Faculty & Staff
Tobin Miller Shearer
Associate Professor of History; Director of Undergraduate Studies (History); Director of African-American Studies
I am interested in studying the history of race and religion in the United States ad throughout the world. To that end I have studied how interactions between white and African-American Mennonites in homes and sanctuaries brought about changes as significant as those initiated in the streets by the formal civil rights movement. My most recent book focuses on Fresh Air rural hosting programs in which white rural families hosted African-American and Latino children from urban environments and on the role of prayer during the civil rights movement. In the first project, I trace how the host families' perceptions of the children changed during the course of the twentieth century as a means to explain the persistence of racism in the U.S. In the second, I examine prayer as a potent resource activists used to initiate crisis. I have also written extensively on issues of white privilege, religious identity, and nonviolence.
I advise graduate students studying twentieth century U.S. history in the broad arenas of race and religion. I have advised and do research in African-American studies, religious history, childhood history, whiteness studies, the civil rights movement, interracial congregations, and Mennonite/Anabaptist history. I am accepting both MA and PhD students in the next admissions cycle. Please feel free to contact me by email if you are interested in working with me as a graduate student.
I hold a dual PhD in History and Religious Studies from Northwestern University (2008).
AAS/HSTA 141 Black: From Africa to Hip-hop and Beyond
AAS/HSTA 343 African-American History Since 1865
AAS/HSTA 345 The Black Radical Tradition
AAS/HSTA 374 Voodoo, Muslim, Church: Black Religion
AAS/HSTA 417 Prayer and Civil Rights
AAS/HSTA 562 Problems in African-American History
HSTA 502 Readings in Modern American History
HSTA 595 U.S. Religious History
2013-present, Associate Professor, History/African-American Studies, University of Montana
2008-2013, Assistant Professor, History/African-American Studies, University of Montana
2006, Instructor, Northwestern University, “Racing Through the Movies: Race in Twentieth-Century Film.” Freshman writing seminar.
2005, Teaching Assistant, Northwestern University, Introduction to the New Testament.
2005, Teaching Assistant, Northwestern University, Introduction to Christianity.
2004, Teaching Assistant, Northwestern University, Religion in the Human Experience.
2004, Teaching Assistant, Northwestern University, Religion in the Human Experience.
2004, Teaching Assistant, Northwestern University, Introduction to the New Testament.
1993-2001, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Racism Awareness Program Director, Akron, Pa. Co-founded and led Damascus Road, a national anti-racism training program active among forty-five colleges, mission agencies, congregations, and church-wide conference bodies. Led more than 400 presentations in twenty-five states including sixty-three workshops of a day or more in length and hundreds of lectures, half-day workshops and classroom presentations.
I have concluded a research project on Fresh Air rural hosting programs in which white rural families hosted African-American children from the inner city. I traced how the host families' perceptions of the children changed during the course of the twentieth century as a means to explain the persistence of racism in the U.S.
I am now engaged in a new book project, Devout Demonstrators: Religious Resources and Social Protest Movements, in which I explore the complex and often violence-inducing dynamics of bringing prayer, song, liturgy, and religious vestments into the midst of social protest. I examine the following eight movements: U.S. abolitionism, Indian independence, U.S. civil rights, Bolivian base ecclesial communities, Polish solidarity, South African anti-apartheid, and South Dakotan Water protectors.
To see my thoughts on the future of African-American Studies at the University of Montana, go to this clip from a talk at the Black Studies reunion.
I am featured in a series on banned books. To see why I love and criticize To Kill A Mocking Bird, watch my comments on this Mansfield Libary banned books video.
Field of Study
African-American History; Race; Religious History; Children's History; Anabaptist History; Civil Rights movement History; social movement history;
Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America (Cornell University Press, 2017).
Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries (Johns Hopkins Press, 2010).
Set Free: A Journey Toward Solidarity Against Racism (Herald Press, 2001) (co-authored with Iris de León-Hartshorn and Regina Shands Stoltzfus).
Enter the River: Healing Steps from White Privilege to Racial Reconciliation (Herald Press, 1994).
“Civil Rights and Protest Movements,” Encyclopedia of Religious Ethics, ed. William Schweiker (Wiley, 2018 forthcoming).
“White Mennonite Peacemakers: Of Oxymorons, Grace, and Nearly Thirty Years of Talking About Whiteness,” Conrad Grebel Review, 35, number 3 (Fall 2017): 259-266.
“Managing Crisis and Conflict in the Religious Studies Classroom,” Spotlight on Teaching, Religious Studies News (May 2017): 5-9: http://rsn.aarweb.org/node/443.
“A Principled Pedagogy for Religious Educators,” Religious Education, (co-authored with David Evans), January 2017.
“Mennonites,” Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History, www.oxfordbibliographies.com (November 2016).
“The Problem of Kindness - Christian Fresh Air Missions and the Dynamics of Christian Whiteness,” Journal of Childhood and Religion, 6, number 3 (December 2015): http://childhoodandreligion.com/issues/volume-6-2015/.
“The Deepest Dichotomy: How A Sixty-Five-Year-Old Essay on Racism Helped Me Learn A Lesson From Before I Was Born,” Anabaptist Historians, September 9, 2016, Anabaptist Historians website.
“Striking at the Sacred: The Violence of Prayer, 1960-1969,” Open Theology 1 (2015): 126–133: Open Theology article website.
“A Prophet Pushed Out: Vincent Harding and the Mennonites,” Mennonite Life 69 (2015): Mennonite Life article website .
“Invoking Crisis: Performative Christian Prayer and the Civil Rights Movement,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 83, no. 2 (2015): 490-512.
“Conflicting Identities: White Racial Formation Among Mennonites, 1960-1985,” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 19 no. 3 (2012): 268-284.
“A Pleasing Observation,” Chronicle of Higher Education (March 6, 2012), Chronicle article website.
“More Than Fresh Air: African-American Children’s Influence on Mennonite Religious Practice, 1950-1979,” The Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Religion 2, no. 7 (May 2011): JAAR article website.
“Daily Demonstrators: The Civil Rights Movement in Mennonite Homes and Sanctuaries,” Mennonite Life 65 (Summer 2011): Mennonite Life article website.
“The Martin Luther King Who Haunted Me,” ExtraNewsFeed, January 28, 2018, https://extranewsfeed.com/the-martin-luther-king-who-haunted-me-82bd21561640
“Can Violence Build God’s Kingdom?,” Anabaptist Historians, September 28, 2017, https://anabaptisthistorians.org/2017/09/28/can-violence-build-gods-kingdom/
“Seven roadblocks that get in the way of dismantling racism in the church and society (and strategies to overcome them),” The Mennonite, August 14, 2017, https://themennonite.org/seven-roadblocks-get-way-dismantling-racism-church-society-strategies-overcome/
“Fannie Swartzentruber, Ecclesial Gaslighting, and The Witness of Holy Disruption, Anabaptist Historians,” Anabaptist Historians, July 13, 2017, https://anabaptisthistorians.org/2017/07/13/fannie-swartzentruber-ecclesial-gaslighting-and-the-witness-of-holy-disruption/.
“Telling A Fuller Story,” Mennonite Life, 71, Special Issue “Why 500 Years?” (June 2017): https://ml.bethelks.edu/issue/vol-71-special-issue-why-500-years/article/telling-a-fuller-story/
“I investigated the Fresh Air Fund’s fraught racial history, and they didn’t make it easy,” Timeline.com, May 10, 2017, https://timeline.com/fresh-air-fund-race-3eaa365a741b
“Money, Sex, and Power: The Black Manifesto and the Minority Ministries Council,” Anabaptist Historians, April 13, 2017, https://anabaptisthistorians.org/2017/04/13/money-sex-and-power-the-black-manifesto-and-the-minority-ministries-council/
“Watchlisted,” Missoula Independent, December 15, 2016, http://missoulanews.bigskypress.com/missoula/what-to-do-when-they-come-looking-for-you/Content?oid=3284461
“On Being a Watch Listed Historian in the Age of Donald Trump,” Anabaptist Historians, December 8, 2016, https://anabaptisthistorians.org/2016/12/08/on-being-a-watch-listed-historian-in-the-age-of-donald-trump/
“What is Behind the Turkey Pardoning Ritual?” PBS NewsHour, November 23, 2016, www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/behind-turkey-pardoning-ritual/
“The Deepest Dichotomy: How A Sixty-Five-Year-Old Essay on Racism Helped Me Learn A Lesson From Before I Was Born,” Anabaptist Historians, September 9, 2016, https://anabaptisthistorians.org/2016/09/08/the-deepest-dichotomy-how-a-sixty-five-year-old-essay-on-racism-helped-me-learn-a-lesson-from-before-i-was-born/
“Police Officers Need Equipping to Deal with Racial Realities,” The Missoulian, July 18, 2016, http://missoulian.com/news/opinion/columnists/police-officers-need-equipping-to-deal-with-racial-realities/article_e0423394-66ae-5dd2-bedc-4bfd113de1fc.html.
“The Mennonite Church, Racism, and Whiteness: Are We Ready Now?” The Mennonite, July 18, 2016, https://themennonite.org/feature/mennonite-church-racism-whiteness-two-reflections/.
“Of Rachel Dolezal and Racial Identity,” Reflections West, Montana Public Radio Commentary, February 2016, Year 6, Episode 131, http://www.reflectionswest.org/episodes/ep131_shearer.php.
“Faith, Race, and Forgiveness,” The Mennonite, October 13, 2015, https://themennonite.org/faith-race-and-forgiveness/.
“Gifts Worth Remembering at Graduation,” The Missoulian, May 19, 2015.
“Why Ferguson Matters to Missoula,” The Missoulian, December 3, 2014.
“White Spiritual and Racial Formation: Three Conversions,” The Mennonite, December 2013.
“A Scrawny Kind of Love,” Conspire, Vol. 5, No. 4, Fall 2013.
“Lament Sung to My Sons,” Conspire, Vol. 5, No. 1, Winter 2013.
“I am a white man who lives in Montana and teaches black history,” Reflections West, Montana Public Radio Commentary, Year 3, Episode 61, air date December 12, 2012, http://www.reflectionswest.org/episodes/ep61_shearer.php.
“Twelve Signs of the Kingdom at a Clumsy Congregation,” The Mennonite, November 2012.
“Protest and the Power of Images: From Birmingham in 1963 to Davis in 2011, Those Who Repress Dissent Are Put on Public Display.” The Missoulian, Tuesday, November 29, 2011, 4.
“Supper Club, Keith Wilson, and the Twigs of Grace,” The Mennonite, February 2010.
“Bag the Baggage: Ten Ways to Shuck the Weight of Short-Term Missions,” With, July/August 2002.
“When Doing Good Does Bad,” With, July/August 2002.
“White Spaces,” The Other Side, March & April 2002.
“Angels and a Dork,” With, March/April 2002.
“Racism Kicks Back, God Heals The Wounds,” Purpose, November 4, 2001.
“An Open Letter to Alex Chadwick of National Public Radio,” The Mennonite, September 25, 2001.
“Spitwads: A Re-Telling of Mark 8:22-26,” With, November/December 2001.
“Quieted by the Land,” The Mennonite, June 19, 2001.
“Following Fake Latinos,” The Mennonite, May 1, 2001.
“Fake Latinos,” The Mennonite, January 9, 2001.
“Pearls, Swine and Beloved,” The Mennonite, December 29, 1998.
“Wall of History as Ritual and Remembering,” Conciliation Quarterly, Summer 1998.
“What’s in a name?” The Mennonite, April 14, 1998.
“A Word from God: ‘I will change your name,’” Christian Living, March 1998.
“Where on the Damascus Road? Reflections for Urban Peacemaking,” Urban Connections, Fall 1997.
“Public Schools: Learning with the Neighbors,” Christian Living, September 1997.
“Mennonites and Racism: Much Work to Do,” The Mennonite, January 14, 1997.
“Has Change Come?” a Common Place, May 1996.
“Categorical Denial: Racism, Identity and the Possibility of Change,” Christian Leader, January 1996.
“A Quiz on Racism,” The Mennonite, January 9, 1996.
“Everyday Peacemaking,” With, December 1995.
“Butter Sandwiches, Train Rides, and Affirmative Action,” Gospel Herald, October 31, 1995.
“Beyond Easy: Building Racial Reconciliation,” The Christian Ministry, May-June, 1995.
“Why is it so hard to talk about racism?” Gospel Herald, November 22, 1994.
“Stopping the Hate,” With, July-August 1994.
“Waiting for a dream,” Christian Living, April-May 1994.
“Racism and a Running White Boy,” Builder, January 1993.
“A Gift of Grace in Red, White and Blue,” Urban Connections, Fall 1992.
“Nobody Should Die: Children's Wishes in the City,” Christian Living, September 1992.
“A Clumsy Juggler Finds Grace,” Christian Living, July 1992.
“Race Relations: Three Paradigms,” Conciliation Quarterly, Spring 1992.
“Christians Must Work Against Subtle Racism,” Mennonite Weekly Review, September 5, 1991.
“Ripped Off,” Intercom, January 1991.
“A Psalm for the People of New Orleans,” Contact, November 1990.
“Avoiding Burnout: Keeping a Vision while Volunteering,” Southern Perspectives, Spring 1990.
“Behind the Bars of Racism,” Gospel Herald, April 25, 1989.
“In the Presence of My Enemies,” Gospel Herald, August 23, 1988.
“Promises Not Fulfilled,” Blueprint for Social Justice, September 1987 (with A. J. Gallese).
“There's a Warm Wind Blowing in Chinandega,” Christian Living, August 1986.
“Anger and Joy,” Gospel Herald, July 8, 1986.
“They See with New Eyes,” WMSC Voice, May 1986.
“To Sit in Silence,” With, November 1984.
I hold membership with the American Academy of Religion.
I have twenty years experience as an anti-racism consultant and workshop facilitator.
I am the co-founder and former core trainer of the Damascus Road anti-racism process, a constultation and training program that trains faith-based colleges, universities, mission agencies, and denominational offices for anti-racist action.
I also served as program coordinator of Mennonite Central Committee's service program in New Orleans, Louisiana, for six years.
Honors / Awards
2017, Mortarboard Society, Last Lecturer, University of Montana
2017, Best UM Professor, Missoula Independent
2017, University of Montana Nancy Bormann Diversity Award
2016, Distinguished Teaching Award, University of Montana
2013, Helen and Winston Cox Educational Excellence Award, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Montana, awarded annually to UM faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences who are not yet tenured based on superior contributions to the education of UM students; in particular, awardees show superior teaching, advising and mentoring of students.
2012, Paul Lauren Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor Award, Davidson Honors College, University of Montana
I enjoy running, hiking, working out at a local Crossfit box, and reading science fiction.
I also make a mean peanut butter pie.