Histories of the Future

Has anyone ever collected predictions of the future of religion, whether in a book or a website? The most famous are those that predict the vast growth or decline of some faith, projections that prove to be hilariously inaccurate – eg Thomas Jefferson’s view from 1822 that Unitarians would become the dominant religion in the [Read More…]

The Rise of “Abrahamic Religions”

Most semesters, I teach a course my university titled “Religions of the West.” Given my own background of research and writing, I at first considered pretending that the “West” meant the “American West” and having my students discuss Native American spirituality, Spanish missions, and Mormonism. Alas, “Religions of the West” meant the broader histories of [Read More…]

The Limits of Evangelical Identity Politics

Jimmy Carter’s born-again credentials drew many evangelicals to the polls in 1976. Evangelicals who had never campaigned for a candidate campaigned for Carter. Jerry Falwell, future founder of the Moral Majority, encouraged evangelicals to vote for the Democratic candidate. Pat Robertson, who claimed credit for Carter’s win in the Pennsylvania primary, hosted the candidate on [Read More…]

Edmund Burke, Trumpism, and the Worst of Both Worlds

I recently read Yuval Levin’s engaging The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. This book is a great example of how good writers can bring high-level intellectual history to a general audience. Levin shows how Paine defended revolutions (both American and French) that he saw as aligning with [Read More…]

The Last Crusade?

Whatever happened to America’s crusades? Once upon a time, crusades were an integral part of American rhetoric, indicating a noble or righteous struggle inspired by higher motives. All sorts of political causes were “crusades”, not to mention the overtly military ones. You actually could write an excellent history of American religion and reform through the [Read More…]

The Puritan Way of Seeing Christ

Several years ago, my co-blogger Philip Jenkins penned a thoughtful post on Protestant iconoclasm, its centrality to the Reformation, and its resemblance to Muslim iconoclasm. The “stripping of the altars,” to borrow Eamon Duffy’s phrase, was — per Jenkins — “one of the greatest catastrophes that ever befell Europe.” No argument here. Still, in Deborah [Read More…]

The English Bible before the Reformation

Literally steps from where the Great Fire of London began in 1666, at Thomas Farriner’s bakehouse on Pudding Lane, stands the small church of St. Magnus the Martyr. It was the second church destroyed by the fire and the most expensive church to be restored under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren. Unfortunately its pricey [Read More…]

The Stunning Statistics of the Slave Trade

One of the most surprising revelations to me during my research for my new book American Colonial History was just how much Africans dominated transatlantic immigration from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Sure, I knew that millions of Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas during that period. But the actual numbers, especially in [Read More…]

Healing Prayer

We hear a lot these days about the growth of the “Nones,” people who refuse to declare an affiliation with any particular religious tradition. Never, though, confuse that caution about affiliation with a rejection of a religious or spiritual world-view. That point is underlined by a recent study by Jeff Levin on “Prevalence and Religious [Read More…]

The Christ-Myth and the Napoleon-Myth

I recently blogged about The Myth of the Mythical Jesus. Among other things, I argued against those who saw Jesus as a repurposed myth – that is, he was borrowed from some earlier Middle Eastern archetype, perhaps a “dying and rising god” figure. And oh my, do these ideas go back a long way. As early [Read More…]