I (and I think I speak for my co-editors, Jay Green and Eric Miller) am flattered by the attention our Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation is receiving over at Religion in American History blog. Here is a small taste of Mark Edwards’s review of the book:
The book is a collaborative effort by several members and fellow travelers of the Conference on Faith and History, including its editors Jay Green, John Fea, and Christopher Lasch biographer Eric Miller. Since 1967, the CFH has concerned itself with primarily one question: What difference does being a Christian make to the study and practice of history? I’ve heard the CFH referred to in private conversation as “the intellectual arm of the religious right.” Certainly, George Marsden’s Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford, 1998), despite its huge popularity among the CFH and conservative Christian colleges, has been greeted with suspicion by those fearful that “integration of faith and learning” is theocratic code for “faith over learning.” But I’m not here to judge. Instead, I want to commend and recommend Confessing History essays for the questions they raise about ideology and history in general, as well as for their attempts to articulate a post-Marsden vision of Christian historiography. The best academic conference I ever attended remains the 2002 CFH meeting at Huntington University. For a young grad student, I (and fellow graduate and undergraduate students) marveled at the passionate seriousness and open confrontations of presenters trying to determine the ifs, hows, and whys of Christian scholarship. Confessing History might not be able to take readers back to that moment, but 2002 is nevertheless written all over it. In fact, one of the must-read essays is a revised version of Christopher Shannon’s opening address of the 2002 meeting, “After Monographs,” a merciless assault on Marsden’s “Idea” (with Marsden in the room, mind you), on the state of Christian historiography, and on the post-Enlightenment historiographical/monographic tradition as a whole.
The post has prompted over 30 comments. These comments raise a host of questions related to both Confessing History and the entire project of the Conference on Faith and History. (I should probably add here that when we edited Confessing History we had no official endorsement or support from the Conference on Faith and History (CFH). In other words, this is not a Conference on Faith and History publication, though it is true that many of the authors are either members of the Conference or have spoken at CFH gatherings. The editors of Confessing History worked together as co-program chairs for the 2004 CFH conference at Hope College and Jay Green was the program chair of the 2002 CFH conference in Huntington, IN, the one that Edwards mentions in his post).
To begin, I need to echo the concerns of some commentators who were a bit disturbed by the description of the Conference on Faith and History as “the intellectual arm of the religious right.” (To be clear, Edwards himself was not saying this, but he was passing along what he had heard about the CFH in private conversations). Whoever thinks that the CFH is connected in any way, shape, or form with the Religious Right–either officially or ideologically–does not know the CFH very well. In fact, I would argue that one of the primary missions of the CFH is to counter the Religious Right’s view of history, especially when it comes to Christian nationalist interpretations of the American past or providentialist views of history.
Edwards clarifies his remark about the Religious Right in the comments section:
The “religious right” comment to me (no, I wasn’t backdooring my own opinion) wasn’t regarding Fides, but the CFH project in general, at least in 2002 when the comment was made. To me, it concerned the larger issue of “integration of faith and learning” which seemed to underlay CFH at least at that time. For many historians, integrationist language is ALWAYS theocratic code and thus, to them, relative to the Religious Right.
I think Edwards is correct when he writes that the CFH has a long history of “integrationist” thinking that has come largely from the Reformed tradition. But the organization has also become much more open in recent years. For example, in the last decade, two CFH presidents did not come from the so-called “faith and integration” school of history. Shirley Mullin is a Wesleyan and Doug Sweeney is a Lutheran, a Christian tradition that has offered a compelling critique of Kuyperian style integration.
Having said that, I don’t think that historians who embrace an “integration of faith and learning” model should be viewed as automatically connected to the Religious Right, a largely political force in American life. In fact, a good number of “integration of faith and learning” historians are Democrats.
Many of the founders of the Conference on Faith and History were Democrats who were disgusted with the way the leaders of the Religious Right–Jerry Falwell, David Marshal and Peter Manuel, Tim LaHaye, and Francis Schaeffer–were hijacking American history to serve political ends.
Finally, anyone who reads Confessing History knows that a deliberate attempt was made to offer diverse perspectives on how to connect faith to the historical task. Most of these perspectives move us beyond the “integration of faith and learning” model and toward a new paradigm focused less on epistemology and more on “vocation.” Even Calvin College’s Wil Katerberg’s essay takes us in this direction.
I want to pick up on Janine Giordano Drake’s thoughts about “conservative” history in another post, because I think that they are important. I also want to address theitinerantmind’s comment (supported by Edwards) that to embrace the CFH project means that one has to forfeit “‘academic credibility.” Stay tuned.