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date: 06 December 2022

Race, Class, Religion, and American Citizenshipfree

Race, Class, Religion, and American Citizenshipfree

  • Janine Giordano DrakeJanine Giordano DrakeUniversity of Great Falls Department of History


As a nation grounded in the appropriation of Native land and the destruction of Native peoples, Christianity has helped define what it means to be “American” from the start. Even though neither the Continental Congress nor the Constitutional Convention recognized a unifying set of religious beliefs, Protestant evangelicalism served as a force of cohesion that helped Americans rally behind the War for Independence. During the multiple 19th-century wars for Indian removal and extermination, Christianity again helped solidify the collapse of racial, class, and denominational categories behind a love for a Christian God and His support for an American nation. Close connections between Christianity and American nationhood have flared in popularity throughout American history, particularly during wartime. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the closely affiliated religious and racial categories of Christianity and whiteness helped solidify American identity.

However, constructions of a white, Christian, American nation have always been oversimplified. Slavery, land-grabbing, and the systematic genocide of Native peoples ran alongside the creation of the American myth of a Christian nation, founded in religious freedom. Indeed, enslavement and settler colonialism helped contrive a coherence to white Protestantism during a moment of profound disagreement on church government, theology, and religious practice. During the antebellum period, white Protestants constructed a Christian and American identity largely in opposition to categories they identified as non-Christian. This “other” group was built around indigenous, African, Muslim, and sometimes-Catholic religious beliefs and their historic, religious, and racial categorizations as “pagans,” “heathens,” and “savages.” In the 19th-century republic, this “non-Christian” designation defined and enforced a unified category of American Protestants, even though their denominations fought constantly and splintered easily. Among those outside the rhetorical category of Protestantism were, frequently, Irish and Mexican Catholics, as well as Mormons. Enforced segregation of African Americans within or outside of white Protestant churches furthered a sense of Protestant whiteness. When, by the late 19th century, Protestantism became elided with white middle class expectations of productive work, leisure, and social mobility, it was largely because of the early 19th-century cultural associations Protestants had built between white Protestantism, republicanism, and civilization.

The fact that the largest categories of immigrants in the late 19th century came from non-Protestant cultures initially reified connections between Protestantism and American nationalism. Immigrants were identified as marginally capable of American citizenship and were simply considered “workers.” Protestant expectations of literacy, sobriety, social mobility, and religious practice helped construct Southern and Eastern European immigrants as nonwhite. Like African Americans, New Immigrants were considered incapable of fulfilling the responsibilities of American citizenship. Fears that Catholic and Jewish immigrants, like African Americans, might build lasting American institutions to change the cultural loci of power in the country were often expressed in religious terms. Groups such as the No-Nothing Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Immigration Restriction League often discussed their nationalist goals in terms of historic connections between the nation and Anglo-Protestantism. During the Great Depression and the long era of prosperity in the mid-20th century, the Catholic and Jewish migrants gradually assimilated into a common category of “whiteness” and American citizenship. However, the newly expansive category of postwar whiteness also further distanced African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and others as perpetual “foreigners” within a white, Protestant, Christian nation.


  • Christianity
  • Religion and Politics
  • Religion in America

Evangelicalism and the American Revolution

While both the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention avoided endorsing the religious beliefs of any particular church, evangelicalism played a major role in the making of both the American Revolution and the new nation. In the mid-18th century, the First Great Awakening spread throughout the British commonwealth and its colonies. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and other traveling evangelists proclaimed that Jesus Christ called Christians not just to attend church and go through the rituals of the liturgy and the sacraments, but also to experience a personal conversion and enter a dynamic, personal relationship with Christ. They believed that Christians were called to continually point others to the fact of God’s fearsome justice, which included both heaven and hell. They also pointed to God’s grace and mercy for sinners who accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Their insistence on personal conversion and personal relationship laid the groundwork for American evangelicalism.1 The evangelical movement, in turn, built webs of communication that proved critical for rallying patriots behind the American Revolution.

Within Britain and the British colonies of the 18th century, the Church of England was sanctioned as the official, state church. Tax revenue supported the Anglican (Church of England) churches. In some colonies, regular church attendance at Anglican services was enforced and fines were issued for nonattendance. Anglican vicars had relationships with other crown-appointed officials for the purported purpose of functioning as the moral mouthpiece of the Crown in the colonies.

The revivals of the 1730s and 1740s, though not aimed at challenging the crown’s leadership in the colonies, did so indirectly. First, the fact of itinerant preachers and revival meetings outside of (or in addition to) Sunday services challenged the need for crown-supported clergy as well as a formal, Church of England hierarchy. Revival participants, sometimes called “evangelicals,” built new networks, initially inside the Anglican church, to sustain key messages of the revival.2 Anglican Methodists, for example, emphasized the absolute equality of human beings, the illegitimacy of slavery, and the role of individuals in making the personal choice to follow Christ. The fact of slaves and free whites worshipping together in Methodist communion frightened some Anglican gentry, but revivalists insisted that they were better applying the truths of Scripture.3

Second, the fact of new and enlarged church networks made it easier for colonists to critique the requirement that they should travel to attend Anglican services in the heart of colonial towns and cities. Some colonists who were not churchgoers joined church networks for the first time. Some left Anglican churches and swelled the ranks of separatist churches which had already existed for several generations (such as Baptist, Presbyterian, and Dutch Reformed traditions). Revivalism often built ties of community among “backwater” farmers, who were often poorer and who felt less represented by crown officials than wealthier merchants and planters in the towns.

Anglican clergy were themselves state officials who maintained relationships with colonial governors. When they defended the Crown’s taxes on sugar, tea, and paper products in the 1750s and 1760s, backwater evangelical churches sometimes became networks for political organizing. Committees of Correspondence often exploited these evangelical networks, in person and print, in service to the patriots’ cause.4

Evangelicals, however, were not the only recruits to the patriots’ cause. Rebellion against the Crown’s unauthorized levies had joined atheists, deists, and evangelicals against the authority of the crown. This full range of believers and unbelievers at the Constitutional Convention agreed that they did not want to establish a state-supported church. However, when the first draft of the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, some Americans objected to the absence of some religion requirement for elected officials.5 Others objected to the lack of any stated freedom of religion within the document. In response, James Madison added the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment’s notable protections for the freedoms of speech, religion, and assembly. The courts soon showed that even though they would not explicitly endorse or “establish” any church, the new republic would protect evangelical churches’ freedoms to operate independently of the control of state authorities. We refer to this condition as “disestablishment.”6

Race and Class in Early American Protestantism

Evangelicalism gave birth to two competing impulses within the Early Republic. On one hand, the faith’s emphasis on the absolute equality of human beings served as a force for social levelling. Poor and rich, women and men, slaves and freed people were encouraged to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Women and African Americans were honored as deacons, ministers, and Biblical authorities within some denominations. While the message that the Bible could be interpreted with “common sense” encouraged fantastic growth in Methodist and Baptist communities, it also gave rise to new arguments about Scripture, interpretation, and the time and circumstances of Jesus’ return. Shakers, Quakers, Adventists, and Mormons were each enlivened by the call to imitate the First Century church as they awaited the Second Coming of Christ.7 Some were characterized as “pietists” because they believed Christians, through the Holy Spirit, could live entirely free of sin. By the 1820s, the widespread revivals known as the Second Great Awakening had inverted customary authority structures throughout the new nation. In this era of the “common man,” yeomen farmers were church leaders. Nathan Hatch referred to this “populist impulse” as the “democratization of American Christianity.”8

On the other hand, as evangelicalism granted enormous influence to church leaders, it also worked to further imbed race and class hierarchies. While Methodists, for example, opposed slavery on theological terms throughout the late 18th century, white Methodists in the South made accommodations to permit and eventually support slave ownership by the early 19th century. Some resisted proselytizing or granting slaves access to Scripture because of the fear that slaves’ conversion would give rise to ideas about their liberation.9 Northern Methodists, too, were largely not ready to treat African Americans within their churches as social equals. The revival climate that encouraged the formation of new churches and denominations also excused church leaders from reckoning with claims of hypocrisy.10 In 1816, African American Methodists officially broke from the Methodist Episcopal communion to form the African Methodist Episcopal Church.11

Evangelicalism also further instantiated the power of middle class merchants. One historian found that in Rochester, New York, Charles Finney’s revivals functioned both to consolidate the power of the merchant classes and to defend their new “free labor” ideology that turned apprentices into free laborers. Finney preached a doctrine of personal responsibility, which required individual decisions for temperance, a rejection of luxury, and a firm work ethic that prioritized work over idleness. To the extent that Finney’s revivals moved Rochester’s industrial workers, the revivals moved workers away from their class interests and into alliance with the employers who exploited them for their labor. Evangelicalism, the historian Paul Johnson has suggested, created a false sense of community that rationalized workplace paternalism.12

Some working-class Protestants used their position as evangelicals to rebel against what they understood as class paternalism. In defense of the “Christian commonwealth,” workingmen of the 1820s and 1830s critiqued slavery, the ten-hour day, pew rents (the customary renting of church pews to families), and sectarianism.13 Were these evangelicals enforcing Victorian forms of social control when they accepted without question the nuclear family, the family wage, private property, and the Protestant work ethic? Some new religious movements, including Shakers, Quakers, Owenites, and Mormons, had resisted the consequences of industrialization by building communities that reconfigured both the family unit and the expectation of individual property ownership.

To some extent, all white evangelicals in Early Republic reaped some benefit from the fact that they upheld Victorian standards of “civilization” and morality. During the era’s multiple wars for Indian removal and extermination, Protestant Christianity upheld a binary division between Christian and “heathen.” The new republic respected, even celebrated, white Christians’ rights to their own bodies, time, and labor. Yet, the republic also seized and exploited Native land and African labor on the principle that the “uncivilized” negated their rights to life and property by their failure to submit to the Christian God. Even after some slaves and American Indians converted to Christianity, they were often marked as dependents rather than citizens.14 It was not easy for nonwhites to gain access to literacy education. Few white Protestants imagined a future for the republic where Africans and Indians were citizens on par with whites. In fact, many of the republic’s most ardent critics of slavery simply advocated deporting Africans to settle a new colony in Liberia. While denomination, class, and race sometimes fragmented the singularity of American Protestantism, the new republic built firm connections among Protestantism, whiteness, and property ownership.15

Catholics, Mormons, and the “Anglo-Saxon Race”

Increasing numbers of Catholics and Mormons presented a problem for some evangelical guardians of the antebellum republic. Although their beliefs about Christ and the Church were different, Catholics and Mormons both identified themselves as Christians. Moreover, many laid claim to the privileges of “whiteness”—the rights to worship as they saw fit, as well as manage their own time and labor.16 Yet, evangelicals frequently questioned Catholics and Mormons’ capacity for “republican virtue.” In a republic, the argument went, citizens must be able to reason independently and put the good of the commonwealth above one’s private interest. Some argued that neither Catholic nor Mormon leaders prioritized the good of the American nation above the interest of their church.17 When white Protestants questioned whether these believers had the necessary “independent reason” for citizenship, they essentially deployed the same criticisms of these whites that they had used against people of color. As one nativist put it, “[The Irish] seem to be steadily seeking to overthrow our institutions, whenever those institutions happen to conflict with the prejudices or hatred engendered in their own minds in the darkness of their native despotisms.”18 Historians have recounted the ways in which Irish Americans, Mexican Americans, and Mormons were frequently “racialized,” in both rhetoric and artistic depictions, despite their visible skin color. Irish Catholics were often depicted as childlike, animalistic brutes, or as pagan sorcerers. Mexican-American Catholics, even when they boasted Spanish blood, were imagined as American Indians. Mormons were depicted as insane, tyrannical heretics who oppressed women. Like Victorian Britain’s portrayal of their colonial subjects in South Asia, Africa, and the West Indies, Protestant Americans constructed non-Protestants as primitive, violent, and incapable of both reason and republicanism.

In other respects, however, Catholics and Mormons took up very different roles within the republic. Soon after a potato blight in Ireland, more than two million starving immigrants fled to American shores to take the lowest-paid jobs in the industrializing North. They took whatever jobs Anglo-Protestants would hire them for, including dangerous work within railroads, canals, mills, and factories. When white Protestants complained that Irish workers degraded wage standards and drank too much alcohol, some barred Irish Americans from employment with signs reading, “No Irish Need Apply.” The No-Nothing Party emerged in the mid-century to restrict further immigration of the Irish and limit their rights to naturalize as Americans.19 Irish Americans, however, kept arriving in American cities. More than 150,000 Irishmen fought with the Union in the Civil War. Many more built the transcontinental railroad.

The Louisiana Purchase and the midcentury war against Mexico meant that the U.S. republic suddenly laid claim to a great deal of land, as well as people, formerly recognized as Mexicans. Different interests fiercely contested the future of this territory of indigenous people and beliefs alongside Spanish, Mexican, and French missions. Indeed, Catholics had been sending religious orders to work closely with indigenous peoples in North America since the 16th century. On the whole, however, residents who became Americans through the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo were not recognized on par with Anglo Protestants. The original treaty that Americans drew with Mexico granted that Mexicans would be recognized as American citizens, that their property would be recognized as property within U.S. law, and that Catholic landholdings would be honored as such. It stated, “The same most ample guaranty shall be enjoyed by all ecclesiastics and religious corporations or communities, as well as in the discharge of the offices of their ministry … the relations and communication between the Catholics living in the territories … and their respective ecclesiastical authorities, shall be … free from hindrance whatever.”20 However, the U.S. Senate would not endorse this agreement. Not only did they withhold from Mexicans the rights of U.S. citizenship until “the proper time,” they also failed to stipulate the freedom of Catholic orders in the territories to maintain relationships with their leaders in Mexico.

While growing numbers of Anglo-Protestant Bible and missionary societies constructed the indigenous and Catholic territories as ripe for evangelization, the West also served as a place of religious exile. After being driven out of Illinois and Missouri for their supposed “corruption” of Christian religious practices, including plural marriage, mysticism, and ancestor-worship, a large band of Mormon believers decided to relocate to the Mexican frontier. Between 1846 and 1848, 15,000 Mormons migrated to the Great Basin near the Great Salt Lake. However, when the territory came under U.S. government jurisdiction under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, many grew concerned about the future of their church and its many cooperative enterprises. Religious leader Brigham Young was appointed Utah’s first territorial governor in 1850, but Anglo-Americans continued to construct Mormon religion, and particularly the practice of plural marriage, as a heresy that hampered the capacity of Mormons to exercise independent reason for republican virtue. In 1857, President Buchanan removed Brigham Young as governor with the help of 2,500 U.S. troops. In 1877, federal marshals returned to Utah to arrest polygamists for disobeying the federal law against plural marriage. Only after officially renouncing polygamy did Utah gained statehood in 1896.

Evidently, the fact that the West was home to powerful Catholic and Mormon institutions, in addition to hundreds of indigenous religions, created great anxiety for Anglo-American Protestants. In his 1885 Our Country, Presbyterian minister and nationalist Josiah Strong declared that the “Anglo-Saxon race” had a responsibility to spread the blessings of “civil liberty” and “pure, spiritual Christianity” throughout North America. He was not only speaking of the need to evangelize Native peoples and urban immigrants who may not have previously encountered Protestant missionaries. He was also talking about the “perils” of “Romanism” (Roman Catholicism) and “Mormonism.”21 In arguing that, “There can be no reasonable doubt that North America is to be the great home of the Anglo-Saxon, the principle seat of his power, the center of his life and influence,” he indicated that Protestant evangelicalism was not only a superior faith but also a superior race. To Strong, other religions were not just beliefs, but races in need of thorough transformation. Viewed another way, non-Anglo races needed to be destroyed. His book gave permission to Congress, the President, the Supreme Court, and indeed the military to do whatever it took to curb the social and religious influence of Catholics, Mormons, and American Indians.22 In linking “race” to the virtues ostensibly necessary for independent reason and civil democracy, Strong merely reiterated principles present at the country’s founding. Yet, in insisting that the racial qualities of the founders were critical to the republic they founded, he indicated that some degree of conversion and assimilation were the only viable avenues for the “Americanization” of non-Protestants.

“Jubilee” and Class in the Southern Black Church

Many enslaved African Americans experienced emancipation as Biblical “jubilee”—a cancelling of debts, indentures, and ties of enslavement. Although there were a number of black-run churches during the antebellum period (including African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion), more African Americans withdrew from white, mainline religious denominations after the Civil War. Some formed independent churches and African-American denominations, including the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (1870). Among them, the National Baptist Convention (1895) was the largest.

On one hand, the National Baptist Convention indicated the potential of African-American power and influence at the end of the 19th century. With almost two million members, the convention published and circulated hymnals, Sunday School materials, and the National Baptist Union. Its Woman’s Convention auxiliary established a National Training School for Women and Girls that made space to develop African American women leaders with strong skills in writing, public speaking, and the trades. Baptist women leaders often served their communities with a range of civic associations, missionary societies, and charities for the poor.

On the other hand, the period from the end of the Civil War until the early 20th century is known as the nadir, or very lowest point, in African-American history. It was characterized by widespread legal disfranchisement of African Americans, “Black Codes” that strongly resembled slave codes, and the election of many former Confederates to public office. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized and lynched African Americans whose attempts at social mobility seemed threatening to the social order, ensuring by intimidation that whites retained their political and economic power.

Fig. 1. Thomas Nast, “The Union As It Was,” Harper’s Weekly, October 10, 1874. A black family is beset by a new reign of vigilante violence targeted at African Americans, but they get no help from whites. Rather, regular white folks join with the disguised Ku Klux Klan in re-establishing a “white man’s government,” and calling it “the union as it was.”

The National Baptist Convention, like most black denominations, was largely run by a striving, educated, and “respectable” class of African Americans who politely critiqued white supremacy as they also tried to defend and uplift the “race” of African Americans. This “aspiring” class of African Americans often earned the respect of white Progressives and worked with them in efforts to educate and “uplift” the black poor.23 Nevertheless, the National Baptist Convention could only provide opportunities for a fraction of Southerners to attend church-related, black colleges and join the professional class of doctors, lawyers, and ministers.

Thus, while the black church served as an engine for a new, black professional class of doctors, lawyers, and ministers, the status that middle-class blacks won in the eyes of their white counterparts came with a cost.24 Progressive Era “respectability” often celebrated white Protestant standards of enterprise, intellectual and cultural achievement, family life, and culture. By reinforcing the expectation that African Americans could (and ought to) “climb” the social hierarchy through hard work and diligent study, middle class church folks sometimes condoned the systematic political oppression of the sharecropping poor. Black churches served as engines of black leadership, but they also enforced the class system.

Evangelicalism, Class, and Race in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era

After the Civil War, the new middle classes in the industrial North used Christianity as a signifier not only for the “reconciled” nation but also for the rule of Anglo-Protestants.25 Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists built ornate, towering churches in city centers and expected all the “better classes” to rent pews within them.26 They crusaded throughout the rapidly-expanding republic to end drinking, gambling, extramarital sexual behavior, as well as the working class saloons that allegedly incubated these habits.27 They sponsored a myriad of missions, settlement houses, church extensions, and missionary organizations that sought to “uplift” and “Americanize” peoples of the nonindustrialized world. Although Protestant attitudes toward poverty softened over time, many Gilded Age Protestants believed that poverty was the consequence of vice, a poor work ethic, and the mismanagement of finances. Moreover, many believed that European peasants, Africans, and Asians were behind Anglo-Protestants on the evolutionary time line. To that end, home missionaries offered the urban poor education in reading, writing, Biblical literacy, morality, and hygiene. They often discouraged any dependence on charity, as well as any sense of entitlement to higher pay within industries. Middle-class missionaries often understood their work with the poor to fulfill both their Christian and patriotic duties to the nation. They sought to cultivate new Christians as well as rational, “American” citizens for the expanding republic.

While the new professional classes exploited connections between the nation and its Anglo-Protestant heritage to defend their social and political goals, many other Americans built on these connections to defend very different political goals. The rapid expansion of low-wage jobs in mines, factories, and railroads, combined with the rise of evangelistic meetings on shop floors and camp meetings, gave rise to new classes of working-class Protestants. Many workers shared with their social betters the basic gospel conviction of Christ’s divinity and his plan for the salvation of sinners. However, in both the city and the country, workers rebelled in large numbers against the spiritual leadership of urban, denominational leaders.28 They drew attention to the observation that Jesus was a poor carpenter who himself would neither be welcomed nor comfortable within stained-glass cathedrals that enforced dress codes and offered pews for rent.29 Many even challenged the degree to which Jesus would support the system of privately owned and managed industries. Within a large body of working class newspapers and cheap paperback books, workers imagined how Jesus, the poor carpenter, would respond to the Gilded Age.30 In concluding that Christ would side with workers and their unions, they inspired the theological movement called the “Social Gospel.”

Soon, claims that Christ would support combinations of workers spanned the working classes and were endorsed by many theologians. Any individual who earned their money by the sweat of their brow and not by “rent, profit or interest,” qualified to join the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor. While the Knights were a labor union with 800,000 members at their peak, they understood the strike as a last resort. Members saw themselves as a body of upstanding Christians who sought to bear witness to the value of their productive labor.31 As the Knights organized chapters along the burgeoning railroad, they often encountered farmers with similar republican defenses for the value of their work. Farmers Alliances, which often organized through Christian camp meetings, defended financial supports for farmers (such as subtreasuries, postal savings banks, public ownership of railroads) as essential for building a “Christian Commonwealth.” One historian noted that they “recruited more white Southerners than belonged to the Baptist or Methodist Church.”32 In 1889, they discussed merging with the Knights of Labor to become the “organized producers of America.” While this “Farmer-Labor Alliance” never fully materialized, the Social Democracy, which later became the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Party of America, carried Christian, producerist defenses of workers into the 20th century.

While each of these combinations included some African-American and women members, their producerist rhetoric usually made claims that workers were entitled to the bounty of white men in the republic. The Knights’ platform for the “Eight Hour Day” implied white men’s entitlement to the value they produced, substantial leisure time, and the expectation that they should own their future and not perform the work of “wage slaves.” This working-class Christianity, therefore, was both a rebellion against the regime of the “better classes” and an effort to reinforce the privileges of white, native-born, American citizens.

In the Gilded Age, many working-class Christians stopped attending churches with hierarchical, denominational structures. Some adopted the Knights of Labor, the Farmer’s Alliance, or the Socialist Party as their equivalent of church, for many chapters united in prayer and hymns. Some joined the growing Pentecostal movement, a development on Holiness-Methodist theologies of the 19th century. Pentecostal communities believed that the active presence of the Holy Spirit could inspire speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and other miracles. To celebrate their faith, Pentecostals only required itinerant ministers and the open air (or a tent). They preached the power of the Holy Spirit to help believers overcome sin, defy all logical expectations, and become wholly renewed.33 Pentecostals were overwhelmingly working class; indeed, the movement was most popular in some of the poorest communities. It was common for women and African Americans to lead interracial and interethnic revivals and (eventually) churches. One source of appeal to the movement was the hope of defying expectations and achieving health and wealth.

Judaism, Catholicism and Class in the 20th-Century City

While many white Protestant workers defended the importance of creating a “Christian Commonwealth,” others argued that religion should be a “private matter.” Nationalist movements to consolidate Russia, Italy, and Germany gave rise to large numbers of peasants and small-town artisans fleeing both religious and political persecution. Jews, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians fled the expanding Soviet communist regime, which confiscated church property, propagated atheism, and violently attacked Jews within pogroms. Italians fled the collusion of Catholic leaders with fascist authorities. Many migrated to other parts of Europe and took jobs in industrializing cities like Berlin. Others moved, either temporarily or permanently, to the urban factories and mining towns of North and South America. By the early 20th century, more than 15 million practicing Catholics and three million Jews lived in the United States; this population was larger than the recorded number of Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians combined.34 The very forces that produced the rise of affluent Protestant churches and ministries also produced an increasing majority of non-Protestant workers.

Each of these groups’ efforts to migrate their faith traditions and build institutions to serve their countrymen catalyzed a significant development in the history of American religion. Catholic emissaries from abroad built “national” parishes with relationships to Italian, Polish, Irish, French, Canadian, French Canadian, Mexican, German, and Russian churches.35 Sending countries also contributed nuns to establish schools, orphanages, and hospitals to serve their communities and any others.36 Religious assaults by Protestant reformers in the Progressive Era served to unite Catholics across nationalities and inspired a powerful Catholic lobby. For example, when faced with campaigns to enforce universal public education, Catholics showed that Catholic schools were equivalent propagators of the public good.37 By the late 19th century, Catholic schools were not only recognized as legitimate but were given prestigious federal contracts to educate and “Americanize” Native Americans throughout the West. Nuns were entrusted by public authorities to care for the very poor within orphanages, foster care, and hospitals. By the Great Depression, priests within the Conference of Catholic Bishops were consulted on how to design a more equitable welfare state. Indeed, the public mission of Catholic hospitals, secondary schools, colleges, and charities earned Catholics respect as a religion.

Jews’ commitment to the public welfare and insistence on the “privacy” of religious practice also contributed to the celebration of cultural and religious “plurality.” After the first generation, Jews did not have an equivalent religious and cultural center, such as the Catholic Church, at the center of their communities. Locally established synagogues and Hebrew schools propagated the faith, and some maintained and reinvented Orthodox ritual practices. However, a large number of children of the Jewish diaspora popularized Reform Judaism, a faith tradition that emphasized Jewish morality, community, and culture over the enforcement of religious law.38 American Jews became disproportionately represented as leaders within the trade union and radical labor movements, and they often understood their work on behalf of the poor as an extension of their Jewish identity.39 In establishing large unions and orchestrating strikes, Jews fostered the solidarity across immigrant communities that led to union contracts and safer working conditions. By the Great Depression, Jewish Americans’ commitment to the public good also won them the respect of many Protestant Progressives; American Jews were sought after as consultants on labor law and industrial regulations.

Nonetheless, despite the efficacy of Catholic and Jewish institutions at serving the poor, upwardly mobile Catholics and Jews were rarely welcomed into the affluent classes. Until at least the 1950s, private university administrators, country clubs, civic associations, and realtors worked to keep Catholics and Jews out of the most powerful professions and communities. Many conservative Protestants, particularly in the South, remained unconvinced that either Jews or Catholics could fully inhabit the role of American citizens.

Religion in the Great Depression

Poor rainfall and overcultivation of crops meant that poverty struck rural and agricultural communities a decade before the stock market and banking disasters devastated American cities. Nonetheless, by the mid-1930s, a large fraction of the American people were desperately poor. The U.S. gross domestic product fell from more than $100 billion in 1929 to just over $56 billion in 1933. Unemployment within formal industries, which was 3.2 percent in 1929, remained higher than 20 percent between 1932 and 1936. Yet, poverty within agricultural regions, and especially among tenant farmers and farm hands (often African Americans), was much higher. This widespread experience of poverty transformed the posture of American Protestants and Catholics toward social and industrial conditions.

Widespread poverty led a new generation of Social Gospel–trained activists and theologians to apply the principles of “social salvation” to poor communities. Within the Highlander Folk School, the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, the People’s Institute for Applied Religion, and several similar schools of labor and religious activism in the South, white and black folks discussed the Christian imperative to share scarce resources.40 Churches blended with labor organizations as organizers discussed the selfishness at the root of capitalism. In both the North and South, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) hired Social Gospel clergy to help persuade industrial workers that collective bargaining and management of company assets was the most “Christian” way to reorganize industry.41

Popular Catholic theology experienced a similar turn toward critique of the profit-motive and celebration of the disciplines of community. Growing from the work of Catholic social workers, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin founded the Catholic Worker houses, a set of communities committed to serving societal outcasts. Catholic priests also preached on social justice. The 1892 papal encyclical, Rerum Novarum, had endorsed unions as agents of collective bargaining, but the 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, underlined the dangers to human freedom presented by both unrestrained capitalism and totalitarianism.42 Independent, democratic unions, it appeared to many Catholics, were not just a good idea but indeed an essential solution to the causes of the Depression. As the number of young men and women willing to enter the religious orders rose, so also did the number of clergy ready to defend the principles of social and economic justice. In 1937, the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists grew out of the Catholic Worker movement as an effort to educate Catholic wage workers on the encyclical’s emphasis that workers’ livelihoods were a higher priority than the high profits of industry.43 Many “labor priests,” as they were called, worked closely with the CIO in organizing industrial unions. Indeed, the rapid unionization of shop floors in the 1930s owed a great deal to the efforts of Protestant and Catholic clergy who worked at organizing campaigns.44

However, some religious communities pushed back against the New Deal. The 1930s also saw the expansion of Fundamentalism, an evangelical tradition that grew from premillennial dispensationalist theologies of the late 19th century. Growing rapidly in protest to the “Social Gospel liberalism” of mainline denominations, Fundamentalists insisted that salvation was only an individual decision. Fundamentalists distilled the Protestant faith to “fundamental” beliefs about Christ, the Bible, grace, and the end times. They frequently rejected the notion that building a more equitable and just society was a priority for believers, for they anticipated the world would grow progressively less holy until Christ returned.45 Though a great deal of evangelical Fundamentalists were working-class Southerners, national leaders in the movement were often associated with—and bankrolled by—major corporations.46 Critical of the New Deal, the United Nations, and communism, Fundamentalists gravitated to the Republican Party. Scholars have emphasized ways that Fundamentalists’ criticisms of FDR often overpowered any potential working class consciousness, particularly among evangelicals.47

Class, Race, and Religion in the Era of Prosperity

The period between the end of World War II and the 1970s was an era of unprecedented prosperity and social mobility. The combination of the G.I. Bill and the proliferation of good jobs meant that large numbers of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews could afford nice homes and high standards of living. However, scholars emphasize the racial boundaries set around the newly expanded middle classes. While Catholics and Jews gained entry to fancy suburbs, elite universities, and professions that had formerly been reserved to white Protestants, African Americans had a much harder time achieving the same. Black servicemen, for example, technically qualified for subsidized, Federal Housing Association loans and free college educations. However, riders, or “restrictive covenants” on properties, specifically forbade African Americans from purchasing homes within many suburban developments. Many college and university policies forbade African Americans admittance, and thus barred African American servicemen access to some of the best-paid professions. Scholars emphasize the way the New Deal, the G.I. Bill, and the proliferation of restrictive covenants served as “affirmative action for whites.”48

As the American middle class shifted away from sharp identification with Anglo-Protestantism, religious communities worked to promote the social mobility of their members. Parochial schools boomed between the 1950s and the 1970s. Many Catholic parishes subsidized both grammar school and secondary education through the inexpensive service of the large number of nuns, brothers, and priests who accepted religious orders during the Depression and Second World War. Catholic universities, heavily subsidized by religious orders, thrived under the G.I. Bill. For, they were able to provide Catholic students advanced degrees in prestigious, middle-class professions while also training them in the Catholic liberal arts.

Protestants, too, opened new private secondary schools and colleges in the hope of promoting social mobility and sheltering themselves from mixing with African Americans. Evangelical “Christian” secondary schools, also known as “segregationist academies,” were especially popular in the South. For, the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that school segregation was illegal alarmed many parents who wanted to keep Jim Crow patterns alive. However, racial segregation was not the only motivation Southern whites talked about in electing what they called “seg academies” for their children. Some evangelical Protestants felt embattled by what one historian described as “the decline of family authority, the emphasis on change and innovation, the undermining of community, and the decline in the importance of locality.” Between the 1950s and the 1970s, public schools desanctioned prayer but also began to teach curricula with strategic Cold War objectives. In part to prove to Soviets that American schools were excellent, textbooks celebrated FDR’s “four freedoms,” voiced approval of racial equality, and explained scientific theories like evolution. Many schools initiated programs in sexual education.49 Fundamentalists, who were often already wary of racial equality, often drew connections between national educational propaganda and the initiatives of the Soviet Union.

What Catholic and Protestant private schools had in common were their overwhelming numbers of working-class students. While working-class African Americans struggled to gain access to public high schools and colleges reserved for whites, the white working classes could often rely upon subsidized educational networks within their religious communities. Catholic schools, often subsidized by the very low-cost labor of religious orders, proved deeply instrumental in Catholic social mobility.50 Yet, despite the growth in historically black colleges and universities in the postwar era, African Americans did not get to share in the economic prosperity equally with whites, including the descendants of Catholic immigrants.51

While historians debate the extent to which the Civil Rights movement grew out of the Social Gospel, the movement relied on networks of black churches, and even some white churches, in myriad ways. Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (a network of mostly Black pastors) did not organize or lead the movement, but they did provide a “respectable” figurehead before the white American public. While the Black Freedom Movement was broader than a religious movement, it did utilize a good deal of music and rhetoric from the black church. The Black Power movement, as well as the Farm Workers’ movement, also made generous use of support from church networks.52 Freedom movements of the 1960s also created a groundswell of support to roll back the racist, National Origins Quotas of the 1920s with the Immigration Act of 1965. The move opened the doors to a much larger variety of ethnic and racial groups to come to the United States. Newcomers included large numbers of Asian Americans, Latinos, Africans, and Middle Easterners.  Each of these groups brought with them their own religious traditions and reinvented those traditions on American soil.53

As Protestants, Catholics, and Jewish Americans laid claims to the bounty of American prosperity, they also strengthened American nationalism.54 American Protestants and Catholics celebrated the U.S. flag within churches and the association between U.S. government policy (domestic and international) and the eschatological goals of their faith. 55 Yet, this new construction of American nationalism further distanced those people of color engaging in third-world liberation movements from the claims of American identity and American religious traditions. Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist immigrants swelled in number after 1965. They built institutions in the United States that often straddled class lines. However, the growth of these faiths on American soil often served to strengthen bonds between Catholics, Jews, and Protestants around the common ties of whiteness and Americanness.

Review of the Literature

Work at the intersection of race, class, and religion is relatively new. The field emerges from the collision of at least three distinct fields: those dedicated to “race and religion,” “race and class,” “religion and class.”

Of these three subfields, the field of “race and religion” is the largest, for it encompasses work across the disciplines of theology, history, and sociology. It stems in large part from the work of W. E. B. DuBois, an African-American sociologist and historian, whose Souls of Black Folk (1903) and Black Reconstruction (1935) began the conversation on the entanglement of violence, oppression, and liberation within the history of the segregated Black Church. Since the 1980s, theologian James Cone and others have attended to these entangled theologies, emphasizing the ways that slavery, lynching, and other forms of violence have been central to African-Americans experience of the gospel. Historians such as Albert Raboteau, Sylvester Johnson, and Paul Harvey have explored the contours and manifestations of this oppression.56 In 2001, sociologists Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America illustrated the stark legacies of segregation within contemporary American churches. Their work energized and complicated the study of religion for sociologists, giving rise to a vibrant subfield of race and religion.57 It also dovetailed with renewed interest in the historic role of churches, particularly those in the South, in constructing and policing the racial order. For example, Edward Blum, Charles Wilson, and Kelly Baker have explored the ways American Protestantism has served as a repository for white supremacist thought.58 Jarod Roll, Erik Gellman, Alison Greene, Ken Fones-Wolf, and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf have attended to the entangled historical experiences of whites and African Americans, particularly within very poor regions of the South—even as they have illuminated the ways that their efforts to contest injustice have often been forced to diverge along racial lines. For historians of race and religion who address histories of the poor, attention to the role of class has been unavoidable.

The adjacent field of “race and class” has historically sought to shed light on how white and black working-class experiences in the United States have been shaped by the facts of slavery and Jim Crow. In The Wages of Whiteness (1991), David Roediger argued that white male workers were less likely to revolt in response to their loss of power within the emerging market economy because they earned a psychological “wage” from their status as white free-laborers. Anglo-Protestantism, many scholars of religion pointed out, has historically been implied within the generic category of “whiteness.”59 In fact, as Paul Johnson, Matthew Frye Jacobsen, Ralph Luker, and others showed, revivalism and social reform were often tools employed by the middle classes to keep working classes submissive.60 Several scholars addressed the ways that missionaries reinforced white Protestant culture as essential to Christianity.61 Successive waves of Protestant revivalism, both before and after the Civil War, reinforced standards of manhood and whiteness, deflected tensions along the lines of class, and fostered feelings of unity among whites.62 As Edward Blum showed, despite the massive Catholic immigration and the fact of new black churches, Northern and Southern white Protestants used Reconstruction to rebuild the nation around white, male Protestant leadership. Anglo-Protestants also redesigned images of Jesus around whiteness, masculinity, and American identity.63 However, these images of Jesus were not received uniformly.

The subfield of “religion and class” has cohered around the common challenge to the premise that “Anglo-Protestantism” has so successfully bound together working class and middle class Christians. Herbert Gutman’s 1966 article, “Protestantism and the American Labor Movement” showed that the Christianity experienced by the working classes was different from that taught by ministers.64 A decade later, Robert Mapes Anderson showed that Pentecostalism was a new form of Protestantism that appealed directly to poor people. In the 1990s, William Sutton and Jama Laserow showed how working class artisans used Christian imagery to defend their new unions.65 Marc Karson and Ken Fones-Wolf demonstrated that the American Federation of Labor used ties with both Catholic and Protestant churches to build their union membership.66

Recently, scholars have begun to contest the extent to which the Anglo-Protestant Social Gospel endorsed social control. Heath Carter argued that antebellum critiques of rich churches and endorsements by unions were ultimately heard by middle-class churches in the late 19th century. He argued that the middle-class movement was merely an endorsement of the working-class movement of the previous generation.67 Jarod Roll and Erik Gellman showed that working-class Southern religion looked quite different from that of middle-class denominations during the 20th century. Furthermore, the “prophetic” religion of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union celebrated social justice at the center of social salvation.68 Ken and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf showed that working-class Southern religion was in fact so distant from mainline Protestantism that the CIO’s attempt to use the Social Gospel to organize workers ended in failure. Scholars have recently begun to identify a category of “working class Christianity” with a divergent—even if not common—set of beliefs, communities, and visions of social justice and peace, as they have compared with middle-class Christianities.69

Scholars of urban Catholicism have examined the 20th-century construction of a Roman Catholic Church in the Americas from an assortment of national parishes and religious orders and tracked the “Americanization” of Catholics and Catholicism alongside the greater respect accorded to American Catholics.70 Several scholars have highlighted the role of Irish Americans in building the institutions which other Catholic immigrants used in their path to Americanization and social mobility.71 Similarly, scholars of Jewish immigrants have emphasized the role of Anti-Semitism in the Jewish American experience as well as the roles of small business, the labor movement and the theater within Jews’ social mobility.72 Some research has also begun to address the racial, class, and religious barriers faced by Muslim and other religious immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, and Africa in the post-Civil Rights Era, though this body of scholarship is still small.73

Overall, research at the intersection of race, class and religion has focused more heavily on moments of economic weakness than economic strength. Our attention to class, race, and religion, for example, is much sharper when examining artisans in the antebellum republic, radicals of the Gilded Age, and “prophets” of the Great Depression than it has been when examining the histories of social mobility or the easing of racial boundaries. We know that celebrations of Anglo-American Protestantism have arisen within moments of economic weakness and national insecurity. We are still exploring to what extent religion has influenced support for unions, racial integration, and social mobility during moments of relative national security and economic prosperity.

Further Reading

  • Barrett, James. The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multiethnic City. New York: Penguin, 2013.
  • Blum, Edward. Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion and American Nationalism, 1865–1898. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007.
  • Blum, Edward, and Paul Harvey. The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
  • DuBois, W. E. B. Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880. New York: Free Press, 1998, orig. 1935.
  • Fitzgerald, Maureen. Habits of Compassion: Irish Catholic Nuns and the Origins of New York’s Welfare System, 1830–1920. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
  • Fluhman, J. Spencer. “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
  • Fones-Wolf, Ken, and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf. Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015.
  • Greene, Alison Collis. No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Harvey, Paul. Christianity and Race in the American South: A History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  • Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1988.
  • Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876–1917. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.
  • Zolberg, Aristide. A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2008.


  • 1. Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992); Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009); and Mark Noll, Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010).

  • 2. Gary Nash, The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America (London: Penguin, 2006); T. H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (New York: Hill and Wang, 2011); and Thomas Kidd, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 2012).

  • 3. Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978); and Paul Harvey, Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011).

  • 4. Marjoleine Kars, Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); and Woody Holton, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

  • 5. Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787–1788 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011).

  • 6. Steven Green, The Second Disestablishment: Church and State in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

  • 7. Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons and the Oneida Community (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984); and Steven Taysom, Shakers, Mormons and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010).

  • 8. Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991).

  • 9. Paul Harvey, Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011); Sylvester Johnson, The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity: Race, Heathens, and the People of God (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); and Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

  • 10. Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

  • 11. James Campbell, The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

  • 12. Paul Johnson, A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815–1837 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979).

  • 13. Jama Laserow, Religion and the Working Class in Antebellum America (Washington, DC: Smithsonian, 1995); and William Sutton, Journeymen for Jesus: Evangelical Artisans Confront Capitalism in Jacksonian Baltimore (University Park: Penn University Press, 1998).

  • 14. Linford Fischer, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Boston: Beacon, 2015).

  • 15. David Roediger, How Race Survived US History (New York: Verso, 2010); and Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

  • 16. W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); and Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth Century America (New York: Verso, 2003).

  • 17. Patrick Mason, The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Elizabeth Fenton, Religious Liberties: Anti-Catholicism and Liberal Democracy in Nineteenth-Century US Literature and Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); and J. Spencer Fluhman, “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

  • 18. Frederick Saunders and T. B. Thorpe, The Progress and Prospects of America, 1855, as quoted in Major Problems in American Immigration and Ethnic History, ed. Jon Gjerde (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998), 143.

  • 19. Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know-Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

  • 20. “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,” Original Article IX, in Major Problems in American Immigration History, ed. Mae Ngai (Boston: Wadsworth Cengage, 2003), 155.

  • 21. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876–1917 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001).

  • 22. Josiah Strong, Our Country: Its Possible Future and its Present Crisis (New York: Baker & Taylor, 1885).

  • 23. John Giggie, After Redemption: Jim Crow and the Transformation of African American Religion in the Deltas, 1875–1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); and Glenda Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1886–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

  • 24. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994); and Anthea Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

  • 25. Edward Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion and American Nationalism, 1865–1898 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007); Edward Blum, WEB DuBois, American Prophet (University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); and Gary Dorrien, The New Abolition: W.E.B. DuBois and the Black Social Gospel (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015).

  • 26. Thomas Rzeznik, Church and Estate: Religion and Wealth in Industrial-Era Philadelphia (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015); and Matthew Bowman, The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

  • 27. Gaines Foster, Moral Reconstruction: Christian Lobbyists and the Federal Legislation of Morality, 1865–2002 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

  • 28. Herbert Gutman, “Protestantism and the American Labor Movement,” American Historical Review 72.1 (October 1966): 74–101; Heath Carter, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); and David Burns, The Life and Death of the Radical Historical Jesus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

  • 29. Charles Sheldon dramatizes this reality within his In His Steps (1896). The book sold more than 30,000,000 copies.

  • 30. See: William Thomas Stead, If Christ Came to Chicago! (1894); Upton Sinclair, They Call Me Carpenter (1922); and Bruce Barton, The Man Nobody Knows (1925).

  • 31. Robert Weir, Beyond Labor’s Veil: The Culture of the Knights of Labor (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2006).

  • 32. Robert McMath, American Populism: A Social History, 1877–1898 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 147; and Charles Postel, The Populist Vision (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

  • 33. On working-class Pentecostalism, see: Richard Callahan, Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields: Subject to Dust (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008); Priscilla Pope-Levison, Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era (New York: New York University Press, 2015); and Jarod Roll, “Faith Powers and Gambling Spirits in Late Gilded Age Metal Mining,” in Pew and the Picket Line, ed. Cantwell, et al. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016).

  • 34. America: A Concise History, eds. James Henretta, Rebecca Edwards and Robert Self, 564; American Jewish Yearbook via

  • 35. James Hennessey, American Catholics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); Robert Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950 (Yale, 1985); and John McGreevy, Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 1998).

  • 36. Maureen Fitzgerald, Habits of Compassion: Irish Catholic Nuns and the Origins of New York’s Welfare System, 1830–1920 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006); Margaret McGuinness, Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America (New York: New York University Press, 2013); and Anne Butler, Across God’s Frontiers: Catholic Sisters in the American West, 1850–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

  • 37. Robert Handy, Undermined Establishment: Church-State Relations in America, 1880–1920 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991).

  • 38. Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004).

  • 39. Susan Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990); and Daniel Katz, All Together Different: Yiddish Socialists, Garment Workers, and the Labor Roots of Multiculturalism (New York: New York University Press, 2011).

  • 40. Jarod Roll and Erik Gellman, The Gospel of the Working Class: Labor’s Southern Prophets in New Deal America (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2011); Jarod Roll, Spirit of Rebellion: Labor and Religion in the New Cotton South (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010); and Alison Collis Greene, No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

  • 41. Matthew Pehl, Making of Working-Class Religion (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016); and Ken and Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, Struggle for the Soul of the Postwar South: White Evangelical Protestants and Operation Dixie (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015).

  • 42. James McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004).

  • 43. Douglas Seaton, Catholics and Radicals: The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists and the American Labor Movement, From Depression to Cold War (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1981).

  • 44. Steven Rosswurm, The CIO’s Left-Led Unions (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992).

  • 45. Matthew Avery Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2014); and Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012).

  • 46. Timothy Gloege, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the making of Modern Evangelicalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

  • 47. Kevin Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015); and Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Walmart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

  • 48. Thomas Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (Random House, 2009); Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth Century America (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006); and Thomas Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

  • 49. Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: the Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 163; William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America (New York: Broadway Books, 2005); and Andrew Hartman, The War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

  • 50. Timothy Walch, Parish School: American Catholic Parochial Education from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Crossroads, 1996).

  • 51. On this unequally shared prosperity, see: Lizabeth Cohen, A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Vintage, 2003); and Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: New Press, 2012).

  • 52. Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition in the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Kerry Pimblott, Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race, and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017); Miriam Pawel, The Union of their Dreams: Power, Hope and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009); Matt Garcia, From the Jaws of Victory: the Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012); and Mario Garcia, ed. The Gospel of Cesar Chavez: My Faith in Action (New York: Sheed and Ward, 2007).

  • 53. Aristide Zolberg, A Nation By Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

  • 54. Kevin Schultz, Tri-Faith America: How Catholics and Jews Held Postwar America to its Protestant Promise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

  • 55. Andrew Preston, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (Harpswell, ME: Anchor, 2012).

  • 56. James Cone, The Spirituals and the Blues (New York: Seabury Press, 1992); James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power (New York: Seabury Press, 1997); James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (New York: Seabury Press, 2013); Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011); Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion; Paul Harvey, Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); and Sylvester Johnson, The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity: Race, Heathens, and the People of God (New York: Palgrave, 2004).

  • 57. See, for example: Gerardo Marti, A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2009); Sandra Barnes, “The Black Church Revisited: Toward a new Millennium Duboisian Mode of Inquiry,” Sociology of Religion 75.4 (Winter 2014): 607–621; and Ryon Cobb, Samuel Perry, and Kevin D. Dougherty, “United by Faith?” Race/Ethnicity, Congregational Diversity, and Explanations of Racial Inequality,” Sociology of Religion (January 2015): 1–22.

  • 58. Michael Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Paul Harvey, Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War Through the Civil Rights Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Edward Blum, Reforging the White Republic (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007); Charles Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009); Kelly Baker, Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915–1930 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2011); Edward Blum, WEB DuBois, American Prophet (University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); and Russell Hawkins and Philip Luke Sinitiere, eds. Christians and the Color Line: Race and Religion After Divided by Faith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

  • 59. David Roediger, Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York: Verso, 1991).

  • 60. Paul Johnson, Shopkeeper’s Millennium (New York: Hill and Wang, 1978); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues (New York: Hill and Wang, 2000); and Ralph Luker, “Religion and Social Control in the Nineteenth Century American City,” Journal of Urban History 2 (May 1976): 363–368.

  • 61. Amy Kaplan, The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of US Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005); and Derek Chang, Citizens of a Christian Nation: Evangelical Missions and the Problem of Race in the Nineteenth Century (University Park: Penn University Press, 2010).

  • 62. Bruce Dorsey, Reforming Men and Women: Gender and the Antebellum City (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002).

  • 63. Ed Blum, Reforging the White Republic (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007); and Paul Harvey and Edward Blum, Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

  • 64. Herbert Gutman, “Protestantism and the American Labor Movement: The Christian Spirit in the Gilded Age,” American Historical Review 72.1 (October 1966): 74–101.

  • 65. Robert Mapes Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979); William Sutton, Journeymen for Jesus (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998); and Jama Laserow, Religion and the Working Class in Antebellum America (Washignton, DC: Smithsonian, 1995).

  • 66. Marc Karson, American Labor Unions and Politics, 1900–1918 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958); and Ken Fones-Wolf, Trade Union Gospel: Christianity and Labor in Industrial Philadelphia, 1865–1915 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).

  • 67. Heath Carter, Union Made (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

  • 68. Jarod Roll, Spirit of Rebellion (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2010); and Jarod Roll and Herbert Gellman, Gospel of Labor (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2011).

  • 69. Dave Burns, The Life and Death of the Radical Historical Jesus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Dan McKanan, Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012); Heath Carter, Christopher Cantwell, and Janine Giordano Drake, Eds., The Pew and the Picket Line: Christianity and the Working Class (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016); and Janine Giordano Drake “Between Religion and Politics: The Working Class Religious Left, 1880–1920,” (PhD diss., University of Illinois, 2014).

  • 70. Peter D’Agostino, Rome in America: Transnational Catholic Ideology from the Risorgimento to Fascism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); John McGreevy, Catholicism and American Freedom: A History (New York: Norton, 2003); and Jay Dolan, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Doubleday, 1985).

  • 71. Jay Dolan, In Search of An American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); James Barrett and David Roediger, “The Irish and the ‘Americanization’ of the ‘New Immigrants’ in the Streets and in the Churches of the Urban United States, 1900–1930,” Journal of American ethnic History 24.4 (September 2005), 3–33; and James Barrett, The Irish Way: Becoming Irish in the Multiethnic City (London: Penguin, 2012).

  • 72. Ewa Morawska, Insecure Prosperity: Small-Town Jews in Industrial America, 1890–1940 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); Susan Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990); Andrew Heinze, Adapting to Abundance: Jewish Immigrants, Mass Consumption, and the Search for American Identity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992); and J. Novick, Beyond the Golden Door: Jewish American Drama and Jewish American Experience (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

  • 73. To start, see: Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Ed. The Muslims of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); and Bruce Lawrence, New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants in Religious Life(New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).