This Thanksgiving, Stop Idolizing the Pilgrims

A couple of years ago at Christianity Today, I reviewed Robert Tracy McKenzie’s excellent book The First Thanksgiving. Here’s a sample: In 1623, Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford proclaimed the first Thanksgiving. “The great Father,” he declared, “has given us this year an abundant harvest…and granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.” [Read More...]

Islam: Inherently Violent?

The jihadist attacks in Paris have grieved and frightened the world again with the reality of Muslims committing violence in the name of Islam. Again we face the question – is Islam inherently violent? Are Muslims required to commit violence as a religious obligation?  There is no doubt that unsettling numbers of Muslims would not [Read More...]

The Origin of “In God We Trust”

The national motto “In God We Trust” has a complicated and contested history. Even though the phrase first appeared on American coins during the Civil War, it was only officially adopted as the national motto in 1956, during the Cold War era. Where did the phrase come from before the Civil War? There seems little [Read More...]

The Most Evangelical Founding Father?

In spite of some Christian revisionist attempts to cast them all as evangelical believers, the Founding Fathers’ faiths ran the gamut from traditional Christianity to outright skepticism. I wrote my biography of Patrick Henry because I was interested in how Henry, a traditional Anglican, sorted out the challenges raised by the Revolution, slavery, and other [Read More...]

Choosing a Book or Dissertation Topic

John Turner recently had a fabulous post on “Publishing without Perishing” which is full of excellent suggestions on how to survive writing your first book or your dissertation. There’s much fodder there for discussion, but today I want to consider the issue of selecting a dissertation topic. Of course, my perspective is shaped by my [Read More...]

How and When to Say ‘No’

In my weekly newsletter I have written about alleviating stress and explained why saying ‘no’ is essential to health and long-term productivity. But this is easier said than done. When do you say no? How do you choose between many promising-sounding opportunities? And how do you say no without seeming like a prima donna? The [Read More...]

Searching for the Political Messiah

Some signs would suggest that we’re finally seeing the decline of the Donald Trump candidacy/reality show. If so, Republicans and the evangelical “base” will go on in search of their candidate of choice. And GOP candidates will go on trying to convince us that they are the next Reagan, and the anti-Obama. Vetting the candidates [Read More...]

Should We Elect a Muslim President?

Ben Carson stirred up the latest Republican primary tempest this weekend when he volunteered the opinion that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” What should we make of this statement? First, it speaks to a pervasive religious ignorance in our political culture, of which Carson is hardly the [Read More...]

Why Are Academic Books So Expensive?

[Today's post is taken from one of my author newsletters. It is a question that comes up so often that I thought I would share it here.] Many an academic author has had the experience of proudly announcing the publication of his or her new book, only to have someone ask “Why is it so [Read More...]

The Ex-Baptist Pastor Who Popularized Ben Franklin’s Electrical Experiments

James Delbourgo’s A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America offers a remarkable account of Ebenezer Kinnersley, a Baptist pastor who lost his Philadelphia church position due to his opposition to the Great Awakening. Kinnersley then improbably became the greatest popularizer of Ben Franklin’s discoveries in electricity. Kinnersley was born in Gloucester, England, [Read More...]