Saturday, 18 April 2009
Christianity and History Forum, Leamington Spa (12-17 April 2009)
I've been away most of the second half of the week at the bi-annual conference of the Chrstianity and History Forum at Offa House near Leamington Spa. I've been a member of the society for about a decade now, and this was my third conference. The forum brings together Christian historians, so the feel of the conference tends to be fairly unique; apart from each day beginning and ending with reading the Bible and prayer, it gives plenty of opportunity for reflection on how we relate our faith to our historical work, and how we can accomodate belief in a providental God active in the historical process with the often competing demands of academic history. As ever it was great to meet up with old friends and meet plenty of new ones also. Thankfully, this year I didn't have to present a paper, but took along two of my graduate students, Chris Adams and Chris Smith who both presented their first conference papers. Both did really well and got to meet plenty of new people and get lots of feedback on their work which they greatly appreciated! This year's conference was the largest for some years, and was particularly blessed with a larger number of papers from current doctoral students. As these were in parallel sessions, I didn't get to hear them all but really enjoyed the session on various aspects of early modern Protestantism. There were three plenary sessions, two of which had a literary slant; Elizabeth Clarke, from Warwick, spoke on the early modern uses of the Song of Songs which was excellent, and remarkable for its demonstration of the extent to which the Puritans often went in their interpretation of the book to avoid talking about sex! David Bebbington gave a paper on another of his case studies from his forthcoming book on religious revivals. He focussed on a series of revivals in a couple of remote fishing communities in Nova Scotia, Canada, during 1880. He analysed them in forensic detail as usual, arguing that we should really be studying religious revivals from the ground up to properly understand their internal dynamics. For me though the events described by David in this case study seemed to more closely approximate to an evangelisitc campaign than a more widespread religious revival, but I guess this has much to do with how one uses the term revival. I wished that I'd asked a question following the paper about how David selects his case studies and about the nuts and bolts of his methodology. There's always next time . . .! A new feature this year were two roundtable discussions on a couple of important newly published books. The second of these was on Mark Noll's, God and Race in American Politics (2008), particularly opportune, of course, with the beginning of the Obama presidency just a few months ago. Most useful, for me at least, was the first discussion on Charles Taylor's mamoth 800 page, A Secular Age (2007). I was glad to find that I wasn't the only one who struggled to read it all, but the discussion at least inspired me to pick it up again and carry on where I left off a few months ago - somewhere around page 200 I think it was!! Well, its off to Stirling on Monday for a two day workshop on expressions of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in Britain between the 1950s and the present day. I'll blog about it when I get back later in the week.