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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Religion in Lake Wobegon

Today I posted my regular post at the Religion in American History blog.

This month’s post is “Religion in (and beyond) Lake Wobegon.”

The comments originated for a panel at the American Society of Church History’s meeting last month. The panel, I have to repeat was outstanding, the very best of what panels should be and do.

My job was simply to set the table for the scholars who brought some great ideas into play.

To start the conversation, though, I reflected on the religious diversity of Anoka, Minnesota. Anoka might not quite be Lake Wobegon, but it is close.

Image result for anoka minnesota

The other highlight: getting to mention both Pella, Iowa, and Sully, Iowa in the post. Thanks to David Zwart for making that possible!

Check out the post, along with the Garrison Keillor references, here.

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Early May Updates

I know readers have been refreshing the site regularly to see what has happened with our “Book Give-away: Kittelstrom edition.”

I’ve been delayed in a lot of things, since I was sick for most of last week. But, fear not, we’ll get to Kittelstrom by the end of this post.

One  exciting happening last week came as I was asked to contribute a guest post to the Anxious Bench blog. The Anxious Bench is a great collection of writers who address (broadly-speaking) religion in American history. I took the opportunity to write about a topic that I only mentioned in Patriotism and Piety–the fact that Alexander Hamilton in 1802 had called for a “Christian Constitutional Society.” Even though I don’t think Hamilton was overly serious about the endeavor, I think he was influenced by other Federalists who were very much concerned about both those categories–the very people who show up in Patriotism and Piety. So, let me definitely encourage you to go to “The Anxious Bench” and read  about “Alexander Hamilton’s Christian Constitutional Society.

I was also pleased to see that the piece got picked up by historian John Fea as part of his “Sunday Night Odds and Ends.”

Ah, but back to Kittelstrom. I had asked readers to define American liberalism. As another correspondent, JW, told me, this was about as difficult a question as could be posed. With an evil laugh, I agreed.

We had two solid entries. Reader Jamie emphasized liberalism’s opposition to inequality, which is true and could be developed out in interesting ways. By contrast, Reader TJ put two elements into his definition. He pointed out that liberalism claims to seek corporate flourishing, but the way it does so is by placing the individual at the center of the story. Both elements seem to me correct, and I think could be read all the way back to Locke’s 2nd Treatise. So, after much agonizing, I will be sending the Kittelstrom book to Reader TJ!

I’ll hope to have some future updates here shortly.

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Book Give-away: Kittelstrom Edition

The marketing folks at Penguin recently sent me an extra copy of Amy Kittelstrom’s forthcoming book The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition.

I’ve not read it extensively, yet, but it carries some nice recommendations from well-known historians Jill Lepore, Daniel Walker Howe, and David D. Hall.

Kittelstrom is using intensive intellectual history to create a genealogy of liberalism in America.

I’ll be happy to send this book on to some fortunate reader. To win it, though, requires that you post a comment on this page. In the comment, answer this question: how would you define American liberalism? Be civil, be reflective.

Whoever leaves the best definition by noon on April 24 will get a copy of the book.

The Religion of Democracy


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