“A curious font of porphyry”

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 3.29.59 AMWorking on material culture, my research has taken me to some interesting, if unexpected places. Last summer, it involved waiting outside Saint John’s Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, founded in 1732 as the Anglican Queen’s Chapel. I quickly ran inside to snap some pictures of a baptismal font between back-to-back Sunday services. The Saint John’s font is an impressive fixture, carved from marble in a Continental European baroque style. As a ritual object used in the sacrament of baptism, the font is hardly unusual, but its story is. Continue reading

Q&A with Christopher Grasso, author of Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War

Christopher Grasso earned his PhD from Yale in 1992, taught at St. Olaf College, and came to William and Mary in 1999.  From 2000 to 2013 he served as the Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly.  He is the author of A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut (OIEAHC/UNC Press, 1999) and the editor of Bloody Engagements: John R. Kelso’s Civil War (Yale University Press, 2017). His most recent book, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War, was just published by Oxford University Press earlier this month. Dr. Grasso generously agreed to answer a few questions about the book.  Continue reading

Guest Post: Review of Farrelly, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860

Today’s guest poster, William S. Cossen, is an Atlanta-based historian of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, specializing in the intersection of religion and nationalism. He serves as the book review editor for H-SHGAPE (Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era) and am a member of the faculty of The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, the top-ranked public high school in Georgia. Cossen received his PhD in History from The Pennsylvania State University and is currently revising a book manuscript entitled, Making Catholic America: Religious Nationalism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

Maura Jane Farrelly, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

51bnna9rw6l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Whether John Higham was correct in describing anti-Catholicism as the “most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history” is a matter of debate.[1] Not as disputed, though, is the reality that, until relatively recently, a great many Americans did view Catholicism as one of the principal threats to liberty and order in the United States. Maura Jane Farrelly’s masterful new volume, Anti-Catholicism in America, 1620-1860, traces the development of anti-Catholicism in the United States (or what would eventually become that country) from the establishment of Plymouth Colony to the coming of the Civil War. Farrelly’s work is at once a survey bringing together several decades of scholarly work on American religious, social, and political history, and an impressive example of primary-source research in its own right. For Farrelly, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University, the history of American anti-Catholicism extends beyond questions of religiosity, instead encompassing the meaning and composition of the nation. As she explains in the book’s introduction, “Any understanding of anti-Catholicism…requires us to interrogate the meaning of American freedom and, by extension, the promise of American identity.”[2] Continue reading

Guest Post: George Washington’s Mausoleum: Congressional Debates Over the Work of Monuments

Jamie L. Brummitt is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religion at Duke University and an online instructor for the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Her dissertation “Protestant Relics: The Politics of Religion & the Art of Mourning” examines the lively relic culture that thrived in political and religious life of the United States from the 1770s to 1870s. 

Benjamin H. Latrobe, Watercolor, ink, and pencil of the proposed Washington mausoleum, c. 1800, Library of Congress.

If the recent acts of iconoclasm in Durham and Charlottesville have taught us anything, it may be this: monuments matter. They matter not just in an ideological sense, but in a material sense. Monuments work as material objects because they embody people, memory, and ideas for better or worse. This post examines the proposed construction of a mausoleum for George Washington’s remains by Congress. The proposed mausoleum was entangled in debates about politics, finances, and the material nature of monuments. Many congressmen argued that a monument to Washington should work with his remains to transfer his virtues to Americans. Continue reading

Q&A: Max Perry Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People

Max Perry Mueller is assistant professor of religious studies in the Department of Classics & Religious Studies of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the author of the recently-released Race and the Making of the Mormon People (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). Be sure and read Ben Park’s review of that book, posted at The Junto yesterday. Continue reading

Tailoring Lectures and Discussions to Students: Teaching Religion and Reform in Early America

This summer, I’m teaching a small section of United States History to 1877. Meeting four days each week for an hour and fifteen minutes, we cover over the course of seven weeks what is typically covered in shorter meetings three days/week over a normal fifteen week semester. This is my first time doing so, and it’s forced me to rewrite and combine some plans for each day’s meeting, and in some cases, to scrap lecture material normally used. Continue reading

Guest Post: Cotton Mather and the Enlightenment in New England: Redefining the Holy Spirit

Philipp Reisner received his PhD from and teaches as a lecturer in the American Studies  Department at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. He approaches research multidisciplinarily and is particularly interested in New English and American literature, cultures, and theologies. His first book, Cotton Mather als Aufklärer. Glaube und Gesellschaft im Neuengland der Frühen Neuzeit, deals with the theological role that the New English theologian Cotton Mather (1663–1728) played in the context of early modern society and was published in the Reformed Historical Theology series with Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in 2012.

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My book Cotton Mather als Aufklärer. Glaube und Gesellschaft im Neuengland der Frühen Neuzeit examines Cotton Mather’s writings, identifying him as participating in Enlightenment thought through his various societal roles as pastor, physician, politician, and scientist. Mather studies have become an important part of early modern studies, not least because they touch on so many disciplines—such as natural and life sciences, philosophy, history, philology, and theology—and the ways these disciplines were transformed throughout the early eighteenth century. His oeuvre is currently undergoing revision, attention being drawn to his theology through the first publication of his Bible commentary Biblia Americana; this revision tends to reinterpret him as an early evangelical. It has not been fully recognized to what extent this reinterpretation depends on his pneumatology. In my book, I examine his pneumatology in his Bible commentary and his many publications in order to show how Mather’s redefinition of the Holy Spirit posits itself in relation to the unfolding of Enlightenment thought. Continue reading