29 August 2011

Puritans and Religious Liberty

Tomorrow, I have the opportunity to give a guest lecture for a colleague at UND.  This mini-lecture (about 20-30 minutes) is going to discuss the Puritans.  The Puritans are a fairly misunderstood group.  Many people look at them as guys in funny hats and dark clothes that were against drinking and sex, while simultaneously going after witches with a vengeance.  These caricatures are not altogether accurate.  Puritans often had very big families...wonder how that happened?  They did oppose sex outside of marriage--the origin of the term puritanical.  Puritans were also in charge of giving out brewing licenses in Massachusetts Bay during the seventeenth century.  So much for being tee-totallers.  The Puritans, while they were not prohibitionists, did oppose drunkenness, however.  The Salem witch trials were an anomaly for which many later Puritans apologized.

Marxist historians have tended to look at Puritans as a proto-bourgeoisie that only concerned themselves with making money.  Marxists have tended to sneer at the deeply-held religious beliefs of the Puritans.  However, the religious beliefs of Puritans are not so much in question in recent years, which makes them even more interesting.

One of the big misconceptions about the Puritans that some like to point out, is the idea that the Puritans came to America for religious liberty.  This is both a correct statement and an incorrect statement at the same time.  You may think that I'm sounding a bit postmodern with an argument like that.  However, it's true.  When looking for religious liberty for themselves, the Puritans were all for it.  Religious liberty was one of the major reasons that the Puritans came to America (as well as attempting to show England/Europe what a true Christian Commonwealth looked like).  However, when it came to religious liberty for others, the Puritans didn't really go for that, hence the banishment of religious libertarians like Roger Williams who believed in freedom of conscience (as well as the idea that Indians should be compensated for their land). 

The Puritans were very important in the founding of America, and there are few groups who are more misunderstood.  They had a noble, although unachievable goal.  Their attempt at a theocracy failed, and their beliefs seem a bit narrow-minded in a nation that allows religious liberty for all.  Nonetheless, they are an interesting group to study.

25 August 2011

Theodore Roosevelt and Catholicism

I've mentioned my summer gig working for the Theodore Roosevelt Center's online library that is getting set to launch in the relatively near future.  My main job was reading digital documents and then categorizing it according to subject matter.  Some of the documents related to my interest in American Christianity.

I've recently written about the Progressive and World War I eras, and one of the things that I find pretty interesting about that period is nativist sentiment.  Nativism is basically an anti-immigrant stance.  During much of US history, this anti-immigrant stance included anti-Catholicism.  Some people were quite vocal about their fear of a popish conspiracy to take over America.  He is a link to a blog post that I sent to the TRC's blog with information on how Theodore Roosevelt was a bit more congenial with Catholics than some people would have liked for him to be.  This is just a small example of some of the things that I have found.  I actually included the document from Addison Thomas in a paper that I'm scheduled to present in Mankato, MN next month.  I'll post the paper here after I read it.

23 August 2011

Return to School

Today, August 23, 2011, I returned to school.  School officially started yesterday at 4 p.m., but I did not have any evening classes and did not have to worry about it.  This semester promises to be quite busy, even though I only have to be on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  While this may seem easy to most people, its not the amount of time in class that is a bear, its the amount of time spent outside of class working on class that is the problem.  Tuesday promises to be a bear of a day, with classes and office hours from 9:30 am to 7 pm straight.

I am currently taking a class on the British Empire.  I'm pretty excited about this class, because I like studying Britain.  It may have to do with my WASP ethnicity.  With the exception of some American Indian ancestry, I'm pretty much white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant.  This class should also coordinate quite well with reading seminars that I took in Tudor and Stuart England during my MA at Marshall University.  There is a historiographical paper that should also help with my reading for one of my comprehensive fields.

I'm also taking an independent readings course on World History, which I must admit is a weak spot in my historical knowledge.  This is going to be another field on my comps, so I'm hoping to become conversant on the literature of this field, as well.  In both of these classes, I'm hoping to read up a bit on the role of religion in history, since the history of Christianity is one of my major interests.

My final course is a course on assessment in higher education.  The DA program at UND requires students to take some courses in higher ed, and this one is on the list.  I must confess that I felt a bit lost with some of the jargon in the first class, but I'm sure that I'll catch on through the readings and discussions this semester.

I'm looking at all sorts of reading and writing, both of which I find enjoyable (although the topic can help determine the level of enjoyability).  I'm hoping that the reading I'm able to accomplish will prepare me for my comps that I plan to take in four fields in the spring.

My final duty this semester is as a TA in a section of a course on the US to 1877.  I'm looking forward to this assignment, because it's a class that I'll be teaching in the spring semester.  I've taught US history to high school students, but I've not actually taught it at the college level yet, and I've not had it as a lecture class since the Fall of 1993 as a college freshman (I'm dating myself a bit there).  This class is being taught by an award-winning teacher, who's actually won the award for teaching.  This particular job should help immensely toward my class next semester.

Ah, the life of a grad student.  The work is never done.  Of course, it won't be done when I finish my degree, either.  I'm just hoping it slows down a bit after a few years.

19 August 2011

So Long to Summer, or, What I Did for My Summer Vacation

It is about that time of year at which most children groan and which most parents cheer with unrestrained joy.  The first day of school has already occurred or is about to occur.  I have had bittersweet feelings about this time of year for the last few years.  As I started back at my job as a teacher, I was usually excited to start the new year.  Last year, I was excited to be a full-time student for the first time since 1997 (even though I have some part-time side gigs to support myself in addition to my work as a GTA).  This fall, I may actually get to slow down a bit after a whirlwind of a summer.  Alas, it's back to school for me next week.

While I look back at the summer and wonder where it's gone, I did accomplish quite a bit, and hope to accomplish more by the time Tuesday morning rolls around.

As I wrote in a post earlier this summer about my summer gig, I've been doing some work for the Theodore Roosevelt Center's digital library.  I'm wrapping that up through this month.  It's been a pretty interesting learning experience.  I'll have a post up on their blog in a few days.

I also had the opportunity to teach English for a week with a group from my church.  That provided most of the photos that I've been posting in the last couple of weeks.

I started this blog the week before classes ended in May

From an academic standpoint, I've been able to accomplish a few things, although not nearly as much as I wanted.  I had hoped to get some extensive reading done toward my comprehensive exams that I plan to take in the Spring.  Well...that didn't exactly happen.  On a positive note, I had entries accepted on "American Exceptionalism" and "Fundamentalism" for an Encyclopedia on American Politics and Religion that should come out in 2013 if the Mayans are off on their calculations.  I also submitted a book review that I hope will come out shortly, for which I will provide a link as soon as it comes up.  Finally, I plan to revise my paper for the 2013 Northern Great Plains History Conference--hopefully before Tuesday.

And then...it's back to the grind of life as a doctoral student.

16 August 2011

Prague, Czech Republic--Photos Included

Here is the last post that will include pics of my recent trip to the Czech Republic.  Prague has been called the Town of a Thousand Spires because of the many churches that remain from the medieval and early modern periods.  Perhaps the most impressive church that I saw in Prague was the St. Vitus Cathedral, which sits inside the walls of the Prague Castle.
While I did not include any pictures of the sides of this impressive structure, one thing that I found interesting was the gargoyles and other strange looking creatures that adorned the outside of the church and that served as a sort of gutter to remove rain runoff (actually into the street several stories below).  The inside of the structure has a very high vaulted ceiling, which is to be expected from viewing the pic above.

I have already posted pictures of the Bethlehem Chapel and the Jan Hus Monument, so I will not include them again.  The links above will access these photos.

One of the biggest tourist attractions in Prague is the Charles Bridge, which spans the Vltava River and allows access to the Castle from the Old Town.  Various street vendors stake out positions on the Charles Bridge to sell their wares to tourists.  Here is a view of the Charles Bridge (note the statues that adorn the bridge):
The Prague Castle is an important landmark that stands on a hill above the Vltava River and most of the city.  Here is a pic of the Castle.  Note the St. Vitus Cathedral in the center of the Castle:
The Town Square of Prague is also a favorite site for visitors to check out.  One of the posts noted above has pictures of one of the monuments in the square.  However, the Jan Hus monument is not the only famous structure in the square.  The Prague Town Hall sits at the edge of the square and houses an astronomical clock.  Hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists mass around the clock near the turn of each hour to observe the clock going off.  The clock has doors that open to reveal medieval-looking figures on a turntable, as well as a skeleton on the outside that rings a bell.  After all of these festivities, a trumpet belts out a few measures, and the clock is silent for another hour. Here is a pic of me standing in front of the Town Hall.
Another impressive church in Prague is the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, depicted here:
While these are just a few of the pics that I took while visiting Prague, they do give a good overview of some of the more impressive structures and most famous sites that tourists like to frequent.

10 August 2011

Olomouc, Czech Republic--Pics Included

During my recent trip to the Czech Republic, my group spent a few days in the town of Olomouc, which has a population of around 100,000.  Olomouc is located in the Moravian province of the Czech Republic, and has many historical sites and churches.  Seeing that church history (broadly interpreted) is one of my major interests, I enjoyed seeing many of these sites.  One of the highlights of the stay in Olomouc was the opportunity to worship with the Olomouc Baptist Church and meet some of the members of the church.  Other highlights include some of the sites depicted below.  Info on some of the sites can be found at this website.

In my opinion, the most impressive structure (from a visual and architectural standpoint, anyway) in the town is St. Wenceslas Cathedral.  The origins of this building date to the twelfth century according to the website listed above, although the current Gothic look resulted from later renovations.

One of the more interesting aspects of a tour of this particular church is the opportunity to descend two floors to a mausoleum that houses the remains of some of the more famous bishops that worked in this parish.

The town square in Olomouc has several interesting monuments.  One of these monuments is the Holy Trinity Column.  From what some friends told me, it is possible to "tour" the inside of the column, although I did not do so.
 The square in Olomouc is divided into the Upper Square and Lower Square.  The dividing line between the squares is the Town Hall, which houses a tourism center and an astronomical clock.  The town hall is depicted below:
Another of the churches in Olomouc is St. Maurice.  I did not go into the main auditorium of this church because a service was in session.  However, there is tower on one side of the church that is open to the public.  This tower houses the church's bells and allows access to the roof of the structure.  The view from this roof offers a great panorama of Olomouc.  The view below includes the town square with a good view of the Town Hall.
 Here is a view from inside the guts of the bell tower in St. Maurice.  I am glad that the bells did not ring while I was walking up the stairs!
The final pics that I will post have little to do with the historic culture of Olomouc, but rather depict our lodging during our stay in Olomouc.  The first is a street-level view of the Baptist College in Olomouc, while the second is a view of the street from the third floor of this school.  Note how the buildings follow the contour of the street.  I've found this common in both the Czech Republic and London, England.  Note the cobble-stone streets.  Most streets exhibit this feature, although the highways are made of asphalt, much like in the states.

The stay in Olomouc was quite pleasant, and, although there were some signs of American corporate influence, such as a McDonald's in the town square (which was somewhat obscured by construction), the town has quite a bit of Old World charm and much in the way of history.

07 August 2011

Prague Pics--Jan Hus Monument

Yesterday, I posted some pics and commentary regarding the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, Czech Republic.  The Bethlehem Chapel is famous as the home base of the religious reformer Jan Hus, who was sentenced to death as a heretic by the Council of Constance in 1415.  Today, Hus is widely considered a national hero in the Czech Republic, and there are monuments erected to his memory.  The Bethlehem Chapel itself is a monument to Hus, and is open to the public for a cost of 50 Czech Crowns (about $3 US).

Another major monument to Hus is located in the Prague town square.  Each town that I visited in the Czech Republic had a town square that included a town hall (some pics of these will be forthcoming) and various shops, churches, and restaurants. Here are a couple of pics of the Jan Hus memorial in the Prague town square:

 The monument was officially unveiled on the 500th anniversary of Hus's execution in 1415.  As a nation that has often been under foreign domination, the Czech Republic views Hus as a national hero for standing up to one source of foreign domination. Here is a link with information regarding the monument itself.

06 August 2011

Jan Hus--Pictures of Bethlehem Chapel in Prague

In 1415 Bohemian religious reformer Jan Hus met his Maker after running afoul of Pope John XXIII over the sale of indulgences.  Hus also agreed with many of John Wycliffe's teachings.  Much of Hus's preaching took place at the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, where he was also a rector at the university.  In the fifteenth century, the chapel had no seating and people stood to hear Hus preach, up to 3,000 at a time.  A Catholic view of Hus is available at the online Catholic Encyclopedia New Advent.  As an evangelical, I don't agree with the execution, nor the heresy charges, but this website gives the official reasoning for Hus's execution.

During my visit to Prague, I was able to take a short tour of Bethlehem Chapel.

Here is a photo of the exterior of the Bethlehem Chapel in Prague.

The use of the chapel is now generally restricted to the university and tours, except for a somewhat ecumenical service on the anniversary of Hus's burning at the stake.  The chapel now has chairs, but one of the most interesting aspects of the main auditorium is a well:


Here is an interior view of the Bethlehem Chapel.  Note the well in the foreground.  Artwork adorns each wall.  A door opens to the box above the platform.  The rooms on the other side of the door housed Hus during his rectorship and now house museum exhibits regarding the history of Hus and Prague.

Here is one of the more striking images on the walls of the Bethlehem Chapel.  This image depicts the actual execution of Jan Hus.

 While Hus did not directly affect American church history because of his European background, he is widely acknowledged as a precursor of the Protestant Reformation that broke out nearly 100 years after his execution.  There is also a tie between England and Hus through his espousing the teachings of Wycliffe.  Even though Hus was not an American, it was pretty cool to stand in a room as an evangelical and think that exactly 600 years ago, one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation preached to huge crowds in this very hall at the risk of his very life.  Few places can hold such a significance.

03 August 2011

Vitkov, Czech Republic (Photos Included)

Over the past two weeks, as mentioned in my previous post, I was able to experience the Czech Republic.  Other than a couple of layovers, this was my first opportunity to visit Europe for any length of time.  My main purpose for going to the Czech Republic was to teach in an English camp that a Czech Baptist Church sponsors every year.  In spite of this being a sort of "working vacation" that tended to be quite busy, my group took in several sites throughout the country.

The English camp itself took place near the village of Vitkov in a smaller village called Vitkov-Podhradi.  The camp took place in a complex that serves as a boarding school during the academic year.  This being summer (although the cool and wet weather indicated otherwise), school was not in session.  Here is a view of the small village from the main academic building of the school. 

The small village of Vitkov-Podhradi had very little business, other than a small hotel and a pub, so the location was fairly remote.

Nearly every village or town or village in the Czech Republic has a fairly large church that goes back to a time before the Communist era in which the majority of Czechs identified with the Roman Catholic Church.  Here is an example from the small town of Vitkov proper.

Most towns also have a town square that serves as a sort of market, Vitkov is no different:

In the coming days, I will post additional images and comments related to my trip in the Czech Republic.  While these are related to American church history, they nonetheless have some relation to church history because of the many churches and chapels.