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The Making of Working-Class Religion$
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Matthew Pehl

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780252040429

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252040429.001.0001

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Power, Politics, and the Struggle over Working-Class Religion, 1910–1938

Power, Politics, and the Struggle over Working-Class Religion, 1910–1938

(p.55) 2. Power, Politics, and the Struggle over Working-Class Religion, 1910–1938
The Making of Working-Class Religion

Matthew Pehl

University of Illinois Press

This chapter studies the labor question brought about by the massive social changes unleashed by industrial, corporate capitalism, and rapid urbanization. This “labor question,” as historian Steve Fraser aptly puts it, was “not merely the supreme economic question but the constitutive moral, political, and social dilemma of the new industrial order.” Indeed, the growth of a seemingly permanent class of urban wage earners, condemned to toil on the fringes of middle-class security, domesticity, and morality, threatened to undermine the very promises of democratic life. Influenced by Progressivism in political culture and modernism in religious culture, American religious leaders of the late nineteenth century began to outline a response to the labor question, which they came to call the “social gospel.” Middle-class proponents of the social gospel critiqued labor exploitation and hoped to bring a measure of peace and justice to the factory, but they also criticized working-class religion itself as culturally primitive and socially destructive.

Keywords:   labor question, new industrial order, urban wage earners, Progressivism, modernism, social gospel, labor exploitation, working-class religion

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