New Books Network

Melissa J. Wilde

Birth Control Battles

How Race and Class Divided American Religion

University of California Press 2020

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & Faith August 3, 2020 Diana Dukhanova

Although it has largely been erased from the collective memory of American Christianity, the debate over eugenics was a major factor in the history...

Although it has largely been erased from the collective memory of American Christianity, the debate over eugenics was a major factor in the history of 20th-century religious movements, with many churches actively supporting the pseudoscience as a component of the Social Gospel.

In Birth Control Battles: How Race and Class Divided American Religion (University of California Press, 2020), Dr. Melissa J. Wilde, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrates that support for contraception among some of America’s most prominent religious groups was tied to white supremacist views of race, immigration, and manifest destiny. We discuss how birth control use and promotion was conceived as a religious duty, how Biblical exegesis was used in support of eugenics, how the fear of “race suicide” motivated predominantly White denominations to limit reproduction among marginalized people, how groups like the Catholics and the Orthodox Jews pushed back against the pro-eugenics tide, the hidden racist legacy of contemporary progressive churches, and the silence that continues to exist around the issue today.


Diana Dukhanova received her PhD from Brown University, where she is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Slavic Studies, in 2018. Her work focuses on gender, religion, and sexuality in Russian religious culture. She is currently at work on her first monograph, Jesus of Bethlehem: Vasily V. Rozanov’s Russian Family Values.