November 30, 2012

Casual Friday: New article by Quincy Newell!

Quincy Newell has published a new article in the most recent issue of the online journal Religion Compass, titled: "Religion and the American West." She identifies four areas of interest for scholars of the American West and the challenges that we face. This is an excellent overview of the field and provides a framework for future scholarship. For those of you preparing your PhD comps list, it should be at the top of your list.

On another note, we are sad to announce that Quincy has handed over her co-editor status of the blog. She worked hard throughout the year to bring new contributors on board, to increase our readership, and ensure that we continued to bring you interesting and relevant blog posts. We'll miss her and we wish her the best of luck for her future endeavors! (And hope that she'll continue to write blog posts once in a while!)

November 26, 2012

Call for Contributors: RAW enters a new phase

by the Editors

Five years ago the Religion in the American West Seminar at the American Academy of Religion was created. Since seminars at the AAR run as five-year non-renewable terms, the RAW Seminar at the AAR came to a close last week with its final meeting occurring at the AAR annual conference in Chicago (for a list of presenters see here). As we noted previously, we have proposed the creation of a Religion in the American West Group, which would allow us to continue meeting for the next five years with the option of renewing (for info on AAR program unit types, click here). We will keep you updated as that effort develops. In the meantime, the blog continues!

In the midst of these changes, the Religion in the American West blog enters a new phase. Thus, it seems appropriate to issue a call for new and continuing contributors. If you have contributed to the blog in the past, please continue to do so! If have not contributed in the past but you do research and writing on religion in the American West (or would like to), please contact us ( welcome your contributions! In particular, we would like to hear from you if you have presented in the past as part of the RAW Seminar at AAR, or if you would like to be a part of the RAW Group in the future. But we welcome anyone who would like to propose a topic and contribute a post. Are you writing on a topic relevant to the American Westthesis, dissertation, article, book projectand want to test out an idea, get some feedback? Try posting it to the blog! Did you come across an interesting primary document during your last trip to the archives and want to share it? Please do. Read a good book recently and want to write a review? The blog's a great place for reviews. Interesting field experiences? Please tell us about it. Saw something while travelling through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Washington, British Columbia, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexicoeven California!, etc.and snapped a photo? Please send it in for our Casual Friday posts, where you don't have to have a fully developed idea or post to go along with it! We welcome your reflections on any aspect of religion in the American West(s)and the study thereof!

Got something to contribute? Have a query? Suggestion? Comments? Send them to us at

or comment below!

We hope to hear from you soon!

November 23, 2012

Casual Friday

Graduate Student Fellowships at the
Western Historical Quarterly
Applications are now welcome for the
S. George Ellsworth Fellowship
For 2013-2014, a total stipend of $14,000, tuition awards, health insurance, and summer research funds will be awarded.
The Editorial Fellow must enroll in USU's master's program in history. Duties at the Western Historical Quarterly (WHQ) include 20 hours a week, beginning in August, helping to select, prepare, and copy read manuscripts. The fellowship may be retained for a second year, depending upon satisfactory progress toward the master's degree and acceptable completion of editorial assignments. During the summer of 2014, the editorial fellow will work 20 hours a week at the WHQ, with time off for research.
Applicants should send a letter of interest and a writing sample directly to the editor of the WHQ. The full application, including three letters of recommendation to the USU School of Graduate Studies, will suffice to complete the needed materials. All documents should be postmarked no later than 1 February 2013. Applicants will be notified in early April.
NOTE: The S. George Ellsworth Fellowship and the Robert M. Utley Fellowship are awarded in alternating years.
Funding for WHQ fellowships is provided by:
  • Western Historical Quarterly
  • USU School of Graduate Studies
  • USU Department of History
  • Robert M. Utley Endowment
  • S. George Ellsworth Endowment
Please address correspondence to:
Western Historical Quarterly

0740 Old Main Hill
Utah State University
Logan, UT 84322-0740

or send email to:
For more information on the WHQ and editorial fellowships please visit our website, .

November 19, 2012

My Dinner with Jon (Huntsman)

by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

Last week the electioneering ebbed, Democrats heaved sighs of relief, and Republicans began their tortured explanations of the outcome of the presidential race.  Bloggers of things Mormon began to air their own anxieties about the future:  what would Mitt Romney’s loss mean for Mormon studies? 

More important, and at the risk of driving this academic-narcissism-in-the-guise-of-soul-searching into the ground, is what it might mean for the study of religion in the American West.  Enough about Mormon Studies . . . what about us?

Without wading too far into the numbers, it seems quite evident that the evangelical distaste for a Mormon candidate—and more pointedly, the southern evangelical distaste—was vastly overinflated.  Yes, Romney won Utah and Idaho and Arizona, but look at that solid Mormon South!  Equally important is the fact that, even with large numbers of Mormons on the West Coast, he didn’t stand a chance there.  So was his problem a regional thing, a religious thing, or some of both?

Years ago sociologist Armand Mauss used survey data to suggest that there are profound differences in the outlooks and attitudes of LDS who live west of Utah (he was looking at California in particular).  I was reminded of this, and of the complexities of regional and religious identities, when I met Governor Jon Huntsman recently.

Huntsman came to the university where I work to deliver the Weil Lecture on American Citizenship, a series that has brought in a wide variety of illustrious figures of many political persuasions beginning with William Howard Taft in 1915.  I was asked to attend a dinner in Huntsman’s honor and to introduce him before he spoke, an invitation at which I jumped.  I’ve been curious for a long time about his background and his relationship to the Mormon tradition.  He is a descendent of Mormon pioneer stock who served a mission, but who now seems actively to resist the urgings of the press to gauge his level of piety.  Unlike other Republican candidates during the primary season who fell over one another to express their sincere love of Jesus, Huntsman consistently demurred when provoked to discuss his faith.  He and his wife have two adopted young daughters, one from China and one from India, and they are raising them as Buddhist and Hindu, respectively.  What’s up with that?

This might well be my chance to figure it all out, I thought. 

The details, as it turned out, are far more interesting that I had thought.  Gov. Huntsman, you see, is a California Mormon.  In fact, he and I were born one month and about 20 miles apart in the Bay Area.  One of his grandfathers was the mayor of my hometown, and ran the local hardware store there.  When he was an infant Huntsman’s parents moved to southern California, where the young Jon was raised.  We had a lovely conversation about these early connections.

I mentioned to him, by the way, that I also studied Mormons.  But that really didn’t seem to interest him. When queried from the audience by a campus minister about how he understood the appropriate place of religious faith in the political world, Huntsman talked of ecumenism, tolerance, and celebration of difference.  Nary a word about deep personal faith, even of the very private sort.

[As an aside, he wowed the packed audience of young students (many budding business majors).  They cheered his statements about collaboration across political boundaries, about the corrosive role of money in elections, and about the necessity for the U.S. to negotiate with international partners rather than trying to bully them into submission.  He talked with particular passion about the importance of China, a subject about which, as a former U.S. Ambassador and a fluent speaker of Mandarin, he knows a great deal.

I have to say, he impressed me, too.  My jaw clenched a bit when he talked about a limited federal government.  But there was no getting around his centrist politics, his belief in the reality of climate change, and his apparent openness to dialogue.  I suspect that many of us there saw, for the first time in a long while, a way to move forward through partisanship to a shared future.  One colleague of mine even asked him the glaringly obvious question:  why does he remain a Republican when his own club seems to have revoked his membership card?]

Political questions notwithstanding, I was initially frustrated by my failure to gain much traction on his religious self-understanding.  Yet as I thought more about it later, I realized that he, in fact, was like many of the Mormons—and Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Buddhists—that I had grown up with in California in the 1960s and 1970s.  We put a premium on toleration (although we didn’t call it that—in fact, we didn’t call it anything), in part because we had to in order to find common ground as friends and neighbors.  We lived in a region with longstanding communities of Japanese, Chinese, South Asians, Irish and Italian Catholics, and other migrants to the mobile society of the post-World War II coastal industries.  We had no established majority of one particular religious group, and that diversity made a difference in how we thought about religion itself.  It’s hard to describe or to capture, but we wore our religion differently there—certainly, it was different from what I’ve encountered in the Northeast and the South.

From a distance, too, I think that form of religiosity can look a lot like Sheilaism, to use Robert Bellah’s characterization of “do it yourself” faith.  Or, when pressed by journalists for a statement or a faith stance, it can look like indifference.  Pollsters, with their targeted questions framed in other contexts, might well call these people “nones.”  For me, at least, and those I grew up with, it was not any of these things.  We had commitments to religious institutions—sometimes to several, and that was okay.  We may well have family members, as I do, who are Jungian Catholics, born again evangelicals, secular humanists, Buddhists, and mainline Protestants. 

We speak a different religious language as a result.  And that’s the language I heard Jon Huntsman speaking (when he wasn’t breaking into Mandarin).  I’m not saying it is the wave of the future; indeed, his dismal showing among Republicans would suggest otherwise.  It’s not Mormon in the Utah style, but neither is it a turning away from that faith. And it may reflect a particular era of California’s history that has now been overtaken by the western Southerners that Darren Dochuk so engagingly describes. 

But it should prompt us to search for more nuanced ways of thinking about western religiosity, ways that don’t bind us solely to denominational or confessional frameworks.  Let’s get busy constructing some new paradigms that capture cultural affiliations outside those already designated as “religion.”  It’s the “all or nothing” framework, one encouraged rhetorically by those who would like to corner the market on faith as a branding mechanism, that stops us from recognizing the very commonalities that may well be our salvation.

November 16, 2012

Casual Friday: The Columbus of Denver

When I was in Denver for the Western History Association conference last month, I was wandering around downtown and noticed a few monuments in a park. Two of them didn't surprise me, bronze sculptures titled "Bronco Buster" and "On the War Path": stereotypical images you expect to see in the West.

A third monument, not far from the other two, however, surprised me. It was not something I was expecting to see in Denver. It is a monument to Columbus. He apparently had four arms and four legs.

What was even odder than the image, however, was the wording on the plaque. Here's the text, placed there in 1970:
Italian Visionary and Great Navigator 
This bold explorer was the first European
to set foot on uncharted land, on a West Indies
beach in 1492. His four voyages brought Europe
and the Americas together, forever changing
history. A new nation was to rise. A new
Democracy was born.
In researching a little about the monument, I discovered that Denver has apparently become the host of two annual Columbus Day parades, one honoring Columbus with the other being a counter demonstration. During a 1989 demonstration the monument was splashed with fake blood, for which AIM activist Russell Means was tried and found not guilty for defacement of the monument.

So, for those of you more familiar with the patriotic and religious makeup of Colorado, what is this monument doing in downtown Denver?

November 12, 2012

The Religion in the American West Guide to the 2012 AAR

Friends! AAR is upon us! Herewith, our guide to the AAR -- the sessions we think you might be interested in if you are interested in religion in the American West. We've tried to be exhaustive, but we've probably missed something (or many things) -- so help us out by leaving more information in the comments.

On Saturday, November 17, you'd probably be interested in...
9:00-11:30 a.m.
A17-124 Mormon Studies Group
The Mormon Heritage Industry: Reading the Mormon Past in Popular Media

McCormick Place West-184A
Grant Underwood, Brigham Young University, Presiding
Megan Goodwin, University of North Carolina: "'Common Sense is No Match for the Voice of God:' Krakauer’s Misreading of Elizabeth Smart"
David Newman, Syracuse University: "As in Utah, so in Arabia: Orientalizing Mormonism in 2007's September Dawn"
Colleen McDannell, University of Utah: "Obsessed by History: The Heritage Industry and the Mormons"
Responding: Patrick Mason, Claremont Graduate University
Business Meeting: James McLachlan, Western Carolina University

1:00-3:30 p.m.
S17-230 SBL Latter-day Saints and the Bible Section
McCormick Place West-474A
David Seely, Brigham Young University, Presiding
Gaye Strathearn, BYU: "Interpretations of the 'Image of God' in Biblical and LDS Thought"
James F. Berlin, LDS Church-Translation Division: "Joseph Smith's Recovery of Biblical Angels"
Eric A. Eliason, BYU: "Joseph Smith, Folk Magic, and the Bible"
Shon D. Hopkin, BYU: "Ritual, Ordinance, and the Law of Moses"
Dana M. Pike, BYU: "Fair as the Moon and Clear as the Sun: The Song of Songs in the Latter-day Saint Religious Tradition"
(Let's colonize the SBL [Society for Biblical Literature], shall we?)

4:00-6:30 p.m.
No question here. You clearly want to go to:
A17-331 Religion in the American West Seminar
(Re)Sacralizing the American West

McCormick Place South-503A
Sara Patterson, Hanover College, Presiding
Shari Rabin, Yale University: "Between Manifest Destiny and Diaspora: American Judaism in the Era of Westward Expansion"
Sarah Koenig, Yale University: "Material 'Goods': Towards a Commercial History of Religion in the American West"
Thomas Bremer, Rhodes College: "The Evangelical Origins of National Parks and a Religio-Aesthetic Vision of the American West"
Tammy Heise, Florida State University: "Real and Imagined Territories: Restoring the Independent Oglala Nation and Reviving the Ghost Dance Ritual at Wounded Knee in 1973"
Responding: James Bennett, Santa Clara University & Quincy Newell, University of Wyoming
Go here for instructions about how to get the papers for this session.

On Sunday, November 18, you'd probably be interested in...
9:00-11:30 a.m.
A18-124 Native Traditions in the Americas Group
Absent, Disappearing, and Persisting: Representations of Native Traditions

McCormick Place West-192A
Jason Sprague, University of Iowa, Presiding
Suzanne Owen, Leeds Trinity University College: "Indigeneity and the 'Absent Other' in Representations of the Beothuk"
Sarah Dees, Indiana University: "Comparative Philology and the Scholarly Representation of Native American Religions"
Andrea McComb, University of California, Santa Barbara: "From Franciscans to Tourists: Pueblo Patron Saints' Feast Days and the Colonization of New Mexico"
Responding: Michael Zogry, University of Kansas
Business Meeting: Michael Zogry, University of Kansas & Mary Churchill, Sonoma State University

A18-129 Religion and Popular Culture Group
Reimagining Secularization Theory in the Study of Religion and Popular Culture

McCormick Place North-127
Shanny Luft, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, Presiding
David Walker, Yale University: "Railroading Rituals: Mormons and Tourists in the American West"
Jeffrey Scholes, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs: "Relating Sports and Religion in a Post-Secular World"
Brandon White, Emory University: "Secularized Starfleet?: Religion in Popular (Sci-Fi) Conceptions of the Future"
Denis Bekkering, University of Waterloo: "Unfaithful Fans of Televangelists: Between Recreational Christianity and Antifandom"

1:00-2:30 p.m.
A18-215 Childhood Studies and Religion Group
Preparing the Next Generations: Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon Youth in the Twentieth Century

McCormick Place West-184A
Amy DeRogatis, Michigan State University, Presiding
Natalie Rose, Michigan State University: "Ensuring the Future: Mormon Courtship at the End of Plural Marriage, 1890-1920"
Karen Johnson, University of Illinois, Chicago: "Race, Religion, and Civil Rights: Catholic Youth and the Push for Interracial Justice in 1930s Chicago"
Rebecca Koerselman, Michigan State University: "Gender Goes Camping: The Construction of Feminine and Masculine Identities in Postwar Evangelical Summer Camps"
Responding: Susan Ridgely, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

If you read and/or contribute to this blog, you also might be interested in:
A18-234 Wildcard Session
The Blog that Dares Not Speak Its Name: New Media and Collaborative Scholarship

McCormick Place West-196B
Kathryn Reklis, Fordham University, Presiding
This panel will explore engagements with new media as a potential horizon in the academic scholarship of religion both in terms of content (what is studied/written about), form (how it is studied/written), and audience (for whom it is studied/written). In particular, we will examine the interactive, ad hoc, immediate nature of blogging as a new form of collaborative scholarship and a form particularly suited to the analysis of and engagement with new objects of study. The panelists, all working in academic fields of theology or philosophy, converse about their collaborative work exploring the core questions of their disciplines and experimenting in new forms of trans-disciplinary scholarship by writing a blog about popular visual culture together.
Natalie Wigg-Stevenson, University of Toronto
Martin Shuster, Hamilton College
Travis Ables, Eden Theological Seminary
Responding: Shelly Rambo, Boston University

3:00-4:30 p.m.
A18-266 Indigenous Religious Traditions Group and Latina/o Religion, Culture, and Society Group
Crossing Boundaries: Healing and Walking in Mexico and the Southwest

McCormick Place South-501A
María Del Socorro Castañeda-Liles, Santa Clara University, Presiding
Brett Hendrickson, Lafayette College: "Curanderismo in the United States: Anglo American Interest in Mexican Folk Healing"
Seth Schermerhorn, Arizona State University: "Walking to Magdalena: O’odham Taxonomies of Movement and the Category of Pilgrimage"
Angela Anderson Guerrero, California Institute of Integral Studies: "Mysticism within the Tradition of the Mexicayotl"

There are lots of interesting sessions on Monday (11/19) and Tuesday (11/20) as well, but we didn't see any that looked like they engaged the subject of religion in the American West. (Of course, we were just skimming session themes and paper titles, so we likely missed something. Leave it in the comments!)

If you're traveling to AAR, travel safely. We'll look forward to seeing you there!

November 9, 2012

Casual Friday: Altar Call

Last week, we asked for AAR members to write letters of support for our proposal to turn the seminar into a permanent group. We heard from several of you already, so thanks for your support! For those of you who would like to write a letter, but haven't done so, now is your chance!

Please take 5 minutes to compose a letter, indicting your interest in and support of this group and email it to either or If you have questions about the letter, don't hesitate to ask either one of us.

If you have ideas about the directions that this group could take in future sessions, please submit those as well.

Thanks in advance for your support!

November 5, 2012

Book of the Month

James K. Wellman, Jr., Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Reviewed by Susanna Morrill

[T]his study is a moral project, mirroring and comparing moral worlds for readers to see themselves more clearly and judge their own moral worldviews in the relative light of these worlds (284).

In the spring, I’ll be teaching for a second time my class on religions of the Northwest. I’m looking forward to again using James Wellman’s book, Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest. The title of the book captures the project quite effectively. Wellman compares and contrasts twenty-four thriving evangelical congregations in western Washington and Oregon with ten thriving mainline liberal Protestant congregations from the same area. The uneven balance of the comparison tells the story that Wellman is trying to explain: Evangelical congregations are the far outstripping liberal congregations in financial and membership growth despite, as Wellman points out, the well known reputation of the Pacific Northwest as a bastion of liberal social and political life (xiii).

Published in 2008, the book is an explanatory aftermath of the media buzz about evangelical influence in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. Wellman proposes that the Northwest is an ideal laboratory for exploring these national trends because the region has no dominant religious tradition. Mainline liberals and evangelicals have a level playing field and he can witness how these groups interact with each other and wider culture without one having an undue advantage over the other. I might moderate this contention a bit. As noted above, Wellman himself argues that the liberal Protestant groups seem to fit with the wider culture of the Northwest and I think, in agreement with Killen and Silk, this is partially because mainline liberal Protestants played a large role in creating the elite, dominant culture of the Northwest.

This, however, is a minor point in terms of the effectiveness of Wellman’s argument. Using qualitative sociological data and theorists (such as Peter Berger), Wellman sets out to answer three main questions: What are the religious worldviews of each group? How are these worldviews created and sustained? How can we understand the clash of these two worldviews (xii)? Wellman and his associates observed the services of each of the congregations, interviewed the senior pastor and an international missionary (if available) of each group, and also interviewed a representative focus group of members of the congregations.

I found Wellman’s book quite useful for my class and invigorating for my own thinking on the religious landscape of the region. Wellman writes in a clear and accessible style with a minimum of sociological jargon, though also communicating that his work is theoretically grounded. At the beginning of the book, he provides compact and useful background information about the history of the mainline liberal and evangelical Protestant traditions, as well as the religious and cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest. In his discussion of the Pacific Northwest, he offers a useful challenge to the contention (made in Killen & Silk’s The None Zone, among other places) that nature religion is the civil religion of the Northwest.

My students and I found most useful the way he breaks down the worldviews of each group and then, very systematically demonstrates how these different worldviews shape respective beliefs and practices of members. He begins with what he calls the moral core of mainline liberal Protestants versus evangelical Protestants—the foundational beliefs that shape how believers see the world. For evangelicals it is a personal and intense relationship with Jesus Christ; they believe he died to save them from their sins (60). For mainline liberals, the moral core is a more abstract belief that Jesus is an example of openness and inclusiveness that all are called to follow (63). From these core beliefs, Wellman traces the moral values of each group. For liberal Protestants these values are principally “modernism and personal autonomy,” while for evangelicals it is “stringent personal and scriptural traditionalism (67).” Using the qualitative data he has collected, Wellman argues that this core and these values shape how members create moral projects and they structure how members engage with Jesus, the Bible, ritual, organizational structures, leadership style, mission, social service, and political views on issues such as abortion, the environment, gay marriage, and the Iraq War. As an active mainline liberal Protestant, Wellman is particularly strong in expressing in a rather passionate way the complicated and little studied theological views of this group of traditions.

One might argue with Wellman’s breakdown of moral cores versus moral values or with the issues that he chooses to focus on. However, I found this breakdown very useful because he gives students a structure with which to talk about the slippery concept of worldview and proposes a way to look at how the internal beliefs of groups and individuals are translated into real world action. He gives us good tools to work with and argue about. He brings students into the religious worlds of folks they might not understand. Because of his clear expository style, I found students able and willing to engage critically with his categories and argument.
Occasionally the book reads as a very much a product of its time. For example, the section on the Iraq War seems to focus on an issue that is more specific than, say, abortion or gay marriage. But even here it speaks to the wider shift in the American religious landscape—the possibility that, as Wellman notes, evangelical Protestantism may become the establishment religion of the country (10). For a class, some of the later discussion about how values play out in belief and action can become repetitive because Wellman argues convincingly that we see clear patterns of connections between moral cores and values and ways of being in the world—we begin to be able to predict what he, in fact, finds.

This is an excellent book and an excellent resource for class. Wellman speaks with great clarity to one of the major issues in the contemporary U.S. religious landscape. His work can be read with a regional focus, or it can be read more widely as, he suggests, a laboratory experiment for the country as a whole. It engages the reader because, as the opening quote suggests, Wellman is intent on presenting to the reader a practical roadmap into two important Protestant traditions in this country, a roadmap that will allow the reader to better understand, interact with, and talk about these traditions in their day-to-day lives.

November 2, 2012

Casual Friday: Left Behind

Spotted outside Green River, Wyoming, in August 2012:

Photo by Quincy D. Newell.  Click image to enlarge.  It's worth it.
One has to wonder: who's paying the billboard company for this? Has anyone else seen these signs since May of last year?

Casual Friday: New AAR Group

By Brandi Denison and Brett Hendrickson

We’re proposing a new AAR group and we need your help!

As many of you know, this blog grew out of a 5-year long seminar that met at the annual American Academy of Religion conference. This seminar is meeting for this last time next month.

Thanks to the hard work of the co-chairs, Quincy Newell and Jim Bennett and the steering committee, Tisa Wenger, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Sara Patterson, and Roberto Lint Sagarena, those of us researching and teaching in this area have a place to meet like-minded scholars. We know that we are not the only ones who have benefitted immensely from the seminar’s discussions.

We’re not ready to end the conversation this year and we hope you aren’t either. That’s why we’re currently working on a proposal for a new group. Unlike a seminar, a group does not have a limit on the number of years it can meet.

In order to help us make the case for the new group, we need letters of support from current AAR members. Please take 5 minutes to compose a letter, indicting your interest in and support of this group and email it to either or If you have ideas about the directions that this group could take in future sessions, please submit those as well.

Let’s keep this conversation going!