Monday, October 3, 2011

David D. Hall on Why I Became a Historian

Randall Stephens

I first read David D. Hall's work when I was a grad student at the University of Florida. David Hackett taught a wonderful course on Religion and American Culture, which familiarized students with the big themes
in religious history.

Hall's study of the religious world of 17th-century American Puritans challenged my uniformed ideas of what it meant to be a "puritan." His writing on "lived religion," especially intrigued me. He described it as "a shorthand phrase that has long been current in the French tradition of the sociology of religion (la religion veçue) but is relatively novel in the American context." It was "rooted less in sociology than in cultural and ethnographical approaches to the study of religion and American religious history that have come to the fore in recent years." It involved "the study of 'daily life,' especially among Protestant laity [and a] reflection on 'practice' as the center or focus of the Christian life." (Hall, ed., Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice [Princeton University Press, 1997], vii.)

Hall has edited and authored a number of books and articles on American religious history, including: The Faithful Shepherd: A History of the New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century (Omohundro Institute, 1972); Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (Harvard University Press, 1990); Puritans in the New World: A Critical Anthology (Princeton University Press, 2004); Ways of Writing: The Practice and Politics of Text-Making in Seventeenth-Century New England (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); and, most recently, A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England (Knopf, 2011).

Hall has had a major impact on the fields of religious history and religious studies in recent decades. As such, he's a great fit for the new HS blog series "Why I Became a Historian." I caught up with him last week at the American religious history group meeting at Boston University. In the video embedded here I ask Hall why he was drawn to history and he responds by describing his early interest in the past, his reading of history at a young age, and his later college and grad school pursuits.

Hall's comments make me wonder if most historians had an early affinity for history through family, location, and a curiosity about all those things that had come before us.

1 comment:

PW said...

My wish list for this new HS column:

Max Hastings

David McCullough

Lynne Olson