Filson Fellowships: James Kabala

By John B. Westerfield II

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James Kabala“Most Americans view the passage of the First Amendment as a watershed in American religious history, bringing to a decisive end the era of established churches and restrictions on religious freedom. In fact, however, separation of church and state in the United States was far from inevitable, even after the First Amendment’s acceptance. The early republic was one of the most interesting and important parts of the story of the relationship between religion and government.” 

Brown University Ph.D. candidate James Kabala recently visited The Filson so that he could continue working on his doctoral thesis, “A Christian Nation?: Religion and the State in the Early American Republic, 1790 to 1840.” His work examines three aspects of this overall question: the question of Christianity as a sanctioned state religion, the question of Christianity as the basis of American culture, and the question of Christianity as a basis for law and legislation. 

It is clear that most states had restrictions against blasphemy and forms of profanity throughout the early republic. There were also laws requiring the observance of Sunday as a day of rest and other moral Christian movements as well. 

Kabala recognized early that “the Commonwealth of Kentucky was an especially prominent theater for many controversies.” In addition, “Kentucky was the home of two Shaker communities at South Union Park and Pleasant Hill.” Kabala made great use of The Filson’s microfilm of the Pleasant Hill Shaker papers as he noted “this tiny religious minority was the object of repeated attempts by the Kentucky legislature to limit their right to own property and place other restrictions.” 

Kentucky was also home to a relatively large Catholic population for this time period. Catholic missionaries dubbed Larue, Marion and Nelson counties “the Holy Land.” The state was also the headquarters of the first Catholic diocese west of the Appalachians, the Diocese of Bardstown. Kabala utilized Filson resources in pondering the ideas of how this minority fit in a state that saw its identity as one of Protestant Christianity.

Filson Fellowships and Internships encourage the scholarly use of our nationally significant collections by providing support for travel and lodging.  Fellowships are designed to encourage research in all aspects of the history of Kentucky and the regions of the Ohio Valley and the Upper South.  Internships provide practical experience in collections management and research for graduate students.  Application deadlines for all fellowships and internships are February 15th and October 15th each year.  Applications are reviewed twice a year.  For more information about fellowships and internships, Visit The Filson's Fellowships Website.

Volume 6, Number 2

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