College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in History - Thesis (MA)


Forrest C. Strickland


Religion, History, America, Theological Liberalism, Christianity, Great Depression




Religion in America persisted along traditional Christian lines until the 1870s. It was then that theological liberalism gained significant headway. The Gilded Age and Progressive Era were still infused with revivals and preachers but there was a growing contingent that challenged the fundamentals of Christian belief. Sometimes this contingent supported revivals but promoted social causes and brought unorthodox biblical interpretations. At other times, they challenged traditional Christianity altogether. By the Great Depression, American culture had undergone such a tremendous amount of change that, faced with adversity, the bottom of religion fell out. Fewer people attended services and contributed funds. More people looked to the government for salvation. A new technocratic, policy-centric tone overtook a previously moralistic outlook. At the same time, religion persisted and united people in advocating for themselves. By the time of World War II, chaplains served in different units and some individuals had unique religious experiences. After the war, the 1950s was a boom time for religion. With prosperity and victory, people went to their places of worship in gratitude. However, this met an abrupt halt in the 1960s. At first, religious leaders bolstered historic civil rights efforts. However, religious attendance declined. The 1970s had new evangelical efforts using technology. In addition, social issues like abortion led the religious to become more active politically. These periods lead into the modern era. Religion has entered politics and there is a split by faithfulness rather than denomination. This thesis explores the interplay between major historical events and religious developments, documenting what has charted the course to the state of religion in America today.

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