Defining American Religion in a Global Age

Thursday, April 2, 2020, 2:30 PM - 4:00 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: International Relations; Politics; Religion


This panel will bring together emerging and established scholars of American religion and politics for a conversation with the audience about terminology. It will consider how a global perspective might alter some of the keywords and central frames of American history, including "evangelical" and "religion versus secularism." Our aim is to interrogate the universality of American religion as well as to understand what is lost in its uncritical exportation by scholars.

Session Participants

Chair: Mark Thomas Edwards, Spring Arbor University
Mark Edwards is Associate Professor of US history and politics at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. His research centers on the intersection of American religion, culture, and politics. Mark has published articles in Religion and American Culture, Diplomatic History, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Religions, the Journal of Religious History, and the Journal of Cold War Studies. His first book, The Right of the Protestant Left: God’s Totalitarianism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) offers a new view of Reinhold Niebuhr, Christian Realism, and the geopolitics of the ecumenical movement. Mark also edited the Religions essay series and subsequent collection, Christian Nationalism in the United States (2017). His current book project, Writing the American Century: Public Diplomacy in a Protestant Secular Age, is forthcoming from Lexington Books. Mark was co-chair of the 2014 US Intellectual History conference in Indianapolis. In the Spring of 2018, he served as Fulbright Senior Scholar to Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul, Korea.

Panelist: Heather D. Curtis, Tufts University
Heather D. Curtis received her doctorate in the History of Christianity and American Religion from Harvard University in 2005. She is the author of Faith in the Great Physician: Suffering and Divine Healing in American Culture, 1860-1900 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) which was awarded the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer prize from the American Society of Church History for the best first book in the History of Christianity.

Her recent book, Holy Humanitarians: American Evangelicals and Global Aid (Harvard University Press, 2018) examines the crucial role popular religious media played in the extension of US aid at home and abroad from the late-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Drawing on rigorous archival research, Curtis lays bare the theological motivations, social forces, cultural assumptions, business calculations, and political dynamics that shaped Americans' ambivalent embrace of evangelical philanthropy during a pivotal period in the nation's history. In the process she uncovers the seeds of today's heated debates over the politics of poverty relief and international aid.

Curtis has also published articles on the global expansion of American evangelicalism, pentecostalism, religion and science, and Christian spirituality in a variety of academic journals, books, and online venues. She recently served as a senior editor for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Religion in America.

Her work has been supported by fellowships and grants from the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, the Lilly Endowment, the Louisville Institute, and the Young Scholars in American Religion Program.

Panelist: David R. Swartz, Asbury University
David R. Swartz is an associate professor of history at Asbury University. Areas of teaching and research interest include American religious history, twentieth-century American culture, global religion, Anabaptism and Mennonitism, and issues of war and peace.

David blogs at Patheos. His first book, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (University of Pennsylvania Press 2012), earned positive reviews from the New York Times, Journal of American History, Christian Century, Huffington Post, and Books & Culture. His second project, under contract with Oxford University Press, deals with evangelicals and transnational religion.

Panelist: Lauren Frances Turek, Trinity University
I am an assistant professor of history at Trinity University. A diplomatic historian by training, I have research interests in the history of U.S. foreign relations, religion, and the international human rights movement. At Trinity, I teach courses on modern United States history, U.S. diplomatic history, and public history.

My forthcoming book, To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelicals, Human Rights, and U.S. Foreign Relations (Cornell), illuminates the complex and deeply significant ways in which religion and religious groups interacted with foreign policy, political culture, and the international human rights regime to shape America’s role in the modern world. In my research, I examine the growth and influence of Christian foreign policy lobbying groups in the United States beginning in the 1970s, assessing the effectiveness of Christian efforts to attain foreign aid for favored regimes and to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on those nations that persecuted Christians and stifled evangelism. My manuscript gauges the effect that evangelical involvement and American policy had on society and politics in Guatemala, South Africa, and the Soviet Union. These case studies reveal the extent of Christian influence on American foreign policy, the outcome of these policies on the ground, and the seemingly paradoxical support that evangelicals lent to repressive authoritarian regimes in the name of human rights.

Panelist: Gene Zubovich, Mississippi State University
I received my Ph.D. from the Department of History at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2015. I write on the history of foreign relations, human rights, and religion and politics in North America in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In addition to my book, The Global Gospel, I have current and forthcoming work appearing in the Journal of American History, Journal of the History of Ideas, Diplomatic History, Religions, and Christian Human Rights (Cambridge Press).