The Christian Origins of the American Century

AHA Session 80
Friday, January 4, 2013: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
La Galerie 6 (New Orleans Marriott)
Malcolm Magee, Michigan State University
Andrew Preston, Clare College, University of Cambridge

Session Abstract

In order to answer Andrew Preston’s call to “bridge the gap between the sacred and the secular,” [1] this panel seeks to re-narrate the history of American foreign policy in the twentieth century by locating the significant role religion has played in shaping international affairs. The historical actors this panel traces and the decisions they made came from a "place" informed by religion. By paying attention to this "geography of the spirit," this panel roots many of the twentieth centuries' most crucial foreign policy decisions in religious soil.

In their recovery of the Christian origins of the American century, Mark T. Edwards, Caitlin Carenen, and Cara L. Burnidge each take a different approach to "religion" and its role in crafting, executing, and complicating foreign policy. Cara L. Burnidge’s  paper, “Negotiating God’s Peace: The League of Nations and the Fracturing of the Protestant Establishment,” will concentrate on religion’s role in crafting foreign policy by examining the religious framework behind Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, and Teddy Roosevelt's conflicting ideas for a league of nations. These religiously inspired policy debates of the immediate post-war era  left an indelible mark on the way the United States approached international affairs. Focusing on the interwar period, Mark T. Edwards will concentrate on the religious life of one individual, Francis Pickens Miller, Chairman of the World's Student Christian Federation. In “Francis Miller and the Rise of Christian Power Politics,” Edwards draws attention to the shifting Christian foundation to Miller’s internationalism left in the wake of the failure of Wilson’s League of Nations. As Miller demonstrates, Christian power politics profoundly shaped American Protestant responses to World War II and the Cold War. Caitlin Carenen moves forward to the early Cold War era and looks eastward from the “Orient” to the “Occident.” In “Liberal American Protestants and the U.S.-Israeli Alliance in the Cold War,” she focuses on the consequences of the intersection of religion and politics by exploring the role of religion in shaping U.S.-Middle East relations. Together, these papers highlight the central role of religious ideas and persons in shaping American global policy. From the nation’s highest office to missionaries “on the ground,” religion proved integral to internationalism in the American Century.

[1] Andrew Preston, “Bridging the Gap Between the Sacred and the Secular in the History of American Foreign Relations,” Diplomatic History 30, no. 5 (2006): 783-812.

See more of: AHA Sessions