From Karen Fields' "On War: The Watchtower Episode of 1917-1919 in Colonial Northern Rhodesia"
"My daughter recently came home from her eighth-grade social studies class with a question about cause in history. She had just been baptized into that absurdity, which many of us have endured: that the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand caused World War I. That a cause and an effect could be so disparate and disproportionate offended her reason, for how could a shooting in Sarajevo cause a world war?... Before my conversation with my daughter, it was easier for me to say that the revolutionary war that created the independent republic of Zambia began in 1917 and ended in 1919. If the answers I offered her are valid, I must now say that the war at issue in this paper began in 1890, when Northern Rhodesia was conquered for the British Empire; that it continued at least until 1964, when independent Zambia was born; and that it may continue still. I began to see parallels between my own problem and my daughter's. I, too, was grappling with causes and effects whose disproportion or distance seemed to force junky compromises over logic and sometimes over fact. More than that, I was about to formulate the more or less arbitrary, ad hoc historical conclusions about cause and effect at which she quite properly turned up her nose."
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From Richard Graham's "Constructing a Nation in Nineteenth-Century Brazil: Old and New Views on Class, Culture, and the State"
"Leaders in Brazil did not have to fight a long and bloody war before becoming independent, and so they did not have this experience to help them develop a sense of common nationality. As elite citizens in each region of the country sought to establish their autonomy from central rule, however, they confronted the specter of social anarchy. In a slave society the possibility of such disorder threatened everything. Local leaders seized upon the legitimacy the monarchy offered as a life raft, and the central monarchial state they constructed brought them to firm ground. It transformed their power into authority and broadened the sway of the propertied over others. As appointment to public office helped them extend their clientele, they came to see central government as proper and personally useful. The ensuing links across regions built up a sense of solidarity at least with each other. The states they created thus fostered the emergence of a single nation: Brazil. Their feeling of commonality eventually strengthened the state as well, so the trajectory is not linear but circular or spiral-like.
"Late in the century, with the unity of the country assured and slavery abolished, bosses no longer needed a living symbol of the state to claim their legitimacy. Then, almost without firing a shot, the army overthrew the emperor and declared a decentralized federal republic. Despite some strains the country has remained united ever since."
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Responses to D.G. Hart's "The Failure of American Religious History"
Dennis Martin: "In the debates of the Protestant Reformation, about whether Christ himself instituted priestly mediation, papacy, sacramental penance, or the Sacrifice of the Mass, we find powerful claims that 'winners write history' and that history is constructed by particular groups of people. But the 'magisterial' Reformers themselves faced challenges by Anabaptist and other 'free church' groups…who portrayed even the mainline Protestants' view of church history as corrupted by a purported Constantinian union of church and state. Thus an apparently inexorable process of fragmentation within Protestantism, based on rival claims for 'true critical historical knowledge,' unfolded. Long before postmodernism announced that countless bodies politic construct 'reality' for themselves, hundreds and eventually tens of thousands of Christian groups each claimed to be the true church and to possess the true historical narrative of church history…. This, then, is the view of history that operates within hegemonic mainline Protestant church history. To grudgingly admit Protestant Evangelicals to the table or add non-Christian American religious exotica to the cauldron of diversity does not mitigate the problem historians face. Historians must determine how to maintain the bardic narration of history and tradition, which constitutes the very heart of culture, but requires belief-indeed, religious trust-in the overall truthfulness of that narration, even given the risk that unscrupulous leaders might corrupt that narration with idolatry. Without trust in the truth of the culture's tradition, culture cannot survive; yet excessively naïve trust makes the culture vulnerable to manipulation and tyranny."
David M. Whitford: "Since absolute objectivity is not possible, historians are tempted to conclude that any pretense to truth is vain and wrongheaded, which leaves them subject to the mercurial whims of theoretical fashion. Narrative historiography is right when it states that the first task of the historian is to understand. Understand those we study on their own terms, yes, but understanding does not amount to letting them speak through us as if we were channels or courtroom stenographers.
"Like [Martin] Luther, historians must now sin boldly to find a new way to access the past. We must recognize that, while absolute objectivity may be an illusion, capitulation to subjectivism is the antithesis to real history. By sin boldly, I mean that historians must come to grips with context, but never let it dominate. Luther knew sin, and he never underestimated its power, but he recognized its limitations. So, too, must historians learn from poststructuralism that, when we fail to recognize our own prejudices, predilections, and preoccupations, we are likely to write propaganda-or bad history.... Historians...stand before the ugly wide ditch of history, and we are confronted by the specters of power, bias, marginality, and subjectivity. To jump across that ditch is to sin boldly, to trust our biases both to guide us and to get out of the way as we try to write history that would speak to the time it describes and to the time in which we live."
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Norman Ravitch on Can Historians Teach the Bible?
"Many students of religious history, like the Catholic and Protestant church fathers, also refuse to entertain a distinction between study of the Bible and faith in its teachings. Fundamentalist literalists among them cling to the static, literal interpretation of biblical inspiration and the biblical message. They see the Bible as descending from heaven, much as Muslims view the genesis of the Koran.... Liberal skeptics, for their part, dismiss the Bible as primitive superstition hardly worthy of scholarly discussion. Along with [Richard] Simon and [Alfred] Loisy, when I teach the Bible, I walk precariously between those ready to hurl their well-thumbed Bibles at me and those ready to throw their copies of Voltaire or Thomas Paine.... If teachers and historians encourage students to employ science to prove or disprove the truths of the Bible, we shall have destroyed meaning with the eighteenth century's corrosive version of the Scientific Revolution-where, in the words of Alexandre Koyré, there is room for everything but no room for man. On the other hand, if we succumb to biblical literalism, we will have denied our students the critical tools they need to make sense of the Bible's place in history and in faith."
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From Was the Reformation Revolutionary? A Panel from the 2000 National Conference of The Historical Society
Robert M. Kingdon: "In the city-state of Geneva, the community whose history I know best, the Protestant Reformation ranked as a revolution, and it probably had the ingredients of revolution in many other areas as well. In Geneva there can be little doubt that the Protestant Reformation was a full revolution-in government, in society, and in religion. It led to the destruction of one type of government and its replacement with a new and radically different type of government. Before the Reformation, the city of Geneva was the capital of a large bishopric governed by the prince-bishop with the assistance of the canons of his cathedral chapter; of certain agents of the duchy of Savoy, the largest secular power in the area; and, within the city, of a council of local merchants and lay professionals. In the normal course of history, Savoy gradually would have absorbed Geneva. After the Reformation, the city, with a little of its hinterland, had become a secular republic with a municipal council that claimed full sovereign powers for itself. It had not only abandoned ecclesiastical government, but also the monarchic form of government that invested sovereign power in a single individual and that was regarded as natural in most parts of Europe at that time. In Reformed Geneva, sovereign power was no longer held, even figuratively, by any one person, but by a collective."
John Witte Jr.: "Luther's Freedom of a Christian…was no manifesto for political freedom. Spiritual freedom may well coexist with political bondage, Luther insisted. Spiritual equality before God does not require social equality. Luther defended with increasing stridency the traditional social, economic, political, and ecclesiastical hierarchies as a necessary feature of earthly life after he witnessed the bloody Peasants' Revolt in Germany in 1525 and the radical egalitarian and antinomian experiments engineered out of his favorite theological doctrines of the priesthood of all believers and justification by faith alone.
"Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms defended this disparity between the spiritual and temporal dimensions of human freedom, dignity, and status. God has ordained two kingdoms or realms for humanity: the earthly or political kingdom, and the heavenly or spiritual kingdom. The earthly kingdom is the realm of creation, or natural and civic life, in which a person operates primarily by reason, law, and passion. The heavenly kingdom is the realm of redemption, of spiritual and eternal life, in which a person operates primarily by faith, hope, and charity. These two kingdoms embrace parallel forms of righteousness and justice, truth and knowledge, but they remain separate and distinct.... Later Protestants, in pursuit of their political aims, recast Luther's specific picture of Christians into a more general picture of persons, and they converted his guarded theological calculus into a bold political platform."
Steven Ozment: "An exuberant German national student movement, born in October 1815, demanded a unified, democratic German state…. On October 17, 1817, this idealistic movement celebrated its second anniversary at Wartburg Castle, the famous refuge where Luther, as an excommunicated heretic and banned outlaw, had translated the New Testament into German. On that same day at the Wartburg, Germany celebrated two other important anniversaries: the fourth anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig that had freed Germany from French rule, and the third centenary of the Protestant Reformation that had freed Germany from Roman tyranny. Twenty-two years later, in 1837, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, of fairy-tale fame, were among seven professors fired by the University of Göttingen for denouncing the King of Hanover's abolition of the new Hessian constitution, which had guaranteed basic human rights. In his departing address to his colleagues and students, Jakob Grimm alluded to two landmark writings by Luther from the early 1520s, the treatises The Freedom of a Christian (1520) and On Temporal Power (1523). Grimm said, 'The freedom of a Christian man must give us the courage to resist our ruler, if it turns out that he acts contrary to the spirit of God and if he offends human rights.' With this statement, Grimm perfectly encapsulated the revolutionary potential of the Reformation, yet he also captured its ambiguity. Was the Reformation a religious revolution or a sociopolitical one? If, as Grimm suggests, the two are intertwined, then perhaps the answer is, both."
Philip M. Soergel: "The ideas that early modern Protestants espoused concerning human rights and freedoms may have been one factor that 'helped to inaugurate…the age of democratic revolutions,' but it remains unclear that those ideas can be judged peculiarly Protestant. In my judgment, their origins reach deeper into the European past than the late sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. As Brian Tierney has recently reminded us, the sources of representative theories of government and a subjective view of human rights stretch deep into the Middle Ages. Their articulation leads us from the twelfth-century Renaissance, to the works of late-medieval conciliarists, the French politiques, the early-modern Jesuits, and on to early-modern Protestants. Any account of the growth of a 'democratic' mentality must also include the humanism of what J. G. A. Pocock has called 'the Machiavellian Moment.' Only that affiliation-or geneology-will permit us to explain why Europe's revolutionary year of 1789 began in that once most Catholic of countries, France. And it alone permits us to explain why that revolution aimed, not just to protect property and the rights of specific corporate bodies within the state, but to sanction a new universal view of human rights."
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From K.R. Constantine Gutzman's "Jefferson's Draft Declaration of Independence, Richard Bland, and the Revolutionary Legacy"
"As the Revolutionary epoch closed, many prominent Virginians were committed to the kind of localism we usually ascribe to a later period. The peculiar myth of Virginia's formation that formed the foundation for their revolutionary exertions, which was first adumbrated by Richard Bland and most famously captured in Thomas Jefferson's Summary View (and meant by Jefferson, unbeknownst to most of the public, to form a large part of the Declaration of Independence), sat like a silent copperhead on the path to lasting union. Eminent Virginia jurist St. George Tucker, who for decades instructed aspiring lawyers at the College of William and Mary, included the Bland/Jefferson theory of Virginia's origins in his 'republican' version of Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, thereby insuring that it would be inculcated in young Virginia politicians for decades into the nineteenth century. Leading Virginians would continue to believe and insist, as Richard Bland had taught, that theirs was a discrete polity that could trace its history not to a violent break with Great Britain in the years 1775-83, but to a far earlier 'Founding' moment: the moment of Virginia's initial European settlement. In time, this Virginian self-conception would have drastic repercussions, for Virginia and for America-just as it had had for the first British Empire."
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From Darryl G. Hart's "Abraham Lincoln: Man of (Limited) Faith"
"Lincoln's Whig outlook explains much of his opposition to slavery as part of a bad economic system rather than as a moral evil. It also helps to end, as [Allen] Guelzo points out, some of the debates about Lincoln's wishy-washiness on slavery.… Here, Lincoln's own experience at the hands of his father, who would not pay him for his labor, colored his perception of an economy that not only depended upon slavery but also turned laborers like himself into slaves. He admitted, 'I used to be a slave,' 'we were all slaves at one time or another.' Lincoln's introduction to the cash economy and its potential for betterment, then, was a natural prelude to his later identification of African-American slavery with 'the denial of his own liberal aspirations for 'improvement of condition.'' As opposed to the rigid and hierarchical system of yeoman agrarianism, the market system represented, according to Lincoln, 'the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all, gives hope to all, and energy, and progress....'
"Still, there is the matter of religion. Lincoln was not simply an entrepreneur; he also showed moments of spiritual insight that became evident, especially in his opposition to slavery…. According to Guelzo, the 'real heart' of Lincoln's personal religious anguish was 'the deep sense of helplessness before a distant and implacable Judge who revealed himself only through crisis and death, whom Lincoln would have wanted to love only if the Judge had given him the grace to do the loving.' This sense of a God whose mysterious and often inscrutable ways often resulted in suffering prevented Lincoln from indulging in the sort of self-righteousness that so often has afflicted American politics. It also made him friendlier to the churches than most skeptics. As such, Lincoln believed faith needed to play an active role in public life…. The image that emerges from [Guelzo's] biography of Lincoln's faith is that of a man who 'chose infidelity over piety' because 'piety made the choice so hard.'"
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From Keith Windschuttle's "Cultural History, Western Imperialism, and the Case of Edward Said"
"The prodigious reference, Companion to Historiography, devotes an entire chapter to the work of the literary critic Edward Said-the same amount of space it gives to all of ancient Greek history. No other author, historian or otherwise, receives such an extensive treatment. This is a measure not only of Said's influence on the contemporary historiography of the relations between Western and Eastern cultures, but also of the degree to which the discipline of history has been penetrated in recent decades by the methods and interests of literary critics. In fact, cultural history to a large extent has been redefined by literary critics, who have become its leading lights, with the consequence that the techniques of literary criticism have become part of the methodology of history, and the assessments of literary critics frequently stand as historical evidence per se. This tendency owes much to the example set by Said in his celebrated 1978 book Orientalism, in which he argued that the academic discipline of Oriental Studies acted as the handmaiden of Western imperialism in its conquest of the East in the modern era. Since then, Said has influenced subsequent generations of scholars, especially in the field of cultural history known as 'postcolonialism.' It is now almost impossible to study the relations between Western and other cultures in the imperial era without paying at least some attention to Said and postcolonialism.
"This type of cultural history, however, does not deserve the status it has gained. As a highly politicized historiography, it distorts more than it reveals about its subject matter…. As the most celebrated author who attempts to apply literary critical techniques to the study of history, Said provides a good opportunity to explain my critique, which I shall illustrate through his most ambitious work, Culture and Imperialism, published in 1993."
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by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
SOME HISTORICAL QUESTIONS have proved especially tenacious, challenging successive generations and eliciting competing responses in accordance with politics and ideology as well as generation. Aristotle, in The Poetics, emphasized the indispensability of pity and terror to the effect of tragedy, thereby suggesting that all tragedies share some common features. We might well ask if the same holds true for history. Those who have reflected most deeply, notwithstanding diversity of styles and topics, have tended to search for explanations for the ubiquitous "why." Why did events occur in the manner or order in which they did? Does human intervention affect history’s flow, or does it proceed according to religious, social, political, or economic laws? Disagreement about the nature of historical laws or patterns has often occasioned fierce debate, but the great historians have tended to agree about the main questions among which the "why" of causality has always ranked high. The tidal wave of changes that has swamped the twentieth century has tempted many to doubt that the history of previous epochs has much bearing upon the challenges of our own, which forces us to question the continued bearing of the questions that informed earlier historical studies.
It is always suspect for one generation to claim to have experienced decisively greater changes than its predecessors, but recent generations have, at the least, witnessed a more rapid rate of change than their predecessors. Many almost instinctively ascribe a primary role to technology, which they credit with driving other changes. Some emphasize social and cultural change on the assumption that technology articulates rather than drives changes in other realms. Here is not the place to engage that debate, although future issues of The Journal may, but, independent of our various positions on driving causes, we all live with the manifestations of change in the writing and teaching of history. Perhaps most dramatically, we have witnessed the ascent of what is known as "the literary turn" and, with it, a steady displacement of established forms of historical inquiry by "cultural studies."
This double issue of The Journal is framed by opens and closes with two articles that engage salient features of that change, albeit in different ways and with different implicit purposes. In the opening essay, "On War: The Watchtower Episode of 1917-1919 in Colonial Northern Rhodesia," Karen Fields explores the perennially troubling question of causation. As a rule, discussions of causation have not figured prominently in recent historical studies, many of which appear to take the most troubling problems of historical causation as given. "Racism" and "sexism," among other phenomena or attitudes may be credited with responsibility for the suffering, the oppression, or simply the experience of the groups they affect, but those who are the most likely to credit their power are also the least likely to explain how that power works or is constituted. What "causes" racism or sexism, and, in what ways and by what mechanisms, do racism or sexism "cause" the behavior and attitudes of people of color and women?
Doubtless too many of us take causation for granted, although such indifference is something new. Within living memory scholars have engaged in furious debates about the "causes" of the French Revolution, and much of their passion has derived from the conviction that to prevail in that debate would open the road to victory in the debates about the nature or character of the Revolution and its attendant ideological stakes. Marxists have insisted upon the bourgeois character of the Revolution while their opponents have resolutely denied it. Similarly fierce debates have raged about the "causes" of the American Civil War, the wounds of which fester almost a century and a half later.
Today, those debates and others like them are largely vanishing from the scene, although the question of causation persists among those, including school children and their teachers, who expect history to offer an intelligible narrative. Thus, Karen Fields’ daughter returned from school puzzled that a single shot at Sarajevo could have "caused" World War I. Her question has prompted Fields to reconsider the events of 1917-1919 in Colonial Northern Rhodesia and to reflect upon the role of the Watchtower preachers and their widespread baptism of Africans in transforming the "Africans’ superior numbers from an inert mass of subject-hood into an active mass of people capable of overthrowing and replacing their rulers."
Fields concludes with a reflection, which deserves further attention, upon the relation between causality and narrative. Her training, like that of so many of us, predisposed her to favor systemic explanations, but wrestling with her daughter’s question in the context of the Rhodesian experience brings her to recognize the role of causality in narrative: The construction of a coherent narrative obliges the historian to decide upon the appropriate sequence of events, which itself requires a decision about causality. Fields does not pretend to solve the question, which is endlessly fascinating and more than occasionally frustrating but she offers a valuable perspective on the ubiquitous "why" that implicitly drives the most compelling historical work.
Keith Windschuttle’s essay on Edward Said complements Fields’ questions about theory and causality, taking arms against facile assumptions about colonialism, especially when inadequately grounded in historical knowledge. Said reads English literature from Jane Austen to Rudyard Kipling through a postcolonial lens, insisting upon the centrality of imperialism to Western culture, including the most prestigious literature. In effect, Said argues that "great" European literature embodied a mission to obscure European culture’s dependence upon the exploitation of subject populations. Retracing Said’s excursions through specific texts, including Austen’s Mansfield Park, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and Kipling’s Kim, Windschuttle suggests not to put too fine a point upon itthat Said does not fully grasp the history he exploits to make his arguments. Windschuttle suggests that, in some cases, the problem lies in Said’s ignorance of basic factsfor example the content of the laws he evokesin others, it lies in his misinterpretation of the text, or of the writer’s life and commitments (notably Kipling,) or of the relevant history.
From the beginning, a number of our membersand readers of The Journalhave been eager to have us declare war upon the literary turn in particular and postmodernism, including post-colonialism, in general. One may readily sympathize with the temptation, not least because such ferocious blows against what Marc Bloch called "the historian’s craft" have been inflicted in their name. The issues nonetheless remain more complex than many of the uncompromising anti-postmodernists acknowledge, and serious engagement with them demands something more than slash-and-burn guerilla tactics.
Windschuttle’s impatience with Said should satisfy even fierce anti-postmodernists, but the finesse with which he examines Said’s methods and conclusions exposes the value of literary sources when appropriately treated. Many of those who deplore the abuse perpetrated upon historical scholarship by postmodernist excesses do not really wish to stick their own heads in the sand, ignoring all of the bona fide intellectual developments that have attended the recent wave of historical change. A century after Einstein’s discovery of the theory of relativity, historians have little to gain by denying its possible bearing upon their own work. In this respect, Windschuttle’s discussion of Said rejoins Fields’ reflections upon causality by raising questions that all of us may profitably consider in the pursuit of our own reading, writing, and teaching.
Arguably, the interlocking issues of narrative, causality, and responsible use of sources prove especially inflammatory in relation to the place of religion in or its unyielding exclusion from the curriculum arises. Many contemporary historians applaud the transformation of religion into "religious studies," which rest upon the premise that the study of religion must bear no relation to faith. Many historians of faith or simply historians who respect the centrality of religious faith to human experience despair at the expulsion of religion from the classroom and from mainstream historical studies in general. In the first issue of The Journal, Darryl Hart thoughtfully explored the place of religion in mainstream historical narrative, and his discussion has, as we hoped it would, opened a discussion of what the editors view as a difficult and compelling historical problems.
Here, Denis Martin and David Whitford respond to Hart’s argument about American history, Martin from the perspective of Medieval Europe and Catholicism, Whitford from the perspective of Reformation Europe and Lutheranism. Both take respectful issue with Hart, primarily because they view religion as so central and integral to their own fields as to be indissociable from them. Martin argues that Protestants laid the foundations for the postmodern tendency to reduce religion to another cultural artifact by their own acceptance of a plurality of sects and, in the United States, by their hostile and dismissive treatment of Catholicism. In other words American Protestants doomed serious attention to religion in American history by their own combination of broad tolerance for a proliferations of beliefs with a smug WASP conviction of their own superiority. Thus, in Martin’s assessment, they erred by excessive skepticism on the one hand and excessive complacency on the other. For, he writes, "Without trust in the truth of the culture’s tradition, culture cannot survive; yet excessively naive trust makes the culture vulnerable to manipulation and tyranny."
Whitford similarly locates the main problem in "the academy’s prevailing bias against religion," which it views less as a vital faith rather than as at best a sociological or anthropological curiosity, and at worst indisputable evidence of bigotry. "For many in the academy, religious conviction is ontologically different from commitment to Marxism, feminism, or any other world-view. For most historians steeped in the secular world of the American academy, Christian commitment (or any other religious commitment, for that matter) places one beyond the pale of acceptable scholarly pursuits and calls into question one’s objectivity." In this respect, Whitford and Martin fundamentally concur that the most serious obstacle to the incorporation of religion into a mainstream historical narrative lies in religion’s claims to embody truth a claim that secular scholars repudiate as a wanton disregard for the claims of objectivity. Here I can only leave to ensuing discussions the irony that the postmodernists and social constructionists, who typically rank as the most rabid opponents of religious materials or perspectives, simultaneously rank as the most rabid opponents of intellectual claims to objectivity or truth.
Martin and Whitford do not so much disagree with Hart as they attempt to broaden the focus of his argument and to underscore the importance in our current situation of outright hostility to religious faith or, perhaps more accurately, to Christianity. In addition, both remind us that the problems inevitably change when one attempts to write the history of periods in which, as Lucien Febvre argued, it was not belief but unbelief that was unthinkable.1 Norman Ravitch, who is not responding directly to Hart, explicitly extends the discussion to the relation between scholarship and pedagogy by considering the cases of two French Catholic theologians who challenged the prevailing orthodoxies of their day, not by rejecting belief for unbelief but by attempting to expand the range and subtlety of theology by introducing elements of the "modern" philosophical developments of their day. The first, Richard Simon, who wrote during the second half of the seventeenth century, provoked the implacable wrath of the formidable Bishop Bossuet by applying the questions and methods of modern scholarship to biblical criticism. Not surprisingly, his claim that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch did not endear him to the gatekeepers of orthodoxy. The second, Alfred Loisy, who began to publish during the 1890s, fared even worse. His attempts to apply the methods of modern hermeneutics to biblical scholarship tarred him with the brush of "modernism" and resulted in his excommunication in 1908.
Ravitch focuses upon Simon and Loisy’s scholarship with the express purpose of encouraging us to reflect upon our own possibilities today. Both scholars considered themselves faithful Catholics, and both Simon and Loisy believed that they could serve their faith and their Church by their consideration of the Bible through the lens of modern scholarship. They sorely misjudged the willingness of orthodox churchmen to approve their efforts. As Ravitch argues, their experience bequeaths us a cautionary and depressing tale about the perils of trying to navigate the between orthodoxy and science. It is indeed a narrow and rocky road that leads to a biblical scholarship which follows path breaking intellectual currents while remaining faithful. Yet it is one we must attempt to follow if we are responsibly to make religious faith a subject of serious intellectual inquiry and an important strand in historical understanding. Too often, discussions of the relation between religion and teaching collapse into radical polarization between fundamentalists and radical skeptics. Most people throughout history have been believers, and historians’ inability to deal respectfully with their faith, even when they do not share it, impedes understanding of the past.
Countless scholars have tried to transform Abraham Lincoln into a secret or closet believer, notwithstanding his repeated pronouncements that he was not one. Darryl Hart engages the problem in a review essay of Allen Guelzo’s recent study of Lincoln and Paul Zall’s collection of Lincoln’s reflections upon himself. As Hart, following Guelzo argues, the proclivity of countless scholars to depict Lincoln as a Christian derives in large part from Lincoln’s devotion to biblical language. His writings and speeches abound with quotations from scripture, which have led believers and non-believers alike to assume that he must have been a man of faith. On the part of the believers, the tactic makes excellent sense: How could they resist the temptation to claim the man whom many consider the country’s greatest president as one of their own? The response of non-believers, however, raises other questions. In their case, the best explanation may be a studied historical blindness: They cannot imagine or refuse to admit that biblical language was so deeply engrained in the minds of most Americans, many of whom regarded Christianity as the bedrock of their culture and sense of self, that it offered an unparalleled rhetorical and moral advantage to the speaker who evoked it. Lincoln did not speak and write in biblical tones because he was a believer, but because he knew that the vast majority of his countrymen and countrywomen were.
That Lincoln especially evoked scripture in defense of freedom challenges many favorite current biases. Does not freedom precisely require the silencing of religious discourse rather than its evocation? Therein, after all, lie the problems that beset any attempt to teach religion as integral to the experience of the nation and its people, not to mention Western Civilization. Yet it can be argued, as Robert Kingdon and John Witte do, that religion must be credited with the very emergence of our conception of freedom, specifically our conception of political freedom. In reflecting upon whether the Reformation ranks as a revolution, both albeit in different ways conclude that it does precisely because of the ways in which it promoted the ideal of political freedom.
Kingdon and Witte’s papers anchored the session on the Reformation as a Revolution at the Historical Society’s national conference in 2000, and they appear here not only because of their great intrinsic interest or because of their relation to the questions raised by Darryl Hart, but because of our commitment to publishing sessions from national and regional conferences that seem likely to engage our readers, especially those who did not attend the session. That commitment reflects our general policy of seeking to encourage a sense of continuing conversation about significant historical developments and problems. In this spirit, we are happy to have persuaded Steven Ozement and Philip Sorgel to permit us to include their comments, which elucidate the significance of the Kingdon and Witte essays, even as they open additional questions.
In general, both Ozement and Sorgel concur with the view of the Reformation as a seedbed of ideas of political freedom, although both express concern that the connection not be too rigidly drawn. Ozement suggests that the seeds sewn by the Reformation bore fruit much later, and he quotes Jakob Grimm’s remark of 1837, "The freedom of a Christian man must give us the courage to resist our ruler, if it turns out that he acts contrary to the spirit of God and if he offends human rights." Ozement takes Grimm’s words as evidence of "the revolutionary potential of the Reformation," but doubts that we can determine whether Grimm saw the potential as social and political or as strictly religious. More likely, Grimm himself understood it as both. Sorgel also emphasizes the contribution that early modern Protestants’ ideas about human rights and freedoms may have made to "the age of democratic revolutions," but he cautions against viewing those ideas as peculiarly Protestant. And he approvingly evokes Brian Tierney’s claim that "the sources of representative theories of government and a subjective view of human rights stretch deep into the Middle Ages."2
Significantly, all of these authors focus upon the development of political freedom and individual rights. They thereby remind us that the emergence of both concepts owes much to developments within religion. In so doing, they implicitly expose the hollowness of contemporary claims that religion can only corrupt the intellectual freedom that should prevail in academic life, especially the classroom. In this respect their various arguments rejoin Martin and Whitford’s discussion of Hart’s essay and Ravitch’s reflections upon teaching the Bible. At the heart of this discussion lurks the very conception of freedom itself, especially as it has developed in the United States and come to prevail throughout much of the developed world.
Constantine Gutzman picks up this discussion as it assumes its prototypically secular form in the political thought of Thomas Jefferson. Emphasizing the importance of Jefferson’s abiding debt to the thought of his fellow Virginian, Richard Bland, Gutzman argues that Jefferson located the origins of Virginia’s freedom not at the moment of the Declaration of Independence and the break from Great Britain, but at the moment of Virginia’s founding by Sir Walter Raleigh. As Gutzman insists, this conception would have portentous implications for Virginians’ understanding of the nature of their state as a political entity. Gutzman’s argument does not negate the Declaration’s well known commitment to the religious grounding of freedom, notably as expressed in its evocation of men’s being "created equal" and their being endowed "by their Creator" with inalienable rights. It does, however, shift the focus to secular political discourse and, especially, to various justifications for the formation of national states.
Richard Graham pursues the problem of state formation in his discussion of the construction of a nation in nineteenth-century Brazil. Graham’s arresting argument challenges proverbial wisdom about the primacy of nationalist sentiment, which promotes the formation of states. Rather, he proposes, it is the formation of states that generates the emergence of nationalist sentiment. Those familiar with the prevailing discussions of nationalism and the consolidation of modern states will likely find this argument startlingly counter-intuitive. The depth, significance, and intractability of nationalist sentiment have become a virtual commonplace of contemporary historical and political studies, and our world demonstrably abounds with seemingly endless examples of nationalist passions most of them viewed as retrogressive and destructive. Graham departs from this view, advancing a strong argument that, in the case of Brazil and doubtless other cases as well, the emergence of nationalism waited upon the consolidation of the state rather than caused it.
In this respect, Graham returns the discussion to the question of causality, even as he implicitly continues the discussion of nationalism inaugurated in our first issue by the late Robert Wiebe. Graham is not writing in response to Wiebe, but rather out of the interests generated by a distinguished career of research in and reflection upon Brazilian and Latin American history. Yet the very convergence of the two articles should lead others to pursue the questions they raise. In the introduction to the first issue, I promised that The Journal would invite and encourage responses to the specific articles and broader discussion of the problems they engage. The point was not to launch a more or less contentious section of "letters to the editor," nor even to promise that each article would immediately receive the same amount of attention as the others. Constraints of space alone would have foreclosed such a program.
The point was to invite our readers to participate in a conversation about history. In varied ways, the contributors have responded to that invitation, and their thoughtful example should encourage others to do so as well.
1. Lucien Febvre, Le problème de l’incroyance au seisième siècle (Paris: Gallimard, 195).
2. Brian Tierney, The idea of natural rights: studies on natural rights, natural law, and church law, 1150-1625 (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1997), as quoted by Soergel.
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