Faith in the Fight: Religion and the American Soldier in the Great War

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Overview

Faith in the Fight tells a story of religion, soldiering, suffering, and death in the Great War. Recovering the thoughts and experiences of American troops, nurses, and aid workers through their letters, diaries, and memoirs, Jonathan Ebel describes how religion—primarily Christianity—encouraged these young men and women to fight and die, sustained them through war's chaos, and shaped their responses to the war's aftermath. The book reveals the surprising frequency with which Americans who fought viewed the war as a religious challenge that could lead to individual and national redemption. Believing in a "Christianity of the sword," these Americans responded to the war by reasserting their religious faith and proclaiming America God-chosen and righteous in its mission. And while the war sometimes challenged these beliefs, it did not fundamentally alter them.

Revising the conventional view that the war was universally disillusioning, Faith in the Fight argues that the war in fact strengthened the religious beliefs of the Americans who fought, and that it helped spark a religiously charged revival of many prewar orthodoxies during a postwar period marked by race riots, labor wars, communist witch hunts, and gender struggles. For many Americans, Ebel argues, the postwar period was actually one of "reillusionment."

Demonstrating the deep connections between Christianity and Americans' experience of the First World War, Faith in the Fight encourages us to examine the religious dimensions of America's wars, past and present, and to work toward a deeper understanding of religion and violence in American history.

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Editorial Reviews

Religion in American History blog
With a dizzying array of interesting points, Ebel provides a list of new avenues of study. . . . Faith in the Fight is an impressive book that all scholars of twentieth-century American religious history should read and that should be incorporated in all subsequent studies of WWI.
— Paul Harvey
Books & Culture
Perhaps no word is more deeply associated with World War I than 'disillusionment.' In the compulsive attempts of the second half of the 20th century to tell secularization narratives, one prominent version had religious faith never recovering from the shell-shock it got in the trenches, 1914-18. Jonathan H. Ebel, in his well-researched and persuasively revisionist study Faith in the Fight, convincingly demonstrates that this loss-of-faith story is wrong, at least for Americans.
Christian Century
One of Faith in the Fight's great strengths is its attention to the voices of the men and women on the front lines. . . . Faith in the Fight helps us better understand the relationship between religion and war in the not-so-distant American past. It is also a book that illustrates the dangers inherent in the American penchant for sanctifying state violence. As Ebel masterfully demonstrates, Americans would do well to abandon a little of their faith in the fight.
— Matthew Avery Sutton
Journal of Church and State
Faith in the Fight illustrates the benefit of revisiting our current tidy categories of religion's decline in the face of modernity and secularism, and its readers are rewarded with a well written and fascinating glimpse of American soldiers and war workers' religious romanticism.
— Sarah Miglio
American History Review
[W]ith his well-written and well-researched book . . . Jonathan H. Ebel . . . has made a stellar contribution to the interdisciplinary study of religion in American history.
— Malcolm D. Magee
Journal of Church History
Ebel's first book, which helps fill the vast empty spaces of American religious historiography, is a truly fine work that displays expert research and storytelling abilities. . . . We should look forward to more of Ebel's work. His book on 'trench religion' will become the standard book on religious faith of the forgotten men and women during the forgotten war.
— Matthew Lewis Sutton
Journal of American History
Ebel has written an excellent book that deserves a wide readership. . . . [T]he book is an excellent fit for graduate seminars and should interest scholars looking at the specific period or religion and war in general.
— Steve Longenecker
Religion in American History blog - Paul Harvey
With a dizzying array of interesting points, Ebel provides a list of new avenues of study. . . . Faith in the Fight is an impressive book that all scholars of twentieth-century American religious history should read and that should be incorporated in all subsequent studies of WWI.
Christian Century - Matthew Avery Sutton
One of Faith in the Fight's great strengths is its attention to the voices of the men and women on the front lines. . . . Faith in the Fight helps us better understand the relationship between religion and war in the not-so-distant American past. It is also a book that illustrates the dangers inherent in the American penchant for sanctifying state violence. As Ebel masterfully demonstrates, Americans would do well to abandon a little of their faith in the fight.
Journal of Church and State - Sarah Miglio
Faith in the Fight illustrates the benefit of revisiting our current tidy categories of religion's decline in the face of modernity and secularism, and its readers are rewarded with a well written and fascinating glimpse of American soldiers and war workers' religious romanticism.
American History Review - Malcolm D. Magee
[W]ith his well-written and well-researched book . . . Jonathan H. Ebel . . . has made a stellar contribution to the interdisciplinary study of religion in American history.
Journal of Church History - Matthew Lewis Sutton
Ebel's first book, which helps fill the vast empty spaces of American religious historiography, is a truly fine work that displays expert research and storytelling abilities. . . . We should look forward to more of Ebel's work. His book on 'trench religion' will become the standard book on religious faith of the forgotten men and women during the forgotten war.
Journal of American History - Steve Longenecker
Ebel has written an excellent book that deserves a wide readership. . . . [T]he book is an excellent fit for graduate seminars and should interest scholars looking at the specific period or religion and war in general.
Religion, State and Society - Edward Madigan
Faith in the Fight represents a valuable addition to the growing body of literature on the American experience of the Great War.
Anglican and Episcopal History Reviews - Fred R. van Hartesveldt
Faith in the Fight raises interesting questions about American culture and life, and it offers some valid insights into that culture.
Lutheran Quarterly - David E. Settje
Faith in the Fight contributes a well researched and written addition to the understanding of a war that many Americans relegate to secondary or tertiary status. . . . As we approach the World War I centennial, this is a masterful work that should reignite historiographical interest in this vital event in the nation's history.
Religious Studies Review - Jennifer Graber
[T]he book is an important contribution to the growing literature on war and American religion.
From the Publisher
"With a dizzying array of interesting points, Ebel provides a list of new avenues of study. . . . Faith in the Fight is an impressive book that all scholars of twentieth-century American religious history should read and that should be incorporated in all subsequent studies of WWI."—Paul Harvey, Religion in American History blog

"Perhaps no word is more deeply associated with World War I than 'disillusionment.' In the compulsive attempts of the second half of the 20th century to tell secularization narratives, one prominent version had religious faith never recovering from the shell-shock it got in the trenches, 1914-18. Jonathan H. Ebel, in his well-researched and persuasively revisionist study Faith in the Fight, convincingly demonstrates that this loss-of-faith story is wrong, at least for Americans."—Books & Culture

"One of Faith in the Fight's great strengths is its attention to the voices of the men and women on the front lines. . . . Faith in the Fight helps us better understand the relationship between religion and war in the not-so-distant American past. It is also a book that illustrates the dangers inherent in the American penchant for sanctifying state violence. As Ebel masterfully demonstrates, Americans would do well to abandon a little of their faith in the fight."—Matthew Avery Sutton, Christian Century

"Faith in the Fight illustrates the benefit of revisiting our current tidy categories of religion's decline in the face of modernity and secularism, and its readers are rewarded with a well written and fascinating glimpse of American soldiers and war workers' religious romanticism."—Sarah Miglio, Journal of Church and State

"[W]ith his well-written and well-researched book . . . Jonathan H. Ebel . . . has made a stellar contribution to the interdisciplinary study of religion in American history."—Malcolm D. Magee, American History Review

"Ebel's first book, which helps fill the vast empty spaces of American religious historiography, is a truly fine work that displays expert research and storytelling abilities. . . . We should look forward to more of Ebel's work. His book on 'trench religion' will become the standard book on religious faith of the forgotten men and women during the forgotten war."—Matthew Lewis Sutton, Journal of Church History

"Ebel has written an excellent book that deserves a wide readership. . . . [T]he book is an excellent fit for graduate seminars and should interest scholars looking at the specific period or religion and war in general."—Steve Longenecker, Journal of American History

"Faith in the Fight represents a valuable addition to the growing body of literature on the American experience of the Great War."—Edward Madigan, Religion, State and Society

"Faith in the Fight raises interesting questions about American culture and life, and it offers some valid insights into that culture."—Fred R. van Hartesveldt, Anglican and Episcopal History Reviews

"Faith in the Fight contributes a well researched and written addition to the understanding of a war that many Americans relegate to secondary or tertiary status. . . . As we approach the World War I centennial, this is a masterful work that should reignite historiographical interest in this vital event in the nation's history."—David E. Settje, Lutheran Quarterly
"[T]he book is an important contribution to the growing literature on war and American religion."—Jennifer Graber, Religious Studies Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691139920
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/8/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan H. Ebel is assistant professor of religion at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Redemption through war 21

Ch. 2 Chance the man-angel and the combat numinous 54

Ch. 3 Suffering, death, and salvation 76

Ch. 4 Christ's cause, Pharaoh's army 105

Ch. 5 Ideal women in an ideal war 127

Ch. 6 "There are no dead" 145

Ch. 7 "The same cross in peace" : the American Legion, the ongoing war, and American reillusionment 168

Conclusion 191

Notes 199

Selected bibliography 235

Index 249

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