Cover image for Religion in the modern American West
Religion in the modern American West
Szasz, Ferenc Morton, 1940-2010.
Publication Information:
Tucson : University of Arizona Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xviii, 249 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
The western "Gospel in the world" -- Religious life in the urban and rural West -- Varieties of religious leadership -- Religion in the West of the 1920s and 1930s -- Western religious life of the 1940s and 1950s -- Western religious personalities -- Western religion confronts the modern world -- Western religion as public controversy -- Religious personalities of the modern West.
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BL2527.W47 S83 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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When Americans migrated west, they carried with them not only their hopes for better lives but their religious traditions as well. Yet the importance of religion in the forging of a western identity has seldom been examined. In this first historical overview of religion in the modern American West, Ferenc Szasz shows the important role that organized religion played in the shaping of the region from the late-nineteenth to late-twentieth century. He traces the major faiths over that time span, analyzes the distinctive response of western religious institutions to national events, and shows how western cities became homes to a variety of organized faiths that cast only faint shadows back east. While many historians have minimized the importance of religion for the region, Szasz maintains that it lies at the very heart of the western experience. From the 1890s to the 1920s, churches and synagogues created institutions such as schools and hospitals that shaped their local communities; during the Great Depression, the Latter-day Saints introduced their innovative social welfare system; and in later years, Pentecostal groups carried their traditions to the Pacific coast and Southern Baptists (among others) set out in earnest to evangelize the Far West. Beginning in the 1960s, the arrival of Asian faiths, the revitalization of evangelical Protestantism, the ferment of post-Vatican II Catholicism, the rediscovery of Native American spirituality, and the emergence of New Age sects combined to make western cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco among the most religiously pluralistic in the world. Examining the careers of key figures in western religion, from Rabbi William Friedman to Reverend Robert H. Schuller, Szasz balances specific and general trends to weave the story of religion into a wider social and cultural context. Religion in the Modern American West calls attention to an often overlooked facet of regional history and broadens our understanding of the American experience.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Commentators on the contemporary American West rarely even glance at how religion has affected cultural life in the region. In an invaluable addition to the Modern American West series, Szasz redresses this deficiency, conveying the unexpected vitality and the confusing complexity of religious traditions in a region dominated by no one faith but shared by many faiths. The absence of a hegemonic tradition compounds the difficulty of piecing together a coherent narrative, but Szasz meets the challenge, telling his many-stranded story with a richness of both anecdotal and sociological detail. From the universal social concerns that built church hospitals, orphanages, and schools in the early 1900s to the widespread controversies over sexual politics and evolution in the 1990s, Szasz carefully disentangles the impulses that have alternately united and divided western religionists. Along the way, we learn about religious manifestations (Mormon, Native American, New Age, Buddhist, and Islamic) far more prominent in the West than in other areas of the country. A vitally important volume for anyone wanting to understand the strange kaleidoscope of beliefs west of Omaha. --Bryce Christensen

Library Journal Review

For Western historian Szasz (history, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque), Western American history dates from 1890 and begins along the 100th meridian, a geographic alignment infamous for its aridity and geologic splendor. In broad sweeps, Szasz follows a chronological presentation of loosely themed topics arranged around religious faiths, personalities, and general Western religiosity. Lucidly presented, the vision here is more comprehensive than analytical. Szasz takes pains to present the unique character of Western American religious practice, marked as it is by a mixture of frontier spirit, utopian questing, a certain religious consumerism, and a philosophical eclecticism tied to a secular mind-set that thirsts after an individualistic social orderDan apt water metaphor that Szasz never really follows through on. The comprehensive footnotes and bibliography make this especially worthwhile as a research tool. Recommended.DSandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The value of this book lies not only in its readability and scope, but in its innovation. For too long the unique culture and religious expression of the American West have been neglected by scholars of American religious history. With this book, Szasz (history, Univ. of New Mexico) provides an important correction to that deficit. His volume is concise yet amazingly comprehensive in its inclusion of the important movements, personalities, and issues unique to religion in the American West. The thesis is that, while the American West was certainly a participant in the various religious trends within the broader American culture, westerners nevertheless had their own unique way of participating in and responding to those trends. The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 covers the period from the 1890s to the 1920s. Part 2 covers the middle decades of the 20th century. Part 3 covers the era from 1960 to the present. Each section is divided into three chapters. This book features good documentation, an excellent bibliography, and a helpful index. It is a must for the libraries of all scholars of American religious history. Recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above. G. Jonas Campbell University

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xvii
Part I The 1890s to the 1920s
1 The Western "Gospel in the World"p. 3
2 Religious Life in the Urban and Rural Westp. 23
3 Varieties of Religious Leadershipp. 49
Part II The 1920s to the 1960s
4 Religion in the West of the 1920s and 1930sp. 71
5 Western Religious Life of the 1940s and 1950sp. 95
6 Western Religious Personalitiesp. 111
Part III The 1960s to the Present
7 Western Religion Confronts the Modern Worldp. 127
8 Western Religion as Public Controversyp. 147
9 Religious Personalities of the Modern Westp. 163
Epiloguep. 193
Notesp. 199
Selected Bibliographyp. 231
Indexp. 241