Expressions of religious belief through popular media are a regular occurrence in our contemporary age. But the circulation and negotiation of religious identities in public contexts has a fairly long history in American culture. Matthew Hedstrom
, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, looks beyond the church to determine how religious liberalism was popularized through mainstream book culture. In The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century
(Oxford University Press, 2012) he examines mid-century middlebrow society at the intersection of protestant liberalism, therapeutic culture, and American consumerism.
Through an examination of resources such as book clubs, reading programs, key authors, bestsellers, and new publishing initiatives in religion, he argues that American spiritual life during the mid-twentieth century happens through religious commodities. In our conversation we discussed social practices of reading, William James,
publishing companies, effects of the World Wars, mysticism, psychology, consumerism, Jewish and Catholic voices, a turn to the East, and the intersecting religious trajectories of the early twentieth century.