As the masthead for my blog indicates, one of my primary interests is American religion. My graduate studies were in this field and my career in the church and academy has always focused upon the historical dimensions of religion and life in America. Even in retirement, I continue to read and write on historical topics, as my recently published book The American Church that Might Have Been makes clear.
With a relatively clear desk and a new and very portable computer, I’m ready for the new year, and here are the historically oriented topics which will occupy my attention and therefore often appear on the blog keithwatkinshistorian.
The twisting flow of water: As cyclist, citizen of the world, and religious historian I have been increasingly preoccupied by the challenges revolving around water—its availability to people around the world, its role in political and economic life, and the ethical and religious issues pertaining to water. Because this field already is so vast and complex, and because it continues to grow, I will never be able to claim mastery.
I may be coming to a place in my work, however, when I can draft an extended essay on this subject, and this is my first goal for the new year. It will include a review of literature that has influenced my understandings of water in the world and proposals for how Americans, and especially the religious communities, should respond to the emerging crisis. Since I am committed to doing a paper on this topic for the Northwest Association for Theological Discussion in early February, this project is number one on my list.
Death and dying in America: This aspect of American life and religious practice was part of my regular work as professor of worship for more than thirty years. Because of my wife’s long illness and recent death, I have been involved in these matters in a new and very personal way.
During the past several months, I have posted columns about these matters and I have developed a preliminary draft of a paper on the church’s ministry at the time of death. One goal for 2015 is to continue my work in this field, reporting these labors from time to time on this blog, and by the end of the year write an extended essay on this subject.
The heretical imperative: In a slender book entitled The Heretical Imperative, Peter Berger has discusses the challenge that comes to all people, which is to develop a viable synthesis of the traditions on which life is based and the constantly changing social systems within which our lives are lived. During recent months I have posted blogs on this subject, including reviews on how the Qur’an and Book of Mormon are understood and used by contemporary scholars who are committed both to their classic religious texts and to secular canons of scholarship.
Since my retirement from academic life twenty years ago, I have lived in an environment marked by two unsettling characteristics: a disparaging attitude toward the classic Christian tradition and an indiscriminate acceptance popular values and practices. I feel an increasing pressure to resolve the tension I feel.
My reading in this field has been occasional and not well focused, but I hope that in this new year I will be able to bring some kind of order to the process. One way of doing so may be to collect some of the book reviews and incidental reflections that I have already composed and shape a third extended essay that would serve as a progress report on a project still under way.
Could there be a book in the making? In recent years, my friend Joe R. Jones has published two books of essays, sermons, and other occasional writings that he has composed during retirement years. The model appeals to me, and one of the guidelines that I intend to use in shaping the extended essays described above is to bring them together in that kind of book.
So what do you think? Your ideas and evaluations are hereby invited and encouraged.