Assistant Professor of History at the University of Munster Anja-Maria Bassimir ’07 and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Richard Salter ’86 recently presented papers at a panel, titled “Civil Religion in Post War America: A Source of Conflict or Appeasement,” at the European Social Science and History Conference (ESSHC) in Glasgow, Scotland.
“Anja contacted me to let me know about the conference and about the idea of presenting something about American Civil Religion, which is what my research currently focuses on,” says Salter. “I was very excited to participate and it was wonderful to see Anja, who I had as a student in 2007. As both a colleague and former professor, it is very gratifying to see her doing well in her professional career. It is wonderful to have these international connections and to have alumni who remain so connected to the Colleges.”
Bassimir, who has kept in contact with Salter ever since taking his class as a student, was excited to collaborate with him in this joint venture.
“Interested in the historical study of the phenomenon called ‘civil religion’ by sociologist Robert N. Bellah, I invited Richard to join a group of my colleagues in exploring this idea,” explains Bassimir. “It was great to see and collaborate with Richard, I hope that our talks at the ESSHC were only the starting point of an across-the-ocean collaboration.”
Bassimir’s paper, titled “When God and Country Collide: Civil Religion as a Source of Conflict for US-American Evangelicals,” questions whether civil religion proves that America is “God’s own country” or if evangelicals are the last bastion of true believers in a country ruled by false religion.
“Evangelicals like Carl F. H. Henry – theologian and former editor of Christianity Today – emphasized the Christian heritage and values in U.S.-American history by pointing to the Christian values inherent in political documents and the undergirding of the American way of life by Christian ideas and morality,” explains Bassimir. “However, dissenting voices saw the interweaving of religion and politics more critical, calling it a watered-down religion at best, and idolatry and false religion at worst.”
Salter’s paper, titled “A Virtue of Ambivalence: American Civil Religion and the Peace Corps,” explores the Peace Corps as an institutionalized part of American Civil Religion that is at least partly geared towards character formation.
“The U.S. Peace Corps attempts to incarnate and show to the world a particular vision of Americanness,” explains Salter. “But Peace Corps autobiographies show that the experience actually produces a pronounced ambivalence that is rooted in ironic experiences of reversal: time and again these autobiographies show ostesively useful volunteers finding themselves to be isolated and in need of assistance from the very people they mean to help.”
Other members of the panel included Professor of North American History at University of Munster Heike Bungert, Ph.D. student at the cluster of excellence “Religion and Politics” at Münster University Jana Weiss and discussant and Professor of History at University of Leuven Patrick Pasteur.
Bassimir graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in religious studies from William Smith College. She then went on to earn a master’s at the Eberhard Karls Univeristy of Tubingen. She is currently working on her Ph.D. at the University of Munster, where she serves as a research assistant and associate professor of history.
Salter joined the HWS faculty in 1998 after teaching at Indiana University Northwest. He received his B.A. in political science from Hobart College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
Following his graduation from Hobart, Salter served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the West Indies from 1986 to 1988. He has been published in several journals, including the Journal of Religion and Film and the International Journal of Practical Theology.
The European Social Science History Conference is organized by the International Institute of Social History (IISH), an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences. Information on the IISH is available from its website at www.iisg.nl.
In the photo above, the panelists who presented at the ESSHC in Glasgow pose for a photo. From left to right are Richard Salter, Anja-Maria Bassimir, Heike Bungert, Jana Weiss, and Patrick Pasture.