I’ve complained a couple of times that Christian Piatt’s recent (very popular) exercise in identifying “25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading” gave short shrift (both in the readers’ and editor’s versions) to academics — in particular, my fellow historians. To a significant extent, this is the fault of our guild; I’m afraid that Sam Wineburg is generally right that “We have important things to say but have forgotten how—and to whom—to say them.” Like many scholars, historians write too much for each other and too little for the general population.
But there are many gifted historians who regard blogging as an extension of their callings as scholars and teachers, and several of the best are Christians. I won’t try for a list of twenty-five, but here (in no particular order) are ten blogs by Christian historians that you should be reading — offered in the hope that readers will recommend at least fifteen more that I’ve missed: (my Recommended Links page includes some more)
If you read my Saturday links posts, you’ll have already seen dozens of links to this group blog from Patheos, where “historians of broadly evangelical faith” like Philip Jenkins, Thomas Kidd, and John Turner “share their reflections on contemporary faith, politics and culture in the light of American and global religious history.” In addition to those I’ve flagged in That Was The Week That Was, recent highlights include Jenkins’ series on Egyptian Christianity, Kidd on antebellum slavery debates, Turner on affirmative action and campus ministry, and Agnes Howard’s critique of attempts to blend physical fitness with public history.
The Way of Improvement Leads Home
One of the founding bloggers at Anxious Bench was John Fea of Messiah College. While he no longer contributes regularly there, his own blog has been going strong for several years now. Posting several times a day, John focuses on introducing readers to books, journals, articles, blogs, and other sources for American religious history, the American Revolution, higher education, Bruce Springsteen, and other topics. John has written that he doesn’t consider his to be a “Christian blog,” but he does “have a lot of Christian readers, we often discuss matters related to faith and learning, and I like to think that my own Christian faith has something to do with the way I approach and write about American history, politics, culture, and academic life.”
No one has done more than Wheaton College historian Tracy McKenzie to shift my own emphasis from producing scholarship for scholars to taking up our vocation to serve the people of the Body of Christ. (On that subject, here’s my reflection on his 2012 presidential address at the Conference on Faith and History.) So it’s been a delight to find him blogging more often on Christianity in American history, as with series on the “first Thanksgiving” (subject of his newest book, which we will be reviewing at our department blog) and the U.S. Constitution. But, like John Fea, Tracy is equally strong when he departs from his particular field and writes more about the practice and theory of history as a larger discipline (e.g., his posts on C.S. Lewis and history).
I mean this as high praise, but fear that it will come off like a backhanded compliment: I wish Malone University’s Jay Case blogged more often. I enjoy posts related to his primary field (history of missions), but even more so, that he approaches important topics accessibly and unpredictably: e.g., using Trix cereal and Mad magazine as prompts for reflections on Christianity and consumerism. And pay attention to his new series on why Americans should not treat education like a business.
Here too, I wish Chris Armstrong were able to blog more consistently, but when he does, it comes in bursts and it’s great. And it’s often tied directly to his many other projects, including his forthcoming book that should reintroduce evangelicals to medieval Christianity and his project at Bethel Seminary on faith and work. Moreover, I appreciate how Chris (as a church history professor at a seminary and someone who has long straddled the fictional border between academic and popular history) exemplifies McKenzie’s notion of Christian historians having a “dual vocation”: to the Academy and to the Church.
One of my favorite discoveries of the summer is this new blog from Patrick Connelly of Montreat College. While it’s rarely about the past, per se, Connelly’s background in cultural and intellectual history clearly informs his commentary on topics like film, education, music, and technology. It’s like reading a blog version of my favorite periodical, Books and Culture.
A more ecumenical Protestant cousin to The Anxious Bench, Then and Now is edited by Edward J. Blum, whose first column in the series promised that it would “take today’s public, political and cultural happenings and reflect upon them from various historical vantage points.” For example, in July Blum put Pres. Obama’s public reflections on the Trayvon Martin case in historical context, contrasting its candor with the way that American presidents, when speaking on such cases, have typically “accepted racial violence, remained silent on it or hidden behind passivity.” Most recently, Matthew Hedstrom asked if American civil religion constitutes “an establishment of religious liberalism.”
Blum also writes for this group blog on, well, exactly what its title says. While certainly not meant as a “Christian blog,” several of its contributors self-identify as Christians, including Pentecostal scholar Arlene Sánchez-Walsh, former Christian History editor Elesha Coffman, my Snelling Avenue neighbor Jonathan Den Hartog (whose own blog, Historical Conversations, will surely show up in the 2014 version of this post), Randall Stephens (associate editor of the CFH journal, Fides et Historia) and the aforementioned Johns, Fea and Turner. In any event, it’s the place to go for an introduction to trends in the historical study of Christianity and other religions. (In a similar vein, I’d recommend the U.S. Intellectual History Blog, whose contributors — whether Christian or not — often offer thoughtful commentary on the roles of Christians and Christianity.)
Wherever you stand on the question of Mormonism as Christianity, this group blog is an invariably intriguing introduction to the history of Mormonism and its intersections or resonances with larger themes in American and religious history. (For those who have read Matthew Bowman’s The Mormon People or at least my post on it, he’s a frequent contributor at Juvenile Instructor.) For example, as someone who regularly teaches a Cold War history course, I appreciated one grad student’s post rereading the 1953 raid on a polygamist settlement at Short Creek in light of Elaine Tyler May’s treatment of the Cold War idealization of the suburban, nuclear family.
None of the hosts/writers of this podcast/blog is a historian by training, but in their discussions of literature, philosophy, and other things “that humans do well,” Nathan Gilmour, Michial Farmer, and David Grubbs are always attentive to historical context. (See, for example, Gilmour’s recent review of Reza Aslan’s Zealot, which is about historiography as much as New Testament studies: “At stake when histories clash is not merely the history of hermeneutics, of course: on a larger scale, there’s the question of how historical change happens in the first place.”) It’s a welcome reminder that history is just one of the fields we lump together as “humanities,” and that disciplinary boundaries are there to be crossed.
10 thoughts on “10 Blogs by Christian Historians You Should Be Reading”
When you get a moment, write a comment over at that Reza Aslan response, Chris. I’d like to know what in the essay resonates with you and what you’d call into question.
This is a great list, and includes a couple I currently don’t read regularly, so I appreciate you making me aware of them. And thank you for including the Juvenile Instructor! We’re honored to be in such great company.
You (and others) might also like Peculiar People, another blog dedicated to the study of Mormonism (by both Mormons and others), whose roster includes some of JI’s bloggers (Matt Bowman, Ben Park, Christine Hutchinson-Jones, Ryan Tobler, and myself), along with several other incredibly smart historians and scholars from other disciplines.
Interesting list, but I think there are two different pursuits being discussed here: the history of religion and religious history. The second, in my opinion, is what John Fea and others call “Confessing History;” and it’s much different from the first, which is much closer to “regular” intellectual or cultural history but focuses on religion and its role in historical change. If you don’t see the difference, it’s probably because you’re standing inside the confessional box. For example, I’m fascinated by, and qualified to DO history of religion. But I’m not interested in, and as an unbeliever, unqualified by definition to do religious history. Possibly anti-religious — but I’d prefer to do straight history, consider religion historically, and agree to disagree. Of course, the pacifism of unbelievers is somewhat dependent on how aggressive religious historians get pushing their perspective into the mainstream.
Oh, I agree with your distinction, which why I included the Religion in American History (and U.S. Intellectual History) blogs (and I sometimes link to what you all do at the Historical Society blog). Perhaps I should clarify that the “you” who should be reading these blogs is not meant solely (or even primarily) to be fellow academics or fellow Christian college professors, but a more general audience. I’d like to encourage family and friends, members of my church, Bethel students and alumni, and others who encounter this blog to read both historians who are Christians (but may or may not write about the history of that religion) and historians (who may or may not be Christian) writing about Christianity.
I’m afraid the title of the post does muddy the waters — I just couldn’t come up with a better one without making it even more cumbersome than it is. (And it does describe most of those on this list.)
I think the waters were already pretty muddy. Most of the people I know who do either history of religion or religious history don’t really distinguish between them. I’m not suggesting there’s some machiavellian agenda — these same historians are usually critical of far-right evangelical revisionism, which I’m happy to see. But looking at it from the outside, I do think there ought to be a more thorough discussion of how faith interacts with interpretation.
Thanks for this list. I think it works well for informing your readers, “If you enjoy the Pietist Schoolman, here are some other blogs you might enjoy.”
Thanks also for the notice–it will inspire me to blog further in the coming year.
Another blog worth checking out is The Twelve. (Reformed. Done Daily.)–especially Jim Bratt’s posts: http://the12.squarespace.com/james-bratt/ . Witty, incisive, and very smart.
Thanks for the recommendation, Kristin!