Religion has profoundly influenced the sweeping American narrative, perhaps more than any other force in our history, from the time before European settlers to the present day. The start-up National Museum of American Religion is working to build a museum in the nation's capital that tells the story of what religion has done to America and what America has done to religion, inviting all to explore the role of religion in shaping the social, political, economic and cultural lives of Americans and thus America itself.
The twelve-episode Religion and the American Experience podcast will follow scholars deep into America’s religious history, and learn how it can inform and animate us as citizens grappling with complex questions of governance and American purpose in the 21st century.
The Making of US: Lived Religion in America with Daniel Walker Howe
Daniel Walker Howe was born January 10, 1937 in Ogden, Utah. Both of his parents were from Utah, though neither were religious. His mother had grown up as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His father’s family had come to Utah to work on the railroads. Daniel’s father was a newspaper man who lost his job during the Depression, and who was hired by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers’ Project. He helped write the Utah’s Story under the popular American Guide Series Books.
Daniel graduated from East High School in Denver, went to Harvard as an undergraduate, and received his Ph.D. in history at the University of California, Berkeley in 1966. and is an American historian who specializes in the early national period of U.S. history, with a particular interest in its intellectual and religious dimensions.
Learn about the influence of religious on Daniel’s life, and understand more about what religion has done to Americans, and what Americans have done to religion.
Religion at the National Museum of African American History and Culture
The most recent addition to the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in September of 2016. This is a profound and exceptionally meaningful addition to the tapestry woven by the museums in D.C.
From the perspective of The National Museum of American Religion, we want to know more about the roles that religion played in the story of slavery and its aftermath.
To do this, we have with us today Teddy R. Reeves, curator of religion at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Mr. Reeves is also a producer, digital theologian, and a fashion and art enthusiast. He earned his B.A. from Hampton University, his Master of Divinity from Princeton Seminary and is currently a PhD candidate at Fordham University.
In 2018 Teddy created a web-based talk-show series for the Museum entitled “gOD-talk: Black Millennials and Faith Conversation”, which explores the dynamic ways Black millennials are engaging with faith in the 21st century. He is a sought-after public speaker, teacher, facilitator and proclaimer.
How Do Some Foodways Look Like Religion?
Food sustains physical life, and as such is of critical importance to each of us. Some in the country have an abundance; hunger or food insecurity gnaws at others: in which group we find ourselves determines much of our current existence. What we eat also touches on other aspects of our lives besides “need”: celebrations, emotional comfort, health, family traditions, and connections or “breaking bread” with others. For the purposes of this podcast series, we are of course interested in uncovering and understanding the connections between religion and food in the United States – what they are, what they mean, and their significance?
To do another deep dive into just one aspect of this fascinating and meaningful subject, we have as our guest Benjamin Zeller, Associate Professor of Religion and Chair of both Religion and Islamic World Studies at Lake Forest College. His research interests include religion in America, religion in culture, religion and science and new religious movements. He is the author of Heaven’s Gate: America’s UFO Religion and Prophets and Protons: New Religious Movements and Science in Late Twentieth-Century America.
For our discussion today, we are looking at his chapter “Quasi-religious American Foodways: The Cases of Vegetarianism and Locovorism” from the book Religion, Food & Eating in North America, edited by Benjamin Zeller, Marie Dallam, Reid Neilson, and Nora Rubel.
The Making of US: Lived Religion in America with Reverend Senator Kim Jackson
Reverend Kim Jackson is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Atlanta, vicar at the Church of the Common Ground, which gives services for the homeless and, as of her electoral victory in November 2020, the first out LGBTQ person ever elected to the Georgia state Senate.
Her father served families as a social worker for more than 30 years. Kim's mom, a retired nurse and Professor of Nursing, served as a community nurse for economically disadvantaged families living with Sickle Cell disease.
After graduating from Furman University, Kim volunteered as an EMT and led her colleagues at Emory's Candler School of Theology in advocating for Criminal Justice Reform in Georgia.
Upon receiving her Master of Divinity, Kim commenced her vocation as an Episcopal priest. During ten years of ministry, she served as college chaplain, a nationally renowned consultant and preacher, a parish priest and a social justice advocate.
In 2018, the Georgia House of Representatives commended her for her "tireless efforts on behalf of the disenfranchised, disenchanted, and dispossessed" (GA House Resolution 1188).
What Has Been the Role of Religion in Capitalism?
Capitalism – a massive influence in the American narrative; loved for driving innovations and raising the standard of living; plagued by the production of opulence and the economic inequality left in its wake. If we understand capitalism better, we understand America better. And, it turns out that religion has played and continues to play a significant role in economics, which is of great interest to this podcast series, “Religion in the American Experience.”
To better comprehend what is going on between religion and economics, we have with us today Professor Ben M. Friedman, the William Joseph Maier Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University, and author of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Friedman has also written and/or edited fourteen other books, and more than 150 articles in professional journals, aimed primarily at economists and economic policymakers. His two other general interest books have been The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth and Day of Reckoning: The Consequences of American Economic Policy Under Reagan and After.
We guarantee that our time together today will help all of us better understand what religion has done to America, and what America has done to religion, and we trust that as a result, listeners will come to better understand how revolutionary and indispensable the idea of religious freedom as a governing principle, is, to the United States and its future.
Join us in building the “digital first” National Museum of American Religion by donating at storyofamericanreligion.org/contribute, where you can receive a free gift for a donation of $200 or more.
How Has Religion Influenced the Development of the U.S. Prison System?
Americans have always thought hard about how to prevent crime and bring about justice, with the desire to create a flourishing society. The prison system is a critical part of the punishment and rehabilitation system in the United States, which has the largest prison population in the world and the highest per capita incarceration rate. Because of this and other reasons, there are often calls for "prison reform", as is the case today. As the country goes about this work, and because religious thought has always been part of the "crime and punishment" discussion in America, the Museum thought it would be helpful to better understand how religion has played a part in the development of the United States prison system over its history.
This afternoon we have a fantastic panel of scholars who will, in an hour!, help us do this, or at least scratch the surface!
Dr. Vincent Lloyd is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Theories & Methods of Culture, Director of Africana Studies at Villanova University, and co-author with Joshua Dubler, of Break Every Yoke: Religion, Justice and the Abolition of Prisons.
Dr. Jennifer Graber is a Professor in the History of Christianity and Interim Director of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America.
Dr. Andrew Skotnicki is a Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College and author of Conversion and the Rehabilitation of the Penal System: A Theological Rereading of Criminal Justice and of the forthcoming book Mental Illness, Prophecy and Incarceration: Injustice, Insight and Insanity.
I enjoy this podcast as it opens me up to information about history (which I love to better understand) and has helped me discover some fascinating connections to religion and faith. Love how his understated style leaves room for focus to be given to the very lively guests.
I appreciate all the untold stories on this podcast. Religion has influenced the history of the United States constantly since the founding yet many of us are unfamiliar with the specifics of that! I also appreciate that this podcast doesn’t have a particular angle—rather the goal seems to be allowing us as listeners to just absorb these stories and this information and then think about it. Would highly recommend.
I just couldn’t listen to this. The mind numbing monotone of the speaker made it unlistenable for me. He has no expression whatsoever. I’m sure the topic was fascinating, I just couldn’t listen to it