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Recent Works by Our Researchers

The Presbyterian Historical Society’s holdings support scholarship on a vast range of topics. On this page, we present a selection of recent publications by researchers who have worked with our collections.

Congo Love Song: African American Culture and the Crisis of the Colonial State by Ira Dworkin (University of North Carolina Press, 2017)

Cover image for Congo Love SongIn his 1903 hit "Congo Love Song," James Weldon Johnson recounts a sweet if seemingly generic romance between two young Africans. While the song’s title may appear consistent with that narrative, it also invokes the site of King Leopold II of Belgium’s brutal colonial regime at a time when African Americans were playing a central role in a growing Congo reform movement. In an era when popular vaudeville music frequently trafficked in racist language and imagery, "Congo Love Song" emerges as one example of the many ways that African American activists, intellectuals, and artists called attention to colonialism in Africa.

In Congo Love Song, Ira Dworkin examines black Americans’ long cultural and political engagement with the Congo and its people. Through studies of George Washington Williams, Booker T. Washington, Pauline Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, and other figures, he brings to light a long-standing relationship that challenges familiar presumptions about African American commitments to Africa. Dworkin offers compelling new ways to understand how African American involvement in the Congo has helped shape anticolonialism, black aesthetics, and modern black nationalism.

Read Ira Dworkin's post Congo Love Song on the PHS blog.

 

Project Eagle: The American Christians of North Korea in World War II by Robert S. Kim (University of Nebraska Press, 2017)

Project Eagle cover imageProject Eagle tells the story of American missionaries in Korea from 1884 to 1942. They brought a new religion, modern education, and American political ideals to a nation conquered and ruled by the Japanese Empire. The missionaries’ influence inextricably linked Christianity and American-style democracy to Korean nationalism and independence, meanwhile establishing an especially strong presence in Pyongyang. Project Eagle connects this era for the first time to OSS-Korean cooperation during the war through the story of its central figures: American missionary sons George McCune and Clarence Weems and one of Korea’s leading national heroes, Kim Ku. Project Eagle illuminates the shared history between Americans and Koreans that has remained largely unexamined since World War II. The legacy of these American actions in Korea, ignored by the U.S. government and the academy since 1945, has shaped the relationship of the United States to both North Korea and South Korea and remains crucial to understanding the future of U.S. relations with both Koreas.

 

Maintaining Segregation: Children and Racial Instruction in the South, 1920-1955 by LeeAnn G. Reynolds (LSU Press, 2017)

Cover image for Managing SegregationIn Maintaining Segregation, LeeAnn G. Reynolds explores how black and white children in the early twentieth-century South learned about segregation in their homes, schools, and churches. As public lynchings and other displays of racial violence declined in the 1920s, a culture of silence developed around segregation, serving to forestall, absorb, and deflect individual challenges to the racial hierarchy. The cumulative effect of the racial instruction southern children received, prior to highly publicized news such as the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Montgomery bus boycott, perpetuated segregation by discouraging discussion or critical examination.

As the system of segregation evolved throughout the early twentieth century, generations of southerners came of age having little or no knowledge of life without institutionalized segregation. Reynolds examines the motives and approaches of white and black parents to racial instruction in the home and how their methods reinforced the status quo. Whereas white families sought to preserve the legal system of segregation and their place within it, black families faced the more complicated task of ensuring the safety of their children in a racist society without sacrificing their sense of self-worth. Schools and churches functioned as secondary sites for racial conditioning, and Reynolds traces the ways in which these institutions alternately challenged and encouraged the marginalization of black Americans both within society and the historical narrative. 
 
In order for subsequent generations to imagine and embrace the sort of racial equality championed by the civil rights movement, they had to overcome preconceived notions of race instilled since childhood. Ultimately, Reynolds’s work reveals that the social change that occurred due to the civil rights movement can only be fully understood within the context of the segregation imposed upon children by southern institutions throughout much of the early twentieth century.
 
 
A History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East by Heather J. Sharkey (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
 
Cover image for History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle EastAcross centuries, the Islamic Middle East hosted large populations of Christians and Jews in addition to Muslims. Today, this diversity is mostly absent. In A History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East, Heather J. Sharkey examines the history that Muslims, Christians, and Jews once shared against the shifting backdrop of state policies. Focusing on the Ottoman Middle East before World War I, Sharkey offers a vivid and lively analysis of everyday social contacts, dress, music, food, bathing, and more, as they brought people together or pushed them apart. Historically, Islamic traditions of statecraft and law, which the Ottoman Empire maintained and adapted, treated Christians and Jews as protected subordinates to Muslims while prescribing limits to social mixing. Sharkey shows how, amid the pivotal changes of the modern era, efforts to simultaneously preserve and dismantle these hierarchies heightened tensions along religious lines and set the stage for the twentieth-century Middle East.

 

Unity in Christ and Country: American Presbyterians in the Revolutionary Era by William Harrison Taylor (University of Alabama Press, 2017)

Cover image for Unity in Christ and CountryIn this compelling account, William Harrison Taylor examines the interdenominational pursuits of the American Presbyterian Church from 1758 to 1801 to highlight the church’s ambitious agenda of fostering and uniting a host of New World values, among them Christendom, nationalism, and territorial exceptionalism.

Taylor engages a variety of sources, including the published and unpublished works of both the Synods of New York and Philadelphia and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, as well as numerous published and unpublished Presbyterian sermons, lectures, hymnals, poetry, and letters. Scholars of religious history, particularly those interested in the Reformed tradition, and specifically Presbyterianism, should find Unity in Christ and Country useful as a way to consider the importance of the theology’s intellectual and pragmatic implications for members of the faith.
 

A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle by Crystal R. Sanders (University of North Carolina Press, 2016)

Cover image for Chance for ChangeIn her innovative study, A Chance for Change, Crystal Sanders explores how working-class black women, in collaboration with the federal government, created the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) in 1965, a Head Start program that not only gave poor black children access to early childhood education but also provided black women with greater opportunities for political activism during a crucial time in the unfolding of the civil rights movement. Women who had previously worked as domestics and sharecroppers secured jobs through CDGM as teachers and support staff and earned higher wages. The availability of jobs independent of the local white power structure afforded these women the freedom to vote in elections and petition officials without fear of reprisal. But CDGM’s success antagonized segregationists at both the local and state levels who eventually defunded it.

Tracing the stories of the more than 2,500 women who staffed Mississippi's CDGM preschool centers, Sanders’s book remembers women who went beyond teaching children their shapes and colors to challenge the state’s closed political system and white supremacist ideology and offers a profound example for future community organizing in the South.

Read Crystal Sanders' post Head Start and Civil Rights on the PHS blog.

 

The Suburban Church: Modernism and Community in Postwar America by Gretchen Buggeln (University of Minnesota Press, 2015)

Cover image for Suburban ChurchAfter World War II, America’s religious denominations spent billions on church architecture as they spread into the suburbs. In this richly illustrated history of midcentury modern churches in the Midwest, Gretchen Buggeln shows how architects and suburban congregations joined forces to work out a vision of how modernist churches might help reinvigorate Protestant worship and community. The result is a fascinating new perspective on postwar architecture, religion, and society.

Drawing on the architectural record, church archives, and oral histories, The Suburban Church focuses on collaborations between architects Edward D. Dart, Edward A. Sövik, Charles E. Stade, and seventy-five congregations. By telling the stories behind their modernist churches, the book describes how the buildings both reflected and shaped developments in postwar religion—its ecumenism, optimism, and liturgical innovation, as well as its fears about staying relevant during a time of vast cultural, social, and demographic change.

While many scholars have characterized these congregations as “country club” churches, The Suburban Church argues that most were earnest, well-intentioned religious communities caught between the desire to serve God and the demands of a suburban milieu in which serving middle-class families required most of their material and spiritual resources.

 

The Contested Origins of the 1865 Arabic Bible: Contributions to the Nineteenth Century Nahḍa by David D. Grafton (Brill, 2015)

Cover image for Contested Origins of the 1865 Arabic BibleThis study examines the history of an Arabic Bible translation of American missionaries in late Ottoman Syria. Comparing the history of this project as recorded by the American missionaries with private correspondence and the manuscripts of the translation, The Contested Origins of the 1865 Arabic Bible provides new evidence for the Bible’s compilation, including the seminal role of Syrian Christians and Muslims. This research also places the project within the wider social-political framework of a transforming Ottoman Empire, where the rise of a literate class in Beirut served as a catalyst for the Arabic literary renaissance (Nahḍa), and within the international field of New Testament textual studies.

 

Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age by David Mislin (Cornell University Press, 2015)

Cover image for Saving FaithIn Saving Faith, David Mislin chronicles the transformative historical moment when Americans began to reimagine their nation as one strengthened by the diverse faiths of its peoples. Between 1875 and 1925, liberal Protestant leaders abandoned religious exclusivism and leveraged their considerable cultural influence to push others to do the same. This reorientation came about as an ever-growing group of Americans found their religious faith under attack on social, intellectual, and political fronts. A new generation of outspoken agnostics assailed the very foundation of belief, while noted intellectuals embraced novel spiritual practices and claimed that Protestant Christianity had outlived its usefulness.

Faced with these grave challenges, Protestant clergy and their allies realized that the successful defense of religion against secularism required a defense of all religious traditions. They affirmed the social value—and ultimately the religious truth—of Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. They also came to view doubt and uncertainty as expressions of faith. Ultimately, the reexamination of religious difference paved the way for Protestant elites to reconsider ethnic, racial, and cultural difference. Using the manuscript collections and correspondence of leading American Protestants, as well the institutional records of various churches and religious organizations, Mislin offers insight into the historical constructions of faith and doubt, the interconnected relationship of secularism and pluralism, and the enormous influence of liberal Protestant thought on the political, cultural, and spiritual values of the twentieth-century United States.

 

The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism by Matthew B. Bowman (Oxford University Press, 2014)

Cover image for Urban PulpitIn The Urban Pulpit, Matthew Bowman examines how the rise of liberal and fundamentalist factions of American evangelicalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – a dispute usually assumed to be basically theological - appeared from the perspective of the ministers and congregations of New York City’s Protestant churches. The rise of liberalism and fundamentalism cannot be understood apart from their interaction with the social and cultural forces of the changing modern city – and particularly, their interaction with the welter of reform movements the advent of modernity inaugurated, usually called progressivism. I investigate the ways evangelicals explained and sought to master a city transforming first into an industrial powerhouse dominated by immigrants and eventually into the hub of a commercial consumer society. Liberal evangelicals sought both to maintain the fundamental supernaturalism of traditional evangelical religion, while at the same time adapting evangelicalism’s pastoral methods in ways designed to accommodate modern doubts about the efficacy of the Bible. Instead, they invested acts of social reform with religious, and even sacramental, meaning. However, their efforts met resistance from a number of sources: from fundamentalists who accused them of doctrinal compromise, from secular progressives who grew by the time of World War I increasingly sympathetic toward cultural pluralism and thus wary of evangelicals’ desire to convert American culture, and most of all from a changing culture, less and less industrial and increasingly commercial and consumerist.

 

The Cross of War: Christian Nationalism and U.S. Expansion in the Spanish-American War by Matthew McCullough (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014)

Cover image for Cross of WarThe Cross of War documents the rise of “messianic interventionism”—the belief that America can and should intervene altruistically on behalf of other nations. This stance was first embraced in the Spanish-American War of 1898, a war that marked the dramatic emergence of the United States as an active world power and set the stage for the foreign policy of the next one hundred years. Responding to the circumstances of this war, an array of Christian leaders carefully articulated and defended the notion that America was responsible under God to extend freedom around the world—by force, if necessary. Drawing from a wide range of sermons and religious periodicals across regional and denominational lines, Matthew McCullough describes the ways that many American Christians came to celebrate military intervention as a messianic sacrifice, to trace the hand of God in a victory more painless and complete than anyone had imagined, and to justify the shift in American foreign policy as a divine calling.

 

By the Rivers of Water: A Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey by Erskine Clarke (Basic Books, 2013)

Cover image for By the Rivers of WaterIn early November 1834, an aristocratic young couple from Savannah and South Carolina sailed from New York and began a strange seventeen year odyssey in West Africa. Leighton and Jane Wilson sailed along what was for them an exotic coastline, visited cities and villages, and sometimes ventured up great rivers and followed ancient paths. Along the way they encountered not only many diverse landscapes, peoples, and cultures, but also many individuals on their own odysseys--including Paul Sansay, a former slave from Savannah; Mworeh Mah, a brilliant Grebo leader, and his beautiful daughter, Mary Clealand, at Cape Palmas; and King Glass and the wise and humorous Toko in Gabon. Leighton and Jane Wilson had freed their inherited slaves, and were to become the most influential American missionaries in West Africa during the first half of the nineteenth century. While Jane established schools, Leighton fought the international slave trade and the imperialism of colonization. He translated portions of the Bible into Grebo and Mpongwe and thereby helped to lay the foundation for the emergence of an indigenous African Christianity.

The Wilsons returned to New York because of ill health, but their odyssey was not over. Living in the booming American metropolis, the Wilsons welcomed into their handsome home visitors from around the world as they worked for the rapidly expanding Protestant mission movement. As the Civil War approached, however, they heard the siren voice of their Southern homeland calling from deep within their memories. They sought to resist its seductions, but the call became more insistent and, finally, irresistible. In spite of their years of fighting slavery, they gave themselves to a history and a people committed to maintaining slavery and its deep oppression—both an act of deep love for a place and people, and the desertion of a moral vision.

A sweeping transatlantic story of good intentions and bitter consequences, By the Rivers of Water reveals two distant worlds linked by deep faiths.

 

Temples for a Modern God: Religious Architecture in Postwar America by Jay M. Price (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Cover image for Temples for a Modern GodTemples for a Modern God is one of the first major studies of American religious architecture in the postwar period, and it reveals the diverse and complicated set of issues that emerged just as one of the nation's biggest building booms unfolded. Jay Price tells the story of how a movement consisting of denominational architectural bureaus, freelance consultants, architects, professional and religious organizations, religious building journals, professional conferences, artistic studios, and specialized businesses came to have a profound influence on the nature of sacred space. Debates over architectural style coincided with equally significant changes in worship practice. Meanwhile, suburbanization and the baby boom required a new type of worship facility, one that had to attract members and serve a social role as much as honor the Divine. Price uses religious architecture to explore how Mainline Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and other traditions moved beyond their ethnic, regional, and cultural enclaves to create a built environment that was simultaneously intertwined with technology and social change, yet rooted in a fluid and shifting sense of tradition. Price argues that these structures, as often mocked as loved, were physical embodiments of a significant, if underappreciated, era in American religious history.

 

We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States by Richard Bell (Harvard University Press, 2012)

Cover image for We Shall Be No MoreSuicide is a quintessentially individual act, yet one with unexpectedly broad social implications. Though seen today as a private phenomenon, in the uncertain aftermath of the American Revolution this personal act seemed to many to be a public threat that held no less than the fate of the fledgling Republic in its grip.

Salacious novelists and eager newspapermen broadcast images of a young nation rapidly destroying itself. Parents, physicians, ministers, and magistrates debated the meaning of self-destruction and whether it could (or should) be prevented. Jailers and justice officials rushed to thwart condemned prisoners who made halters from bedsheets, while abolitionists used slave suicides as testimony to both the ravages of the peculiar institution and the humanity of its victims. Struggling to create a viable political community out of extraordinary national turmoil, these interest groups invoked self-murder as a means to confront the most consequential questions facing the newly united states: What is the appropriate balance between individual liberty and social order? Who owns the self? And how far should the control of the state (or the church, or a husband, or a master) extend over the individual?

With visceral prose and an abundance of evocative primary sources, Richard Bell in We Shall Be No More lays bare the ways in which self-destruction in early America was perceived as a transgressive challenge to embodied authority, a portent of both danger and possibility. His unique study of suicide between the Revolution and Reconstruction uncovers what was at stake—personally and politically—in the nation’s fraught first decades.

 

Please contact us to let us know about forthcoming publications. We will update the list periodically but will always aim for about a dozen books published within the last five years.