Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reviving the Great Awakening, Part 3

This is the final post of Baldblogger's interview with Tommy Kidd. We finish covering the historiographical significance of his book, and turn the converstation toward teaching and future projects.

In addition to expanding the scholarly definition of evangelicalism to include the work of the Holy Spirit and thus consider academically the manifestations of the unseen, Kidd's focus on the radical evangelicals and their view(s) of the social order adds much to the understanding of evangelicalism's history.

Thanks to Tommy Kidd for sharing his thoughts with us.

Baldblogger (BB): Your periodization of the Awakening and categorization of its historical situatedness adds much to the historiography. One of the most important contributions of this line of thinking—in essence the second main argument of The Great Awakening—is your focus on the radical evangelicals, and the egalitarian ends to which they took their faith. (This formulation in essence trumps the Old Light/New Light dichotomy of a previous generation of scholarship.) Your line of argument suggests that evangelicalism has had a radical strain from the beginning (and therefore one might connect it to the work on radical reformers of the early 19th century, and perhaps 20th and 21st century movements). Can you comment on this?

Tommy Kidd (TK): Although I acknowledge an important role for the “Old Lights” like Charles Chauncy, I think that their opposition to the revivals was futile. The more important question was what evangelicalism was going to do, or become. Moderate supporters of the revivals welcomed mass conversions but rejected social changes emerging from the awakenings. Radicals saw the Great Awakening as a great new season of spiritual power for the common people, sometimes including women, children, the poor, African Americans, and Native Americans. That tension, it seems to me, has continued at the heart of global evangelicalism and pentecostalism through the present day.

BB: You published The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents simultaneously with The Great Awakening. It is a bit unusual to publish a documents book in tandem with a monograph, and as such this suggests questions about pedagogy. How do you teach the Great Awakening (or American religious history more generally), and what strategies/best practices might you offer to fellow scholars and educators on this point?

People interested in how to teach the Great Awakening may want to read, or even assign, The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents. I taught the book myself this semester [Spring 2008] in my introduction to U.S. history course, and it went very well. I do explain to students that the “Old Light” versus “New Light” dichotomy has limited utility. I also draw out the radical manifestations of the revivals--which are extremely interesting to students--and show how moderate evangelicals opposed them. [BB: See Kidd's syllabus he composed for a course in American Religious History while a Young Scholar in American Religion, Class of 2004-05.]

BB: What projects are you currently working on, and how do you envision their contributions to the field of American religious history?

TK: Thanks to a year-long fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a semester leave from Baylor, I have been able to make good progress on several other projects. One is the book A Christian Sparta, which I discussed earlier.

Another book that will be out later this year with Princeton University Press is American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Global Terrorism. That book will analyze the way in which American Christians have engaged with Islam through eschatological speculation, missions, and conversion narratives since the early colonial era. Beyond the obvious contemporary interest in this topic, I hope that this book will move beyond a literature on Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations that tends to focus only on very recent history, and show the deep roots of American Christian thought about Islam.

Finally, I am continuing my work on politics and religion in the colonial and Revolutionary periods with a biography of Patrick Henry, which I am also writing for Basic Books. This biography will examine the great political controversies of Henry’s life, with particular attention given to his beliefs about religion and virtue in American civic society.