Then & Now

Religious historians take on the present

The Times of Israel reported in early March on a controversy involving Jewish residents of East Jerusalem upset about how loudly a nearby mosque was broadcasting the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer. Amidst all of the problems confronting Israeli and Palestinian society, one might be forgiven for having missed this story. It was only a dispute about noise, after all.  Yet this was hardly an isolated event. 
March 19, 2014
Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a black Mormon pioneer, was known to some Latter-day Saints historians in the latter part of the 20th century but was hardly a household name. Linda King Newell and Valerie Tippets Avery wrote the first well-researched article about Jane in LDS Church publication The Ensign. Subsequent Mormon authors focused on the early years of Jane’s life, particularly on founder Joseph Smith accepting her and her family into his home. 
March 12, 2014
You probably won’t hear Greg Laswell's songs in church. You’re more likely to catch them on the radio or in the background of a particularly intense moment of shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Glee, or The Carrie Diaries. Yet his songs animate the highs and lows of my spiritual journeys. I’ve also started using them in my U.S. religious history courses.
February 26, 2014
The United States and the Catholic Church share some intriguing similarities: both are global in reach, exert significant influence over hundreds of millions of people, and (perhaps most interestingly) make serious teleological claims. Such claims have not necessarily clashed, for they appeal to different social and moral aspects of humanity. At their best, they can be complementary empires of promise. 
February 19, 2014
Satan has had an awfully good 2014. He might get a statue on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. Actually, he probably won’t, but the New York-based Satanic Temple has proposed to have the goat-headed image of Baphomet built so that it can be seen by all visitors to the state’s seat of government. 
February 11, 2014
For scholars on race in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nothing in a recent official article on race and the priesthood was new. The forthright treatment of the subject, however, including repudiating myths that had been used to legitimate the ban on black men from the priesthood until 1978, was a matter of rejoicing for many longtime advocates of racial equality within Mormonism. The heroes of this story, however, are the black members of the LDS Church who refused to leave despite being afforded second-class status. 
February 5, 2014
There is much to criticize about the International Olympic Committee and the global party it throws every two years: the domination of industrialized nations, corporate greed and flagrant bouts of political fence-sitting, whether with Nazi policies in Germany in the 1930s or the recent homophobic legislation in Russia. However, the IOC has not just paid lip service to the ancient idea of an Olympic truce.
January 29, 2014
If you know about only one event in American Indian history, it’s probably Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Bighorn in 1876. Lakota and Cheyenne Indians repelled Custer’s surprise attack, killing more than 250 American soldiers. If you know any other event, it’s probably the massacre at Wounded Knee in late December 1890.
January 22, 2014
Jahi McMath is dead. Or, Jahi McMath is alive. Each statement is true—depending upon the person you ask. Thirteen-year-old Jahi had complications after surgery in Oakland, California. Doctors later pronounced her brain dead; there was no brain activity. Yet to her family, she remains alive.
January 15, 2014
Here are this year's most-read posts from Then & Now, a weekly blog feature by historians of religion.
December 30, 2013
In Chicago Christmas begins in November, with the revealing of Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) Christmas windows and the hanging of golden trumpets on the façade of the grand old department store. Inside, for more than 100 years the Walnut Room restaurant has glistened in its holiday glory with its centerpiece: a stunning Christmas tree. On the fifth floor, Santa awaits his eager fans in Santaland. The store buzzes with shoppers in a crush of shopping bags from Macy’s and other stores up and down the historic State Street shopping district.
December 24, 2013