Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History

Article excerpt


by Dale E. Soden

Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, 2015. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index. 320 pages.

Historians and surveys from the Pew Research Center have long noted a dearth of religious life in the northwest corner of America. Labeled the "None Zone" by historian Patricia Killen, this characterization has exacerbated the absence of religion in historical narratives of the region. Whitworth University professor Dale E. Soden's new book highlights the fallacy of assuming that religious people and institutions have had little effect in Washington and Oregon.

Ambitiously tackling religious activism from the late nineteenth to the twentieth century, Soden organizes the book chronologically, helpfully pairing chapters on progressive reformers with those examining conservative activists. The first five chapters examine efforts to regulate the behavior of young men--temperance crusades, reducing prostitution, and manifestations of muscular Christianity--from the Gilded Age through the Great Depression. The latter five chapters study our modern culture wars--struggles over sexuality, race, and abortion. Battles to define gender roles are a persistent theme, and Soden features female activists prominently throughout the book. Soden's strongest sections examine recent decades, including the rise of megachurches and Neo-Calvinism, the persistent if generally futile attempts of evangelicals and Mormons to ban same-sex marriage and physician-assisted suicide, ecumenical efforts of antiwar protestors, and religious activists fighting for immigration reform, economic equality, and other progressive causes. His comparisons of religious responses to the black power movement and segregation are also insightful.

While Soden investigated Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant activists, other religions are overlooked, as are Asian and Native Americans. These absences are particularly noticeable within the section on the World War II Japanese American incarceration (Soden writes of the internment, a term now rejected by historians of that injustice). He tells the story of Quaker Arthur Barnett's defense of Gordon Hirabayashi, for example, without mentioning that Hirabayashi, a Quaker convert raised in a Japanese Christian farming commune, refused to obey curfew and removal laws on Christian grounds. His appeal failed in the U.S. Supreme Court. …

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