God-Optional Religion in Twentieth-Century America: Quakers, Unitarians, Reconstructionist Jews, and the Crisis Over Theism, 1920-1965

May, Isaac, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hedstrom, Matthew, Religious Studies, American Studies, University of Virginia
Flake, Kathleen, Religious Studies, University of Virginia
McKanan, Dan, Divinity School, Harvard University
Schwartzman, Micah, Law School, University of Virginia

This dissertation reframes the relationship between the American religious left and secularization. It explores how three liberal religious groups, Quakers, Unitarians, and Reconstructionist Jews, embraced new ideas of God, either seeing God as impersonal or allowing members to espouse atheist and agnostic views. It documents the continuance of these religious communities even after the theological rationales that originally brought them together disappeared. In these groups, communal identity became focused on humanitarian service and political commitments, which increasingly began to replace a shared adherence to theism. The radical religious views of these few small, liberal denominations became influential among the wider community of Protestants and Jews, eventually being enshrined in American popular culture as seen in Time magazine’s “Is God Dead?” cover, and in American law as the Supreme Court defined “Supreme Being” broadly enough to include God-optional religious views.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Liberal Religion, Secularization, Judaism, Atheism, Religious Left, Quakerism, American Religion, Unitarianism, Modernism
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