Elesha J. Coffman's Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith (Oxford UP, 2021) takes a careful look at Mead’s religious origins and influence. As a famous American anthropologist, Mead’s intellectual contributions to mid-century culture has been fruitfully studied. Coffman offers insight into a neglected aspect of Mead’s life—her religious views. Born into a home with secular agnostic parents, Mead chose a religious path as a child and joined the Episcopal Church. As an anthropologist she believed in the significance of ritual and the importance of service but rejected many of the particulars of her chosen faith. From De Pauw University to Columbia University, through multiple love affairs and marriages, travels and publications, Mead became an influential public intellectual, developing her own perspective on social ethics. Her high-profile and expansive view of human development that did not reject religion offered the opportunity to contribute to mid-twentieth century liberal Christianity on multiple fronts.
Elesha J. Coffman, an associate professor of History at Baylor University.
Lilian Calles Barger is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her most recent book is entitled The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology (Oxford University Press, 2018). Her current writing project is on the intellectual history of women and the origins of feminism seen through the emblematic life and work of Simone de Beauvoir.