Emily Suzanne Clark: I Don’t Believe in No Ghosts: America and Spirits

Whether or not you reading this post believe in them, ghosts fascinate Americans. A century and a half before the popularity of ghost-hunter shows on the SyFy Network and NBC’s award-winning show “Medium,” belief in spirit communication was serious and widespread in the United States. Spiritualism swept across the United States in the mid-nineteenth century and remained popular into the twentieth century. Put simply, a Spiritualist is one who believes that communication with the spirits of the dead is not only possible but also desirable. Popularized by the Fox Sisters and their “Rochester rappings,” Spiritualism interested Americans young and old, white and black, male and female, rich and poor. Much of this appeal came from Spiritualism’s ability to bridge the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez: Muslims in the Classroom

Donald Trump’s suggested ban on Muslims entering the United States and the creation of a Muslim “registry” has been widely (and wisely) condemned. But from my perspective in the classroom, I see how the ideas are already affecting young people. Amid the rows of Catholics, Jews, agnostics, and evangelicals in my religion courses sit dozens of students hailing from the Middle East and South Asia. Their presence is a very good thing. Like most of my students, they are open, curious, and eager to learn. And they are baffled and intimidated by Trump’s rhetoric.

Shabana Mir: The Headscarf/Hijab Debate

Recently, a blogosphere debate erupted on headscarves/hijab among various Muslim women. The debate was preceded by physical harassment against visibly Muslim women. The worsened climate of Islamophobia was greeted with shock and disgust by a number of Americans. A number of non-Muslim women—Dr. Larycia Hawkins of Wheaton College, for instance—put on the headscarf as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims. While some Muslims critiqued hijab solidarity as a form of appropriation, many welcomed it as a well-intentioned and courageous gesture in difficult times.

Video: Patricia Appelbaum on St. Francis, America’s Most Popular Saint

Patricia Appelbaum, author of St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America’s Most Popular Saint, talks to Peggy Bendroth as part of the History Matters series at the Congregational Library and Archives.

Margaret Bendroth: Disorganized Religion

Protestant aversion to organized religion is everywhere, even on the sign on the front lawns of churches. Smart congregations are dropping the Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian label and replacing it with soft generic names like Willow Grove or Saddleback. They are becoming nonspecific “communities” and “fellowships” associating themselves with some broad spiritual aspiration, like “resurrection” or “hope” or “reconciliation.”

Interview: Patricia Appelbaum on St. Francis of America

I started out thinking that the garden statue was kind of a cliché. Imagine just going out and buying a mass-produced plastic image and thinking there is something special about it! Commercial statuary seemed to trivialize Francis’s meaning, to make him less challenging. Instead of a figure who calls for drastic change, radical poverty, and absolute devotion—a saint who was active in the wider world—our vision is limited to a pretty statue and birdbath on our private property. But I came to change my views. There’s a real spiritual side to this, and also a cultural critique.

Video: Kishwar Rizvi on Islamic Architecture and Historical Memory

In the following video, Rizvi talks with Marilyn Wilkes about The Transnational Mosque in an episode of The MacMillan Report, produced by the MacMillan Center at Yale University.

Patricia Appelbaum: Pope Francis and the 1967 Theologians

This past summer, Pope Francis released his very welcome encyclical on climate change. Supporters and opponents have both noted his attention to science. What I find more interesting is his attention to theology and religion.

Patricia Appelbaum: Protestant Blessings and Cultural Change

It’s the season of blessings again. In many places there are blessings of backpacks for the new school year. Here and there, bicycles that were not blessed in spring will have another chance. In October, religious groups all over the country and around the world will hold “blessings of the animals” in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. What I find remarkable is how many of these ceremonies take place in Protestant churches. It wasn’t always like this.

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Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez: Catholics and Protestants in Philadelphia: From Conflict to Collaboration

As I walk around Philadelphia this week, I marvel at the signs, merchandise, and promotions welcoming Pope Francis. It’s hard to believe that just over a century and a half ago, Catholics were the target of violence in this city.

Sam Miglarese: Looking Ahead to the Visit of Pope Francis

This shift of Pope Francis is significant—even radical. He is focused on the pastoral outreach to people, especially those who are judged as not being in communion with church teaching through divorce, use of contraception, and gay unions. He tells us to “stop the obsession” with sex and to find a way to welcome and heal those who have been marginalized because they do not measure up to the ideal state of church teaching on every issue.

Excerpt: Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism, by Timothy Gloege

The oatmeal market suffered under the weight of too many competitors, with prices often falling below production costs. Crowell saw the solution in the mill’s overlooked Quaker trademark. And so, at a time when most consumers shoveled their oatmeal from open barrels, Crowell’s product appeared on shelves in sealed, two-pound boxes. Richly illustrated advertisements saturated local, then national, print media. Both package and ad featured the iconic Quaker, always smiling jovially and holding a scroll on which was written the single word “Pure.”

Kim Tolley: What If There Had Never Been a Confederate Battle Flag?

During recent debates over the flag, the history of the South sometimes appears as a straightforward tale of unrelenting proslavery leading up to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era. But there’s another aspect of southern history that is sometimes overlooked—the antislavery of the early antebellum era.

Steve Estes: Faith in Charleston

Charleston is nicknamed the “Holy City,” because of the many steeples that punctuate the graceful poetry of its skyline. There are more than 900 houses of worship in the Low Country, representing all of the world’s major faiths, and more than a few minor ones. Some of the congregations were founded in the 1600s, others in the 2010s. Some meet in grand buildings on the National Historic Registry, others in humble strip mall storefronts. Regardless of how old they are or where they meet, Charleston’s congregations are driven by faith. That faith was sorely tested this week with the racially motivated murders of worshipers in Emanuel AME church. How could a city so steeped in faith witness a scene of such unimaginable horror in one of its holy places?

Erin A. Smith: Popular Religious Reading, Cultural Identities, and Religious Communities

Although cast as opponents in cultural debates, religious liberals and evangelicals appear to read (different) books for similar reason—to (re)create their religious identities, to restore people like them to the center of religious life, and to place themselves in history as important religious actors. These books remind readers of their beliefs and values and help them (re)construct their faith in the face of daily challenges and disappointments.

Interview: Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett on Harry Golden, ‘Carolina Israelite’

A favorite trick of Golden’s was to add a well-known author, philanthropist, politician, or actor to the circulation list of the Carolina Israelite without the celebrity’s knowledge, then mention the famous person in print as one of the newspaper’s loyal subscribers. It’s amazing how often this led to real friendship! The famous and powerful liked Golden for the same reasons so many regular folks did—his straight talk, his encyclopedic knowledge on politics and history, and his refreshingly tart humor.

Erin A. Smith: What Would Jesus Do?

“What Would Jesus Do About Measles?” asks Paul A. Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in the opinion pages of the New York Times. Recalling the 1991 measles epidemic in Philadelphia (1400 people were infected; 9 children died), Offit points out that the outbreak was so virulent because two fundamentalist Christian churches that discouraged vaccination were at its epicenter. Public health officials brought the epidemic under control—in part—by getting a court order to vaccinate children over their parents’ protests. Citing the current measles outbreak and the approximately 30,000 children in the United States who are unvaccinated for religious reasons, Offit makes the case for eliminating the religious vaccination exemption. Moreover, Offit thinks Jesus—who stood up for children—would get them vaccinated against measles to keep them safe and to protect others.

Bruce B. Lawrence on ‘Who Is Allah?’

What is most needed now is to understand both the historical nuance of Allah throughout the past 1500 years and Allah’s relevance today, in 2015.

Excerpt: Muslim American Women on Campus, by Shabana Mir

Fatima was an adventurous designer of third space identities, a non-hijabi who was at the same time religiously devout, socially liberal, sexually conservative, and politically aware. When Fatima entered the gates of Georgetown, having newly graduated from a strictly Islamic school, she was horrified to find that some of her Muslim friends drank alcohol.