God in Gotham' Review: Spires and Skyscrapers - WSJ

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

8:00 – 9:30 PM EST (7:00 – 8:30 PM CST)

In the lead-up to the ASCH 2021 Virtual Winter Meeting, ASCH and the University of Minnesota History Book Club are pleased to co-host an online discussion of Jon Butler’s new book, God in Gotham. Butler’s work traces the flourishing of organized religion in Manhattan between the 1880s and the 1960s, revealing how faith adapted and thrived in the supposed capital of American secularism.

Participants

John McGreevy
Introduction & Moderator
John H. McGreevy
(Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame)
Discussant
Wallace D. Best
(Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Princeton University)
Deborah Dash Moore
Discussant
Deborah Dash Moore
(Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and Judaic Studies, University of Michigan)
Thomas Tweed
Discussant
Thomas Tweed
(Harold and Martha Welch Professor American Studies and Professor of History, University of Notre Dame)
Jon Butler's picture
Response
Jon Butler
(Howard R. Lamar Professor Emeritus of American Studies, History, & Religious Studies, Yale University, and Research Professor of History, University of Minnesota)

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About the Book

Jon Butler, God in Gotham: The Miracle of Religion in Modern Manhattan. 2020

Harvard University Press

In Gilded Age Manhattan, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant leaders agonized over the fate of traditional religious practice amid chaotic and multiplying pluralism. Massive immigration, the anonymity of urban life, and modernity’s rationalism, bureaucratization, and professionalization
seemingly eviscerated the sense of religious community.

Yet fears of religion’s demise were dramatically overblown. Jon Butler finds a spiritual hothouse in the supposed capital of American secularism. By the 1950s Manhattan was full of the sacred. Catholics, Jews, and Protestants peppered the borough with sanctuaries great and small. Manhattan became a center of religious publishing and broadcasting and was home to august spiritual reformers from Reinhold Niebuhr to Abraham Heschel, Dorothy Day, and Norman Vincent Peale. A host of white nontraditional groups met in midtown hotels, while black worshippers gathered in Harlem’s storefront churches. Though denied the ministry almost everywhere, women shaped the lived religion of congregations, founded missionary societies, and, in organizations such as the Zionist Hadassah, fused spirituality and political activism. And after 1945, when Manhattan’s young families rushed to New Jersey and Long Island’s booming suburbs, they recreated the religious institutions that had shaped their youth.

God in Gotham portrays a city where people of faith engaged modernity rather than foundered in it. Far from the world of “disenchantment” that sociologist Max Weber bemoaned, modern Manhattan actually birthed an urban spiritual landscape of unparalleled breadth, suggesting that modernity enabled rather than crippled religion in America well into the 1960s.

About the Author

Jon Butler is Howard R. Lamar Emeritus Professor of American Studies, History, and Religious Studies at Yale University and Research Professor of History at the University of Minnesota.

His previous books include the Los Angeles Times bestseller Becoming America and the prizewinning Awash in a Sea of Faith and The Huguenots in America. He is a past president of the Organization of American Historians. Butler grew up in rural Minnesota and earned his B.A. (1964) and Ph.D. (1972) from the University of Minnesota.

In 2006 he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causis, from the University of Minnesota.

Read Butler’s full bio.

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