Religion and Class: From Harvard to the Quick Stop

by John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University

Conservatives have long extolled the virtues of the American working class. In an oft-repeated statement, William F. Buckley said he would rather “entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.” The author of God and Man at Yale, Buckley saw higher education as a threat to religious faith. Forced to choose between Harvard Yard and South Boston, he chose Southie.

Had Buckley lived long enough to read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, he might have reconsidered his choice.  More than any other conservative tome, it challenges the myth of proletarian piety. Chronicling the decline of marriage, work, and church attendance among blue collar whites, it presents an American working class that looks more like Jay and Silent Bob than Ralph Kramden (Jay and Silent Bob are recurring characters in the films of director Kevin Smith, including a 1994 feature set in a New Jersey convenience store. Despite Buckley’s support for drug legalization, it’s hard to imagine him patronizing the Quick Stop).

Throughout the book, Murray compares [Read more…]

James Naismith Meet Jeremy Lin

by John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University

(Earlier this week, Jerry Park explored the fascinating role of basketball in the lives of second-generation Asian Americans.)

More than any other player, Knicks superstar Jeremy Lin connects the game of basketball with its religious origins. Christened the “Taiwanese Tebow” for his outspoken evangelical Christianity, Lin would make basketball inventor James Naismith proud.

The story of Naismith’s peach baskets is a well-told tale. So is Lin’s religious testimony.

Less obvious is the connection between Naismith’s “muscular Christianity” and the campus ministry that nurtured Lin during his years at Harvard University.

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Naismith studied theology at Montreal’s McGill University. There he encountered North America’s first YMCA chapter. Convinced that “there might be other effective ways of doing good besides preaching,” he took a position at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Influenced by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, he joined the school’s football team. Before each game, Stagg prayed for “God’s blessing on our game,” [Read more…]

Mr. Baltzell’s Neighborhood: The Rise of Word “Mainline” and the Decline of Mainline Denominations

By John Schmalzbauer, Missouri State University

Since last September, Sojourners has explored the meaning of “evangelical.” Such conversations have supplemented more academic analyses by political scientists and sociologists.

After spending so much time on evangelicalism, it’s only fair to ask about American Protestantism’s other major tradition, the Protestant mainline.

In the judgment of Martin Marty, the term “mainline was and is used mainly by enemies of the mainline.” Unlike evangelical, it is a relatively recent word. Often used to designate moderate-to-liberal Protestants, its history is shrouded in mystery.

Just where did the expression “mainline Protestant” originate? In a fascinating paper delivered at the 2008 American Society of Church History meetings, Elesha Coffman traced the genealogy of the mainline moniker. Her investigations led her to the main-line suburbs of Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania Railroad connected wealthy elites to Philly’s urban core. This is the neighborhood explored by patrician sociologist E. Digby Baltzell in The Protestant Establishment and Philadelphia Gentlemen.

When Coffman delivered her paper, Google Culturomics was just a glimmer in the eyes of its Mountain View, California creators. Four years later, it is now possible to trace the use of term over the past couple centuries.  As this graph shows, [Read more…]