Thursday, April 10, 2014

Recent Posts Around the Web

I'm now down to the last month of my first year of PhD work, and, as usual, my blog has been neglected this semester. I'm hoping to write here a bit more regularly this summer, but in the meantime, any leftover blogging time I have usually goes towards writing on websites that reach a wider audience than my personal blog (the one exception to this: my "Bracket Strategies From Your Favorite Evangelical Gurus" post. Thanks to tweeted links from Jonathan Merritt and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, that post became the most widely-viewed post ever at my blog).

With that said, here's some info on a few of my most recent posts from around the web. Check em out if you haven't yet.

(1) At the Religion in the American West blog, I recently wrote about the return of the Social Gospel and what it might mean for scholars of the American West. It was a reprise of sorts of a longer piece I wrote last December for the Religion in American History blog.

(2) Speaking of Religion in American History, my three most recent posts include:
(3) I wrote a piece on the Son of God and marketing Jesus movies to ministers for the Christian Century's "Then and Now" column. I'll admit that the piece is not particularly great. I'm not very experienced writing short pieces that make a scholarly perspective accessible to a broad audience -- at least not yet. But it's something I'd like to improve upon, and I'm very thankful that Ed Blum (the "Then and Now" editor and one of my favorite historians) gave me a chance to write for the site. Even if you don't read my piece, I highly encourage you to check out the Then and Now page each week (new posts come on Wednesdays). Some great scholars regularly show up there.

A couple other miscellaneous updates:

  • One of my buddies since elementary school (Jordan Bass) is now a sports management professor at the University of Kansas. We decided to get together (along with another sports management prof) and do some interdisciplinary collaboration for a research article on coaching scandals and the impact of fan reaction in a "viral" age. I helped out with some of the history, and I got to dig into famous coaching scandals from the past like those involving Woody Hayes, Frank Kush, and Bobby Knight. The end result was accepted by the International Sport Coaching Journal for publication. You can check out “'Going Viral': The Impact of Forced Crowdsourcing on Coaching Evaluation Procedures," in the journal later this year.   
  • Coming up on May 9th, I will be presenting a paper for the "Religion and Sexual Revolutions in the United States" conference, hosted by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Charles Savidge in Nebraska History

I just received word from the good folks at Nebraska History that my article on Charles Savidge, a Progressive Era holiness movement pastor from Omaha, has been posted in PDF format online (it was originally published in the summer 2013 issue).

You can access the article yourself here. And yes, the mustache is absurd, even by Gilded Age standards.

My article is a fairly straightforward biography piece, focusing especially on Savidge's particular holiness movement ideology (or theology if you prefer) and how it manifested itself in various unique reform activities. In a lot of ways, my research on Savidge was the doorway through which I was able to enter into the world of American religion in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. By trying to understand the world as Savidge encountered it, I became interested in exploring other questions from the era: the social gospel, religion in the American West, urbanization, romance and love, mass media marketing strategies, interracial religious spaces, and more.

When I re-read the piece earlier today, I couldn't help but wince at my sentence construction, at the scholarship I did not interact with, and at all the other instigators of published-writers remorse. Yet, I also knew that I did probably the best I could for where I was at two years ago as a scholar. I've since started work towards my PhD and have continued to learn and grow and develop. Hopefully in two years I'll look back at work I am doing now with similar feelings of accomplishment and sheepishness.

By the way, for anyone who might be interested, I've previously posted a number of short pieces on Charles Savidge here on the blog. You can access them by clicking this link.   

Monday, February 17, 2014

Zach Lowe, Graduate Student in History

It all started a few weeks ago when my favorite NBA writer Zach Lowe posted a piece on Grantland titled "The Life and Death of Fandom." In the article Lowe wrote about his transition from being a die-hard Boston Celtics fan to a dispassionate reporter of NBA basketball. The Celtics now are dead to Lowe, as far as he's concerned. Wins or losses elicit no emotions. But he used to have a favorite player with the Celtics, back in the 2000s when Paul Pierce "was struggling to find himself" and Lowe felt the same. The old flicker of fandom came back briefly for Lowe last month when he watched a Paul Pierce tribute video before the Celtics-Nets game, leading him to write the piece. 

The article offered a uniquely personal look at Lowe, a writer who Bill Simmons jokes is like Spock due to his cold, calculating basketball analysis. And hidden within the piece were some innocuous biographical details. Lowe wrote: "I was a wannabe journalist who didn’t have the guts to pursue the career path, so I hopped around in random directions -- from teaching high school, to chasing a PhD in history, to covering high school football in Virginia just to see how it felt."

Lowe's revelation that he was once a PhD student in history fascinated me. Maybe it was because I already admired Lowe's writing, and here was a connection. In a weird way I was connecting to Lowe in the same way that he had connected to Pierce - as a fan. I was looking at someone I admire, and trying to see in myself similarities.

The story could end there, but twitter and my shamelessness (combined with that of fellow PhD students) intervened. I decided to make it my mission to figure out where Lowe had studied history and what he had studied. After a few failed attempts in the past few weeks to get a response, Lowe was finally gracious enough to play along and briefly answer my pestering inquiries. I've posted the relevant screen shots below, because why the hell not? 

It all began with this:

Monday, January 6, 2014

Backlisted Posts

My sporadically updated blog is limping through the travails of me being a PhD candidate and a dad and an obsessive NBA fan. The little time I do have left over for blogging is usually spent with my monthly post at the Religion in American History blog. Speaking of, if you haven't checked out my most recent posts over there, here are the links.

This piece discussed irreligion and Lutheranism in the classic Civil Rights documentary A Time for Burning. It featured the work of my fellow grad-student and Lutheran expert Tim Grundmeier.

This piece was a historiographical look at the social gospel, with an eye towards including a distinctive American West perspective to our understanding of the difficult-to-define movement.

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Year in Review: Music

Before I launch my list of favorite albums released in 2013, a few caveats: 1) I'm not a music critic. Worse yet, I don't even subscribe to Pitchfork. 2) I take the Potter Stewart approach to deciding what I like: I know it when I hear it. 3) I still think my list is better than yours.

9) Drake - Nothing Was the Same

I'm a hypocrite. I like to poke fun at the ridiculousness of Drake's existential crises: Am I too rich? Am I too famous? Why do my groupies settle down with real boyfriends? But Drake still makes great music, creatively channeling R&B and hip hop into one of the best musical acts in the pop world.

Best Song: Too Much

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Religion in Rap Music

I grew up in rural Nebraska, yet somehow I fell in love with rap music. By the time I graduated high school, I had listened to as many of the classic hip hop albums as possible and I can still quote line and verse from most of the classic songs. Now that I'm all grown up with responsibilities and a family and fantasy basketball to worry about, I don't have as much time to keep up with everything going on in hip hop. But I still try to listen to the major new releases, and there is still no more powerful form of music for me than rap.

Meanwhile, my graduate studies have caused me to increasingly become aware of the ever-present forms of religious discourse within American culture. Given how much I still listen to rap, it was inevitable that I would start to consider how some of my favorite rap artists discuss and understand religion in their music. I've already broached this theme once, when I discussed the ways that rappers tend to appropriate powerful religious titles for themselves as part of the competitive nature of rhyming. Here, I wanted to do something a little different. I've compiled a list of some of the most interesting (to me) mainstream-ish rap songs in which religion is a major and obvious theme within the lyrics. This is not an exhaustive or a "best of" list. Instead, think of it as a starting point for looking at the many ways that rappers understand and discuss religion in their music.

Common - G.O.D. (Gaining One's Definition)
from One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997)

Common could be the spokesman for the "spiritual but not religious" demographic (which, despite its name is still very much concerned with religion). Just check out the lyrics: "As a child, given religion with no answer to why" he raps, "Just told believe in Jesus cause for me he did die." But, for Common, "curiosity killed the catechism." Whether Jesus, Allah, or any other sacred name, "who am I or they to say to whom you pray ain't right?" Common is fully comfortable exploring religious ideas in ways that most establishment Christians or Muslims would find troublesome. For example, he speculates in this song that God might be black, and on other songs, Common wonders if God might be female. He's fully comfortable incorporating elements of Islam, Christianity, and traditional African religions with any other religious concept that he finds worthwhile.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era: A Preview

I'm now about one month into life as a PhD student, and it's been a blast. I've got three research papers underway, all of which I'm really excited about. Once I get those wrapped up, I'll probably get back to blog posting on a semi-regular basis.

In the meantime, my monthly post at the Religion in American History Blog is up. In it, I interview Ben Wright and Zach Dresser, the editors of a new collection of essays that explore the themes of millennialism, apocalypse, and providentialism during the Civil War Era. It's a fantastic collection of essays, and it features work from a number of scholars for whom I have great respect. The book is set to be published this November by LSU Press, for those who might be interested in checking it out.

Here's the link to check out what Wright and Dresser have to say about Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Religion in the High School Classroom

My August post over at the Religion in American History blog is up. Click over there to read more on a bit of research I did into the place of religion in high school American History curriculum. You'll also get to see why I created this beautiful word cloud:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"The Foulest Ulcer on the White Breast of the Nation": Charles Savidge Takes on the Mormons

Some time ago, a time when I still lived in Nebraska and was not in the middle of planning and then executing a move to Texas, I made a few posts based on my (recently published!) research on an obscure Omaha pastor and called it the Charles Savidge stories series. Now that I am halfway unpacked in Waco, I've managed to squeeze out enough time to present part three of my indeterminately-long series. In this edition, the good Rev. Savidge holds a public debate with T.W. Williams, a local Mormon leader. 

(For background on Savidge, you can refer back to parts 1 and 2)

From the Omaha Daily Bee, accessed via

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Imagination and the Intellect: A Quick Reflection on Reza Aslan's "Zealot"

I recently read David Burns’s The Life and Death of the Radical Historical Jesus (You can read a more thorough review of the book over at the Religion in American History Blog). This Jesus was a pseudo-scholarly construction emerging out of biographies of Jesus written by Ernest Renan, Bouck White, and others in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The Jesus that they constructed was thoroughly secularized and did not believe himself to be divine. He was also a social and political revolutionary who argued for a nonviolent overthrow of the Roman system, and was suspicious of all religious institutions. According to the radical religionist biographers, this meant that the Christian church itself was not a true representation of the historical Jesus.