John Fea on Religion & the American Founding
Date: June 27th, 2011
Was America founded as a Christian nation? Prof. John Fea – associate professor of history and departmental chair at Messiah College (Grantham, PA) — provides an unambiguous “yes and no” answer to that question. To help us understand what this means, Prof. Fea lays out the different definitions (or understandings) of the term “Christian nation,” arguing that how you define the term will lead you to a different answer of whether the US was created as a Christian nation. In an unguarded moment of candor, your host (Tony) provides his own thoughts on the Christian nature of the Founding. We then take our discussion through an examination of the early colonization of British America, talking not only about the Puritans, but also the important role played by other religious dissenters such as the Quakers and Roger Williams. Prof. Fea points out the importance of the Anglican Church (Church of England) at this time, as well. We walk through whether or not these colonies were deeply steeped in religiosity and examine how they practiced their Christianity. One of Prof. Fea’s central arguments is that although the rhetoric of the time was Christian, the deeds (orthopraxy) of the colonists often did not match their lofty intentions. Our discussion proceeds to the Revolutionary War era with an interesting detour through “just war theory.” We finish off by examing the Declaration of Independence, with particular emphasis on references to God in that document, and the U.S. Constitution, particularly looking at the absence of references to a deity there. Prof. Fea reflects upon the significance of this debate for our contemporary era. Recorded: June 2, 2011.
Please note: This episode was recorded one day later than the interview recorded with Prof. Mark Hall that will air next week. I consider these two podcasts to be part of a vigorous debate about the influence of religion in the founding of America. Normally, we run the podcasts in order of the interview. However, Prof. Hall’s podcast is airing one week later due to a commitment I made to have his podcast air on July 4 before securing the interview date with Prof. Fea. We moved Dr. Hall’s interview to an early time to accomodate his international travel.
Prof. John Fea’s website at Messiah College.
Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction, by John Fea.
The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in America, by John Fea.
The Political Origins of Religious Liberty, by Anthony Gill (as mentioned in the podcast).
Mark David Hall on Religion & the Founding Fathers.
Mark David Hall on Roger Sherman, Puritan Patriot. (Link will activate on July 4, 2011.)
Thomas Kidd on the Pilgrims.
Thomas Kidd on the Great Awakening.
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