When Jared Asser started exploring the music of the Ku Klux Klan for his M.A., he was startled to discover no one had written a systematic account of the Klan’s music. And by reading primary sources, including a Klan publication called The Fiery Cross, he realized that in the early twentieth century the Klan recruited its members by imitating the religious music and practices of popular evangelists like Billy Sunday.
“The Klan took that format of a revivalist meeting and mimicked it almost down to the minute,” explains Mr. Asser. “They designed the initiation process to reflect the revival tradition, and would publicly convert people using music. Not just the same hymns, but in the same places in the initiation ceremony, so they were presenting something that looked very similar to the evangelical conversion experience.”
Mr. Asser’s supervisor, Dr. David Sheinin, encouraged him to apply to conferences as a way of sharing his own research and encountering the research of fellow Americanist grad students. In May 2019, he travelled to the University of Michigan to present some of his work, dovetailing the conference with an archival research trip to Indianapolis. There, his reading of rare Klan documents gave him fresh insight into the KKK’s inner workings. But his interest in the connections between music, conversion, and the emotion of hatred are far from being rooted only in the past.
“The most important thing to me as I’m doing this research is hoping it can be used for something outside of the academy,” he says. “The Klan mimicked religious music, but also brought it onto the street, presenting themselves as leaders of a religious and patriotic community. And I don’t think that approach is going away anytime soon. My hope is that anything I discover with relationship to the Klan in the 1920s will present insight into what people are doing now.”
Currently revising his thesis and applying to doctoral programs, Mr. Asser notes the invaluable support of his supervisor, Dr. Sheinin, and committee members, Robert Wright and Antonio Cazorla-Sanchez.
“In the past two or three months alone I’ve received huge amounts of guidance on professional development,” he says. “Specifically, how to think about applying my skills to doctoral programs, and how to take my skills beyond academic areas. Now that I’m dipping into the process of revising my thesis, my group of mentors has also been great in advising me how to develop as a professional, not just as a historian.”