by Robert Ellwood
Rutgers University Press, 1997
t was the first full post-war and post-depression decade, a decade we often look upon with nostalgia, but for those who were there a time of anxiety and confusion as well as (for some) unprecedented affluence. For America's religions, particularly the famous "three faiths" -- Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism -- the 1950s were a time of building and growth, of theologians and preachers who were household names, and of the last years of pre-Vatican II style Roman Catholicism. Yet for thoughtful people religion in the Fifties was full of problems and paradoxes: in years of seeming spiritual abundance, they were asking how churches and temples should respond to communism and the cold war, to McCarthyism and Korea, to troubled young people and to the rising racial crisis. And of course there were nonconformist spiritual responses: the "Beats" and existentialists, the pacifists and Ayn Rand "objectivists."
In this book I try to present in a balanced way the broad panorama of Fifties religion, from a look at the life of grassroots parishes, to the response of religious leaders to the various crises of the decade, to the Beat and off-beat spiritualities. Forget the stereotypes of the decade and of Fifties religion: it was an immensely varied, conflicted, exciting, and -- yes -- atypical period. Join me in an exploration of its spiritual intricacies in this book. And I'd like to know what you think of it.