Religion in America Since 1945

Religion in America Since 1945: A History

Patrick Allitt
Copyright Date: 2003
DOI: 10.7312/alli12154
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/alli12154
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    Religion in America Since 1945
    Book Description:

    Moving far beyond the realm of traditional "church history," Patrick Allitt here offers a vigorous and erudite survey of the broad canvas of American religion since World War II. Identifying the major trends and telling moments within major denominations and also in less formal religious movements, he asks how these religious groups have shaped, and been shaped by, some of the most important and divisive issues and events of the last half century: the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, feminism and the sexual revolution, abortion rights, the antinuclear and environmentalist movements, and many others.

    Allitt argues that the boundaries between religious and political discourse have become increasingly blurred in the last fifty years. Having been divided along denominational lines in the early postwar period, religious Americans had come by the 1980s to be divided along political lines instead, as they grappled with the challenges of modernity and secularism. Partly because of this politicization, and partly because of the growing influence of Asian, Latino, and other ethnic groups, the United States is anomalous among the Western industrialized nations, as church membership and religious affiliation generally increased during this period. Religion in America Since 1945 is a masterful analysis of this dynamism and diversity and an ideal starting point for any exploration of the contemporary religious scene.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50931-2
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. Chapter 1 Anxious Victory: 1945–1952
    (pp. 1-20)

    The Second World War ended in August 1945 after two nuclear explosions destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even nonreligious people groped for religious language to describe the power and destructiveness of the bombs. J. Philip Oppenheimer, one of the scientific leaders of the bomb project, witnessing the dazzling light of the first test explosion in New Mexico, thought of a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scripture: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the Mighty One.” A moment later, seeing the immense...

  5. Chapter 2 Religion and Materialism: 1950–1970
    (pp. 21-42)

    In the 1930s the apparent breakdown of the American capitalist system prompted some Americans to look for radical alternatives. Was it not intolerable to have productive factories standing unused and fields lying fallow at a time when millions of people were short of food, clothes, and housing? The alternative to this weird situation, a few Americans believed, was Communism. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had collectivized all production and distribution of goods. Now, at least in theory, the society made what it needed and distributed it justly and equitably, having abolished profits and class differences. Backward Russia was hurrying forward...

  6. Chapter 3 Religion, Respect, and Social Change: 1955–1968
    (pp. 43-64)

    Martin Luther King Jr., writing his account of the Montgomery bus boycott after its successful conclusion, asked: Why did it happen there, of all places? Was it because there was a large desegregated Air Force base just outside of town where many of the townspeople worked? Was it because there was a vigorous chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the town, providing leadership to black citizens? Was it because of Rosa Parks’s willingness to test the bus company’s segregation policy, or because he [King] was there to help the movement? It was all...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. Chapter 4 New Frontiers and Old Boundaries: 1960–1969
    (pp. 65-86)

    Americans like the idea that everyone has an equal chance of growing up to be president. The reality is different. Until now you have had to be a man, and before 1960 you had to be a Protestant man. John F. Kennedy cracked the religious barrier against Roman Catholics in the election of that year. No one ever accused Kennedy of being a good Catholic; stories about his ruthless political cynicism and his sexual promiscuity have cast a shadow over the myth of the Kennedy “Camelot” in the decades since his death. Even so, his election marked an important moment...

  9. Chapter 5 Shaking the Foundations: 1963–1972
    (pp. 87-115)

    Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963) is not, at first glance, a religious book. It describes how Israeli agents discovered the former Nazi death camp organizer Adolf Eichmann in South America, transported him back to Israel, put him on trial for crimes against humanity, found him guilty, and executed him by hanging. It goes on to describe several dismaying aspects of the Holocaust, among them the way in which Jewish authorities in many European cities cooperated with the Nazis in the hope that their good conduct would secure them better treatment, and the lack of resistance to the Nazis’ policy...

  10. Chapter 6 Alternative Religious Worlds: 1967–1982
    (pp. 116-147)

    Jews and Christians had for centuries believed that heaven was literally above them, up there in the sky. Even when advances in astronomy had made the idea of “heaven above” more problematical, there was still a hint of the supernatural about the possibility of flying through the air. The idea of visitors from other worlds arriving in spaceships, or of men journeying out to the stars in their own ships, became staples of science fiction after 1900. Immense strides in aviation technology had put mankind on the brink of space travel by the middle of the century, and the “space...

  11. Chapter 7 Evangelicals and Politics: 1976–1990
    (pp. 148-169)

    Jimmy Carter defeated President Ford in the election of 1976 and became the thirty-ninth president. He was a surprising winner, first because he had no prior experience of Washington politics (he had been governor of Georgia) and second because he was an avowed “born-again” Christian and Baptist Sunday school teacher. But 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, was no ordinary election year. Ford had become president only with the resignation of President Nixon, disgraced and shamed out of office by the Watergate scandal (1972–1974). Carter’s grinning godly goodliness attracted voters in a way it might not have done in other years,...

  12. Chapter 8 The Christian Quest for Justice and Wisdom: 1980–1995
    (pp. 170-190)

    The 1980s were an activist decade among Christian groups on the right and the left, which aimed to correct injustices and bring America into line with the gospel. A sharply divided Christian community, however, held different opinions about which aspects of American life violated the Christian message. For those on the political left it was the nation’s continuing dependence on nuclear weapons for its defense, its support for oppressive right-wing regimes in Latin America, and its exclusion of refugees fleeing from them. For Christians on the political right, by contrast, it was the power of secular humanism. We have already...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  14. Chapter 9 Profits, Profligates, and Prophets: 1987–1995
    (pp. 191-207)

    The religious and political struggles of the early 1980s, over nuclear weapons, sanctuary, creationism, school prayer, and textbooks, were grim affairs. Religious news took an unexpectedly humorous turn in the late eighties with a pair of sex and money scandals. Sex and religion have always been explosive partners, prime material for novelists and for truths-stranger-than-fiction. For entertaining novels on the theme, try Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry (1927) with its sultry, seductive prophetess Sharon Falconer and the lecherous minister of its title, or John Updike’s A Month of Sundays (1975), told from the point of view of a sexually promiscuous minister...

  15. Chapter 10 The New World Order: 1989–1999
    (pp. 208-230)

    The evangelical scandals of 1987 and the election of 1988 were overshadowed by the international events of 1989, which will be remembered as one of the four or five pivotal years of the entire twentieth century. The Soviet Union had been fighting for ten years in Afghanistan but with even less success than America had enjoyed in Vietnam. By 1989 troops from its constituent republics were in open mutiny. Russia’s Eastern European client states, far poorer than the countries of Western Europe and dominated by repressive puppet regimes, were on the brink of revolt. Ten years of growing protest and...

  16. Chapter 11 Fears, Threats, and Promises: 1990–2000
    (pp. 231-251)

    By the 1990s every religious group in America was aware, often uncomfortably aware, that some of its members were homosexual. Whether to welcome them, shun them, ordain them to ministry, or permit them to marry same-sex partners in church became questions of pressing concern and sundering disagreement. Ministers and congregation members held visceral feelings about the issue, and disagreements often led to conflict. How should they think about homosexuality? Should Scripture, tradition, church orthodoxy, doctrines of universal love, or current social opinion guide their decisions? While the churches were deciding what to do, religious homosexuals themselves had to decide whether...

  17. Chapter 12 The New Millennium: 2001
    (pp. 252-266)

    The destruction of the World Trade Center and the partial destruction of the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, marked a traumatic moment in American history. The events themselves, and the nation’s great outpouring of grief, anger, dread, and prayer, offer a glimpse of American religion at the opening of the twenty-first century. In some ways similar to citizens’ reactions to great events in the Second World War, where we began, they were in other ways quite different, revealing a new landscape of religious groupings and new ideas about God, suffering, war, and the character of America itself.

    The immediate reaction...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 267-284)
  19. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 285-300)
  20. Index
    (pp. 301-318)