Examination of religion’s place in American political radicalism.
McKanan (Theology/Harvard Divinity School; The Catholic Worker after Dorothy: Christian Communities Transforming Society, 2008, etc.) explores the role of faith communities in movements ranging from abolitionism to environmentalism. He documents the individuals and organizations across the history of American radicalism, identifying and explaining links that may not be obvious to casual readers. Protestant Christianity necessarily plays the major role here, but McKanan goes to great lengths to discuss the radical aspects of Catholicism, Judaism and even such belief systems as Wicca. He begins with the nation-dividing anti-slavery question, illustrating not only white church involvement in the abolition movement but also the rise of historically black churches during this era. The author moves on to discuss the fight for women’s rights, a decades-long process that witnessed a great deal of change in American Christianity. The energy of the suffragist and temperance movements, combined with mini-revolutions within the late-19th-century church, gave way to a new radical emphasis on urban needs and the labor movement. McKanan explores American socialism and especially its tie to immigrant Catholics in the era before the Great Depression and World War II. After the war, American radicals of faith turned their attentions to race relations and the civil-rights movement. With the deflation of mainstream Protestantism, the post-1960s era provides a new and changing template for faith involvement in radical politics.
“Radicalism thrives in times of crisis,” writes the author. So too does religion. An illuminating book.