Cultures of American Religious Liberalism Symposium

Event time: 
Friday, September 25, 2009 - 4:30am
Event description: 


Moving beyond familiar tropes of the social gospel and the modernist impulse, this conference explores the history and theory of American Religious Liberalism in its various social, material, political, and disciplinary contexts. In what ways, and to what effects, have the categories of “religion” and “liberalism” been conceived in the United States and over time? Through what material and artistic media were concepts and cultures of American religious liberalism developed? And why have such cultures received little recent analytical scholarly attention relative to other, often co- and counter-articulated, cultures of evangelicalism and conservatism?  

Participating scholars will present papers on different aspects of religious liberalism’s history as a construct and a constructive force in the United States. Respondents will provide international and comparative considerations and evaluations. The conference concludes with capstone reflections.

This conference is organized with support from the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Memorial Fund and is co-sponsored by the Institute of Sacred Music, the Department of Religious Studiesthe Department of American Studies, and the Program in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies.

The conference is free and open to the public. No registration is required. Inquiries may be directed to David Walker, graduate associate to the project, at

Conference Schedule

Friday September 25: 
Location: Sterling Memorial Library Lecture Hall, 128 Wall Street. [map]

8:30 – 9:00: Registration

9:00: Welcome and Opening Remarks
Leigh Schmidt, Harvard University

9:30 – 12:00: Engendering Liberalism: Materials, Politics, and Literatures

Sally Promey, Yale University, “Visible Liberalism” 
Kathi Kern, University of Kentucky, “Religious Cosmopolitanism in the US Women’s Rights Movement” 
Carrie Bramen, SUNY Buffalo, “The Banality of Niceness: Harriet Beecher Stowe, the Jesus Novel, and Sacred Trivialities”

Respondent: Hélène Quanquin, University of the New Sorbonne, France

1:30 – 4:00: Introducing Liberalism: Theory, Discipline, and Ambivalence

Kathryn Lofton, Yale University, “Disciplining Difficulty: Morris Jastrow (1861-1921) and the Study of Religion in America”
Tracy Fessenden, Arizona State University, “Liberalism and Ambivalence”
Katherine Healan Gaston, Harvard University, “Democracy’s Cultures: Liberal Catholics and Protestants on Religion and Secularism”

Respondent: Arie Molendijk, University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Saturday September 26
Location: Sterling Memorial Library Lecture Hall, 128 Wall Street. [map]

10:00 – 12:30: Popularizing Liberalism: Poetry, Proof, and Pilgrimage

Michael Robertson, The College of New Jersey, “Reading Poetry Religiously: The Walt Whitman Fellowship and Seeker Spirituality”
Jeffrey J. Kripal, Rice University, “The Dominant, the Damned, and the Discs: On the Metaphysical Liberalism of Charles Fort and Its Afterlives”
Christopher White, Vassar College, “Discovering Imageless Truths:  The Baha’i Pilgrimage of Juliet Thompson, Artist”

Respondent: Randi Warne, Mount Saint Vincent University, Canada

2:00 – 4:30: Encountering Liberalism: Ecumenism and Comparison

Josef Sorett, Columbia University, “We Build our Temples for Tomorrow”: Racial Ecumenism and Religious Liberalism in the New Negro Movement of the  1920s and 1930s”
Yaakov Ariel, University of North Carolina, “Liberalism in Perspective: Reform Judaism in Comparison to its Christian Counterparts”
Matt Hedstrom, University of Virginia, “Reading across the Divide of Faith: Liberal Protestant Book Culture and Interfaith Encounters in Print, 1921-1948”

Respondent: Gordon Lynch, Birkbeck, University of London, England

5:00 – 6:00: Capstone Response
David Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley