Puritans with Sympathy?

When most Americans think about the Puritans–when they think about them at all–it’s usually to dismiss them as stern, hard-hearted folks–the kind of people who enjoyed plastering Hester Prynne with a “Scarlet Letter.”

One of the burdens of my US History classes is to chip away at this stigma. The Puritans took things seriously–it’s true–because life is serious business. But that didn’t keep them from loving whole-heartedly and feeling deeply.

We have more evidence of this in a recent book by Abram Van Engen called Sympathetic Puritans. Van Engen’s book is all about how Puritans valued sympathy, understood as care and even imaginative identification with others.

I wrote a longer review of the book in my monthly piece for the Religion in American History Blog.

Check it out!

Van Engen Cover

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Historical Fan Art

Before this semester is too far gone, I wanted to share a piece of Student Fan Art that a student produced last spring.

It envisions the History faculty at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul as Comic Book heroes, “The Doctors.”

That would be historian of Russia Matthew Miller as “The Czar.” Historian of Ancient and Medieval History Clyde Billington (now retired) shows up as “The Knight.” Our Egyptian specialist Charles Aling is “The Pharaoh.” And yes, yours truly is a Captain-America inspired “The General.”

One can only imagine what types of adventures these heroes will embark upon, but I can guess they will be to slay historical ignorance and help set the world aright.

Thanks, Ben W., for your creativity!

The Doctors2

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Thomas Hooker, the Puritans, and their “Terrifying” God

Apparently, the preparation for and the beginning of a new semester has reduced my blogging to ZERO.

With the beginning of the new semester, I’m again walking through American history. Early on in the semester, we try to come to terms with the Puritans. In fact, I have John Winthrop’s famous sermon, “A Modell of Christian Charity” ready to go for tomorrow.

On the topic of the Puritans, over the week-end I published a post about a new book by Baird Tipson, Hartford Puritanism: Thomas Hooker, Samuel Stone, and Their Terrifying God.

Tipson Cover

Hooker was the Puritan minister who migrated to New England in the 1630s and founded Hartford as a new Puritan settlement. Stone was his assistant and a systematic teacher. Together, they aimed for an extremely rigorous Puritanism that included an expectation of the New Birth, coupled with a society dedicated to helping all its members on the way to holiness.

I reviewed the book at the Religion in American History blog. Enjoy!

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Talking John Adams, Religion, and Democracy

Earlier this spring, I gave away copies of Amy Kittelstrom’s new book, The Religion of Democracy.

Not only were two (!) lucky readers recipients the book, but I had a chance to read it, as well.

Today I had the chance to give a few reflections on the book at the Religion in American History blog.

Although I try to identify her central claims, my main goal is to assess her treatment of John Adams. Now, I have some opinions about John Adams, since he figures significantly in Patriotism and Piety.

So, in the review, I try to define how Kittelstrom uses Adams in her larger story. I then offer, briefly, an alternative interpretation. Not surprisingly, I think my emphases are better and more representative of Adams’ whole life.

And, what I don’t highlight in the piece, but which I think is implied, is that a much fuller interpretation is present…in Patriotism and Piety.

So, read the review and then read my fuller treatment of Adams…in the book.


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Jacob Green and the Fourth of July

I hope my US readers had a pleasant 4th of July holiday. Mine involved a picnic with friends, being ambushed by water balloons, and reading the Declaration of Independence to friends and family. (I hope international readers had a pleasant 4th, too–I’m just guessing there wasn’t the same volume as fireworks involved.)

Before we leave our Independence-Day thoughts, let me link you to my monthly post at the Religion in American History blog.

I remember Independence Day by reflecting on a recent book that connects the lives of 3 men caught up in the American Revolution–Presbyterian minister Jacob Green, his son Ashbel Green, and the counterpoint Anglican priest Thomas Bradbury Chandler.

I enjoyed the book and thought many other people might enjoy it. Apparently Penn State press has moved it to paperback.

Anyway, do check out the piece.

And, to quote my children’s favorite expression of the week-end, “Happy Birthday, America!”

Rohrer Cover

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Traveling Links

I’ve been on the road much of the month of June, traveling to Louisville, Kentucky; Phoenix, Arizona; and Oxford, UK for academic programs and activities. (And yes, I was presenting at “that” Oxford). I have no doubt I’ll more to say about some of these experiences, but at the moment, let me clean up my browser by sharing a number of links that caught my eye over the past month:

Barry Hankins and Thomas Kidd on the Southern Baptists

The New Deal, Raisin Production, and 2015.

For Fathers’ Day, C.S. Lewis as adoptive father.

How might the world’s languages be visualized?

Ross Douthat on Pope Francis.

Is History-writing “aggressive”?

How did religion impact views of “Rosie the Riveter” in World War II? (This important question was addressed by Northwestern alumna Adina Johnson.)

Peter Brown on Wealth and the Early Church.

A number of eminent US Historians are unhappy with the AP US History’s new framework. (Full text of letter, with signatories, here.)

What’s the “end” (telos) of the university?

•Maybe we should think anew about Cotton Mather. (Editorial: I would definitely support reading Rick Kennedy’s new book!)

Peter Augustus Lawler isn’t so thrilled with current trends in American higher education.

Was Thomas Jefferson partially to blame for the “contradictions” of the secular university? (Tracy McKenzie reflects.)

Education and technology, continued.

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A Great Review of Patriotism and Piety

The semester is over and my grades are entered. I’ll now be transitioning to other activities for this summer.

I arrived at my office this morning to learn that a review of Patriotism and Piety had gone online over night.

Neil Dhingra wrote an extended and really thoughtful review on the “Living Church” blog: “Americans Have Always Been Arguing Over Religion.”

Dhingra describes the book’s argument effectively, and he picks up on many of the central characters and moments from the book.

Dhingra even spices things up with a dramatically colorful introduction:

Philip Larkin famously said that sexual intercourse began in “nineteen sixty-three,” and many Americans doubtless imagine that religious controversy migrated here soon after the post-coital cigarette. Jonathan Den Hartog’s new book, Patriotism & Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation, shows that intense religious argument, particularly about infidelity, has been part of the history of the United States nearly from the start. And it only had a little to do with sex.

I appreciated the review because Dhingra not only took the book seriously, but he stepped back from the book to make very valuable points about nationalism, national identity, and the place of religion in American political life.

I highly recommend the review. Read it all here.

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