Perspectives on Empire State History

November 14 & 15, 2013
University at Albany, SUNY

Sponsored by:

The UAlbany
Department of History &
History Graduate
Student Organization

The New York State Archives Partnership Trust

With additional support from:

M.E. Grenander Special Collections &Archives,
University Libraries

UAlbany Judaic Studies Program

The College of Arts & Sciences

The Office for Research

University Auxiliary Services

The New York State Historical Association & The Farmer's Museum

The New York State Council for the Humanities


(518) 442-5431






























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Conference Featured Events

Recent additions to the program include talks on aspects of African-American and Jewish religious experiences in New York. Details of talks by historians Clarence Taylor and Howard Rock as well as Robert Orsi,below. The complete conference program, available through the link above, includes more than 25 panels and featured events will examine a wide array of topics on New York State history, including  many responding to the conference theme, Religion in New York,  exploring how religion, religious practice, and expressions of spirituality infuse the history of New York State in myriad ways.

Registration information is available through the link above. Detailed information about lodging, navigating the campus, or the surrounding area, is available at Visiting the Campus. Conference registration and most sessions will be held in the Science Library, adjacent to the Campus Center.

Details of conference featured events below.

The Gods of Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York, 1800 to 1950
Robert Orsi, Northwestern University

7:30 PM  Thursday, November 14, 2013
Page Hall, University at Albany, Downtown Campus

New York City is generally thought of as the very epitome of American modernity and so it was—but it was also a rich landscape of religious practice, innovation, and conflict. Virtually every major development in American religious history had, if not its origins in New York, then its most public and extravagant expression.  Religion did not just happen in New York City; it happened through the city, in the media of its streets, shadows, and stoops, and in exchanges among people of all the world's religions. New York has never been a secular city—or perhaps the religious history of New York demands a rethinking of what "secular" means. This lecture invites a rethinking of American urbanism as a profoundly religious reality. Sponsored by UAlbany’s Department of History, the NYS Archives Partnership Trust, and the NYS Writers Institute with support from the New York State HIstorical Association and The Farmer's Museum. Professor Orsi's talk, made possible with the support of The New York State Council for the Humanities, is free and open to the public.

Robert Orsi is Professor of Religion and the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Northwestern University. His wide ranging writings and focus on social and cultural aspects of religion.  Called “the reigning scholar of American Catholicism” by Publishers Weekly, Orsi is author of the landmark study, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950  ( 25th Anniversary edition 2010), Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them (Princeton, 2004) and numerous articles and book chapters.  Recent  works include The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies (2012) and Catholics in the American Century: Recasting Narratives of U.S. History (Cornell University Press, 2012).  Professor Orsi is currently at work on a collection of theoretical and methodological essays, tentatively titled Abundant History, and on a social and cultural history of 20th-century Catholic childhoods in the United States, to be published by Harvard University Press.

Northern African-American Religious Communities and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 20th Century
Clarence Taylor, Baruch College

Lunch Keynote -Noon Friday, November 15th
Conference Registraton Required

While much has been written about the southern civil rights movement, lesser known is the pivotal role that religious figures played in civil rights campaigns in New York City and elsewhere in the North.   Although left out of popular narratives of civil rights and Black Power, these ministerial figures and lay people were crucial in the fight to end racial repression and for equality.

Professor Taylor’s research interests include modern African-American history, the civil rights and black power movements,  and African-American religions.   Recent work includes “Racial Discrimination and the Radical Politics of New York Clergyman, Milton A. Galamison," in “From Every Mountainside: Black Churches and the Broad Terrain of Civil Rights”  (SUNY Press 2013). His works  include  "The Black Churches of Brooklyn from the 19th Century to the Civil Rights Era" and  "Black Religious Intellectuals: The Fight for Equality from Jim Crow to the 21st Century" (Routledge, 2002). He is also co-editor of Civil Rights Since 1787: A Reader in the Black Struggle (New York University Press, 200) which won the Gustavus Myers Prize in 2001 and editor of Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era (Fordham University Press, 2011). Taylor’s book, Reds at the Blackboard: Communism, Civil Rights and the New York City Teachers Union is also published by Columbia University Press (2011).

4:00 PM Friday November 15th
Recital Hall University at Albany Uptown Campus

A Momentous Encounter: Reform Judaism Challenges Orthodoxy in Nineteenth-Century New York
Howard B. Rock

The Enlightenment, the notion that science and reason could lead humankind to a more perfect level of civilization, was always a challenge to traditional Judaism, including the small communities of British and Jeffersonian New York. The major encounter, however, came in the late 1840s when the foremost Orthodox (traditional) and Reform (Jewish Enlightenment) thinkers resided at or near New York. There Reformers began a passionate dialogue that advocated radical changes to Jewish prayer and practice and attacked the Orthodoxy as leading to the eventual demise of Judaism. Their leading spokesmen were Isaac Mayer Wise, a new immigrant from Germany who, though he held a pulpit in Albany, was literary editor of the Jewish weekly, the Asmonean and spent as many days as possible speaking and lobbying in New York, and Max Lilienthal, of Bavaria, who had spent six years in Imperial Russia attempting to establish a modern Jewish shool system prior to coming to America. The Orthodox, with over twenty pulpits, to Reform’s one and led by Reverend Morris Raphall of B’nai Jeshurun, the first rabbi to give a congressional benediction and Samuel Isaacs of Shaaray Tefilah, editor of the Orthodox Jewish Messenger, .responded in kind as the two parties argued over theology, the Talmud, ritual observance, and the place of women. For five years New York was the epicenter in the American confrontation between the two denominations of Judaism. This continued through the Civil War in which contrasting outlooks led to contrasting views on slavery and politics.

Howard B. Rock is Professor of History, Emeritus at Florida International University where he taught for thirty-five years. His early writing and research covered early American history, particularly the Revolutionary and Jeffersonian eras in New York City.  His most recent work is Haven of Liberty, New York Jews in the New World, 1654-1865,  the  first volume of the trilogy, City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York City. (2012, New York University Press)  He is the author/editor of six books, most recently, coauthored with Deborah Dash Moore, Cityscapes: A History of New York  in Images. Prior to Cityscapes, he developed an ongoing interest in visual history which is reflected in the many illustrations in his earlier books.

Researching New York brings together historians, researchers, archivists, museum curators, librarians, graduate students, teachers, Web and multimedia producers, and documentarians to share their work on New York State history. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us at We look forward to your participation at this year's Conference.

Researching New York | Department of History | New York State Archives Partnership Trust

This page last updated November 9, 2013