tags: Top Young Historians
Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies, Yale University; courtesy appointments in the Department of History and Yale Divinity School
Area of Research: U.S. religious history, methods and theories in the study of religion, the history of sexuality
Education: Ph.D., Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Thesis: "Making the Modern in Religious America, 1870-1935", 2005
Major Publications: Lofton is the author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (University of California Press, 2011).
Lofton is currently working on The Modernity in Mr. Shaw: Fundamentalisms and Modernisms in American Culture.
Together with Laurie Maffly-Kipp, she has edited An Anthology of African-American Women's Historical Writings from Antebellum America to the Harlem Renaissance (Oxford University Press, 2010).
Lofton is also the author of several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, including -- with Richard Callahan and Chad Seales -- "Allegories of Progress: Industrial Religion in the United States" in the March 2010 issue of Journal of the American Academy of Religion; "Queering Fundamentalism: John Balcom Shaw and the Sexuality of a Protestant Orthodoxy" in the September 2008 issue of The Journal of the History of Sexuality; "Public Confessions: Oprah Winfrey's American Religious History" in the March 2008 issue of Women & Performance; "Practicing Oprah; Or, The Prescriptive Compulsion of a Spiritual Capitalism" in the August 2006 issue of The Journal of Popular Culture; “The Methodology of the Modernists: Process in American Protestantism” in the June 2006 issue of Church History; “The Preacher Paradigm: Biographical Promotions and the Modern-Made Evangelist” in the Winter 2006 issue of Religion and American Culture.
Awards: Lofton is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including among others:
She was been named a 2010-2011 Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University;
2008-2009 Fellow of Religion and Religious History at the Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University;
2008-2010 Young Scholar in American Religion at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.
In addition, she has won a College Arts & Humanities Institute Fellowship at Indiana University;
2006-2007 LGBT Religious History Award from the LGBT Religious Archives Network;
2005-2006 Stillman Drake Award for Faculty Development at Reed College; 2005 Students' Undergraduate Teaching and Staff Award, University of North Carolina; 2005 Tanner Teaching Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, University of North Carolina.
Formerly Associate Research Scholar, Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University, 2008 - 2009; Assistant Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies, Indiana University, 2006 - 2008, and Visiting Professor of Religion and Humanities, Reed College, 2005 - 2006
I found myself in his basement after several overeager e-mails and one short walk from campus. "There are the boxes," he said, apologizing for the appealing squalor. "Use whatever you can find." He smiled, waved a little, and left me alone. This is the loneliness which launched 1,000 monographs, the isolation of papers disordered and waiting. Just for what they were waiting I knew, then: I would have said (as I walked to his house, as I poured through large, long histories, as I sat in undergraduate lectures on the Stamp Act and Mesopotamian agriculture) that the papers waited for our story-telling, for our discovery. On that grey day, I would have said simply: I am doing the work of finding out what has not been found, but needs to be heard.
Several gorging hours later, I had more then I could have hoped to have: not only meeting minutes, but also typescripts of speeches. For a student of African American religions, such transcriptions of ministerial expression are treasure nonpareil. In 1961, I heard a pastor bellow back at the South East Chicago Commission: "Those people over there have got to realize once and for all that Woodlawn is not their private colony." In 1965, I found the same man-president of The Woodlawn Organization, reverend in a growing Pentecostal parish-arguing, "This proposal is based on the long-standing American assertion that self-determining communities, with sufficient resources, can bring their members into the mainstream of American life." Later, in the middle of the summer of '66, he cajoled, "I don't think we ought to get mad. We ought to get smart." Finally, I heard this same man-the subject of my study, the target of my discovery-steam forward with his success, "The greatest danger to an organization is complacency. Let us stick together. If you stick together, you got to win. I'm sticking to Woodlawn." In his notes accompanying this speech, the annotator remarked, "on several occasions, there was loud applause and/or amens."
I think I lived on the pure positivist pleasure of that afternoon for exactly three days. For three days, I felt like the queen of all archiving, mistress of data, and doyenne of detection. I had found what I believed was a critical missing voice in the historiography. I had found him arguing, avidly, against King and his imported political strategies to combat de facto segregation. In one clearinghouse afternoon, I had pulled voices, power, and political consequences from disordered files. There was such a gorgeous cleanliness to my self-satisfaction.
Then, of course, the bubble burst. Running behind in my reading for a class, I flew through an assigned chapter from Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past, one which diagnosed Columbus Day and its peculiar formation. One sentence stopped me, cold: "The naming of the 'fact' is itself a narrative power disguised as innocence." Every historian realizes, at some point or another, that what they do is something may be more interpretive, more imaginative, and more manipulative than chatter of "objectivity" suggests. But when Trouillot named my glee an innocence-and my "discovery" an imperial format-I think I began, finally, to commit to history. Not as a romance with data, or a story to unfold, or a voice to ventriloquize, but as a practice of powerful criticism, one in which we unrelentingly seek the mess, especially when anything presents too easily, too neatly, too logically, to be true.
By Kathryn Lofton
What is most tugging to those questing for the religious Michael Jackson is not to be found in biography. Rather, it is, always and forever, in the deus of those songs. It is difficult to think of another singer who has produced more music that serves such ritual function, be it Halloween ("Thriller"), peace summits ("We Are The World"), or the midnight club surge ("Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"). This musician knew how to capitalize upon the liminal gap between fear and pleasure, between acrimony and unity, between exhaustion and electricity, between rape and desire, between genders, between races, and between ages. He performed on the rite de passage. Perhaps righteously, the reporters and detectives found in that wobble foul play. But in the dancing delight of our most sentimental rites-at the wedding, at the middle school dance, or in the child's bedroom-such talk of Michael's molesting grotesque seems sacrilegious. Or it seems to miss the point: the glory of this voice, and the beats he pulled with a snap, was in its denial of this world, of its codes and clarities. The way you make me feel, you really turn me on, he sang. You give me fever like I've never, ever known, and you knock me off my feet. And so it was. And so it ever will be... - Kathryn Lofton in "The Way You Make Me Feel", The University of Chicago Divinity School
About Kathryn Lofton
Top Young Historians' profiles edited by Bonnie K. Goodman
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