Two Scholars of American Religious History Appointed to HDS Faculty

May 20, 2009
Two Scholars of American Religious History Appointed to HDS Faculty

Renowned scholars of American religious history R. Marie Griffith and Leigh Eric Schmidt have been appointed to the HDS faculty, effective July 1, 2009. Griffith will be the John A. Bartlett Professor of New England Church History, and Schmidt will be the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America.

"Leigh Schmidt and Marie Griffith are, in their own ways and areas of interest, two of the very best mid-career historians of American religion active in the academy today," said Dean William A. Graham. "They join a very strong set of colleagues in this and related fields already at HDS. Considering also the strong scholars in various departments across Harvard, Leigh and Marie fill out an unusually strong cadre of Americanists at Harvard who work on religious history either primarily or as a significant part of their particular scholarly areas of focus."

Griffith is currently Professor of Religion at Princeton University, where she also serves as director of the university's Program in the Study of Women and Gender. Her first book, God's Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission (University of California Press, 1997) established her as a pioneer in the study of modern evangelical women. A prolific author, her articles have appeared in, among other places, The Chronicle of Higher Education, American Quarterly, and Harvard Divinity Bulletin.

Griffith received her doctorate from Harvard's Committee on the Study of Religion in 1995 and was a Research Associate at Harvard Divinity School's Women's Studies in Religion Program in 2002-03, when she worked on Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity (University of California Press, 2004), which explores the religious underpinnings of the ideologies of the body that play a central role in American consumer culture. Her latest book project will examine sexuality debates in twentieth-century U.S. Christianity.

"Marie is one of the most creative scholars exploring religion in the context of American history," said Ann D. Braude, Senior Lecturer on American Religious History and Director of the Women's Studies in Religion Program at HDS. "Her work has forced the academy to move beyond cardboard stereotypes of evangelical women in particular, raising provocative questions about the relation of religion to women's agency, women's bodies, and women's relationships. She is a great ambassador for the study of religion to the fields of American studies, women's studies, and the history of sexuality."

Leigh Schmidt is currently the Agate Brown and George L. Collard Professor of Religion and chair of the Department of Religion at Princeton, where he has taught since 1995. He has held prestigious fellowships at Stanford, Princeton, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"I have an abiding fascination with the history of American religious liberalism, and it is hard to imagine a more fruitful place in which to pursue those interests and that history than at Harvard," Schmidt said. "The history of the practice of studying religion is one of my long-standing areas of interest, and Harvard offers an ideal intellectual community for reflecting on the contemporary discipline as well its historical formation."

Schmidt is the author of numerous books, including Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Harvard University Press, 2000), which won the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Historical Studies.

"Leigh Schmidt is an unusually imaginative, creative, and prolific historian, whose published works straddle the Atlantic and cover a wide chronology," said David N. Hempton, Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies at HDS. "Often with striking originality, he is able to bring together intellectual and popular history, religious studies and social history, and theological ideas and lived religion. He has written about how religion shapes and is shaped by time, space, sound, parades, holidays, festivals, visual culture, spirituality, and secularization. His expertise will not only enliven programs in American religious history at Harvard, but will also connect with scholars across many different disciplines."

—by Jonathan Beasley