Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Update: Salvation with a Smile

Several months back, in an announcement about my forthcoming book Salvation with a Smile, I mentioned upcoming blog posts that would provide part of the book's backstory. I'm happy to report that several of those posts are now published, with several more in the queue until October.

The first post revealed the book's cover.

At the NYU Press blog From the Square, I posted a portion of the book's Introduction, as well as a brief reflection on how the project started, and most recently a post on researching Salvation with a Smile.

Over at Christian Century's history blog Then & Now, in a piece titled "The Rise of the Smiling Preacher Joel Osteen," I posted about Lakewood's move into the Compaq Center a decade ago. I briefly document how and why Joel Osteen has become Joel Osteen over the last 10 years or so.

Future posts at NYU's blog will cover research topics on Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church, and a final post on an Instructor's Guide I have created for Salvation with a Smile in the classroom.

I hope you find this material useful and interesting. As always, I'm happy to entertain requests for lectures and presentations on the book. Contact me here.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Salvation with a Smile

Joel Osteen, the smiling preacher, has quickly emerged as one of the most recognizable Protestant leaders in the country. His megachurch, the Houston based Lakewood Church, hosts an average of over 40,000 worshipers each week. Osteen is the best-selling author of numerous books, and his sermons and inspirational talks appear regularly on mainstream cable and satellite radio. 

How did Joel Osteen become Joel Osteen? How did Lakewood become the largest megachurch in the U. S.?

Salvation with a Smile, the first scholarly book-length study devoted to Lakewood Church and Joel Osteen, offers a critical history of the congregation by linking its origins to post-World War II neopentecostalism, and connecting it to the exceptionally popular prosperity gospel movement and the enduring attraction of televangelism. In this richly documented book, historian Phillip Luke Sinitiere carefully excavates the life and times of Lakewood’s founder, John Osteen, to explain how his son Joel expanded his legacy and fashioned the congregation into America’s largest megachurch.  As a popular preacher, Joel Osteen’s ministry has been a source of existential strength for many, but also the routine target of religious critics who vociferously contend that his teachings are theologically suspect and spiritually shallow. Sinitiere’s keen analysis shows how Osteen’s rebuttals have expressed a piety of resistance that demonstrates evangelicalism’s fractured, but persistent presence.  

Salvation with a Smile
situates Lakewood Church in the context of American religious history and illuminates how Osteen has parlayed an understanding of American religious and political culture into vast popularity and success.


“Sinitiere’s outstanding book on Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church combines the best of historical narrative, ethnographic observation and analysis, and an empathetic but critically acute scholarly understanding. The result is a work that explains and interprets one of America's foremost religious celebrities, the ‘charismatic core’ of his church, and the combination of positive thinking and positive confession which form his message.

Paul Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

“Charismatic Christianity is increasingly the face of American evangelicalism, and a smiling one at that. Joel Osteen is a major reason why. In this deeply researched and richly contextualized study, Phillip Luke Sinitiere nominates Osteen as America’s new pastor. No fair-minded reader will come away doubting Osteen’s significance and genius. Anyone interested in the nation’s protean religious landscape will benefit from this scholarly labor of love.”

Steven P. Miller, author of The Age of Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years

“The best possible book on Joel Osteen and his place in American religious history. Well researched and well written, it uses Osteen’s own words to portray the man who can now rightfully be called ‘America’s Pastor’ as Billy Graham passes from the scene. . . . What emerges is a positive yet objective picture of the popular preacher with the big smile who has built the largest congregation in the history of the American church.”

Vinson Synan, Dean Emeritus, Regent University School of Divinity

Friday, March 27, 2015

New Book Announcement: Salvation with a Smile

Very shortly, I will begin a series of blog posts and announcements in anticipation of the publication of my next book, Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity

NYU Press will publish Salvation with a Smile in October. 

The first post will be a “big reveal” of the book’s cover, and subsequent posts, one per month for about 5 months, will discuss different aspects of the project from background research questions and research problems to the writing process, and a host of other topics. The posts will be on NYU Press’s blog “From the Square,” but I will cross-post or link them here at baldblogger.

Salvation with a Smile is the first critical, scholarly book-length study of Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church. Over the course of eight chapters, I explain how Joel Osteen became Joel Osteen and how Lakewood Church became the nation’s largest megachurch with over 40,000 members. This study is a deeply historical investigation of these questions, while in the book I also use oral history sources and ethnographic observation to develop a profile of Lakewood in contemporary times. I track the history of Lakewood from its origins with John Osteen and run the story up to the present, in which I examine Joel Osteen’s expert approach to televangelism and historicize the numerous critics who have spoken and written denunciations of the “smiling preacher.”  

Salvation with a Smile is a book 5 years in the making although, technically, I’ve been researching Lakewood since 2005; the early research appeared in my 2009 book Holy Mavericks. It was an immensely enjoyable, but at times grueling process of research and writing. Research travels took me back and forth across Houston to churches and local libraries, but I also accessed materials from archives in California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Michigan, North Carolina, and Virginia. 

I am happy to be finished and excited to begin discussions about Salvation with a Smile. While we all wait for the book’s release, here’s a Houston History article I published in 2011, “From the Oasis of Love to Your Best Life Now: A Brief History of Lakewood Church,” which offers a partial preview of what’s in Salvation with a Smile.

Don’t hesitate to link to this post, “like” this post by mentioning it on Facebook, and tweet or retweet about Salvation with a Smile!

#swas, #salvationwithasmile

I am pleased to entertain requests for lectures and presentations based on my scholarly research in Salvation with a Smile. Feel free to contact me.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Just Published: Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Crisis, and American History

I am pleased to announce the publication of Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Crisis, and American History, an essay collection I co-edited with UNC Wilmington art historian Amy Helene Kirschke.

As I indicated in a previous post, the book began as a conference panel at the American Historical Association annual meeting in San Diego in 2010, and evolved into the first ever volume that looks at the history of NAACP's The Crisis magazine and its relationship to W. E. B. Du Bois and 20th century American history. 

The Crisis is one of the most important virtually untapped archives of twentieth century American history. As this project unfolded, more of The Crisis became available online, so I would anticipate even more scholarship on the magazine and its 100+ year history in the years to come. 

Selected back issues of The Crisis are available through Google Books. Every issue from the first dozen years or so (1910-1922) are available as downloadable pdfs through the Modernist Journals Project, jointly sponsored by Brown University and the University of Tulsa. Also, volumes 25 and 26, spanning November 1922 through October 1923, are available through the University of Pennsylvania.

Here's a description of the volume from the University of Missouri Press book page:

In looking back on his editorship of Crisis magazine, W. E. B. Du Bois said, “We condensed more news about Negroes and their problems in a month than most colored papers before this had published in a year.” Since its founding by Du Bois in 1910, Crisis has been the primary published voice of the NAACP. Born in an age of Jim Crow racism, often strapped for funds, the magazine struggled and endured, all the while providing a forum for people of color to document their inherent dignity and proclaim their definitive worth as human beings.

As the magazine’s editor from 1910 until 1934, Du Bois guided the content and the aim of Crisis with a decisive hand. He ensured that each issue argued for civil rights, economic justice, and social equality, always framing America’s intractable color line in an international perspective. Du Bois benefited from a deep pool of black literary and artistic genius, whether by commissioning the visual creativity of Harlem Renaissance artists for Crisis covers or by publishing poems and short stories from New Negro writers. From North to South, from East to West, and even reaching across the globe, Crisis circulated its ideas and marshaled its impact far and wide. 

Building on the solid foundation Du Bois laid, subsequent editors and contributors covered issues vital to communities of color, such as access to resources during the New Deal era, educational opportunities related to the historic Brown decision, the realization of basic civil rights at midcentury, American aid to Africa and Caribbean nations, and the persistent economic inequalities of today’s global era.

Despite its importance, little has been written about the historical and cultural significance of this seminal magazine. By exploring how Crisis responded to critical issues, the essays in Protest and Propaganda provide the first well-rounded, in-depth look at the magazine's role and influence. The authors show how the essays, columns, and visuals published in Crisis changed conversations, perceptions, and even laws in the United States, thereby calling a fractured nation to more fully live up to its democratic creed. They explain how the magazine survived tremendous odds, document how the voices of justice rose above the clamor of injustice, and demonstrate how relevant such literary, journalistic, and artistic postures remain in a twenty-first-century world still in crisis.
Amy and I are very pleased to have collaborated with some noted scholars, including the University of Houston's Gerald Horne, a former prof of mine, historian of African American culture Shawn Leigh Alexander, and political scientist Bob Williams, who runs the fantastic web site.

Here's the table of contents:

Preface, Gerald Horne

The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races: An Introduction, Shawn Leigh Alexander

Chapter 1: W. E. B. Du Bois and Positive Propaganda: A Philosophical Prelude to His Editorship of The Crisis, Robert W. Williams

Chapter 2: W. E. B. Du Bois as Print Propagandist, Amy Helene Kirschke and Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Chapter 3: Art in Crisis during the Du Bois Years, Amy Helene Kirschke

Chapter 4: “We Return Fighting”: The Great War and African American Women’s Short Fiction in The Crisis, 1917-1920, Barbara McCaskill

Chapter 5: W. E. B. Du Bois and The Crisis of Woman Suffrage, Garth E. Pauley

Chapter 6: The Crisis Children’s Page, The Brownies’ Book, and the Fantastic, Katharine Capshaw Smith

Chapter 7: God in Crisis: Race, Class, and Religion in the Harlem Renaissance, Edward J. Blum

Chapter 8: W. E. B. Du Bois’s Prophetic Propaganda: Religion and The Crisis, 1910-1934, Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Chapter 9: The Crisis Cover Girl: Lena Horne, Walter White, and the NAACP’s Representation of African American Femininity, Megan E. Williams

Chapter 10: The Crisis Responds to Public School Desegregation, Charles H. Ford and Jeffrey L. Littlejohn

Epilogue, Amy Helene Kirschke and Phillip Luke Sinitiere 

Thanks for reading! Place your orders here and here.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Recollecting and Reconstructing the Past: Memoirs

“Writing memoir is a way to figure out who you used to be and how you got to be who you are.” (Abigail Thomas, Thinking About Memoir)

Over the last decade or so, I have taken a particular liking to memoirs. Intrigued by a few historians’ memoirs during the first few years of Ph.D. work—namely those of William McNeill and Philip Curtin—around the same time I was developing research and teaching fields in world history and African history, interest in the genre stuck. At the same time, as I was attempting to fashion myself into a historian of American religion, I came across John Boles’ edited collection Autobiographical Reflections on Southern Religious History as well as Albert Raboteau’s memoir A Sorrowful Joy, a gripping account of his journey into the Russian Orthodox faith. In the ensuing years, I found Randall Stephens’ recent thoughts (and blog post comments) on historians and memoirs illuminating. An abiding interest in historical memory and the act of commemoration has also oriented me in the direction of memoir. After reading Anthony Pinn's memoir this weekend and seeing John Fea's blog post about possibly writing a memoir of his speaking tours (which I really hope he publishes), I decided to put some thoughts in writing.

I’ve not studied memoirs from the perspective of literary criticism or the historical development of documenting one’s life. Simply put, I like a good story. And I suppose all along I secretly hoped reading memoirs would help to make me a better writer.

Since I found that I routinely recommend memoirs to people, a few years back I decided to start compiling a list of all the memoirs I’ve read over the last 10 years. You’ll find that list below.

As it happened, I had the good fortune to meet some of these memoirists—I spent some time with Albert Raboteau while in Princeton for a Jonathan Edwards conference way back in 2003 and I heard Alex Lemon speak a few years ago when I was on faculty at Sam Houston State University. Around the time I read Vinson Synan’s memoir I was able to conduct an interview with him on campus at Regent Divinity School to discuss John Osteen and the history of neopentecostalism in preparation for my book on Lakewood Church. Also, I’ve assigned some of these memoirs in my college classes the last couple of years. As I recall, students responded quite favorably to the books. In a class on American religion students read G. Willow Wilson’s transformation from atheist to Muslim in The Butterfly Mosque and in a world history course Samuel Broadnax’s account of his role as a WW 2 aviator provided insight into the Tuskegee Airmen. Last semester I assigned John Carlos’s memoir in a world history course; it was useful for understanding the politics of race, sports, and the Cold War era.

Here they are the memoirs in no particular order.

Wilbert Rideau, In the Place of Justice

Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

G. Willow Wilson, The Butterfly Mosque

Alex Lemon, Happy: A Memoir

Albert Raboteau, A Sorrowful Joy

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

Mishna Wolff, I’m Down: A Memoir

Timothy Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name

Francis Bok, Escape from Slavery

Mende Nazar, Slave: My True Story

Michael Muhammed Knight, Impossible Man

Michael Muhammad Knight, Why I am a Five Percenter

John Hope Franklin, Mirror to America

Julia Sheeres, Jesus Land: A Memoir

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgove, Free to be Bound

William Pickens, Bursting Bonds

Mark Naison, White Boy: A Memoir

Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Jan Vansina, Living with Africa

What memoirs have you read and enjoyed? What memoirs would you recommend? What memoirs have you assigned for classes or in a teaching setting?