Faith bounded and unbounded: the protestant establishment, secularism, and the emergence of religious inclusiveness in America
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This dissertation examines the way in which fears of secularism inspired a transformation ofthe American religious landscape. Between 1870 and 1930, members ofthe nation's Protestant establishment faced successive challenges, including skepticism in the wake of post-Darwinian science and philosophy, the growing popularity of Eastern religions, emerging cultural institutions that offered alternative means of personal fulfillment, and arguments by prominent intellectuals that morality and ethics no longer required a religious foundation. These forces gave rise to a secular worldview characterized by the beliefs that traditional Christianity had outlived its usefulness for both private and public life and that alternative worldviews better met the spiritual, moral, and intellectual needs of modern society. Drawing on manuscripts and published collections of ministers and other religious thinkers, the records of churches and interfaith organizations, and popular periodicals and literature, this dissertation delineates the deep connection between anxieties about secularism and increasing enthusiasm for religious pluralism. In response to the ensuing crisis of faith, American Protestants increasingly insisted that any form of religious commitment was better than none at all and that all belief systems contained some element of religious truth. In their public and private rhetoric, they affirmed the merits of Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and even the state of religious uncertainty. This dissertation offers a corrective to the dominant historiographical perspective that treats the embrace of pluralism as a phenomenon of the late twentieth century. In reality, deeply felt concerns about secularism inspired American clergy, intellectuals, and laity alike to embrace the nation's religious diversity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, laying the foundation for later movements for religious inclusion.
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