Recently on Twitter, a debate broke out between Annette Gordon-Reed, Sam Haselby, and John Fea on the nature of Thomas Jefferson’s religious beliefs. The debate centered on the questions of whether or not Thomas Jefferson could be described as a Christian and wanted the United States to be a Christian nation. Ultimately, the debate could not overcome the 140 character limitations of Twitter. Fortunately, Michael Hattem preserved that debate at Jefferson, Christianity, and Twitter.
Instead of recreating the debate, it made more sense to contact one of the participants, Sam Haselby, whose recent book The Origins of American Religious Nationalism(published by Oxford University Press) examines how a conflict with Protestantism, in the decades following US independence transformed American national identity. Gordon Wood described his book in the New York Review of Books as an “impressive and powerfully argued book – that ….it was American Protestantism and not any sort of classical republicanism that was most important in shaping the development of American nationalism.” The Origins of American Religious Nationalism was published in 2015 and will be republished in paperback by OUP in December 2016. It made sense to get his perspective on the concept of American Religious Nationalism, the broad issues that underpinned the recent Twitter debate, and his understanding of early American Christianity.
Sam Haselby is a visiting scholar at the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University and the editor of Aeon magazine. He recently published an article for Aeon entitled American Secular explaining why the secular movement failed soon after the founding of the United States.