December 14, 2020

When Irving Berlin wrote that he was “dreaming of a white Christmas,” he was writing about snow, not about racial representation. But the reality is that so many Christmas films—especially the romantic comedies that I confess that I adore—continue to be about white people. The Christmas Prince trilogy offers a useful example: a sweet (white) girl, a handsome (white) man, a romance that blossoms amid freshly fallen (white) snow, and, if there is baking to be done, an adorable mess… Read more

December 11, 2020

I have been posting about how some religious movements and “cults” show a strong overlap with the worlds of show business, entertainment, and popular culture. Tracking such ideas or memes can be an enlightening way of understanding how themes originate on the cultural margins before being accepted quite widely. Often, these ideas have a strongly religious or mythological quality. Never underestimate the role of science fiction and fantasy in driving innovation on the religious margins. Here is a case in… Read more

December 10, 2020

The latest scandal to rock American evangelicalism is more of the same but with a fresh, updated feel. James MacDonald, Paige Patterson, Mark Driscoll, and Bill Hybels, to name just a few evangelical pastors caught up in abuses of power, feel so 2010s and downright frumpy compared to the glitz and glamour surrounding the recent downfall of Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz. In a vividly detailed story that graced the front page of the New York Times this past Sunday, Ruth… Read more

December 9, 2020

During this pandemic semester, I had the privilege of teaching a graduate seminar on Women and Religion. Since we couldn’t do everything I usually do, we did some new things I thought would be beneficial to graduate students entering a more social-media and virtual-oriented job market.  We learned how to discuss scholarship and connect with scholars on social media, through our #5320women Twitter discussions on Tuesday afternoons (just search for our hashtag). We practiced giving virtual conference papers and creating… Read more

December 8, 2020

According to one fall survey, nearly half of Americans claimed they definitely or probably wouldn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19. Now that a vaccine is coming available, Chris recalls the almost universally positive response to the vaccine that ended the great public health crisis of the mid-20th century. Read more

December 7, 2020

Last time I wrote about Tara Isabella Burton’s recent book Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. In particular, I argued that she solved a great contemporary mystery, namely why today we no longer have the “cults” that were such a marked feature of virtually all previous eras of American history. Basically, the impulses that would once have inspired such movements had gone online, and are manifested in the form of virtual communities which might or might not recognize… Read more

December 5, 2020

John Robinson, pastor of the English separatist congregation in Leiden that partly transplanted itself to Plymouth Colony, observed a distinction between “an outward baptism by water, and an inward baptism by the Spirit.” Although they “ought not to be severed,” they often were. Although baptism even into a false church was “a spiritual ordinance,” its “spiritual uses cannot be had without repentance.” Only then were men and women washed of their sins and made fit for salvation.[1] I thought of… Read more

December 4, 2020

One of the most interesting books on religion published this past year was Tara Isabella Burton’s Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World. I think it might turn out to be among the most significant, and not for the reasons that struck most of its (generally very favorable) reviewers. (See John Turner’s comments on the book at this blog). For some thirty years, I have worked on aspects of new and emerging religions, of sects and cults, and I… Read more

December 3, 2020

From the Anxious Bench archives, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Mayflower passenger Dorothy Bradford’s death. In December of 1620, the Mayflower Pilgrims began to die. Eighteenth-century Boston minister Thomas Prince informs: Dec 4 Dies Edward Thompson, Servant of Mr White the first that Dies since their arrival. Dec 6 Dies Jasper, a Boy of Mr. Carver’s: Dec 7. Dorothy, Wife to Mr. William Bradford: Dec. 8 James Chilton.[1] Jasper More was a bastard child, who along with his three siblings was taken in… Read more

December 2, 2020

.  .  . But my students’ family history papers have taught me not to ignore them. The end of the semester in my introductory American history survey classes is the time of year when I get to read one of my favorite student assignments: family history essays.  These papers always include some fascinating stories, but they have also given me an education in the history of the white rural South that has changed my perspective on race and politics in… Read more

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