Roundtable Keywords in American Religious History: Diaspora, Sexuality, Liberalism, Pentecostalism, Martyr

AHA Session 24
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Room 303 (Hynes Convention Center)
David Harrington Watt, Temple University
Elizabeth McAlister, Wesleyan University
Kathryn Lofton, Yale University
Matthew S. Hedstrom, University of Virginia
Randall J. Stephens, Eastern Nazarene College
The Audience

Session Abstract

In late 2009, a survey of AHA members revealed that religion is the subject most studied by historians, surpassing culture, which had reigned for fifteen years. In light of this development, we propose to assess the state of American religious history through a roundtable discussion of critical terms in the field. The terms we use shape the narratives we tell and the narratives we leave untold. Our words define the field and define us as scholars. Thus, this roundtable explores key terms in the interaction between religion and American history. We except this panel will engage both scholars who work directly in the matter at hand—in this case American religious history—as well as those whose interests intersect in other ways with one or more of the terms under consideration. Each scholar in this session tackles a word relevant to his or her own studies as well as the field as a whole. Diaspora, Sexuality, Liberalism, Pentecostalism, and Martyr are keywords that need to be interrogated to understand their common definitions, the implications of these definitions, and their uses for current scholarship. Each of these words opens up a large area of inquiry at the forefront of current conversations regarding religion, conversations occurring both in the academy and in the public arena. Our exploration of the religious resonances of these critical terms uncovers social, cultural, and intellectual dimensions of the religious history of the United States; exposes points of contestation often hidden from view; and, we hope, allows scholars from across the broad spectrum of historical study insight into current theory and method in the study of religion. The members of this roundtable, with diverse training in history, religious studies, and American studies, will define and redefine these terms, with an eye towards relevance for current historical scholarship. Several questions define our endeavor: What do these terms demonstrate about the field of American religious history? How do national character and globalization affect the concept of religion or religions? What does this analysis of religion add to understandings of American history and historical method? How do these terms reflect or mitigate the history of the field itself? What does the lineage of these words imply about their current usage? How were they used in different times and places to signify similar or contradictory themes? And how do the religious dimensions of these words inform the ways they are employed in other areas of scholarly inquiry, and in other aspects of American intellectual and cultural life? In keeping with the conference theme, “History, Society, and the Sacred” this panel challenges the scholars involved, and those in attendance, to explore their own work as well as relevant historiography. At a time when discourse about history, society, and the sacred is as heated as ever, we need to attend especially carefully to the terms we use in this never-ending conversation.

See more of: AHA Sessions