A Christian America Still? (the Periodical Observer - Religion & Philosophy)

Article excerpt

"The 'Secularization' Question and the United States in the 20th Century" by David A. Hollinger, in Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture (Mar. 2001), The Divinity School, Duke Univ., P.O. Box 90975, Durham, N.C. 27708-0975.

There are two basic points of view about secularization in the United States, observes Hollinger, a historian at the University of California, Berkeley. According to the first, which is international and comparative, secularization made little headway in 20th-century America. The country remains "the most Christian of the major industrialized nations of the North Atlantic West." The second point of view is national and singular, and quite different from the first. It takes Christian cultural hegemony for the norm and argues that America drifted far from that norm in the course of the 20th century.

Of course, America is more secular than it was a century ago, and yet, Hollinger argues, Christianity continues to be a major force in the culture. (In the presidential campaign of 2000, voters got to choose between two major-party candidates who made their Christianity a part of their appeal.) A too narrow embrace of one or the other point of view can have, in Hollinger's words, "striking intellectual and professional consequences." Thus, specialists in American religious history who adopt a master narrative of Christian decline in a national tradition "shoot themselves in the professional foot" and isolate themselves from an American historiography to which they could contribute more substantially if they acknowledged the continuing legacy, and indeed the vitality, of Christianity.

Hollinger expresses four "modest hopes" about the approach such scholars will take to the issue of secularization. …


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