Leigh Eric Schmidt

Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor

I am a historian of American religion and culture; my topics of research have ranged widely: evangelical revivalism, ritual studies, consumer culture, religious liberalism, atheism, and secularism.

Leigh Eric Schmidt is the Edward C. Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis. He joined the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in 2011.

From 2009 to 2011, he was the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard University; from 1995 to 2009, he taught at Princeton University where he was the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion and served as chair of the Department of Religion; and, from 1989 to 1995, he taught in the Theological and Graduate Schools of Drew University.  He has held research fellowships at Stanford and Princeton and also through the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2015 he was appointed a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

Schmidt is the author of Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Harvard, 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; Heaven’s Bride: The Unprintable Life of Ida C. Craddock, American Mystic, Scholar, Sexologist, Martyr, and Madwoman (Basic, 2010); 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, 1995); and Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (Princeton, 1989), which received the Brewer Prize from the American Society of Church History. In addition, Schmidt has served as co-editor with Sally Promey of American Religious Liberalism (Indiana University Press, 2012), co-editor with Laurie Maffly-Kipp and Mark Valeri of Practicing Protestants: Histories of the Christian Life in America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), and co-author with Edwin Scott Gaustad of The Religious History of America (HarperOne, 2002).  Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation (Princeton University Press, 2016) examines how atheists and freethinkers have fared in American public life. His most recent book, The Church of Saint Thomas Paine: A Religious History of American Secularism, was published by Princeton University Press in November, 2021.

Schmidt has appeared on a number of NPR programs and other radio shows to discuss his books, including All Things ConsideredTalk of the NationJohn Batchelor ShowBob Edwards ShowBackStory with the American History GuysTalking HistoryVoice of AmericaReligion MattersOdysseyThe ConnectionOn Point, and The Book Show. He has often commented on current issues in American religion and culture, including for such media outlets as The AtlanticThe New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalChristian Science MonitorWashington PostLondon TimesBoston GlobeDallas Morning News, Chicago Tribune, Hartford CourantSan Francisco Bay GuardianU. S. News and World ReportNewsweekCharlotte ObserverAtlanta ConstitutionNewark Star-Ledger, San Bernardino Sun, Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News and Observer, Peoria Journal Star, San Diego Union Tribune, and the Religion News Service. He also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Religion and American Culture, Practical Matters, and Religion & Politics.

Schmidt earned his undergraduate degree in history and religious studies from the University of California, Riverside, in 1983 and his Ph.D. in religion from Princeton in 1987.

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Leigh Eric Schmidt in the News