That Was The Week That Was


• Thanks to G.W. Carlson, professor emeritus of History and Political Science at Bethel University, for paying tribute to Paul Wellstone on the 10th anniversary of his death.

• This week also saw the death of another liberal Midwestern senator. Unlike Paul Wellstone, however, George McGovern did run for president (three times, I think). My reflection focused less on those campaigns, however, than two less-remembered aspects of McGovern’s life and career: his Christian faith, and his support for military intervention to stop the Cambodian genocide.

• For any political candidates or activists who happen to be reading this blog: as a historian who regularly teaches about Nazi Germany, I’m begging you to resist the temptation to set up analogies between your opponents and National Socialists.

• One of my favorite books this year: Matthew Bowman’s introduction to the history of Mormonism, The Mormon People. I was particularly struck by the relationship between Progressivism and the “golden age of Mormon theology.”

• And I revisited one of the major figures in my own religious tradition to see that he described Pietism as what I termed “catholic evangelicalism.”

There and Everywhere

McGovern campaigning in 1972
McGovern campaigning in 1972 – University of Houston

• If you were interested in the Wellstone and McGovern pieces published here… There have been many other Wellstone tributes published, including one from the liberal Democrat currently holding that seat in the U.S. Senate. And for more on McGovern, religion, and politics, see this tribute by Jim Wallis, who helped set up McGovern’s landmark speech at Wheaton College during the 1972 campaign.

• And if you liked the Bowman piece… A leading evangelical historian of the Latter-day Saints took exception to an “anti-Mormon screed” published by Frank Schaeffer.

• Unlike some of the other great historians who have died this year, I don’t really know much about Jacques Barzun, the cultural historian and critic who passed away at the age of 104. But I learned much from this 2007 profile in The New Yorker by Barzun’s close friend Arthur Krystal. And Christian readers might check out Matthew Schmitz’s reflection on Barzun‘s seeming disinterest in that religion so closely bound up with the civilization about which he wrote so much: “It is unsettling that a man could read so widely and reach so many conclusions amenable to the orthodox believer as did Barzun, while somehow missing that consuming, primary question of our creation and calling. That such a staunch defender of Western culture could have so little interest in the cult that lies at its center suggests that the cult itself is dispensable.”

• A new study published in the journal Sociology of Religion suggests that “evangelical elites have actually been subtly but significantly changing their moral reasoning about homosexuality” in recent years, suggesting a “trajectory of change that portends the increasing liberalization of evangelical elites’ positions and attitudes on public policy debates related to homosexuality.”

Barack Obama in 2009
Pres. Barack Obama speaking in Cairo in 2009 – White House

• One young Christian on why she’s not a “None”: “…because I know that my story is bound to the stories of those before and those who will come after me… because the church needs people like us — to challenge, to listen, to find new meaning, to seek justice, and to ask forgiveness.”

John Blake’s article arguing that Barack Obama is “expanding the definition of who can be a Christian by challenging the religious right’s domination of the national stage” prompted lots of, um, vigorous responses from Obama fans and critics (which he summarized and replied to here). One critique came from Scot McKnight, who found Obama less influenced by the Social Gospel (which he associated with white elites) than African-American liberation theology.

• Miroslav Volf concluded his list of political values that guide him as a voter, from #14 (the “Equality of Nations”) to #20 (“Character”).

• Rather than calling David Brooks a “conservative for progressives” to read, perhaps I should have called him a “moderate for progressives and conservatives” to read.

• A little while back, I noted the new book on religion and higher education by Douglas and Rhonda Jacobsen. They were recently interviewed by Inside Higher Ed about “the new nature of religion on campus and how colleges can better deal with religion and religious students.” (Be sure to read the largely positive comments, including one from a retired professor who professed herself an atheist who believed that religion “should play a role in university education.”)

• Why are college enrollments dropping this year?

• Jay Case of Malone University was kind enough to mention my own answer to a question he asked on his blog: are evangelical colleges (like Malone and Bethel) politically captive to the Right? He shared his own experience, plus evidence from a recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute that suggests that such schools may actually have more politically diverse faculties than any other type.

• Speaking of Jay… If you want a preview of his book on American evangelicals and world Christianity, he’s being interviewed by Jared Burkholder at The Hermeneutic Circle. Start here with part 1

Alan Jacobs• Alan Jacobs had a busy week: in addition to accepting a position at Baylor University, he continued to challenge “the familiar narrative of decline” in reading, and argued that “those of us who love the liberal arts don’t have to take a single line of self-defense — indeed we shouldn’t, because if the artes liberales really do liberate, they free us to make many varied choices.”

One of the best panels I attended at the Conference on Faith and History earlier this month featured graduate student Mary Sanders (sharing a session with her father Glenn). Here’s her reflection on CFH, published at the CFH Grad Student blog. Like her, I always feel “professionally refreshed” after attending that conference, something not always true of academic gatherings.

• And in this morning’s installment of “Weekend Reading” from the Bethel History department: historical Halloween costumes, Abraham Lincoln receives a letter from “God,” the oldest recording of an American voice, and much more.

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