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Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement

by Christine Rosen (Author)



Editorial Reviews

Review
"Quite aside from the intellectual and religious arguments that Rosen canvases,
her book offers a panoply of colorful personalities (many of them appear in
portrait photographs) that help to show how eugenics was sold to the public. The
minibiographies of the eugenics star, so to speak, help to make this an
enteraining as well as an instructive work of scholarship." --Magill's Literary
Annual

"Preaching Eugenics is not simply revealing history, but an insightful
commentary on contemporary debates."--Claremont Review of Books

"...this book takes an important first step in grappling with the role that
religious leaders during the twentieth century played in public discussions
concerning the regulation of childbirth."--American Historical Review

"....as prophecy (of the Jeremiah sort) it shines. Whether you are spiritual or
secular, you might well join Ms. Rosen in wishing for a little more backbone
from our religious leaders, particularly as we reckon today with astounding
developments in biotechnology and genomics."--The Wall Street Journal

"At a time when stem-cell research, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and other
scientific marvels hold out the promise of dramatically reducing human
suffering, understanding the ambiguous relationship between science and religion
is a moral necessity. For that reason alone Rosen's book is a
must-read."--Commonweal

"[A] thoroughly researched study of the eugenic movement that gained such
ideological power in American thought between about 1900 and 1940."--Books and
Culture

"Considering the history of liberal religion's embrace of eugenics, this 'new
eugenics' once again threatens the vulnerable with the pernicious notion that
some human lives have greater moral value than others. Christine Rosen's
Preaching Eugenics could not be more relevant."--The Weekly Standard

"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

"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

"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

Product Description
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.


Product Details

Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (March 4, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 019515679X

 

 

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