Faculty's New Book Frames Pivotal Moments in American Church History

January 30, 2024
Faculty with book

Dr. Elesha Coffman's latest book, Turning Points in American Church History: How Pivotal Events Shaped a Nation and a Faith, is a captivating narrative that analyzes thirteen events in Church history as lenses through which to see the relationship between American Christianity and broader historical narratives. In this interview, Dr. Coffman sheds light on her research process, future research projects, and inspiration. 

Book Cover
Can you share some insights into your research process for the book? What were some of the most surprising or intriguing discoveries you made along the way?

Researching for this book was akin to embarking on a series of deep dives into diverse topics, each revealing layers of intriguing insights. Collaborating with experts in respective fields, I was constantly astonished by the revelations unearthed. For instance, I discovered that Baptist missionaries David George and George Liele preceded the renowned William Carey by a decade, and that early American-printed Catholic prayer books omitted references to the pope due to perceptions of democratic incompatibility.

In your opinion, what are some of the key takeaways or lessons that you hope readers, particularly students and scholars, gain from your work?

My aspiration is for readers to recognize the rich tapestry of American church history, characterized by its diversity and complexity. I aim to dispel the notion of a singular American church or culture, emphasizing instead the myriad interactions between different religious denominations and broader socio-political contexts.

What inspired you to research American Church History, and how did your academic journey lead you to this particular focus?
box lined up in archive

My journey into American Church History was propelled by a practical need for teaching materials during my tenure at a seminary. Faced with the challenge of condensing vast historical narratives into digestible lessons, I was inspired by the format pioneered by my mentor, Mark Noll. His approach, coupled with my background in editing the magazine, Christian History magazine and pursuing a PhD at Duke, propelled me towards this endeavor.

Looking ahead, do you have any plans for future research projects?

Indeed, I've embarked on a new research endeavor focused on the history of Religion News Service. Delving into unprocessed archives at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, I aim to unravel the evolution of religious journalism in America. My journey continues, fueled by the anticipation of unearthing untold stories and shedding light on overlooked facets of American religious history.