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Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement [Hardcover]

by Christine Rosen
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 4, 2004 019515679X 978-0195156799
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.

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Editorial Reviews


"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

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (March 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019515679X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195156799
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #644,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital to understanding the eugenics movement December 4, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Christine Rosen has addressed an important and before now neglected area of the study of eugenics--the role churches played in both its propagation and eventual destruction. For any student of the eugenics movement, or of American Christian history, this book is vital. It is very comprehensive and, given the excellent citations and bibliography, one of the most well researched books I have seen recently in any subject.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, Well Written but... March 7, 2008
This is a thorough, well-documented and engaging book on a subject that has been swept under the rug of American history and should be better understood and examined. The author does a brilliant job of bringing it to light.

The relation between science, religion and morality is extremely important and the eugenics movement, which sprang up almost in concert with Darwin's Descent of Man, (the founder of eugenics was Darwin's cousin, in fact) represents just how wrong they can all go. The book makes the point that if the Depression had not happened, forced sterilization of the "degenerate" may be accepted practice to this day, as it was by the late 1920s.

A few points, though.

First, I have no idea why the previous reviewer, Perry, repeatedly mentions Victoria Woodhull, since she nowhere appears in this book.

One flaw that I found disappointing is the complete absence of any discussion of race in this book. Only by outside reading have I been able to confirm that eugenics was at its core thoroughly racist.

Another is that the only clergy mentioned are of a liberal bent -there is little sense of how eugenics was received by more mainstream or conservative Christians. Unlike what the previous reviewer reports, there is no point in this book at which the eugenic debate is portrayed as like today's abortion/anti-abortion movement -the supporters seem all to be liberal and educated, and only one mention is made of fundamentalist opposition -and that was in opposition to compulsory sterilization, not to the essentially racist and classist nature of eugenics.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very weak about eugenics' fall June 11, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read this regular book, here in Brazil.This book has many useful parts.To example, on page 69, the author writes:"Cardinal Gibbons directly attacked the 1913 Wisconsin law and predicted, "Eugenics is a fad that is abound to pass with the rests of the fads."
There are problems with this book.The main problem is to be so weak, about the eugenics' fall.And there are some half-trues on this book.To example, on page 19:"Numerically, rabbis' participation in the eugenics movement was far lower than Protestants, but they were nonetheless, a significant presence, especially during the 1920s."
The author doesn't tells us, that nazism was the force broking the eugenics movement in USA, during the 1930s.American eugenics movement really fell in 1930s, but this happended because of Hitler, not because of rabbis or bible followers.
About adventist's founder, Mrs. Ellen G. White, there's just a line, almost nothing, about her link to a doctor.In fact, she was an eugenist and of course, a racist too.
As I told you, the main problem of this book is to be so weak, about eugenics' fall.
In fact, eugenics didn't fell.
Eugenics just exchange its name, from eugenics to mathusianism and then, to its new name today:ecology.Just new masks for the same thing:racism, prejudices, politics, stupidity,etc.
How linked are religious eugenists from the past, to religious abortionists of our times?This book has nothing, about this link.
Until the eugenics' fall, this book is good, but about eugenics' fall, it is very weak.
Even so, this remains a regular to good introduction, about this subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Worth a purchase just for the notes. October 7, 2013
You'll never look at a Mainline Preacher quite the same again after reading about this short and sad moment in Protestant (mostly) thought. About a third of the book is notes and it's worth the price just for that. Excellant read and worth purchasing.
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4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I haven't finished the book yet. I am determined to do so. But I find it tough to muddle through the obvious agenda which is to lay the blame for eugenics on liberal Christians, those who advocate for a social gospel, in other words, "not really Christian." This message is so heavy handed in the introduction, the afterword and the first two chapters, that her other points are lost. I am a special educator, very interested in the eugenics movement and expected a historical record. I was promised interesting character portrayals. Instead, so far, I get a condemnation of liberal Christianity. It is getting very old. I will try to persevere. Part II: I trudge painfully on. I ran a word search with my Kindle. The author uses the word liberal over 80 times. This is not a history of eugenics. If you knew little about the subject, you would probably be confused. This is a hatchet job on Liberal Christianity.
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