American Historical Association Meeting: Final Thoughts

2008 Annual Meeting

Phil and I arrived in Houston from Washington D.C. late yesterday afternoon; I stayed up late typing a few notes and doing some reading in preparation for my classes today. As for the conference sessions and papers, I enjoyed all of them. The opportunity to meet various scholars and hear about their research and teaching was rewarding; I also shared my work and interest with top scholars such as Randal Jelks and Joe Crespino who I hope might be of some help to me come future projects. My entry into a PhD program will further the advancement of this. Truthfully, I like what I am doing regarding race and independent schools to the point that I have decided to focus on late 19th and 20th century race and education.

I found Saturday’s breakfast with Phil and a group of religious scholars stimulating. Peter Heltzel of the New York Theological Seminary presented a paper on race and religion before he shared his vision for a future project on race/religion. It was also great having lunch with Edward Blum, who picked up the bill….Thanks Ed. I have been working on a paper for a journal in which I am reviewing Blum’s book and that of David Lewis. Because of my interest in his work, I made a case to attend a couple of his sessions. One session had Blum and Joe Crespino on the same panel. Crespino, a scholar at Emory University, published a book on race, politics, and independent school; I hope to read it in a few weeks.

Here are a few sessions I attended followed by a few brief thoughts:

Living History: Encountering the Memory of the Heirs of Slavery, Part 2: Slavery, Memory, and African American Religious Traditioning

Chair: Jon F. Sensbach, University of Florida


Praying Mothers: Black Women as Religious Culture Bearers
Yolanda Pierce, Princeton Theological Seminary

Before Black Theology: The Slave Experience in the Religious Writings of Benjamin Elijah Mays and Howard Thurman by Randal Jelks, Calvin College

The Religious Life and Times of W. E. B. Du Bois
Edward Blum, San Diego State University

Comment: Anthony Pinn, Rice University

This was the best session I attended. The chemistry and collegiality of Pierce, Jelks, and Blum was transformative. At the end of the session, I spoke briefly with Blum and Pierce about the impact longevity had on Pierce’s Margret Walker and Blum’s Du Bois. My comment and question had to do with Walker and Du Bois’s changing role over time. Both lived to be over 90 years old. Furthermore, as David Lewis’ biography of Du Bois noted, “Nearing the end, Du Bois himself conceded mischievously that he would have been hailed with approval if he had died at fifty. ‘ At seventy-five my death was practically requested.’ “Of course to illustrate the pedestal Du Bois observed from, Lewis states ” ‘The Old Man Died.’ Just that. And not one of us (Sidney Poitier, James Baldwin, and John Killens) asked, ‘What old man?’ “As for Margret Walker, Yolanda Pierce agreed with me that many of the new guard such as Angela Davis did not see her as an activist for black folks. According to Pierce’s paper, many thought she was too conservative for the time. In essence, it would seem that Walker and Du Bois lived too long.

After I heard Blum’s paper on the religiosity of Du Bois, I found myself perplexed over Du Bois’s religious nature. Blum’s book and all of its evidence (his bibliography and notes are beyond impressive) convinced me – a suspicious reader at first; however, I still found myself challenged by the notion of Du Bois’s faith and the extent of his religiosity. Du Bois, as noted by Blum, wrote about faith and Christ but questioned Christ’s resurrection. Moreover, Du Bois, as stated by Blum, questioned the reality of Christ’s powers; it was here that I asked Blum this: How could Du Bois have been religious when he denied the power and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Randal Jelks of Calvin College responded by saying “Du Bois could have been religious without being Christian” (Cautionary Note: My memory is a little fuzzy here on Jelks’ response)

Southern White Christianity and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954–80

Chair: Jason C. Sokol, Cornell University


White Evangelicals and Massive Resistance: Mississippi’s Church Property Bill
Carolyn Renee Dupont, Eastern Kentucky University

“Born of Conviction”: White Methodists and Mississippi’s “Closed Society”
Joseph T. Reiff, Emory & Henry College

Religion in the Private School Movement: A Case Study of Private Schools in North Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi
Joseph H. Crespino, Emory University

Comment: Edward Blum, San Diego State

Again, this was another great session. I was really interested in what Joe Crespino had to say.

Because I am interested in race and independent schools, I found Crespino’s paper refreshing for two reasons:

1. It looked at white flight, sectarian and nonsectarian independent schools, and the political nature of churches and Southern culture.

2. His work took a more political view versus my interest in race and school culture.

Religion in the History Survey: A Transhistorical Discussion


Paul Borysewicz
Topics: Religion in the World History Survey by John Voll, Georgetown University

Religion in the European History Survey by Celia S. Applegate, University of Rochester

Religion in the United States History Survey by Fred Jordan, the Woodberry Forest School

This was clearly one of the more engaging sessions. Fred Jordan of the Woodberry Forest School did an excellent job when he addressed not only the problems in teaching religion in the US History Survey course, but the absents of such [TYPE] questions on the AP US History Exam. Jordan’s point was well noted in that the topic of religion decreased in many courses after the Great Awakening; he even noted the number of textbooks that failed to address the Second Great Awakening.On the other hand, Celia Applegate of the University of Rochester highlighted the myth of secularism in 19th century Europe; I need to re-think my teaching of 19th century religion in European history; in the past, I have emphasized the secular a great deal, though Applegate admitted the increase in religious values does not increase. John Voll’s presentation on Religion in the World History course took on a more theoretical approach. I found his text recommendation as well as his suggestion on looking at a few black American Islamic scholars to be most useful.


3 thoughts on “American Historical Association Meeting: Final Thoughts

  1. Doing work on race and schools is you. From some of your other post on research, I like the direction you are considering. Du Bois continues to grow despite those who question his impact during the later years.

  2. It sounds like a very interesting conference! I’m glad it was intellectually stimulating for you and gave you lots of food for thought! I wish I knew more about some of these people. I guess I’ll have to just keep reading your blog and links to get some education on the many intertwinings of religion and history. Thanks for posting!

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