I am an historian of American religion, politics, and intellectual life in the period from 1860-1920. My current book project, American Crusade: Lyman Abbott and the Christian Nation at War, 1860-1920, investigates how Christians debated the righteousness of America’s wars from the Civil War to World War I. I argue that a combination of ideological conviction and social position influenced Christians’ perspectives on these conflicts. The project focuses on Lyman Abbott, an influential clergyman, editor, and political advisor to Theodore Roosevelt. When Abbott baptized American wars, declaring them to be crusades, he often spoke for America’s mainline Protestant leadership as a whole. This class of religious leaders invoked God’s blessing on U.S. military endeavors in shocking ways. Nevertheless, Abbott did not speak for everyone. The project compares Abbott’s views with those of Christian traditions on the margins of American life, denominations I style “counterpoint” groups. Examining the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s response to the Civil War, Catholics’ response to the Spanish-American War, and German-speaking Missouri Synod Lutherans’ response to World War I provides fresh insights on American conflicts. In each case, some leaders of these groups surprisingly echoed Abbott’s convictions about the righteousness of the United States and its conflicts while others emphatically protested. The ordeal of warfare forced these counterpoint groups to do nothing less than remake their relationship with the American nation state and/or its dominant culture. We see such profound changes play out in the debates members of these groups had with each other in their church periodicals. Important in their own right, the counterpoint groups’ internal debates also shed new light on Abbott and his class. When we understand more about how ideology and social station influenced people’s perspectives on American warfare, we will comprehend more about American religious, social, cultural, political, and intellectual life during an important period in American history.
My next project, under advance contract with Oxford University Press for inclusion in its new “Spiritual Lives” series, will be a religious biography of Theodore Roosevelt. While nearly every major feature of Roosevelt’s life has been well-chronicled, we know surprisingly little about his religion–and how that religion impacted his private and public life. Moreover, Roosevelt lived in a time of rapidly increasing pluralism in the United States that left lasting imprints on the American religious and cultural scene. My book will enrich our understanding both of Roosevelt and of the wider American religious landscape he inhabited.
For more about my background, please see the “About” page.