Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture

Overview

What happened to American religion during the cultural revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s? The era has long been associated with the ascendancy of Eastern religions and fringe cults. But in this provocative book, Mark Oppenheimer demonstrates that contrary to conventional wisdom, most Americans did not turn on, tune in, and drop out of mainstream religious groups during the Age of Aquarius. Instead, many Americans brought the counterculture with them to their churches and ...

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Overview

What happened to American religion during the cultural revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s? The era has long been associated with the ascendancy of Eastern religions and fringe cults. But in this provocative book, Mark Oppenheimer demonstrates that contrary to conventional wisdom, most Americans did not turn on, tune in, and drop out of mainstream religious groups during the Age of Aquarius. Instead, many Americans brought the counterculture with them to their churches and temples, changing the face of American religion.

Introducing us to America’s first gay ministers and first female priests, to hippie Jews and folk-singing Catholics, Oppenheimer demonstrates that this was an era of extraordinary religious vitality. Drawing on a rich range of archival material as well as interviews with many of the protagonists, Knocking on Heaven’s Door offers a wry and iconoclastic reappraisal of the ways in which the upheavals of the sixties changed America’s relationship with God.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Many historians have focused ad nauseam on the most extreme religious movements of the 1960s, dissecting these small groups but ignoring larger trends. Oppenheimer, a staff writer for the Christian Century, asks a more provocative question of the 20th century's most radical decade: how did the 1960s influence ordinary people in mainstream religious traditions? As he shows in this competent, accessible study, people in "mainline" religions were deeply and irrevocably changed by the revolutions of the 1960s. (Oppenheimer uses the moniker "the 1960s" to denote a period that includes much of the 1970s, and he is sensitive to the transformations within this brief but tumultuous historical era: 1969, he reminds us at one point, was very different than 1974.) A rather bland opening chapter traces the bloodless revolution that led to the Unitarians' creating an Office of Gay Concerns in the early 1970s, while a second, more compelling, chapter discusses the stunning changes in Roman Catholic worship that resulted from the concurrent forces of Vatican II reforms and the rise of American folk music. Oppenheimer then traces the growth of Jewish havurot-small, communal gatherings of mostly young and urban Jews-and makes a compelling case that these Jews were deeply influenced by observing the Black Panthers, whose example prompted them to self-identify as a proud ethnic minority group. The author next examines the Episcopalians' battles over women's ordination in the 1970s and the responses of progressive Southern Baptists to the Vietnam War. American religion, Oppenheimer persuasively shows, is surprisingly flexible, incorporating dissent and welcoming new ideas. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
More books are being written about experimental religion in America, especially its forms in the 1960s and 1970s, and here are two more. Both Lattin, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist, and freelance journalist Oppenheimer claim that radical religious groups in the 1960s influenced old-line churches to change in subsequent years. Certainly, the experimentation with drugs, sex, Eastern religions, political activism, and communal lifestyles provide sensational material for newspaper reporters, but are these experiments symptoms of a religious malaise, or were they change agents for bringing about the acceptance of civil rights, women clergy, gay activists, and pluralism? Oppenheimer struggles to make sense of countercultural religion in his introduction and then offers five chapters of denominational church history as an attempt to show that social movements transformed, in some ways, traditional religion. He describes how some churches fought or gave in to a variety of social concerns such as gay rights, women ministers, folk mass, communal worship, and protests against the war. Lattin writes from a participant's point of view about dozens of countercultural groups and gives the false impression that experimentation with religion was widespread within the churches. In reality, old-line churches were not deeply affected by these groups. But Lattin writes well and covers a wide range of topics, including the Moonies, Hare Krishnas, the Farm EST, Tai Chi, yoga, alternative methods of healing, and Esalen Institute in California. These books do not define the 1960s, but they will be of interest to those who participated in such movements and to the children of such groupies. Recommended for larger libraries.-James A. Overbeck, Atlanta-Fulton P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300195514
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2012
  • Pages: 298
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Oppenheimer

Mark Oppenheimer is a freelance writer. He is a staff writer for the Christian Century and has written for many publications, including Harper’s, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Yale Review, the Hartford Courant, Playboy, and Slate. He has taught at Wesleyan and Stanford universities.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
1 Unitarians and Gay Rights 29
2 Roman Catholics and the Folk Mass 61
3 Jews and Communal Worship 95
4 Episcopalians and Feminism 130
5 Southern Baptists and Vietnam War Protest 172
Conclusion 212
Notes 229
Index 275
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