21 June 2012

Thoughts on Teaching Early American History

Before I get into the meat of this post, here's an interesting post by Baylor history professor Thomas Kidd on Obama, Romney, and Evangelical voters.  It asks whether politics trumps theology in the presidential election.  Personally, I wonder how much trumps theology in everyday American life, but that's another story altogether.  Politics is only one area of discussion in this realm.

It appears that I will again be teaching a section of the US to 1877.  Some of the course must, of course talk about American church history, but this is not the only major topic for discussion.  There is also ideology, politics, race relations, gender relations, economics, as well as a mixture of all the above.

I try to take a middle-of-the road position when teaching history.  Some historians focus on the political and military (I don't do many battles in my class, to the consternation of some, but I love the reasons for and consequences of wars).  Others focus on what is known as social history, or history from below.  This type of history looks at the indentured servant, the slave, the domestic helper, and the yeoman farmer.  I try to look at both, because I don't think focusing entirely upon one or the other truly gives a complete picture of the past (if such a picture is possible in the first place--it isn't, but looking at all angles gives a better picture of the past).

TJ--Thomas Jefferson
When teaching American history, I am increasingly frustrated by American history texts for a couple of reasons.  There is frequently little on pre-Columbian native cultures, and there is little on the Europe that builds up to the Age of Exploration.  It is almost as if there were a few Indians here, with the exception of the Inca and Aztecs and that the Europeans were just out searching for gold.

The fact is, neither is true.  There were massively important Indian cultures in North America that had integrated trade networks with other native peoples.  Some were quite successful and more advanced than some Europeans.  Also, there were huge religious conflicts that led to exploration--Christians (Catholic and Protestant) wanting to avoid Muslim middlemen, and both groups wanting to claim souls and gold before the other could.  The rivalry was especially intense between Spain and England.  I feel the need to cover these topics extensively.

In fact, I spend much of the first half of class in Europe, because it affected so much of what happened in America.  Many Americans tend to think that the Bill of Rights was something thought up by the founding fathers.  Now, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Hamilton were smart guys, but they merely built upon ideas prevalent in England and other European nations.  Discussing all of these issues makes it very hard to get to 1877--but I shall try.

16 June 2012

Salt Lake City--Some Local Thoughts on the Election

I've been in the wonderful town of Salt Lake City for the last week.  I must say that of all the larger cities in America (or Europe, or Africa) that I've visited, Salt Lake is by far the cleanest.  The streets are wide, and, although I've been in the downtown section of town, I think I've seen about one cop all week.

I've been on the light rail, and it's clean.  The hotel I've been in has a wonderful, helpful staff.  Everyone has been really nice.  The setting of the town is amazing with mountains in just about every direction you can look.  To the east are the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains, even though it's been around 85 degrees all week (another plus is the dry air--no sweating, even after walking about half-a-mile to the convention center).  Salt Lake hosted the Olympics a few years ago (2002).  I have little bad to say about the city as far as cities go.

The Mormon Temple--A Large Wall Encompasses Much of the Property
From a religious historian's point of view, however, it is quickly apparent that the LDS are still quite important in town, although not as all-encompassing as I might have earlier thought.  In one discussion, I found that the majority of town is not Mormon.  The importance of Mormonism to the town's history is evident in that the town's street grid is centered not upon the state capitol building, but on the Mormon Temple.  A couple of my historian friends were going to the Temple's genealogy center to do some research since we had an afternoon free today.  I didn't, but I did take a couple of pictures of the Temple grounds, which was only a block from the Salt Palace.

The Salt Lake Tribune had a couple of articles related to Mitt Romney's religion and the presidential campaign this year.  The first argued that his run was a positive and negative for the LDS.  They are looking at this as a "chance to clarify and educate" people regarding the religion.  Of course, the article concedes that questions regarding the status of African Americans and a polygamous past will come up in any discussion.  One wonders if Mountain Meadows or some other negative events in the church's history will also come up.
Note Moroni at the Top of the Temple
Apparently, some Mormons were concerned earlier this year about persecution if Romney won the nomination (LDS "Apostle" David Bednar).  Apparently, Mitt's Mormonism is not a big issue to many that had a problem a few years ago, however.   As we get closer to the election, we shall see if the Mormon question affect's Romney's bid.  Of course, President Obama's tie to liberation theology is not much closer to traditional orthodoxy, either.  Therefore, the place of religion in the election, especially among evangelicals who voted for people like Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush precisely because of their affirmation of evangelicalism, will be interesting to watch.

08 June 2012

My Book, Baptists and Calvinist Soteriology, Mormonism, and My Latest Review

My book on a local Grand Forks church officially came out about three weeks ago, but I was out of town for all but about 12 hours of those three weeks, doing some research in Bismarck and visiting family back east.  Today, I mosied over to UND's campus to pick up a few copies of my latest (actually, first) book.  I was quite impressed with the book's layout and overall look, considering the low, low price of only $4.00.  You can get the book for yourself here

In other news, apparently there has been quite a bit of hubbub recently over the Southern Baptist Convention and the place of a Calvinist soteriology in the Convention.  Thanks to Baylor Professor Thomas Kidd for tweeting links of relevance, including this one from SBTS president Albert Mohler on this topic.

The Religion in America blog posted some commentary on the place of anti-Mormonism on both the left and right of the political spectrum, which should be of interest because this year will see the first Mormon candidate fielded by either of the nation's major political parties.  The topic of Mitt Romney's Mormonism, as I noted last year on the blog, caused a bit of consternation among evangelicals earlier in the campaign.  Now, up against Barack Obama's adherence to liberation theology, evangelicals seem to be getting over their antipathy to Romney to some degree.

Finally, I've been doing a bit of writing on another site to gain a bit more traffic for my writings.  I recently posted a review of Mark Valeri's Heavenly Merchandize at that site.  This book discusses the evolving opinion that early American Puritans and what Valeri referred to as post-Puritans dealt with issues related to business and profit.  The first generation of Puritan settlers would probably not be welcomed by many Americans who claim to revere them today.  Find out why by following the link above.

Until next time, have a great weekend.