Alongside our interdisciplinary seminar, the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture sponsors interdisciplinary conferences, lectures, workshops, and other events both on and off-campus. We also coordinate with various existing graduate student workshops on campus. Students interested in collaborating with the Scherer Center should contact Tara Rutledge.
Thursday, October 15, 4:30pm-5:30pm (CST) via Zoom
Beyond Belief, Beyond Conscience: The Radical Significance of the Free Exercise of Religion
Please join us for a conversation on the First Amendment between two leading experts on American constitutional law and history, the first in a series of events supported by the Scherer Center focused on the theme of amending America. This conversation, prompted by the recent publication of Jack Rakove’s Beyond Belief, Beyond Conscience: The Radical Significance of the Free Exercise of Religion (Oxford University Press, 2020) in the Inalienable Rights Series edited by Geoffrey Stone, promises to range across history, politics, and law to address the origins, meanings, and contested legacies of the idea of religious freedom.
Jack N. Rakove is William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Stanford University. He is the author of six books, including Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America, finalist for the George Washington Book Prize, and Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Geoffrey R. Stone is the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and the author of many books on constitutional law, including Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century and Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, which received book prizes in political science, law, and history. His next book will be National Security, Leaks and The Freedom of the Press.
About the book: Today, Americans believe that the early colonists came to the New World in search of religious liberty. What we often forget is that they wanted religious liberty for themselves, not for those who held other views that they rejected and detested. Yet, by the mid-18th century, the colonists agreed that everyone possessed a sovereign right of conscience. How did this change develop? In Beyond Belief, Beyond Conscience, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack Rakove tracks the unique course of religious freedom in America.
He finds that, as denominations and sects multiplied, Americans became much more tolerant of the free expression of rival religious beliefs. During the Revolutionary era, he explains, most of the new states moved to disestablish churches and to give constitutional recognition to rights of conscience. These two developments explain why religious freedom originally represented the most radical right of all. No other right placed greater importance on the moral autonomy of individuals, or better illustrated how the authority of government could be limited by denying the state authority to act. Together, these developments made possible the great revival of religion in 19th-century America.
As Rakove explains, America’s intense religiosity eventually created a new set of problems for mapping the relationship between church and state. He goes on to examine some of our contemporary controversies over church and state not from the vantage point of legal doctrine, but of the deeper history that gave the U.S. its own approach to religious freedom. In this book, he tells the story of how American ideas of religious toleration and free exercise evolved over time, and why questions of church and state still vex us.
Registration is free and open to the public.
Thursday, October 22, 4:30pm-5:30pm (CST) via Zoom
A Conversation on the Fifteenth Amendment: Eric Foner (Columbia University) will discuss his recent book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, with interlocutor Thomas C. Holt (University of Chicago).
Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, specializes in the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and 19th-century America. He is the author of many works, which include The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery which won the Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Lincoln prizes (2011), as well as Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988), which was the winner, among other awards, of the Bancroft Prize, Parkman Prize, and Los Angeles Times Book Award.
Thomas C. Holt, James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History, has taught at Howard University, Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago. Holt’s first book Black Over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction (1977) won the Sydnor Award from the Southern Historical Association. Another of his books, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832–1938, (1992) was awarded the 1995 Elsa Goveia Prize by the Association of Caribbean Historians.
Registration is free and open to the public.
Tuesday October 27, 3:00pm-4:00pm CST
“One Decade, Four Amendments, and the Transformation of America,” with Cathleen Cahill (Penn State University), Lisa McGirr (Harvard University), and Wendy Schiller (Brown University).
Cosponsored and hosted by our partner, The Newberry Library, this one-hour discussion will feature short presentations from esteemed historians discussing how the four amendments passed between 1913 and 1920 transformed American politics. For more information about the event and to register, please visit the Newberry Library’s event page here.
The Scherer Center is a proud co-sponsor of the Newberry Library’s Seminar in American Art and Visual Culture, Seminar in Early American History and Culture, Seminar in Labor History, the Urban History Dissertation Group, and the Seminar on Women and Gender.