Evangelical overreach in missionizing the “unreached”? - the Dec. 2018 issue of ISR ReligionWatch is available here https://t.co/3vk8v1orCq
After the Missions Closed https://t.co/aVGs9J5zqF Philip Jenkins via @anxious_bench @PatheosEvang
Defend academic freedom -- even when you disagree https://t.co/RVAdf2AJol @McCormickProf @phillydotcom
Alan Jacobs's The Year of Our Lord 1943 is included here // Books on Politics: Barton Swaim picks the best of 2018.… https://t.co/o0zw32bVbk
.@edstetzer lecture from ISR's Billy Graham Symposium, Nov. 6, 2018 https://t.co/v7MJv4eCTN
Favorite Books of 2018 | includes Alan Jacobs's The Year of Our Lord 1943 https://t.co/a83hawwi9j @jwilson1812 @firstthingsmag
Pearl Harbor and the Lost Poet https://t.co/Y1bHQwPQX8 Philip Jenkins via @anxious_bench @PatheosEvang
ISR’s Rebecca Shah releases new book; “Christianity in #India: Conversion, Community Development, and Religious Fre… https://t.co/lRPUmiaxcr
Jeff Levin- “Godless Lives?: Does Religion Matter for Our Well-Being?” ISR video https://t.co/slJ9zxTWKL
Faith groups in Tijuana rise to meet needs of migrant caravan waiting at the border https://t.co/yILJVbe0Mp @RNS

Evangelical, Muslim, Jewish. It’s time we all renew our commitment to religious freedom.

Religious freedom can be a divisive issue, but it’s important. My group is renewing our commitment to the First Amendment, by signing this charter.

Oliver Thomas and Charles C. Haynes, Opinion contributors Published 8:00 a.m. ET Nov. 29, 2018

In the turbulent 1960s, John Courtney Murray famously reminded Americans that the Constitution begins with “we the, people,” not “we, the tribe.”

Murray, a Jesuit priest, wasn’t papering over differences that are often deep and abiding. Each of us has our tribe — Catholic, Hindu, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant or one of a hundred others in the pluralistic society we all call home. Differences matter.

Instead, Murray was calling on Americans to recognize what we share across our religious and philosophical divides, especially the core principles of religious liberty in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

In just 16 words, our framers created an arrangement in religious freedom that has made today’s pluralism possible. More than any other provision of the Constitution, the religious liberty clauses are the “unum” in “e pluribus unum” — out of many, one.

It’s time to renew our support of First Amendment

In this divided, dangerous moment in our history, it is time to renew our support for the framework of liberty provided by the First Amendment. That’s why on Thursday, American leaders from many different faiths and beliefs will sign the American Charter of Freedom of Religion and Conscience, a reaffirmation of religious liberty in our time.

Signers range from Leith Anderson of the National Association of Evangelicals, to Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America, to Suhag Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation, to Rabbi Jack Moline of the Interfaith Alliance, among many others.

Signers of the charter do not agree on how to resolve the disputes over religious freedom we face in the country today. We have a long history of battling over exactly how to define and apply constitutional principles. But the signers do agree that the First Amendment arrangement of “no establishment” and “free exercise” provide the civic framework of religious freedom that allows us to live together with our deepest differences.

The American Charter reminds us that freedom from state establishment of religion prevents “confusions of religion and government and, in so doing, protects freedom of religion and conscience for all.” By separating church from state, the United States rejects “state-enforced orthodoxies of any kind.”

The free exercise of religion, the charter states, “encompasses the right, as conscience dictates, to speak and act on the basis of ultimate beliefs in private and public life, as well as the right to question religious truths or not to believe them at all.”

Signers of the charter recognize, of course, that there must be limits on the free exercise of religion. But they agree that “any substantial burden on the freedom of religion must be justified by a compelling governmental interest, and that the means chosen for serving that interest must be the least restrictive of freedom of religion.”

More: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: Religious persecution in Iran, China must end now

Actually the baker in Supreme Court Masterpiece ruling lost, it only looked like he won

Supreme Court decision says my faith is welcomed back in America: Cake artist Jack Phillips

To cite a simple and familiar example: Yes, public schools have a compelling interest in teaching students to read. But that interest might not extend to requiring a student to read a particular book over the religious objections of a family if an alternative can be assigned. Or consider that many public schools have policies prohibiting students from wearing head coverings, primarily to keep gang symbols out of school. While banning gang colors is a compelling interest, what happens to the Jewish boy or Muslim girl required by faith to cover their head? To protect the right of conscience, schools routinely provide religious exemptions.

In other words, government has a First Amendment mandate to take claims of conscience seriously and then to balance societal interests and religious freedom to determine whether and when such claims can be accommodated.

Religious freedom is a hallmark of America

Protecting religious freedom in a diverse society isn’t easy — and it often stirs debate. As early as the Revolutionary War, accommodations were made for Quakers who for reasons of conscience were unwilling to take up arms against the British.

Then and now, debates over religious accommodations are complex and contentious, as the signers of the American Charter readily acknowledge. Americans are engaged in bitter debates over the relationship between claims of conscience and other fundamental rights such as equal protection, as in cases involving vendors and same-sex weddings.

The signers of the charter have differing views on how these disputes should be resolved, but we do agree that “all parties should have the right to participate in these debates on the basis of full equality.”

At this crossroads in our history, it is worth recalling that what it means to be an American is not determined by religion or kinship, but by adherence to the principles and ideals set forth in our founding documents. First among these ideals is freedom of religion and conscience, not only for our own tribe but also for people of all faiths and beliefs.

The American Charter is an urgent and timely reminder that only by standing together, as We the People to reaffirm our shared commitment to religious liberty for all, will we preserve and expand this lively experiment for generations to come. Without religious freedom, there is no America.

Charles C. Haynes is founding director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute in Washington, D.C.  Oliver Thomas, co-author of the ACLU handbook “The Right to Religious Liberty,” is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. 

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.


C-Span visits Baylor and records Thomas Kidd’s “Salem Witch Trials and the Great Awakening” class for the Lectures in History Segments


ISR’s Jenkins: “The dangerous politics of guilt by association” Spectator USA

The dangerous politics of guilt by association

We regularly see random and inchoate attacks being presented as far more organised and ideological then they actually are

Pittsburgh is less a city than a loose federation of urban villages, of which Squirrel Hill provides a classic example. A long-thriving heart of Jewish life and culture, an authentically rooted community, Squirrel Hill is now irrevocably scarred by the murderous actions of one monster, whose crimes will leave a legacy of social harm and intimidation for a generation.

Robert Bowers’s attributed words about wishing to kill Jews leave no doubt of the explicitly political character of the act. No worthwhile definition of terrorism could fail to include an act like this.

But as in any case of terrorism, identifying an act is only the first stage in a much larger process of interpretation and rhetorical expansion. As terrorism is universally recognised as an ultimate evil, then any cause or movement that can be linked to it, however plausibly, must be appallingly tainted. Social scientists call this a process of contextualisation or framing, explain that issue X is really a subset of larger issue Y.

After any act of leftist violence, conservatives will try and tar liberals with a degree of complicity. An Islamist onslaught will lead to denunciations of all Muslim leaders, and even of the faith of Islam as such. And in the Pittsburgh case which followed so closely on the recent mail bombs – liberals and progressives are in full cry not just against the far right, but against conservatives and Republicans in general, to an astonishing degree. The Nation is proclaiming that ‘The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Is the ​Inevitable Result of​ Trump’s Vile Nationalism.’ Demonstrating the paper’s noted restraint and balance, the Washington Post merely asks, ‘How Much Responsibility Does Trump Bear For The Synagogue Shooting In Pittsburgh?’ (Hint to readers: ‘None’ is not an acceptable response). Slate recommends that readers ‘Stop Trying to Understand What Trump Says and Look at What His Followers Do.’ The Squirrel Hill attack is thus a manifestation of Trumpism, or even conservatism, and terrorists like Bowers or accused extremist Cesar Sayoc are the logical conclusion of those ideologies.

Such a process of guilt by association can have draconian policy consequences that run far beyond ideological scapegoating. After any terrorist assault, law enforcement attention inevitably turns to any movement that might have contributed to it. In the present case, we are dealing with the ultra-violent far right, and agencies are (and long have been) investigating and penetrating anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups and propagandists. Those agencies would be criminally irresponsible if they failed to do so, using their powers to the full legal extent to seek out and prosecute possible accomplices. But how widely should such investigations range into movements that are rightist or conservative, but which wholly reject illegal means? Drawing the line between acceptable and unacceptable advocacy can be a thorny dilemma.

Understanding these agendas – the politics of guilt by association – helps us to interpret media and political responses to any acts of domestic terrorism or political violence, and especially when the interpreters are liberals or progressives. Many cases are far less clear cut than the Squirrel Hill murders, and we regularly see random and inchoate attacks being presented as far more organised and ideological then they actually are. The prize example of such over-interpretation in the modern US occurred in 2011 when one Jared Lee Loughner attacked Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, killing several bystanders. Within hours of the attack, the media had firmly linked the crime to right-wing extremism, and more specifically to the then-booming Tea Party movement. Yet the amount of evidence supporting such a linkage was precisely zero, and Loughner was in fact a severely disturbed loner with grave mental health and substance abuse problems. His ideas, such as they were, were a weird mixture of anti-authority and conspiracy doctrines drawn from right- and left-wing sources alike.

Almost as predictable as the efforts to blame an attack on a particular cause are the attempts to avoid obvious associations, when those connections would produce undesirable results. Someone could write an excellent book on the aftermath of the hideous massacre carried out by Omar Mateen in Orlando in 2016, when he killed 49 patrons of a gay nightclub, Pulse. Mateen’s motives were perfectly clear. He had accepted radical Islamist ideology, as exemplified by the Islamic State movement, and he repeatedly and publicly identified with that cause: he was a soldier of the Caliphate. Before targeting Pulse, he had considered several other infidel sites for mass murder, including Walt Disney World. Yet immediately following the atrocity, the media en masse latched on to spurious claims that Mateen had himself patronised Pulse, so that he was evidently struggling with suppressed gay urges. A blatant act of Islamist terror thus led to ‘Orlando’ becoming a watchword for progressives in their ongoing battle against homophobia, and specifically, against Christian conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church. No, really: I actually saw Gay Pride parades right after the murders, in which the figure given the greatest stigma for the crime was the Pope. Islamists, it seems, don’t kill Americans: Christian conservatives kill Americans.

Scarcely more realistic was the response to the 2017 attack on several Republican Congressmen at a baseball tournament, in which Rep. Steve Scalise was gravely wounded. The casualty toll could very easily have been far worse. The perpetrator, James Hodgkinson, left abundant evident of his visceral hatred of Donald Trump, of Republicans and conservatives generally, and he was a dedicated supporter of Bernie Sanders’s movement. The attack was clearly the work of a would-be leftist assassin. Even so, virtually none of that context appeared in media accounts of the crime. Any attempt to attribute guilt to Sanders – to ask, for instance, ‘How Much Responsibility Does Sanders Bear?’ – would rightly have been regarded as ludicrous to the point of insanity.

One nightmare vision suggests that we may in the near future need yet again to confront and interpret acts of political violence. Far right militants have undoubtedly been emboldened in recent years, but so have those of the progressive left. During the recent fervour over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, fantasies of violent action have become alarmingly common on the left, at a time when activists have physically confronted conservative politicians they despise. In suggesting that the odds of actual personal violence in the coming months are very high, I am saying nothing that is not agonisingly familiar to law enforcement agencies. The more we spread the net of alleged guilt for horrendous acts, the more fuel we supply to real-world extremism and vigilantism.

Philip Jenkins is an author and researcher specialising in Christianity and 20th century history.



Dr. Thomas S. Kidd Named Inaugural James Vardaman Endowed Professor of History

Oct. 18, 2018

The Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation provides lead gift to establish endowed professorship

Media Contact: Lori W. Fogleman, Baylor University Media Communications, 254-710-6275
Follow Lori on Twitter at @LoriBaylorU
Follow Baylor Media Communications on Twitter: BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (Oct. 18, 2018) – Award-winning author and historian Thomas S. Kidd, Ph.D., has been named the inaugural holder of The James Vardaman Endowed Professorship of History at Baylor University.

Kidd, who joined the Baylor faculty in 2002, is a Distinguished Professor of History in the College of Arts & Sciences and serves as associate director of the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, where he also co-directs the Program on Historical Studies of Religion.

The newly endowed professorship is named in honor of beloved Professor Emeritus of History and Master Teacher James W. Vardaman, Ph.D., who died in January 2018 during retirement from a 33-year teaching career at Baylor. The professorship was made possible by gifts from Vardaman’s former students and other members of the Baylor Family, including a lead gift from the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation.

“We are grateful for the Baugh Foundation’s support,” said Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. “Through their incredible generosity, they have provided sustaining, significant funding for our department of history through the establishment of The James Vardaman Endowed Professorship, and they have paid tribute to one of our most beloved educators and researchers. Dr. Vardaman’s legacy continues to inspire through the professorship that bears his name, as evidenced by the many former students and colleagues who contributed to the fund in his memory. We are grateful for the resources to retain Dr. Thomas Kidd in this distinguished position, furthering a legacy of excellence in teaching and leadership at Baylor.”

The focus of Kidd’s research is 18th century North America, particularly the history of evangelicalism, and he teaches courses on colonial America, the American Revolution and American religious history.

He is a prolific author whose books include “American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths,” “Baptists in America: A History,” “George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father,” “Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots,” “God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution,” “American Christians and Islam” and “The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America.”

“Endowed professorships are critical to Baylor’s future in order to recruit outstanding new faculty, confer added distinction and support upon exceptional current faculty and to help Baylor to reach its goal of becoming a nationally ranked Christian research university,” said Lee C. Nordt, Ph.D., dean of the Baylor College of Arts & Sciences. “The Vardaman Professorship is a perfect example of honoring one of our former greats by conferring his name to a new endowed position assumed by a current faculty member of similar stature.”

Kidd won a 2006-07 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship that designated his research for “Great Awakenings” as a We the People project, a special recognition by the NEH for model projects that advance the study, teaching and understanding of American history and culture.

Kidd’s 2017 book, “Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father,” has received high marks for its analysis of Franklin’s beliefs, and was named one of the 2017 Top 10 Religion and Spirituality Books by Booklist Online. Two of his books, “God of Liberty” and “The Great Awakening,” earned an Award of Merit from Christianity Today.

In addition to his books, he writes for the Evangelical History blog at “The Gospel Coalition” and also regularly contributes to The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets.

“Since joining the Baylor history faculty, Thomas Kidd has become the most prolific historian we have ever had,” said Barry Hankins, Ph.D., chair and professor of history. “In addition to winning numerous awards and citations for his work, he is generally recognized as one of the foremost experts on the history of religion in America. He is also one of the few historians who bridges the all-too-wide divide between the academy and the rest of the culture.”

“Dr. Thomas Kidd is a visionary scholar who brings his research into the classroom,” said Kim Kellison, Ph.D., associate dean of humanities and social sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences and associate professor of history. “Countless graduate and undergraduate students have benefited from his teaching and mentorship.”

Kidd earned a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in history from Clemson University, and completed his Ph.D. in history from the University of Notre Dame in 2001.

He received a Baylor University Outstanding Professor Award in 2010, and has received faculty awards from Baylor University Student Government and the Baylor Graduate Student Association. In 2007, Kidd was named a “Top Young Historian” by the History News Network.

To give to The James Vardaman Endowed Scholarship, visit the Baylor giving website.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and seven academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.



ISR’s Rebecca Shah releases new book; “Christianity in India: Conversion, Community Development, and Religious Freedom”

Christianity has been present in India since at least the third century, but the faith remains a small minority. Even so, Christianity is growing rapidly in parts of the subcontinent, and has made an impact far beyond its numbers. Yet Indian Christianity remains highly controversial, and it has suffered growing discrimination and violence. This book shows how Christian converts and communities continue to make contributions to Indian society, even amid social pressure and violent persecution. In a time of controversy in India about the legitimacy of conversion and the value of religious diversity, Christianity in India addresses the complex issues of faith, identity, caste, and culture. It documents the outsized role of Christians in promoting human rights, providing education and healthcare, fighting injustice and exploitation, and stimulating economic uplift for the poor. Readers will come away surprised and sobered to learn how these active initiatives often invite persecution today. The essays draw on intimate and personal encounters with Christians in India, past and present, and address the challenges of religious freedom in contemporary India.


About the Author

Rebecca Samuel Shah is a scholar of religion and economic development who has done pioneering work on the impact of religious belief and practice on the lives of poor women in the Global South. She now serves as research professor at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, and is also a senior fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute.

Joel Carpenter is the director of the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin College. He also has served as religion director of the Pew Charitable Trusts and as provost of Calvin College. Currently he is leading research and publication projects on Christianity in Africa and Asia. He also writes about Christianity in higher education.

Publisher: Fortress Press (November 8, 2018)


ISR’s Jenkins in Christian Century: Compassion in the church—and the mosque, and the temple

Christians organized the first relief agencies. Now Sikh, Muslim, and Buddhist groups abound.

October 11, 2018

All the major religions teach the virtues of charity and compassion, of almsgiving and generosity to the poor. Historically, however, Christianity was unique in developing institutional structures to organize tasks of charity and to make those agencies a central part of religious work. In modern times, that Christian precedent has been widely copied across the various faith traditions, transforming concepts of religious duty and humanitarianism. We are living through a global revolution in practical compassion.

Christian encounters with other faiths developed during the great missionary era of the 19th and early 20th century and were reinforced by experiences of immigration in the second half of the 20th century. In both eras, members of other faiths were startled and later intrigued by the scale and sophistication of Christian charitable endeavors, which were so different from the unfocused efforts they already knew. Partly those other believers were concerned about preventing Christian expansion in their homelands, but many were excited by the practical opportunities they saw opening before them. Immigrants of non-Christian faiths who grew up in traditionally Christian societies saw the work of such agencies as a natural aspect of religious life and assumed that their own faiths would adopt the same kind of mass voluntarism.

Just how similarly the different religions came to view charitable activities was evident following the catastrophic fire that overwhelmed the Grenfell Tower block in London in 2017, killing over 70 people and leaving many homeless. The local government response to the humanitarian crisis was inadequate, leaving relief to the different faith groups, which performed splendidly. As in any crisis or disaster in modern Britain, victims and first responders of any faith knew they could rely on the Sikh charity Khalsa Aid for hot meals, served with love and care (and with serious attention to the dietary concerns of all recipients). Local churches, Pente­costal and Anglican, were deeply in­volved in short- and long-term relief activities. But the main center of the relief effort was the local mosque, which offered food, clothing, and temporary housing. Mosques and churches became donation centers for food and supplies of all kinds, overnight assuming the role of central warehouses.

The rise of Islamic charities has been a significant religious story in modern Britain. This has been particularly important as government reductions in social services have vastly increased the number of people in urgent need of food, clothing, and shelter. Beyond operating soup kitchens, often in collaboration with churches, Islamic charities help homeless people, regardless of religion. Although obviously not celebrating Christmas, these charities commonly use the traditions of that time of year to raise funds and to provide food and warmth for the needy. Christmas, in a sense, has become the focus of the interfaith charitable year.

Obviously, I am not claiming that such generous impulses are the preserve of any faith but rather that Christians developed the institutional structures and the voluntary principle. This influence is clear in one Chinese instance. When Christian missionaries arrived in coastal China, they brought with them Anglo-American models of charitable organization. These models bemused local Buddhists, but some were troubled by taunts about their own lack of outreach and of practical compassion. That inspired Buddhist activists, notably Taixu (1890–1947), whose profound admiration for Christian charitable efforts led him to found the school of Humanistic Bud­dhism, aimed at improving the human condition in the present life. (He was less impressed by Christian theology.) That movement has grown explosively in modern times, especially in Taiwan.

Its best-known modern-day exponent is the nun known as Master Cheng Yen, who deserves to be much better known as a leading figure in contemporary religion. Born in Taiwan in 1937, Cheng Yen made it her life’s work to create a Buddhist NGO at least comparable to Christian agencies. The result is Tzu Chi—the Buddhist Compassion Re­lief Tzu Chi Foundation, founded in 1966—which is sometimes called the Buddhist Salvation Army.

Tzu Chi has 10 million members and operates in 47 countries, focusing on disaster relief, medical aid, and community service. Volunteers are strictly forbidden to use their work to evangelize or to discuss religion. Tzu Chi workers have recently been in evidence in the United States following Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the fires in Northern California. Apart from conventional aid, they offer cash cards to help tide people over in periods of dislocation and unemployment. When volunteers offer aid to a person, they are expected to bow to the recipient to offer their thanks for the opportunity to do good.

If the ideas underlying such a relief agency were originally Christian, they have now been thoroughly appropriated and absorbed, and they have come home to the United States. Let’s hope the religions of the world will continue to find fruitful ways of borrowing practical ideas from each other.

A version of this article appears in the print edition under the title  “Compassion gets organized.”


ISR’s Jenkins, WWI in Knox News

One of the most famous tales of World War I began when a fantasy fiction writer wrote a story in 1914 about British soldiers crying for help while facing overwhelming German forces near Mons, in France.

Their prayers summoned heavenly hosts of archers attacking the “heathen horde.”

Soon, veterans started claiming that they saw these “angels” with their own eyes. Images of the Angels of Mons began appearing — as fact — in posters, paintings and popular songs.

It’s hard to imagine a world in which nations led by rational, scientific elites could embrace these claims, said historian Philip Jenkins, in recent lectures at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. That world is impossible to imagine because it was swept away a century ago by waves of change that few saw coming.

“What happened in the victory? ‘Oh, angels appeared. The dead arose to fight for us,’ ” said Jenkins, a distinguished professor at Baylor University and author of 27 books. “When the Germans launched their great offensive in 1918, of course, what else could it be called? It’s Operation Michael, after the leading archangel — who by this point has become something like a German war god.

“If you look at the propaganda of the time, the assumption is that Christ is absolutely with US — whoever WE are, the Germans, the Americans, whatever.”

Before World War I, most global leaders followed a radically different set of assumptions, with ironclad ties between their governments and major religious institutions, he said. Many soldiers believed that St. Michael the Archangel, the Virgin Mary and even Joan of Arc would fight by their sides. As the war began, Germany experienced fervor many called a “New Pentecost,” with Martin Luther as a messianic figure.

While it’s common to believe that religion evolves slowly over time, in a linear manner, the evidence suggests that history lurches through periods of “extreme, rapid, revolutionary change, when everything is shaken and thrown up into the air,” said Jenkins. Every 50 years or so, new patterns and cultural norms seem to appear that never could have been predicted.

World War I is a classic example. For instance:

— British troops defeated a Turkish army at Megiddo, the site of the biblical battle of Armageddon. Soon, the Balfour Declaration sought the creation of a Jewish homeland.

— Bolsheviks crushed Tsarist Russia, martyring millions of Orthodox Christians. Turks began radical persecutions of Eastern Christians, changing the Middle East.

— The war severed missionary bonds with emerging nations, unleashing the explosive growth of uniquely Asian and African forms of Christianity — a boom beginning in 1915 that continues today.

— Secular France sent Catholic clergy to the front lines, shaping scholar-priests who later challenged the relationship between faith, war and the state. Did Vatican II begin at the Battle of Verdun? Then again, an Italian priest who carried stretchers to military hospitals would later become St. Pope John XXIII.

Yes, it’s tempting to ponder what is happening in 2018.

Radical forms of Islam are growing, but so is secularism in many Islamic cultures, said Jenkins. Birthrates are collapsing in Europe, but also in parts of India and Asia. Africa’s population keeps growing among Muslims and Christians, suggesting even more tensions where these faiths collide.

Meanwhile, who can predict the next bolt of technology that could change everything again?

Think about 1968, noted Jenkins. In the ’60s, it was easy to spot emerging youth cultures and the sexual revolution. There were assassinations and riots and early signs of radicalized Islam. Mainline, establishment churches began their rapid decline, while Pentecostal Christianity exploded worldwide.

Then there was a lecture in San Francisco on Dec. 9, 1968. That was when Douglas Engelbart demonstrated an “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System” — he called it a “mouse” — along with other digital innovations that would connect with the upcoming ARPANET project, a giant step toward the internet.

“Think of the religious implications of I.T., personal computing and of social media,” argued Jenkins. “Think what that means in terms of consciousness, of how we develop and exchange ideas, how we interact and remember. … Should we not count all this as among the most significant religious developments of the modern age?”

It was, he argued, yet another time when the “future suddenly became visible.”

Terry Mattingly is the editor of GetReligion.org and Senior Fellow for Media and Religion at The King’s College in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge.


Levin’s book, “Religion and the Social Sciences” featured in ReligionWatch

The new book Religion and the Social Sciences (Templeton Foundation Press, $24.47) brings together contributors to account for the place of religion in their respective disciplines—from criminology and family psychology to outliers like epidemiology and gerontology (although the latter discipline has dealt with religious topics for over a century). Editor Jeff Levin of Baylor University writes that while sociology is the most active field in researching religious subjects, writing and research on religion has grown in most disciplines. But until recently, those doing research in these fields tended to be a “beleaguered lot,” often bringing these scholars together to make common cause. In his chapter on political science, Anthony Gill writes that there has been a “great awakening” in the field of political science since 2001 and the growth of religious terrorism. He notes that not only do many political scientists recognize that believers may bring their values to bear on political actions, but that “now we are open to approaches that see religious actors and organizations influenced by a whole host of incentive structures, many of which have commonalities with other political phenomena….”

Much of the recent growth in religious research in social science has taken place in economics, but Charles North notes that much more work needs to be done on the theoretical level. Along with several chapters on the growing body of research showing correlations between religious faith and physical, psychological, and family health and wellbeing, as well as the preventative role faith-based efforts seem to play regarding criminal behavior, Levin concludes the book with an overview of the new field of the epidemiology of religion. This study of population-wide patterns and causes of health and mortality has focused more on the preventative roles of religion and less on the clinical outcomes, but Levin writes that approaches that also include populations suffering from particular health challenges, as well as ones that study more diverse religious groups (other than Christian), represent the next frontier of this discipline.


Kidd quoted in the New Yorker– Franklin Graham’s Uneasy Alliance with Donald Trump

In early August, Spokane felt on the verge of apocalypse. A hundred-and-six-degree wind buffeted the valley. The air was choked with ash and smoke from two duelling forest fires. Yet, in the windowless hotel conference room where I was to meet the controversial pastor Franklin Graham, the frigid air made it possible to ignore impending calamity. Graham is the eldest son of Billy Graham, the most influential evangelical leader in twentieth-century America, who died this past February. He leads a seven-hundred-and-sixty-five-million-dollar evangelical empire, which includes the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and also his international Christian relief effort, Samaritan’s Purse. But, since 2016, Graham has become known, above all, as the most vociferous evangelical ally of Donald Trump. This summer, in response to Walmart’s sale of “IMPEACH 45” T-shirts, Graham manufactured his own merch: a hundred-per-cent-cotton “PRAY FOR 45” T-shirt, which sells at the Billy Graham bookstore for $15.99.

When I met with Graham in Spokane, he was on the West Coast leg of his “Decision America” tour, which has taken him to all fifty states since 2016. Graham casts the events as “prayer and evangelism,” in the tradition of his father’s crusades. But the tour is, in fact, much more akin to a political rally than a religious revival, and Graham benefits from blending the two in order to turn out like-minded crowds of hard-line conservatives. To the initiated, the word “decision” is a double-entendre: it means both to make a decision to follow Christ, or to be born again, and also to make a decision at the ballot box. Graham is careful to stress that he tells people only to “vote Biblically,” but this is a code his followers understand. “He didn’t say who to vote for,” Tom Phillips, a senior member of Graham’s staff, said in Spokane. “He didn’t have to.” (A spokesperson for Graham stressed that “Franklin never endorsed any candidate and said often during the tour that he didn’t have faith in the Republicans or Democrats, and that only God could save our country.”)

Billy Graham, a lifelong Democrat who supported both Democratic and Republican Presidents, promoted a message of religious and political unity. As far back as the nineteen-fifties, he attempted to desegregate his crusades, inviting Martin Luther King, Jr., to stand onstage alongside him. “Billy Graham’s style was openhanded invitation,” Robert P. Jones, of the Public Religion Research Institute, said. “He didn’t shy away from talking about sin, but it didn’t feel like an assault.” Franklin Graham, by contrast, possesses little of his father’s charisma. Personally and politically, he is far more divisive. After September 11th, he famously called Islam “a very evil and very wicked religion,” a position that put him on a public trajectory toward the hard-right wing of the Republican Party. “This was the key political turning point that set the stage for his prominence with Fox News and with Donald Trump,” Thomas Kidd, a professor at Baylor University, told me. Since 2012, the Trump Foundation has donated at least a hundred thousand dollars to Graham’s organizations, contributing to hurricane-relief efforts and to his 2015 campaign in support of “Biblical candidates.” That year, Graham supported Trump’s bid for a total ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. Graham is planning a trip to Blackpool, England, which, like Trump’s recent trip to the U.K., has faced public opposition from critics who argue that his preaching constitutes hate speech.

I first met Graham in 2003, when I travelled with him to Sudan. Samaritan’s Purse had been working in the south of the country for decades, but Graham had never been to the north, where he was going to meet the Sudanese dictator, Omar al-Bashir, who was waging war against his own people in Darfur and in southern Sudan. When the two men sat down in Bashir’s marble palace, Graham mentioned the hospital he ran in the south. Bashir turned to his aide and asked, in English, “Isn’t that the hospital we bombed?” To which Graham replied, “Twice, and you missed.” Graham then handed Bashir a George W. Bush reëlection campaign button that he’d taken from the desk of Karl Rove’s secretary.

After I returned from the trip, which I wrote about in my book “The Tenth Parallel,” Graham sent me a red-letter Bible, in which Jesus’s words are printed in red ink. That same year, he invited me to visit him in Boone, North Carolina, where we had dinner with his daughter, Cissie, and his wife, Jane Austin Cunningham, who scolded Graham for sneaking food to the dog under the table. Afterward, he gently warned me about the dangers of practicing yoga: its chants were demonic. Graham allowed me to poke around his home and office, which included a garage full of Harley-Davidsons and a gun safe. The walls of his office were decorated with a nail from ancient Rome—like the one used to nail Jesus to the cross, a caption said—and letters from Presidents. One, from George W. Bush, read, “We are doing all the right things in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

I next saw Graham on TV at Trump’s Inauguration. “Mr. President,” Graham said, turning to Trump, “in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform. And it’s my prayer that God will bless you, your family, your Administration, and may He bless America.” He continued with a prayer from I Timothy: “For kings and for all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In Spokane, Graham’s frailty startled me. At sixty-six, he looked much older and more worn than he had even two years ago. He took a seat in a ballroom chair, his large frame bent slightly forward in order to hear. I wondered if his tour was wearing him down. He’d returned to the Pacific Northwest “to penetrate the blue wall, ” as he’d said at one event. “Let’s go penetrate that blue wall, not for politics but for Jesus!”

Salvation, Graham stressed repeatedly, was his core message. “I speak about this issue of politics for five minutes, maybe four,” he assured me. Graham is well aware of the critique often levelled against him: that he’s more politically and spiritually partisan than his father. Billy Graham met every President from Truman to Trump, but he was particularly close to Richard Nixon, an intimacy he came to regret when the Watergate tapes became public and Nixon was heard repeating anti-Semitic remarks that Billy had made to him. In 2011, Billy Graham admitted that this closeness was an error. “Looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now,” he told the magazine Christianity Today.

When I asked Graham if there was a lesson in his father’s regrets, he brushed off the question, and told me the story of his dad’s reaction to Nixon instead. “He was hurt by President Nixon, and things that Nixon said, when, like the Watergate tapes, he never heard President Nixon cuss, use profanity—so that was a shock to him, and he felt a little bit betrayed by that.”

Billy Graham still went to the White House, Franklin reminded me, spending time with Clinton and George W. Bush. “But my father did not go out and campaign for people,” he said. “I don’t do that.” There were other ways to tip the political scale. His father invited George W. Bush to meet with him on the Sunday before the 2000 election. “Now, that was probably worth a few votes in Florida,” Graham told me.

The younger Graham said he did his best to avoid Beltway politics. “I stay out of Washington as much as I can,” he added. “I try to keep my distance.” That’s not easy under Trump, who, as we have seen, demands a display of total loyalty from his allies. Two weeks later, Graham flew to Washington, D.C., to attend a White House dinner for about a hundred evangelical leaders. Trump greeted Graham by name in his introductory remarks, and then he touted the work that he’d done on behalf of conservative Christians: he’d been the first President to address the March for Life from the Rose Garden; he’d spoken out against the persecution of Christians; he’d brought home hostages from North Korea and was fighting for the release of a pastor from Turkey; he’d reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which blocks federal funding for foreign nongovernmental organizations that provide abortions.

Later, with Graham seated next to him, Trump warned of the stakes for Christians if Republicans lost in the midterms. “They will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently,” he said. Later, by phone, I asked Graham what he thought of this rhetoric about “violence” from the left—didn’t it seem far-fetched to him? Graham defended Trump, invoking the Cold War era, when Christians faced persecution in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries. “I do agree, to some degree,” he said. “The Democratic Party is moving very quickly toward socialism, and I know what socialism does to the church.”

Graham doesn’t need to go to Washington to enter the political fray: he has 1.75 million followers on Twitter and another seven million on Facebook, where he often defends the President or Christian conservatives like Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker who is back in the news for refusing to bake a cake that honors a woman’s gender transition. “Thank you Jack for your courage and perseverance in standing up for your beliefs,” Graham wrote in a recent post. In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, he posted an open letter on Facebook that began, “Listen up—Blacks, Whites, Latinos and everybody else. Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience.” The screed earned him ire from fellow religious leaders and from people of color, who are an increasingly powerful demographic in the Church. I asked Graham if growing diversity among believers called for a new approach. “I don’t worry about that,” he replied. “I believe in preaching the word of God, ’cause his standards don’t change.”

Graham has also been criticized for his relationship with Vladimir Putin, which began before Trump took office. Putin’s anti-gay legislation aligns with Graham’s views, and, in 2014, Graham wrote, “In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues. Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.” In 2015, Graham spent forty-five minutes with Putin in Moscow, discussing the persecution of Christians and what evangelical Christianity actually entails, Graham told me. He asked for Putin’s help in securing the freedom of Saeed Abedini, a pastor imprisoned in Iran. Abedini was released in 2016. Since then, Graham has often defended Trump for his approach on Russia, tweeting before their July 16, 2018, meeting, “Let’s pray for @POTUS @realDonaldTrump in these key meetings.” When Trump came under fire afterward for denying Russian interference in the U.S. election, Graham defended him for “pursuing peace above politics.”

Graham stood by his comments, even after Trump walked back his own. He told me that he didn’t think Trump should have gotten “more aggressive” with Putin. “I don’t think that’s the way you get things done,” he told me. Graham has repeatedly denied the possibility that Trump colluded with the Russians to win the 2016 election, and is only slightly more circumspect on the issue of Russian interference. When pressed on the issue, he said, “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know. But I do know that the United States has interfered in many countries’ elections. We’ve interfered in Iran, with the Shah. We interfered in Vietnam and put our own people in. We did this in Korea. And President Obama did this in Israel.” Graham, who is also a strong supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, was speaking about President Obama’s alleged support for the more liberal Israeli opposition during the 2015 election. This is one of the many conspiratorial half-truths that Graham has levelled as criticism against Obama. He has also supported outright lies, including the spurious accusation that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

It was harder for Graham to deny recent evidence of Russia’s attempt to penetrate conservative evangelical circles. Through the Department of Justice’s indictment of the Russian operative Maria Butina, it has come to light that she targeted the National Prayer Breakfast, which Billy Graham helped launch, in 1953. “The Russians may have used this, of course,” Graham said. “I can tell you right now, everybody in that room has the same agenda. They’re wanting to be able to rub elbows with somebody that they normally couldn’t rub elbows with.”

Seeking influence wasn’t a crime, he said. That was politics. “Listen, the gays, they do everything they can to get their politicians into office, and they have every right to do that. And I’m just saying, we, as Christians, we have every right to have the Christian voice in office.”

This, Graham has said, is why he stands by Trump, who has defended the cultural conservatism that Graham identifies as “Christian.” And Trump’s moral failings are old news, he told me. “Well, you take American Presidents in the past. Bill Clinton wasn’t the first man to have an affair in the White House,” Graham said. “We’re all flawed, and the Bible says we’re all sinners. And the Bible tells us that God sent his son to take our sins, to die for our sins. And America needs a heart transplant. And we need to put our heart and faith and trust in Jesus Christ, because every politician—I don’t care who they are, what party you put in there—they’re flawed men or flawed women.”

“Do you think that President Trump really wants to turn the nation to God?” I asked.

“No,” Graham told me. “No. That’s not what he’s trying to do, no.”

The extreme heat in Spokane was enough to cancel public events, but Graham’s crusade went on as scheduled. The Spokane County Fair and Expo Center is a fifteen-minute drive from downtown, and only a few blocks away from Smokane and Lovely Buds, two legalized-marijuana dispensers. Graham’s event was sharing the fairground’s sandy lot with a large R.V. show. The revival kicked off at 5 P.M., with a reception for V.I.P.s and Billy Graham’s supporters.

As cars turned into the entrance, an anti-abortion protester jabbed a placard toward the sky—on it, the disturbing image of an unborn child’s seemingly severed head. Inside an air-conditioned outbuilding, Graham’s employees had set up folding tables with offerings of cheese cubes and chicken satays. Three of Graham’s young grandchildren, two polite sandy-haired girls in smocked sundresses and a boy in a blue blazer, stood by large coolers of water and iced tea, filling glasses. In a crowd of several hundred, there were only a handful of others under the age of sixty. Many were pushing walkers, and several I spoke to had been involved in Billy Graham’s Spokane crusades.

Standing on the dais, Graham invoked his late father, reassuring Billy’s followers that they were in for more of the same. He recalled that his father once told him, “Don’t you monkey with my crusades!” The crowd laughed and applauded. “We’re not changing nothing,” Graham said. The world was changing, however, and Graham described the role that the Internet played in evangelizing—bringing a new Christian into the faith “every twenty-one seconds,” he claimed. Graham said that he purchased words and phrases from Google, such as “does God love me,” to drive seekers to his site. Online, he could evangelize in countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran, where it was illegal.

“If I went into some of those countries, they’d cut my head off,” he said. Even for his upcoming trip to England, he said, “We’ve got a lot of opposition from Muslims and gays.” Graham asked for prayers for the trip and a wide range of other programs, including Operation Heal Our Patriots, which takes wounded veterans and their husbands and wives to Alaska for counselling. Often, veterans ended up getting baptized in a freezing lake. In Iraq, Samaritan’s Purse ran a hospital near Mosul, seven miles from the ISIS front line. “We had Muslims who gave their lives to Christ,” he said. “We don’t talk a lot about it because we want to be able to go back.” (Graham has publicly said, “Islam has declared war on the world.”)

After the reception, Graham ducked into a forest-green “Decision America” tour bus, for a respite from the heat. The bus had marble floors, and two bags of Tate’s Bake Shop cookies sat by the sink, next to a jar of salted peanuts. Graham seemed tired, fed up with political questions. They had nothing to do with the salvation he’d come to preach, he said, pouring himself an iced tea. “People think I’m closer to Donald Trump than I actually am, ” Graham said. “I haven’t seen Trump since my father’s funeral.” He didn’t want to go to the White House dinner, he told me, preferring to spend time with his family. “But people told me if I didn’t go it would look like a snub.”

The main event took place in the evening, outside on a steamy knoll. By 6 P.M., the grass was filling with nearly fifteen thousand people toting coolers and portable stadium chairs. By the time the lights on the stage came up, just after 7 P.M., the heat had eased by a few degrees. A drone buzzed in the smoky air, collecting video footage. I spotted two dozen leather-skinned men with graying ponytails and motorcycle jackets adorned with patches that read “Soul Patrol” and “Bikers for Christ.” One man with thinning long blond hair had the letters “IXOYE” on his jacket. “It’s the word early Christians used as a code for where they were meeting,” he told me. His name was Alexander Evan, but he went by Ace, he said, handing me a business card that read “Sons Redeemed Ministry.” He ministered by evangelizing to “misfits” like himself—many belonged to the one per cent, he told me, a term which confused me until he explained that it referred to outlaw motorcycle clubs.

I asked him why he’d come and he pointed to his friend Skip Sanford, who goes by Joker, a member of Bikers for Christ. Graham had called their head pastor, Joker said, and asked them to come out as a show of support. The men didn’t know Franklin well; they were more familiar with Billy, and neither was politically minded. “Trump’s an average guy coming into a position he doesn’t deserve,” Ace said.

“Know who Trump reminds me of?” Joker asked. “Saul.” In the Bible, Saul persecutes Christians before he has a conversion experience on the road to Damascus and becomes the apostle Paul. “He’s not Paul, though,” Joker said with a laugh.

Graham took the stage, leading his followers in a prayer from I Timothy 2: “For kings and for all those in authority”—the same intercession he’d offered at Trump’s Inauguration. This wasn’t only a call to high political office. “Can you imagine if the majority of the school board were controlled by God-fearing Christians?” he asked, continuing with a treatise on how secularism was no different from Communism, how abortion was murder, and how same-sex marriage was a sin against God. He was trying to rile the crowd, but many people looked sleepy and distracted. Maybe it was the heat.

As he drew his half-hour sermon toward its intended crescendo, Graham offered an invitation to those who were in need of salvation to stand. Some did, perhaps fewer than a hundred, while workers holding stacks of Bibles looked on. He asked them to pray, “Dear God, I am a sinner.” Then Jeremy Camp, a well-known Christian singer, played, while people folded up chairs and dumped ice out of coolers, hoping to beat the flock of cars out of the fairground lot.

Following the crowd to my rental car, I spied a blond and darkly tanned family still sitting on a picnic blanket, eating chicken and grapes. Kristina and Dave Bolich had come from their ranch, a thirty-minute drive from Spokane, so that their four daughters, aged sixteen to twenty-one, could listen to Graham. Kristina homeschooled them, in part to keep them out of a secular school system that taught things, like evolution, in which she didn’t believe. Now that they were older, headed into the world on their own, she wanted them to see that being a Christian was still possible and relevant. “They think no one’s like this anymore,” Kristina told me, glancing around at the crowd. No one was doing drugs, she said, no same-sex couples were kissing. The environment was a relief, she noted, but Graham had been a disappointment. “He’s a lot different than his dad,” she said. “If it were Billy, everyone would be enthralled.”


Philip Jenkins in Notes of the Global Church, Christian Century

The story of one Ethiopian woman—and of Christianity’s encounter with modernity

Yetemegnu Mekonnen lived faithfully in turbulent times.

August 23, 2018

As home to one of the world’s oldest Christian cultures, Ethi­opia preserves many practices and beliefs dating back to ancient times. But far from being a museum relic, Ethiopian Christianity is a vibrant faith in a land that has some 66 million believers. A splendid biography now gives a flavor of this faith and makes us appreciate its recent struggles.

In The Wife’s Tale (HarperCollins), British-based journalist Aida Edemariam describes the epic life of her pious grandmother, Yetemegnu Mekonnen, who lived from (roughly) 1916 to 2013. Born in the mighty imperial city of Gondar, at age eight Yetemegnu married the priest Tsega, who later rose to political prominence under emperor Haile Selassie. Through the life of this one astonishing woman we can trace the story of Ethiopia’s Christian elites in incidents that sound as if they could have come from centuries before. When the emperor is crowned in 1930, priests chant for seven days and deacons dance before the king, “sistra clashing, drums beating, bare feet stepping.” Court gatherings are blessed by “ranks of clergy in high white turbans and glowing white shemmas [shawls].”

No less medieval in feel are the political hazards faced by high churchmen at the imperial court. Political missteps lead Tsega into disgrace, forcing his wife to struggle for decades to restore the family’s lands and fortunes. Scarcely re­marked amid these great events are the slaves who do the menial work, which is the foundation of the leisured world of glittering aristocrats and prelates. Those same elites prosper from the heavy tithes exacted from the peasantry.

Slaves aside, this sounds like the world of Chaucer, an impression reinforced by the book’s title. Yet in the midst of this seemingly medieval world, modernity arrives suddenly in the hide­ous form of bombing raids launched by Italian invaders in the 1930s, targeting churches and slaughtering monks. Yete­megnu lives long enough to witness both of the crises that came close to destroying her church altogether: the Italian fascist occupation and the monstrous communist dictatorship of the Derg, which ruled from 1974 to 1991.

The Derg were hardly less vicious than their better-known contemporaries, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. For Ethio­pia’s Christians, the worst period was the Red Terror that raged through the late 1970s, followed by a state-induced famine in the mid-1980s that killed a million. Yetemegnu hears frequent news of murders and death squads, disappearances and massacres. Most traumatic was the 1979 murder of the holy Abune [Patriarch] Theophilos, falsely accused of hoarding food and of immoral behavior with women, and then strangled. When the Derg fell, Theo­philos was proclaimed a martyr and canonized. It’s a reminder of how frequently persecution has threatened modern-day Christians. Yete­megnu’s firsthand experiences are harrowing.

Quite apart from that political story, the book is richly informative about the everyday assumptions of those African Christians whose thought-worlds so often resemble the European Middle Ages and of the ancient Mediterranean before that. Like all her contemporaries, Yetemegnu pays close attention to messages received in dreams and understands the workings of spells and spirits and the evil eye. She knows the lore of the zars, those ubiquitous spirits descended from the 30 children born to Eve. Among many other legends, Yete­megnu knows that when it rains on St. Raphael’s Day, all water is holy and children must be allowed to bathe in it freely. A rainbow appearing on that blessed day is “as though Mary’s sash had been thrown across the sky.” Devo­tion to Mary is the foundation for her life, and she chants prayers and litanies through every moment of crisis and change, notably during her many pregnancies.

Like medieval Europeans, Ethi­opians draw on literary resources well beyond the canonical scriptures, including the apocryphal legends of Mary’s childhood drawn from the Pro­t­evangelium, and the Homilies of Raphael. And Ethiopians believe that Yetemegnu’s birthplace at Gondar is the present site of the Holy of Holies from the Jerusalem Temple. In her eighties, Yetemegnu finally made her pilgrimage to Jerusalem itself.

In many ways Ethiopian faith was, and is, rooted in African soil. Dances of various kinds form a major part of native Christianity, commonly justified with reference to Old Testament precedent. Clergy dance regularly and frequently, usually barefoot. The Easter fast ends “with drumbeats and ululation” as sheep are slaughtered for the feast and the mead flows freely. At one point, Yetemegnu “is having her hair buttered and braided for Epiphany.” The Trans­figuration is “a festival of flames and torchlight.”

Though the customs described are unfamiliar, the book never lets readers forget that Christianity is the air that people breathe. It structures the seasons of the year and the hours of the day. The Wife’s Tale gives Westerners an intriguing glimpse into that world.

A version of this article appears in the print edition under the title  “An ancient, 20th-century world.”

Philip Jenkins in Notes of the Global Church, Christian Century