ABSTRACT

The year is 1902. Five men sit in a close circle on a red velvet upholstered couch and matching square-backed chairs, around a Victorian turn-legged table bearing papers and journals, black coffee and cake. The air is thick with tobacco smoke. There is an urn that contains ballots with all the members’ names, so that speakers can—and must—speak, in random order. 1 A meticulously dressed, bearded man sits in a chair a few inches apart from the rest of the group, drawing on his cigar, appraising them all with gimlet eyes. He is biding his time to speak until all the others have weighed in. A floor-to-ceiling ceramic coal heater chuffs somewhat ineffectually in the corner; it is the discussion that is generating the heat. The topic is religion.