Event—Scholarly Seminars

Elesha Coffman, Baylor University


Margaret Mead vs Christian Nationalism, Elesha Coffman, Baylor University

The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead was alarmed by news of a “Spiritual Defense Parade” planned for October 1941, so she asked a fellow social scientist, her mother, to investigate. This quirky episode in American religious history merits attention for three reasons. One, the investigation offers a snapshot of American Protestantism before postwar restructuring. Two, Mead’s alarm opens a window on religious concerns within wartime anthropology, an understudied topic. Three, since January 6, 2021, many Americans have posited that Christian nationalism poses a grave threat to the social order, while civil religion offers resources for healing the breach. A look back at the early 1940s demonstrates how hard it is to disentangle those modes of public religiosity.

Respondent: Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin