insert middle ad
SamHaselby. jpg|thumbnail| 300px| Sam Haselby]] 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 as 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 how a conflict with Protestantism, in the decades following US independence transformed American national identity . Gordon Wood described his book in the ''New York Review of Books'' as an "impressive and powerfully argued book - that ....it was American Protestantism and not any sort of classical republicanism that was most important in shaping the development of American nationalism." ''The Origins of American Religious Nationalism'' was published in 2015 and will be republished in paperback by OUP 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 scholar at the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life 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 Secular] explaining why the secular movement failed soon after the founding of the United States.
Here is our interview.
OriginsAmericanReligiousNationalism. png|thumbnail| 250px| ''The Origins of American Religious Nationalism'']]
'''What type of historian are you?'''
There is no divergence. I have argued that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were visionary secularists and that they launched what was a historic, if ultimately faltering, and kind of feeble secularization project. That is true. Other notable Americans of the revolutionary era were acutely Protestant. Patrick Henry and John Jay, for example. They were deeply religious and wanted the US to be so too. So was Timothy Dwight. So were many, many others of the revolutionary generation. Most people probably wanted the US to be a devout country. But there was no agreement on what that meant. The range of positions was broad, very broad.
It is crucial however to understand that “Christian nation” has always been a term of bigotry and exclusion. First, when Americans of the 18th and 19th century used the term they were saying Catholics were not Christians. Then--as now--most Christians in the world were Catholic. It makes no sense to call a country hostile to most of the world’s Christians a “Christian nation.”