Highlights from the 2016 Meeting of the Conference on Faith and History

To say the least, the 2016 meeting of the Conference on Faith and History was a memorable one. Start with its end, when Regent University hosted a Donald Trump rally — unexpectedly bumping the last day of CFH2016 to another part of campus and giving Americanists like Kristin, David, and our friend John Fea a chance to watch up close a most unusual chapter in U.S. history.

Oh, and there was also this meeting of the minds at the Friday night dinner: one of the few times that so many of our far-flung contributors have been at the same place at the same time.

But mostly, I came away from CFH2016 again grateful for my favorite professional society, the only one whose plenaries and panels so consistently leave me thinking anew about my faith, my profession, my calling, and how they intersect.

Because I wasn’t presenting a paper myself for once, I had the opportunity to focus on live-tweeting session after session for others. I won’t repeat more than a fraction of those tweets here, just a few clustered around the three themes embedded in the conference title, “Christian Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity.”

Race

Race — and its implications for the expansion of empire and slavery — was central to plenary addresses by Tommy Kidd (on revivalist George Whitefield’s defense of slaveholding) and Verónica Gutiérrez (on indigenous Christianity in the Mexican city of San Pedro Cholula).

Then I also managed to attend two panels focused on race, starting with one Friday morning on Christian missionaries in 20th century Africa. I’ll skip past most of those tweets to keep this post from sprawling too much, but I appreciated Jay Carney’s conclusion to his paper on the role of Catholic missionaries in shaping the racialized identities that led to genocide in Rwanda:

But I think the most thought-provoking panel I heard all conference came Saturday morning, when three professors reflected on race and American history. The chair and respondent was Beth Barton Schweiger, whose essay on love as a historical virtue was mentioned by all three papers:

Gender

For me, Friday morning started with a panel on gender (as it intersected with religion) in American popular culture, with two papers on sports following Mandy McMichael’s on the Miss America pageant.

That afternoon I enjoyed a panel discussion of religious biographies of women, with the speakers including our own Kristin Du Mez. I’m working up a couple of posts on biography for November, so I’ll revisit more ideas from this session at that time. But here are a few from Kristin, Hannah More biographer Karen Swallow Prior, and Tim Larsen (editor of the Spiritual Lives series at Oxford Press) to give you a bit of flavor:

I had to cut short my time at CFH2016 in order to take my kids to Yorktown and Williamsburg (home of my undergraduate alma mater), which unfortunately meant that I had to miss a promising panel with multiple Anxious Bench connections:

But before leaving, I’m glad I got to hear Kate Bowler’s lively, insightful analysis of women in megaministry:

Identity

Our final theme came out most clearly for me in the presidential address by Jay Green (Covenant College), whose book, Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions, was the subject of a rich discussion late Friday afternoon. Like the 2012 address by Tracy McKenzie, Jay’s talk interpreted CFH’s past, surveyed CFH’s present, and presented challenges for CFH’s future.

Special thanks to Beth for coordinating such a rich program. We look forward to hearing her 2018 CFH presidential address… which will no doubt resolve all the tensions suggested by Jay Green and provide us with a clear path forward!

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