AHA 2013 for American Religious Historians

28 Dec

For the third year I’ll be attending the American Historical Association’s annual conference. I like living outside of the American Academy of Religion box. You also can’t go wrong with a conference that is a bit more sensitive to the value of digital humanities and digital age pedagogy. I’m not saying the AAR is filled with luddites, but they have been slower to advance the study of religion into the digital realms.

This year’s AHA conference is focused on the theme “Lives, Places, Stories.” How appropriate for the end of the year of William Cronon’s tenure as AHA president. I’ll definitely be trying to attend his plenary address entitled “Storytelling.”

Here’s an (overly) ambitious schedule of what I’ll be checking out at the conference. [Note: Session numbers are taken from the printed program book.]

Thursday, January 3 9:00AM – 5:00PM THATCamp AHA

If I weren’t attending THATCAmp, from 1-3pm I’d head over to Restructuring Religion: American Approaches to Modernism featuring papers by John Corrigan, Elizabeth Clark, and Amanda Porterfield with a response from Kathryn Lofton. Then I’d stick around because from 3:30-5:30 there’s a session called Imagining God’s Kingdom: Natural and Supernatural Landscapes in Nineteeth-Century America. There a quartet of folks I’m not familiar with are presenting fascinating papers on mineral springs, schoolbooks, Antebellum NY’s spiritual landscape, and Sylvester Graham. Leigh Eric Schmidt will respond. Rough to miss both of those on day 1 (both in Sheraton Salon 817)!

I’m especially bummed about missing Corrigan’s paper, “Religious Cases of Modern Spaces and Places.” In fact, day 1 is quite the smorgasbord for spatial geeks. (Check out sessions 11, 12, 13, 20, Latin American History session 6, 29, 31, 33, 36, 39, 41, 46, 51, American Society of Church History session 4, and Latin American History session 15). I mean, seriously, we are some fully spatially turned historians. Way to take the theme to heart, folks!

Thursday, January 3 8:00-10:00PM Plenary Session

If I’m not too jet-lagged and tired I’ll finish Thursday evening with the Plenary Session “The Public Practice of History in and for a Digital Age.” William Cronon will chair the diverse group of panelists, and I’m sure it’ll be an interesting look at the future of the discipline. I wish I knew more, but there’s not much in the program book to help us out.

Friday, January 4 8:30-10:00AM Convince Me? 

There are a bunch of interesting digitially oriented sessions I may attend (59 and 61, for instance).

I’m not sold on what to go to. Do you have a recommendation? I’d also be open for breakfast with fellow Tweeting, blogging, dissertating, or DH curious folks. Can’t go wrong getting some beignets, right? Contact me on Twitter.

Friday, January 4 10:30-12:00PM U.S. Evangelicals and Global Christianity

This was an easy call for me: Humanitarianism, Tourism, and Megachurches: U.S. Evangelicals and the Growth of Global Christianity with Bethany Moreton as chair and Joel Carpenter responding. Here’s the summary:

The recently published Atlas of Global Christianity (Johnson and Ross, 2010) reveals a rapidly shifting religious landscape.  Within the last half-century, Christianity has grown exponentially through indigenous movements and churches concentrated in Latin and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia.  No longer is it possible to see Christianity as the cultural export of some nations, and the import of others. Yet much of this global growth is in conservative evangelical and Pentecostal churches that have ties with or roots in US-based ministries (Wuthnow, 2009). This panel explores the relationship between US Christians and those abroad, paying attention to the ways that American Christianity has expanded internationally and been shaped by these encounters.

The academic literature on Western Christian mission to and engagement with the wider world has often relied on narratives that either emphasize the destructive force of cultural imperialism (Comaroffs, 1991) or the marvel of indigenous appropriation (Sanneh, 2008). The papers in this panel seek to look beyond those explanatory tropes to focus on the historical development of new Christian “global flows” (Appadurai, 1996) that do not presume a unidirectional or power-dominated approach. Regarding American Christianity in particular, this panel contributes to the growing literature on the connections between the US and global Christianity. Much of this work focuses on the contemporary period or nineteenth-century missions; the papers in this panel illuminate key historical trends that undergird current economic, charitable and cultural flows. Traditional missionary work is examined as one part of a multi-faceted, dynamic interchange between twentieth-century American evangelicals and their counterparts abroad. Contributors to this session will provide three comparative case studies: the development of international Christian humanitarianism, the evolution of professional Holy Land tourism, and the emergence of American “church growth” consultants in the global megachurch movement. Chair and respondent expertise lie also in the areas of transnational cooperation, commerce and multinational corporations. Examining the roots of key contemporary trends, this session joins the ongoing discussion across disciplinary fields of how religions operate in a world made smaller by globalization

Let me know if you’re planning on attending this. I’d love to meet others interesting in U.S./Global evangelicalism. My spiritual warfare folks are decidedly globalized, and even though I’m working on the U.S. aspects for my dissertation I recognize there is an international context I need to be very sensitive to.

Friday, January 4 2:30-4:30 Go Digital or Go Catholic

I have two very strong contenders for this slot. On the one hand, I see myself moving in increasingly digital directions with my work (from digital sources to web publishing, etc.). With that in mind I might attend Front Lines: Early Career Scholars doing Digital History which features a bunch of great folks including digital buddy and fellow Californian Miriam Posner. It’s a promising panel:

Digital history’s growth in popularity has been accompanied by anxiety about how, and whether, these new methods and their practitioners will fit into traditional history departments. At the 2012 meeting of the American Historical Association, discussions of digital history often turned to questions about graduate education, the job market, publication, and promotion. This roundtable aims to approach these questions head-on, relaying experiences and recommendations from early-career scholars navigating these transitions.

Digital historians who elect to enter the professoriate often find themselves faced with a number of questions related to credentialing, tenure, and promotion. Many digital projects, for example, require publication venues other than the bound monograph. What sorts of avenues exist for digital publications? Will tenure committees be prepared to accept and evaluate these nontraditional projects? How many universities can be expected to offer the infrastructure and resources digital historians need?

The AHA’s leaders have suggested that for new Ph.D.s, one solution to the jobs crisis may lie in seeking careers outside of the professoriate — an option that digital historians have been particularly interested in pursuing. How can graduate students gain the experience to prepare themselves for these positions? If new Ph.D.s turn to these alternative academic careers, what can they expect? Can a historian in a nontraditional career expect to pursue a research agenda? What are these alternative jobs, and how well are new Ph.D.s adapting to them?

In this roundtable, a group of digital historians, in jobs both on and off the tenure track, will take up these questions, drawing on their own experience to suggest how we can prepare young digital scholars to enter various job markets, and how we can prepare employers to receive them.

On the other hand, it’s hard to turn down a super-star panel on Catholicism with Bob Orsi, Kelly J. Baker, and Matthew Cressler. If that weren’t enough, Jon Butler is responding. As an Americanist and a religious historian, it’s very hard to not attend a panel like this to get a sense of a part of the field that I routinely teach but do not specialize in. I do heavily rely on Orsi’s work on urban sacred spaces, for instance, but the panel is grounded in historiography, something no American religious historian should ever say no to discussing. Here’s the skinny on that:

In 1991, Jon Butler published the now-classic essay “Historiographical Heresy: Catholicism as a Model for American Religious History,” which challenged American historians to break away from the orthodoxy of Protestant-centered approaches and, instead, to think about our nation’s religious history from the vantage point of American Catholicism.  Over the past two decades, others have joined Butler in calling for a reexamination of the relationship between Catholics and the American nation, and this heightened scrutiny has produced additional questions and historiographic challenges.  For example, some scholars have taken a self-reflexive approach, challenging the “exceptionalism” of yesterday’s Catholic histories.  Another consequence has been the flourishing of Catholic Studies, which presumes Catholics to have been both producers and consumers of American culture.  Indeed, if a consensus model has emerged since Butler’s essay, it is that the relationship between Catholics and U.S. history is dialectical, wherein American culture has influenced American Catholicism, and vice versa.    Recent studies have drawn our attention to the tensions inherent to this dynamic, including the enormous analytical challenge that this dialectical model has created, which we refer to simply as the problem of “Catholic distinctiveness.”  This panel thus seeks to push Butler’s original proposal a bit further:  If we begin with the assumption that Catholics have been an integral part of American history and culture, then is it still possible to retain a sense of what has been distinctively Catholic about their contributions to that history?

Robert A. Orsi, one of the most influential theorists of American Catholicism, was the first historian to call attention to the issue of distinctiveness.  As Chair, Orsi will frame our conversation and offer commentary on the dilemma at hand.  Kelly Baker, our first panelist, will present her research on debates between the Ku Klux Klan and the Catholic periodical Our Sunday Visitor.  Baker thus approaches the challenge of distinctiveness by introducing the perspective of a group who understood Catholics as inimical to the American nation.  Our second panelist, Matthew J. Cressler, will ask whether there was something distinctively Catholic about Black Power politics in 1960s Chicago.  By presenting some of his primary research from diocesan archives, as well the oral histories that he has conducted with Black Catholic leaders, Cressler will ask the audience to reflect on the relationship between distinctiveness, power, and identity.  Brian J. Clites, our third panelist, will add an ethnohistorical viewpoint.  In his research on the Catholic sex abuse scandal, Clites has observed that Catholic communities believe that they have a special role to play in state and national efforts to decrease sexual abuse against children.   As commentator, Jon Butler will conclude the panel by offering feedback to the panelists, as well as his reflections on the state of his proposed “heresy.” In particular, Butler will challenge the audience to reconsider the benefits and risks of “mainstreaming” Catholics into American history.

As much as I see myself needing more digital allies and mentors, I probably cannot turn a panel like this down.

Friday, January 4 8:30-10:30PM AHA General Meeting 

Confession time. I’ve never attended one of these general meetings. I’ve rarely had a proper incentive or, more often, I’ve had conflicting dinner meetings with scholars who felt no incentive to attend. This year I might break that habit to hear William Cronon give his plenary address, Storytelling.

Saturday, January 5 9:00-11:00AM Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt

Since I study American evangelicals, this was another easy decision. I’ll be attending a session of the Conference on Faith and History on Darren Dochuk’s excellent From Bible Belt to Sun BeltThere’s not much information on the session, but Dochuk will be there, so I suppose folks will be bringing their kid gloves and refraining from too-heated exchanges. I can always hope for a throw-down between scholars, (as I once saw in a Martin Marty panel at the AAR) but what I’m likely to get is a better perspective on the reception of Dochuk’s work now that it has been out for a while. [I read it hot off the press, so I may brush up before next week if I can find the time.]

Saturday, January 5 11:30-1:30PM Biography and American Religious History

Since I contributed to Chris Cantwell‘s open call for religious biographies, I can’t miss this exciting panel. I have a religious biography syllabus in the works on my own, as every scholar of American religious should have, so this is an welcome opportunity for a discussion with some well-position experts including Cantwell, Rachel Wheeler, and Kathryn Lofton. Response will be given by the ever-digitally-present Edward Blum. I’m sure this will be an excellent two hours. And since we’re all missing lunch to do it, let’s hope they have some coffee handy.

Saturday, January 5 2:30-4:30PM Nap Time? Or Presidential Prayer. 

Seriously. It will be nap time. I may go to browse the books first, but a nap will be required. If I weren’t likely to be exhausted at this stage, I’d attend an interesting panel on Presidents at Prayer. If I have the energy for it, that’s where I’ll be to learn about prayer cf. Adams, Wilson, FDR, and Obama.

Saturday, January 5 6Pm-Late Tweetup

On Twitter Saturday evening has been reserved for a meetup. I’m still working on a location that both facilitates conversation and offers excellent drinks. If you know of such a place, let me know. I’m also game for dinner if anyone is free. I left the evening free specifically to try to meet some other twitterstorians.

Sunday, January 6 8:30-10:30AM Race and 20th c. Protestantism

Now I jumped the gun a bit and signed up for the AHA-promoted things to do in N.O. 9k race. Since I’m training for the Lavaman Triathlon (in March), I figured it’d be great to get a workout in. Unfortunately I didn’t check the program carefully enough. There’s no way I’m missing Arlene Sanchez-Walsh and Anthea Butler talk about race in 20th c. American Protestantism. That session is officially titled The Science and Spirit of Race in Twentieth-Century American Protestantism, and it also features papers by Irene Stroud and Blaine Hamilton. I’ll be there tweeting for twitter-addicts Anthea and Arlene.

If you want to join me for lunch and a stroll in the city on Sunday afternoon, let me know. My flight doesn’t leave until 7. I’m happy to go wherever! (I’ve been to N.O. several times before so the tourist stuff isn’t essential for me.)

Spot an error? Or something that I simply *must* attend that I missed? Do let me know!


4 Responses to “AHA 2013 for American Religious Historians”

  1. Caleb Maskell December 28, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Thanks for this, David. You saved me a ton of time! And thanks for the panel shout-out for “Imagining God’s Kingdom” — I’m sure it is going to be awesome.

    See you in NOLA.


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