Monthly Archives: July 2014

Two Historical Anniversaries

Keeping up the theme of “backward-looking blog posts on Friday,” this week let me direct your attention to 2 historical anniversaries in the last two months.

June 6th saw the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. This would be a great opportunity to reach for a Stephen Ambrose book, maybe his Band of Brothers. Also commemorating the event was my friend Sean Brennan, who blogged about some research he’s been doing on a Catholic Chaplain who was at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Later in the month of June, we witnessed the centennial of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. Franz Ferdinand was the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a reformer. In June of 1914, he traveled to the city of Sarajevo near the border of the Empire. Waiting for him was an assassination plot devised by the “Black Hand,” a secret organization controlled by the Serbian government. Riding the crest of nationalism, Serbia believed that Sarajevo and its surrounding Bosnian countryside should belong to it (after all, the area contained many ethnic Serbs).

File:Archduke Franz with his wife.jpg

On the morning of June 28, 1914, one attempt had been made on the Archduke’s life: a bomb had been thrown at the motorcade. Though the Archduke and his wife were unhurt, others of their party were injured and were taken to the hospital. Later in the morning, wanting to visit the hospital, the Archduke’s motorcade got backed up in the streets, stopping right in front of a cafe, where another plotter, Gavrilo Princip, was sitting despondently. Princip immediately seized his chance, jumped to the car’s running board, and fired fatal shots directly at the Archduke and his wife.

More than just an individual tragedy, the assassination of the Archduke set in motion the diplomatic steps that would drag Europe into World War I by the end of the summer. Though the summer of 2014 was beautiful in Europe, behind the scenes were doings that would create unforeseen destruction. This centennial summer, we might plot the steps, as Austria conferred with its ally Germany, Germany gave them the blank check to attack Serbia, and then the German command prepared for the war it knew it would fight with both Russia and France.

The assassination of the Archduke was thus the boulder that started an avalanche that would bury Europe’s 19th century ideals and open the door to the horrors of the 20th century, including the rise of Nazism and, eventually, the Allied invasion on D-Day.

As time allows, I hope to blog more this summer about how we might remember World War I, through several significant books on the topic.

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Christianity and the “enlightenment” in America

For a Friday in July, this is a good article to flash-back to.

Back in May, I wrote up a blog post onĀ “Religion and American Enlightenments” and posted it to the Religion in American History site.

The piece grew out of a presentation I had heard this spring, in which some academics attempted to describe the “enlightenment”* in America, while bracketing religious belief in the period. This seemed to me the wrong way to go, and I think the post became a little cantankerous–and maybe more entertaining to read–as a result.

[*The term “enlightenment” is itself problematic, and I’d be happy to explain why, at length, to anyone interested.]

After I posted the piece, I was alerted to a recent article published by Douglas Sweeney on “The Biblical World of Jonathan Edwards” (for those curious, it’s in Jonathan Edwards Studies 3, no. 2 (2013): 221-268). Sweeney argues that Edwards’s ideas were deeply shaped by his Biblical study. Edwards was no simple reader of the Bible but instead used all of the linguistic, exegetical, and even historical tools at his disposal to explicate the biblical text. Edwards owned over 800 works relating to the Bible and theology. Edwards was truly a cosmopolitan reader, keeping up with the intellectual trends of Britain and the Continent. With his own contributions, Edwards was part of the transatlantic republic of letters. In fact, Edwards was “central to what some now call the religious–or the Christian–Enlightenment” (Sweeney, 263). A Christian Enlightenment?!? It’s almost as if those categories need to be brought together, contra the champions of the European Enlightenment as skeptical and humanistic.


Sweeney’s piece is well worth reading and does expand on the points I was trying to make. And for those who want to go really deep, his footnotes 108-135 are well worth mining. He’s demonstrating the vast literature undergirding his claims about Edwards and the intellectual world of the 18th century. It’s almost as if there was an academic blindspot at the previous conference.

So, if you missed my piece earlier this spring, here’s some meaty material for the middle of July!

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Religion and the American Revolution, July 2014 edition

It’s the middle of summer, and what better way to reinvigorate the blog, than with a post about Religion and the American Revolution!

In honor of the 4th of July week-end, I posted on this subject at the Religion in American History blog.

In this post, I talked about a volume recently released, entitled Faith and the Founders of the American Republic, edited by Daniel Dreisbach and Mark Hall. The volume featured 14 scholars (including myself!) writing on the subject.Dreisbach and Hall

Although I’m definitely self-interested, I think this is an important volume that moves the conversation forward toward better understanding of the topic.

As I say in my review:

These authors are writing as serious scholars deeply desiring to understand the past properly. This is no polemic–indeed, the editors entirely bracket any contemporary reflections. Rather, by bringing in multiple voices, the editors have shown that religion in the founding period operated in multiple ways and interacted with Enlightened and secular political thought to create a distinctive American mix.

It’s well worth the read.

Further, you’ll get insight into how religious commitments shaped the political culture of the period how such commitments shaped several important founders. My chapter on this latter topic features Elias Boudinot, an important Presbyterian from New Jersey–and a character who plays a big role in my forthcoming book. So, get a sneak peak into understanding Boudinot with this chapter! And, sample the other chapters while you’re at it!

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