Fellow: Awarded 2013
Field of Study: Religion
Competition: US & Canada
Leigh Eric Schmidt is the Edward C. Mallinckrodt University Professor at Washington University in St. Louis where he is part of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. He is currently working on a project entitled “Public Atheism: An American History,” which examines the legal and political debates that atheists and nonbelievers have generated in the United States. In a nation forever torn between secular and Christian identities, the openly irreligious have long been lightning rods for public controversy—over education, witness competency, office-holding, free speech, blasphemy, and obscenity. However labeled, freethinkers, humanists, secularists, agnostics, and atheists were invariably a tiny minority, but they nonetheless exercised an outsized role in American public life as specters of moral disintegration and as subversives of Protestant cultural sway.
From 2009 to 2011, Schmidt was the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard University, and, for fourteen years before that, he taught at Princeton University where he served as chair of the Department of Religion from 2006 to 2009 and was named the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion in 2007. He has held research fellowships at Stanford and Princeton and also through the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Philosophical Society. He is the author of several books, including Heaven's Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman (Basic Books, 2010) and Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Harvard UP, 2000), which won the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Historical Studies and the John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association. He is also the author of Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (HarperOne, 2005), which appeared in an updated edition from the University of California Press in 2012; Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (Princeton UP, 1995); and Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (Princeton UP, 1989), which received the Brewer Prize from the American Society of Church History. In addition, he served as co-editor with Laurie Maffly-Kipp and Mark Valeri of Practicing Protestants: Histories of the Christian Life in America (Johns Hopkins UP, 2006); co-editor with Sally Promey of American Religious Liberalism (Indiana UP, 2012); and co-author with Edwin Scott Gaustad of The Religious History of America (HarperOne, 2002).