Tag Archives: American History

Williams, “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade”

In December, Oxford University Press will release “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade” by Daniel K. Williams (University of West Georgia). The publisher’s description follows:

On April 16, 1972, ten thousand people gathered in Central Park to protest New York’s liberal abortion law. Emotions ran high, reflecting the nation’s extreme polarization over abortion. Yet the divisions did not fall neatly along partisan or religious lines-the assembled protesters were far from a bunch of fire-breathing culture warriors. In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K. Williams reveals the hidden history of the pro-life movement in America, showing that a cause that many see as reactionary and anti-feminist began as a liberal crusade for human rights.

For decades, the media portrayed the pro-life movement as a Catholic cause, but by the time of the Central Park rally, that stereotype was already hopelessly outdated. The kinds of people in attendance at pro-life rallies ranged from white Protestant physicians, to young mothers, to African American Democratic legislators-even the occasional member of Planned Parenthood. One of New York City’s most vocal pro-life advocates was a liberal Lutheran minister who was best known for his civil rights activism and his protests against the Vietnam War. The language with which pro-lifers championed their cause was not that of conservative Catholic theology, infused with attacks on contraception and women’s sexual freedom. Rather, they saw themselves as civil rights crusaders, defending the inalienable right to life of a defenseless minority: the unborn fetus. It was because of this grounding in human rights, Williams argues, that the right-to-life movement gained such momentum in the early 1960s. Indeed, pro-lifers were winning the battle before Roe v. Wade changed the course of history.

Through a deep investigation of previously untapped archives, Williams presents the untold story of New Deal-era liberals who forged alliances with a diverse array of activists, Republican and Democrat alike, to fight for what they saw as a human rights cause. Provocative and insightful, Defenders of the Unborn is a must-read for anyone who craves a deeper understanding of a highly-charged issue.

Prothero, “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)”

In January, HarperCollins Publishers will release “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage,” by Stephen Prothero (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows: 

In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win.

Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam.

As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.

Reiff, “Born of Conviction”

In December, the Oxford University Press will release “Born of Conviction: White Methodists and Mississippi’s Closed Society,” by Joseph T. Reiff (Emory & Henry College).  The publisher’s description follows:

The dominant narrative of the role of white citizens and the white church in Mississippi’s civil rights era focuses on their intense resistance to change. The “Born of Conviction” statement, signed by twenty-eight white Methodist pastors and published in theMississippi Methodist Advocate on January 2, 1963, offered an alternative witness to the segregationist party line. Calling for freedom of the pulpit and reminding readers of the Methodist Discipline’s claim that the teachings of Jesus permit “no discrimination because of race, color, or creed,” the pastors sought to speak to and for a mostly silent yet significant minority of Mississippians, and to lead white Methodists to join the conversation on the need for racial justice. The document additionally expressed support for public schools and opposition to any attempt to close them, and affirmed the signers’ opposition to Communism. Though a few individuals, both laity and clergy, voiced public affirmation of “Born of Conviction,” the overwhelming reaction was negative-by mid-1964, eighteen of the signers had left Mississippi, evidence of the challenges faced by whites who offered even mild dissent to massive resistance in the Deep South.

Dominant narratives, however, rarely tell the whole story. The statement caused a significant crack in the public unanimity of Mississippi white resistance. Signers and their public supporters also received private messages of gratitude for their stand, and eight of the signers would remain in the Methodist ministry in Mississippi until retirement. Born of Conviction tells the story of “the Twenty-Eight” illuminating the impact on the larger culture of this attempt by white clergy to support race relations change. The book explores the theological and ethical understandings of the signers through an account of their experiences before, during, and after the statement’s publication. It also offers a detailed portrait of both public and private expressions of the theology and ethics of white Mississippi Methodists in general, as revealed by their responses to the “Born of Conviction” controversy.

Soden, “Outsiders in a Promised Land”

This month, the Oregon State University Press releases “Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History,” by Dale Soden (Whitworth University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Outsiders in a Promised Land explores the role that religious activists have played in shaping the culture of the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington and Oregon, from the middle of the 19th century onward. The region’s earliest settlers came to work in the mines and forests, and a culture of saloons, gambling halls, and brothels grew up to serve them. When migration to the region intensified, newcomers with families and religious traditions often saw themselves as outsiders in opposition to the prevailing frontier culture.

As communities grew in population, early activists found common ground in a desire to protect women and children, and make their towns more hospitable to religious values. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews worked together to transform communities. Together they introduced public and private schools, health care institutions, libraries and orphanages, and lobbied for the prohibition of alcohol.

Beginning in the 1930s, religious activism played a crucial role in the emerging culture wars between liberals and conservatives. Liberals rallied around the protection of civil rights and the building of social safety nets, while conservatives decried the rise of secularism, liberalism, and communism. Today, religious activists of many faiths are deeply engaged in matters related to women’s and gay rights, foreign policy, and environmental protection.

Outsiders in a Promised Land is a meticulously researched, comprehensive treatment of religion in Pacific Northwest public life. The first book of its kind, it is destined to be an essential reference for scholars, activists, and religious leaders of all faiths.

Venters, “No Jim Crow Church”

In October, the University Press of Florida released “No Jim Crow Church: The Origins of South Carolina’s Bahá’í Community,” by Louis Venters (Francis Marion University).  The publisher’s description follows:

In No Jim Crow Church, Louis Venters recounts the unlikely emergence of a cohesive interracial fellowship in South Carolina, tracing the history of the community from the end of the nineteenth century through the civil rights era. By joining the Bahá’í Faith, blacks and whites not only defied Jim Crow but also rejected their society’s religious and social restrictions.

The religion, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind, arrived in the United States from the Middle East via northern urban areas. As early as 1910, Bahá’í teachers began settling in South Carolina, where the Bahá’í Faith is currently the largest religious minority. Venters presents an organizational, social, and intellectual history of South Carolina’s early Bahá’í movement and relates developments within the community to changes in society at large, with particular attention to race relations and the civil rights struggle. He argues that the state’s Bahá’ís represent a significant, sustained, spiritually based challenge to the ideology and structures of white male Protestant supremacy. His research provides a fascinating study of an unlikely movement’s rise to prominence and the role of the South Carolina Bahá’í community in the cultural and structural evolution of a new world religion.

Su, “Exporting Freedom”

In January, the Harvard University Press will release “Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power,” by Anna Su (University of Toronto).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious freedom is widely recognized today as a basic human right, guaranteed by nearly all national constitutions. Exporting Freedom charts the rise of religious freedom as an ideal firmly enshrined in international law and shows how America’s promotion of the cause of individuals worldwide to freely practice their faith advanced its ascent as a global power.

Anna Su traces America’s exportation of religious freedom in various laws and policies enacted over the course of the twentieth century, in diverse locations and under a variety of historical circumstances. Influenced by growing religious tolerance at home and inspired by a belief in the United States’ obligation to protect the persecuted beyond its borders, American officials drafted constitutions as part of military occupations—in the Philippines after the Spanish–American War, in Japan following World War II, and in Iraq after 2003. They also spearheaded efforts to reform the international legal order by pursuing Wilsonian principles in the League of Nations, drafting the United Nations Charter, and signing the Helsinki Accords during the Cold War. The fruits of these labors are evident in the religious freedom provisions in international legal instruments, regional human rights conventions, and national constitutions.

In examining the evolution of religious freedom from an expression of the civilizing impulse to the democratization of states and, finally, through the promotion of human rights, Su offers a new understanding of the significance of religion in international relations.

Ruotsila, “Fighting Fundamentalist”

In November, the Oxford University Press will release “Fighting Fundamentalist: Carl McIntire and the Politicization of American Fundamentalism,” by Markku Ruotsila (University of Helsinki).  The publisher’s description follows:

For most of his sixty-year career, the Reverend Carl McIntire was at the center of controversy. The best-known and most influential of the fundamentalist radio broadcasters and anticommunists of the Cold War era, his many enemies depicted him as a dangerous far rightist, a racist, or a “McCarthyite” opportunist engaged in red-baiting for personal profit. Despised and hounded by liberals, revered by fundamentalists, and distrusted by the center, he became a lightning rod in the early days of America’s culture wars.

Markku Ruotsila’s Fighting Fundamentalist, the first scholarly biography of McIntire, peels off the accumulated layers of caricature and makes a case for restoring McIntire to his place as one of the most consequential religious leaders in the twentieth-century United States. Ruotsila traces McIntire’s life from his early twentieth-century childhood in Oklahoma to his death in 2002. From his discipleship under J. Gresham Machen during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, through his fifty-year pastorate in Collingswood, New Jersey, and his presidency of the International Council of Christian Churches, McIntire, Ruotsila shows, stands out as the most important fundamentalist of his time. Drawing on exhaustive research in fifty-two archival collections-including the recently opened collection of the Carl McIntire papers and never-before-seen FBI files-Ruotsila looks beyond the McIntire of legend to discover a serious theological, political, and economic combatant, a tireless organizer who pioneered the public theologies, inter-faith alliances, and political methods that would give birth to the Christian Right.

The moral values agenda of the 1970s and after would not have existed, Ruotsila shows, without the anti-communist and anti-New Deal activism that McIntire inaugurated. Indeed, twentieth-century American religious and political history were profoundly shaped by forces McIntire set in motion. Fighting Fundamentalist tells the overlooked story of McIntire and the movement he inspired.

Price, “At the Cross”

In July, the Oxford University Press released “At the Cross: Race, Religion, and Citizenship in the Politics of the Death Penalty” by Melynda J. Price (University of Kentucky College of Law).  The publisher’s description follows:

Curing systemic inequalities in the criminal justice system is the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement. No part of that system highlights this truth more than the current implementation of the death penalty. At the Cross tells a story of the relationship between the death penalty and race in American politics that complicates the common belief that individual African Americans, especially poor African Americans, are more subject to the death penalty in criminal cases. The current death penalty regime operates quite differently than it did in the past. The findings of this research demonstrate the the racial inequity in the meting out of death sentences has legal and political externalities that move beyond individual defendants to larger numbers of African Americans.

At the Cross looks at the meaning of the death penalty to and for African Americans by using various sites of analysis. Using various sites of analysis, Price shows the connection between criminal justice policies like the death penalty and the political and legal rights of African Americans who are tangentially connected to the criminal justice system through familial and social networks. Drawing on black politics, legal and political theory and narrative analysis, Price utilizes a mixed-method approach that incorporates analysis of media reports, capital jury selection and survey data, as well as original focus group data. As the rates of incarceration trend upward, Black politics scholars have focused on the impact of incarceration on the voting strength of the black community. Local, and even regional, narratives of African American politics and the death penalty expose the fractures in American democracy that foment perceptions of exclusion among blacks.

Gutterman and Murphy, “Political Religion and Religious Politics”

In November, Routledge will release “Political Religion and Religious Politics: Navigating Identities in the United States,” by David S. Gutterman (Rutgers University, New Brunswick) and Andrew R. Murphy (Willamette University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Profound demographic and cultural changes in American society over the last half century have unsettled conventional understandings of the relationship between religious and political identity. The “Protestant mainline” continues to shrink in numbers, as well as in cultural and political influence. The growing population of American Muslims seek both acceptance and a firmer footing within the nation’s cultural and political imagination. Debates over contraception, same-sex relationships, and “prosperity” preaching continue to roil the waters of American cultural politics. Perhaps most remarkably, the fastest-rising religious demographic in most public opinion surveys is “none,” giving rise to a new demographic that Gutterman and Murphy name “Religious Independents.” Even the evangelical movement, which powerfully re-entered American politics during the 1970s and 1980s and retains a strong foothold in the Republican Party, has undergone generational turnover and no longer represents a monolithic political bloc.

Political Religion and Religious Politics: Navigating Identities in the United States explores the multifaceted implications of these developments by examining a series of contentious issues in contemporary American politics. Gutterman and Murphy take up the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque,” the political and legal battles over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act and the ensuing Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, the national response to the Great Recession and the rise in economic inequality, and battles over the public school curricula, seizing on these divisive challenges as opportunities to illuminate the changing role of religion in American public life.

Placing the current moment into historical perspective, and reflecting on the possible future of religion, politics, and cultural conflict in the United States, Gutterman and Murphy explore the cultural and political dynamics of evolving notions of national and religious identity. They argue that questions of religion are questions of identity — personal, social, and political identity — and that they function in many of the same ways as race, sex, gender, and ethnicity in the construction of personal meaning, the fostering of solidarity with others, and the conflict they can occasion in the political arena.