Adventist historians to convene at Union

The Association for Seventh-day Adventist Historians (ASDAH) will hold their seventh triennial conference at Union College on March 21-24, 2013. Adventist scholars from around the U.S. and the world will convene to present and discuss the theme, “Adventist Transitions between 1880 and 1920.”

The conference traces its roots back to the 1970s and 80s. “Adventist history professors would informally meet in tandem with the American Historical Association’s (AHA) meetings,” explained Sabrina Riley, Union College library director and associate professor of library science and member of the organizing committee. “It was not until 1995 that Dr. Ben McArthur from [at that time] Southern Adventist College called the first official ASDAH conference.”

No longer connected to the AHA’s meetings, the conference usually convenes on the campus of an Adventist college every three years to discuss both Adventist and secular history. “It enables Seventh-day Adventist historians to meet, share and explore Adventist history and common interests,” said Edward Allen, chair of the organizing committee, professor of religion at Union College and director of the Union Scholars Honors Program. “I attended three years ago in Washington D.C. with fellow Union professors George Gibson and Karl-Heinz Schroeder, and it was a really good experience.”

Allen visited the conference in Washington on request of Malcolm Russell, vice president for academic administration, in anticipation that Union College would host the next set of meetings. “It’s generally seen as helpful to meet with your cognates from other institutions,” explained Russell. “These conferences are important because they help us make connections that strengthen our ability to deal with common problems.”

Both Russell and Benjamin Tyner, assistant professor of history at Union College and the current ASDAH treasurer, stress the opportunities available to students and Adventist historians through this conference. “I think that the organization ought to be used as a forum for faculty and students to do history and build their résumés,” said Tyner. “It can be really high pressure to go to your first conference. It was for me, so having a place where you know people and are familiar with the organizing theme makes it a lot easier. Presenting can be especially important for students planning to attend graduate school.”

“If you’re doing research on Adventist history, there aren’t many places to make presentations,” said Russell. “This conference provides a venue for work that’s church related. It’s also helpful when looking for new faculty members because sometimes you remember young scholars who have given papers at these events and can then look them up later on.”

Russell has been involved in the organization since its early days and will present a paper relating to two pioneering Adventists in the Middle East. “One is a German that I previously knew very little about and the other is one of his converts, named Bashir Hasso,” he said. “He had a very remarkable story and I had already done most of the research on him before this conference. I first learned about him when I was working on my dissertation and came across a letter from an American who had been a U.S. consule or diplomat in Baghdad to another newly appointed diplomat in the region. It said essentially ‘when you get to Baghdad, these two brothers are the most trustworthy people in the city,’ referring to Hasso. That was a very inspiring letter to read.”

While themes for the ASDAH conference vary from year to year, the upcoming sessions specifically focus on Adventist history. Up to 40 people are expected to attend, with 12 presenters on topics ranging from reports on early missionaries to race relations within the early church. “The theme is significant because it focuses on Adventism at a range of formative moments in history,” said Tyner. “I think that it’s important to remind Adventists that we have a history and that the church is an institution that has changed. One of the topics going to be discussed by Dr. Allen and others is the moment in which the leadership of the Adventist church and the prophet at the center of the church came into conflict; that’s a story that needs to be told. You can’t have certain views about Adventism after knowing these stories, and it’s essential to recognize that not everyone always agreed.”

Ronald Numbers, the Hilldale and William Coleman professor of the history of science and medicine in the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will give the keynote address Thursday evening on his research regarding John Harvey Kellogg’s place in the history of medicine and his relationship with the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Regarded as somewhat controversial in Adventist circles for his critique on Ellen White, Numbers is a highly respected historian and has written several books including The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, outlining the history of the Creationist movement. “In his study he has taken a different perspective from many Adventists, which to some makes him threatening,” explained Tyner. “But what he’s talking about is true; it’s not made up. He’s picked a subject that we Adventists often don’t like to look at, but it’s a true story and truth should never be terrifying in my opinion.”

The conference will conclude Sunday morning with worship and a business meeting. “I think it will be a successful conference and we have to thank Dr. Allen for much of the organizing,” said Russell.

“Without him, it wouldn’t have happened,” concurred Tyner, referencing Allen’s role. “True of both him and Sabrina Riley. They did so much work in even more of a volunteer capacity than me.” 

The keynote address will be held in the President’s Dining Room and the breakout sessions will proceed in the Ortner Center conference rooms. Click here for more information or to register.  The Ortner Center is located on the campus of Union College, 3800 S. 48th Street.