Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America Since 1945

The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America Since 1945

Paul Harvey
Philip Goff
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 584
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Columbia Documentary History of Religion in America Since 1945
    Book Description:

    Of late, religion seems to be everywhere, suffusing U.S. politics and popular culture and acting as both a unifying and a divisive force. This collection of manifestos, Supreme Court decisions, congressional testimonies, speeches, articles, book excerpts, pastoral letters, interviews, song lyrics, memoirs, and poems reflects the vitality, diversity, and changing nature of religious belief and practice in American public and private life over the last half century. Encompassing a range of perspectives, this book illustrates the ways in which individuals from all along the religious and political spectrum have engaged religion and viewed it as a crucial aspect of society.

    The anthology begins with documents that reflect the close relationship of religion, especially mainline Protestantism, to essential ideas undergirding Cold War America. Covering both the center and the margins of American religious life, this volume devotes extended attention to how issues of politics, race, gender, and sexuality have influenced the religious mainstream. A series of documents reflects the role of religion and theology in the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements as well as in conservative responses. Issues regarding religion and contemporary American culture are explored in documents about the rise of the evangelical movement and the religious right; the impact of "new" (post-1965) immigrant communities on the religious landscape; the popularity of alternative, New Age, and non-Western beliefs; and the relationship between religion and popular culture.

    The editors conclude with selections exploring major themes of American religious life at the millennium, including both conservative and New Age millennialism, as well as excerpts that speculate on the future of religion in the United States.

    The documents are grouped by theme into nine chapters and arranged chronologically therein. Each chapter features an extensive introduction providing context for and analysis of the critical issues raised by the primary sources.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51036-3
    Subjects: History, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  3. Introduction: Religion and American Life Since World War II
    (pp. xv-xxii)

    In new mexico in the spring of 1945, upon witnessing the first test of the atomic bomb, the result of the massive Manhattan Project that he had overseen to successful completion, the physicist Robert Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad-Gita (a Hindu sacred text), said, “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” In the 1950s, President Dwight D. Eisenhower urged Americans to go to church, endorsing advertisements that trumpeted spiritual life as vital to the American republic and to the struggle against atheistic communism. Eisenhower did not suggest one church in particular––any would do. Meanwhile, poetic dissenters from consensus-era American life,...

  4. Editors’ Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  5. Part 1 Religion in Cold War America:: Cultures and Countercultures

    • Chapter 1 Mainline Religion and the Cold War
      (pp. 3-72)

      When the “iron curtain” fell across Europe following World War II, it marked a new act on the stage of world events. Long suspicious of each other’s economic systems, the United States and the Soviet Union had put aside their differences long enough to defeat Adolf Hitler’s Axis powers. But now they returned to their earlier distrust with renewed vigor. The stakes of world domination had been raised considerably by the creation of atomic weaponry, which the United States had used to help end the war in the Pacific theater and which the USSR acquired soon thereafter. The “Cold War,”...

    • Chapter 2 Religion and the Counterculture
      (pp. 73-132)

      I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness

      Starving, hysterical, naked

      Dragging through the negro streets at dawn,

      Looking for an angry fix.

      With these words, Allen Ginsberg announced a revolution in American poetry, one that paralleled the innovations of Jackson Pollock in painting and John Cage in music. Ginsberg read these opening lines to his poem “Howl” in 1955, in front of some friends and comrades (including Jack Kerouac, Ginsberg’s friend and author of the famous novel On the Road) in Berkeley, California. As a Jew in a country still tinged with anti-Semitism, a political radical...

  6. Part 2 Gender, Race, and Politics in American Religion Since 1945

    • Chapter 3 Religion and the Civil Rights Movement
      (pp. 135-198)

      This chapter presents documents that explore the close relationship of religion and the black freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as social justice crusades in the Latino community and churches through the words of César Chávez and others; the rise of feminist theologies in communities of color, including “womanist theology” among black women and “mujerista theology” among Latinas; the spread of liberation theologies; and the controversy and rancor raised over issues of religion, race, and power during the tumultuous days of the late 1960s. The chapter focuses especially on documents related to black Americans’ fight for civil...

    • Chapter 4 Religion and Gender
      (pp. 199-252)

      For much of American history, women have made up the majority of adherents in organized religious institutions. Women, moreover, have often been assigned the “role” of religion in socialization. In the nineteenth century, for example, the “separate spheres” ideology pervasive in Victorian America placed women on a moral pedestal, with the task of instilling moral and religious values in children, while men left the home to compete in the amoral world of business. Women were the unnamed leaders of the Second Great Awakening in the early nineteenth century. They brought sons, husbands, and other male relatives to church and to...

    • Chapter 5 Politics and Religion Since the 1960s
      (pp. 253-316)

      It seems inevitable. After every election cycle, citizens complain that “this was the dirtiest campaign year yet.” In terms of religion, such complaints have been escalating since 1980. That was the year that conservative Protestants and Catholics began getting out the vote more aggressively, highlighting the similarities between their concerns and those of Republican candidates. But much of the resulting explosion of media interest in the relationship between religion and politics was merely stumbling upon a recurring story in American history.

      Look back to the election of 1800, when President John Adams faced off against Vice President Thomas Jefferson. Both...

  7. Part 3 Religion and American Life in the United States:: To the Millennium

    • Chapter 6 Popular Religion
      (pp. 319-372)

      Having attended church earlier in the day, the middle-aged divorced woman takes an hour for herself after getting the kids to bed. Lying in a warm bath, surrounded by aromatherapy candles and the strains of New Age music, she reads her horoscope in the newspaper and contemplates who might be the dangerous stranger it instructs her to avoid or proceed around with caution.

      “Popular religion” refers to religious beliefs and practices people engage in outside the institutional beliefs and rituals they are taught to follow. These practices are not necessarily contrary to those of their institutional affiliation, but neither are...

      (pp. 373-426)

      After the apparent halcyon days of the 1950s, the high point of church membership and attendance in American history (with over 60 percent of Americans claiming some church affiliation, and over 96 percent professing belief in God), mainstream American Protestantism went into decline in the 1960s. With attendance decreasing, contributions plummeting, urban churches struggling in a new context of neighborhoods in rapid racial transition, and the intelligentsia proclaiming a “death of God” theology, observers soon began to wonder about the future of American Protestantism, and to puzzle over what to do with mammoth church buildings and denominational infrastructures that now...

    • Chapter 8 New Immigrant Communities
      (pp. 427-478)

      Los angeles began the twentieth century as the whitest and most Protestant sizeable city in the United States. Compared both to larger cities—New York, Chicago, San Francisco—and to those of similar size, the “City of Angels” could have been renamed the “City of White Protestants.” Its entire public structure exhibited the power of the mainline churches, as the powerful denominations claimed 93 percent of all elected offices and 87 percent of all appointed positions in the city government.

      By the end of the century, everything had changed. Los Angeles had been transformed into the most ethnically and religiously...

    • Chapter 9 Religion, the New Age, and the New Millennium
      (pp. 479-534)

      As the twentieth century came to a close, religious prophesiers, seers, and skeptics alike vigorously debated what the new millennium would bring. Conservative Christians searched contemporary history for signs that would validate their ideas of the imminent end of the world and triumphant return of Christ. Liberal Christians, chastened by a century that started with the optimistic prognostications of Social Gospelers and postmillennialists but in fact was dominated by two cataclysmic world wars, the Holocaust, and the threat of nuclear annihilation, searched for ways to renew a lost faith in humanity. They banded together with Muslims, Hindus, and others at...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 535-542)
  9. Index
    (pp. 543-554)