Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Historical Society's 2010 Conference & Religious History

Randall Stephens

[Crossposted at Religion in American History]

The Historical Society's 2010 conference will deal with the future of the field of history. Titled "Historical Inquiry in the New Century" (June 3-5, 2010, hosted by Eric Arnesen at George Washington University, Washington, DC) the meeting hopes to attract scholars interested in the shape of the historical enterprise.

Animating questions include:
  • What are the current historiographical debates?
  • Where do particular fields currently stand?
  • What's changed for the good—or the worse—in specific areas?
  • What have been the clearest criticisms of the profession?
  • What are the truly "big questions" historians face, and are we adequately grappling with them?
  • What, in fact, are our aims/goals for the history that we write? What are the audiences for the history we write? Who's reading us?
  • What impact, if any, do we have on larger, non-scholarly debates and understandings?
  • How important is good writing to the field of history?
I hope that we can have several panels on religious history in general and American religious history in particular. Questions similar to those above might be worth considering. In addition, though, participants might look at how the field of religious history has broadened out over the decades from institutional and denominational history to something much larger. In recent years the number of historians who study religion has grown rapidly. Will that help reshape the field of history? Are the arguments about the neglect of religious history—made by George Marsden, John McGreevy, and Jon Butler—still applicable? Other questions to consider: What topics are younger historians studying, and why? What role does theory play in the writing of religious history? Has the job market or the publishing industry begun to reflect the growth in religious history?

A couple of years back James O’Toole wrote an essay in Historically Speaking on “Religious History in the Post-Ahlstrom Era.” His closing paragraph deserves further reflection:

The post-Ahlstrom era is now thirty years old, and no one can predict how long it might last. Historians will have to take account of new forms of religious diversity, particularly outside the West, both on their own terms and for the impact they have on more established groups. Levels of religious practice remain very high in America in comparison to other parts of the West, and history can help us understand this phenomenon. The future of the discipline is unknown, but it is clear that there is much work to do.

Please contact me, or the Historical Society, if you are interested in giving a paper, attending, offering insights, or putting together a session. Proposals (abstract and CV) should be sent to jslucas [at] bu.edu by January 31, 2010. Panel proposals are encouraged.

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