“Immorality and Immortality”: Sex, Scandal and Salvation at Michigan’s House of David
Evelyn Sterne, University of Rhode Island
The House of David, a Christian Israelite commune founded in Benton Harbor, MI, in 1903, was famous for its barnstorming baseball teams, traveling orchestras and popular amusement park. It also became notorious after a series of lawsuits that charged leader Benjamin Purnell of being a fraud who had swindled believers out of their life savings and perpetrated “gross immoralities” upon young girls. This paper analyzes why the colony was dogged by controversy from the start and asks what that reveals about why outsiders have sought to delegitimize new religious movements as scandalous or by claiming they are not real religions.
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About the Religion and Culture in the Americas Seminar
The Religion and Culture in the Americas Seminar explores topics in religion and culture including social history, biography, cultural studies, visual and material culture, urban studies, and the history of ideas. We are interested in how religious belief has affected society, rather than creedal or theological focused studies. Seminars are conversational and free and open to faculty, graduate students, and members of the public, who register in advance to request papers.