UPPER BURRELL, Pa. – The never-ending debate of whether the Founding Fathers created a Christian or secular country will be the topic of a presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 30, at Penn State New Kensington. Historian and scholar John Fea, professor of history and department chair at Messiah College, will deliver a public lecture based on his book, “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”
The book explores the relationship between religion and America’s founding. Fea approaches the question from the perspective of the middle, and presents valid arguments from both sides. He doesn’t ascertain the answer (he says, “It’s a bad question”), but takes a critical view of the query from the perspective of a historian. The author was invited to campus by John Craig Hammond, associate professor of history.
“John Fea is widely recognized as one of the leading scholars on religion in the American founding,” said Hammond, who earned the campus’ Excellence in Teaching award in 2012. “He brings a fresh, scholarly look to this important and probing question.”
In addition to the evening lecture, Fea will meet in the morning with students in an honors seminar class, and in the afternoon with students in the Civil War and Reconstruction class. Hammond teaches both courses.
For the honors seminar, Fea will discuss his book, which the honors students read this semester. Students will give Fea their own interpretations of the relationship between church, state and religion in the United States.
For the Civil War class, Fea will discuss interpretations of race, slavery, politics and the American Civil War.
“He is also a lively and engaging speaker,” Hammond said. “This will be a great, informative lecture for both students and the broader Alle-Kiski Valley community.”
Seating is limited in the Conference Center. Reservations are encouraged but not necessary. Guests will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call 724-334-6032.
About John Fea
The Morris County, New Jersey, native’s research on early American and American religious history has resulted in several books. “The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America” (2008) examines the relationship between Calvinism, the Enlightenment, cosmopolitanism, and local attachments through the prolific private writings of New Jersey diarist, Presbyterian minister, and Revolutionary War chaplain, Philip Vickers Fithian. “Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past” (2013) is an introduction to the field for beginning history students.
Fea is currently working on a history of the American Bible Society, tentatively called "The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society,” to be published in May 2016 by Oxford University Press. The book will be followed by a narrative history of the American Revolution in New Jersey that will be published by Rutgers University Press. He holds a doctorate in American History from State University of New York at Stoney Brook. He joined the faculty at Messiah in 2002 and has taught numerous courses about different eras in American history – colonial, revolutionary, early republic, civil war, and immigrant.
“As a scholar, I think and write about American culture broadly defined, the intersection between ideas and everyday life in American history, the relationship between ‘cosmopolitanism’ and ‘place,’ the history of the early mid-Atlantic and New Jersey, and the connections between religion, politics and American culture,” Fea said. “I am also interested in the role of church-related higher education in American society and the relationship between faith and academic life.”
Fea’s essays and reviews on the history of American culture have appeared in numerous publications, including the Journal of American History, Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and the William and Mary Quarterly. He also has written for a variety of newspapers, such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Daily News, and Chicago Sun-Times. He blogs daily at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/
Alumni and Public Relations Specialist