Study: “The Bible in American Life”

UntitledThe year 2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible. It also marked the beginning of a three-year Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI ) study of the Bible’s place in the everyday lives of Americans.

With a $507,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture – a program of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI – set out to answer questions of how, where, when and why ordinary Americans use the Bible.

According to findings made public online in the 44-page “The Bible in American Life” report, the four-centuries-old King James Version of the Bible is far from dead. Despite its archaic language and a market flooded with newer, more modern English translations, more than half of the individuals and two-fifths of the congregations surveyed still prefer the King James Bible.

And of those surveyed, African Americans reported the highest levels of Bible engagement.

Seventy percent of all blacks said they read the Bible outside of public worship services, compared to 44 percent for whites, 46 percent for Hispanics and 28 percent for all other races.

Bible memorization is highest among black respondents, 69 percent, compared to 51 percent among white conservative Protestants and 31 percent among white moderate/liberal Protestants.

“There are no measures, individually or in congregations, where ‘black’ is not strongly correlated with the most conservative, most active, most involved level of scriptural engagement, no matter which other group comes closest,” the report says.

“If one wanted to predict whether someone had read the Bible, believed it to be the literal or inspired Word of God, and used it to learn about many practical aspects of life, knowing whether or not that person was black is the single best piece of information one could have.”

The report first looks at the practice of scripture reading in the United States, and then explores eight measures among those who read the Bible, such as Bible translation used; scripture memorization habits; favorite passages; and race.

Roughly half of Americans have read religious scripture outside of a public worship service in the past year. For 95 percent of those, the Bible is the scripture they read.

What did the study reveal about Bible readers?

Most of those people read at least monthly, and a substantial number – 9 percent of all Americans – read every day.

Women were more likely to read than men; older people were more likely to read than younger; Southerners were more likely to read than those of any other region.

The percentage of verse memorizers among Bible readers (48 percent) equates to roughly a fourth of the American population as a whole, or nearly 80 million people.

Psalm 23 – which begins “The Lord is my shepherd” – was the most popular Biblical passage.

Younger people, those with higher salaries and, most dramatically, those with more education among the respondents read the Bible on the internet or an e-device at higher rates.

The written report, based on survey questions on both the General Social Survey (1,551 individuals) and the National Congregations Study III (denominations represented among the General Social Survey respondents), is the first stage of the study and offers sociological data about the role of the Bible.

“Historians and sociologists have been working for years to understand how religion is lived out on a daily level,” said Philip Goff, executive director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture and one of the three principal investigators who led the study. “This gives us a good snapshot of the practice of Bible reading. That should also help ministers understand the people in their pews.”

Goff’s co-investigators are Arthur Farnsley, associate director of the center; and Peter Thuesen, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at IUPUI.

full article found here

Davis continues ‘telling stories’ in new novel with a twist to an old theme

unnamedINDIANAPOLIS — Thomas J. Davis’ third and latest novel brings something new to the age-old tale of a man selling his soul to the devil.

In The Devil Likes to Sing (Cascade Books), Davis, professor of religious studies and associate dean for academic programs in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, tells the story of Timothy McFarland, a failed theology student who begins writing fiction. Feeling he’s a hack, McFarland strikes a deal with Lucifer, who offers to shape him into a success.

“The book is a look at self-identity,” Davis said. “How we think of ourselves, who we are, whether or not we accept ourselves. Within all of us we have these self-doubts, thinking there is a way to change who we are that will make us more acceptable to others.”

Struggling with self-identity and self-doubt often opens protagonists up to searching for change.

“That’s where the notion of temptation comes in—at what price is one willing to make changes . . .” Davis said. “Once you hit the notion of temptation—especially for me, because I’ve spent my scholarly life studying the history of Christianity—the devil becomes an interesting tool by which to explore temptation because the devil as an image has the benefit of representing both an external force as well as something deeper, an internal struggle.”

Bringing something new to the age-old concept of the deal with the devil story was the author’s challenge. How could his devil differ from interpretations such as Milton’s Paradise Lost, the German myth of Faust, contemporary portrayals such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, and even Saturday Night Live?

Davis’ solution is a devil who can be funny, witty and enjoy sublime Anglican church music as well as American rock and roll.

“The character needed balance—a balance of lightheartedness and darkness, gravitas and humor, familiarity and distance, friendship and contempt,” Davis said. “That was the hardest thing to maintain while writing the devil. He had to appear almost friendly, almost helpful, almost fun while currents of evil still ran beneath him. That had to leak out around the edges, but not too much.”

The Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis professor wanted to be a storyteller long before his first foray into fiction, but he focused instead on his education and academic career. The professor’s jump into novel writing was eventually triggered by boyhood memories of stories told by his father.

“My father was grieving about the disappearance of a way of life in the north Georgia mountains that he had known as a boy,” Davis says. “He would tell stories about when he was a kid, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to capture my father’s sense of wonder in a novel and write about north Georgia through his perspective.’”

That exercise grew into his first novel, The Christmas Quilt (Rutledge Hill Press), a story about a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother’s final months of life. The book earned a Reader’s Choice award and was a selection in the Doubleday Book Club. “That book came from my need to pay homage to my ancestry,” Davis said.

Storytelling also plays a role in his classroom. “Much of what I teach is the history of Christianity, and it tends to be very narrative driven—I tell a lot of stories in class,” Davis said. “I’ve noticed that students tend to be drawn in with a good story.”

In Davis’ new novel, the devil also takes the storytelling approach, only he twists religious history to suit his needs. Davis warns that the epigraphs that open the book—selections from Milton, Blake, and the New Testament on the nature of the devil—are important for the reader. The book also ends with a warning that readers shouldn’t take the devil’s word on matters of Christian faith and practices at face value.

“He is, after all, somewhat biased,” Davis said.

Curtis awarded for NEH Summer Seminar about Muslim American Identity

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Edward E. Curtis IV

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in Washington, D.C, has announced that Edward Curtis, Millennium Chair of the Liberal Arts and professor of religious studies, has been awarded $114,438 to conduct a national seminar for school teachers on “Muslim American Identities, Past and Present.”

The three-week seminar, which will take place on the IUPUI campus in the summer of 2015, will give sixteen school teachers from around the country the opportunity to explore the history and diverse cultures of Muslims in the United States.

Participants will study thirty primary source documents, hear from two visiting experts, make field trips to two local mosques, and use the resources of the IUPUI University Library to complete individual research projects.

“My primary goal,” said Curtis, “is to nurture an environment of deep intellectual engagement and active learning in which school teachers can answer a key question of our historical moment: what does it mean to be both Muslim and American?”

In order to answer that question, Curtis will emphasize the impact of gender, race, ethnicity, and religious interpretation in the making of Muslim American identities.

The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, which has offered numerous seminars and professional development opportunities for young scholars and school teachers, will support the logistical aspects of the program.

Funding for NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes is provided by the federal government, and grants are awarded through a rigorous and selective process of peer review.

“Understanding the rich diversity of Muslim American identities in a balanced and informed manner,” Curtis concluded, “can be a powerful means of bridging cultures inside the United States and beyond.”

 


Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture offers conference on how Bible is used

391697_w296INDIANAPOLIS — Registration is now underway for a national conference that will culminate a three-year Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis study of how — outside of religious services – - Americans use the Bible in their daily lives.

The Conference on the Bible in American Life will take place Wednesday Aug. 6, to Friday, Aug. 8, at the Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre, 31 W. Ohio St., in downtown Indianapolis.

The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI is sponsoring the three-day event as part of the first large-scale investigation of the Bible in American life.

Noted historian Mark Noll of the University of Notre Dame will deliver a conference plenary address. Noll will present “The Bible: Then and Now” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7, at Christ Church Cathedral, 125 Monument Circle. Conference registration is not required for the plenary address, which is open to the public.

“While the Bible has been central to Christian practice throughout American history, many important questions remain unanswered in scholarship,” said Philip Goff, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, which is part of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI.

Those unanswered questions include how people read the Bible for themselves, how denominational and parachurch publications have influenced interpretation and application, and how clergy and congregations have influenced individual understandings of scripture, the director said.

“These questions are even more pressing today, as denominations are losing much of their traditional authority, technology is changing people’s reading and cognitive habits, and subjective experience is continuing to eclipse textual authority as the mark of true religion,” Goff said. “Understanding both the past and the future of Christian communities in the United States depends, even if only in part, on a serious analysis of how these cultural shifts are affecting Americans’ relationship to the Bible.”

Earlier this year, the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture released a report about the Bible’s use based on a national survey of American Bible reading. During the upcoming conference, historians, sociologists, political scientists, seminary professors and religious leaders will offer analyses of the Bible in daily life that complement the report’s findings and will put those findings about the Bible’s use in a broader context.

Among the report’s many findings:

  • There is a 50/50 split among Americans who read any form of scripture (the Bible, the Quran, the Torah, etc.) in the past year and those who did not.
  • Among those who read any form of scripture in the past year, 95 percent named the Bible as the scripture they read.
  •  Despite the proliferation of Bible translations, the King James Version is the top choice — and by a wide margin — of Bible readers.
  •  The strongest correlation with Bible reading is race, with African Americans reading the Bible at considerably higher rates than others.

Seating for the three-day conference is limited, and advance registration is required. Registration before July 15 is $50; after July 15 it is $70.

Lecture: James F. Brooks, “Women, Men, and Evangelism in the American Southwest”

Dr. James F. Brooks, Research Fellow, School for Advanced Research
“Women, Men, and Evangelism in the American Southwest” 

October 17
IUPUI Campus Center Room 409
7-8pm
Support provided by the IUPUI Department of History

Tickets available for free here: https://jamesbrooks.eventbrite.com

James F. Brooks is an American historian whose work on slavery, captivity and kinship in the Southwest Borderlands has been honored with several major national awards, including he Bancroft Prize, the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize.  He is former President of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

An interdisciplinary scholar of the indigenous and colonial past, he has held professorial appointments at the University of Maryland, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Berkeley, as well as fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and in 2000–2001, at the SAR itself. The recipient of more than a dozen national awards for scholarly excellence, his 2002 book Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship and Community in the Southwest Borderlands focused on the traffic in women and children across the region as expressions of intercultural violence and accommodation. He extends these questions most recently through an essay on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Pampas borderlands of Argentina in his co-edited advanced seminar volume Small Worlds: Method, Meaning, and Narrative in Microhistory from SAR Press.