John Schmalzbauer

Sociologist John Schmalzbauer teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Missouri State University, where he holds the Blanche Gorman Strong Chair in Protestant Studies. He is the author of People of Faith: Religious Conviction in American Journalism and Higher Education (Cornell University Press, 2003). He is completing a book on the return of religion on campus with historian Kathleen Mahoney. He is also co-investigator on the National Study of Campus Ministries, a survey of campus ministers in six denominations and two parachurch groups. His commentary and reviews have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the PBS NewsHour's Patchwork Nation Project, and Comment. Recent publications include chapters for The New Evangelical Social Engagement, edited by Brian Steensland and Philip Goff (Oxford, 2013) and The Post-Secular in Question, edited by John Torpey, David Kyuman Kim, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen (NYU Press, 2012).

Posts by John Schmalzbauer:

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Remembering a different evangelicalism

Celebrating the ideological diversity of contemporary evangelicalism, Marcia Pally heralds the advent of a religious non-right. Shattering stereotypes of a monolithic conservatism, she performs a valuable service.

As Pally notes in her essay, this isn’t the first time evangelicals have hoisted the banner of social reform. Recalling the activism of nineteenth-century American Protestants, she sees the “new evangelicals” as their contemporary successors.

You don’t have to go back to the nineteenth century to find evangelical progressives. Like Jim Wallis and Ron Sider, many got their start in the 1970s, building institutions that are still around today (Sojourners, Evangelicals for Social Action, Bread for the World).

Read the rest of Remembering a different evangelicalism.
Monday, October 24th, 2011

Updating Dorothea Lange

The past two decades have witnessed the publication of several fine studies of religion and material culture. Thanks to the work of David Morgan, Sally Promey, and Colleen McDannell, we know a lot more about the place of visual piety in American religion.

Read the rest of Updating Dorothea Lange.
Friday, May 6th, 2011

O is for Ozarks

O is for Oprah. O is for Ozarks. Can the second embrace the first? Though Lofton stays away from the issue of audience reactions, it is an intriguing question. Dubbed an “Evangelical Epicenter” by the Patchwork Nation project, my Ozarks county is a long way from Oprah’s Chicago studio.

Read the rest of O is for Ozarks.
Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

NPR’s religion reporters are not anti-religious

Last month, conservative trickster James O’Keefe caught NPR fundraising executive Ron Schiller saying this: “The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian—I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move.” Yesterday, these secretly-taped remarks were made public, leading to the resignation of both Schiller and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation).

Read the rest of NPR’s religion reporters are not anti-religious.
Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Why the Assemblies of God is like the Democratic Party

New York Times columnist Charles Blow began his Saturday piece with a surprising question: “Which political party’s members are most likely to believe that Jesus will definitely return to earth before midcentury?” Answer: the Democrats.

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Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Mapping religion in American places

From H. Paul Douglass to Nancy Ammerman, sociologists have mapped the spiritual and religious ecology of American places. In the 1990s, the Polis Center’s Project on Religion and Urban Culture at IUPUI painted a systematic portrait of religion in Indianapolis. Led by a team of sociologists and historians, it produced university press books, videos, photography […]

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Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Kinkade Studies comes of age

Last Friday mass market painter Thomas Kinkade was arrested on the suspicion of driving under the influence. In light of previous allegations of “seamy personal conduct,” he is destined to remain a controversial figure. […]

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Friday, May 21st, 2010

Glenn Beck’s history book club

What’s the number one bestseller on Amazon.com? Give up? As of May 20, 2010, it was George Washington’s Sacred Fire by Peter A. Lillback, a work arguing that our first president “was indeed a devout, practicing Christian,” a view rejected by many scholars of colonial America. How did a seminary president become Amazon’s bestselling author? On Tuesday, May 18, Lillback made an appearance on the Glenn Beck Program with Jerry Falwell, Jr., chancellor of Liberty University. Though the focus was on the roots of social justice, Beck took the opportunity to plug Lillback’s George Washington’s Sacred Fire. Lillback thanked him for the exposure.

Read the rest of Glenn Beck’s history book club.
Friday, April 30th, 2010

Higher times in the Bible Belt

Rich in interdisciplinary breadth, Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age offers an opportunity to reflect on the reception of Charles Taylor’s magnum opus. Edited by an English professor and two social scientists, it includes contributions from a political philosopher, a sociologist, a theologian, and a literary critic. Given the many reviews of A Secular Age in these disciplines, this mix of contributors is not surprising.

Somewhat more surprising is the inclusion of two historians, members of a discipline that has largely ignored Taylor’s book. Three years after its publication, A Secular Age has yet to be reviewed in the Journal of American History and the American Historical Review.

What explains this lack of interest?  Writing in Church History, Martin Marty notes that while “the ordinary historian has very much to learn from Taylor’s use of history,” it cannot be appropriated “without undertaking a significant act of translating and organizing the material.”

Read the rest of Higher times in the Bible Belt.
Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Beck, Falwell and “Christian America”

Back in 2004, evangelical educator Richard Mouw brought a message of friendship and reconciliation to Mormon America, speaking to a packed house at the Salt Lake City Tabernacle. Apologizing for the way conservative Protestants had treated Mormons, Mouw said, “We evangelicals have sinned against you.” Six years later, a very different speaker will cross over in the other direction. On May 15, Mormon broadcaster Glenn Beck will deliver the commencement address at Liberty University, the Virginia school founded by the late Jerry Falwell.

Read the rest of Beck, Falwell and “Christian America”.
Monday, February 22nd, 2010

A trifecta of problems

Three of Insider Higher Ed’s most recent dispatches focus on a trifecta of problems in the academic study of religion.

Read the rest of A trifecta of problems.
Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Super Bowl and religion roundup

Without fail, the Super Bowl inspires a round of sports-and-religion stories.  Dubbed a “high h0liday” of American society by Joseph Price, its cultural significance has been plumbed by journalists and scholars alike.  While sociologist James Mathisen argues that the Super Bowl is all about the “gathering of the clan and the making of meaning,” communications scholar Michael Butterworth calls it an “affirmation of American civil religion.”

Read the rest of Super Bowl and religion roundup.
Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Haiti and religion

Across the religion blogosphere, some of the most visible discussions of the Haitian earthquake have focused on two topics:  Vodou and Pat Robertson. Yet, these two themes barely scratch the surface of the Haiti-and-religion storylines circulating in cyberspace.

Read the rest of Haiti and religion.
Friday, January 15th, 2010

The evangelical flagship at a crossroads

As Wheaton College, known for decades as the “evangelical Harvard,” searches for a new president, the flagship evangelical institution stands at a crossroads.  Writing in the SoMA Review, Cornell University philosopher Andrew Chignell (a member of the class of 1996) reports on the concerns many faculty members have about the school.

Read the rest of The evangelical flagship at a crossroads.
Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Dialogues concerning Hume and religion

On the January 4th edition of FOX News Sunday, Brit Hume gave this surprising advice to Tiger Woods in the wake of his marital infidelity: “He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’” While not out of character for FOX News, these words triggered an immediate debate over the place of religious proselytizing in broadcast journalism.

Read the rest of Dialogues concerning Hume and religion.
Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

American Jews and Sarah Palin

This month’s Commentary features a provocative piece (click on the link and scroll down) by Jennifer Rubin on Jewish reactions to Sarah Palin.

Read the rest of American Jews and Sarah Palin.
Monday, January 4th, 2010

Glenn Beck and the new evangelical ecumenism

In December 2009, talk show host Glenn Beck topped Billy Graham on Gallup’s list of most admired men. Many of Beck’s admirers are evangelical Protestant fans of talk radio or FOX News. In light of Beck’s strong Mormon faith, this development may mark a new era in evangelical-Mormon ecumenism.

Read the rest of Glenn Beck and the new evangelical ecumenism.
Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Anti-Semitism in Lake Wobegon

For thirty-five years, Garrison Keillor has brought listeners into the village of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, the “town that time forgot, that the decades cannot improve.”  An idealized setting for Keillor’s storytelling, it has, until recently, been innocent of overt prejudice. Last Wednesday, Keillor ruined all that in an anti-Semitic column, “Nonbelievers, please leave Christmas alone.”

Read the rest of Anti-Semitism in Lake Wobegon.
Friday, December 18th, 2009

Carla Bley’s secular evangelicalism

Earlier this week we heard about the evangelical backgrounds of public intellectuals Malcolm Gladwell, James Wood, and Christine Smallwood. Summarizing a report from Killing the Buddha, Daniel Vaca noted that all three mentioned the influence of the Bible on their habits of reading. Now avant garde jazz composer Carla Bley has acknowledged the impact of an evangelical childhood on her music.

Read the rest of Carla Bley’s secular evangelicalism.
Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

How important was Oral Roberts?

The passing of another iconic televangelist has led to a flurry of media coverage.  How important was Oral Roberts?

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Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

A Jewish biography of Bob Dylan

Of the writing of Bob Dylan books, there is no end. Now, after all these years, somebody has written a “Jewish biography” of Bob Dylan. Summing up the thesis of Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet for The Jewish Daily Forward, Seth Rogovoy said that “Bob Dylan has in large part adopted the modes of Jewish prophetic discourse as one of his primary means of communication,” detecting a form of midrash in Dylan’s lyrics.

Read the rest of A Jewish biography of Bob Dylan.
Friday, December 11th, 2009

Southern fried music

The Oxford American, the “Southern magazine of good writing,” has released its 11th annual music issue, “True Soul & Other True Sounds.” The Jubilee Humming Birds are among the gospel acts profiled in this issue. Reflecting on the Birds’ recording of “Will the Lord Be with Me,” journalist Warwick Sabin writes: “The South may be the ultimate Old Testament playground, where everyone is in awe of a God who is capricious, unpredictable, generous, and cruel. Majestic and subtle physical beauty is everywhere, from the coastlines to the mountains to the Delta plains. Amid these gorgeous surroundings are poverty and deprivation, racial and religious conflict, and other manifestations of man’s sinful nature […].”

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Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Jon Stewart’s favorite conservative

Mike Huckabee just might be Jon Stewart’s favorite conservative Christian politician. Back in December of 2008, Huckabee and Stewart had a lively yet civil debate about gay marriage.  Last June they sparred on abortion. Last night Huckabee made yet another Daily Show appearance. Once again, television’s odd couple had an amicable, funny, and productive conversation.

Read the rest of Jon Stewart’s favorite conservative.
Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

A tale of two Franks

Franklin Graham and Frank Schaeffer are outspoken sons of famous evangelical leaders. President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the former is a supporter of Sarah Palin and generally regarded as more conservative than his dad. A convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the latter is one of Palin’s most vocal critics and dramatically more liberal than his late father, the Calvinist apologist Francis Schaeffer.

Read the rest of A tale of two Franks.
Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Barack Obama’s Book of Virtues

“These things are old. These things are true.” With these words, Barack Obama reaffirmed America’s commitment to “those values upon which our success depends”: hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism. At first glance, these seem like strange words for a Democratic president to be uttering. By invoking the old and the true, Obama appeared to be channeling the late Russell Kirk, the godfather of conservative intellectuals and the “champion of the permanent things.” In a 1987 lecture, Kirk said a conservative is a person “who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night.” In the judgment of Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, the young president “intends to use conservative values for progressive ends.” Yet Obama’s vision for America does not resemble Kirk’s list of “Ten Conservative Principles,” which includes such ideals as prescription, restraint, and property rights. […]

Read the rest of Barack Obama’s Book of Virtues.
Friday, February 20th, 2009

Rehabilitating religious rights talk

<p></p>In December, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, it has served as a charter for the modern human rights movement. Many scholars are unaware of the religious underpinnings of the Declaration. […]

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Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Telling the American story

Presidential inaugurations are occasions for civil religious drama.  The inauguration of Barack Obama was no exception.

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Friday, November 7th, 2008

A public theologian

Americans have elected the most theologically astute president since Jimmy Carter.

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Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Perplexed by Pentecostalism

Lost in the discussion of Sarah Palin’s religion is an appreciation for the diversity of American Pentecostalism, past and present.

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Thursday, July 10th, 2008

The Dobson/Obama Rorschach test

For years Barack Obama has courted the support of evangelicals. Way back in 2006, Obama served as the keynote speaker at the Call to Renewal conference, a gathering of religious progressives sponsored by the evangelical Sojourners magazine. Citing the religious activism of Frederick Douglass, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr., Obama went out of his way to praise the social engagement of evangelicals like Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Jim Wallis, and Tony Campolo. At the time, Obama’s speech was hailed by evangelicals and others as a model of religious political engagement. But that wasn’t the reaction Focus on the Family’s James Dobson had this summer after hearing the speech for the first time. Though the Dobson/Obama debate is itself worthy of analysis, it is even more useful as a Rorschach test for contemporary evangelicalism.

Read the rest of The Dobson/Obama Rorschach test.
Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Obama’s reductionist moment

In his ill-chosen remarks to an April 6, 2008 San Francisco fundraiser, Barack Obama showed the danger bad social science poses to progressive politics. Commenting on jobless communities in rural America, Obama argued that “they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” As an Obama supporter and a sociologist, I was disappointed to see my candidate draw on an outdated and reductionist approach to religion and culture. […]

Read the rest of Obama’s reductionist moment.
Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Religion’s return

The Immanent Frame symbolizes a sea-change in American higher education. When I was in graduate school in the early 1990s, I don’t recall the SSRC taking a special interest in the academic study of religion. Today a visitor to the SSRC webpage is confronted with an entire program area on “Religion and the Public Sphere,” with links to such topics as “Religion and International Affairs” and “The Religious Engagements of American Undergraduates.” Far from a marginal area at the SSRC, such initiatives have attracted the involvement of such world-class scholars as Talal Asad and Robert Bellah. […]

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Friday, January 18th, 2008

It’s the economy and the culture stupid!

I agree with Michael Lindsay that Mike Huckabee exhibits many of the qualities of a “cosmopolitan” evangelical. And yet it is impossible for journalists to talk about the second man from Hope without mentioning his populist rhetoric. This combination of economic and religious populism sets Mike Huckabee apart from the rest of the Republican pack. Yet Huckabee’s marriage of cultural conservatism and economic egalitarianism makes sense in light of the social and cultural attitudes of American evangelicals.

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