The Religious Foundations of the American Twentieth Century

Patterson, James McGill, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Ceaser, James, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Balfour, Katharine, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Rogers, Melvin
Mathewes, Charles, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

Since the Puritan founding, religious leaders have articulated religious foundations to persuade national audiences of how to view the world and politics. During the nineteenth century, Protestant clergy were leaders in articulating American values, mission, and political agenda. By the twentieth century, the Protestant hegemony over American culture had declined, and religious leaders from different religious backgrounds sought to fill the vacuum with more ecumenical religious foundations. The most successful leaders were Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rev. Jerry Falwell. From the 1930s until the late 1950s, Sheen, a Roman Catholic bishop, articulated an ecclesial foundation that centered on religious liberty. Religious liberty united diverse sects and was the reason America as a nation existed in the first place. However, Sheen argued that communism at home and abroad was the greatest danger to religious freedom; hence, the nation should unite behind policies that would limit or push back its spread. Sheen used newspaper coverage, radio, and television to persuade his audience and set the agenda against communism. King articulated a progressive covenant that centered on equality under God. King dramatized how Jim Crow failed to provide equal treatment to African Americans, while illustrating how the pursuit of racial justice brought together men and women of different faiths. People of faith united around a common belief in the equal respect for people of all races, and they would introduce a new Kingdom of God on earth in which Americans treated individuals with equal respect regardless of race. King did not have immediate access to mass media but rather depended on drawing national news coverage to his events by staging massive, newsworthy events to make headlines. Falwell articulated an apocalyptic covenant centered on Protestant orthodoxy. Falwell insisted God would punish America for failing to protect iii unborn children and the religious freedom necessary to preach the gospel. Falwell persuaded audiences by adopting mass media technology to create a parallel network of programming that spread his message. Each leader used their national presence to set the political agenda but always sought something bigger: to change hearts of Americans.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF text

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: