A.T. Coates

PhD Candidate in American Religion, Duke University.

Author: misteracoates (page 1 of 4)

Broadcasting Fundamentalism: A Telephone Revival

A Telephone Revival, 1912

This excerpt from the industry journal Telephony (Vol. 62, No. 21, p.644) recounts the story of a revival in Anson, Texas. The revival was broadcast by telephone. Yep, BROADCAST by telephone. In its early days, bold experimenters tried to use telephones as a broadcast medium. It never really caught on like the radio ultimately did, but this article tells a great story. Inclement weather produced dismal attendance for fundamentalist minister D.L. Coale’s revival meeting in West Texas. Few people from the town, and even fewer from the surrounding country, were able to make it to the event. So Coale got creative. He attached a megaphone horn to the receiver of a telephone to capture all the sounds, songs, and words of his sermons. He encouraged people to stay home and listen at their telephone. About 500 subscribers to the local telephone service listened to the revival each day at home. According to the article, “While this novel arrangement caused a lessening of the attendance at the revival it is said to have been productive of good results.” The author further speculates that this mode of address might soon become common practice in small towns across the country.

Marx on the Cultural Formation of the Senses

Selection from Karl Marx, “Private Property and Communism” (1844). Text copied from Marxists.org.

In this section, Marx describes both the objective and subjective aspects of sensation. In particular, he points to the significant role played by society in shaping sensory experience. Sensing is a learned  behavior, just like capitalism is a learned mode of exchange. I have bolded text for emphasis.

“It is obvious that the human eye enjoys things in a way different from the crude, non-human eye; the human ear different from the crude ear, etc.

We have seen that man does not lose himself in his object only when the object becomes for him a human object or objective man. This is possible only when the object becomes for him a social object, he himself for himself a social being, just as society becomes a being for him in this object.

On the one hand, therefore, it is only when the objective world becomes everywhere for man in society the world of man’s essential powers – human reality, and for that reason the reality of his own essential powers – that all objects become for him the objectification of himself, become objects which confirm and realize his individuality, become his objects: that is, man himself becomes the object. The manner in which they become his depends on the nature of the objects and on the nature of the essential power corresponding to it; for it is precisely the determinate nature of this relationship which shapes the particular, real mode of affirmation. To the eye an object comes to be other than it is to the ear, and the object of the eye is another object than the object of the ear. The specific character of each essential power is precisely its specific essence, and therefore also the specific mode of its objectification, of its objectively actual, living being. Thus man is affirmed in the objective world not only in the act of thinking, but with all his senses.

On the other hand, let us look at this in its subjective aspect. Just as only music awakens in man the sense of music, and just as the most beautiful music has no sense for the unmusical ear – is [no] object for it, because my object can only be the confirmation of one of my essential powers – it can therefore only exist for me insofar as my essential power exists for itself as a subjective capacity; because the meaning of an object for me goes only so far as my sense goes (has only a meaning for a sense corresponding to that object) – for this reason the senses of the social man differ from those of the non-social man. Only through the objectively unfolded richness of man’s essential being is the richness of subjective human sensibility (a musical ear, an eye for beauty of form – in short, senses capable of human gratification, senses affirming themselves as essential powers of man) either cultivated or brought into being. For not only the five senses but also the so-called mental senses, the practical senses (will, love, etc.), in a word, human sense, the human nature of the senses, comes to be by virtue of its object, by virtue of humanised nature. The forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present. The sense caught up in crude practical need has only a restricted sense. For the starving man, it is not the human form of food that exists, but only its abstract existence as food. It could just as well be there in its crudest form, and it would be impossible to say wherein this feeding activity differs from that of animals. The care-burdened, poverty-stricken man has no sense for the finest play; the dealer in minerals sees only the commercial value but not the beauty and the specific character of the mineral: he has no mineralogical sense. Thus, the objectification of the human essence, both in its theoretical and practical aspects, is required to make man’s sense human, as well as to create the human sense corresponding to the entire wealth of human and natural substance.

Just as through the movement of private property, of its wealth as well as its poverty – of its material and spiritual wealth and poverty – the budding society finds at hand all the material for this development, so established society produces the rich man profoundly endowed with all the senses – as its enduring reality.”

 

For another version of the text, see: http://faculty.washington.edu/cbehler/teaching/coursenotes/Texts/Marx,EconPhilMan.html

Phonograph Pastors, 1919

Thoughts on the phonograph and techno-preachers from Literary Digest, 1919. After comparing a Presbyterian conference to H.G. Wells’s “The Sleeper Awakes,” the author suggests that phonographic technology has rendered (bad) local preachers obsolete. The corollary is that phonographs can now do the basic religious work of preachers.

“The phonograph has been so wonderfully improved in recent years that it is capable of genuine oratory, and can convey its message to an audience of several hundred people–far more than ever gather in the smaller churches. But the real advantage should be in the caliber of the sermon. Who is to say that a congregation will not prefer to hear the ‘canned’ voice of a $20,000 a year minister, representing the highest intellect and the finest expression of religious thought to be found in the Church, rather than the ‘firstlies’ and ‘tenthlies’ of a man who struggles under the martyrdom of a $600 salary and preaching ability to match?” – Literary Digest (62.13) 27 Sept 1919, p 28.

For your listening pleasure, three fundamentalist classics featuring female vocalist Virginia Healey Asher. Stay tuned for more thoughts on the role of gender in fundamentalist recordings.

AHA 2015 – Poster

Here’s the poster presentation created by Brendan Pietsch and A.T. Coates for the 2015 AHA Annual Meeting, NYC. Thanks for visiting!

PDF Download — Coates and Pietsch – Dispensational Charts

Vintage Advertising – Christmas Candy, 1910

With the holiday season in full stride, I present this lovely Christmas ad from 1910. The font is pretty illegible, but it’s an ad for Huyler’s candies, a company that operated a chain of candy and ice cream shops out of NYC at the turn of the century. I like this ad for a few reasons. First, it dispels the myth that Santa was created by Coca-Cola in the 1930s. Not true. Here is the Santa we all know and love, alive and well in 1910. Rudolph is missing from his herd and won’t show up for another 30 years, but the basics are all here. Certainly, Coke did its part in shaping the image of Santa we have today—red, fat, surrounded by toys, and cheerily drinking coke. But images of Santa long predate Coke’s iconic ad.
Second, this ad is great because it is so fiercely commercialist. Despite what Bill O’Reilly and Pat Robertson tell us, not much has changed about people’s attitudes toward Christmas in the last 100 years. Just like now, Christmas in 1910 was as much (or more) about lovers, family, gifts, and spending as it was about the birth of Jesus. Certainly, some savvy retailers played on the day’s religious significance to move more inventory—most famously, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia with his flagship store’s Christmas hymn-sings, pageants, and organ recitals. For most people, including Wanamaker, the religious significance of the day was always wrapped up with other concerns. Then as now, there was no separation between Christmas’s capacious Protestantism and its end-of-year splurging. In the case of this Huyler’s ad, Christmas is all about sex and candy. It assumes that its audience, like Santa, has gifts to give. People simply need to give a box of Huyler’s on top of everything else they give in order to make Christmas bright. The plump young lover (Mrs. Claus?) falls into Père Noël’s arms, coyly saying, “Oh! You dear!” Thanks to Huyler’s candy, it seems Santa will have a very merry Christmas after all.

Throwback Thursday – Vintage Advertising – Dr. Price’s Cream Baking Powder, 1898

This is without a doubt the most bombastic advertisement I’ve ever seen for an unromantic product. I, for one, would take great comfort in knowing that my cookies contained World’s Fair award-winning cream of tartar. I’m also curious, since I’m in the business, why it has to be DR. Price’s cream of tartar… and why someone with a PhD would misspell the phrase “whole grane.” All such aside, it’s interesting to note that this product pitches itself as a heritage brand–“40 years the standard.” This is pretty remarkable, given that 40 years before 1898, nothing really like the modern brand existed. If you’re pitching cream of tartar, you’ve got to get creative.

Dr Price's Cream of Tartar, 1898

A Fundamentalist Temperance Song

Homer Rodeheaver served as song leader for the famous fundamentalist revivalist Billy Sunday. “Rody,” as friends called him, was one of the first people ever to record gospel music. Believe it or not, this was once controversial behavior for a Christian musician. The Library of Congress lists his 1916 Victor recording “Molly and the Baby, Don’t You Know?” in a catalogue of temperance songs. Their description states it “is a song of a father promising not to drink for the sake of his wife and child.” Certainly, temperance crusaders like Sunday and Rodeheaver saw liquor as a threat to family stability–hence the overt message of the song. But to students of American religious history, the song’s religious undertones are unmistakable. “Molly and the baby” is a play on Mary and Jesus. Giving up liquor wasn’t just about being a responsible husband and father, but also about being a good Christian. The success of prohibition laws proved the broad appeal of fundamentalism’s unique style of religion in the 1910s and 20s.

Throwback Thursday – Vintage Ads – Lysol Shaving Cream, 1919

Finally, a shaving cream that contains Lysol! Just what I’ve always wanted! This ad reminds its viewers of the dangers lurking in daily routines. Unsanitary strops, moldy shave brushes, and dirty razors cutting into men’s faces. Buffeted by germs all day, those poor faces needed relief. Lysol to the rescue! Just a little Lysol in a shaving cream offers “a protection to the shaver from countless dangers of infection.” My favorite part of the ad comes near the bottom, where it suggests that Lysol saved untold thousands from infection during the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Therefore, it needs to be in your shaving cream. This deft move leverages people’s fear of another epidemic into brand confidence. I can’t wait to see how someone leverages Ebola. Hazmat suits contain plastic… buy Ziploc to keep Ebola out of your fridge?

Lysol Shaving Cream - Feb 1919

Vintage Advertising – Quaker Oats, 1898

Visual culture shapes our world in pretty surprising ways. It’s amazing how some advertising images have managed to persist for a century, structuring our lives in ways we wouldn’t expect. Today I stumbled across this vintage Quaker Oats ad from 1898, touting it as “The Easy Way to a Good Breakfast.” While Quaker Oats today doesn’t emphasize its lack of “bitter, oily taste,” it is still synonymous with a healthy breakfast. What’s most interesting to me about this piece is that it suggests eating Quaker Oats for supper. My grandmother, who was a teenager during the Great Depression, remembered eating oatmeal for breakfast and fried oatmeal for supper when no other food remained. People probably got tired of eating it twice a day. It’s no wonder we don’t eat it at night.  My own students were somewhat surprised to learn that Quakers were a religious movement prominent in colonial Pennsylvania, not just a breakfast logo.

Quaker Oats Ad, 1898

Dispensationalism Images…

Millerite Prophecy Charts

Working on a history of prophecy charts to understand Clarence Larkin better, I’m taken back to this stunning Millerite chart of 1843. (Larkin was not a Millerite or Adventist, so you’ll have to read my dissertation to learn how this chart relates to his). The chart is by Joshua V. Himes, officially titled “A Chronological Chart of the Visions of Daniel and John.” For its original viewers, seeing the chart revealed the harmony of apparently disconnected Bible prophecies. It offered nothing more or less than the truth of scripture. The figures, numbers, and texts demonstrated the “one undeviating path” of Bible prophecy. David Morgan writes, “the viewer was meant to see in the chart a systematic reading of prophecy across image and text as if the two merged seamlessly into a self-evident act of scripture reading itself. The Millerites sought to make their argument by visualizing the coherence of their interpretation as a system, in other words, by displaying the ‘beauty and harmony’ of the Bible properly interpreted.” David Morgan, Protestants and Pictures, p.133 (New York: Oxford, 1999).

"A Chronological Chart of the Visions of Daniel and John." 1843 Millerite Chart. Joshua Himes.

Clarence Larkin Ad from Moody Monthly, September 1920.

Finding this from 1920 is what dissertation research is all about. Clarence Larkin’s Bible prophecy charts never looked so enticing. “The Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World!” Now with pictures!

Rise of the Nones

Teaching a class on the “rise of the nones” tomorrow. Found this great 2012 video of Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about his personal attitudes toward religion. I think it nicely illustrates some of the major concerns of the nones. At the very least, it illustrates the kind of things I want my students to think about. Tyson swears he’s not an atheist, but an agnostic: “I don’t play golf. Do non-golfers gather and strategize? Do non-skiiers have a word [like ‘atheist’]? … At the end of the day, I’d rather not be any category at all.”

Civil religion and baseball

Here I am preparing a class on civil religion on a warm April evening, thinking about baseball. I remembered that Americans haven’t always sung the national anthem at sporting events. Like everything religious, this cherished practice of American civil religion has a history…

Chicago: September, 1918. Comiskey Park. Cubs vs. Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series. The Red Sox started their star pitcher, Babe Ruth. This was the only world series in history played into September: the military draft meant many major leaguers were set to report right after Labor Day. People had become accustomed to patriotic displays at ballgames since the war started. Players marching in formation, flag waving, that sort of thing. But folks usually didn’t sing The Star-Spangled Banner unless a flag was being raised. The game turned out to be a 1-0 snoozer and the crowd was quiet. During the 7th inning stretch, however, a military band started playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When they started the tune, the Red Sox’s 3rd base player–an active-duty sailor named Fred Thomas–snapped to attention and saluted the flag. The other Sox players followed suit, saluting with their hands over their hearts (in civilian fashion). The crowd saw this and did the same. Then, they all started singing together. The moment proved so powerful that they repeated it for the next two nights. Soon moved to the beginning of the game, it has become a standard practice.

How is this “civil religion”? With America at war, the act tied the national pastime to the war effort. More than that, however, singing the national anthem at ballgames started a civil religion practice. This practice created–and creates–powerful collective emotions. It generates shared experiences of transcendence, a sense of belonging to the greater national body. Durkheim would call that religion.

Religion and World War II

I recently taught a class on religion and World War II in America. Though the acts of chaplains and soldiers certainly matter for the study of religious history, I focused on the ways that religious ideas and practices helped people justify, explain, and understand the war at home. This image from the Nazi-occupied Netherlands provided a fruitful point of discussion. It contrasts nicely with Norman Rockwell’s well-known painting Freedom of Religion (1943).  To Americans, pluralism and freedom of religion were central values worth defending. To her enemies, these were the very things wrong with the USA–pluralism and freedom of religion made America monstrous.

save_freedom_worship

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Freedom of Worship,” 1943. Oil on canvas, 46″ x 35 1/2″. Story illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post,” February 27, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN.

ABD At Last!

I just passed my dissertation proposal defense with flying colors. The title of my soon-to-be dissertation is now official: “Fundamentalist Aesthetics: Sensation and Scripture in Early Twentieth-Century American Fundamentalism.” David Morgan said he wants a first draft by August. Yeah, right.

Publication news: I wrote a short essay for Yale’s Initiative for the Study of Material and Visual Cultures of Religion website. Many thanks to Sally Promey and the staff for putting together this project! You can find my essay here: http://mavcor.yale.edu/conversations/object-narratives/rightly-dividing-word-truth

Done

I passed my prelims. Thanks for reading! This blog will undergo some retooling in the coming weeks and months as I start my dissertation.

Claude Levi-Strauss, “The Savage Mind” (1966)

Claude Levi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (1966).

“Savage mind” does not refer to “primitive” mind or the mind of “savages.” Instead, it describes the mind itself in its “savage” or natural state of classifying, distinguishing, ordering the world. Binary oppositions form the basis of its systems of classification. “The savage mind totalizes” (245), it “builds mental structures which facilitate an understanding of the world in as much as they resemble it” (263).

Culture consists of symbolic systems. Levi-Strauss treats culture like Saussure’s linguistics treats language: culture possesses deep structures behind surface phenomena. Discrete elements/units can be combined, recombined, and re-ordered in many different ways—but they are always ordered, and always ordered according to consistent patterns, and those patterns ultimately rest on binary oppositions—general/particular, up/down, God/human, etc.

Magic and science: “Magical thinking is not to be regarded as a beginning, a rudiment, a sketch, a part of a whole which has not yet materialized. It forms a well-articulated system, and is in this respect independent of that other system which constitutes science, except for the purely formal analogy which brings them together and makes the former a sort of metaphorical expression of the latter. It is therefore better, instead of contrasting magic and science, to compare them as two parallel modes of acquiring knowledge… Both science and magic however require the same sort of mental operations and they differ not so much in kind as in the different types of phenomena to which they are applied” (13).

Bricolage, Bricoleur – “[The Bricoleur’s] universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand,’ that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions” (17). The figure of the bricoleur describes the activity of the savage mind–it stands in contrast to the engineer, which describes the scientific mind (theorizing, generating new methods and tools, etc. “The elements which the ‘bricoleur’ collects and uses are ‘pre-constrained’ like the constitutive units of myth, the possible combinations of which are restricted by the fact that they are drawn from the language where they already possess a sense which sets a limit on their freedom of maneuver” (19). Mytheme – fundamental unit of myth. Can be deployed in many different contexts/structures (like a morpheme or phoneme).

History and anthropology shouldn’t be antagonistic. This will only happen if we stop privileging history. We ought to recognize history as “a method with no distinct object corresponding to it” (262). No such thing as human nature. No given facts. History, a highly selective enterprise, orders the past. There is no “history” per se, only “history-for” someone, some culture.

… “The characteristic feature of the savage mind is its timelessness; its object is to grasp the world as both a synchronic and a diachronic totality and the knowledge which it draws therefrom is like that afforded of a room by mirrors fixed on opposite walls, which reflect each other (as well as objects in the intervening space) although without being strictly parallel” (263).

Dipesh Chakrabarty, Selections from “Provincializing Europe”

Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Idea of Historicizing Europe,” “Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History,” and “Reason and the Critique of Historicism” from Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (2000).

Consider it a sign of the times that a historian of American Christianity is reading Chakrabarty. Chakrabarty notes the abiding asymmetry in the practices of academic history: renowned historians of Europe (or America… in fact, especially America) can work in near-total ignorance of non-Western histories, but non-Western historians cannot return the gesture “without taking the risk of appearing ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘outdated’” (28). This is especially the case in places where local histories might include ancestors, spirits, or magical beings; European “secular” history becomes the gold standard of true history. Academic “history” seems always to find a way of becoming the history of Europe—or, at least, of “the West.” The project of “provincializing Europe” aims to expose the processes by which this asymmetry survives, reminding Euro-America that its history isn’t the only history that matters, revealing how this vision of “history” props up the colonialist project of “political modernity.” He writes, “provincializing Europe [is] a question of how we create conjoined and disjunctive genealogies for European categories of political modernity as we contemplate the necessarily fragmentary histories of human belonging that never constitute a one or a whole” (255). In short, Chakrabarty endeavors to show both the “inadequacy” and “indispensability” of social scientific thinking (6). Marx and Heidegger represent two competing poles of this thinking that he tries to bring into balance: on the one hand, we ought to acknowledge that certain universal/analytical categories (e.g. capitalism) help us confront social injustices—Marx. On the other hand, the hermeneutic tradition encourages sympathetic, personally engaged approaches to thought—Heidegger.

Chakrabarty’s beef doesn’t concern history per se, if by history we mean thinking about the past in the present. “Historicism,” however, withers under his intense scrutiny. By “historicism,” Chakrabarty describes a way of thinking that “tells us that in order to understand the nature of anything in this world we must see it as an historically developing entity, that is, first, as an individual and unique whole… and, second, as something that develops over time” (23). Historicism wants to objectify what it studies, finding a single, unified past in each of the archive’s relics, relics over which the subject has sovereignty.  This discourages the scholar from acknowledging her or his position of engagement with the past in the present: the subject of political modernity wants to make an object of history so as to become free from history. But the present, Chakrabarty argues, entwines with the past, is “irreducibly not-one” (249). The scientist carries a lucky rabbit’s foot. He coins the phrase “timeknot” to describe “the plurality that inheres in the ‘now,’ the lack of totality, the constant fragmentariness, that constitutes one’s present” (243).

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