Daniel Vaca

Daniel Vaca is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University. A historian of religion in North America, he focuses his research especially on the relationship between religious and economic activity in the United States, with particular emphasis on business and media cultures. His current book project, Book People: Commercial Media and the Spirit of Evangelicalism, examines the expansion of the evangelical book industry and its audience in the twentieth century. The co-chair of the American Academy of Religion's Religion and Economy group, Daniel previously has served as a contributing editor of The Immanent Frame.

Posts by Daniel Vaca:

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Remembering differently

In the ten years since 2001, every September has brought with it calls to remember the attacks of September 11. This week, a ten-year anniversary and the completion of memorials in New York and elsewhere have inspired a swell of such calls. Standing out this year, however, have been petitions to, in the words of Jeremy Walton, “remember differently.”

Read the rest of Remembering differently.
Friday, February 12th, 2010

“How Christian Were the Founders?”

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Russell Shorto takes a long look at the Texas textbook controversy. Shorto comes to this journalistic party a little late, but his article is noteworthy both for its detail and for the way that he spins the article out into a discussion of the “Christian nation” debate.

Read the rest of “How Christian Were the Founders?”.
Friday, January 29th, 2010

The strange case of Texas’s textbooks

At Washington Monthly, Mariah Blake comments on the ongoing controversy over Texas’s once-in-a-decade revision of its textbook standards. With standards for such subjects as English and science already revised, the current debate centers on Texas’s social studies standards. As Blake notes, textbook battles are “nothing new, especially in Texas.” But the current situation is unique in two ways.

Read the rest of The strange case of Texas’s textbooks.
Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

David Brooks outdoes Pat Robertson

A number of blogs recently have criticized David Brooks for his response to the earthquake in Haiti. Noting that Haiti’s extreme poverty has turned an unexceptional earthquake into a catastrophe of staggering scale, Brooks accounted for Haiti’s poverty by explaining that “Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences.” While Brooks largely blames Haitians themselves for their poverty, his critics look more to structural and historical inequities. Over at Savage Minds, Kerim Friedman remarks that Brooks’s response is “much more insidious” and altogether worse than Pat Robertson’s much-lampooned suggestion that Haiti made a “pact with the devil.” After all, Friedman notes, people generally take David Brooks seriously.

Read the rest of David Brooks outdoes Pat Robertson.
Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

The best-of bandwagon

‘Tis the season for best-of-the-year lists, and the Religion Newswriters Association has gotten in on the action with their list of 2009’s top ten religion stories. They compiled the list by surveying more than 100 religion journalists, about 36 of whom responded to the survey.

Read the rest of The best-of bandwagon.
Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Religious restrictions by the numbers

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released a new study of “Global Restrictions on Religion.” Pew casts the report as the first “quantitative study that reviews an extensive number of sources to measure how governments and private actors infringe on religious beliefs and practices around the world.” Its methodology, however, deserves scrutiny.

Read the rest of Religious restrictions by the numbers.
Monday, December 14th, 2009

Growing up evangelical

At Killing the Buddha, Kiera Feldman reports on a recent panel that brought together Malcolm Gladwell, James Wood, and Christine Smallwood. You wonder: what unites this seemingly motley crew of New York literati? They all claim an evangelical upbringing.

Read the rest of Growing up evangelical.
Friday, December 4th, 2009

Regulating yoga

As the Washington Post‘s Maria Glod reports, a group of yoga instructors in Virginia have asked a federal judge to kill the state’s plan to begin regulating instructor training. Under the plan, the state would certify (for a fee) yoga instructors in the same way that it certifies other vocationally-trained professionals, including dog groomers and bartenders. Yoga enthusiasts have responded to the plan by gesturing toward yoga’s supposed religious essence.

Read the rest of Regulating yoga.
Friday, December 4th, 2009

Obama’s civil religion

At U.S. Intellectual History, Raymond J. Haberski, Jr. appraises Barack Obama’s implicit invocations of civil religion in this week’s speech on the war in Afghanistan. In taking this interpretive approach, Haberski contributes to what has become a new academic tradition. Haberski’s take on the speech in fact encapsulates the new tradition’s range of opinions, for he identifies civil religion in Obama’s language at the same time that he asks whether the concept of civil religion amounts to more than “hogwash.”

Read the rest of Obama’s civil religion.
Thursday, November 26th, 2009

On The Invention of the Jewish People

At the New York Times, Patricia Cohen reviews Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People, a recent best-seller in Israel that is now available in English. A scholar of modern France from Tel Aviv University, Sand explicitly presents his book as an attempt to undermine the twin notions that the “Jewish people”  share a single ancestry and that this people share ancestral rights to the land of Israel.

Read the rest of On The Invention of the Jewish People.
Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Cormac McCarthy’s altar call

Beliefnet’s Idol Chatter blog rounds up recent conversations surrounding the marketing of the film “The Road” to evangelically-inclined Christian churches. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, the apocalyptic film follows a father and son through a world made bleak and barren by an unspecified cataclysm.

Read the rest of Cormac McCarthy’s altar call.
Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Adjudicating Jewishness in Britain

At the New York Times, Sarah Lyall reports on an ongoing British case that centers on complex questions of Jewish identity, religious freedom (or its impossibility), and definitions of religion. By the end of the year, the British Supreme Court is expected to decide whether a school with Jewish roots had the right to deny a prospective student status as Jewish because his mother does not meet Orthodox standards of Jewishness. Without the preferential admissions treatment that such status carries at the oversubscribed London school, the student was denied admission, and his family cried foul. The case could have ramifications not just for other Jewish schools but also for other religious schools in Britain.

Read the rest of Adjudicating Jewishness in Britain.
Thursday, November 12th, 2009

The white privilege of disassociation

At Progressive Revival, Paul Raushenbush takes the occasion of the Fort Hood tragedy to point out that American culture and media consistently treat “White, Male, Christians” as a normative individual identity, while members of other minority groups often feel pressure to distance themselves from acts performed by people who look or sound like them.

Read the rest of The white privilege of disassociation.
Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Church technology and race

At Call & Response, Mark Chavez draws upon an April 2008 article by Paul DiMaggio and Bart Bonikowski to explain why fewer black congregations tend to have websites than predominately white congregations.

Read the rest of Church technology and race.
Monday, October 26th, 2009

Who cares about intellectual history?

At U.S. Intellectual History, Tim Lacy reflects upon the abiding significance of the field. Lacy focuses his three-part discussion on a forum that appeared earlier this year in Historically Speaking. With contributions from such historians as Daniel Wickberg, David A. Hollinger, Sarah E. Igo, and Wilfred M. McClay, the forum covered issues ranging from the usefulness of intellectual metanarratives to pedagogy.

Read the rest of Who cares about intellectual history?.
Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

The Religious Right’s bad timing

At Front Porch Republic, Darryl Hart laments that historians and other observers of religion in America too often cast the religious Right as a new, ominous phenomenon. Hart insists that “that the Religious Right is nothing new in U.S. history and that scaring citizens with the apparently bizarre proposals of Christian conservatives is bad scholarship.”

Read the rest of The Religious Right’s bad timing.
Friday, October 16th, 2009

Carl Jung rocks

The indie-music authority Pitchfork reports that Billy Corgan (of the Smashing Pumpkins) and David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) will participate next month in the Rubin Museum’s upcoming dialogue series on Carl Jung’s recently unearthed Red Book, which received attention last month in the New York Times.

Read the rest of Carl Jung rocks.
Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Believing in Ricky Gervais

At the New Yorker, Anthony Lane finds much to fault in Ricky Gervais’s The Invention of Lying, including Gervais’s treatment of religious faith in general and Christianity in particular.

Read the rest of Believing in Ricky Gervais.
Friday, October 9th, 2009

Controlling the words

At Sightings, James L. Evans comments on an upcoming revision to the New International Version of the Bible, an edition that has served for the past couple decades as evangelicals’ translation of choice. Evans does not mention the Conservative Bible Project, which attracted substantial media attention this week, but that project certainly gives his piece added resonance.

Read the rest of Controlling the words.
Friday, October 9th, 2009

C. Wright Mills: “taking it big”

On 16-17 October 2009, the CUNY Graduate Center will host a conference in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of C. Wright Mills’s The Sociological Imagination. The event will be sponsored by the Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work at the Graduate Center and the Institute for Public Knowledge at NYU.

Read the rest of C. Wright Mills: “taking it big”.
Friday, October 9th, 2009

The constitution and the cross

The New York Times weighs in on the case of the Mojave Cross (Salazar v. Buono, 08-472), which the Supreme Court currently is considering. First constructed in 1934 as a World War I memorial, the cross is located within in the Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County, California. In 2001, Frank Buono, an former employee of the National Park Service, filed suit claiming that the cross violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. He won both in district court (2002) and appellate court (2004). Yet on Wednesday, Justice Antonin Scalia ridiculed the idea that “the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead. I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.” The New York Times disagrees.

Read the rest of The constitution and the cross.
Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The ethics of being a theologian

At the Chronicle of Higher Education, K. L. Noll draws a sharp distinction between the “religion researcher” and the “theologian.” Rejecting “the trendy postmodern notion” that humans cannot achieve “an understanding of how things are in the real world,” Noll insists that scholars of religion actively “advance knowledge” about the world while theologians do not.

Read the rest of The ethics of being a theologian.
Monday, July 6th, 2009

500 years of John Calvin

At his New York Times “Beliefs” column, Peter Steinfels reviews Bruce Gordon’s new biography of John Calvin and discusses the legacy of the Swiss theologian and leader, born on July 10, 1509.

Read the rest of 500 years of John Calvin.
Monday, July 6th, 2009

The way you make me feel

At Sightings, Kathryn Lofton seeks out Michael Jackson’s religious meaning by considering his self-presentation while alive, his recent memorialization, and the danceability of his pervasive songs.

Read the rest of The way you make me feel.
Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Taking on Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation

Last week, Britain’s National Secular Society publicly criticized a new initiative from Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation known as “Face to Faith.” Dedicated to using new “technologies in such a way as to encourage students of different faiths to learn directly with, from and about each other to support encounter, exploration and exchange between students from different countries and cultures,” the new program is part of the Foundation’s wider project of promoting “respect and understanding about the world’s major religions” and showing “how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world.” The National Secular Society insists that the program will do “more harm than good.”

Read the rest of Taking on Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation.
Monday, June 15th, 2009

Valuing “moral values”

At his US News & World Report God & Country blog, Dan Gilgoff addresses some criticism from the folks at Faith in Public Life, insisting that voters really do know what the term “moral values” denotes. Faith in Public life previously had criticized Gilgoff, E. J. Dionne, other “prominent pundits,” and the recent Pew poll that sparked the debate for breathing new life into the term, which FPL believes “assumes that certain (unnamed but clearly implied) issues are not just shaped by values, but are values and all others are amoral.” Gilgoff sees Pew’s 2004 exit polls as proof that the term has more to it than euphemistic vagueness.

Read the rest of Valuing “moral values”.
Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Defending Wikipedia’s ban on Scientologists

At the Daily Kos, Inspector Dim defends Wikipedia’s decision to block users with internet addresses “owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates, broadly interpreted” from editing Wikipedia entries related to Scientology.

Read the rest of Defending Wikipedia’s ban on Scientologists.
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Blaming Francis Schaeffer for George Tiller’s murder

At the Huffington Post, Frank Schaeffer places some of the blame for George Tiller’s murder on himself and his father, Francis Schaeffer, both of whom helped construct the evangelical anti-abortion “hate machine” in the 1980s.

Read the rest of Blaming Francis Schaeffer for George Tiller’s murder.
Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Is this your brain on God?

On NPR this week, Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported on “the science of spirituality.” In a series of five short pieces, Bradley Hagerty interviewed scientists and religious practitioners about such topics as “The Biology of Belief” and the brain’s so-called “God Spot.”

Read the rest of Is this your brain on God?.
Monday, May 4th, 2009

Liberal rationalism as superstition

In his New York Times blog, Stanley Fish reviews Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith and Revolution, a book whose indictment of liberal rationalism in general, and New Atheists in particular, Fish generally endorses.

Read the rest of Liberal rationalism as superstition.
Monday, May 4th, 2009

An interview with Tisa Wenger

Over at Religion in American History, Paul Harvey interviews Tisa Wenger about her new highly-anticipated book We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom.

Read the rest of An interview with Tisa Wenger.
Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

The end of the university as we know it

In the New York Times, Mark C. Taylor, chairman of the religion department at Columbia, identifies challenges facing higher education and offers several possible solutions.

Read the rest of The end of the university as we know it.
Monday, April 27th, 2009

The stricter the smaller?

At Christianity Today, Mark Galli reviews a new book by Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Simitiere, entitled Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace, which reappraises the “strict-church thesis,” which says that “that strict religions thrive while lenient religions decline.”

Read the rest of The stricter the smaller?.
Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Dinesh D’Souza praises Peter Singer, faintly

At Christianity Today, conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza profiles Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, casting Singer’s approach as a “horrifying yet somehow refreshing” manifestation of the New Atheists’ quest for a “truly secular society.”

Read the rest of Dinesh D’Souza praises Peter Singer, faintly.
Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A principled pullback?

At the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker suggests that “principled Christians” are becoming increasingly disillusioned not just with the Republican Party but with politics in general.

Read the rest of A principled pullback?.
Monday, April 6th, 2009

Evangelicals and the housing bubble

Zubin Jelveh, a New York Times blogger, reports on a dubious IMF study, which draws upon the “Rapture Index” to suggest that “regions with high concentrations of evangelicals saw lower gains in home prices and less volatility than similar regions with fewer evangelical residents.”

Read the rest of Evangelicals and the housing bubble.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Congregations in the recession

At the Christian Century, John Dart explains why the recession has not hit congregations particularly hard—at least not yet.

Read the rest of Congregations in the recession.
Monday, March 30th, 2009

David Brooks and E. J. Dionne speak of faith

In an episode of Speaking of Faith titled “Obama’s Theologian,” David Brooks and E. J. Dionne talked with Krista Tippett about Reinhold Neibuhr, the twentieth-century theologian who has become a favorite of journalists and politicians in recent years. The discussion ultimately focused less on Obama than on Niebuhr’s intellectual legacy and the contemporary American religious scene.

Read the rest of David Brooks and E. J. Dionne speak of faith.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

What is “belief”? Who cares?

On Thursday, April 2, Columbia University will host a graduate student conference entitled “Belief Matters: Reconceptualizing Belief and Its Use.” Dedicated to examining how “concepts of belief and believing remain central to how scholars, practitioners, institutions, and states conceptualize what religion is and how it operates,” the conference will include addresses from Penny Edgell and Michael Taussig as well as responses from Courtney Bender, Mark C. Taylor, and Wayne Proudfoot.

Read the rest of What is “belief”? Who cares?.
Monday, March 23rd, 2009

How to disestablish the Church of England

Ruth Gledhill writes in the London Times about a campaign to have non-believing Britons rescind their baptisms in the Church of England. With support from the National Secular Society, the campaign hopes that that a lower count of baptized Church members will translate into diminished membership numbers and, ultimately, the disestablishment of the church.

Read the rest of How to disestablish the Church of England.
Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

The new Calvinism

Time magazine ranks new Calvinism at number three among its “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”

Read the rest of The new Calvinism.
Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

The “new face” of Hindu nationalism

In this month’s Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan profiles Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, who has overseen the state’s rise not only as an economic powerhouse but also as a hotbed of Hindu-on-Muslim violence.

Read the rest of The “new face” of Hindu nationalism.
Monday, March 16th, 2009

Scandinavia’s “cultural religion”

At the New York Times, Peter Steinfels reviews Phil Zuckerman’s Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment.

Read the rest of Scandinavia’s “cultural religion”.
Monday, March 16th, 2009

Evangelicals predict evangelicalism’s future

Last week in the Christian Science Monitor, the “postevangelical” blogger Mark Spencer described the “coming evangelical collapse,” predicting that “Evangelicalism doesn’t need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral.” Since then, other evangelicals have begun articulating their own visions for the future of evangelical Christianity. Senior managing editor of Christianity Today Mark Galli, for instance, both agrees and disagrees with Spencer’s assessment.

Read the rest of Evangelicals predict evangelicalism’s future.
Monday, March 9th, 2009

Michael Lindsay on Bourdieu and Lindsay

In a Books and Culture review of Pierre Bourdieu’s newly-translated Sketch for Self-Analysis, D. Michael Lindsay reflects not only upon Bourdieu’s career but also upon his own.

Read the rest of Michael Lindsay on Bourdieu and Lindsay.
Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Justifying the humanities

The New York Times‘s Patricia Cohen appraises current and coming challenges to the humanities.

Read the rest of Justifying the humanities.
Friday, February 27th, 2009

What Dobson’s resignation means

David Waters comments on the signifiance of James Dobson’s resignation as chairman of Focus on the Family.

Read the rest of What Dobson’s resignation means.
Friday, February 27th, 2009

The furtive triumph of theological liberalism

Although “many liberals dare not speak its name,” Mark Chavez argues at Duke Divinity School’s Faith and Leadership blog, “theological liberalism . . . is a more potent cultural presence than many realize.”

Read the rest of The furtive triumph of theological liberalism.
Friday, February 13th, 2009

How to lead a “velvet reformation”

In the March issue of The Atlantic, Paul Elie praises Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, as the only prominent Christian leader who has managed “to have it both ways: affirming traditional Christian notions of marriage and family, love and fidelity, and adapting them to the experiences of gay believers.”

Read the rest of How to lead a “velvet reformation”.
Friday, February 13th, 2009

Unmaking the “Religious Right”

At Christianity Today, Sarah Pulliam reports that some prominent Christian conservatives not only dislike being associated with the “Religious Right” but also question the conceptual legitimacy of the term and the group that it supposedly denotes.

Read the rest of Unmaking the “Religious Right”.