- Faithful Republic: Religion and Politics in Modern America ed. by Andrew Preston, Bruce J. Schulman, and Julian E. Zelizer
The relationship between religion and politics in America is tremendously broad and extraordinarily complex. It is a sharply contested, hotly debated subject and in perpetual need of pondering and clarification. Faithful Republic: Religion and Politics in Modern America does exactly that. With nine essays that cover the Civil War to the present, the collection presents reflections on the historical fact of religion’s endurance throughout the last 150 years. The essays invite critical analysis of the various ways that Christianity and other religions have been part of U.S. political and cultural life. Historiographically, the editors situate this volume of political history in conversation with what they call the “religious turn in American history,” by which they mean approaches to religious history that account for its entanglements with the nation’s political and cultural life, and the mutual impact this relationship has had on both the practice of religion and the execution of politics (p. 7). [End Page 713]
The first two essays deal broadly with how turn-of-the-twentieth-century political and cultural change as trends, such as urbanization, affected religious ideas, religious groups, and social practices. David Mislin’s essay documents Protestant-Catholic convergence on the politics of family and higher rates of divorce, while Lila Corwin Berman’s insightful analysis of modern Jewish life and practice shows how urban contexts shaped religious and cultural identity.
Chapters by Darren Dochuk, Alison Collis Greene, and Edward J. Blum that encompass the 1920s through the 1960s address, respectively, questions of race and class in relation to fundamentalist and mainline religious networks, internationalism, and U.S. petroleum culture; the ways that black and white southern churches responded to shifts in the relationship between church and state during the New Deal; and how a preacher politician, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., traversed the categories and navigated the contours of religion and politics during his career in ministry and government.
Focusing on midcentury trends in religion and public life, Matthew S. Hedstrom’s chapter uses the life of Christian missionary and literacy advocate Frank Laubach to illustrate the vibrancy of liberal Christianity outside the institutional church. Liberal religion, Hedstrom contends, thrived in social and cultural work inspired by a broad “spiritual cosmopolitanism” and prefigured the rise of today’s so-called nones, people who claim no religion, that Pew Research Center studies on religion and public life have recently documented (p. 72). Traversing the same historical period, Molly Worthen presents the theological backstory of the Christian Right. She documents how the movement’s doctrine of scriptural inerrancy expressed a biblical fidelity that championed literal interpretations of the Bible and the discourse of a “‘Christian worldview’” dependent on philosophical presuppositionalism (p. 105). She also points out how pro-life Protestants joined with like-minded Catholics in anti-abortion efforts, the same kind of political alliance Mislin’s chapter covers.
Capturing developments in more contemporary times, Lily Geismer’s chapter complicates the idea that megachurches and political conservatism solely define suburban spirituality. Her account of suburban Boston explains how interfaith alliances between Jews, Protestants, and Catholics during the post–World War II period have accomplished progressive political agendas in relation to issues like antiwar activism, gay rights, and environmentalism. Like Hedstrom’s chapter, Geismer’s emphasizes liberal religion’s continuity throughout the twentieth century rather than its decline and defeat by religious and political conservatism. Analyzing the 2012 presidential primaries, Bethany Moreton uses the sagas of Protestant-turned-Catholic Newt Gingrich and the evangelical theorist of “compassionate conservatism,” Marvin Olasky, to comment on the Catholic-evangelical conjunction around pro-life activism. She also ponders the significance of an emerging political realignment between regular churchgoers and the unaffiliated, where immigration, marriage equality, and the rise of the nones will animate another generation of religious activism across a newly painted landscape...