The term “Adventist” embraces a cluster of fifteen or so Protestant religious communities in America for whom the central conviction in their belief system is the idea of the imminence of the Parousia, meaning the premillennial, personal, literal return of Christ to earth and the end of the evil world. The suffix, -ist, compounded with Advent, first used in the late 1830s to describe the sharp sense of imminence that motivated the movement, soon came to be used as the common term to identify those who held the conviction. By 1844 they were called Adventists. Almost all American Adventist churches are native to the United States and arose from the Millerite movement of 1831–1844 that marked the end of the Second Great Awakening (1790–1850). The churches it birthed were shaped by the cultural and religious impulses of the period. Most of the Adventist churches remain small, with an aggregate membership within the United States approaching 3 million. Worldwide Adventist memberships, however, exceed 40 million and represent a significant export of American religious beliefs and values. The two largest churches in the group, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh-day Adventist church, have both established a substantial presence in America, each reporting domestic memberships of approximately 1.25 million in 2018, placing both within the largest twenty-five denominations in the nation. Both religions have also developed significant international branches, organically and hierarchically linked to their American headquarters. Almost 9 million international members are reported by Jehovah’s Witnesses and 21 million for Seventh-day Adventists. Conservative growth projections for Seventh-day Adventists envisage that the number of worldwide adherents may approach 100 million by the mid-to-late 21st century. Both churches have impacted church–state relations in the United States through the legal system, seeking protection of civil rights and religious liberty. Seventh-day Adventism also has influenced American culture through its emphasis on health and education.
Adventism in America
The African American Denominational Tradition: The Rise of Black Denominations
Dennis C. Dickerson
From the formation of the first independent African American Protestant denomination in the 1810s and 1820s to the opening decades of the 21st century, independent African American denominations have stood at the center of black religious life in the United States. Their longevity and influence have made them central to the preservation of black beliefs, practices, and rituals; have provided venues to promote movements for black freedom; and have incubated African American leadership in both the church and civic spheres. They have intertwined with every aspect of American and African American life, whether cultural, political, or economic, and they engaged the international involvement of American society and the diasporic interests of black people. Parallel assemblies composed of black ministers pastoring black congregations that remained within white denominations also emerged within the traditional white denominations, including the white Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational Protestant groups, plus the Catholic Church. Although they eschewed withdrawing from the white denominations, their extramural bodies functioned as a virtual black ecclesia, or institutional bodies, even though they remained smaller than the growing independent black denominations. Together, the black preachers and parishioners in independent black denominations and inside traditional white denominations maintained churches characterized by proud histories and long records of frontline involvements in black freedom pursuits.
American Opposition to South African Apartheid
David L. Hostetter
American activists who challenged South African apartheid during the Cold War era extended their opposition to racial discrimination in the United States into world politics. US antiapartheid organizations worked in solidarity with forces struggling against the racist regime in South Africa and played a significant role in the global antiapartheid movement. More than four decades of organizing preceded the legislative showdown of 1986, when a bipartisan coalition in Congress overrode President Ronald Reagan’s veto, to enact economic sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Adoption of sanctions by the United States, along with transnational solidarity with the resistance to apartheid by South Africans, helped prompt the apartheid regime to relinquish power and allow the democratic elections that brought Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to power in 1994. Drawing on the tactics, strategies and moral authority of the civil rights movement, antiapartheid campaigners mobilized public opinion while increasing African American influence in the formulation of US foreign policy. Long-lasting organizations such as the American Committee on Africa and TransAfrica called for boycotts and divestment while lobbying for economic sanctions. Utilizing tactics such as rallies, demonstrations, and nonviolent civil disobedience actions, antiapartheid activists made their voices heard on college campuses, corporate boardrooms, municipal and state governments, as well as the halls of Congress. Cultural expressions of criticism and resistance served to reinforce public sentiment against apartheid. Novels, plays, movies, and music provided a way for Americans to connect to the struggles of those suffering under apartheid. By extending the moral logic of the movement for African American civil rights, American anti-apartheid activists created a multicultural coalition that brought about institutional and governmental divestment from apartheid, prompted Congress to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, and increased the influence of African Americans regarding issues of race and American foreign policy.
Anglicans and Episcopalians in America
Joan R. Gundersen
Episcopalians have built, reimagined, and rebuilt their church at least three different times over the course of 400 years in America. From scattered colonial beginnings, where laity both took major roles in running Church of England parishes and practiced a faith that was focused on worship, pastoral care, and good works, Anglicans created a church that blended hierarchy, democracy, and autonomy. It took time after the disruptions of the American Revolution for Episcopalians to find their place among the many competing denominations of the new nation. In the process women found new roles for themselves. Episcopalians continued to have a large impact on American society even as other denominations outpaced them in membership. As individuals they shaped American culture and became prominent advocates for the social gospel. Distracted at times as they tried to balance catholic and Protestant in their thought and worship, they built a church that included both religious orders and revival gatherings. Although perceived as a church of the elite, its members included African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and union members. Episcopalians struggled with issues of race, class, and gender throughout their history. After World War II, their understandings of the teachings of Jesus pulled a majority of Episcopalians toward more liberal social positions and created a traditionalist revolt eventually resulting in a schism that required new rebuilding efforts in parts of America.
Anne Hutchinson engaged a diverse group of powerful men as well as the disenfranchised during the mid-1630s in Boston’s so-called Antinomian Controversy, the name given to the theological battle between John Cotton, who emphasized free grace, and other clerics who focused upon preparation for those seeking salvation. Hutchinson followed Cotton’s position, presented his theology in meetings in her home, and inspired her followers, male and female, to reject pastors opposing Cotton’s position. Hutchinson’s followers included leading men who opposed John Winthrop’s leadership of Massachusetts Bay Colony; this dispute also became an arena where Winthrop reasserted his power. Hutchinson represents the Puritans’ drive for spiritual development within, including her claim of revelation. She is best understood within a transatlantic framework illustrating both the tools of patriarchal oppression and, more importantly, the appeal of Puritan spirituality for women.
Anti-Catholicism in the United States
Mark S. Massa S. J.
Historian John Higham once referred to anti-Catholicism as “by far the oldest, and the most powerful of anti-foreign traditions” in North American intellectual and cultural history. But Higham’s famous observation actually elided three different types of anti-Catholic nativism that have enjoyed a long and quite vibrant life in North America: a cultural distrust of Catholics, based on an understanding of North American public culture rooted in a profoundly British and Protestant ordering of human society; an intellectual distrust of Catholics, based on a set of epistemological and philosophical ideas first elucidated in the English (Lockean) and Scottish (“Common Sense Realist”) Enlightenments and the British Whig tradition of political thought; and a nativist distrust of Catholics as deviant members of American society, a perception central to the Protestant mainstream’s duty of “boundary maintenance” (to utilize Emile Durkheim’s reading of how “outsiders” help “insiders” maintain social control). An examination of the long history of anti-Catholicism in the United States can be divided into three parts: first, an overview of the types of anti-Catholic animus utilizing the typology adumbrated above; second, a narrative history of the most important anti-Catholic events in U.S. culture (e.g., Harvard’s Dudleian Lectures, the Suffolk Resolves, the burning of the Charlestown convent, Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures); and finally, a discussion of American Catholic efforts to address the animus.
Antisemitism in US History
Britt P. Tevis
Antisemitism in the United States—whether acts of violence, social exclusion, cultural vilification, or political and legal discrimination—has resulted from antidemocratic currents refracted through bigoted beliefs about Jews. Prejudiced conceptualizations of Jews positioned them as outsiders to the nation, emphasizing Jews’ refusal to accept the supremacy of Christ; depicting Jews to be racially distinct (i.e., inferior or dangerous); and imagining Jews as greedy, dirty, untrustworthy, scheming, manipulative, powerful, and dangerous. Antisemitism has consistently been (and continues to be) connected with anti-Black racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. Throughout US history, non-Jews deployed bigoted ideas about Jews for personal, professional, social, and/or political gain. As a result, with degrees of variation, Jews in the United States endured personal hardships, faced collective discrimination, and confronted political intolerance.
Buddhism in America
Buddhist history in the United States traces to the mid-19th century, when early scholars and spiritual pioneers first introduced the subject to Americans, followed soon by the arrival of Chinese immigrants to the West Coast. Interest in Buddhism was significant during the late Victorian era, but practice was almost completely confined to Asian immigrants, who faced severe white prejudice and legal discrimination. The Japanese were the first to establish robust, long-lasting temple networks, though they, too, faced persecution, culminating in the 1942 incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, a severe blow to American Buddhism. Outside the Japanese American community, Buddhism grew slowly in the earlier decades of the 20th century, but it began to take off in the 1960s, aided soon by the lifting of onerous immigration laws and the return of large-scale Asian immigration. By the end of the 20th century American Buddhism had become extremely diverse and complex, with clear evidence of permanence in Asian American and other communities.
The California Missions
Steven W. Hackel
Twenty-one colonial-era missions traversed California stretching northward from San Diego to just beyond San Francisco. Founded by Franciscan missionaries beginning in 1769, these missions—along with four presidios (forts) and three pueblos (towns)—were central to Spain’s attempt to incorporate the Pacific Coast of northern New Spain into its enormous transatlantic colonial empire. Established in the late 18th century, just as Spain was secularizing missions elsewhere in New Spain, the California missions were cultural and institutional throwbacks and controversial from their inception. They prompted consistent and occasionally violent resistance from Native Californians. Furthermore, Europeans who visited Spanish California saw them as repressive colonial institutions. Indeed, during their sixty years of existence, the missions proved most adept at damaging the culture and shortening the lives of California’s Native Americans, the very people missionaries thought they would save by bringing them into the Catholic faith. By the time that Mexican government officials secularized the missions in the 1830s and parceled their lands and resources out to Mexican settlers, associates of the Mexican ruling elite, and a small number of Natives, California missions had shown themselves to be transformative and lethal agents of change. In the 21st century, their legacies are increasingly seen as negative, forever linked to the indefatigable and uncompromising missionary Junípero Serra, who was controversially canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.
Calvinism in the United States
The history of Calvinism in the United States is part of a much larger development, the globalization of western Christianity. American Calvinism owes its existence to the transplanting of European churches and religious institutions to North America, a process that began in the 16th century, first with Spanish and French Roman Catholics, and accelerated a century later when Dutch, English, Scottish, and German colonists and immigrants of diverse Protestant backgrounds settled in the New World. The initial variety of Calvinists in North America was the result of the different circumstances under which Protestantism emerged in Europe as a rival to the Roman Catholic Church, to the diverse civil governments that supported established Protestant churches, and to the various business sponsors that included the Christian ministry as part of imperial or colonial designs. Once the British dominated the Eastern seaboard (roughly 1675), and after English colonists successfully fought for political independence (1783), Calvinism lost its variety. Beyond their separate denominations, English-speaking Protestants (whether English, Scottish, or Irish) created a plethora of interdenominational religious agencies for the purpose of establishing a Christian presence in an expanding American society. For these Calvinists, being Protestant went hand in hand with loyalty to the United States. Outside this pan-Protestant network of Anglo-American churches and religious institutions were ethnic-based Calvinist denominations caught between Old World ways of being Christian and American patterns of religious life. Over time, most Calvinist groups adapted to national norms, while some retained institutional autonomy for fear of compromising their faith. Since 1970, when the United States entered an era sometimes called post-Protestant, Calvinist churches and institutions have either declined or become stagnant. But in certain academic, literary, and popular culture settings, Calvinism has for some Americans, whether connected or not to Calvinist churches, continued to be a source for sober reflection on human existence and earnest belief and religious practice.
Catholicism in the United States
The Catholic Church has been a presence in the United States since the arrival of French and Spanish missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish established a number of missions in what is now the western part of the United States; the most important French colony was New Orleans. Although they were a minority in the thirteen British colonies prior to the American Revolution, Catholics found ways to participate in communal forms of worship when no priest was available to celebrate Mass. John Carroll was appointed superior of the Mission of the United States of America in 1785. Four years later, Carroll was elected the first bishop in the United States; his diocese encompassed the entire country. The Catholic population of the United States began to grow during the first half of the 19th century primarily due to Irish and German immigration. Protestant America was often critical of the newcomers, believing one could not be a good Catholic and a good American at the same time. By 1850, Roman Catholicism was the largest denomination in the United States. The number of Catholics arriving in the United States declined during the Civil War but began to increase after the cessation of hostilities. Catholic immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were primarily from southern and Eastern Europe, and they were not often welcomed by a church that was dominated by Irish and Irish American leaders. At the same time that the church was expanding its network of parishes, schools, and hospitals to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the new immigrants, other Catholics were determining how their church could speak to issues of social and economic justice. Dorothy Day, Father Charles Coughlin, and Monsignor John A. Ryan are three examples of practicing Catholics who believed that the principles of Catholicism could help to solve problems related to international relations, poverty, nuclear weapons, and the struggle between labor and capital. In addition to changes resulting from suburbanization, the Second Vatican Council transformed Catholicism in the United States. Catholics experienced other changes as a decrease in the number of men and women entering religious life led to fewer priests and sisters staffing parochial schools and parishes. In the early decades of the 21st century, the church in the United States was trying to recover from the sexual abuse crisis. Visiting America in 2015, Pope Francis reminded Catholics of the important teachings of the church regarding poverty, justice, and climate change. It remains to be seen what impact his papacy will have on the future of Catholicism in the United States.
Ann Durkin Keating
Chicago is a city shaped by industrial capitalism. Before 1848, it was a small commercial outpost in Potawatomi country, and then it expanded with the US economy between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Between 1848 and 1929, Chicago grew from under 30,000 to more than 3 million, fueled by the construction of railroads, warehouses, and factories. Working-class immigrants built their own neighborhoods around industrial sites and along railroads, while a downtown dominated by skyscrapers emerged to serve the needs of corporate clients. Since 1929, Chicago remained an industrial powerhouse and magnet for Black and Latino migrants, even as its economic growth depended more and more on commerce and the service industry.
Christian Missions to American Indians
Carol L. Higham
Comparing Catholic and Protestant missionaries in North America can be a herculean task. It means comparing many religious groups, at least five governments, and hundreds of groups of Indians. But missions to the Indians played important roles in social, cultural, and political changes for Indians, Europeans, and Americans from the very beginning of contact in the 1500s to the present. By comparing Catholic and Protestant missions to the Indians, this article provides a better understanding of the relationship between these movements and their functions in the history of borders and frontiers, including how the missions changed both European and Indian cultures.
Elizabeth Seton, American Saint
Elizabeth Bayley Seton is the first native-born US citizen to be made a Roman Catholic saint. Canonized in 1975, Seton founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph, the first vowed community of Catholic women religious created in the United States. Seton’s sainthood marked the culmination of a role she first served during her life: a respectable, benevolent face for a church whose local leaders were eager to demonstrate its compatibility with American culture. Seton’s founding of the American Sisters of Charity was a more practical achievement and one that shaped the Catholic Church in the United States in tangible ways. Starting in 1809, when Seton began a school and vowed community in Emmitsburg, Maryland, the Sisters of Charity expanded throughout the United States, eventually running hundreds of schools and orphanages and offering both a spiritual home and a career path for women who chose it. Seton’s life is expressive for what it reveals about her era as well as for her distinctive achievements. Her prominence led to the preservation of decades of correspondence and spiritual writings. Through them it is possible to see with unusual clarity the ways in which the Age of Revolutions and the rise of Napoleon variously disrupted, reinvigorated, and transformed Catholic traditions; to observe the possibilities and constraints Catholicism offered a spiritually ambitious woman; and to witness changes in the relationship between Protestants and Catholics in the United States. Finally, Seton’s rich archive also renders visible one woman’s experience of intellectual inquiry, marriage, widowhood, motherhood, spiritual ambition, and female friendship.
The Huguenots in America
Bertrand Van Ruymbeke
The Protestant Reformation took root in France in the middle of the 16th century under the distant leadership of Jean (John) Calvin who settled in Geneva in 1541. In the 1560s, France was devastated by a series of religious and civil wars. These wars ended in 1598 when Henry IV, a former Huguenot who converted to Catholicism to access the throne, signed the Edict of Nantes. This edict protected the Huguenots. In the 17th century, however, its provisions were abrogated one by one. Daily life for the Huguenots was more and more limited and many Huguenots, especially in Northern France, converted to Catholicism. After a decade or so of legal harassment, and at times military violence, Louis XIV, whose objective was to achieve a religious reunification of his kingdom, revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Huguenots could then either convert or resist. Resistance led to imprisonment and being sent to the galleys and, for women, to convents. At least 150,000—of a population of nearly 800,000—left France, forming what has been labeled by French historians as the Refuge. Huguenots fled first to neighboring countries, the Netherlands, the Swiss cantons, England, and some German states, and a few thousand of them farther away to Russia, Scandinavia, British North America, and the Dutch Cape colony in southern Africa. About 2,000 Huguenots settled in New York, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island in the mid-1680s and in 1700 in Virginia. They settled in port cities, Charleston, New York, and Boston, or founded rural communities (New Paltz and New Rochelle, New York, Orange Quarter and French Santee, South Carolina, and Manakintown, Virginia). The Huguenots originally attempted to live together and founded French Reformed churches. But with time they married English settlers, were naturalized, were elected to colonial assemblies and to political offices, and joined other churches, especially the Church of England. In South Carolina and New York, they acquired slaves, a sign of their economic prosperity. By the 1720s and 1730s most Huguenots were fully integrated into colonial societies while maintaining for a decade or so the use of the French language in the private sphere and keeping ties to their original French church. In the 18th century, a new wave of Huguenot refugees mixed with French- and German-speaking Swiss formed rural communities in South Carolina (Purrysburgh, New Bordeaux) under the leadership of a colonial entrepreneur or a pastor. These communities quickly disappeared as Huguenots gradually acquired land elsewhere or moved to Savannah and Charleston. In the 1880s, Huguenot Societies were formed to commemorate the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in England, Germany, New York, and South Carolina. The memory of the Huguenot diaspora was maintained by these genealogical, historical, and patriotic societies until professional historians started to study the Refuge a century later.
Indigenous Politics in Pontiac’s War
Although often attributed to the Odawa ogima, or headman, Pontiac, the conflict that bears his name was the work of a large and complicated network of Native people in the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, and Mississippi Valley. Together Native Americans from this wide swath of North America identified their collective dissatisfaction of British Indian policy and, through careful negotiation and discussion, formulated a religious and political ideology that advocated for the Britons’ removal. In 1763, these diverse peoples carried off a successful military campaign that demonstrated Native sovereignty and power in these areas. Although falling short of its original goal of displacing the British, the coalition compelled the British Empire to change its policies and to show, outwardly at least, respect for Native peoples. Many of the peoples involved in the struggle would wage another such pan-Indian campaign against the United States a generation later. In many ways, the anti-British campaign of 1761–1766 mirrored another anti-imperial campaign that followed a decade later. Like the American Revolution, the anti-British advocates of Pontiac’s War developed an ideology that specifically critiqued not only British policy but often questioned imperialism altogether, built an unstable and delicate coalition of diverse and sometimes antagonistic peoples, and sought to assert the participants’ independence from the British. However, the participants in Pontiac’s War were sovereign and autonomous indigenous nations, only recently and nominally allied to the British Empire, not British colonists, as in the American Revolution. Together these anti-British activists mounted a serious challenge to the British presence in the trans-Appalachian West and forced the British Empire to accede to many of their demands.
Japanese American Buddhism
Michihiro Ama and Michael Masatsugu
Japanese Buddhism was introduced to the United States at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893, but the development of Japanese American Buddhism, also known as Nikkei Buddhism, really began when Japanese migrants brought Buddhism with them to Hawaii and the continental United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It has been influenced by, and has reflected, America’s sociopolitical and religious climate and the US relationship to Japan, to which generations of Japanese Americans, such as Issei (literally, first generation, referring to Japanese immigrants), Nisei (second-generation American-born offspring of the Issei), and Sansei (third generation), responded differently. While adapting to American society, Japanese American Buddhists maintained their cultural practices and ethnoreligious identity. The history of Japanese American Buddhism discussed in this article spans from the late-19th Century to the 1970s and is divided into three major periods: the pre-World War II, World War II, and the postwar eras. Japanese American Buddhism is derived from the various Buddhist organizations in Japan. The Nishi Hongwanji denomination of Jōdo Shinshū, a form of Pure Land Buddhism known as Shin Buddhism in the West, is the oldest and largest form of ethnic Japanese Buddhism in the United States. In Hawaii, Nishi Hongwanji founded the Hompa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii (HHMH) in Honolulu in 1897. On the continental United States, it established the Buddhist Mission of North America (BMNA) in San Francisco in 1898, currently known as the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA). Other Japanese Buddhist organizations also developed in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. They include the Jōdo-shū, another sect of Pure Land Buddhism; Higashi Hongwanji, another major denomination of Jōdoshin-shū; Sōtō-shū, a Zen Buddhist school; Shingon-shū, known as Kōyasan Buddhism; and Nichiren-shū. The characteristics of Japanese American Buddhism changed significantly during World War II, when approximately 120,000 persons of Japanese descent living in the West Coast states were incarcerated because of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The postwar period witnessed a rapid transformation in the status and visibility of Japanese Buddhism in the United States. This transformation was driven by the promotion of ethnonational Buddhism by Nisei and by the growth of interest in Zen Buddhism among the general American public. The positive reception of Japanese Buddhism in the United States reflected and reinforced the transformed relationship between the United States and Japan from wartime enemies to Cold War partners. While they experienced greater receptivity and interest in Buddhism from nonethnics, they could no longer practice or espouse Jōdo Shinshū teachings or adapted practices without clarification. Debates concerning the authenticity of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism and Japanese American Buddhist practices were interwoven within a longer history of American Orientalism. By the 1960s, Japanese American Buddhist communities were transformed by the addition of a small but vocal nonethnic membership and a new generation of Sansei Buddhists. Demands for English-speaking ministers resulted in the creation, in 1967, of the Institute of Buddhist Studies, the first graduate-level training program in the United States endorsed by Nishi Hongwanji. This article is an overview of Japanese American Buddhism with a focus on the development of the Nishi Hongwanji Shin Buddhist organizations in the United States. English scholarship on the development of other Japanese Buddhist organizations in the United States is still limited. Throughout the history of Japanese American Buddhism, Nikkei Buddhists negotiated with America’s political institutions and Christian churches, as well as with Euro-American Buddhists, over Buddhist and cultural practices to maintain and redefine their ethnoreligious tradition. Buddhist temples provided the space for them to gather and build a community of shared faith and cultural heritage, discuss their place and the role of Buddhism in American society, and express their concerns to America’s general public.
The Jewish Working Class in America
Between 1881 and 1924, when federal immigration restrictions were introduced, two and half million Jews from East Europe entered the United States. Approximately half of them settled in New York City where they soon comprised the largest Jewish settlement in the world. The Lower East Side, where families crowded into tenements, became the densest place on the globe. Possessing few skills, Jewish immigrants took jobs with which they had some prior familiarity as peddlers and as workers in the burgeoning garment and textile industries. With the rise of clothing as a mass consumer good, the garment industry emerged as the leading industrial sector in the city. Jewish workers predominated in it. But conditions of sweated labor in shops and factories propelled worker protest. A Jewish labor movement sprung up, energized by the arrival of socialist radicals in the labor Bund. Women workers played a major role in organizing the Jewish working class, spearheading a series of major strikes between 1909 and 1911. These women also staged “meat riots” over inflated beef prices in 1902 and “rent wars” in the early 1930s. To be sure, garment work and the labor movement also shaped the experience of Jewish immigrants in cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. Jews notably worked in other apparel industries, but the alternative for many (especially in small cities without a garment industry) was peddling and shopkeeping. Self-employed, but situated within and integrated in the working-class community, both sectors reflected the nontraditional nature of the Jewish working class. Jewish peddlers and petty shopkeepers increasingly morphed in a second generation into a middle class in higher status white-collar work. But despite this mobility, Yiddishkeit, a vibrant Jewish working-class culture of Jewish proletarian theater, folk choruses, journalism, education, housing, and recreation, which was particularly nourished by Bundists, flourished and carried a rich legacy forward in the postwar era.
Jews in the US Armed Forces
Jewish service in the American military parallels that of many other Americans. Jews have served in colonial militias, in the American Revolution, and in all American military conflicts since the establishment of the country. In the United States’ early years, the total number of Jewish military personnel, like the Jewish population of the country as a whole, was very small. As the size of the American Jewish population grew during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, however, so did the number of Jews who served in the American Armed Forces. Jews responded to the country’s calls to arms alongside other Americans, even as they faced challenges that differentiated them from their compatriots. Like other racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups, Jews had to struggle against prejudices in the military, and like other immigrant communities, they have sometimes had to balance patriotism against transnational ties. Jews in the United States, however, always understood military service as part of the bargain of modern citizenship. They volunteered for service and responded to calls for conscription in order to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, and they used military service both to express their commitment to the United States and to assert their rights as equal members of American society.
Judaism in America
It is impossible to understand American Judaism without reference to its adaptation to American social mores and religious models. Among the important aspects of the American ethos that would shape Judaism in this country were voluntarism, the choice Americans enjoy whether to join or stay aloof; congregationalism, the near autonomy of each house of worship to regulate its own services; egalitarianism, which levels differences between different socioeconomic classes and eventually the genders; democratic ideals of governance; individualism and personalism, both elevating the needs and interests of each person over those of the group; moralism, the belief that the most important, if not sole, purpose of religion is to enable believers to become better human beings; and decorum, evolving conceptions of how one is to behave in a house of worship. Successive waves of Jewish immigrants initially aimed to transplant customary ways of enacting Judaism in the Old World to the New. But in time, the children and grandchildren of immigrants adapted to American religious models, thereby reconceiving synagogue functions, home practices, and everyday lived Judaism. Not only did synagogues introduce English language prayers and sermons; they also incorporated democratic norms and egalitarian ideals to varying degrees. Though laxity in the practice of religious rituals and customs by “average” Jews is hardly unique to American Jews, ideological justifications for “pick and choose” religion draw upon American conceptions of individualism and personalism. By the end of the 20th century, Do-It-Yourself Religion—the apotheosis of individualism and personalism—had triumphed in most sectors of American Judaism (with the exception of Orthodoxy)—just as it had in other faith communities. The porousness of American society, the free flow of ideas and assumptions, render it virtually impossible for religious groups, such as Jewish ones, to insulate themselves in physical or intellectual enclaves. Indeed, many—though certainly not all—controversies about reforming American Judaism have pitted traditionalists against progressives over just how much Jewish religious practices can or should accommodate to American society’s ever-evolving ethos.