by James Bennett
My children's elementary school has a wonderful schedule for living on the West Coast: an early August start is rewarded with a two week break in mid-October. Since September and October are the best weather months in these parts it makes possible some wonderful travel opportunities, although my less flexible teaching schedule means I'm often stuck joining my family only for the weekend in-between. This year the family is headed to Disneyland. Our five year old feels he's been unfairly deprived not yet having been there. The problem? The Western History Association meets the same weekend I would join them, and it meets in Oakland, a mere 40 minute drive for me. It's one of those rare opportunities when, in face of dwindling travel budgets, I could attend for only the cost of registration.
Now, I have no particular love for Disneyland, as my family will testify—the Happiest Place on Earth is merely a thin veneer for some of the crassest consumerism around—but it is sort of a rite of passage (to return to my native language of Religious Studies) and thus would be a disappointment to miss (as well as an unfair burden on my spouse to endure alone). But the schedule conflict exists no more for me.
In perusing the program for the WHA's grand semi-centennial celebration I noticed a striking lack of sessions dealing with religion. I have no way of knowing why that is—whether a lack of proposals, a lack of good proposals, or a lack of interest by the program committee. Regardless of the reason, the result is distressing for those of us who consider the role of religion in the West an important aspect of Western history no less than of American Religious History.
My distress magnified when, earlier this week, I received the fall issue of the Western Historical Quarterly, dedicated to the "State of Western History Scholarship." Now, I haven't had a chance to read the issue yet, but the index is disheartening: nothing on religion, at least explicitly so.
So, while I can join my family next month without worrying about what I missed at the WHA, I now wish a scheduling conflict was my problem. Instead, it seems that religion remains nowhere to be found on the landscape of Western History. That should give us pause.
In the meantime, the Religion in the American West seminar of the AAR continues to explore the contours of the topic and will feature a session bursting with conversation about the role of religion in the American West. Stay tuned here for information on accessing the papers and please join us in San Francisco in November. It's clear that we've got work to do!