Propagating the Divine: Protestant Modernism and the Rise of Anglo-American Eugenics Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Tornquist, Leif
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religious Studies
  • The socialization of eugenics in the United States at the turn-of-the-twentieth century was facilitated by transformations within Anglo-American Protestantism. Protestant modernism, a theological practice of interpreting providence in evolutionistic terms, contributed to affluent Anglo-Americans’ acceptance and endorsement of eugenic ideas and initiatives. Eugenics rose to prominence in middle class Anglo-America as influential liberal Protestants began to reconceive God as a deity who sought to realize his redemptive purposes through the propagation of a righteous race. This dissertation traces the intersections of modernist thought, on the one hand, and eugenic ideas, practices, and policies on the other, illustrating how the two developed hand-in-hand during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Theological modernism and Anglo-American eugenics converged through a propagative faith in the ability and authority of society to direct the hereditary sources of human life so as to ensure its Christian development. This analysis pursues its arguments by exploring the development of modernism as an evolutionistic faith. It begins with the works of two famous nineteenth century Anglo-American theologians who inaugurated the modernist tradition, Horace Bushnell and Henry Ward Beecher, and proceeds to consider the labors of influential twentieth century modernists like Shailer Mathews. It also considers the life and professional labors of America’s foremost eugenicist, Charles B. Davenport. The purpose is to demonstrate that while eugenics represented a modern scientific movement, its success in capturing public imagination and shaping public opinion in the United States intimately depended upon transformations within elite Anglo-American religiosity.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Styers, Randall
  • Maffly-Kipp, Laurie F.
  • Bivins, Jason
  • Saunders, Barry
  • Ochoa, Todd
  • Ariel, Yaakov
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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