Roundtable Religion and Sexuality in America's Cold War

AHA Session 262
Sunday, January 6, 2013: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Chamber Ballroom III (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Melani McAlister, George Washington University

Session Abstract

Roundtable Description: The Cold War rewrote innumerable lives, created new understandings of place, and prompted observers of the shifting political and cultural terrain to chronicle their stories. Recent scholarship has illuminated previously dark corners of Cold War experience, in particular the intersections of religion with Cold War foreign and domestic policy, on the one hand, and the conflation of sexual and political agendas, on the other. Historians of the first group have, for example, documented how American foreign policy leaders interpreted the United States’ battle with the Soviet Union as a confrontation between Christianity and atheism, and they illuminate how religious language and imagery permeated domestic and foreign policy. A second cohort of historians have demonstrated that a Lavender Scare targeting alleged homosexuals resulted in more firings of government employees and greater surveillance of personal networks than the Red Scare. The Cold War became a moment in which policy makers throughout the federal government reimagined U.S. citizens as explicitly heterosexual. Both subfields establish the critical significance of both religion and of sexuality to shaping Cold War politics. Yet, whereas scholars of the New Christian Right have illuminated the intersections between religion, sexuality, and politics, the history of the Cold War, particularly during its earliest and most anxious years, has isolated religion and sexuality on parallel tracks. This roundtable proposes to bring these two critical arenas of historical inquiry into conversation with one another. Scholars whose work explores moments of conversation among religion, sexuality, and Cold War politics will present findings and suggest ways of integrating the historiography. We will invite authors of major works on the histories of Cold War religion and of Cold War sexuality to consider how the inclusion of the other analytical subject might shape their conclusions.

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