And the Non-Stories

Recently, I write about some of the megatrends that have shaped American religion over the past few decades. Let me also add some trends that would likely have been forecast and expected in earlier decades, but which have not in fact occurred. It is interesting why expectations have been wide of the mark. I would [Read More…]

Branching Paths and Alternate Histories

I have long valued Rick Perlstein as an excellent scholar of recent American history, chiefly working on the 1960s and 1970s. Based on his recent writings, I also see that he must be a superlative teacher. Please bear those comments in mind when I express some disagreement with him on the theme of counter-factual history, [Read More…]

Forty Years On: American Megatrends

I am presently preparing some courses that I will teach at Baylor on “Late Modern” US history, defined as the era since 1975 or so. As I have asked before in a different context, what are the broad themes that we would expect in that era? What are the most significant changes that have occurred [Read More…]

Finding Jesus’s Mother

Over the Christmas season, we naturally hear so much about Jesus’s mother, Mary, and in conversations, I am always a bit taken aback (not to mention amused) to find how many of the popular stories circulating her actually derive from ancient apocryphal sources. Sorry, no, she wasn’t a Temple Virgin, set aside for her special [Read More…]

Christmas and Epiphany, Birth and Baptism

You may have noticed an interesting theological debate currently under way among evangelicals. Critiquing the New Testament evidence for the Virgin Birth, Atlanta megachurch pastor Andy Stanley ventured the opinion that “Christianity doesn’t hinge on the truth or even the stories around the birth of Jesus. It really hinges on the resurrection of Jesus.” This [Read More…]

The Magi and the Cave of Treasures

As any Bible reader knows, the infant Jesus was visited by Magi, who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and a cold coming they had of it. But where did they actually get these gifts from? However arcane and speculative such a question may seem, the resulting curiosity generated a vast body of Christian literature. Although [Read More…]

That REALLY Old Time Religion

Over the past few months, I have posted quite a few items on the subject of possible pagan survivals into medieval and even modern societies, as indeed has my Baylor colleague Beth Barr. I stand by everything I have written in those pieces – but I really have some questions that remain open. They are [Read More…]

Mel Brooks and Teaching European History

I dearly love Mel Brooks as a comedian, but I do have some quarrels with him as a historian. In explaining that remark, I’ll return to the point I made recently about teaching European history to Americans, and some of the basic and quite counter-intuitive ideas you need to get across at a very early [Read More…]

A Different World: Teaching Americans about European History

I have often taught courses focused on Europe, or in which Europe plays a substantial role (for instance, about the Second World War). Through the years, I have identified common themes where students need some help and additional explanation, and I usually introduce these in my first couple of sessions. I offer some of the [Read More…]

The Saint as Marriage Counselor

One of the greatest Celtic saints was Colmcille, or Columba, who lived from c.521-597. About a century after his death, the scholar Adomnán of Iona composed a Life of the great saint, which is a treasury of information about the society and religious life of the time. Here, I want to explore one particular story, [Read More…]