By Paula Ann Solis
Scholars from around the nation will gather in Waco to launch a three-part examination of the role religion has played in Texas’ past and how it continues to shape the future of the state.
The first round of lectures will take place from 7- 9:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at Lee Lockwood Library and Museum at 2801 W. Waco Drive.
Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion is hosting this three-part lecture series titled “Faith & Freedom in the Lone Star State: Exploring the Religious History of Texas,” at various Waco locations. The next sessions will be Oct. 10 at Congregation Agudath Jacob and Nov. 14 at The Palladium.
Thursday’s lecture and the next two are open to the public and free. Those who plan to attend are asked to register online at BaylorISR.org.
The first two lecturers will include Baylor professor of American religious history Dr. J. Gordon Melton and Notre Dame University professor of theology Dr. Timothy Matovina. Matovina’s lecture titled, “Native and Newcomers: Ethnic Mexican Religious Convergences in 1920s San Antonio,” will highlight case studies investigating how Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are coming together in Texas for common religious purposes.
“Mexican religions have been in Texas since the very beginning in many forms such as missions,” Matovina said. “San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States. Clearly Mexican influence has always been part of the scene.”
Matovina, who is also the executive director of the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame, said Texas is a great place for observing the diversity of religions in America. While Mexicans and Latin Americans are in large part Catholic, Matovina said the scene is changing and Hispanics are now more than ever exploring different religions, though mainly in the realm of evangelicalism. Certainly, Matovina said, Latin American influences in Texas and religion will only continue to grow.
While Matovina’s lecture will highlight issues of today and how they are molding tomorrow, other lecturers will place greater focus on the past. Dr. Michael Parrish, Baylor’s Linden G. Bowers Professor of American History, will discuss the role of the Baptist faith in the South during the civil war. His will be the closing lecture on Nov. 14.
His lecture, titled “Slavery, Civil War, and Freedom: Texas Baptists in the Civil War Era, focusing on Baylor University and Waco University,” will localize the evolution of religion.
“Slavery is a very difficult issue to address and embrace from our perspective especially,” Parrish said. “It was a monstrously cruel institution that by any definition is unacceptable and anti-democratic.”
With this same idea in mind, Parrish said a major aspect of Baylor’s history is to remember that founders and former professors of Baylor were slave-owners, and that much of Baylor was built on slave labor.
“What is important is that we see the present in the context of the past and a future of some kind,” Parrish said. “It’s healthier for us to see ourselves as part of the past, present and future to give us perspective.”
Other issues that will be touched upon during the lecture series includes the development of African-American churches, separation of church and state and the diversity of religion in Texas in relation to the nation.
For more information about the upcoming lectures, visit the webpage for the Institute for Studies of Religion at https://www.baylorisr.org.