Donald Trump and the Crisis of American Populism

In the 1960s William F. Buckley famously quipped that he’d rather be governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston phone book than by Harvard’s two thousand faculty members. I still agree with Buckley, but events of 2015 have made my populist leanings waver. We are waiting to see whether Donald Trump’s enormous [Read More…]

Christmas in 1776

From the Patheos archive: ‘Tis the season to argue about religion. Or more specifically, to feud about whether to say Merry Christmas or Seasons Greetings…to call it a Christmas Village or a Holiday Village…or to allow a crèche or menorah to stand on public property. What would Americans at the time of our nation’s founding [Read More…]

Top Five Books on Benjamin Franklin

What are the best books on the ever-fascinating founder Benjamin Franklin? As I have been writing a religious biography of Franklin for Yale University Press, I have been getting to know the vast literature on Franklin. Here are my suggestions for where to start. 1) The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. A no-brainer, as this eminently readable [Read More…]

Ben Franklin, Anti-Catholicism, and the Founding of the University of Pennsylvania

Historians have generally cast the founding of the University of Pennsylvania (or the College of Philadelphia) in 1755 as a step toward secular education in America. While the early college met in the great evangelist George Whitefield’s preaching building, Ben Franklin was the brains behind the school. As I noted in an an earlier post, [Read More…]

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…]


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