Subscribe to Christianity Today
Jonathan Tucker Boyd
HISTORY WARS I: If We Ever Needed The Lord Before
We live in a wonderful time for Christian academics, perhaps especially for Christian historians. So many barriers have dropped, and we have ranks of spirited pioneers to thank for making possible opened doors to graduate study, wider freedom and subject matter for research and teaching, comparatively deep springs of funding, and perhaps even a tenure-track job now and then. Academic hostility toward Christian belief is still deeply entrenched, but there's also much to be encouraged about.
Especially as an object of study is religion basking in something of a golden age. Despite some understandable grousing from specialists about being underappreciated, most would agree that the subfield of American religious history is undergoing a modest boom. More significantly, there is widespread agreement across the discipline that religion ought to be widely studied. Most academics seem to be reassured that religion can be safely handled, at least if contained inside the resilient bubble of academic historiography. Even though it's only in this limited sense, historians can truly be said to have "got religion."
Not only is religion relatively safe in historiography, but religious believers seem to be increasingly safe in history departments. The Christian faith of widely read American historians like Timothy Smith, George Marsden, Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and Harry Stout has become common knowledge and an inspiration for younger cohorts of scholars, within and without the religious-history subfield. What's more, it is even relatively safe these days to talk about being a Christian academic (especially if you're tenured), and to do so before a wide audience. Not long ago, in the words of Mortimer Adler, "theology and metaphysics [were] either despised or, what is the same, degraded to topics about which laboratory scientists pontificate after they have won the Nobel Prize." That's no longer true, and we can thank the likes of Mark Schwehn and Marsden for plunking down on the academic ...