If images of white robes, pointed hoods, and a burning cross represent racism and violence for you then you are not alone. But do they also evoke ideas of nationalism, Protestantism, and masculinity? In the early twentieth century, the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan tied their faith to patriotism and in the process produced a unique self-fashioned religious identity.
Kelly J. Baker, scholar of America religious history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, examines this seemingly reprehensible organization and treats it as she would any other phenomenon, through a critical lens from an objective perspective. In her wonderful new book, Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915–1930 (University Press of Kansas, 2011), she explores the writings of Klan members and outlines their creative renderings of religion, nationalism, gender, and race. In our conversation we discuss the importance of print culture, the communal act of reading, Jesus as the ideal Klansman, the symbolic meaning of the robes, cross, and flag, and the Women of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). We end our discussion by looking at the Klan’s legacy of exclusionism and conservatism as a widespread characteristic of American society and how this is manifested in contemporary culture through figures like Terry Jones, who gained notoriety with his call to burn the Qur’an. Kelly does an excellent job of encouraging scholars of religion to reexamine our subjects and tackle issues that make us uneasy and uncomfortable. These topics and individuals are as much a part of religious history as the figures we would want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with.