October 31, 2011

AAR is Coming Soon!

...And that means we're getting ready for our session, which will be on Sunday, November 20, from 9:00 to 11:30 in the Parc 55 Wyndham hotel's Sutro room. We hope you all will be able to join us!

The theme for our session this year is "Land, Identity, and Transnational Wests." We'll read and discuss four papers: "City Jew, Country Jew: Immigration, Masculinity, and American Zionism," by Sarah Imhoff of Indiana University; "Civilizing the American Frontier: Utah, Kansas, Nicaragua, and American Millenarianism, 1856-1858," by Konden Smith of Arizona State University; "'Playing Indian': Defining American Religion through Ute Land Religion, 1910-1940," by Brandi Denison of the University of North Florida; and "Faith, Place, and Power: Catholicism and the Making of the United States Pacific," by Katherine Moran of the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. In addition to discussing the critical issues that each paper raises, the seminar discussion will also focus on ways that the four papers taken together highlight the distinct contributions the American West makes to understanding American religion and the ways in which religion helps us understand the American West. As in the past, our session will open with brief summaries of the papers from each author, followed by a response to the papers, this year given by Greg Johnson of the University of Colorado, Boulder. That will get the ball rolling for our discussion.

Seminar attendees are asked to read the four papers in advance; they are now posted on the Seminar’s website. Click on the "members only" tab, which should take you to the class management system at Yale where the papers are posted. (This link will take you directly to that site.) Click on the appropriate log-in tab, which for most of us will be the non-Yale log-in. If you have been enrolled as a member of the seminar, you should be able to use the log-in from last year. If you do not remember your password (your log-in should be your email address), there is a "forgot your password" link that should enable you to recover access. Once you have successfully logged onto yaleclassv2 you should see a tab that says "Rel American West" Click that tab and then the "papers" link on the left and should see the folders. If you are not yet enrolled as a member of the seminar, please contact Tisa Wenger to be enrolled.

October 24, 2011

Religion in the News

by Brandi Denison

This past week, several incidents occurring west of the Mississippi have called attention to the way in which the religious diversity of the American West leads can lead to friction.

First, in Roosevelt, Utah, a small town in eastern Utah, police officers used pepper spray against an "unruly" crowd at a high school football game. The Washington Post reported that a group of Polynesian men had come to the came to support a relative, who was playing for Union High School. Union had lost the game, but to rally the team's spirits, the relatives decided to perform the Haka, a traditional Maori dance that has been appropriated by sports teams as a pre-game ritual. You can see a video of the All-Blacks (New Zealand's soccer team) perform it here. Police reported that they did not know the Haka would be performed and were alarmed by the aggressive dance.

This space is no stranger to governmental crackdowns on indigenous dance practices. Roosevelt borders the Ouray-Uintah Ute reservation--a space where, in the early twentieth century, authorities attempted to quell the Sun Dance and other traditional practices.

Second, earlier this month, the Seattle division of Hertz, the car rental company, fired 26 Somali Muslims for failing to clock out during prayers. The Washington Post reported that 34 workers were suspended for not clocking out during breaks, which the company contends includes prayers. Eight employees were reinstated once they agreed to sign out. The union which represents the drivers, Teamsters Local 117, contends that the most recent contact states that workers would not need to clock out for prayers. Seventy percent of the Hertz employees the union represents are Muslim, making this contract dispute significant. Hertz argues that their policy is not discriminatory, but instead, making sure that all their employees are treated fairly. 

This isn't the full story, though. You might think this all sounds familiar. That's because in 2009, non-Muslim Hertz employees in Atlanta sued the company for not requiring Muslim employees to clock out during prayers. Like the Seattle case, the non-Muslim employees in Atlanta were concerned about fairness. Muslim employees, the lawsuit contended, had up to three 15-minute paid breaks a day.

Are these two cases simply about maintaining order and fairness? Or are there elements of racial and religious discrimination in each? What do you think?

October 19, 2011

Faith Healing in Oregon

by Quincy D. Newell

For a long time, people have come to the West to be healed. Whether it’s the high desert air thought to relieve the symptoms of tuberculosis, asthma, and other ailments; the cosmic vortices, thought to concentrate spiritual energy; or the charismatic personalities, able to heal through prayer, the laying on of hands, and other religious practices, healing and the West have gone hand-in-hand in the American imagination.

Aimee Semple McPherson, whose ministry was built in large part on healing, preaching in 1939.  Photo from the Los Angeles Examiner collection, Regional History Collection, via http://www.usc.edu/libraries/archives/la/scandals/aimee.html. 
Many of those healing practices were, or are, alternatives to the modern medicine of their day. Their scientific validity has been questioned – their practitioners have taken them on faith. 

But faith-based healing is struggling in the West, at least in Oregon, these days. An Oregon jury recently convicted Dale and Shannon Hickman of manslaughter in the death of their newborn son. The Hickmans are members of the Followers of Christ Church, based in Oregon City. (The church also has branches elsewhere in the West, including three in Idaho.)

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, via katu.com.
The Followers of Christ are a small church with Pentecostal roots. The approximately one thousand members believe in healing through prayer and anointing with consecrated oil – not through modern medicine. The Hickmans’ trial is the latest in a run of several Oregon cases concerning the deaths of Followers children whose lives could have been saved by basic medical treatment.

For many years, the Followers of Christ were protected from prosecution by Oregon laws that granted religious exemption from criminal charges in some cases, including cases of manslaughter and criminal mistreatment. According to journalist Susan Nielsen, this made Oregon “the nation’s most lenient state for parents who let their children suffer in the name of religion.” (That quote is indicative of local discourse surrounding these cases, which are framed in terms of child abuse rather than in terms of religious freedom.)

In 1999, the Oregon legislature narrowed the exemptions, eliminating the spiritual healing defense in cases of second-degree manslaughter and first- and second-degree criminal mistreatment. This year, they passed another law eliminating “spiritual treatment” as a defense against homicide charges and subjecting parents to mandatory minimum sentencing rules. But even before the 2011 legislation, the District Attorney in Clackamas County (which covers some of the suburbs of Portland, OR, including Oregon City) had brought charges against three couples. The Hickmans are the fourth couple in two years to be charged. Seven of the eight people charged have been convicted.

These cases are tragic. Since 2009, parents have been charged in the case of a 15-month old girl who died from pneumonia and another infection; a 16-year-old boy who died of a urinary blockage; a child who nearly went blind in her left eye because of an abnormal growth of blood vessels there (the state intervened and got treatment for her, which the parents may have to pay for); and the Hickmans’ son David, who died from an infection shortly after being born two months prematurely. Concern about the Followers is not new; Time carried an article in 1998 raising concerns about the high mortality rates for children in the group and the extraordinary suffering some endured before death.

The tragedy, I think, can overshadow the extremely complicated nature of the issues at stake here. On the one hand, we have the state’s concern for the welfare of its most vulnerable citizens, its children. On the other hand is the concern of religious people for their First Amendment rights – specifically, the free exercise of religion. On the third hand (Kali seems an appropriate image here) is the question of parental rights – the ability of parents to raise their children as they see fit, without undue interference from the state. The case of Neil Beagley, the 16-year-old boy who died of a urinary blockage, raises a concern for the fourth hand: minors’ own religious convictions, and their ability to act on those convictions.

Neil Beagley at age 14, via oregonlive.com.
Neil’s parents, Jeffrey and Marci Beagley, were sentenced to 16 months in prison for their son’s death. According to Marci Beagley’s testimony, reported by Nicole Dungca, “As Neil lay in the bed before his death in June, he asked that family members come for a laying on of hands, his mother testified. They asked him if he wanted medical care, but she said he declined.” Some two and a half months earlier, Neil spoke with a Department of Human Services caseworker, telling him that “he had the flu, but was feeling better and didn’t want to go to the doctor.”

In the United States, we have tried children younger than Neil Beagley as adults for taking the lives of other people. Beagley, according to his mother’s testimony, played a significant role in his own death by refusing medical care. His church, to which he was devoted, taught that seeking medical care showed a “lack of faith.” It is not unreasonable to think that Neil believed asking for a doctor might jeopardize his salvation.

Neil learned the beliefs that led him to reject medical treatment from his parents and other members of his faith community. Acting on those beliefs, he essentially foreclosed the possibility of saving his life. His parents claimed that they complied with his wishes based on their understanding (facilitated by conversations with a state-employed social worker) that Oregon law allows children to seek or refuse medical treatment once they reach the age of fifteen. (Technically, the law allows children to seek medical treatment, but says nothing about their right to refuse it. The law also obligates parents to provide adequate medical care for their children.) But notice the apparent paradox into which Neil Beagley and his parents unwittingly walked: the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, allows virtually unlimited freedom of religious belief as well as limited freedom of religious practice. 

The current justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Of these nine people, three are Jewish and six are Catholic.  Only two were born west of the Mississippi.
The limitations on practice generally revolve around protection of vulnerable populations (like children) and restrictions on impinging on other people’s rights. It’s basically agreed that you can believe anything you want – that the earth is flat, that the wafer on your tongue is human/divine flesh, that the world is going to end next year, that evolution is a crock. You can also teach your children these beliefs. But, at least in Oregon, if your children – children who are apparently old enough to make decisions on their own, old enough to drive, old enough to hold a job – if those children act on those beliefs in ways that physically harm themselves (but nobody else) – you are liable for criminal prosecution. Jeffrey and Marci Beagley were convicted because their son learned and practiced the religion they taught him.

The Followers, of course, are not the only religious group to teach doctrines that contradict current scientific thought. I’m thinking here specifically of conservative Christians who reject the theory of evolution because it conflicts with their interpretation of the Bible. My friends who are biologists rant every so often about what they perceive as these folks’ hypocrisy, dutifully taking antibiotics when a doctor prescribes them, but rejecting the science on which these drugs are based. Followers eliminate the hypocrisy that drives my friends nutty, but by doing so they open themselves up to criminal prosecution.

Striking a balance between respect for citizens’ religious convictions, the need to protect children, and the desire to raise our children according to the dictates of our own consciences is a difficult task. In the wake of so many childrens’ deaths, Oregon has moved to emphasize the protection of children, giving less deference to the wishes of parents and the concern for free exercise rights.

October 10, 2011

MHA CFP Deadline extended!

Please see the CFP below.

The 47th annual conference of the Mormon History Association will be held a month later than usual – June 28-July1, 2012 at the MacEwan Conference and Events Centre at the University of Calgary. The year 2012 marks the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the first Mormon settlement on Lee’s Creek (later Cardston) in southern Alberta by Charles Ora Card. Furthermore, July 1, 2012 will mark the 145th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation. Originally established in 1875 as Fort Calgary by the Northwest Mounted Police, Calgary has become a thriving metropolitan center to many of Canada’s most successful oil, gas and transportation businesses. So come celebrate with us!

Building upon last year’s theme of global transformations, we intend to capitalize on Calgary’s dynamic setting to invite papers that interpret the Restoration Movement in fresh, new ways. Canada is a richly diverse and cosmopolitan nation and as such beckons the immigration of new viewpoints on Mormon history. International studies of the Mormon experience and comparative studies with other faiths and their environments are encouraged; we also invite research that considers changing perspectives. For instance, how have media and the new era of electronic digitalization influenced the print culture of Mormon history and historical research? What influence has internationalization had on church structures and local memberships as well as interpreting our histories? To what extent has U.S. politics defined the internal understanding of Mormonism? How might various disciplinary lenses such as lived religion, theology, praxis, gender, race and ethnicity shape and reshape our understanding of the Mormon past? Beyond the standard North American perspective, how have local cultures, challenging economics, and national politics affected our interpretations?
The intersection of Canadian and Mormon history also begs scholarly inquiry. For example, how did the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881 impact Mormon migration to Alberta? What unique legal and social challenges did Mormon polygamy encounter in Canada? How does the current debate in the Supreme Court of Canada over plural marriage challenge historical interpretations? How have the Restoration Movements developed in Canada? What of the challenges of secularization?
While we encourage presentations related to the conference theme, we also welcome high-quality proposals related to any and all aspects of Mormon/Restoration history. As a Program Committee we invite proposals for panels as well as individual papers. Innovative formats will also be considered. Please send an abstract of each paper (no more than 300 words) plus a short CV (no longer than two pages) as well as suggestions for session chairs and respondents. Previously published papers will not be considered. Young scholars are especially encouraged to participate. Generous donors have offered to pay travel expenses for some undergraduate and graduate students whose proposals are accepted. Student proposals should include estimated expenses if applying for a travel grant.

The deadline for proposals has been extended to November 1, 2011. Proposals should be sent by email to mhacalgary2012@gmail.com. If necessary, hard copies of proposals can be sent to Richard Bennett, 370D Joseph Smith Building, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602. Notification of acceptance or rejection will be made by December 31, 2011. Additional instructions and information are available on the MHA website at http://www.mhahome.org.

October 4, 2011

Mapping Religion

 by Quincy D. Newell

I ran across a super-cool website recently: the North American Religion Atlas.  Did y’all know about this?  Were you just hiding it from me?  No, you wouldn’t do that.  You must not have known about it either.  Anyway, it’s an interactive site that uses data from the 2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Survey from Glenmary Research Center and the 2000 U.S. Census.  You can make your own maps and charts, and you can save them and download them.  So, for example, if you’re teaching about religion in the American West, you could make a map that shows which counties in the United States reported more than 10% uncounted/unaffiliated people AND more than 10% adherents of “Eastern religions.”

Okay, so that’s a really random query, leading to a fairly colorless map.  As it turns out, though, there are six of those counties – two in Colorado, two in New Mexico, one in Hawaii, and one in what looks to be West Virginia. (I know, it’s a little hard to tell on this particular rendering of the map – especially because I’m not showing you Hawaii.  But on the site, you can zoom in and see the stuff up close.)

You can also make maps that show things like Orthodox adherents as a percentage of the total state population.

Here, I’m totally going to show you Alaska, because it’s different from the rest of the States:

And you can make pie charts!  Here, for example, you can see what the data says about religion in Wyoming: adherents as a percentage of the total population.


Look at that – over half the population of WY is unaffiliated or uncounted. 

Despite its name, it appears that the site only has data about the United States.  If you’re wondering about Canada or Mexico (let alone Central America) I’m afraid you’re out of luck here.  Also, the tools are a bit crude – it’s hard to get very nuanced maps.  (That first map, for example, started as an attempt to find out where there were more adherents of Eastern religions than people who were uncounted/unaffiliated.  I didn’t figure out how to create such a comparison.) 

The people who run the site tell me that they are currently “redeveloping the site and moving it to a new platform that will permit greatly improved functionality and provide more visualization options.”  It will also include “several more years of religion and census data going back to at least the first part of the 20th century.”  I’m particularly excited about that last bit, because it will allow us to illustrate change over time.  The launch date for the new-and-improved site is summer 2012.  The NEH is helping fund the redevelopment – kudos to them, and to the folks who put this site together.  For teaching and thinking about religion in the American West (or, really, any other region of the U.S.) it’s really useful.