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Gene Zubovich

Mar 16, 2022

Before the Religious Right

Liberal Protestants, Human Rights, and the Polarization of the United States

University of Pennsylvania Press 2022

The study of the religious right has in many ways overshadowed other strands of U.S. religious history in the 20th century. This is owed in no small part to the powerful political role played by evangelical Christians in the Republican Party today, where they have helped set party positions for the past several decades. However, to focus on this dimension of religious history exclusively misses several other trends. Until the 1960s, the largest and most politically significant churches were mainline Protestant denominations such as the Methodist Church, and these bodies carved out a very different set of politics.

In his new book Before the Religious Right: Liberal Protestants, Human Rights, and the Polarization of the United States (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2022), Gene Zubovich demonstrates the role these churches played in issues like the Great Depression, New Deal, the Cold War, and ultimately Jim Crow. These churches were politically powerful, large, and in many cases counted many adherents in the halls of political power in the United States. Zubovich notes the role of theologians whom he terms “ecumenical Protestants” that helped to create a framework of human rights, but also notes the ways that anti-racist discourses and other ideas taken up by these churches encountered backlash and resistance in the United States. Ultimately, Zubovich’s book is a reminder that even given the religious right’s political power, there are several different strands of religious history in the United States.

Zeb Larson is a writer and historian based in Columbus, Ohio. He received his PhD at The Ohio State University in 2019. To suggest a book or contact him, please e-mail him at zeb.larson@gmail.com.

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Zeb Larson

Zeb Larson is a recent graduate of The Ohio State University with a PhD in History. His research deals with the anti-apartheid movement in the United States. To suggest a recent title or to contact him, please send an e-mail to zeb.larson@gmail.com.

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