Kevin Schultz and Paul Harvey make a compelling case that religion has been a dominant theme in post-Civil War American history but, with a few exceptions, has failed to capture the imagination of post-Civil War American historians. Their article “Everywhere and Nowhere” is up today at Inside Higher Ed. Here is a taste:
…our general thesis that religion has been everywhere in history but nowhere in historiography has two major exceptions: in historical works on the civil rights movement and the religious right. When it comes to civil rights historiography, religious interpretations have vitally influenced scholarship; indeed, those who downplay the influence of religion tend to be the “heretics,” rather than the other way around. Meanwhile, we now have a small library of books on contemporary figures of the Religious Right, from Jerry Falwell to James Dobson to Phyllis Schlafly.
Noting these two exceptions raises important questions. For example, since these are two groups that have been historically racialized and/or marginalized, does that make it “safer” to incorporate religion more centrally into their intellectual trajectories? And to what degree do they influence the mainstream narrative? In other words, when we move from the mainstream to the margins, does it become safer to introduce religion as a central actor in people’s lives? And if so, will that scholarship focusing on the margins find its way into the mainstream narratives? The almost complete absence of religion from James Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear and James Patterson’s Grand Expectations, the two Oxford History of the United States volumes covering the period from 1932 to 1974, provides just cause for such reflection.