Paul Matzko of Penn State’s graduate program in history has written a post calling our attention to a fascinating database called the Association of Religious Data Archives. This is an amazing tool. If my experience is any indication, scholars of American religion will waste of lot of time playing around in this database.
Here is a taste of Paul’s post:
…The ARDA website is the repository of a vast amount of information about religion in America, from denominational statistics to survey responses. You can find out which state has the most churches (Texas), look up your denominational family tree, or, and this is my personal favorite, discover that a belief in bigfoot is positively correlated with not regularly attending church.
The latest additions to the ARDA website are several interactive timelines of American religious history that have been made possible by generous funding from the Lilly Endowment. For the past several summers I have been working on these timelines along with the rest of the ARDA timeline development team. Three summers ago we compiled lists of ~500 events and people from a range of religious traditions. My contribution to the timeline has been to write up descriptions for those events and people. Some articles are merely a few dozen words while others run much longer. Thus far I have written approximately 120 separate entries for the timeline. It’s been an invaluable learning experience, both from witnessing Roger’s ability to harness the creative energies of a small team while running a grant project and in firming up my grasp of American religious history.
…More timelines will be going up over the coming year. Our hope is that these timelines will be a valuable classroom resource for high school and college teachers. It could easily be used as the centerpiece of a homework assignment, something like playing “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, er, Roger Williams.” Through a web of internal links between people and events, we are also aiming for the kind of serendipitous discoveries you have while clicking your way through wikipedia. Sure, you’ve heard of the First Great Awakening, but did you know about Samson Occom, a Native American Presbyterian who was a leader in the Mohegan tribe, met English hymn-writer John Newton, and founded a new, pan-tribal Indian community that still exists today? Fascinating, right? I hope you have as least as much fun with this timeline as we did!
Paul M. says
Thanks for the shout-out, John. It's a pity we had to cap the total number of entries; otherwise I know a certain tutor associated with the rural enlightenment would have made the list!
Tom Van Dyke says
Sure, you’ve heard of the First Great Awakening, but did you know about Samson Occom, a Native American Presbyterian who was a leader in the Mohegan tribe, met English hymn-writer John Newton, and founded a new, pan-tribal Indian community that still exists today? Fascinating, right? I hope you have as least as much fun with this timeline as we did!
Need to learn what “exists today.”
Occom has all but disappeared from histories of Presbyterianism. Given the relatively poor track record of Presbyterians on issues of race during the 19th century, we should recover the overlooked history of Occom and other marginalized voices from the century prior. He represents a path not taken by the mainstream of American Presbyterianism. I’d love to see P&R Publishing or one of the other church history publishing houses commission a biography of Occom.
to learn whether he's part of the main text or a dead end, a footnote.
Not to disrespect the man in his own right, mind you, but to know where he fits in to our understanding of where we are and how we got here.
Paul M. says
Tom, the first half of the paragraph you quoted clarifies my motivation for wanting a new biography of Occom:
What’s striking to me is that I can’t find any recent, scholarly biography of Occom. (Much of the information above I culled from Margaret Szasz, Indian Education in the American Colonies, 1607-1783.) It’s unfortunate because in a sense it repeats the harms committed against Occom by Wheelock. His contemporaries treated him as an inferior, overlooking his contributions to the First Great Awakening.
John Fea says
I was recently up at Dartmouth and he is celebrated there. I seem to remember that Chris Grasso from William & Mary (he may had been at St. Olaf at the time) was working on a biography of Occom with Tim Hall of Central Michigan. I heard them give a paper on it at the first Omohundro Institute in Ann Arbor back in the mid-1990s. I don't know whatever happened to that project but I think they both moved in other directions.
Paul M. says
I'm sure the archival remains are slender. I wonder if the project would require someone who specialized in Native American History but had a sideline in religious history.
Tom Van Dyke says
Thank you, Paul. You write that Occam “represents a path not taken by the mainstream of American Presbyterianism.” Depending on what you mean by this, it could consign him to footnote status [say, like the Shakers, who at their peak numbered only 6000 or so souls] rather than “unjustly uncredited” in the main narrative of American religion.