The Religions in America Workshop explores the role of religion in American culture from the colonial period to the present day. The workshop engages in historiographical, theoretical, and methodological discussions about the place of religion in American life by focusing on issues and topics such as gender, race, consumer culture, the separation of church and state, politics, literature, theology, and music. The workshop welcomes scholars from a variety of academic disciplines, including the Divinity School, History Department, English Department, Sociology Department, Political Science Department, Music Department, and Anthropology Department. Presentations by students and faculty, as well as by distinguished guest speakers, take place in a relaxed, discussion-oriented environment designed to further the research, inquiry, and knowledge of both presenters and participants alike.
Curtis J. Evans is an historian of American religions. His teaching interests are modern American religion, particularly since the Civil War, race and religion in US history, and slavery and Christianity. His first book, The Burden of Black Religion (Oxford University Press, 2008), was an historical analysis of debates about the role of religion in the lives of African Americans and the origins of the scholarly category of “the black church.” His research emphases are interpretations and cultural images of African American religion, examinations of religion as a force for and obstacle to social and political reform, and the question of how social problems become defined and addressed as moral problems at particular historical moments. More recently, his research on Billy Graham’s political and social views have led increasingly into teaching courses on and reading more deeply about the rise of the Christian Right and the emergence and history of conservative Protestantism in the US. His current work, A Theology of Brotherhood: The Federal Council of Churches and the Problem of Race (Oxford, forthcoming) brings together a number of his research interests: the FCC’s attempt at social and racial change from the 1920s to the 1940s, the evolution of theological reflections on race, and the concrete and particular circumstances that shape historical actors as they wrestle with the constraints of their social worlds. This narrative is a critical historical evaluation of the FCC’s interracial work as a predominantly white Protestant and ecumenical organization, but also a reflection on the factors that illuminate the prominence of a certain strand of Protestantism in American public life in the early 20th century.
Richard A. Rosengarten studies Enlightenment thought and its import for religious (especially Christian) thought and practice. His teaching and research focus on how modern literary forms (especially the novel, but also satire and autobiography) enact, absorb, engage, and transform that impact, and on how the work of “criticism” – in its literary, biblical, and philosophical expressions – comes to have exponential import for thought and culture. Understanding religious thought and practice from the perspective of the Enlightenment inevitably involves engagement of earlier thought (especially the ancients) as well as the history of its effects (“modernism” and its aftermaths). His book on the novelist Henry Fielding is thus framed by engagements with Augustine’s Confessions and Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, and his forthcoming book on Catholicism between the Vatican Councils compares the ways that Flannery O’Connor, Frida Kahlo, and Simone Weil engaged Roman Catholic sacramental theology as crucial to the formation of their artistic styles (in prose fiction, retablo, and essai, respectively) for modernity.
Erin Simmonds is a second-year PhD student in Religions in America. Her research focuses on religion and law in the twentieth century.