Bennett, James B. 1967-
Bennett, James B. 1967-
Pew Program in Religion and American History, editor of Pew Notes, 1994-96; Yale University Divinity School, New Haven, CT, editor for Friends of Edwards, Works of Jonathan Edwards, 1994-96; University of Oklahoma, Norman, assistant professor, 2000-02; Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA, assistant professor of religious studies, 2002—.
American Academy of Religion, American Historical Association, American Society of Church History, Organization of American Historians.
President's Fellowship, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1990-91; Bartlett Giamatti Fellowship, Yale University, 1993-95; Pew Program in Religion and American History Dissertation Fellowship, 1997-98; Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship, 1998-99; Faculty Research Fellow, Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion at Yale University, 1999-2000; University of Oklahoma Junior Faculty Research Grant, 2001; Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Religion and American Life at Yale University, 2002-03; Postdoctoral Fellow, Center on Religion and Democracy at University of Virginia, 2002-03.
Contributor of chapters to numerous scholarly books. Contributor to journals, including American Presbyterians.
James B. Bennett is an academic who focuses his research and teaching on American religious history, new religious movements, immigrant religion, and native American religious traditions. As an undergraduate student, Bennett, as he notes on the Santa Clara University Web site, "realized that the role of religion was what really excited me across the study of American literature, history, political science and art." After pursuing a master's degree in divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary, he went on to earn his doctorate at Yale University in American religious history. Initially, Bennett was intrigued with the part that religion has played in shaping American history, society, and culture; later he found that the opposite was also true: American society has helped to shape religion in the United States. As Bennett further observes: "My fascination with these interactions continues to drive my research and teaching: how religion and culture in the United States interact and constantly reshape each other, and especially how groups of people negotiate these to create their identities."
Such an interest led to the research and writing of his first book, Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, "an enormously intelligent book about the confrontations and negotiations within Methodist and Catholic churches over issues of race, focusing on the period between 1877 and 1920," according to Journal of Southern History reviewer Stephen W. Angell. Bennett demonstrates how, during the 1870s, both the Catholic Church and the Methodist Church were the two least racially exclusive in New Orleans. While the Methodists allowed African American ministers and clergy, none were raised to the episcopacy level until 1920. The local Catholic Church, meanwhile, favored the more light-skinned Creole mixed race than it did darker-skinned African American parishioners.
Writing in the Journal of African American History, Kelly J. Baker commented: "Bennett's goal is to make clear that many black and white citizens of the Crescent City did not initially accept the racial mores associated with legal segregation; indeed, it was an uphill battle." Baker further noted: "Bennett wants to show the place of religion in the rise of Jim Crow," and thus he uses the two churches most reluctant in accepting the dictates of post-Civil War segregationist policies. Bennett explores the ensuing tensions between the Methodists and Catholics in New Orleans, and also at the more generalized anti-Catholicism of all Protestant churches during the 1880s. Still, as Angell observed, "in the 1870s and 1880s the racial inclusivity of both denominations was widely championed by their clergy and members." Baker observed that the Methodist Church "fought for racial equality through their print culture, integrated churches, shared pulpits, and public declarations of their differences with Methodists who practiced segregation." Methodist clergy also criticized segregationist churches. Likewise, Catholic Churches attempted to maintain integrated congregations and opposed the establishment of separate black parishes. This did not last long, however, for pressure from white Southerners for segregation made itself felt on the leadership of the churches in the South and North. Angell continued that "Bennett shows how intimately connected were the forces that brought Jim Crow practices to the broader society and those that brought the same separatism to the churches as Louisiana's triracial system (white, black, and creole) collapsed into a biracial one." Thus, during the period covered by his study, Bennett demonstrates that both Methodist and Catholic Churches in New Orleans became more and more segregated as a result of Jim Crow. Journal of Church and State contributor Gaines M. Foster described the different approaches to this move toward segregation: "Rigid segregation came to the Catholic Church at about the same time it came to the Methodist Church, but the process differed. Because of the heritage of French and Spanish rule, black and white Catholics in New Orleans worshipped in integrated parishes, but the church leadership remained firmly in white hands." Separate churches, such as the Catholic St. Katherine's, were ultimately established for blacks; church schools also became increasingly segregated. By the early twentieth century, both churches, which previously prided themselves on inclusion, had accepted the fact that they would in future be organized along racial lines instead of religious ones.
Bennett's study won praise from several reviewers. Foster, for example, felt that Bennett "does an able job of recounting and analyzing institutional developments in the two churches." For the reviewer, Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans "not only chronicles the rise of Jim Crow in two distinctive denominations, but also helps explain the origins and nature of the South's, and America's, racial order." Similarly, Angell concluded: "This book sets a high standard for analysis of the nineteenth-century evolution of religion and race, and scholars of American religion and history will find it an indispensable resource." Theological Studies contributor Diana L. Hayes also had praise for the book, terming it "a superior contribution to U.S. Catholic history," as well as a "significant contribution to U.S. religious history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Studies, March 22, 2006, Carolyn Medine, review of Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, p. 179.
Choice, December 1, 2005, L.H. Mamiya, review of Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, p. 674.
Journal of African American History, June 22, 2006, Kelly J. Baker, review of Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, p. 344.
Journal of American History, June 1, 2006, William E. Montgomery, review of Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, p. 221.
Journal of Church and State, March 22, 2006, Gaines M. Foster, review of Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, p. 473.
Journal of Southern History, November 1, 2006, Stephen W. Angell, review of Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, p. 966.
Theological Studies, March 1, 2007, Diana L. Hayes, review of Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans, p. 216.
Santa Clara University, Department of Religious Studies Web site,http://www.scu.edu/ (April 13, 2008), faculty profile.