I am excited to read the new collection of essays on food and religion in North America (Religion, Food, and Eating in North America), published by Columbia University Press and edited by Benjamin E. Zeller, Marie W. Dallam, Reid L. Neilson, and Nora L. Rubel. We don’t know nearly enough about the intersection of food and religious practices and religious identity. And this extends beyond institutionally based religious identity and to the intersection between food and what Catherine Albanese w … [Read more...]

How Old Almanacs Help to Explain the “Nones”

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Huntington Library looking at almanacs from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Strangely, looking at them historically illuminated for me the category “nones” (people who affirm no particular religious tradition). I think of almanacs as the smart phones of an earlier era, or, more accurately, smart phones as the present-day, more interactive versions of the earlier almanacs. These old almanacs are a compact source of numerous layers of information. They g … [Read more...]

Why Do Americans Love Pope Francis?

The other day, I was talking to my students about how the press has been giving Pope Francis very positive coverage. We hear often about phone calls he makes to a grieving, troubled people, or about his latest rejection of the costly privileges of the papacy. Facebook lights up with photos of the pope embracing disabled people, or indulging the antics of children. We’re still in the honeymoon phase with this pope and the press and average Americans, no doubt, will grow more critical of the c … [Read more...]

We Are Special!: Religion, Historical Memory, and Regional Identity

Over the last week I’ve been re-reading Carol F. Karlsen’s book on witchcraft in Puritan New England and, strangely, this has reminded me how deeply religious traditions have shaped regional cultures and identities in the U.S. I grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the centers of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. We’d visit Salem and all the historical (and tacky) commemorations of that event. I assumed everyone knew a lot about the Puritans and witchcraft. And the Pilgrims and how they settl … [Read more...]

Dan Brown’s “Inferno”: An Eternal Return

I just finished reading Inferno, Dan Brown’s latest book. I’m no expert on Brown, though I have also read The Da Vinci Code. He is justly derided as a bad writer, but he is a good storyteller and sets his attractive characters in compelling locations. I think that Brown’s popularity also comes from his ability to touch on big cultural issues and questions—sometimes overtly and sometimes more indirectly—in familiar, reassuring ways. He touches on them, but doesn’t resolve them for the reader. He r … [Read more...]

On the Cleveland Kidnapping and Anti-Polygamy Literature

This semester I taught early American religious history. We start with European settlement and end with the Civil War. A whole lot happens during this span of time. A whole lot changes—but maybe not as much as it first appears. During the semester, we looked at how conceptions of gender evolved over time. We began with Anne Hutchinson excommunicated and banished for opposing her Puritan ministers by stating that she had better, inside divine information than they did. Along the way, we perused t … [Read more...]

Oregon and Utah: So Different, So Similar…

Lately I’ve been thinking about how historical conceptions of the U.S. West have helped to shape the present-day religious landscapes of this grouping of contiguous, but varied regions. I live in the Northwest and study and teach about the religious history of Oregon and Washington. But much of my research is also focused on Utah-based Mormonism. The contemporary religious landscapes of these two regions couldn’t be more different. As Patricia O’Connell Killen and Mark Silk have shown, the North … [Read more...]

Time Travel, American Style

In my classes, I argue that Christian worldviews, especially Protestant worldviews, have helped to shape how we in this culture experience time. The way we understand time, in turn, determines how we move through space, how we structure our daily lives, even how we develop systems of personal and cultural ethics. Usually I focus on how postmillennialism lies deep in the foundations of American culture: how the idea that we can and should work towards an ultimate perfection has become a generic … [Read more...]