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Authors: Stroud, Irene Elizabeth
Advisors: Weisenfeld, Judith
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: Anglo-Saxons
Liberal Protestantism
social work
Subjects: Religion
American history
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation uses eugenics as a framework for interpreting liberal Protestantism in the United States, around the turn of the twentieth century, as a cultural project that relied on an assumption of racial privilege. I demonstrate that key commitments of the liberal Protestant movement — its embrace of scientific knowledge as a way of understanding both religious tradition and the natural world, its commitment to engaging the social problems of industrial society, and its soteriology of nurture — performed a narrative of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority. When liberal Protestants acted out this racial narrative, they undermined their own vision for a just, healthy, and rational social order. Members and leaders of the denominations in which theological liberalism found the strongest footing — Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Congregationalists, and to a lesser extent Methodists, particularly in the cities and towns of the Northeast and upper Midwest — embraced the Social Gospel while cultivating a religio-racial identity as the spiritual and literal descendants of the nation’s English settlers and founders. I show that they promulgated the notion of America as the continent where, as the descendants of those early English settlers, they were divinely tasked with reaching their full racial potential, and that they weighed this putative divine responsibility in their reproductive choices. I describe the eugenic discipline they imposed on the poor in order to preserve what they considered the distinctive character of their own race, as well as their collective power in national life. I further show how eugenics shaped advice they were given about their own sexuality and reproduction. Finally, however, as I demonstrate in my final chapter, while liberal Protestants took eugenics seriously, they did not respond to eugenic discourse in the way its proponents hoped: by having a large number of children. Overwhelmingly, they had small families. This was not because they rejected the principles of eugenics, but rather because having a small number of children was a reliable way of helping those children maintain their racial privilege. Ironically, they rejected a form of racial solidarity, not in favor of any universal sense of justice, but rather in favor of individual advantage.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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