Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

By Jacob H. Dorn | Go to book overview

Essay on Sources

Materials for the study of the many relationships between American Christianity and socialism are widely scattered and frustratingly uneven. Mainstream religious leaders commented and wrote much about socialism, yet their private papers and the proceedings of the denominations contain, with few exceptions, little more than traces of interest. Socialist periodicals contain abundant coverage of religion as both a spiritual element in human history and social institution, viewing it sometimes as potential or actual enemy and sometimes as potential or actual ally. Many socialists, moreover, came from Christian traditions that they either continued to embrace in some fashion or found it impossible to escape. Yet the researcher in socialist records encounters many lacunae. Intriguing trails abruptly end, fascinating individuals disappear without explanation, and the historian's skills as detective are put to the severest test.

All this notwithstanding, the subject deserves--and research materials will support--more thorough treatment than it has received since Robert T. Handy surveyed it in "Christianity and Socialism in America, 1900-1920," Church History 21 ( March 1952): 39-54. The situation with respect to sources is not utterly bleak, as the contributors to this volume demonstrate. Even for individuals who left behind no private manuscripts whatsoever, it is possible to track their activities as socialists through periodicals and probe their worldviews through published accounts of their messages, and thus limn biographical sketches of scholarly significance. Approaches to the Christian-socialist engagement other than the biographical are likewise promising.


MANUSCRIPT COLLECTIONS

The major general collections of socialist material are the Socialist Party of America Papers in the Perkins Library at Duke University and the Socialist

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