FaithWorld

Religion now hottest topic of study for U.S. historians – AHA survey

nypl 1Religion has become the hottest topic of study for U. S. historians, overtaking the previous favourite — cultural studies — and pulling ahead of women’s studies in the latest annual survey by the American Historical Association. Younger historians are more likely than older ones to turn their sights on faith issues.

The proportion of U.S. historians working on religious issues now stands at 7.7%. If that seems low, compare it with the more traditional fields in the study of the past — political history (4.6%), military history (3.8%) or diplomatic history (3.8%). Cultural studies stood at 7.5% and women’s studies at 6.4%.

Among the reasons cited by the AHA were:

    Interest in the rise of “more activist (and in some cases ‘militant’) forms of religion.” An “extension of the methods and interests of social and cultural history.” The impact of the “historical turn” in other disciplines, including religious studies. Increased student demand for courses on the subject.
The AHA report has some interesting quotes from professors in the field:
    “I think the category has become more popular because historians realize that the world is aflame with faith, yet our traditional ways of dealing with modern history especially can’t explain how or why,” said Jon Butler, a professor of history, religious studies and American studies at Yale University. “The ‘secularization thesis’ appears to have failed and so we need to find ways to explain how and why it didn’t die as so much written history suggests.” “I came to recognize that (expressions of faith) were woven into just about every aspect of life, not separate subjects I could leave for another time or someone else,” said  University of California at Berkeley historian William Taylor. “My ongoing research and writing about religious matters continues to be carried out in this spirit—not as a field apart, but as integral to my reckonings with how people then understood their lives and acted upon those convictions.” Jeanne Kilde of the University of Minnesota said “students in the late 1990s began coming to class with questions about religion” due to its influence on recent elections, growing attention in the media and an increase in public displays of religion.
nypl 2Given this blog’s focus in religion in the public sphere, this general trend of growing interest in religion isn’t anything new to us. What is interesting is that this is spreading in academia. A hat tip goes to The Immanent Frame blog, which also ran its own series of reactions from historians to this news. Here’s a sample from David A. Hollinger at Berkeley:  “Religion is too important to be left in the hands of people who believe in it. Finally, historians are coming to grips with this simple truth.” (Photos: New York Public Library, 14 Dec 2004/Mike Segar) Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

“No religion” segment of U.S. population profiled

At the “Values Voter Summit” of conservative Christian activists I attended last week in Washington, more than one participant lamented the “secularization” of America.

That will come as a surprise perhaps to more than one foreign reader of this blog, given America’s famously high rates of religiosity which set it apart from much of the rest of the developed world. And the evangelical tradition which much of the U.S. “religious right” comes from has been fast growing in recent decades.

spire1But Americans who claim no religion are fast growing and Trinity College in Hartford offers a detailed portrait of this group in a new report released this week called “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.”