Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Is There a Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Is There a Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life

Article excerpt

Is There a Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life. By James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe. The Pew Forum Dialogues on Religion and American Public Life. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2006. xii + 118 pp. $18.95 (paper).

At the 1992 Republican National Convention, conservative pundit and onetime presidential candidate Pat Buchanan summoned the faithful in his party to wage "a cultural war" for the salvation of their nation's soul (p. 1). Although Buchanan's speech brought widespread attention to the culture war question, the idea had already been introduced in academic circles by sociologist James Davison Hunter. In his book, Culture Wars: The Stniggle to Define America (1991), Hunter examined the battles he saw raging between "orthodox" and "progressive" Americans over moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality. Hunter was also one of the first observers to note how theological differences, which had once bitterly divided American religious bodies against one another, were becoming far less significant than disagreements within the churches and denominations themselves. Thanks to the burgeoning culture war, socially conservative Protestants, Catholics, and Jews wore finding common ground against liberals belonging to their own faith traditions (he contended), while conflict over ethical and cultural matters was replacing traditional divisions based on economics and class as one of the keys to understanding American politics.

Although debate about the merits of Hunters thesis has quieted a bit since the 2006 congressional elections, this topic remains, as the publication of Is There a Culture War? suggests, a fruitful one for discussion among professional social scientists. In this book Hunter restates his position on the existence of the phenomenon he initially identified, while Alan Wolfe, an insistent critic of the culture war paradigm, writes about why he thinks it is being fought more in the minds of intellectuals like Hunter and himself than in the everyday experiences of ordinary citizens. Analyzing reactions to the Terri Schiavo case in 2005, for instance, Wolfe shows how the vast majority of Americans failed to rally to the moral crusade proclaimed by a few Republican couservatives. Hunter and Wolfe's arguments are further scrutinized in essays by the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb and the political scientist Morris P. …

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