1680: Climates of Revolt

Any account of religion in the pre-Modern world has to take account of economic circumstances, and especially the way in which climate change and weather affected farming and trade. In my last post, I described the horrendous conditions of the decade after 1675,  an especially cold period within the larger framework of the Little Ice Age. I specifically looked at a couple of episodes of outrageous religious paranoia, scapegoating and persecution in England and France, and several other European … [Read More...]

Hondius_-_Frost_Fair_1684

1680: Crops, Catastrophes, and Religious Crises

This is about how we write religious history, and also about a dimension of that history that we need to think through.When we study the history of religions, we usually focus on significant moments of change – great revivals, conflicts, persecutions, awakenings, and reformations. In my next few columns, I am going to suggest why such events need to be placed firmly in a wider context, and seen in a comparative dimension. Often, when we look at (say) a revival or crisis in one country, it c … [Read More...]

Malcolm X in Cairo

"My heart is in Cairo," declared Malik El-Shabazz (more commonly known as Malcolm X, formerly Malcolm Little) in July 1964. "And I believe the more progressive relations [and] forces in the Muslim world are in Cairo."If one teaches American religious history, it does not take long to recognize … [Read More...]

Bethel at War: A Digital History

I'm pleased to present a guest post from Fletcher Warren, a recent graduate of Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Read this fine essay, but more importantly, check out the impressive digital history project, created by Warren and Chris Gehrz on which it is based. --David *** Bethel at War … [Read More...]

The Perfect Religious President

There are so many discussions swirling around evangelicals' best choice for president that it makes your head spin. To make sense of it all, I offer five qualities of the perfect religious president.-The perfect religious president should have an active faith that is detached (or as detached as … [Read More...]

Deciding about College

The season has arrived when many graduating high-school seniors and their parents begin to make decisions about college for next fall. Certainly, many considerations go into a decision of this magnitude, and no simple formula applies to all. Even so, as someone in the academic world, permit me … [Read More...]

Why Gorgias Matters

This post concerns a wonderful and too-little known resource for Christian history. If you are a specialist in these specific areas, you will be baffled that anyone could make such an obvious point As such specialists are quite rare, I hope that others might find the information of use.In the … [Read More...]

Evangelicals Will Vote Trump

On Tuesday, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. endorsed Donald Trump. A NBC news poll released that same day found that Trump was the preferred choice of a plurality of evangelical voters nationwide.At first glance, Trump should be doing poorly among evangelical voters. He has no … [Read More...]

A Whale of a Tale: A Pastor’s Guide to Historical Research, Part II

In 1891, the British whaling ship Star of the East was slammed by the tale of a harpooned sperm whale somewhere near the Falkland Islands. Two of the sailors, including a man named James Bartley, fell over board. The whale soon died from the harpoons and the sailors, unable to find their capsized … [Read More...]

How Much Do You Need To Read Before Writing?

A reader and friend asked me recently about a key issue in the writing process:I feel like I need to read everything, then write, and even then, I'm unsure of when to have outlined and when to have allowed my new research to impact whatever working outline I may have going. I would love to know … [Read More...]

Christians in the Arab Gulf

I have been posting about Islamic apocalyptic mythologies that borrowed heavily from Christian precedents. That religious overlap is a lengthy and complex story.When Islam emerged in the seventh century, it did so in an Arabian world with a strong presence of both Christianity and Judaism. The … [Read More...]

The Hadith and the Jews

I have been discussing the Islamic Hadith, and the apocalyptic traditions found in the section on “Turmoil and Portents” in the collection Sahih Muslim, “Pertaining To Turmoil And Portents Of The Last Hour” (Kitab Al-Fitan Wa Ashrat As-Sa'Ah). Specifically, I have suggested that many of these ideas s … [Read More...]

The Invention of God

Thomas Römer's The Invention of God is a provocative, brilliant, and challenging book.Römer's narrates that:- groups of people in the ancient southern Levant came to worship a storm God named Yhwh (or another close variant of that name);- that the peoples of ancient Israel and Judah w … [Read More...]

The Global Context of InterVarsity and #BlackLivesMatter

Part of InterVarsity’s response to the #BlackLivesMatter controversy has been entirely predictable. In part, the organization is negotiating the intricacies of evangelical politics. A statement released on December 31, 2015, in the wake of controversy read: “InterVarsity does not endorse everything a … [Read More...]

How Not to Market a Book

John Turner had an excellent post last week on book marketing for academics. I have also written here before about the counterintuitive art of promoting books. Many academic historians (and other professors) range somewhere between squeamish to clueless on how they might actually reach out to a … [Read More...]

Drawn to the Women Saints

“I am not Catholic, and yet I find myself drawn to the women saints,” admits Jessa Crispin in a recent New York Times op-ed.  Crispin is not alone in this fascination, nor should she be.  She touts St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) as independent woman, one engaged in meaningful work rather the tradi … [Read More...]

Turmoil and Portents

Although the Islamic Hadith are sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, many of them probably come from some decades after his time, and they are a goldmine of information on religious debate and interchange in these years. I have been posting about one apocalyptic section of a collection that … [Read More...]

How to Market a Book

The title of this post is as much of a question as a statement.This April, Harvard University Press is releasing The Mormon Jesus: A Biography. Instead of fashioning a "new religion," I argue, Latter-day Saints have through their experiences, descriptions, and depictions of Jesus Christ created … [Read More...]

The Thin Blue Line

A thin blue line runs through the nave of Durham Cathedral in England. Made from marble and marked with a center cross, it stretches twenty-five feet across the westernmost part of the nave. Medieval legend proclaims the line as a physical barrier protecting the sacred space of the clergy from the … [Read More...]

Why I Joined Marco Rubio’s Religious Liberty Advisory Board

Many of you have heard that I have joined Senator Marco Rubio's Religious Liberty Advisory Board. Many have congratulated me; a few have denounced me!I can imagine some readers asking, why would I join such a board for a presidential campaign? I have written often about how politics is not … [Read More...]


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