Religion and the War of 1812

One of my major tasks this summer has been to work on an article about the War of 1812 and how it might be interpreted through the ethical lens of the Just War tradition. I just sent a draft of that piece off to my editor (woohoo!).

Thinking about Religion and the War of 1812 was a theme in Patriotism and Piety (no surprise, there). It also generated a blog post, which just went up today at the Religion in American History site. Enjoy!


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Summer Books 2016 #1

Sitting on my school desk is a rather large stack of books for my summer reading. Some of them are in my academic field, some arrived from publishers, and some I just found interesting. I thought one way of processing them might be to blog about them as I go through the summer. Let me say I won’t be providing full reviews but only providing some key impressions I have with the books.

I’ll start off the series today with the book Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity by Phillip Luke Sinitiere.

The book came out in late 2015, but I just had the chance to get to it this past month. I definitely enjoyed it and learned a lot. Because of Sinitiere’s efforts, I feel like I can speak both more fairly and more confidently about Osteen. That’s a win all by itself.

Sinitiere CoverThe book has several strengths.

It provides a very strong congregational history of Lakewood Church in Houston. In case you were wondering where Osteen’s megachurch came from, this book provides a great, fine textured look at the congregation. In the process, Sinitiere does a great job of unfolding the life of Joel’s father, John Osteen, the church’s founder. In doing this, Sinitiere also succeeds in placing Lakewood on the spectrum of American charismatic Christianity.

A second strength is Sinitiere’s very fair parsing of  Osteen’s messages. Sinitiere does a great job at highlighting the themes that tie together Osteen’s messages, which he remarks have evolved even while remaining consistent on several themes.

In looking at Osteen’s ideas, Sinitiere identifies two key influences on Osteen. The first is John Maxwell, the motivational speaker. Maxwell likes to encourage “leaders” (of all stripes) to fulfill their “visions,” and Osteen picked up this language. The second is Joyce Meyer. This flashy female televangelist emphasized the significance of positive thinking and recovery in all parts of life. Osteen picked ideas about positive thinking and positive confession and worked it into his messages. Identifying Maxwell and Meyer as formative influences help us understand where Osteen is coming from.

I mentioned above that the book places Lakewood church on the spectrum of American Christianity. Where does it fit? In particular, Lakewood should be understood as part of Charismatic American Christianity that emphasizes the Prosperity Gospel. Sinitiere shows that this isn’t a slur: it’s a statement of fact. Since John Osteen’s days of ministry, the church has been linked to the nexus of “Prosperity Gospel” formed by people like Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, and Kenneth Copeland. Osteen might be more media-savvy, but his preaching and his church grow from those emphases. (In passing, let me say that any readers who want to know more about the Prosperity Gospel as a whole should pick up Kate Bowler’s great book on the topic.)

Let me mention two concerns I have with the book.

First, I was a bit uncomfortable with the way Sinitiere describes the Prosperity Gospel movement as a “neo-Pentecostal” and then lumps them in with other Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. It strikes me that this muddies the water to identify Prosperity Gospel preaching with the rest of the Charismatic movement. There is some overlap, it’s true, but this catch-all term doesn’t do justice to the nuance of these Spirit-emphasizing movements.

Second,  I’m not sure about the audience for the book. I should say that it’s pitched to an academic audience. As an historian I enjoyed it, but I would be hesitant to recommend it to a general audience. There is too much direct reference to other scholarship in the text and too many scholarly by-ways that slow the writing down. With the topic and with Sinitiere’s research, this could easily have been a great mass audience book, but I fear it’s been kept too much as an academic monograph.

Finally, two final points.

If this topic sounds interesting, don’t let me discourage you from reading the book! You can also listen to Sinitiere doing an interview on the Research on Religion podcast.

Second, my favorite nugget in the book is that Victoria Osteen–Joel’s wife–wrote a series of children’s books. One of them is titled Hooray for Wonderful Me! I’m thinking I should take that as my new tagline. I’ll see how my family members appreciate it when I regularly quote that around the house.

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Jefferson and Christianity

In recent days the space not taken up by discussions of, say, the Cincinnati gorilla, has been taken up online by  a vibrant discussion about Thomas Jefferson and Christianity. Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, even as his beliefs in “Christianity” diverged strongly from orthodox Christianity. How should we evaluate this?

The conversation was kicked off by a presentation by Peter Onuf and Annette Gordon-Reed on C-Span. It played out on twitter. Recent posts by John Fea and Ben Park have also addressed this.

Rather than rehash the issues raised, in my brief time I want to raise one other historical point. We could also ask: how did Jefferson’s contemporaries view his faith?

It’s worth noting that some of Jefferson’s contemporaries were quite suspicious. Due to his writings in places like Notes on the State of Virginia and various correspondence, many of Jefferson’s opponents questioned his faith.

I see this most clearly in a political editorial in 1800 that asked its readers if they wanted to vote for “God and a Religious President” [i.e., John Adams] or “Jefferson…and NO GOD.”

A more sustained statement of this idea came from two New York ministers, John Mitchell Mason and William Linn. After parsing Jefferson’s public utterances, they asserted that Jefferson was an infidel (one who maliciously rejected Christian truth) and so not to be trusted.

Or, as they claimed in a second pamphlet:

Christians! Lay these things together: compare them; examine them separately, and collectively: ponder; pause; lay your hands upon your hearts; lift up your hearts to heaven, and pronounce on Mr. Jefferson’s Christianity. You cannot stifle the emotions; nor forebear uttering your indignant sentence–infidel!!

(“The Voice of Warning to Christians,” 1800)

Now, Linn and Mason didn’t speak for everyone, and you could suggest that their claims were at least partially politically motivated. Still, as ministers, they claimed their duties forced them to point out Jefferson’s heterodoxy. To some believers of his day, Jefferson’s beliefs seemed suspicious.

Politics, you say? Would there be a book out there that talked about religious and political conflicts in the early republic? Maybe one involving the Federalists? Oh, that’s right: this one.




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Patriotism and Piety on the Road this Summer

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll have some opportunities to take my Patriotism and Piety book on the road. I’ll be doing “Meet the Author” events at three Barnes and Noble locations. I’ll be signing books and will be happy to talk about the Federalists, Religion, and even what implications those categories have for today.

May 28, I’ll be at the B&N in Roseville, Minnesota, at the Harmar Mall, 2-4 PM.

June 11, I’ll be at the B&N in Des Moines, Iowa, at Jordan Creek Town Center, 2-4 PM.

June 12, I’ll be at the B&N in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Northland Square, 1-3 PM.

So, if you’re a reader in the area, please come out and say “hello!”

DenHartog Patriotism and Piety Cover

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Interviewing Daniel Williams on the Pro-Life Movement

Today, at the Religion in American History blog, I had the chance to do a web-interview with Daniel K. Williams about his new book, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.

I very much appreciated Dan’s first book, God’s Own Party, about the rise of the “religious right” in the Republican Party. I have even taught it to good effect.

After that book, Dan turned his attention to the pro-life movement, which has been part of the great moral and cultural debates of our times. Dan found a surprising back-story to opposition to elective abortion, which he chronicles in the book. The final chapter also makes sense of the shifts of abortion-related politics in the later 1970s and 1980s.

I highly commend both of Prof. Williams’s books.

Enjoy the interview, here.

Williams Cover Defenders

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Alexander Hamilton, After a Delay

I try to link (relatively) quickly to material elsewhere, but this one got away from me.

Early in March I posted a blog post on “Religion and Hamilton.” I contended that the smash Broadway hit Hamilton would be great for teaching, not only about the American Revolution in general but about religion in the American Revolution in particular.

Since I’ve published the piece, I’ve found several things:

1. The piece got mentioned on John Fea’s blog.

2. There are a lot of fans of the musical–and rightfully so!

3. The piece has resonated, which seems like a good thing for a piece about music.

So, in case you missed it, check the piece out!

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Welcome, Jonathan Loopstra!

Earlier this academic year, the History Department at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul learned that our esteemed historian of Ancient History, Dr. Charles Aling, would be retiring in May. We will be celebrating Dr. Aling’s career next month.

Dr. Aling’s retirement, though, meant that Northwestern’s History Department needed a new historian of the Ancient World. After conducting a national (and even international) search, I am pleased to announce our new hire: Dr. Jonathan Loopstra.

Dr. Loopstra is an expert in the Church of the East, the Church that developed in the Middle East and stretched farther east. As a linguist, he has great capabilities with Syriac, the language which gave voice to the Church’s worship and culture. Dr. Loopstra will teach Ancient History classes at Northwestern. He also brings additional strengths. Having lived and even taught in the Middle East for several years, Professor Loopstra will be able to connect the Ancient Middle East and the Modern Middle East, a class he will be developing at Northwestern. Further, Dr. Loopstra will bring a developed specialty in Digital History and Humanities to share with our students. Finally, he will complement the department’s decided strength in the History of Christianity.

As an added bonus, Dr. Loopstra is a Northwestern alumnus. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Oxford University, and the Catholic University of America. Professor Loopstra joins our faculty after stints at the International Center for the Study of the Christian Orient (Grenada, Spain), Reformed Theological Seminary, the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani, and Capital University in Ohio.

Welcome, Jonathan!


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