Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Robert Wuthnow's "Red-State Religion"

Robert Wuthnow, a native of Kansas, teaches sociology and directs the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. He is the author of many books about American religion and culture, most recently Remaking the Heartland: Middle America since the 1950s.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Red State Religion lands the reader squarely in the middle of a fight for control of the Republican Party. The year is 1900. Old-guard Republicans have dominated the party since the Civil War through closed primaries and generous patronage. They are mostly veterans and age is now thinning their ranks. The challengers are anti-boss Republicans, younger, better educated, and intent on broadening the party’s base. They favor open primaries and greater efficiency in government agencies.

The anti-boss Republicans win. But it has taken the Populism movement of the 1890s to stir the party into action. It will be 1924 before the party’s new face is firmly in place. Meanwhile a third faction of law and order Republicans puts their agenda on the table. It leads to ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 – Prohibition.

The major players on page 99 are Mort Albaugh and David W. Mulvane. Hardly anyone is likely to recognize their names. This is a fight for control of the Republican Party in Kansas.

In those years Kansas routinely made headlines that readers on both coasts and in many places in between cared about. Eastern banks were making a killing on high interest loans to Kansas farmers. It mattered that many of the farms were in foreclosure. Advocates were fighting tooth and nail over Prohibition. Methodists’ strength in the heartland radiated in every direction.

Red State Religion tells the story of faith and politics in Kansas from Abraham Lincoln’s visit in 1859 to the murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in 2009. The story explains how Republicans proved themselves nearly invincible decade after decade. It chronicles how Methodists and Roman Catholics contended for souls. At every juncture there are surprises. Suffragist Susan B. Anthony wages a courageous battle for women’s suffrage. William Allen White takes on the Ku Klux Klan. Congregationalist minister Charles Sheldon plays an unwitting role in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. A sit-in in Wichita leads to the better-known one in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The story demonstrates that politics is indeed local. One of the nation’s most extended battles over creationism comes into focus here in the heartland. So does the decades-long struggle over abortion that included hundreds of protests, thousands of arrests, and the death of a doctor one Sunday morning at a Wichita church.
Learn more about Red State Religion at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue