[PAST EVENT] Holy Spectacles: American Religion and the Circus

November 1, 2021
5:30pm - 6:30pm
Tucker Hall, 127A
350 James Blair Dr
Williamsburg, VA 23185Map this location
Access & Features
  • Open to the public

Like many forms of mass entertainment in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, circuses carried a dubious reputation. Many Protestants regarded the circus as morally corrupt and a site of vice and sexual impropriety and professed discomfort with the circus’ inevitable mingling of classes and races. American circuses combated anti-circus religious and moral sentiment through various techniques that included incorporating menagerie tents advertised as religious education displays, performing grand Biblical and religiously themed spectacles, hiring ministers, and giving charity performances. Circuses and their performers also developed their own approach to religion by developing new religious practices for a mobile lifestyle. This lecture explores how circuses sought to make their forms of entertainment appealing to Christians and considers the development of religious practices in American circuses.

Dr. Nicole C. Kirk is an associate professor and holds the Frank and Alice Southworth Schulman Chair of Unitarian Universalist History at Meadville Lombard Theological School. Before her doctoral studies, Dr. Kirk served as a Unitarian Universalist parish minister in Kirtland, Ohio, and New Jersey. She is a member of the American Academy of Religion Board of Directors. Her research interests range across religion, mobility, business, technology to material culture, race, and gender in North America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Dr. Kirk's first book, Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store, published by New York University Press, looked at the intersections of business and religion in the public space of John Wanamaker’s Philadelphia department store and was covered by the Wall Street Journal and Smithsonian Magazine. She has contributed chapters to several edited volumes, most recently, The Blackwell Companion to American Religious History by Blackwell, and the volume The Through Line: 200 years of the Berry Street Address forthcoming from Skinner House Press. Dr. Kirk is currently working on two books—one tentatively titled Railroad Religions: The Religious Lives of Traveling People, which focuses on the complex and surprising ways railroads transformed American religion and the people who traveled on the railroads, and Circus Day, a book on the circus and American religion.

This is an in-person event. For those unable to attend in person, view this event via https://cwm.zoom.us/j/9288235382