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Recently on Twitter, a debate broke out between Annette Gordon-Reed, Sam Haselby, and John Fea on the nature of Thomas Jefferson's religious beliefs. The debate centered on the questions of whether or not Thomas Jefferson could be described a Christian and wanted the United States to be a Christian nation. Ultimately, the debate could not overcome the 140 character limitations of Twitter. Fortunately, Michael Hattem preserved that debate at [https://storify.com/michaelhattem/jefferson-christianity-and-twitter Jefferson, Christianity, and Twitter].
Instead of recreating the debate, it made more sense to contact one of the participants, Sam Haselby, whose recent book ''[https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0199329575/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0199329575&linkCode=as2&tag=dailyh0c-20&linkId=aff5f98989dca21ce3fda12a728b5ddb The Origins of American Religious Nationalism]'' (published by [http://global.oup.com/?cc=us Oxford University Press]) examines the the
intersection of politics, national identity and Christianity. ''The Origins of American Religious Nationalism'' was published in 2015 and will be republished in paperback in December 2016. It made sense to get his perspective on the concept of American Religious Nationalism, the broad issues that underpinned the recent Twitter debate, and his understanding of early American Christianity.
Sam Haselby is a visiting
assistant professor of history at Columbia University and the editor of [https://aeon.co/ Aeon magazine]. He recently published an article for Aeon entitled [https://aeon.co/essays/why-did-the-secular-ambitions-of-the-early-united-states-fail American Secularism] explaining why the secular movement failed soon after the founding of the United States.
Here is our interview.
'''Why were you attracted to this field?'''
had a certain disdain for Christianity, and an interest in how people became nationalists. I think I gained a sympathetic understanding of why they do, but the book is really an anti-nationalist book and in the course of research I acquired a certain respect for the religionists--though I’m constitutionally incapable on that front . The project opened a lot of doors for me, intellectually, and most of them back into the early modern or medieval or late antique period, or out to other parts of the world. Religion and politics is a good thing to be interested in if you are curious about the world, because every society, every time and place, has them.
'''What was the nature of the American Christianity at the end of the 18th Century? Had it completely shifted from its Calvinist roots? How did most American Christians identify themselves?'''