A native of Stillwater, Chris is a history professor at Bethel University, where he teaches classes on European, military/diplomatic, sports, and religious history. He is the author or editor of five books, most recently a "spiritual but not religious" biography of the controversial aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. Chris lives in Roseville with his wife and two children.
- Tell us about the featured book. What is it about, and why did you choose to write this story?
I’d been interested in trying my hand at a biography for a few years, and the editor of a series of religious biographies suggested that I think about Charles Lindbergh. (“You’re tall, Minnesotan, and Swedish,” he told me…) It turned out to be an inspired idea! While there are lots of Lindbergh biographies, none before had focused on his spiritual journey. Though he remained deeply suspicious of organized religion, Charles Lindbergh nonetheless grew increasingly interested in theology, metaphysics, and ethics, and ended up reading and writing a great deal about divinity, mortality, and supernatural phenomena, particularly in the second half of his life. And in the process of researching that aspect of his story, I feel like I better understood his more troubling beliefs: his affirmation of white supremacy and anti-Semitism, his sympathy for Nazi Germany, and his embrace of eugenics.
- Tell us a little about your writing process. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching, outlining, or planning before beginning a book?
In the case of the Lindbergh book, I spent the better part of three years doing research, mostly in the Lindbergh collections at Yale University and the Minnesota Historical Society. (Though I also spent some time going through the family library collected in the drawing room of the Lindbergh House in Little Falls, MN.) Part of my writing process is to “think in public,” sharing aspects of my research and musing about key questions via blog posts. That’s where some chapters first started to take shape. Then I did most of the intense writing in March-July 2020 — one advantage of being locked down for a pandemic is that I had plenty of time to sit at our kitchen table with my laptop.
- Are there any writers or authors who have influenced your writing? If not, who are some of your favorite writers?
I’m lucky enough to share a group blog with some of my favorite writing historians — e.g., Philip Jenkins, Kristin Du Mez, John Turner, Beth Allison Barr, and David Swartz. But I also enjoy reading historical fiction, especially novels set during and in between the world wars (e.g., Philip Kerr, Alan Furst, David Downing). Those writers remind me that it’s possible to combine rigorous historical research and deep historical understanding with clever plotting, subtle character development, and memorable dialogue. Fiction or nonfiction, history ought to tell a good story.
- When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Writing is really a sidelight. The main focus of my job as a historian is to teach classes at Bethel University, on everything from military and diplomatic history to my spring class on the History and Politics of Sports. Away from work, I enjoy reading, music, cooking, and taking hikes with our twelve-year-old twins.
- Do you have a website or social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) where readers can learn more about your work?
You can read my blogging at The Pietist Schoolman and The Anxious Bench, and I occasionally tweet (@cgehrz).