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Title:Between religion and politics: The working class religious left, 1880-1920
Author(s):Drake, Janine
Director of Research:Barrett, James R.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Barrett, James R.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Roediger, David R.; Oberdeck, Kathryn J.; Ebel, Jonathan H.
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Social Gospel
Labor Movement
Red Scare
Abstract:Between Religion and Politics: The Working Class Religious Left, 1880-1920 makes two main arguments: First, through an analysis of socialist print culture and party meeting minutes, it argues that Christianity animated socialist culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Moreover, wage earners within socialist circles, and especially the emerging Socialist Party of America, used these working class spaces as their alternative to a church. They preached and prayed together, and developed a socialist Christian theology of cooperation, personal sacrifice, and a future “Christian Commonwealth.” While the Socialist Party of America was by no means a Christian Socialist movement, it served as a welcome spiritual home for the many working class Christians who melded their socialist convictions with their faith. Christian, Jewish, and agnostic socialists worked together under the banner of the emerging Socialist Party of America. By 1912, the number of socialist Christians outside the churches was so great that the new Protestant denominational federation, the Federal Council of Churches, organized a series of nationwide campaigns to root out socialists from industrial workforces and draw politically neutral Christians into the churches. Second, the project revises our understanding of the rise of Social Christianity. It shows that Protestant leaders’ public solidarity with laborers were a direct response to the popularity of Jesus’ teachings within the labor and socialist movements. Clerics within the Federal Council of Churches sought to bring workers into their churches, but teach them that socialism and other economic philosophies were either irrelevant or unorthodox. In their “Seven Day Churches” and other well-developed ministries geared toward wage earners, they sought to replace the labor movement with the church: they re-created working class community atmospheres while defending the neutrality of the church on economic questions. Within close case studies of Social Gospel churches in New York City and Cleveland in the 1910s, we learn that labor leaders and church leaders intensely competed for leadership over the moral communities of working class Christians. In an examination of the Interchurch World Movement and its attendant 1919 steel strike report, we confirm that building up Protestant churches, not defending workers, was a primary goal of Social Gospel leaders. In 1919 and after, the Committee on Christ and Social Service within the Federal Council of Churches rejected unions’ goals entirely, and endorsed open-shop plans for “Christian brotherhood” and “industrial peace.” The dissertation concludes that within both the national and local spheres, workers were rebuked in their efforts to confront the Protestant churches with an alternate vision of the Christian Commonwealth. The Federal Council of Churches responded to the wide appeal of Christian Socialist ideas with a series of national campaigns which denied workers’ Christianity. They defended workers’ rights to a living wage but sought to replace the moral appeal of the labor movement with that of local churches.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Janine Giordano Drake
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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