A Two Year Search for the American Literary Churchman

In spring 2015 I was in the midst of a research project and I hit a dead end. That semester I was enrolled in a Doctoral Research Seminar, a course that requires graduates to develop and complete an article/chapter length research paper. For my project, I decided to focus on the subject of ordination, specifically the ordination of deaf people in the Episcopal Church.

As I worked through archival documents and periodicals, however, several sources directed me to a newspaper article in the American Literary Churchman. In November 1883, for instance, the Standard of the Cross noted, “Old objections to the admission of Deaf-Mutes to the Priesthood have been given fresh currency, as was to be expected… It is our esteemed contemporary, the Literary Churchman, who draws up the brief…” Edward Allen Fay, editor of the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, referenced the article in January 1884, “The American Literary Churchman of November 1st criticizes the ordination of Messrs. Syle and Mann on the ground that it was a violation of Church canons…” 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the ordination of deaf men in the Episcopal Church was publicly discussed and debated. Objections to deaf ordination took several forms. Sources indicated that the article in the American Literary Churchman was particularly influential, even as it renewed existing arguments on the subject.

After several weeks of library and archive visits, some extensive googling, and emailing multiple archivists, however, I was unable to locate any copies of the publication. At GMU history graduate students have a dedicated History Librarian for cases such as this, and even with George’s help, I was stumped. I completed the paper that spring, but since then I’ve visited archives in Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, and the National Episcopal Archives in Texas. Each time I inquired about the American Literary Churchman and failed to locate it. 

Recently, as I returned to my research on the subject for a chapter of my dissertation, I renewed my determination to find it. Utilizing google book searches, I managed glean additional information about the publication. A screenshot of a digitized book. Black text on a white background. The emphasized passage reads, ".... and the American Literary Churchman (1881-85) had a brief life in Baltimore."From A History of American Magazines (1938), I learned that it was published in Baltimore between 1881-1885. In Rowell’s American Newspaper Directory (1884), I identified that it was published a few times a month. I added these bits of information this to my search terms, which led me to Methods of Historical Study, Issues 1-12 (1884), which noted that the periodical was published biweekly in Baltimore by Rev. William Kirkus.

Aged paper with printed text. Emphasized text in the middle reads, "American Literary Churchman. Baltimore. 1-5, Ag 1881-F 1885|| NNHi v1 no4, O 1847, MdBE [1-3]-5, NNG"After checking library holdings in Baltimore and contacting the archivist there with no success, I contacted George at GMU. Working from the Union List of Serials in Libraries in the United States and Canada, George figured out that three libraries had carried the American Literary Churchman as late as 1965: the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, the New York Historical Society, and the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York. I quickly fired off emails and crossed my fingers. 

The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and The New York Historical Society replied quickly; neither carried the publication. Within an hour, however, the Library Manager/Technical Services Librarian of the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library at the General Theological Seminary in New York, sent a response. Not only did they carry the publication, working from the information in my email, the librarian had located the article and attached photographs.

If there is a lesson to be taken from this two year ordeal, it’s this: focused and patient searching can take you part of the way- but the expertise and experience of archivists and librarians makes it possible.

Accessing Accessibility

Earlier this month, Inside Higher Ed ran a piece describing the circumstances that led UC Berkeley to delete more than 20,000 lectures from public view.

For those of us who missed it, the gist of it is: Berkeley has, for years, been posting video content online for the students, faculty, and the “public.” In Fall 2016, these videos were found to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Strangely, it seems it had never occurred to the University that among these individuals (to whom they have a legal obligation) were people with disabilities. These videos were not compliant with speech readers. They were not captioned or transcribed. They did not provide options for high-contrast visibility. They were, as the Department of Justice determined, inaccessible. Rather than update this material, in March 2017 the University decided to remove the videos and place their content behind a paywall.

There has been a good deal of outcry about the removal of this content. I took issue with the framing of this Inside Higher Ed piece (because it seemed to suggest that there is something wrong with a University being held accountable for the content they produce and that people with disabilities are outrageous for asserting their legal right to access) but the tone has been echoed in other coverage I’ve seen online.

Just today the announcement that the “20,000 unfairly deleted… lectures” have been copied “rescued” by LBRY and again made “available for free on its website,” suggests that the question of whether the videos have been saved is somehow more important than the question of who can make use of them.

Look: I agree it sucks that a major University would rather delete/hide content behind a paywall. But if you are lamenting the loss of these resources, you should acknowledge that those feelings of frustration – over a lack of access to important and edifying content –  echo the concerns raised by members of the deaf and deaf-blind community who initiated this process.

Berkeley has been clear that there were a number of reasons why the content was removed. Yes, the cost associated with updating older and less-used videos to make it accessible, but also because of broader campus concerns regarding intellectual property.

We have an obligation to create a nuanced commitment to free and open access: one that considers accessibility more broadly. It isn’t open if everyone can’t make use of it. It isn’t accessible if it’s not accessible to everyone.

I’m disappointed that a major University, when confronted with this question did not commit to a model of comprehensive Open Access. They could have developed a plan for making all content available. Rather than undo their mistakes (over 20,000 of them) and to caption and otherwise make accessible the lectures to their students, faculty, and the broader community, they’ve locked up their ADA compliant content and removed the rest.

I’m also disappointed with an online community that would decry the deletion of videos, but not their lack of accessibility. How narrow is your definition of access that you don’t consider this lawsuit a matter of OA? How legitimate is your commitment to Open Access if it is limited to a subset of the community? How committed are you to removing barriers to information if you only remove barriers that prohibit your own access?

These questions have been rattling around in my mind for the past few weeks as I’ve come across article after article repeating the same refrain, “What a tragedy! What a loss! People with disabilities are ruining it for everybody!”

I can agree that we need better solutions than simply deleting vast amounts of content. We need to make information available, without an exorbitant price tag. But the lesson from this should be that we need more dynamic and effective tools that allow us to make educational content accessible in multiple ways. We should be committing ourselves to creating comprehensively open access content, not blaming the community that has revealed the flaws in our own conception of access.

Records and Relocation

On July 1, 1875, Austin Ward Mann, a deaf lay missionary held religious services in sign language for deaf people in the basement of St. James’ Church in Chicago, Illinois. From this service, a mission was founded in the city that would offer spiritual guidance, support, and gathering space to deaf people for over 100 years.

Across this period the Mission was served by at least three deaf ministers, meetings and events were led by a number of deaf lay readers, and members of the congregation supported the mission as members of the vestry and church guilds. Though the Mission had a solid foundation, for most of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it lacked a physical structure.

Intermittent services were held in St. James, St. Clements, Trinity, and Grace Churches through the 1880s. In the 1890s Rev. Mann attempted to raise funds and support for a chapel and parish house. In 1908, Rev. George Flick moved to Chicago, expanding the Mission by initiating weekly services and organizing church agencies. Despite efforts by the Bishop and clergy to locate a suitable building the Mission continued to operate in borrowed chapels, basements, and meeting rooms until 1915. Under the sustained leadership of Flick, the Mission acquired St. John’s English Lutheran Church in January of that year. Renovations converted the building into a space suitable for the sensory preferences of clergy and laity and the Mission “flourished.” Fifteen years later, however, the congregation again [Flick, ‘Story of All Angels’ Mission’]. Once again, the mission was temporarily housed in borrowed church spaces in the city.

The challenges that the priests in charge of the deaf ministry in Chicago faced in the struggle to firmly plant the congregation are many; financial concerns, location, building size, maintenance, renovations, and the competition of Rev. Hasenstab’s Methodist ministry in the city. Larger historical trends also influenced the relocation of All Angels’ Mission to the Deaf, including attitudes toward deafness, barriers to employment, and ideas about race. These challenges, however, are echoed in the histories of Missions across the United States.

The challenge to the historian, however, is that the frequent movement of itinerant ministers and the relocation of missions results in a scattering of documents and materials related to this ministry across church and diocesan archives. For instance, Mann, a missionary with seemingly boundless energy, regularly offered services in six states. As the clergyman-in-charge of the midwest, he traveled by train using postcards and newspaper announcements to manage his schedule as he moved between missions, schools, and large deaf community events in the US, Canada, and the UK. His travel produced a particular type of historical record; reports that offer limited insight. The sacramental registers, pamphlets, guild reports, posters, and other documents that are associated with the activities of the church are noticeably missing.

Several sources refer to a detailed record book used by Mann. In his August 1906 report to the Diocese of Chicago, he wrote, “A record has been kept in a suitable book of 500 pages. The last page was filled a few days ago, and another book purchased. The records show upwards of 5,300 services held in 419 different parishes; nearly 1,000 baptisms and 900 confirmations.” [pg 12] This record book is invaluable, offering considerable insight into his activities across multiple dioceses. It is, however, also missing.

Despite efforts to locate this rich source of information about Mann’s activities, the record book remains elusive. Though the evidence of his ministry is abundant in diocesan archives across the country, none I’ve contacted have this book preserved in their holdings. Nor does the expansive archives at Gallaudet University. This challenge is not unique to the history of the Deaf Episcopal Ministry – historians struggle with a scarcity of sources from every time period and across many fields of interest. The difficulty is compounded, however, by the unique circumstances of this religious organization. Frequent movement makes preservation difficult without concerted effort. Given the divided attentions of  the clergy, the distributed nature of the Episcopal church, financial burdens, and linguistic/cultural divisions, the records of clergy and congregation may not have been preserved by traditional means. For me, the search continues.

Dissertation Blog

As my attention shifts from the reading and writing associated with coursework and comprehensive exams to the reading and writing associated with my dissertation, the nature of this blog is changing. I will begin use this space to document and explore the process of creating a hybrid digital dissertation.

It will serve as a place to think and write as I work to unravel some of the more difficult and complex ideas, particularly those relating to language, culture, religion and disability. I’m hoping to engage in a dialogue about these subjects and this space offers an opportunity to open my work up to this feedback. With time I expect my thinking to become more refined and this blog will serve to document these developments.

The project also necessitates the creation of a robust database that will serve as the foundation for the digital mapping component of my dissertation. The digital map will be layered with different types of data to visualize the spatial dynamics of deaf worship and explore the ways in which deaf sacred space moved beyond the church building as members expressed and explored aspects of their religious, linguistic, and cultural communities. Creating this map will necessitate that I make a series of interpretive decisions that will shape the final project in significant ways. As I work through the complexity of these choices, I will use this space to document the steps I’ve undertaken and begin to articulate justifications. I hope this will both help to hone my skill in describing my digital project (for the dissertation) and serve as useful content for others interested in undertaking digital mapping projects.

Religion 804: Culture and Lived Religion

In this week’s readings Jason C. Bivins and Grant Wacker examine lived religion and demonstrate the multiplicity of religious expression in the twentieth century United States. In Spirits Rejoice!, Bivins describes the religiosity of jazz beginning in the 1940s, largely covering the experiences and expressions of musicians after the 1960s. Wacker, in Heaven Below, examines the early pentecostal movement, with emphasis on the founding generation from 1900 to 1925. Putting these works in conversation is a complicated project as there is little overlap in subject matter and time period. In terms of approach, however, there is considerable space for discussion.

Bivins’s work envisions Jazz music in a “complex entanglement with ‘religion’” [Bivins 12]. He suggests that “as a form of human cultural communication that can be ‘heard’ meaningfully within its contexts, histories, and according to the self-understandings of those involved in the music,” jazz may be read as a religio-musical practice and ritual [Bivins 18]. This interpretation incorporates notions of lived religion and a form of religiosity that is communicated in spaces that are not commonly recognized as religious. Like Robert Orsi and Diane Winston, Bivins seeks to expand our notion of sacred space and expression. Bivins describes this in a number of ways, using ‘lived religion,’ ‘experienced religion,’ and ‘inbetweenness of religion’ alternatively [Bivins  272]. Bivins suggests that the jazz musicians described in the book utilized music as an expression of their faith. The form of this expression drew from many religious traditions, and like the jazz music they performed, Bivins describes them as expressive, playful, non-traditional, fluid, and improvisational.

These actors are positioned in terms of difference, operating at the edges of religious traditions and blending them. Bivins suggests that they subverted power and authority through this syncretic blending of faith and instrument, through the rejection of traditional religious expression/spaces for unique forms of sacrality and religiosity. Despite the emphasis on music, Bivins work is a cultural history with oral histories and biography serving as the basis for his examination. The notion of a “usable past”, as we saw recently in Kathleen Cummings’ New Women of the Old Faith, appeared in the work as well. The work is densely packed, despite this it would be strengthened if Bivins had incorporated less musical metaphor and placed more nuanced analysis on the subject of race. From what religious traditions are musicians borrowing and why? What about audience members? How might we evaluate their experience of religiosity?

These critiques aside, Bivins’s emphasis on sensory experience and “embodied spirituality”  were meaningful to my interests [Bivins 154].  These discussions encouraged me to think about nineteenth and early twentieth century religious expression within the deaf community, particularly those behaviors and activities that stand on the edges of religious practice. His continued effort to move away from a “privileging of the textual,” was also instructive [Bivins 7].

Notions of sound and religious expression take another form in Wacker’s examination of early pentecostals. Wacker imposes a rigid interpretive framework to his study of radical evangelicals. Each chapter allows Wacker to meditate on particular features of pentecostal belief and practices, with each considered in the context of “productive tension” between primitivism and pragmatism [Wacker 10-11]. Wacker presents this work as rooted in an ‘insider’s perspective.’ This positioning provides a better vantage for the examination of the “hum and buzz of implication,’ the multitudinous whispers of everyday life that other studies have tended to overlook” [Wacker 9]. This closeness, however, may account for a hesitancy that exists throughout that cautions him against critique. Race factors prominently in the early history of pentecostalism and the subject deserves greater consideration in Wacker’s work. Similarly, gender (despite appearing across the text) is only critically engaged in a single chapter on Women. It seems that in an effort to frame and describe pentecostalism, Wacker leaves little space for these subjects.

Still, Wacker is successful in unpacking pentecostalism in a nuanced way. He is careful to develop a sense of worldview for early pentecostals. Frequently positioned as outsiders, and set apart from other evangelicals for incorporating practices like speaking in tongues, adherents were “heaven-minded,” placing primacy on biblical authority [Wacker 19]. The bible was read literally and “articulated carefully and defended vigorously.” [Wacker 76]. Testimony was an important way that pentecostals established and reinforced identity, it was also a space where believers described supernatural experience that afforded them some authority [Wacker 86]. Placed alongside Kruse, Sutton and Worthen, Wacker’s careful analysis highlights the ideological and theological differences between these evangelicals and the ones described in those works. In particular, while Wacker does highlight a shift after World War II, he suggests that “pentecostal or pentecostal-like teachings and practices overflowed their historical boundaries in the radical evangelical tradition and penetrated the Roman Catholic Church and some of the older Protestant denominations, especially the Protestant Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church in America,” and that pentecostalism experienced significant growth outside of the United States during this period [Wacker 8]. Given that Wacker reserves later chapters for a discussion about how radical evangelicals engaged with the larger community, it is, at times, difficult to envision these believers as members of a larger social system, or to unpack how these beliefs are set apart from other faiths.

Religion 804: Religious Geographies

This week our readings on urban religion aligned with my own excursion to the International Deaf Geographies conference at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Thankfully the subjects covered in Robert T. Orsi’s The Madonna of 115th Street and Diane Winston’s Red-Hot and Righteous provided a great deal of productive overlap with my thinking this week on space and place.

In Madonna, Orsi examined the religious expression of Italian Americans in East Harlem. In particular his focus is the festa, a ritual celebration of la casa della Madonna, the Madonna of 115th Street. His approach emphasized lived religion and popular religion.  He defined lived religion as “religious practice and imagination in ongoing, dynamic relation with the realities and structures of everyday life in particular times and places.” (Orsi xii) Popular religion included “all those crazy religious things that people do and all the crazy ideas they have outside the structures of an organized and properly ordered church.”(Orsi xl) Using these frames, he identified the religious practices of this largely immigrant community in two ways; daily interaction, through promotion of the domus and continued commitments to the Madonna;  and the feste, a period of public, open religious encounter that occupied both sacred and profane spaces. Orsi placed primacy on the worldview of his actors as he traced the ways in which believers understood their experiences  through the lens of the Madonna.

Building on a rich source base of oral histories and interview transcripts, Orsi was able to interrogate religious expression and experience on multiple levels. Orsi’s work is useful because it emphasized religious expression that took place outside of bounded church structures, into the homes and streets. Orsi argued that these expressions produced their own unique iconography. The “icononography of the streets in dense urban communities like Italian Harlem: the street is a text composed by the people, though their composition is shaped and constrained by the social and economic facts of their lives.” (Orsi 33) Thinking about how religion is lived also encourages scholars to consider and take seriously notions of the supernatural. This also provided Orsi with a means of examining notions of power, both sacred and profane, but also gendered power and religious institutional authority. The feste and associated practices operated in liminal capacity, creating a period when these hierarchies were disrupted. Moving his focus into the street and thinking seriously about how actors made sense of their world gave him space to think about the many ways faith is practiced.

In Red Hot and Righteous, Winston examined the work of Salvationists in New York 1880-1950. Like Orsi, Winston described the religious activities that took the men and women of the Salvation Army to the streets in an effort to “saturate the secular with the sacred.” (Winston 4) Salvationists “occupied city thoroughfares” transforming the city into a “‘Cathedral of the Open Air.’ A figurative canopy spread over the city, turned all of New York into sanctified ground.” (Winston 2) In so doing, Salvationists put themselves at odds with legal and social norms. Winston contended that these efforts were significant to their service to the “unchurched”.  Winston framed these efforts in the context of a late 19th century, early 20th century consumer culture. She suggested that Salvationists embraced this culture, “selling” themselves in the urban market by reinterpreting cultural symbols to win over souls and wallets (Winston 5).

Drawing from American War Cry and archival materials, Winston demonstrated the way that Salvationists disrupted ideas about faith by redefining religious practice. In large part, the visible role of women in enacting “faith as service” differentiated Salvationists from other religious figures. In these cases, they did not “minister” but lived religiously, expressing their faith through service to others. “Salvationists offered a religious vision rooted in a vernacular faith and expressed in the coalescence of the Army’s Holiness theology and the culture’s regnant consumerist ideology… Redeeming the world… meant facing its challenges  (poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, and prostitution) and turning its secular idioms (advertisements, music, and theater) into spiritual texts.” (Winston 8)

Though both Winston and Orsi examined objects, behaviors, and spaces that are largely associated with the profane rather than the sacred, these are surprisingly different projects. Orsi’s work focused on a thick description of immigrant Catholicism in East Harlem. His study of symbols and meaning is rooted in lived experience, focusing on how individual believers made sense of their experiences and their faith in these contexts. He was able to draw these questions out of narrative oral histories. Winston, on the other hand, working from a church publication focused more directly on the institutional role of the church. While progressive in their reform efforts, Winston has more difficulty evaluating claims of equality or difference. Instead, her work focuses on the intersection of religion and consumerism in an urban setting. Here, material symbols (red buckets, particular attire, and even donuts) take on a sacred meaning.

Both of these texts were useful to me in considering the subjects at the Deaf Geographies Conference. For my interests, in what ways can a project like Orsi’s be useful for examining deaf religious histories? To what degree can the lived experiences of deaf congregants and missionaries be accessed? Or thinking about Winston’s project, In what ways did deaf people communicate their faith to hearing believers? Calls for donations, public outings, and the (in)visibility of deaf people traveling on trains- Winston’s work is driving me toward some new questions on these fronts.


Religion 804: Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism

The subject of this week’s reading is twentieth century American Evangelicals. Matthew Sutton and Molly Worthen offer a new interpretation of evangelical history that examines the shift from fundamentalism to evangelicalism after World War II. As we saw in a previous week in Kruse’s work One Nation Under God, both Worthen and Sutton aim to disrupt traditional narratives regarding conservative expression in this period, seeking to root the origins of the rise of the Christian Right much earlier than previously described. While Kruse argued that the conservative response to New Deal policies resulted in a blending of Christianity and capitalism that played out in political and legislative realms from the 1950s onward, Sutton and Worthen focused their efforts on the intellectual and theological positioning of evangelicals more exhaustively.

Worthen’s work, Apostles of Reason, suggests that the fundamental question for twentieth century evangelicals was the continued tension between secular thought and fundamentalist faith. She addresses the “anti-intellectualist” quality frequently attributed to evangelicals and examines the “theological heritage” that linked “a wide spectrum of believers.” [Worthen 3-4] Instead of imagining this group as emerging politically in the 1970s, Worthen suggests their increasing prominence should be rooted in the postwar efforts of “New Evangelicals” [Worthen 25]. She argues that rather than antagonism toward intellectual inquiry, this group consistently struggled to reconcile certainty (biblical inerrancy) with social and cultural shifts. These debates, reflected a “crisis of authority” as fundamentalists, and later evangelicals, made sense of the tension between reason and revelation [Worthen 2]. She suggests leaders (including “a coterie of journalists, evangelists, and educators”) reimagined fundamentalism and envisioned a “Christian Weltanschauung” that would find expression in organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE); publications like Christianity Today; and institutions like Fuller Theological Seminary.

In American Apocalypse, Sutton undertakes a related project. In this work he sets himself apart from scholarship on Evangelicalism which suggests that fundamentalism emerged in the late 19th century, peaked in the 1920s and began a decline after the second world war. Instead he suggests that World War I was instrumental in shaping the thinking of radical evangelicals [Sutton xiii]. Though others point to the Scopes Trial as instrumental in diminishing the prominence of fundamentalism, he contends that a continuous thread connects late nineteenth century fundamentalists to postwar evangelicals. It was, he argues, a particular apocalyptic worldview engendered a particular expression of fundamentalist/evangelical to changing geopolitical contexts. Across this text Sutton is most interested in unpacking that worldview and examining how each of the momentous events of the twentieth century lent legitimacy to their radical vision [Sutton 5].

Sutton suggests twentieth century evangelicals (or as he also describes them, “pre-millennialists-turned-fundamentalists-turned-evangelicals”) saw themselves as uniquely positioned to read and understand the coming of Christ in the end times [Sutton 373]. These prophetic interpretations encouraged believers to “occupy” the world and to save souls [Sutton 5]. The role of government, the form of secular education, and the horrors of war- each of these were transformed through a lens of the coming apocalypse. Toward this, Sutton presents the “rebranding” that occurred in the post-war period as a “recasting of their positions” [Sutton 292]. He suggests that their support of the war effort (in the face of liberal criticism of American intervention abroad) reversed their position and social prominence [Sutton 266]. It is at this period, as well, that leadership worked to represent evangelicals as a cohesive group, even as charismatic leaders captured the attention of believers [Sutton 327].

Worthen, on the other hand, emphasizes the fundamental tension between inerrancy and rational thought. As evangelicals interacted with social shifts, they struggled to reconcile a belief in the authority of the bible with the power and authority of the state. The response, Worthen suggests, resulted in a debate between and amongst evangelicals as well as liberal protestants. American evangelicals did not “share one mind, [but they did] share an imagination” [Worthen 11]. Through organization, publication, and sermonization “preachers, teachers, writers, and institution-builders” created and disseminated ideas in a continued effort to convert and save [Worthen 9].

Both of these works are significant contributions to the historiography on conservative Christianity in the twentieth century. Sutton and Worthen both carefully contextualize the negotiated shift in representation of evangelical faith after World War II. Both also offer areas of productive overlap. Sutton, for instance, validates Kruse’s assertion about the importance of New Deal, but offers a richer interpretation of the factors that shaped evangelical opposition [Sutton 258]. Worthen and Sutton both identify and critique the anti-intellectual framing of evangelism, though this subject receives more comprehensive coverage in Worthen’s work [Sutton 150].

Sutton and Worthen make use of extensive archival source materials, relying on periodicals and newspapers as well as collections of the papers of key figures. Though both offer an insight into the intellectual basis for evangelism, a project which necessitates the examination of leadership and prominent figures, Sutton is a bit more successful in the incorporation of multiple views and dissenting voices. While neither text is able to adequately address race and gender, Sutton is more effective in addressing these gaps. Any examination of the modern American evangelical movement would likely struggle to incorporate a nuanced reading of the different faiths.

Religion 804: Mainline and Liberal Protestantism

The readings this week have examined mainline and Liberal Protestantism, in particular the print culture that accompanied religious expression in the twentieth century and the shifting role of missionaries after World War II. These works by Elesha Coffman, Matthew Hedstrom, and Sarah Ruble present a perspective of broad, liberal protestantism that balances and challenges the conservative narratives offered by Kruse and Moreton and offers a nuanced reading of how various groups responded to a shifting political and cultural world.

Both Coffman and Hedstrom utilize print culture to describe the period between 1920 and 1950. In The Christian Century, Coffman examines the growth of a single religious periodical into a national magazine with wide distribution and influence. In Coffman’s interpretation, The Christian Century is understood to be a vehicle by which elite thinkers exerted significant influence. She adopts Pierre Bourdieu’s Cultural Capital as a framework for describing these contributors- accessing both their credibility and elitism in her critique. The “coalition of highly educated, theologically and politically liberal Protestants” was an elite cadre interested in shaping society, politics, and religion. They saw themselves as “social, progressive, modern, liberal, or ecumenical” but Coffman suggests that that they represented the emerging Mainline [Coffman 8]. Contributors to The Christian Century wielded significant power in defining the Protestant response to the public and social ideas and events at this period. They utilized print to influence and educate, linking themselves to a network of elite institutions while also seeking to represent the national voice of Protestantism. Editors and contributors to the Christian Century, in an effort maintain economic viability, moved the publication away from denominational affiliation to an undenominational identity [Coffman 61]. This shift positioned The Christian Century to “reach beyond Protestantism” to contend with the intersection of religion and politics [Coffman 79]. Still, the publication touted the rhetoric of, and appealed to, “the educated, the liberal, the urbane, the reformers, the influential.” [Coffman 79]. Even as editor, Charles Morrison, “believed he represented the Protestant majority,” it is unlikely that a significant number of layreaders read the magazine [Coffman 108]. Coffman’s work fills a significant historiographical gap. While a number of historians have emphasized the decline of Mainline Protestantism after World War II, Coffman suggests that these existing narratives have yet to describe the contours of this group before WWII.

In a similar project, Hedstrom examines cultural programs of reading as “mechanisms of popular religion and spirituality in modern America” in The Rise of Liberal Religion [Hedstrom 4]. The emergence of a distinct “middlebrow” religious culture between 1920 and 1950, he suggests, fostered a “spiritual cosmopolitanism” in middle-class Americans. Through programs of consumption that took several forms (a Religious book week in the 1920s; the Religious book club in operation from 1927 onward; and the Religious books round table of the American Literary Association) reading promoted an individualism of religious experience and expression.  These “middlebrow” readers embraced a faith that was “outside the bounds of churches” [Hedstrom 6]. The consumption of interfaith books turned reading into an act of piety that displaced power in traditional denominational worship and asserted of religion into daily experience [Hedstrom 220]. Hedstrom utilizes the notion of lived religion to describe this process. Though these lists were cultivated by an elite group of liberal protestant booksellers, publishers and civic leaders, Hedstrom suggests that these books were selected to appeal to (and shape) middle-class concerns. Hedstrom also reframes the declension narrative, suggesting instead that the decrease of institutional attendance after WWII reflected not a decline but a diffusion of devotion. Both Hedstrom and Coffman make excellent use of print resources, looking across multiple texts to identify these intellectual and cultural shifts. In dealing with print culture, both address publishing practices and marketplace consumption in useful and meaningful ways.

Ruble’s project, The Gospel of Freedom and Power, is set apart from both of these texts. This work deals with the major shifts in thinking about mainline and evangelical missions since WWII. While she makes significant use of text, including The Christian Century, the focus of this slim book is the public debate regarding missionaries and missions, the public perception and conversation rather than particular historical actors or specific missions. Ruble examines these conflicting rhetorics about power and influence abroad, suggesting that the cultural texts of the period between 1920 and 1960 reflect a growing concern with what it meant to be American and an attempt to make sense of missions and their role in the post-war world [Ruble 2]. Across this period, Ruble identifies a shift in attitude toward imperialism in mission efforts and an engagement with anti-colonial movements. Power plays an important role in this text as public conversations contended with changing attitudes about Americans’ role in missions abroad. Historical actors struggled to make sense of their conceptions of power, of equality and of difference. Ruble largely contends with three groups: Mainline Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, and Anthropologists. Each of these groups struggled with notion of missions, resolving these tensions in different ways; Mainliners “both took up the cause of freedom (variously defined) for people abroad and asserted, implicitly and otherwise, that they know what freedom should look like” [Ruble 21]. They saw themselves as promoting “universal values such as democratic process and religious liberty” [Ruble 32]. Evangelicals were more concerned with separating freedom and gospel, identifying and responding to nationalism by modifying their structures and behaviors. Anthropologists were critical of mission efforts, advocating autonomy and positioning themselves as “arbiter of what constituted true freedom.” [Ruble 119].  Placing this work alongside Coffman and Hedstrom, Ruble offers a perspective on how conversations about religiosity changed after 1950.

The three texts this week shared an interest in the development of and spread of ideas regarding religion, and all were interested in understanding the role of mainline Protestantism in the twentieth century. Hedstrom and Coffman overlapped significantly in their use of print and rhetoric of a marketplace. Both focused on the influence of a particular group; elite/middlebrow, and suggested a loosening of denominational bonds, but not a weakening of faith. All three texts sought to uncover the changing expression of religion in the face of broad ideological shifts. However, particular voices are missing from each of these texts. For example, by focusing on a single publication Coffman has made it difficult to identify how this The Christian Century might have differed from other texts of this period, or how readers incorporated these ideas in their lives. In large part,  non-elite voices are missing as is any full discussion of race and gender. Though there is a chapter on readers, their perspectives are largely missing and the scope of influence in laypeople’s lives remains unclear. Despite these gaps, all three texts offer an important examination of religious expression in the twentieth century.

Religion 804: Class and Economics

This summer I’ve undertaken a readings course in 20th century American Religion with Dr. Sharon Leon. The next few posts will include my own thoughts as I work through each of the readings and prepare for my minor field exam.

In our first set of readings we covered To Serve God and Walmart by Bethany Moreton, One Nation Under God by Kevin Kruse, and Redeeming Time by William Mirola. While we organized them under a theme of class and economics, these readings varied in meaningful ways. Moreton and Kruse developed complementary overviews of the rise of the religious right in the second half of the twentieth century, both examining the increasing influence of faith in politics and economics across this period with differing emphases. Mirola’s work, a study of the eight-hour movement in Chicago, stood apart in time period (1866-1912), approach (sociological history), and subject matter (the emergence of progressive Protestantism in relation to labor movements). Despite differences in subject and actors, these works are useful in identifying the role of religion in locating actors in social and political spaces. Below, I will put Kruse and Moreton into conversation as I consider each one historically and historiographically.

Kruse’s work directly argues against the existing historiography to assert that the Christian Right did not emerge as a result of Communism or Cold War anxieties, but rather as a result of opposition to the New Deal. The confluence of faith and politics, Kruse suggests, started in the 1930s as corporate Conservatives enlisted clergymen to contest the New Deal welfare state. While FDR and others linked the New Deal to Social Gospel concerns for “the public good,” Conservatives undertook a public relations effort to contest this challenge government expansion. This merging of clergy and corporatism resulted in a blend of American individualism and free-enterprise that combined Christianity and capitalism. Though Kruse appears skeptical about the degree to which business leaders legitimately held religious concerns or whether this represented a public relations campaign to protect corporate interests, he demonstrates that over the next three decades that conservative evangelical Protestants asserted influence over the “rhetoric and rituals of public religion” [Kruse 292]

Popular leaders asserted political and economic authority through intimate social networks, effecting a confluence of “piety and patriotism.” [Kruse 73] Figures like Abraham Vereide, Billy Graham, and Dwight Eisenhower blended politics, economics, and religion through several forms of public prayer; prayer breakfasts, revivals, and prayers at cabinet meetings. These efforts “popularized… [and] politicized” public prayer. [Kruse 38] Through public appearances, radio broadcasts, tv programs, and written publications these figures prayed and sermonized to a larger public, marshalling ministers and lay people as a wave of legislation asserted Christian religion to be at the core of American identities.

These processes, which largely took place during the mid-1950s, demarcated a period “when Americans underwent an incredible transformation in how they understood the role of religion in public life.” [Kruse xiv] Kruse handles this transformation with a great deal of nuance- while he does seem skeptical, he is not dismissive. Religion in One Nation Under God is largely a means of positioning oneself, ideologically and socially, but not necessarily cosmologically. Kruse, or perhaps his actors, are less interested in cosmology than campaigning. He makes excellent use of primary source material from dozens of archival collections. The scope of his work is impressive.

In To Serve God and Wal-Mart Moreton attempts a similar project. In this work Wal-Mart serves as the centerpiece for uncovering the developing notion of Christian free enterprise and the rise of the Christian Right in the second half of the twentieth century. Moreton explores the way that Wal-mart negotiated a transition from a small store in the Ozarks to one of the most prominent corporations in the world. Exploring this shift in terms of business practices and ideologies she is able to identify the overlap of religion and corporate culture in both corporate leadership and consumers. The book reveals how Wal-Mart branded itself in terms of “corporate populism” and promoted conservative religious values through the recruitment of management from evangelical colleges and the promotion of gendered hierarchy in stores. [Moreton 13, 33]

The story is often one of contradictions, that the big-box retailer grew in an anti-monopoly/anti-corporate region by creating the image of the store as a mom-and-pop operation, for instance. But while Moreton is critical and highlights these contradictions, she is less interested in lambasting the corporation. Rather she seeks to understand how Christianity and commerce came to be tied together, how Walmart aligned consumption with faith. Moreton emphasizes that the growth of Wal-Mart reflects a unique blend of rural Southern, conservative Christian beliefs with free-market capitalism that appealed to middle-class consumers.

This exploration of the joining together of religion and commerce in the Wal-Mart model is useful in two regards. First, the broader exploration of Wal-Mart’s adoption of innovative business practices and techniques reveals the ways in which conservative Christian ideals were incorporated and disseminated. From hiring practices that reinforced gender hierarchies, to the reconfiguring consumerism as an act of Christian service, and the evangelization of Wal-Mart among college-age students in the US and abroad, these practices contributed to a much broader adoption of evangelical free-market values. Second, the political influence exerted by Sun Belt entrepreneurs provides us with access to the religious leaders and legislators that both publicly and privately promoted those values in policies and institutions of higher education.

In both regards, Moreton offers convincing arguments, making excellent use of her source materials. Her use of internal documents (company newsletters and reports, oral histories) and broadly disseminated public documents (newspaper articles and reports) enables her to examine the subject from multiple angles. Though the “consumer” as an individual is often obscured, Moreton calls to the foreground Wal-Mart’s corporate structure, from clerk to management, to a broader sense of the corporation’s influence internationally.

Putting these works together highlights differences in historiographical approach and interpretation. Kruse’s work focuses on the period between 1930 and 1970, where Moreton’s work is largely between 1930 and 1990. While both assert an increased connection between politics, economics, and religion in the second half of the twentieth century, Kruse more strongly links this rise to a response to New Deal policies, while Moreton demonstrates that some business benefited from the New Deal and that, particularly in international efforts, business did express concerns about the threats of Communism and the Cold War. Kruse’s work, with its focus on intellectual shifts and national politics is also significantly different than Moreton’s which traces the subject through the lens of a single business. Although both are interested in the broad shift toward Christian Conservatism, Kruse emphasizes public religion, legislation, and other outward forms of expression, while Moreton looks at internal expressions within the policies and politics of an institution.

Despite differences in project, the texts frequently overlapped in their discussion of figures and events. They were also similar in the voices that were missing. Though class plays a significant role in Kruse’s analysis, a nuanced reading of race is largely absent. Moreton, similarly, cannot entirely address the experiences and reactions of lower- and middle-class consumers, but focusing on the experiences of management available in the source material. Although both books emphasize Evangelical Protestantism, other religious faiths are not addressed. It should be noted that their reliance on documents and organizational publications may have produced these gaps. Overall, however, both these texts provide powerful insight into the shift of political and religious affiliation in the second half of the twentieth century.

Part Five: Visualizing the Mission

In a series of blog posts, I have offered a historical examination of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4). As I described previously, the Mission was founded in 1872 at St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes in New York City. The organization sought to combine the religious efforts of deaf and hearing clergymen and to expand the “ministry to the deaf of other cities.”[1] Utilizing the annual reports of the Mission, this project attempted to uncover the scale of these efforts in the first six years of the organization (1873-1879).

CMDM Visualization

Using D3.js, a javascript visualization library, I created an interactive map that visualizes the growth of missionary efforts over time.  Green circles are used to locate the worship services offered by members of the Mission. The radius of these circles corresponds to the frequency of services offered at that facility in the given year. Deaf residential schools are also included on the map (marked by orange circles). Moving the cursor over these circles reveals further information about the location. The data can be further manipulated by moving the slider. The thin grey lines that traverse the map represent the train routes in use by 1870.  For ease of examination, the map also contains a zoom function. D3.js is a tool that joins data together. In order to create my visualization, I first uncovered and recorded the missionary data in the annual reports available at the Gallaudet University Archives. These reports varied greatly in length and description of services. Next, I compiled a second data set that recorded the location of deaf residential schools that would have been operating through this period. This information was drawn from Deaf Heritage, a Narrative History of Deaf America by Jack Gannon. Both the mission and school datasets were tidied and geolocated using RStudio. This process has been published on RPubs. I also obtained a shapefile of the United States from NHGIS. This file included state-level geographic boundary information from 1870. Finally, I located a shape file of historical train routes, from Railroads and the Making of Modern America. This file draws on the geolocated railroad data from 1870. Putting these types of data into conversation has unlocked the activities of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes from the static text and has illuminated the growth of the organization in the first few years, however the concrete conclusions we can draw from this work are limited. In many ways, this project represents the challenges of working with analog primary source materials.

Extracting data from long-form, narrative accounts was not without complications. There are significant gaps in the data; report information for 1876 is unavailable, the frequency of services remains difficult to access as several missionaries did not indicate how often they visited a particular mission in their report, nor do the reports allow us to differentiate between the activities of each missionary. In an effort to access an understanding of the way in which deaf men traversed these spaces and generated a network of deaf communities, I have had to extract meaning from phrases like “monthly Sunday afternoon meetings”, “the third Sunday of November, February, May and August” or “occasional services” from the historical record and develop a means of representing these concepts in a meaningful way. Furthermore, the reports frequently provided overlapping data. When Rev. Thomas Gallaudet and Austin Mann visited a church together, how were responsibilities divided?  These gaps obscure information about how and why clergymen were drawn to a particular region and prevent us from tracing the development of services at a single location. However, even as these findings raise new questions about the scale and scope of the Episcopal deaf ministry, they offer some preliminary insights.

That a greater number of religious services was offered in larger cities, like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Chicago, does seem to reinforce Rev. Henry W. Syle’s assertion that “It is only in the great cities that the deaf can assemble every Sunday for Divine worship and a sermon by a living preacher… [and] many who are dispersed in places which we can visit only once in one or two months or even longer.”[2] In future work, clarity on this question may be ascertained as the mission reports are correlated with newspaper announcements and diocesan reports. Furthermore, placing the missions alongside residential deaf schools challenged my initial assumption that mission services would likely grow from a relationship with educational institutions. Rather, the map suggests that in the first few years of the organization other factors, like transportation, may have also influenced the locations at which clergymen ministered. That a number of schools, largely those in the West, were not visited by members of the mission is not surprising when we consider that efficient transportation routes were not available at this time.

Given that missionaries did provide weekly services in all of these cities, it is unlikely that they had independent church buildings at each location. Records indicate that in many cases, the Mission developed a relationship with clergymen in various cities and were permitted regular use in their buildings. That mission services continued to be offered at the same location across these years suggests that members of the Mission developed and maintained relationships with the clergy at these facilities. This facet of deaf worship is particularly important when we consider the way in which deaf missionaries and congregants interacted with these negotiated spaces.

Overall, the growth of this organization in this period remains significant. That the Mission was steadily increasing in size in the decade leading up to the founding of the National Association of the Deaf and the Milan Congress suggests that the Mission and its missionaries were firmly in place while these changes occurred. These findings indicate that further investigation may be useful in demonstrating a religious response to these key events.


At the start of this project I developed questions regarding the scale and scope of the Mission. In particular I was curious which cities and communities were visited by missionaries? How often were services offered, and to what degree can we estimate the impact missionaries had on the lives of deaf people in these contexts? What relationship did the Mission have to deaf residential schools? What information can it share about other locations with a high population of deaf people? Though imperfect, this visualization serves as a starting point understanding the function and form of the Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes. As I continue to investigate the influence of this organization and gain greater access to evidence of its activities, this project will be revisited and updated.

[1] Unknown, “The Church Mission to Deaf-Mutes,” undated, c 1910, Box #45, Archives of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
[2] Henry, Winter Syle, “Silent Catholic (Missionary),” Silent Catholic (Missionary), December 1886, 1.