American Protestantism and Madness

Nearly twenty years ago, I visited a psychiatric unit near the city of Cebu in the Philippines. It consisted of two small sex-segregated wings, each holding perhaps two dozen patients. For my young adult eyes, it was a house of horrors. I had seen slums. I had seen young children scavenging at a filthy dump. [Read More…]

Death and Faith in the Civil War

In February of 1864, a Confederate officer named Franklin Gaillard received word of his father’s death. Gaillard was numb to death, having fought at Gettysburg the previous July. “It was the most shocking battle I have ever witnessed,” he wrote after his side’s bloody defeat. “There were familiar forms and faces with parts of their [Read More…]

Salvation Mountain

For historians and other scholars, religion provides an endless supply of fascinating narratives. And few experiences are as sweet as encountering a previously unknown but utterly bizarre and remarkable story. I had that experience reading Sara Patterson’s just-released Middle of Nowhere: Religion, Art, and Pop Culture at Salvation Mountain, a lucid chronicle and analysis of [Read More…]

Emptiness

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he includes what most scholars regard as an early Christian hymn. It praises Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God,           did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born [Read More…]

The Geneva Bible’s One Covenant of Grace

From 1560 until well into the seventeenth century, the Geneva Bible was the most widely read translation of the Christian scriptures into English. Itself building upon but surpassing the prior efforts of William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale, the Geneva Bible exerted a strong influence on the language of the King James text and through it [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 that undergraduate students love to discuss [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 obvious track record of churchgoing, piety, or evangelical [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 worshiped Yhwh, El, and a goddess [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 a movement both utterly Christian and distinctly Mormon. [Read More…]

Vonette Zachary Bright (1926-2015)

In December 2004, I went to Orlando, Florida, to interview Vonette Bright. I was in the process of researching and writing a dissertation about Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), using the organization as a lens into the trajectory of American evangelicalism in the second half of the twentieth century. I already felt as if [Read More…]