Rome or Death

I’ve just returned from a month of travels in Italy—Orvieto, Ravenna, Rome, Naples.  (The life of a scholar is sometimes tough, but someone has to do it.)  One of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity to work in the Vatican archives for the first time; I read there the correspondence from the nineteenth [Read More...]

THE KOLLAM PLATES

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Some years ago, in The Lost History of Christianity, I wrote about the world of Asian Christianity during the first millennium. Now, an amazing body of documents throws light on that lost world. This material also demonstrates how the Internet can make historical information freely available. In the mid-ninth century, legal transactions were inscribed on [Read More...]

The Power of Biography

From the Anxious Bench archives: Especially because my colleague Thomas Kidd and I both like the genre of biography, we’ve touched on that topic periodically on this blog. A while back, he blogged about five compelling religious biographies. I was thinking about that subject again while reading my erstwhile University of South Alabama colleague and [Read More...]

William Taylor, a Global Reflex, and the Challenge to Gilded Age Methodism

Unpredictable Gospel

In my last post I described how evangelical missionaries were often agents of cultural sensitivity. William Taylor, for example, encouraged Xhosa converts in South Africa to continue using “Dala,” “Tixo,” or “Inkosi,” their native terms for God. For Jay Case, author of An Unpredictable Gospel, this was evidence of missionaries’ concern for native empowerment. “To [Read More...]

Antebellum African Missions and the Evangelical South

I recently read Erskine Clarke’s remarkable By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey, which tells the epic chronicle of John Leighton Wilson and Jane Wilson, antebellum southern missionaries to west Africa. Clarke is one of the most gifted historians of American religion, with particular mastery of the antebellum southern Christian mind. By the [Read More...]

ONIONS AND OLIVES

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I recently posted on Philip K. Dick’s book The Man in the High Castle, and what it suggests about the construction of historical memory. For historians of religion especially, we can learn a lot about the invention of history, and how new histories, new memories, come to be seen as solid fact. The godfather of [Read More...]

DOWN FROM THE HIGH CASTLE

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As a historian of religion, I am haunted by Zippo cigarette lighters. Let me explain. As a teenager, I was stunned by reading Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle, originally published in 1962. The book’s theme seems almost commonplace in retrospect, as so many other works have used its central idea [Read More...]

Tweeting the Bible

Twible

Is the Bible a funny book? Nearly a decade ago, I read David Maine’s winsome and witty novel The Preservationist, an imaginative  retelling of Noah and the flood that is simultaneously irreverent and faithful toward the biblical narrative. Maine’s The Fallen, a novel about Adam, Eve, and their expulsion from Eden, proved a splendid follow-up. [Read More...]

An Appalachian Revivalist in Queen Victoria’s South Africa

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In 1866 William Taylor, a renegade Wesleyan evangelist from the Appalachians, arrived in the south of Africa. A tall six feet with a long, scraggly beard that draped down over a barrel chest, Taylor was “a Methodist preacher of the old school.” He was “adept at charming his hosts, delivering folksy sermons, deflecting opposition, spinning [Read More...]

Of Platforms and Publishing

In my recent post on publishing, I noted that “To publish a book with an established press, you ordinarily need a “platform” from which to write a book – in the world of religious history, the most common such platforms are an academic position or a pastorate,” and that “Platform is a much bigger issue, increasingly [Read More...]


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