Thursday, 27 November 2014

Thanksgiving Break!

The fall semester is finally over. I have graded the last papers and exams, just in time to enjoy Thanksgiving and the holidays.

In my last classes, I asked the students to evaluate each course and to give me feedback on the textbooks that we used. In my "Religion in Southern Culture" class, the students unanimously approved of Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross: The Beginning of the Bible Belt, and most liked Randall Stephens's The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentecostalism in the American South. But there were mixed opinions on Albert Raboteau's Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South and Charles Reagan Wilson's Judgment and Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis. The issue with Raboteau's book had mostly to do with chapter two, which features extensive details on a debate between the sociologist Franklin Frazier and the anthropologist Melville Herskovitz on the retention of African rituals among the American slave population. Some students also complained that we didn't spend enough time studying the Civil War, and would have liked to read a book devoted specifically to that topic. I was surprised that not everyone approved Judgment and Grace in Dixie. The problem with this book, apparently had to do with the difficulty of the assignment that I gave them to find the thesis and two supporting evidences for each chapter. Since Wilson's chapters are so brief, students often struggled to find specific examples as evidence of the thesis.

In my final class on "The History of Evangelicalism," students raved about Barry Hankins's Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader. They found many of the excerpts to be humorous, especially the last few that we read on anti-Catholicism, and liked the contemporary nature of the primary sources and subsequent discussion in class on those topics. I was surprised that there were mixed opinions about Mark Noll's The Rise of Evangelicalism and David Bebbington's The Dominance of Evangelicalism (out of fear, I didn't ask students about my own Early Evangelicalism: A Reader!). While I thoroughly enjoyed the books by Noll and Bebbington when I read them for the first time, many found these texts to be too dense and overwhelming, in terms of details. I didn't receive any substantial feedback on Brian Stanley's The Global Diffusion of Evangelicalism. Both classes allowed me the opportunity to review the contents of my fall courses with fresh eyes so that I could think about potential changes that I may make if I teach them in the future.

During the past several weeks I have been reading a lot about colonial Boston. For those of you interested in the early Congregationalist churches in Boston, I highly recommend Mark Peterson's The Price of Redemption: The Spiritual Economy of Puritan New England. More than any other author, Peterson presents a detailed evaluation of the tensions among members of Boston's first churches. I have also been reading older books on Boston, such as Nathaniel Shurtleff's A Topographical Historical Description of Boston.

For my "fun" reading, I recently finished Eileen Bebbington's biography of her husband, A Patterned Life: Faith, History, and David Bebbington. As a former Bebbington student, I found the book to be very interesting and entertaining. It provided me insight on understanding Bebbington's quirky mannerisms, showing how much of his life is "patterned" into a disciplined regiment. During the Thanksgiving and holiday break, I intend to start reading Grant Wacker's new biography of Billy Graham.

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