Kinder Dissertation Fellows' Panel on Democracy and Religious History


The History Department’s Kinder Dissertation Fellows convened on October 27, 2014, to discuss the relationship between constitutional democracy and American religious history that they’ve observed in the course of their doctoral research. In a presentation titled, “‘Beware of Foreign Influence’: Anti-Catholicism and Religious Liberty in Early Nineteenth-Century America,” Cassie L. Yacovazzi focused on nativists’ fear that a rapidly growing Catholic population in the United States posed a serious threat to American democratic values. In tracing how this fear devolved into political action and public violence designed to disenfranchise Catholics, Yacovazzi argued that the nineteenth-century historical narrative of anti-Catholic sentiment in the U.S. ultimately reveals the difficulty that the nation has faced, and still faces, in striking a balance between the First Amendment cornerstones of religious liberty and disestablishment. Jennifer L. Wiard followed with a discussion of how democratic principles influenced American evangelicalism in the Progressive era. Concentrating on Billy Sunday’s legacy, Wiard demonstrated how, by encouraging community participation and by elevating laypeople–and especially women–to positions of leadership, the organizational structure of Sunday’s urban revivals not only mirrored the practices but also forwarded the causes of progressive politics in the early twentieth-century. Finally, Jonathan Root presented on the rise and swift collapse of Oral Roberts’ City of Faith. After providing background on the abundant life preachers of the 1970s and 1980s, Root turned to examining the questions regarding freedom of choice and religious disestablishment that were raised in Oklahoma courts as they decided on the need for and constitutionality of Roberts’ short-lived medical complex. A Q&A followed the panel discussion, which was moderated by Law School Professor and Forum faculty member Carli Conklin.

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