensified in recent decades. In other cases, Christian Americans are turning more towards complementary and alternative medicine, itself deriving from entirely different religions than Christianity. This month, we feature authors looking at religion in America: its past, its present, and its future.

Be sure to browse our Back to School Sale with savings of up to 65%!
New and Noteworthy Back to the top
The Spirit's Tether
Buy Now
The Spirit's

Family, Work, and Religion among American Catholics
Mary Ellen Konieczny

List price: $29.95
Sale price: $24.00

Explains moral
polarization as a result
of local fragmentation of Catholic tradition.
The Healing Gods
Buy Now
The Healing Gods
Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America
Candy Gunther Brown

List price: $29.95
Sale price: $23.95

Explains how and why CAM entered the American biomedical mainstream and won cultural acceptance.
Gods in America
Buy Now
Gods in America
Religious Pluralism in the United States
Edited by
Charles L. Cohen and Ronald L. Numbers

List price: $35.00
Sale price: $28.00

Brings together leading scholars from a variety of disciplines to explain the historical roots of recent phenomena and assess their impact on modern American society.
MisReading America
Buy Now
MisReading America
Scriptures and Difference
Edited by
Vincent L. Wimbush
With Lalruatkima and
Melissa Renee Reid

List price: $39.95
Sale price: $31.95

Presents original research on and conversation about reading formations in American communities of color.
Also of Interest Back to the top
Debating Christian Theism
Buy Now
Debating Christian Theism
Edited by J. P. Moreland,
Khaldoun A. Sweis,
and Chad V. Meister

List price: $35.00
Sale price: $28.00

Early Evangelicalism
Buy Now
Early Evangelicalism
A Reader
Edited by
Jonathan M. Yeager

List price: $35.00
Sale price: $28.00

The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud
Buy Now
The Formation of the Babylonian Talmud
David Weiss Halivni
Translated by
Jeffrey L. Rubenstein

List price: $65.00
Sale price: $52.00

Buy Now
The Changing Faces of Political Islam
Edited by Asef Bayat

List price: $35.00
Sale price: $28.00

Awards Back to the top
The Rise of Liberal Religion
Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century
Matthew S. Hedstrom

Winner of the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Best First Book Prize of the
American Society of Church History

Chosen People
The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions
Jacob S. Dorman

Winner of the Byron Caldwell Smith Book Prize

What It Is and Why It Matters
Roger S. Gottlieb

Winner of the Nautilus Silver Award