Soul Crisis at the Conference on Faith and History

Academics gather asking questions like, What does 'Christian history' actually mean?

I used to think only college students felt compelled to talk late into the night about questions like, "Who am I? Why am I studying this? Does my work even matter?" After attending the Conference on Faith and History meeting last weekend, however, I now know that professors have their own version of such academic angst: the post-presidential-address discussion.

Let me back up. The Conference on Faith and History is an organization of almost exclusively Protestant, and largely evangelical, historians who meet both on their own and in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. At the meetings the scholars hobnob and present papers, some of which are later published in the conference's journal, Fides et Historia. Founded in 1967 primarily as a haven for Christians who were getting the cold shoulder from their secular colleagues, the CFH fought for several years just to gain recognition from the AHA. Now it boasts some 500 members, including leading lights of the profession, and runs its journal in the black.

So far, so good. But the new CFH president, Bill Trollinger of the University of Dayton, presented some serious concerns in his address at the Friday night banquet.

First, the organization isn't exactly what you'd call "diverse." Of the 100-120 attendees (by my informal estimate), I was one of maybe six females and only about a dozen people under 30. One African-American graduate student constituted the group's racial diversity, and there was no discernable Catholic or Orthodox presence.

Second, CFH members tend to study only a very limited range of topics, American religious history being by far the most popular. Trollinger had counted up all the articles from Fides et Historia in the 1990s, ...

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