Religious Reading in the Wake of War

Matthew S. Hedstrom

in The Rise of Liberal Religion

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780195374490
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979141 | DOI:
Religious Reading in the Wake of War

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This chapter explores in greater detail the interfaith reading and spiritual cosmopolitanism of the war and postwar years. The reading campaign of the National Conference of Christians and Jews called Americans to read across the boundaries of tradition, but it was the advancement of psychology and mysticism during the war years that made interfaith spirituality successful at the popular level. In particular, military service acculturated tens of millions of Americans to scientific psychology. The works and lives of three bestselling authors of the 1940s, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Joshua Loth Liebman, and Thomas Merton, illustrate the role of psychology and mysticism in facilitating interfaith reading and spiritual cosmopolitanism. The bestsellers of these authors, a Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew, stand in contrast to the generic religiosity famously decried by the critic Will Herberg and exemplified by laissez-faire liberal Norman Vincent Peale. These authors instead remained rooted in their specific traditions, even as their works were read widely by members of other traditions. Letter from readers, both civilians and those in the military, demonstrate these developments, and give voice to the rising religious liberalism of the postwar period.

Keywords: Joshua Loth Liebman; Harry Emerson Fosdick; Thomas Merton; Will Herberg; Norman Vincent Peale; interfaith reading; spirituality; spiritual cosmopolitanism; psychology; mysticism

Chapter.  20502 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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