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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revuecanadtenned'etudesamericaines Volume 29, Number 1, 1999, pp. 123-131 Twentieth-Century American Culture and the Persistence of Religion Eric Crouse 123 James Gilbert. Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997. Linda Kintz. Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions That Matter in Right-Wing America. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997. Daniel Wojcik. The End of the World As We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America. New York: New York University Press, 1997. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution demonstrates that the founding fathers, aware of the volatile nature of religious debate, refused to promote formal ties between church and state. The First Amendment's ban on religious establishment, however, has not prevented religion from being a major and persisting force in American life. French philosopher and traveller Alexis de Tocqueville observed, in the 1830s, that "there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence 124 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d'etudes americaines over the souls of men [and women] than in America" (quoted in Noll 1995, 67-68). Only months from the turn-of-the millennium, de Tocqueville's words still ring true to a surprising degree. A significant number of Americans may have a superficial faith, yet an obsession with sacred themes has characterized the lives of many Roman Catholics and Protestants. Known for their commitment to the Christian fundamentals, Protestant evangelicals alone comprise approximately thirty percent of the American population according to recent sociological data (Kellstedt 1995). In the United States, Christianity is serious business. But how has a high level of Christian religiosity continued throughout the twentieth century in the face of modern science, the threat of world destruction, and liberalism? Shedding some light on twentieth-century American religion are three recent publications: James Gilbert's Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science (1997), Daniel Wojcik's The End of the World As We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America (1997), and Linda Kintz's Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions That Matter in RightWing America (1997). Each study has its own unique focus (science, folklore, and social policy) and not always on religion, but all three authors argue or imply that the success of religion in twentieth-century America was and continues to be tied to its grassroots appeal. In Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science, James Gilbert focuses most of his attention on a cast of characters, from the immediate post-World War Two period, including philosophers, scientists, science-fiction writers, liberal and fundamentalist religious leaders, and a Hollywood director. He sees the interaction of religion and modern science in a fairly positive light, concluding that while "religion and science probably cannot be reconciled ... one of the most creative impulses of American culture is the continuing presence of religion at the heart of scientific civilization " (1997, 323). Gilbert offers a perceptive and convincing argument about American culture and the persistence of religion which can help us understand present debates concerning the place of religion and science in American life. As Gilbert sees it, William Jennings Bryan's attack on modern science during the Scopes trial in 1925 signalled that twentieth-century scientific thought would not always be unconditionally accepted at the popular level. Eric Crouse I 125 After World War Two, the prestige of scientists rose with their important discoveries but elitism also reared its ugly head. Proclaiming themselves as leaders of a "virtuous republic," some scientists claimed that they were guided by superior motives and ethics; they were unwilling "to become the handmaiden of theology or economy or state." Promoters of science, for example, sought complete control of federal grant-giving science agencies such as the National Science Foundation. Many Americans were suspicious of the scientific elite and the growing influence of science in a nuclear age. Perhaps echoing the thoughts of many Americans, one commentator wrote in the 1940s, "Man does not live by machine alone." In his examination of a number of conflicts between secularists and religious spokespersons, Gilbert argues "that science and religion were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 123-131
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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