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Jon Butler, “Manhattan: Modern America’s Spiritual Hothouse”

Tuesday, April 4 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

102 Weaver Building

The IAH Collaborative Colloquia and the Society for the Study of Religion  

Luther Harshbarger Lecture in Religious Studies

Jon Butler, Yale University

Jon Butler is Howard R. Lamar Professor Emeritus of American Studies, History, and Religious Studies at Yale University. He was Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from 2004-10, and among his many publications, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Harvard UP, 1990) which won the Beveridge Award for Best Book in American History.

Why as late as 1970 did Judy Blume use a religious title for her blockbuster adolescent novel about a newly suburbanized urban girl nearing puberty?—Are You Listening, God? It’s Me, Margaret. After all, both the birthplace and decade-long home of Blume’s antagonist Margaret — New York City — and the suburbs to which Margaret moved — New Jersey — had long since epitomized modern secularism in its various guises. Yet all of Margaret’s new suburban friends “had one” — a faith — and Margaret wanted one too, and at least as badly as she wanted to resolve her worries about puberty.

In “Are You Listening, God? It’s Me, Margaret: Transforming God in Modern Manhattan,” Jon Butler will describe how Margaret’s birthplace quietly blossomed as a twentieth-century spiritual seedbed. Better known as the capital of American secularism, New York became America’s most theologically innovative city — perhaps, the world’s — between 1890 and 1970. Figures such as Walter Rauschenbusch, Dorothy Day, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Norman Vincent Peale, Mordecai Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Joseph Soloveitchik, among others, transformed the ways Americans, not just New Yorkers, conceived God and the meaning of religion in a place and century more commonly associated with rising secularism. Was this just accidental, or did New York and their experience of it catalyze their transforming theologies?

Co-sponsors: Society for the Study of Religion, Institute for the Arts and Humanities, History Department, Richards Civil War Era Center.

 

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