November 8, 2011
The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, by Jennifer Graber, and An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community, by Charles Hurst and David McConnell, have been recognized for their advanced research and contributions to their respective disciplines.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Three College of Wooster faculty members have been honored for their advanced research and important contributions to their discipline through books that have been published in the past year.
Jennifer Graber, an assistant professor of religious studies, offers insight into the early role of religion in America’s prison system in her book, The Furnace of Affliction: Prisons and Religion in Antebellum America, while Charles Hurst, professor of sociology emeritus, and David McConnell, professor of anthropology, provide a greater understanding of the Amish community in An Amish Paradox: Diversity and Change in the World's Largest Amish Community.
Graber’s book was chosen as one of the top five books on American religion published this year in The Christian Century's fall book issue. Her book focuses on prison systems in New York and Philadelphia in the first half of the 19th century, and shows how evangelical ministers sought to transform jails from sites of retribution into places of personal redemption. Initially, the effort was surprisingly successful, but ultimately it failed because of the emerging ideology of church-state separation, the growing diversity in the ranks of the clergy, and the resistance by the prisoners themselves. A secular regime that saw punishment as just reward for lawbreaking replaced them. Graber’s book provides a model for infusing rigorous historical method with moral insight.
"For a long time, scholars working on prisons have focused on the political and economic developments that shaped the early prisons,” said Graber. “These are important factors (but) I'm excited that my book will add another dimension to the scholarship. Just as free markets, urbanization, and nascent individualism shaped prisons, so, too, did ideas about suffering and redemption drawn from evangelical Protestant traditions."
Hurst and McConnell received the Dale W. Brown Book Award for their book. The award, which was presented last month at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pletist Studies at Elizabethtown College, honors authors who have made significant contributions to Anabaptist scholarship. Judged by independent scholars, the book was chosen on the basis of originality and creativity, quality of scholarship, organization and clarity of writing, significance and importance of the topic, and enduring contribution to Anabaptist and Pletist studies. In addition to the honor, the two authors presented a lecture on campus.
“Our book explores the diverse ways in which Amish raise families, educate their children, make a living, and attend to health care needs in this complex social milieu,” said McConnell. “We try to dispel the image of the Amish as a vestige of a bygone era and show how they reinterpret tradition as modernity encroaches on their distinct way of life,”
“We wanted to disabuse readers of the belief that all Amish are the same, and to convey the dynamism and complexity of relationships that exist in the Holmes (County) settlement,” said Hurst. “We were pleasantly surprised by the openness with which our research was accepted by the local Amish.”
- Story by Libby Fackler '13
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