The Day Christian Fundamentalism Was Born

26 May

For many Americans, it was thrilling to be alive in 1919. The end of World War I had brought hundreds of thousands of soldiers home. Cars were rolling off the assembly lines. New forms of music, like jazz, were driving people to dance. And science was in the ascendant, after helping the war effort. Women, having done so much on the home front, were ready to claim the vote, and African-Americans were eager to enjoy full citizenship, at long last. In a word, life was dazzlingly modern.

But for many other Americans, modernity was exactly the problem. As many parts of the country were experimenting with new ideas and beliefs, a powerful counterrevolution was forming in some of the nation’s largest churches and Bible institutes. A group of Christian leaders, anxious about the chaos that seemed to be enveloping the globe, recalibrated the faith and gave it a new urgency. They knew that the time was right for a revolution in American Christianity. In its own way, this new movement — fundamentalism — was every bit as important as the modernity it seemingly resisted, with remarkable determination.

Historian Matthew Avery Sutton suggests that 100 years ago, fundamentalist Protestantism was born. While the specific year and occasion are subject to debate, Sutton adeptly and concisely describes the concerns of fundamentalists and points out some ongoing impacts. You can read the rest of his New York Times op-ed here.

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Let’s Change the Way We Talk About the Midwest

12 May

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

Movement, changing urban landscapes, and environmental violence are all Midwestern stories. A 4-11 Fire Alarm, Chicago. Source: The Newberry Library

Even as Seemingly Every Article on Midwestern History and Culture aims to complicate understandings of the Midwest, they still start with the assumption that the Midwest is a static, white, rural place. This assumption is not reflected in the historical record, contemporary scholarship, or the lived experiences of so many Midwesterners (including myself); rather, it is a harmful and political statement. For example, in Minnesota the narrative justifies elevating violent legacies of colonizers while erasing past and present Indigenous presence in battles over place names at Bde Maka Ska and Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote. Meanwhile, the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota is unwilling to reckon with the racist histories associated with campus building names. The nostalgic characterization of the Midwest as perpetually white and…

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GEN Z IS THE LEAST RELIGIOUS GENERATION. HERE’S WHY THAT COULD BE A GOOD THING.

8 May

Generation Z Community Gen Z

Members of Generation Z are losing their religion, for better and for worse. My 17-year-old daughter, Sheila, does not believe in God. She attended church twice when we were trying to decide whether to raise her with religion (we decided against it). She’s been at synagogue a few times, attending friends’ bat mitzvahs, but those friends don’t believe in God either. Her circle of close friends is diverse in many ways: white, black, Latina, Jewish, Indian; three identify as bi or gay. They are less diverse when it comes to religion: Except for one girl, who’s an Evangelical Christian, religion is not important to these kids.

Sheila and her friends are typical of a growing trend in her generation. I say this not only as a parent. I teach at a Catholic university where increasing numbers of my students lack even basic knowledge of the tradition they were supposedly raised in. And I’m a sociologist of religion who has spent 15 years studying those who leave it.

So begins religious sociologist Christel J. Manning’s report and musings on Gen Z and religion. You may read her entire Pacific Standard piece here.

America is losing its memory

8 May

America is losing its memory. The National Archives and Records Administration is in a budget crisis. More than a resource for historians or museum of founding documents, NARA stands at the heart of American democracy. It keeps the accounts of our struggles and triumphs, allows the people to learn what their government has done and is doing, and maintains records that fill in family histories. Genealogy researchers depend on it, as do journalists filing Freedom of Information Act requests. If Congress doesn’t save it, we all will suffer.

So begins historian T.J. Stiles’ plea for more funding for the National Archives. (Full disclosure: I love Stiles’ books; I highly recommend them as outstanding histories, and great reads.) You may read his entire opinion piece here.

THE CONSUMER AGE TURNED AMERICANS INTO GAMBLERS

2 May

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich presents a check to Lerynne West, one of the winners of a $700 million Powerball prize in November 2018. Courtesy of AP Photo/Charlie Neibargall.

Today legal gambling in the United States is widely accepted and more prevalent than ever. But as recently as the 1950s, gambling was seen as a fundamentally un-American way to make a living. This shift in attitudes towards gambling—which took about a half-century to achieve—spoke to generational shifts in American beliefs about morality and capitalism.

So begins historian David G. Schwartz’s concise and cogent history of attitudes toward gambling in the U.S. in the 20th and 21st centuries. You may read his entire Zocalo essay here.

How the Census Changed America

1 May

 

The inventor Herman Hollerith devised a punch-card system to record census information. His invention transformed data-processing technology. Photograph by American Stock Archive / Archive Photos / Getty

In April, the Supreme Court began to hear arguments about one of the central requirements of the Constitution. It’s right there, in Article I, Section 2, clause 3: For a government of the people to function, the people must be counted. The Founders wanted an “enumeration” to occur within three years of the first meeting of Congress, and then “within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” A census, in other words.

So begins Ted Widmer’s brief consideration of some of the history of the U.S. Census. While he rightly notes the partial exclusion of African Americans for much of this history, he fails to note the even longer exclusion of most American Indians. Indians were not declared U.S. citizens until an act of Congress in 1924.

You may read Widmer’s entire New Yorker article here.

The Notre-Dame Cathedral in Art (1460–1921)

17 Apr
notre dame

Vüe de l’intérieur de l’Eglise Cathédrale de notre Dame de Paris, artist unknown, 1670 — Source.

Public Domain Review has a fascinating post on Notre Dame Cathedral in art, per the sample above. See all the items here.

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