From Publishers Weekly
Many historians have focused ad nauseam on the most extreme religious movements of the 1960s, dissecting these small groups but ignoring larger trends. Oppenheimer, a staff writer for the Christian Century, asks a more provocative question of the 20th century's most radical decade: how did the 1960s influence ordinary people in mainstream religious traditions? As he shows in this competent, accessible study, people in "mainline" religions were deeply and irrevocably changed by the revolutions of the 1960s. (Oppenheimer uses the moniker "the 1960s" to denote a period that includes much of the 1970s, and he is sensitive to the transformations within this brief but tumultuous historical era: 1969, he reminds us at one point, was very different than 1974.) A rather bland opening chapter traces the bloodless revolution that led to the Unitarians' creating an Office of Gay Concerns in the early 1970s, while a second, more compelling, chapter discusses the stunning changes in Roman Catholic worship that resulted from the concurrent forces of Vatican II reforms and the rise of American folk music. Oppenheimer then traces the growth of Jewish havurot-small, communal gatherings of mostly young and urban Jews-and makes a compelling case that these Jews were deeply influenced by observing the Black Panthers, whose example prompted them to self-identify as a proud ethnic minority group. The author next examines the Episcopalians' battles over women's ordination in the 1970s and the responses of progressive Southern Baptists to the Vietnam War. American religion, Oppenheimer persuasively shows, is surprisingly flexible, incorporating dissent and welcoming new ideas.
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*Starred Review* Much hyped by the media, the cults and communes of the 1960s--with their exotic farragoes of sex, drugs, and Zen mysticism--never merited the attention they received. So argues cultural historian Oppenheimer, who finds the real story of '60s religion not among the relatively few devotees of psychedelic gurus but rather among the millions belonging to previously staid religious denominations. These denominations, Oppenheimer shows, responded to the turmoil of the era with startling and permanent changes in their forms of worship and in the character of their clergy. Thus, Episcopalians acceded to feminist demands by ordaining women; Unitarians permitted gay activists to receive church funding; Catholics abandoned Latin and discovered the guitar; Jews left the synagogue to pray in their living rooms--or in the woods. While he sees a loosening of discipline throughout American religion during the '60s, Oppenheimer perceptively distinguishes between, for instance, the aesthetic acceptance of countercultural reform in Catholic liturgy, on the one hand, which left traditional metaphysical and moral doctrines intact, and the thoroughgoing counterculturalism in Unitarianism, on the other hand, which opened the sanctuary to self-identified pagans and amoralists. As the country's metamorphosed religious communities continue to weigh in on diverse social issues, readers will turn to this book for context and understanding. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved