Starting Graduate School Well–Some Advice

I swam with dolphins last week.  It wasn't planned--they just appeared, a mom and her calf, swimming on our beach early in the morning. The water was clear as glass. It was so clear and so smooth , in fact, that the large dark shadows of their bodies below the surface appeared almost as visible as their fins gliding through the waves.It was several days into our vacation, so my kids had become accustomed to the beach. My daughter was so comfortable she was swimming a little too fearlessly f … [Read More...]

Soviets and Sassenachs: My Two Favorite Historical TV Series

In the first two posts in this series, I've suggested that historical movies — and TV shows, for that matter — might best be judged by asking four questions:Are they entertaining? (understanding that there are multiple meanings to the verb "entertain") Are they truthful? (but in terms of "verisimilitude" more than "accuracy") Are the makers genuinely interested in the past on its own terms? (or, for example, are they just using it as a dimension of the set) Do they inspire further hist … [Read More...]

Fertility, Faith and Politics

I have been writing on the global demographic revolution marked by collapsing fertility rates and shrinking family sizes. In particular, I have focused on the religious implications of these changes. For a variety of reasons, lower fertility shows a close correlation to secularization, and the rapid … [Read More...]

Fertility, Faith and Islam

I have been posting about declining fertility rates around the world, specifically about their impact on religiosity and secularization. Beyond that, those rates also serve as excellent indicators of trends in gender roles and relationships, and a wide range of social and cultural themes. Tell me a … [Read More...]

How Donald Trump Is Prompting a Debate about the Practice of History

I've already spoken my piece on the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump at my own blog, and don't especially want to make political arguments in my role here at The Anxious Bench. Indeed, I can think of few things I enjoy less than discussing politics. (Hopefully, I'll still be enjoying a 10th ann … [Read More...]

America’s Public Bible

Many historians have observed that early Americans lived in a culture drenched in scripture. Through the nineteenth century, Americans' oral and written speech dripped with biblical allusions that we might miss if we are not familiar with the language of the King James Bible. We might also note that … [Read More...]

Trump, Evangelicals, and the Democratic Party

Nearly 80% of white evangelicals say that they are willing to vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. These are Jesus-loving Christians who will cast their ballots for a twice-divorced, bombastic, promiscuous narcissist who plays on nativist fears of Muslims and immigrants. How is this … [Read More...]

What Makes for the Best Historical Movies? (part 2)

Last week I started a series in which I'm trying think through how we evaluate historical movies. It's prompted by this summer's release of Free State of Jones, in which writer-director Gary Ross tells his version of the story of the Mississippi county that effectively seceded from the Confederacy in … [Read More...]

Will the EU Go the Way of Yugoslavia?

The Brexit vote, the attacks in Nice, and the attempted coup in Turkey have a made it a rocky period for Europe. The example of Brexit and the Nice attacks (which brings to 242 French deaths by terrorism this year), in particular, betoken the further destabilization of the European Union and raise … [Read More...]

Sacred Violence in Early America

In 1637, English forces and their native allies encircled a Pequot village and burned alive some five hundred men, women, and children. John Mason termed it a "fiery oven" and declared: "It was the LORDS DOINGS, and it is marvelous to our Eyes." William Bradford, then governor of New Plymouth, … [Read More...]

The Terror Attack in France

I don't normally post two items in a day, but this is a special circumstance.I am of course utterly horrified at last night’s appalling terror attack in France. It made such a personal impact because the specific method is one I have discussed through the years. Just last week, I published an a … [Read More...]

Fertility and Faith, Continued

I have made the case that fertility and faith are intimately linked. Very generally, falling fertility rates correlate with declining support for organized religion, and growing secularization. (This is the total fertility rate, TFR). The key marker is the “replacement” rate, when a typical woman bea … [Read More...]

The Crisis of Corporate Evangelicalism (Part 2 – Defining Evangelicalism)

 [You can read Part 1 here if you missed it.]Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: what do I mean by the term evangelical? There are as many definitions as there are pundits trying to explain Donald Trump. And you can expect a new batch soon, now that Pew has reported 78% of white e … [Read More...]

The Gender Inclusive Bible Debate (Medieval Style)

I remember this so well. It was 1997--the year I graduated from college, the year I got married, and the year I started graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was also the year that the world learned about Zondervan's gender-neutral edition of the NIV (which … [Read More...]

What Makes for the Best Historical Movies? (part 1)

For students, at least, the annual highlight of my department's Intro to History seminar is when we start talking about how movies and TV series treat the past. Even more than last spring's conversations about methodology and historiography, talking about everything from Titanic to Vikings helped the … [Read More...]

Fertility and Faith

I have written a good deal about the relationship between demographics and religious loyalties, and this theme has critical implications for the future development of all the world’s faiths. This topic will probably be the theme of my next book, so let me take the opportunity offered by the blog f … [Read More...]

Two Sides of One Coin? (Buddhist and Christian Decline, Part III)

I have been comparing the decline of two once mighty religious systems, namely Buddhism in India, and Christianity in the Middle East. By the late Middle Ages, both were damaged irreparably, and had shrunk to shadows of their former selves. Indian Buddhism came close to extinction.Both the … [Read More...]

Forgeries and Schadenfreude

Nearly four years ago, Karen King publicized a Coptic manuscript she had dated to the fourth-century. It contains the words, "Jesus said to them, 'my wife.'" King did not claim the papyrus as evidence that the historical Jesus had married, but she did consider it evidence that early communities of … [Read More...]

Evangelicals, Local Churches, and Transformational Advocacy

Historically, evangelicals have hesitated to engage structures and systems. The book Advocating for Justice represents a new trajectory. This guest post, by Krisanne Vaillancourt Murphy of Bread for the World, describes how one local congregation in Indiana is pushing for immigration reform. … [Read More...]

A Brief History of Patriotic Hymns

If you're trying to get anything done today and you share my loves of music and church history, please, please do not click on this link.It will take you to one of the most fascinating, time-sucking digital archives on the internet: Supported by the Hymn Society, Calvin … [Read More...]