Preaching Eugenics

Preaching Eugenics : Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement

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With our success in mapping the human genome, the possibility of altering our genetic futures has given rise to difficult ethical questions. Although opponents of genetic manipulation frequently raise the specter of eugenics, our contemporary debates about bioethics often take place in a historical vacuum. In fact, American religious leaders raised similarly challenging ethical questions in the first half of the twentieth century. Preaching Eugenics tells how Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders confronted and, in many cases, enthusiastically embraced eugenics-a movement that embodied progressive attitudes about modern science at the time. Christine Rosen argues that religious leaders pursued eugenics precisely when they moved away from traditional religious tenets. The liberals and modernists-those who challenged their churches to embrace modernity-became the eugenics movement's most enthusiastic supporters. Their participation played an important part in the success of the American eugenics movement. In the early twentieth century, leaders of churches and synagogues were forced to defend their faiths on many fronts.
They faced new challenges from scientists and intellectuals; they struggled to adapt to the dramatic social changes wrought by immigration and urbanization; and they were often internally divided by doctrinal controversies among modernists, liberals, and fundamentalists. Rosen draws on previously unexplored archival material from the records of the American Eugenics Society, religious and scientific books and periodicals of the day, and the personal papers of religious leaders such as Rev. John Haynes Holmes, Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, Rev. John M. Cooper, Rev. John A. Ryan, and biologists Charles Davenport and Ellsworth Huntington, to produce an intellectual history of these figures that is both lively and illuminating. The story of how religious leaders confronted one of the era's newest "sciences," eugenics, sheds important new light on a time much like our own, when religion and science are engaged in critical and sometimes bitter dialogue.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 296 pages
  • 157.48 x 226.06 x 22.86mm | 612.35g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New
  • 019515679X
  • 9780195156799
  • 1,557,383

Review quote

"Far from being the exclusive property of the lunatic fringe, eugenics in its heyday was as mainstream as Progressive social reform. Indeed, as Christine Rosen demonstrates in this absorbing study, the most theologically liberal and socially concerned members of the American clergy-liberal Protestants, Reform Jews, and even a few socially minded Catholics-were precisely the ones most likely to embrace eugenics, out of a conviction that applied science could realize
their fondest hopes. Her surprising findings call into question the presumed linkage between science, liberal theology, and humane social policy, and raise questions of profound importance, not only to historians but to us all." -Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities,
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga "Preaching Eugenics tells a story we need to hear today. We suppose that science and religion are at odds, but Christine Rosen recounts a story of considerable cooperation as the 'science' of eugenics developed in the early decades of the twentieth century. This is engagingly written narrative history at its best. Immersing us in an earlier time, it manages also to instruct us about the continuing lure of a eugenics that is today fostered less by
government than by the desires of our hearts."-Gilbert Meilaender, Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Professor of Theological Ethics, Valparaiso University "Henry Ford famously said that history is bunk. That statement was bunk, and no better evidence for that could be found than Christine Rosen's splendid, absorbing book Preaching Eugenics. She tells an almost unknown, but important, story: how American religion was caught up in the early-20th-century enthusiasm for eugenics. And too often the best people in the best churches. Science, even bad science, can capture religion, a point to keep squarely before our
eyes as we move into a new era of genetic medicine. Her book is an insightful telling of how that earlier era of genetics gained credibility, and suggestive of how it might happen again." -Daniel Callahan, Director of International Programs, The Hastings Center
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23 ratings
3.91 out of 5 stars
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4 48% (11)
3 30% (7)
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1 0% (0)
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