Monthly Archives: April 2014

Student Symposium on Protestantism and American Culture

This semester I’m teaching a 300-level course called “Protestantism and the Development of American Culture.” Over the course of the semester, students have been preparing research essays on topics of their choosing, which I’ll be publishing on this blog over the course of the summer. Next week, they’ll present the content of their essays to one another orally during an in-class symposium. Here’s the schedule.

These are working titles, so I expect a lot of them will get refined by the final versions. But I’m pleased, and intrigued, by the range of ways that students are exploring Protestant influence (or attempted influence) in arenas of American culture, past and present.



A. Protestantism and the Making of American Values

  • Jesse Bowman, “Jefferson’s Declaration”
  • Matthew Hurd, “Quakers and Foundational American Values”
  • Ian Marker, “The Protestant Work Ethic as Compared with Other Religions”

B. Protestants in American Politics and Law

  • Matthew Durot, “Evangelical Influence in the Republican Party”
  • Kyle Bush, “Blurred Minds: Political-Religious Affiliations Less Defined in Postmodern America”
  • Sara Garrett, “The Supreme Court’s Protestant Influence”

C. Protestant Media Personalities, 1980s-Present: Televangelists, Scholars—and Superman?

  • Cheyenne Woodall, “Controversy in Televangelism”
  • Kristen Hatton, “The Influence of Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright on Protestants’ Thinking about Jesus”
  • Keelan Jamison, “The Protestant Gaze in Visual Representation”


A. Protestantism and Popular Culture: Sports, Diets, Country Songs

  • Andrew Roussos, “Protestant Values in the Ballpark”
  • Charles Getz, “Protestant Influence on the American Diet Culture”
  • Zachary LeCompte, “Country Music and Christianity”

B. Protestants and Nativism, from the 19th to the 21st Centuries

  • Edwin Evans, “Protestant Influence in the Know-Nothings”
  • Arissa Bryant, “Protestant Influence on the Ku Klux Klan”
  • Alexandra Serna, “Protestantism and Immigration Reform”

C. Protestant Engagement with the Television and Film Industries

  • Stephanie Garber, “Protestant Influence on Television”
  • Mary Jane Leveline, “Protestant Influence on Television Censorship”
  • Angela Thompson, “Protestants in Hollywood”
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Praying the Steps in Cincinnati

Yesterday evening, Good Friday, my husband and I drove into Cincinnati to observe (in the sense of “to watch”) an annual tradition we’d read about: the praying of the steps. People climb a series of stairways leading to Holy Cross-Immaculata, a Catholic church at the top of Mount Adams. On each step, people pause to recite a prayer, traditionally a Hail Mary or an Our Father–or both. This Good Friday tradition dates back to the 1860s or early 1870s.  People start the climb, often referred to as a pilgrimage, as early as the midnight dividing Thursday and Friday.


There’s a short version and a long version of the climb. The long version begins at the base of Mount Adams, not far from the river, and involves a pedestrian bridge crossing a freeway. The short version begins in what’s become an upscale residential-business neighborhood below the church. (Most of the businesses appeared to be pubs.) The long version must take between two and three hours to complete: as my husband and I came back down the stairs after doing our own prayer-less climb, we passed people we’d already passed on the way up, who an hour later were still working on the first stretch that would get them to where the short climb begins.

As we began the long version of the climb, we found ourselves sharing the stairs with a smattering of pilgrims and a few joggers. When we got to the beginning of the short version, we found a long line of people waiting to climb those steps, so we took a “back route” through an alley to get to the top of the hill and the church. Here’s a video of our arrival.

The dog, by the way, was supposed to be making the climb in penance for having recently murdered a baby bunny; but as you see, she was in a more festive than penitential mood. (For the record, it’s not me you hear panting in the video. The one of us who was most winded, ironically, was the one of us who’s most faithful about getting to the gym.)

The  church was originally a German parish, Immaculata. There was a Passionist monastery just a couple of blocks away which served an Irish parish, Holy Cross. During the 1970s, as a result of the hemorrhaging of priests and brothers following Vatican II, the monastery was shut down and the two parishes were joined into Holy Cross-Immaculata. The Immaculata church still has its nineteenth century artwork. Over the altar is painted the word AMERIKA, which on closer inspection turns out to be the last word of a prayer on a scroll above it. The prayer reads in German:

O Mary, without sin conceived, pray for the conversion of this land… AMERICA.

Not the vision of a “Christian America” we’re most used to encountering.

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Klingon for Pesach

So I’ve been trying to think what ProjectilePluralism-ish topic I could post about in honor of Pesach–and just now I saw the following exchange on my Facebook wall. I’m copy-and-pasting the comments but omitting names to protect the light-minded.


Qapla’! In case you are invited to a Klingon seder tomorrow night, here is the first of the Four Questions restored to its proper Klingon: Chay’ raMmey latlh pIm ramvam?

Next question: how to modify the scansion to fit the Mah Nishtana melody.

Just add some extra syllables. You can add “qoH,” meaning “[you] fool” as an interjection at any point. I would add it at the end and repeat “ramvam qoH” twice. Note that “latIh” is two syllables, “LAT-IH.”

Major life regrets: I never got my dad to translate the four questions into Hindi for me.

Sadly, Klingon will not be spoken at tonight’s Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Memorial, since contacts with extraterrestrials are regarded as occultist and demonic!

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Who ordains women?

This weekend, the “Ordain Women” movement within Mormonism received a surprising amount of national media attention. I have a hunch that the media’s interest was driven partly by the LDS Church’s efforts to prevent the story from gaining media attention, i.e., by barring journalists from Temple Square so they couldn’t photograph women being turned away when they tried to gain admission to the male-only priesthood session. If you tell journalists they’re no longer allowed to go somewhere they’re used to going, you’re pretty much guaranteeing they’ll become interested in what you don’t want them to document.


The “Ordain Women” news stories made me think of this slide, which I created a couple years ago for a PowerPoint presentation on the history of women’s ordination in the United States. The slide lists the 10 largest Christian denominations in the U.S., according to the 2012 National Council of Churches yearbook. The green checks indicate denominations that ordain women, and the red X’s indicate denominations that don’t, as best I could determine. The Baptist denominations were tricky to categorize because of their congregationalist style of governance, but I assigned those denominations an X if I found that the national body had gone on record as disapproving women in pastoral authority.

Note that of the 10 largest denominations, only half ordain women. And of the 5 largest, only 1 ordains women (at least as of 2012–I think there’s been some reshuffling in the ranking since then). As I put it when speaking to a group of Mormon women last year: Women’s ordination is common, but I wouldn’t say it’s the norm.

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