I am a professor of history, specializing in the history of church and state in Nazi Germany. I also research on Christian responses to the Holocaust, and the relationship between memory and place.
I teach a wide variety of courses at Ambrose University, including World History, Christian History, History in Practice, Applied Research in History, Antisemitism and the Holocaust, Genocide in the Modern World, and Nazi Germany.
I am also a Christian, worshipping and serving at High River Alliance Church, part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.
Last but certainly not least, I am married to Colleen and have four great kids: Liz, Matt (married to Michaela), Sarah, and John.
I’m not sure when I first became interested in history. Perhaps it was when my junior high teacher drew a diagram of Hadrian’s Wall on the chalkboard, then play-acted Roman soldiers sword-fighting. Maybe it was when my parents took me to see the film The Hiding Place, the story of how Corrie Ten Boom and her Dutch family rescued Jews during the Holocaust. And it might have been when I read Robert K. Massie’s massive biographies of Peter the Great and other Russian tsars during my high school years. At any rate, after a year at Bodenseehof (Capernwray Bible Institute in Friedrichshafen, West Germany), I ended up at the University of Saskatchewan, where I completed a BA (high honours) in History.
I remained in Saskatoon to study for an MA degree in History under Dr. Peter Bietenholz, an eminent Erasmus scholar whose seminar courses I had enjoyed immensely. (Dr. Bietenholz held several of his courses in his charming old home, where a handful of us would sit among his five-hundred-year-old books, drink coffee and read Dante or Erasmus!).
My MA thesis (Guilds and Reformation: Basel in the 1520s) examined the relationship between the religious and political aspects of the Protestant Reformation in the Swiss city of Basel. It traced events from the infiltration of Lutheran ideas into local monasteries and churches before 1520 to the heated and sometimes violent debates about religion and politics throughout the 1520s, culminating in the eventual victory (at cannon point!) of the Reformation in Basel in early 1529.
Along the way, I began to grow interested in the “German Church Struggle,” the conflict between church and state (and within the churches) of Nazi Germany. As a result, I completed a PhD in History at McGill University in Montreal, under the guidance of Dr. Peter Hoffmann, FRSC, a leading authority on the German Resistance to Hitler. In my dissertation, I examined the relationship between religion and nationalism in National Socialist Germany “from the bottom up,” analyzing the upheaval in numerous parish churches through the eyes of pastors and parishioners in three different regions of Hitler`s Germany. Eventually, that grew into my first book: Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).
At Ambrose, one of my favourite (though difficult) courses to teach is on the history of antisemitism and the Holocaust. My goal is to introduce students to the long and complex history of antisemitism and to help them understand the detailed process through which Hitler and his Nazi regime moved from the policies of persecution to an organized quest to annihilate the Jews of Europe. I’m convinced that when we study those events, the students and I also learn more about the ways in which political extremism operates in our world today, through political violence, the violation of human rights, and even so-called “ethnic cleansing.” In courses like “Antisemitism and the Holocaust” or “Genocide in the Modern World,” there’s more to studying history than just explaining the past–we also want to become compassionate, principled, responsive advocates for justice in our world today.
For more on how I became a historian and how that connects with my faith, read this.
Outside of academics, I watch sports of all kinds (English and European soccer top the list), listen to all kinds of music (from U2 to ambient/electronic to praise and worship to 80s pop…), fumble on the bass guitar, serve in my local church, chair the Town of High River Heritage Advisory Board, bicycle and garden with my wife, and (as of 2015) lead Reformation tours in Europe (see History Travel).
I teach the following courses, many of them in a two-year rotation:
- HI 142 World History since 1500
- HI 222 Renaissance and Reformation
- HI 226 Industrialization and Nation-Building in the 19th Century
- HI 246 Genocide in the Modern World
- HI 260 Christian History to the Reformation
- HI 261 Christian History since the Reformation
- HI 272 History at the Movies
- HI 280 History in Practice
- HI 368 Antisemitism and the Holocaust
- HI 380 Applied Research in History
- HI 422 Nazi Germany
Religion and Nationalism in Nazi Germany
I’ve been researching and writing about religion and nationalism in Nazi Germany for well over twenty years now. I first entered the field by reading about leaders in the Confessing Church, men like Martin Niemöller, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who opposed the campaign to nazify the German Protestant churches. Along the way, I began to analyze the German Church Struggle from the perspective of local history (or what historians call Alltagsgeschichte, the history of everyday life). I investigated the goings on in parishes in three regions of Nazi Germany (Brandenburg, Saxony, and Württemberg), focusing on topics like pastors and German nationalism, parish life under National Socialism, pastoral appointments (a key battleground between the pro-Nazi Protestants and those who wanted to keep the churches out of politics), church responses to Nazi racial policy, and the ins and outs of local church politics during the time of the Third Reich. All this is now published in my book: Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008). You can see what other scholars have said about it at the Association of Contemporary Church Historians or at H-German (part of H-Net, the Humanities and Social Sciences Online).
I continue to work away at various projects in this field. In 2015, I published an article on a Berlin church building filled with Nazi symbolism, in the journal Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History. See my Publications page for more details.
Christian Responses to the Holocaust
Over time, I began to wonder not only about the Christian responses to Nazism and the Holocaust in Germany, but also in North America. In 2007, I got the opportunity to begin a research project on this question when I was invited to join a group of scholars from the United States and Britain for a two-week summer research workshop on “American Religious Responses to Kristallnacht,” hosted by the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We were considering the way that Jews, Catholics, and Protestants all reacted to the terrible antisemitic pogrom of November 1938, when synagogues throughout Germany were burnt down, Jewish shop-windows were smashed, Jewish homes were invaded, and roughly 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and placed in concentration camps. Out of that workshop, I published a chapter (“‘The Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man’: Mainline American Protestants and the Kristallnacht Pogrom”) in American Religious Responses to Kristallnacht (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
Later, I co-wrote a conference paper with former student Jonathan Durance, called “‘Our Jewish Brethren’: Christian Responses to Kristallnacht in Canadian Mass Media,” for the 40th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, in 2010. That article was published in a special issue of The Journal of Ecumenical Studies in fall 2011, and can be read here.
History and Memory
Historians are becoming increasingly involved with memory studies. In 2014, I gave a conference paper on “The Memory of Genocide: Evil Places as Sacred Spaces” at the conference Understanding Atrocities: Remembering, Representing and Teaching Genocide, hosted by Mount Royal University, Calgary. In winter 2017, my sabbatical will be devoted to expanding on this work.
Recent Scholarly Activity
I’m working on numerous projects in various states of conception/completion:
- In 2016-2017, I will be leading an Ambrose University History program research project called “Refugee Stories: The Immigration and Resettlement of German Lutherans in Western Canada, 1947 to 1960.” More information will be forthcoming at this site.
- For much of 2015-2016, I have been busy leading an Ambrose University History program research project called “Placing Memory in High River’s Built Environment.” For more details, see here.
- In 2016, I published an article called “Teaching the Practice of History with the New York Times,” which appeared in The History Teacher, and will soon be available to read online here.
- In 2015, I published an article on recent developments in Canadian church-state relations. You can read it here.
- I am writing an article on the responses of parish clergy to Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg’s Myth of the Twentieth Century, a racial and pagan theory of history.
- I am writing an article on a Christian-Nazi parish organization in Berlin.