Archive for the ‘Religious History’ Category

  • Last year, the Arch Street Friends Meeting House in Philadelphia erected a large chalkboard adjacent to its main entrance. Emblazoned on it was a headline: How will you change the world? Over a period of weeks, hundreds of passers-by offered their ideas on how to make the world better for themselves and their communities. As […]

  • When I tell people I study religious history, the conversation frequently turns to the state of religion in the United States. People often ask how I feel about where we are in relation to our “religious roots” as a nation. Depending on the person I’m talking to, they are generally looking for my thoughts on […]

  • Just ten or so years ago museums almost entirely ignored religion. Sure, archaeology and anthropology museums paid attention, but most history museums presented little beyond the odd commemorative plaque or church plate. Often nothing about what local people actually did and do. And art museums converted every sacred object or religious picture they got into […]

  • From prairie churches to urban cathedrals and synagogues, historic sacred places are often the oldest, and most beautiful, buildings within our communities. It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 historic congregations across America and they play a vital role in shaping the character of communities, both as places of worship and as community […]

  • In late October 2016 I attended the 30th Biennial Conference on Faith and History held at Regent University. Our theme this year was “Historians and the Challenges of Race, Gender, and Identity.” Talking about these subjects only a few weeks before the general election in November made the atmosphere crackle with urgency. I prepared a […]

  • Many museums and historic preservation groups have been unsure how to react to the growing popularity of commercial ghost tours over the past twenty years.  Some museums have tried to avoid any connection to what they perceive as inaccurate, theatrical, or just sensational uses of history. Others have embraced the idea and offer their own […]

  • Memento Mori is a style of art that was popular from the 15th century through the 17th century, which gets its name from the Latin phrase meaning “remember you must die.” The style is marked by images of skulls and corpses and is intended to encourage the viewer to contemplate their own mortality. In a […]

  • In our relationships with co-workers, friends, and family, there are generally two topics we’re inclined to avoid: politics and religion. For museums and historic sites, discussing politics—or more appropriately, political history—with visitors is an essential part of their interpretation and programming. Religious history….well, that is a different story. There are many reasons why we avoid discussing […]

  • As a Divinity school student with a focus on public history and the history of religion, I talk a great deal about what religion is in my classes. We continually grapple with questions like: how do we categorize religion? What’s the difference between theology, religion, and philosophy? Can religious experiences truly be compared to each […]

  • In the 1980s, when I worked at the Winterthur Museum, the great collection of American decorative arts, I was fascinated most by furniture that was “married” or “improved.”  These were pieces that had been constructed from two earlier pieces, once separate, or that were “modernized” by the addition of fashionable new details. These unusual survivors […]