Religion in America since 1945: A History

Religion in America since 1945: A History

Religion in America since 1945: A History

Religion in America since 1945: A History

Synopsis

Moving far beyond the realm of traditional "church history," Patrick Allitt here offers a vigorous and erudite survey of the broad canvas of American religion since World War II. Identifying the major trends and telling moments within major denominations and also in less formal religious movements, he asks how these religious groups have shaped, and been shaped by, some of the most important and divisive issues and events of the last half century: the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, feminism and the sexual revolution, abortion rights, the antinuclear and environmentalist movements, and many others.

Allitt argues that the boundaries between religious and political discourse have become increasingly blurred in the last fifty years. Having been divided along denominational lines in the early postwar period, religious Americans had come by the 1980s to be divided along political lines instead, as they grappled with the challenges of modernity and secularism. Partly because of this politicization, and partly because of the growing influence of Asian, Latino, and other ethnic groups, the United States is anomalous among the Western industrialized nations, as church membership and religious affiliation generally increased during this period. Religion in America Since 1945 is a masterful analysis of this dynamism and diversity and an ideal starting point for any exploration of the contemporary religious scene.

Excerpt

Hundreds of people have written about American religious history since the Second World War, but few have taken on the whole subject. In 1999 James Warren of Columbia University Press asked me to try it, and this book is the result. It is a narrative of the main religious events, trends, and movements of the fifty-six years between two explosive events—the American use of atomic weapons against Japan in August 1945 and Al Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001. It concentrates partly on changes within religious groups and partly on the connection between religion and major issues in national life.

Recent American religious history is paradoxical. America is, in one respect, the great exception to the rule of secularization in the Western industrialized nations. As rates of church attendance and faith in a transcendent God declined steadily throughout twentieth-century Europe, in America they remained high and sometimes climbed higher. While religion was declining into a vestige of its former self in England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, it was becoming more vigorous than ever in America. Spectacular new churches enhanced the landscape; well-funded and religiously motivated groups like Moral Majority intensified the religiosity of American political life; and spiritual seekers found an ever-growing range of religious groups from which to choose.

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