KEVIN ORLIN JOHNSON, PH.D.
Kevin Orlin Johnson holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the History of Architecture, a Master’s degree in Art History, and a Bachelor’s degree in Art History; he has also fulfilled the requirements for a Bachelor’s degree in History. His publications in his principal field, on topics as varied as Louis XIV’s first designs for Versailles or the design of the Chapel of the Most Holy Shroud in Turin, are considered definitive by many scholars here and abroad.
In these works, he superseded the traditional taxonomic method of Art History in favor of true explanatory method, revealing for the first time the meaning and the purpose of these monuments rather than simply describing and classifying them. “If you understand the method of any field, the logical system through which its practitioners pursue their researches, you can understand that field,” he says. “If you understand method, you can understand any field.”
Following graduation, he worked as a technical editor and writer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, serving as co-author of The Recommended Approach to Software Development for Goddard Space Flight Center as well as writing basic training materials in astronomy and telemetry. At home in Dallas, he received the Grand Award for News Writing, Medical, from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education for his work with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and today he is editor and contributing writer of the standard international Street Medicine Guidelines for the Street Medicine Institute.
He is best known for his books on Catholic Christianity, including Why Do Catholics Do That? (1994), which reached the Publishers Weekly best-seller lists, outselling even the books written by the pope. He followed this with more books in the field, prompted by questions from his readers: Rosary: Mysteries, Meditations, and the Telling of the Beads (1997), acclaimed by The National Review’s literary editor Michael Potemra as “the best book I have yet seen on this subject,” and Apparitions: Mystic Phenomena and What They Mean (1998) ― the only trade book on the paranormal carrying the imprimatur, the Catholic Church’s official certification of freedom from error. All three have been selected in their turn as books of the month by the Catholic Digest Book Club.
In these books, Johnson presents accurate information about Christianity and about the institutional Church, her history, and her achievements. “I’m a teacher,” he says, “not a preacher.”
Although he grew up in Illinois and “was trucked around yearly to all of the Lincoln sites,” Johnson wasn’t particularly interested in Lincoln. But his readers’ questions about holidays led him to investigate the history of Lincoln’s administration. “Our civil holidays don’t make any sense today,” he says. “That’s because the Lincoln administration so forcefully cut us off from our past, just as Henry VIII’s schism from the Church explains why we Americans don’t understand our religious holidays any more.”
That line of research led Johnson to the re-discovery of a hand-written affidavit in which Lincoln ordered the sale of his slaves. “I was excited to find it,” he says, “but it wasn’t really unexpected. Everybody knows that he married Mary Todd of Lexington, that she inherited slaves, and that the standing law transferred title to a wife’s property to her husband.” Everybody also knows that he could have emancipated those slaves, too, just as his Todd in-laws frequently did, and even more easily. “After all, they hadn’t cost him anything.” The official version of Lincoln Studies, he says, isn’t likely to remind us of those facts.
So, to explain the history and meaning of our civil holidays, he’ll have to re-write the whole history of the Lincoln years. He already has half a dozen new books on their way to press, after which, he says, “I’ll be able to get back to the really interesting subjects.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Johnson speaks nationally on historic and religious matters and is a frequent guest on radio, television, and podcasts in the United States and worldwide.