Banning the Bible: Did It Really Happen in the Medieval World?

Yes, it did. But not the way you were taught in Sunday School. Let me explain. Last week I stood under the Tudor arch of St. Bartholomew the Great in London (unfortunately still marred by scaffolding). If it had been the 16th century, I would have looked out over an open grassy field just outside the [Read More…]

Reassessing the Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was the most provocative Patriot action before the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775. Most Americans vaguely know that the Tea Partiers pitched tea into Boston Harbor, because they were angry about taxes. But what actually provoked the Tea Party? The key instigator was Samuel Adams, a devout [Read More…]

Calvin, Calvinism, and the Institutes

“The whole of sacred doctrine consists of two parts,” wrote John Calvin at the outset of his 1536 Institutes of the Christian Religion, “knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Likewise, in his expanded 1559 edition of the Institutes, Calvin repeated that human wisdom “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of [Read More…]

Which Spiritual Unrest?

I wrote last time about the failings of prophecy in predicting religious futures. Here is a case-study. In his day, Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946) was an enormously respected writer and journalist, and a highly intelligent observer of American life. He was a mainstay of the muckraking movement and a leading Progressive, who was close to [Read More…]

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…]