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RESCHEDULED to Apr. 16: Providential Modernity Seminar with Matthew Rowley
April 16, 2020 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm
** Rescheduled to virtual format, now on April 16, 1:00-2:30PM, EDT — email Amber Díaz Pearson for the paper and Zoom meeting details. **
The next Providential Modernity seminar will meet at 1:00PM on Thursday, April 16, on Zoom. The seminar will feature historian Matthew Rowley (Leicester and Cambridge): “Make (Colonial) America Great Again: The Past, the President and the Protestant Imagination.” Matthew is an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the University of Leicester, working on the ‘William Wilberforce Diaries’ project there. He is also a Research Associate at the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies (Clare College, University of Cambridge) working on the ‘Protestant Political Thought’ project.
Please RSVP to Amber Díaz Pearson to receive a copy of the paper and an invitation to the Zoom meeting.
Abstract: President Trump promised to move the United States towards greater liberty and prosperity. His rallying cry, however, was unashamedly backwards-looking. ‘Make America Great Again’ might be a call to nationalism, but it can also be taken as a commission for historians. Perhaps the most controversial word in this slogan comes at the end, ‘Again’. But what in the past should be remembered or revisited?
Many Protestants who want to restore American greatness only desire to turn the cultural and political clock back a few decades. Some want to restore America to the blueprint outlined at the founding. Others push further into the past, finding American greatness in the original European colonial settlements. For those who support the ‘Great Again’ agenda, what is remembered or forgotten in American history? How are the darker chapters of history understood—particularly complicity in racism, sexism, exploitation and intolerance?
The President’s agenda has been vigorously opposed by other Protestants who are just as eager to discuss American history. They highlight, among other things, the lingering effects of racism and privilege. Most do not join the call to ‘Make America Great Again’, but they earnestly desire to make America better. They use Scripture and history to illumine past national sin so that the nation can confess them, confront their ongoing nature and choose a better path forward.
The 2020 Presidential election occurs one week before the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival at Cape Cod. The Pilgrims, like the Presidential candidates, will be celebrated and confronted, deified and demonized. Competing remembrances will doubtless influence—and be influenced by—the election. Partisans will promote conflicting visions for America and differently situate the President in a grand national narrative. This paper examines Protestant excavations of the colonial past and surveys how history is used to support or oppose the President’s vision to ‘Make America Great Again’.
The Providential Modernity seminar brings together faculty and graduate students from several area universities on a monthly basis to discuss work in the areas of history, political theology, and comparative sociology from Antiquity to the present. A key goal of the seminar is to place scholars of religion into conversation with one another and address scholarly challenges emerging from the post-secular age. “Providential modernity” encompasses a variety of social and political hopes, as well as anxieties, about the promise of history, sometimes expressed in millenarianism and apocalypticism, at other times in peaceful theodicies. In modern times, secular surrogates for providentialism found expression in revolution, social change, and the transformation of knowledge — ideas that have been conceptualized from Hegel to Fukuyama in discussions of the End of History. Many put their “faith” in “providential modernity,” while others, in despair, denied that history had any meaning at all. At the core of our deliberations will be an effort to deepen our grasp of the ways in which religions, Western and Eastern, both converge and differ in their understanding of providentialism, and how scholars may respond to the powerful working of religion in the postmodern age.