Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an Age of Science

Article excerpt

Redeeming Culture:American Religion in an Age of Science. By James Gilbert. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1997. Pp. x, 407. $28.95 cloth; $19.00 paperback.)

James Gilbert examines a wide array of episodes primarily in postwar America (c. 1945-1962) to illustrate a certain "unity of discourse" (p. 4) in the complex relationship between religion and science within American culture. Gilbert maintains that both religion and science ". . . are projections onto the human and natural worlds. . ." (p. 15) with actively committed adherents who engage the other "projection" as competitor or collaborator and sometimes both simultaneously. His careful examination of specific cases of competition/collaboration challenges the standard depiction that reduces the two contingents to unyielding adversaries.

Gilbert uses William Jennings Bryan's Scopes trial debacle to highlight earlier tensions between Americans' democratic common sensibilities and elite scientists' specialized knowledge. Subsequent chapters treat popularizing of science through film such as Hollywood's version of the Manhattan project, Frank Capra's religious framing of scientific research, and Moody Bible Institute's production of science films. The latter films play a significant role in integrating religion into postwar military training which Gilbert analyzes in two chapters. Other chapters focus upon national organizations such as Rabbi Louis Finkelstein's Conference on Science, Philosophy, and Religion, the Moody Bible Institute's American Scientific Affiliation, the religiously sympathetic social scientists' Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association, and the Institute on Religion in the Age of Science. Gilbert uses the controversy surrounding Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision and UFO debates to focus upon politics among scientists and their failed attempts to control popular religion's influence in scientific debates. The book ends with an account of how the United States Science Pavilion and the Christian Witness pavilion came to be next to each other at the 1962 Seattle World Fair and that placement's symbolic significance.

Gilbert provides a fascinating, well-written narrative. …