Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama

Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama

by Kenneth L. Woodward


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Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama by Kenneth L. Woodward

"In this thoughtful book, Ken Woodward offers us a memorable portrait of the past seven decades of American life and culture. From Reinhold Niebuhr to Billy Graham, from Abraham Heschel to the Dali Lama, from George W. Bush to Hillary Clinton, Woodward captures the personalities and charts the philosophical trends that have shaped the way we live now." –Jon Meacham, author of Destiny and Power

Impeccably researched, thought-challenging and leavened by wit, Getting Religion, the highly-anticipated new book from Kenneth L. Woodward, is ideal perfect for readers looking to understand how religion came to be a contentious element in 21st century public life.
Here the award-winning author blends memoir (especially of the postwar era) with copious reporting and shrewd historical analysis to tell the story of how American religion, culture and politics influenced each other in the second half of the 20th century. There are few people writing today who could tell this important story with such authority and insight. A scholar as well as one of the nation’s most respected journalists, Woodward served as Newsweek’s religion editor for nearly forty years, reporting from five continents and contributing over 700 articles, including nearly 100 cover stories, on a wide range of social issues, ideas and movements.
Beginning with a bold reassessment of the Fifties, Woodward’s narrative weaves through Civil Rights era and the movements that followed in its wake: the anti-Vietnam movement; Liberation theology in Latin America; the rise of Evangelicalism and decline of mainline Protestantism; women’s liberation and Bible; the turn to Asian spirituality; the transformation of the family and emergence of religious cults; and the embrace of righteous politics by both the Republican and Democratic Parties.
Along the way, Woodward provides riveting portraits of many of the era’s major figures: preachers like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell; politicians Mario Cuomo and Hillary Clinton; movement leaders Daniel Berrigan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Richard John Neuhaus; influential thinkers ranging from Erik Erikson to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross; feminist theologians Rosemary Reuther and Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza; and est impresario Werner Erhardt; plus the author’s long time friend, the Dalai Lama.
For readers interested in how religion, economics, family life and politics influence each other, Woodward introduces fresh a fresh vocabulary of terms such as “embedded religion,” “movement religion” and “entrepreneurial religion” to illuminate the interweaving of the secular and sacred in American public life.
This is one of those rare books that changes the way Americans think about belief, behavior and belonging.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101907399
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/13/2016
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 794,095
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

KENNETH L. WOODWARD, edited Newsweek's Religion section from 1964 until his retirement in 2002. He remained a writer-at-large at Newsweek until 2009. He is the author of Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint and Who Doesn't and The Book of Miracles: The Meaning of the Miracle Stories in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Embedded Religion

It Goes with the Territory

On the wall of my old Newsweek office, next to a window with a narrow view of the changing seasons in lower Central Park, I kept a large map, in a mosaic of colors, of the United States. When you are a writer working in New York City, you need something to remind you of what the rest of the country is like: this was mine. There are no place-names on the map, only the boundaries of the states, and within them the spidery outlines of each county. It’s a relief map of sorts: any county in which 25 percent or more of the citizens identify with a single religious denomination is shaded in a color representing that tradition. Counties where more than half the people are of one persuasion—more than half the map—are colored more deeply.1

At a glance, the map yields a rough religious geography of America. Across the South, where it sometimes seems there are more Baptists than there are people, the counties are awash in deep red. Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming are solidly gray: the Mormon Zion. There are swaths of Lutheran green in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Belt high from Delaware to central Kansas, especially in rural areas, the map shows streaks and potholes of blue where the Methodists and their nineteenth-century circuit riders planted churches. Catholic purple blankets the Northeast, the Great Lakes region, the Gulf Coast, and nearly all of California. Like my window onto Central Park, the map afforded a view of America that’s closed to most New Yorkers, especially those who regard their city as the center of the universe. When colleagues stopped by my office they’d often stare over my head at the map. “Where are my people?” was the usual question. Some Episcopalians, thinking of all their coreligionists elected to Congress and the White House, assumed the nation’s capital to be theirs. But the District of Columbia is heavily African American and so it is dyed a deep Baptist red. According to the map, Episcopalians do dominate a half-dozen counties—all of them tribal reservations in North Dakota where the church made converts of the Native American inhabitants. Most Jewish colleagues thought New York City and its environs (home to half the nation’s Jews) was surely theirs to claim, but the whole metropolitan area is deep Catholic purple. Jews do own a plurality in one Florida county, Miami-Dade.

Recent demographic studies back up the map’s quick visual impressions. Between them, Catholics and Baptists alone account for 40 percent of the American population. Each has its homelands—states where Catholics or Baptists own absolute majorities—and its diasporas, where to be a Catholic or a Baptist is to hold outsider status. In other words, religion cannot be separated from region. And neither can it be separated from ethnicity. Social historians looking at my map would immediately recognize the counties where Dutch Calvinists, German pietists, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, and Scandinavian Lutherans carved out their ecological niches. In America, even now, religion “goes with the territory.”

For me, the map was a visual reminder that religion in America has never been just a matter of personal choice. It has also been about community and connection—to places, to people, and to what religiously convicted Americans have made of the places where they chose to live. Which is to say that religion, as a way of belonging as well as of believing and behaving, is always embedded—in institutions, yes, but also in the landscape. “Habitations,” as historian Martin Marty reminds us, “foster habits.”

I am a midwesterner—born there, reared there, educated at three midwestern universities, and before I moved to New York and to Newsweek magazine I had lived in six of the eleven “heartland” states. In mix of religion, as in mix of population, the Middle West is more representative of the nation as a whole than is any other region of the United States. More important, perhaps, the Middle West is what movie mythmakers have imagined the entire nation to be like when Americans are on their best behavior. From Meet Me in St. Louis and State Fair through The Wizard of Oz, The Music Man, Field of Dreams, and Hoosiers, the Middle West has supplied its share of fictive images of hometown innocence, morality, and even magic realism: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Dorothy says to her dog when they land in Oz. But, of course, they are.

I grew up in Ohio, where, a glance at my office map reminded me, almost every kind of Protestant denomination could claim a town or county as its turf. Even after their children moved on, these immigrants from elsewhere left behind brick-and-mortar evidence of their hegemony in the form of church-related colleges—more of them, when I was college-age, than any other state. The Methodists established Ohio Wesleyan and Otterbein; the Episcopalians, Kenyon College; the Congregationalists, Oberlin and Marietta; the Presbyterians, Wooster; the Quakers, Wilmington College; the German Reform Church, Heidelberg; English Evangelical Lutherans, Wittenberg; the Mennonites, Bluffton, and so on. Students at these small liberal arts colleges not only learned together; they also worshipped together at chapel, and the faculty was hired to ensure that the distinctive character of the founding church tradition was passed on whole and intact. After commencement, graduates married each other, too.

Catholics, of course, had their own colleges on their own urban turf in cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Dayton. There, as in the Protestant colleges, the goal was to provide an education that included solid formation in the faith. For that reason, if a graduate of a Catholic high school wanted to stay near home and attend a nearby Protestant college—or venture east to Harvard or Yale—he usually had to forward his transcripts himself because Catholic school officials discouraged journeys beyond the pale.

My father was born in the final November of the nineteenth century on what was to become Veterans Day. He was reared among hymn-singing, family-reunion-gathering, Sunday-dinner-making, small-town Ohio Protestants of Welsh and Scotch-Irish stock. An only child, he was never one to talk about his youth. But he did reveal one important detail of his early life: in Youngstown, where he lived, he stepped forward at a revival by evangelist Billy Sunday and at age sixteen declared himself for Christ. It was during the Wobblies’ (Industrial Workers of the World) strike against the Youngstown steelworks in 1916, and the conjunction of these two emotional events, I’ve always thought, is why he was anti-labor all his life. In any case, my job as a religion writer never impressed him more than when, on a Sunday afternoon while my parents were visiting, another evangelist, Billy Graham, called me—at home—just to have a chat.

My mother was from an Irish-Italian family in Detroit. She was the first in the extended Brady-Cauzillo family to go to college—a leap from a one-room schoolhouse to the University of Michigan’s vast Ann Arbor campus—and that was the pivotal experience of her youth. When we were kids she used to reprise her sorority song for us: it was a sorority just for Catholic coeds. Here’s the kind of Catholics my mother’s siblings were. Her brother, my only uncle, kept copies of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis on his desk and passed them out to vendors who called on him for business. It didn’t matter whether they were Catholic or even Christian. One sister was a cloistered nun who snuck away from college one day, without my grandmother’s permission, and crossed the border to join her friends in a Canadian convent. Two others, both English teachers in mostly black inner-city public high schools and never married, shared a tidy house with a crucifix hung in every room. On a bookshelf they kept a series of volumes by Catholic intellectuals published by Sheed and Ward. Whenever they drove their car, they paused first to dip their fingers in holy water founts mounted on each side of the garage doorframe. On the road they routinely recited the rosary. Even on short trips to the grocery, they measured distances by how many decades they could finish before they reached their destination.

How my parents met and married across religious boundaries was never explained to us. We did know, though, that the ceremony was held in the parish rectory because religiously mixed couples were not allowed a wedding inside a Catholic church. At that time, my father pledged to rear the children Catholic, as the church required, and though he never became a Catholic himself, he never wavered in his pledge.

I have ventured this brief family biography for just one purpose. Growing up where and when I did, I experienced an America that was highly diverse, though not in the ways we think of diversity today. What region of the country you inhabited mattered greatly, and so did ethnic background. But the primary source of diversity in those days was religion. Since this is no longer true, this facet of American social history needs explanation.

The immigrant communities then were mostly white and European. In cities like Cleveland, the place I knew best, each had its own neighborhoods and social clubs, funeral parlors, corner bars and restaurants, as well as churches. At home, adults cooked and talked Greek and Italian, Polish and Slovak, just as more recent immigrants now speak Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, or Arabic. They read and discussed newspapers in Ukrainian, Czech, Armenian, Romanian, and Yiddish. Yes, they were mostly Christian, but that only made differences in church doctrine and tradition more pronounced: Muslims and Hindus are intriguing in their obvious otherness, but none of the religions new to America today challenge Christians like other Christians claiming to be the one true church of Jesus Christ.

In urban neighborhoods, therefore, no less than in small towns, where you worshipped—and how—said much about who you were. Even the ecumenically inclined and the nonreligious observed their social boundaries and kept their social distance. Within all these “ghettos” (though no one called them that), religion was free to form individual and group identities through shared “habits of the heart” and acquired sensibilities. Even in the more open spaces of the suburbs, where I grew up, the families you knew best belonged to the same church. But my parents’ marriage was proof to me that the boundaries created by religion could amicably be breached. Nonetheless, among those who took it very seriously, religion remained a powerful symbol system that defined ultimate reality for all who lived in its embrace.

But however diverse Americans felt themselves to be, all of us who would come of age in the Fifties were marked by a single event: the Second World War.


Growing Up on the “Home Front”

I was born in 1935 and passed through childhood while the nation was at war. Unlike the war in Vietnam two decades later, World War II united the nation in common cause. Unlike our more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this war was not fought offstage by volunteers so that the good life at home could continue uninterrupted. To the contrary, on the “home front” all children were suckled on a culture of sacrifice and restraint—one that linked us closer to the children of the Great Depression (though our circumstances were never so drastic) than to our own children born into postwar affluence. Beginning in 1942, staples of the good life—first sugar, then gasoline, fuel oil, and rubber tires, then fruit juices, canned and frozen food, including baby food, even shoes and clothes—were strictly rationed. As participants in the common “war effort” everyone made do.

My mother dutifully planted a low-yield Victory garden—thin carrots, limp bean stalks, lettuce the size of baseballs. By war’s end, 40 percent of the nation’s vegetables were harvested from an estimated 20 million family plots like ours. At the store, Mother bought meat and butter with red ration stamps from her government-issued “War Ration Book” and soups and dried beans from stamps color-coded blue. Because he was a salesman, and his car was his living, my father got extra ration stamps for gas. At home, he did his civil duty as a suburban air-raid warden: one night a month, when the warning siren sounded, he put a yellow metal helmet on his head and went about making sure the neighbors had turned out all their lights, lest enemy bombers should penetrate the airspace over Lake Erie’s southern shore. My older brother and I followed the battles overseas by pasting newspaper headlines in scrapbooks. From inside cereal boxes we collected colorful arm patches worn by the men in uniform, and from strips of balsam wood and glue built models of the airplanes the American pilots flew.

It was a good time to be a child. Despite the separations caused by the war, even young families were remarkably stable. Divorce was rare: most marriages lasted until the death of a spouse. In the families I knew, only the father worked and all the fathers seemed to arrive home in unison by 6 p.m. The mothers not only reared the children and did the housework; they also made the schools and churches hum. Through these community ties they were the marriage partners who decided which neighbors would also be close friends.

Weekends were strung like hammocks between the fathers’ Friday evening arrivals and their going off on Monday mornings. In their absence, life on the block unrolled as regular as church ritual. Once a week the iceman delivered a chiseled block to keep our food refrigerated, and cut cold slivers for us to suck. The uniformed milkman delivered full bottles on his scheduled route and took away clinking empties. And when the bread man arrived curbside we rushed inside to inhale the concentrated aroma of fresh-baked jelly rolls and warm pecan buns. Life on the home front was predictable. The war and its restrictions gave even kids a sense of unity and national purpose. Then the war was over. Only later did we learn about the multitude of young men who never came back.


Roots and Horizons

All of us come from a place we mistake for universal. So you should know something of mine. The place I called home was a suburb that mushroomed a century earlier out of farms and orchards and shoreline summer cottages sixteen miles west of Cleveland. Rocky River, as it came to be called, spread out from a tavern overlooking a river (hence the name) that rolls through a deep gorge on a meandering path to Lake Erie. It was our Grand Canyon. A single arch of concrete, once the longest in the world, shouldered traffic east and west, and on a separate wooden trestle, freight trains on the “Nickel Plate Road” (the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad) hustled manufactured parts to assembly plants in Toledo and Detroit. Rocky River had eleven thousand inhabitants then and called itself a city only because it was governed by its own mayor and city council. By my definition, though, a city was a place with a choice of movie theaters and Rocky River had only one: the Beach Cliff.


1. For an updated map of the kind I used and much more useful historical information on religion and geography see Edwin Scott Gaustad and Phillip L. Barlow, with the special assistance of Richard W. Dishno, New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Part I

Chapter 1 Embedded Religion 11

Chapter 2 A Fusion of Faith, Culture, and Politics 36

Chapter 3 Mediating Religion 64

Part II

Chapter 4 When the Secular Was Sacred 95

Chapter 5 Entrepreneurial Religion 129

Part III

Chapter 6 Movement Religion 161

Chapter 7 Religion and Revolution 197

Chapter 8 Women's Liberation and the Feminization of Religion 225

Part IV

Chapter 9 Experiential Religion 255

Chapter 10 Alternatives to Religion 277

Chapter 11 Sacred Families 306

Part V

Chapter 12 Piety and Politics: The Republicans and the Religious Right 339

Chapter 13 Religion as Politics: The Democrats 363

Epilogue 399

Acknowledgments 415

Notes 417

Bibliography 427

Index 437

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Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
Subtitled “Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Era of Obama,” Kenneth Woodward’s Getting Religion is a large book, but a surprisingly absorbing and informative read. The text is split into overlapping sections, examining the author’s experience as he grew up Catholic, the country’s governance in war and in peace, the rise of drug use and magical thinking, racial discrimination, feminism and more. Reading it is like watching a well-wrought documentary of recent American history, and I was totally hooked. The author’s parents, like mine, married across religious boundaries--a minor detail I suppose, but one that drew me in. The undisciplined student came of age in the 50s and describes an America that’s far from my (English) experience. His life and his world must have seen many changes since then, but the author makes all these changes seem logically rooted in the past as he chronicles the fusion and later divisions of faith, culture and politics. From his prominent place in journalism, the author meets the famous people of his age, asks questions, analyzes trends with well-wrought words, and offers his observations with honest humanity and intelligent thought. Days of racial segregation, legal or otherwise, times of separation and unification, abortion laws and the rise of feminism, a people seeking change and a secular world embracing the power of the sacred… the author follows evolution in Catholic thinking, the marches of Martin Luther King, the rise of “self-started” religions, Billy Graham's ministry, the politics of JFK, Israel’s 6-day war, and much much more, each section in the book reading like a collection of fascinating essays, each revealing its different part of the past, and each depicting honestly both the author’s impressions and the characters of the people and world around him. As an English reader I loved the insight into American life and politics. As a Christian reader, I found the author’s depiction of religion’s rise and fall both fascinating and disturbing. And as an American, I truly value learning the history of this country I now call home. Getting Religion is a wonderful work by a fascinating author—highly recommended. Disclosure: Blogging for Books provided this book to me and I offer an honest review.
summer_no9 More than 1 year ago
former religion editor of Newsweek This can be one of the kind of text book or the history book that had inspire me to getting to learn and I would like to know more what will be happen about the future of the religion and the culture had been changing a lot in the past specially in America. This book will bring all the faith and culture with the witnesses in American religion over the past haft century. I highly recommend this book to everyone must read now.
summer_no9 More than 1 year ago
former religion editor of Newsweek This can be one of the kind of text book or the history book that had inspire me to getting to learn and I would like to know more what will be happen about the future of the religion and the culture had been changing a lot in the past specially in America. This book will bring all the faith and culture with the witnesses in American religion over the past haft century. I highly recommend this book to everyone must read now.