Monday, August 26, 2013

Author Spotlight: Eugene Webb

Worldview and Mind: Religious Thought and Psychological Development by Eugene Webb

Worldview and Mind covers a wide range of thinkers and movements to explore the relation between religion and modernity in all its complexity. Eugene Webb invokes a number of topical issues, including religious terrorism, as he unfolds the phenomenon of religion in all its complications, from the difference between faith and belief to the diversities among—and within—religions.

What drew you to write about this complex topic?

One of the writers I talk about, Robert Kegan, has described our modern world as one in which many of us find ourselves “in over our heads,” overwhelmed both by competing visions of life in our pluralistic world and by the demands of mental development these make on us.  I conceived my book as a kind of guide for the perplexed that would help people deal with these challenges by showing the reciprocal relation between the worldviews we hold and the minds we develop and hold them with.  It is a book not about what to think but about how to think--that is, about what is involved in the process of thinking carefully and critically about issues of ultimate meaning and value.

What is the difference between faith and belief?

Since the rise of modern science in about the seventeenth century, the word belief has taken on the rather narrow meaning of holding opinions, usually with insufficient evidence.  In its root meaning, as Wilfred Cantwell Smith showed, believe is cognate to the German belieben, meaning to cherish or hold dear.  The root in Latin is similar: credo (I believe) is formed from cor (heart) + do (I give).  It is in modern usage, therefore, that the two words diverge.  In their original meanings they were quite close, with faith referring to loving trust and loyalty under conditions of uncertainty.  In the book I discuss St. Thomas Aquinas’s conception of living faith (fides formata) as animated by love, as compared with dead faith (fides informis), which lacks animation by love.  The word belief, in modern usage, tends to be understood as referring to the latter.

What are the basic steps we can take to be more tolerant of others’ beliefs?

One key element, I think, it to recognize that all worldviews are developed by interpretation and that careful thinking in any domain requires a willingness to consider different possibilities of interpretation.  Another is to recognize that religions tend to address questions that have no simple and straightforward answer, so that alternative symbolisms may be helpful in further illuminating the areas of mystery and spiritual experience religions are concerned with.

Why do you think religion has had such a huge impact on society since as far back as religion dates? What is it about us that makes religion such a big part of our lives?

I think human beings have a basic thirst for meaning that is all-encompassing in its reach.  Religions are not the only way people can try to satisfy this thirst, but religions, at least at their best, tend to be the most open to living in the face of mystery.

In your introduction you say, “Almost every person alive today is aware that there are people who hold visions of life different from his or her own, and almost everyone suffers at least some degree of anxiety about the lack of certainty this implies.” Do you ever find yourself guilty of having this anxiety?

I don’t think anxiety is something anyone should have reason to feel guilty about.  I agree with Kierkegaard that anxiety is a great teacher and that if one listens to it, it can lead toward greater intellectual and spiritual openness.  Anxiety comes as an indication that one may be resisting new possibilities of interpretation that might be more adequate to experience.  If one attends to the voice of anxiety, it can make one aware of areas of resistance.  Anxiety becomes chronic, and therefore problematic, however, when one resists it by trying to cling to impossible claims to certainty that would exclude further questions and further possibilities of experience and interpretation.

Do you think that it is likely in our lifetime that “the world’s religions might manage to develop a way of living together with mutual appreciation and respect”?

Certainly not in our lifetime, but even so, each individual can try, by living in intellectual and spiritual openness as a reasonable, responsible person, to contribute to the development of a world in which such mutual appreciation and respect can take root.

What can you tell us about your next book?

In Chapter 7, on “The Dynamic Diversity of Religious Worldview,” I said that the vitality of a religion depends on its openness to differences of interpretation and that just as there is diversity among different religions, there is also diversity within any given stream of religion.  In this book I used the diverse forms among Islamic traditions as the main example, but I also mentioned that there was similar diversity within the Christian tradition and that the differences between Eastern and Western Christianity would be worth exploring.  That is what my next book, In Search of the Triune God: The Christian Paths of East and West (University of Missouri Press) will be about.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Author Spotlight: Thekla Ellen Joiner

Long before today’s culture wars, the “Third Great Awakening” rocked America. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, evangelists such as Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday roused citizens to renounce sin as it manifested in popular culture, moral ambiguity, and the changing role of women.

Sin in the City examines three urban revivals in turn-of-the-century Chicago to show how revivalists negotiated that era’s perceived racial, sexual, and class threats. While most studies of this movement have focused on its male leaders and their interactions with society, Thekla Ellen Joiner raises new questions about gender and race by exploring Third Awakening revivalism as the ritualized performance of an evangelical social system. Rather than approaching these events merely as the achievements of persuasive men, she views them as choreographed collective rituals reinforcing a moral order defined by ideals of femininity, masculinity, and racial purity.

Q: Why did you choose Chicago as the focus for your examination of revivalism?

Turn-of-the-century Chicago was very dynamic in a way that highlights a complex array of competitive forces.  When I began my work on revivalism, I saw Chicago as an urban prototype that would allow me to study the collision of industrialism, immigration, urban problems, and reform--and, in particular, the role of evangelicals in this mix. Placing revivalists along with other Chicago evangelicals in this urban context was an important part of the study, and Chicago had a number of important evangelical leaders.  Protestant elites like Nettie and Cyrus McCormick, T. W. Harvey, and J. V. Farwell lived and worked in Chicago, which was also home to several influential churches as well as the Moody Bible Institute. These individuals and institutions supported individual revivalists like D. L. Moody and provided the finances and expertise that were influential in this revival era. 

As an urban prototype, Chicago also had ample amounts of urban “sin,” which of course was the threat that Third Awakening revivals sought to buffer and defeat. The city’s large immigrant working class was in the forefront of the labor movement, and some of the most important labor actions of the late nineteenth century, like the Haymarket riot and the Pullman strike, took place in the city. Saloons, prostitution, and early entertainment and amusement venues predominated throughout the city. All of these challenged the private and domestic moral order of evangelicals and became the focus of their mission and outreach.  

Because of its turn-of-the century civic and business “boosterism,” Chicago has very good historical documentation.  At the turn of the century, Chicago had at least five newspapers that promoted the city’s moral uplift and provided extensive coverage of Third Awakening revivals, including specific locations, descriptions of the events, and the widespread outreach of female leaders. 
Use of these sources allowed me to deepen our understanding of the urban and social context of revivalism. Past studies of the Third Awakening tended to focus on the male leadership or the revival events themselves. I wanted to try to understand what revivals meant within a specific urban context. Revival purposes and their alliance with other Protestant reform movements come into clearer perspective. For example, the understanding of the 1893 World’s Fair revival is deepened in light of the Fair Board’s battle with the Sabbatarians (a movement seeking to maintain the sanctity of the Lord’s Day and guarantee that only religious activities occurred on that day) over whether or not the Fair should remain open on Sunday; Virginia Asher’s message of moral womanhood becomes more meaningful in the context of the efforts of the Social Purity movement to outlaw prostitution in the city. Overall, Chicago offered an ideal urban space as it confronted a wide array of challenges precisely as it was entering the modern era.  

Q: You mention that the contributions of women in the Third Awakening have been largely overlooked. How has this caused us to misunderstand the movement’s dynamic?

Sin in the City works on two levels in terms of the dynamic of the Third Awakening.  First, on what I see as a fairly simple level, the book identifies the active role that women played in the Third Awakening. Women’s activism offers a “boots on the ground” way of looking at revival. Past perspectives have had men as the main attraction. Looking at women encourages a broader focus that I think is a more authentic means of understanding this phenomenon.

Women’s efforts were often outside the main event, entailing street evangelism as well as widespread work in factories, saloons, and brothels. During the 1910 Chapman-Alexander Simultaneous Campaign, for example, Virginia Asher organized large-scale meetings for working women by actually going to the factory floor in places like the “chipped beef” room of Armour Meatpacking and the Kirk Soap Company to deliver her message.  In the same revival, Asher received wide publicity for her nighttime visit to the Everleigh House, which was probably the most famous (or infamous) brothel west of the Appalachians. 

Female revival leaders like Virginia Asher and Grace Saxe have barely been mentioned in past studies of this era; yet these women and others were professional revivalists who evidence the very skills that have been so highly touted in male. They were charismatic speakers, singers, organizers, and communicators who significantly contributed to the outreach and impact of these revivals.    
On another level, going beyond the representative female and male revivalists, gender provided a central point of moral definition for this movement. I argue in the book that Third Awakening revivalism is defined by its defense of white middle-class gender roles and that this gendered understanding is central to the dynamic of this period.  Revivalism’s alliance with organizations like the WCTU and the Social Purity movement along with endless revival references and rituals that elevated moral womanhood and middle-class domesticity spiritualized an underlying gender theology that has been written off by earlier historians as nostalgic or anecdotal. 

A central point in Sin in the City is that gender is an important element of the Third Awakening because it informs the evangelical understanding of “sin” and that, over the course of the era, this gendered perception shifts in significant ways. At the end of the nineteenth century, and in earlier revivals, women were seen as the moralizers of society and men were portrayed as the “bad seed.”  By World War I, however, women’s growing independence in both the private and public spheres increasingly positioned them as threats to this same moral order. Without this gendered perspective, the history of the Third Awakening is limited to a male-oriented and “top-down” understanding of these socio-religious events.

Q: How did the ways in which women established their identities and position in the Third Awakening influence the gender dynamics of the new middle class?

Public activism by female revivalists within the Third Awakening represented evangelicalism’s moralizing feminine ideal. They spent their careers as middle-class models of womanhood and repeatedly orchestrated rituals that promoted this identity in the city’s most sinful places--the Midway at the Chicago World’s Fair, the famous Everleigh House brothel, on the factory floor.  I find it very interesting that these women lived very public career-oriented lives, yet their message espoused a gospel of domesticity, and they saw no contradiction between their lifestyle and their message.  

Q: What relationship does the Third Awakening have to religious movements today?

The most obvious connection is the willingness today of religious conservatives and groups to engage in social and political activism in order to defend what they perceive to be a moral cause. Defense-of-marriage and anti-abortion activism would be the best examples of this involvement.  This is not unlike the Third Awakening’s intervention into Chicago politics and its willingness to engage with controversial social issues like saloon closings and the outlawing of prostitution.
In the twenty-first century the evangelical subculture has become increasingly diverse and cannot be labeled with just one perspective. The idea that all evangelicals speak with a united voice now is difficult to support.

Q: You mention that revivalists’ promotion of their moral regime served to defend their position as the normative center of American culture. Do you think that Evangelical values continue to function as the standard for the definition of morality in America?

Conservative evangelicals continue to strive to hold the normative center for American morality, and for many evangelicals the struggle to maintain a moral regime continues. At the same time, the pervasive overselling of the evangelical ideology along with its alliance with a strong socio-economic conservatism has strengthened its alliance with the Republican Party which, in light of the 2008 and 2012 elections, appears to be losing ground. 

Q: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects or books you have in the works?

For the past three years I have been working with John T. Caldwell on a documentary film titled "Highway 58: Boron to Buttonwillow." We have used a120-mile stretch of blacktop through Kern County, California, as a "lens" to understand America's current racial, economic, and cultural politics. The film begins with a nasty labor fight in Boron in 2010, when transnational giant Rio Tinto tried to break the miners' union. Moving west along Highway 58, we filmed oral histories of survivors of the migrant farm camps featured in Grapes of Wrath as well the indigenous Oaxacans who have replaced the Oakies.  We conclude with a look at the South Central Farmers, who have been displaced from South Central Los Angeles to Buttonwillow.  The film maps the complex cultural ways that the images, films, and narratives of this area have been fabricated by “outsiders” and selectively reclaimed by “locals” and residents to self-identify and weather severe hardships in the region.  The final version will be completed in 2014.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Author Spotlight: Donald Spivey

“If You Were Only White”: The Life of Leroy“Satchel” Paige by Donald Spivey

“If You Were Only White” explores the legacy of one of the most exceptional athletes ever—an entertainer extraordinaire, a daring showman and crowd-pleaser, a wizard with a baseball whose artistry and antics on the mound brought fans out in the thousands to ballparks across the country. Leroy “Satchel” Paige was arguably one of the world’s greatest pitchers and a premier star of Negro Leagues Baseball. But in this biography Donald Spivey reveals Paige to have been much more than just a blazing fastball pitcher.

Q: Satchel Paige is a name we’re perhaps less familiar with than we should be, in spite of his monumental achievements both on and off the field. What compelled you to tell his story?

I knew of Satchel Paige as a sports fan and historian of sports and the African American experience.  I had been saying since the early 1980s how much we needed a biography of him written by a professional historian.  There had been a number of journalistic treatments of the pitching sensation, but nothing applying rigorous scholarship to bring to life the full story of the one and only Mr. Paige.  It was at one of the historical conferences that the venerable historian John Hope Franklin heard and noted my remarks.  Sometime later, when he was approached by the University of Missouri Press for the name of a scholar to do a biography of Satchel Paige, he gave them my name.  Be careful what you wish for, it may come true!  I accepted the offer and signed a contract with the press to produce the biography.  My thinking was that the project would not take that long, a maximum of three years.  How wrong I was.  Twelve years later, the biography was finally finished.  I am proud to have produced the first scholarly biography of Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and one that from the outset was dedicated to being readable and accessible to the public.

Q: People tend to think of Jackie Robinson as the person who integrated baseball. Why is Satchel Paige less known than Robinson?

Jackie Robinson, of course, received the glare of media attention when he became the first African American in the modern era to play Major League Baseball.  Satchel Paige is critical because he paved the way for Robinson and the integration of the Majors.  You would have been hard-pressed in the 1930s and 40s and well into the 1950s if not later to find anyone who claimed a love of baseball who was not familiar with the name of Satchel Paige, black or white.  In his era, he was the most beloved African American in baseball and the greatest star of all in the Negro Leagues.  All of us today should know his name and celebrate his arrival in the Majors when he signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1948 at the ripe young age of forty-two.

Q: It was Satchel’s ability not only as an athlete but also as an entertainer that bolstered his star and made him a household name. Was Satchel’s Vaudeville-inspired act degrading by definition, or do you feel it is more aptly described as subversive or tongue-in-cheek?

Satchel Paige saw no contradiction in playing a great game of baseball and entertaining the fans at the same time.  Indeed, he like the rest of the ballplayers in the Negro Leagues understood that sport was a business, an entertainment business that required breathing life into the game and how you played it. Paige did stunts, to be sure, entertaining fans with fancy ball handling, behind-the-back throws, shadow ball, daring pitching, and humor on and off the field.  He kept you glued to his performance with his antics.  The press adored him.  He was a master pitcher and master entertainer.  When you think of Bill Veeck, the most innovative of the Major League team owners, you have to associate his name with the individual he always named as his favorite player, Satchel Paige.  They did a lot of stunting together, and this brought fans out in record numbers.  We can look back at Paige through present-day eyes and question some of his antics, but fans back then, both white and black, loved every moment of it.

Q: “If You Were Only White” draws attention to the impact Satchel Paige’s career had on baseball as well as the Civil Rights movement. What were Paige’s most significant contributions as an athlete and as a proponent for social justice?

I could list for you specific things that Paige did in support of the cause of civil rights such as contributing to the defense fund of the Scottsboro Boys, supporting the call for anti-lynching legislation, and pushing Major League Baseball, once he got in, to bring other blacks into the fold.  But I think, without a doubt, that Paige’s greatest contribution to the struggle for civil rights came from his personal protest demonstrations.  He did it from the pitcher’s mound.  Every time he stepped out there and took on the best of white Major League players while barnstorming and then finally in the Majors, he was making a statement about the absurdity of the color line with his brilliant performances on the mound.  

Q: What impact do you think Satchel Paige’s persona has had on modern celebrity?

Paige was a role model.  He was one of the first bona-fide superstar black athletes outside of boxing.  Only Joe Louis rivaled him in terms of fan adulation.  He well understood every time he stepped out on the mound that he represented a race and that he was making a statement for fairness and equal opportunity.  He literally struck out Jim Crow.  This book is an effort to put him where he belongs: center stage in the African American struggle for equality and justice.

Q:  What kind of correctives to the legend of Satchel Paige do you offer the knowledgeable Paige fan?

Twelve years was spent on this project to separate reality from myth in the legendary career of Satchel Paige.  Who really did teach Satchel Paige to pitch?  That is answered definitively in this book, and it was not the person all previous studies claimed.  Another important question is what happened to Paige when he was in reform school, and why were those years so critical in his transformation?  I can answer all that for you right here, but would rather have you get your copy of the book for the answers to those questions and many more. 

Q: Do you have any upcoming books or projects readers can anticipate?

Readers can look forward to my forthcoming anthology, Black Pearls of Wisdom: Voicing the African-American Journey for Freedom, Empowerment, and the Future, which will be out in December.  Also, I’m working on a biography of Milton L. Olive, III, the first African American awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Get Schooled on Missouri Heritage

I wrinkle my nose as I step outside. School's coming. I can smell it in the air. Pencil shavings, school buses, sack lunches — all of that. Depending on your perspective, it's a wonderful potpourri or a dreadful miasma. What that smell signals to me, though, is the end of leisurely reading.

I begin every summer the same: I vow to read constantly and just plow through everything on my shelf. But then my life always gets in the way somehow. As the dog days of summer wind down, I realize that this year has been no different for me. Soon, the slow but steady onslaught of assignments from all of my classes will overwhelm me, and I'll no longer have time to dip into, say, that Faulkner book I was finally getting around to.

But don't lose hope. The end of summer is nigh, but there's still just enough time to fit in a book or two before the school year really starts. Why not take a look at the Press's Missouri Heritage Reader series? For the whole month of August, all the books in that collection are 30% off. Yo, that's a lot of history. Just visit our Special Offers page and enter the promotional code MHR13 when checking out to receive this special discount. The offer ends September 1, 2013.

Pick up mo' books about MO.

Paris, Tightwad, Peculiar, Neosho, Gasconade, Hannibal, Diamond, Quarantine, Zif, Zig -- these are just a few of the names Margot Ford McMillen covers in Paris, Tightwad, and Peculiar, her lively book on the history of place names in Missouri. The origins behind the names range from humorous to descriptive. For example, Tightwad, Missouri, is said to have been named after a store owner who cheated a mailman out of his rightful watermelon to make an extra fifty cents.

While there are many accessible biographies of important Missouri men, there are few such biographies of Missouri women, which might suggest that they did not count in history. Called to Courage, written by a mother-and-daughter team, helps to correct that misconception by tracing the lives of four women who played important roles in their eras. These women were exceptional because they had the courage to make the best of their abilities, forging trails and breaking the barriers that separated women’s spheres from those of men.

In The Missouri State Penitentiary, Jamie Pamela Rasmussen recounts the long and fascinating history of the place, focusing on the stories of inmates and the struggles by prison officials to provide opportunities for reform while keeping costs down. Tales of prominent prisoners, including Pretty Boy Floyd, Sonny Liston, and James Earl Ray, provide intrigue and insight into the institution's infamous reputation.

Stories from the Heart is a collection of family stories and traditional tales about all walks of African American life. Passed down from grandparents and great-grandparents, they have been lovingly gathered by Gladys Caines Coggswell as she visited Missouri communities and participated in storytelling events over the last two decades. These stories bring to life characters with uncommon courage, strength, will, and wit as they offer insight into African American experiences throughout the state's history. 

 The Missouria people were the first American Indians encountered by European explorers venturing up the Pekitanoui River—the waterway we know as the Missouri. This Indian nation called itself the Nyut^achi, which translates to “People of the River Mouth,” and had been a dominant force in the Louisiana Territory of the pre-colonial era. When first described by the Europeans in 1673, they numbered in the thousands. But by 1804, when William Clark referred to them as “once the most powerful nation on the Missouri River,” fewer than 400 Missouria remained. The state and Missouri River are namesakes of these historic Indians, but little of the tribe’s history is known today. Michael Dickey tells the story of these indigenous Americans in The People of the River’s Mouth.

The one-room schoolhouse may be a thing of the past, but it is the foundation on which modern education rests. Sue Thomas now traces the progress of early education in Missouri, demonstrating how important early schools were in taming the frontier.  A Second Home offers an in-depth and entertaining look at education in the days when pioneers had to postpone schooling for their children until they could provide shelter for their families and clear their fields for crops, while well-to-do families employed tutors or sent their children back east.


For descriptions of all the books in the series--all on sale during the month of August--visit the Special Offers page today!