OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

Leigh Eric Schmidt

Portrait of Leigh Eric Schmidt
Image Credit: WUSTL Photo Services/Sid Hastings

Leigh Eric Schmidt is the Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to joining the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics there in 2011, he was the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard University. He has held research fellowships at Stanford and Princeton Universities and also from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Schmidt is the author of numerous books, including Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (2000), which won the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Historical Studies and the American Studies Association's John Hope Franklin Prize. He is also the author of Village Atheists: How America's Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation (2016); Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (2nd edition, 2012); Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (1995); Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (1989), which received the American Society of Church History's Brewer Prize; and Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman (2010).

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

A broad examination of how infidels, atheists, and freethinkers have fared in American public life. Critical markers include: revolutionary deism in the mold of Tom Paine, the formal organization of "secularism" from the 1850s to 1880s, and the emergence of spectacular forms of public atheism since the 1920s.
The "Cartoon Wars" of the last two decades find a granddaddy in the controversies generated by freethought cartoons in the late nineteenth century. The work of the Missouri caricaturist Watson Heston, in particular, provoked now very familiar debates about whether free expression includes a right to offend religious sensibilities. Were cartoons a powerful medium for advancing secularist ideals or counterproductive in their provocations?
Examines the process by which so many Americans--from Transcendentalists to New Agers--came to see "spirituality" as the quintessence of religion. Crucial elements of this transformation include: a reinvention of "mysticism" apart from particular ecclesiastical traditions, a growing sympathy with religious cosmopolitanism, and a redefining of religion as solitary experience. The spiritual-but-not-religious label has now become a commonplace of social surveys and seeker self-description alike.