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Imagining Judeo-Christian America

Religion, Secularism, and the Redefinition of Democracy

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

“Judeo-Christian” is a remarkably easy term to look right through. Judaism and Christianity obviously share tenets, texts, and beliefs that have strongly influenced American democracy. In this ambitious book, however, K. Healan Gaston challenges the myth of a monolithic Judeo-Christian America. She demonstrates that the idea is not only a recent and deliberate construct, but also a potentially dangerous one. From the time of its widespread adoption in the 1930s, the ostensible inclusiveness of Judeo-Christian terminology concealed efforts to promote particular conceptions of religion, secularism, and politics. Gaston also shows that this new language, originally rooted in arguments over the nature of democracy that intensified in the early Cold War years, later became a marker in the culture wars that continue today. She argues that the debate on what constituted Judeo-Christian—and American—identity has shaped the country’s religious and political culture much more extensively than previously recognized.

368 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2019

History: American History, History of Ideas

Religion: American Religions


“Magisterial and beautifully written. . . Gaston’s brilliant book uncovers not only a fascinating history, but also a powerful template used in conservative politics today.”

The New Republic

“In Imagining Judeo-Christian America, the historian K. Healan Gaston marshals an impressive array of sources to provide us with an account of the modern genesis of Judeo-Christian and its growing status as a “linguistic battlefield” on which conservatives and liberals proffered competing notions of America and its place in the world from the 1930s to the present.”

The Atlantic

“Essential. . . Richly textured and nuanced. . . A must read for aspiring politicians as well as religionists.”


"Gaston presses us to contemplate fundamental questions about American identity and democracy. Can Americans 'know who they are . . . without delineating who they are not?' She doesn’t provide definitive answers to such thorny questions, but she rightly warns us to ask how our 'fears and hatreds' shape the way we describe the United States. . . . Gaston’s book serves as both a patient prehistory of this moment and a necessary caution."

Christian Century

Imagining Judeo-Christian America deserves a very broad readership indeed. It will soon be canonical in a variety of fields: students interested in any aspect of religion in twentieth-century America will cite it, and many may pull on its threads for their own research projects. It introduces a vocabulary for thinking about religion and democracy in the United States that should become standard in journalism and in scholarly literature. Its narrative is handled with such skill and grace that it possesses a rare generative power.”


“An engrossing look at the evolving usage of this hyphenated rhetorical device in the twentieth century. . . . There is much to commend in this work.”

Modern Reformation

“In this long-awaited masterpiece, Gaston offers an extraordinary account of how the contested notion of Judeo-Christian America was formed and transformed. Thanks to astounding research and a compelling framework, she has made a permanent contribution to our understanding of the era straddling World War II, when the idea of Judeo-Christianity came into its own. A monumental achievement.”

Samuel Moyn, Yale University

“A breathtakingly innovative and expansive reappraisal of a political idiom at the center of this nation’s modern identity. With unmatched nuance and sophistication, Gaston shows how a concept of purported inclusivity has in fact fueled an unending battle over what the American religious character—and democracy itself—should look like. This is a masterful, paradigm-shifting work of history.”

Darren Dochuk, University of Notre Dame

“A tour de force of intellectual, religious, cultural, and political history, Imagining Judeo-Christian America offers a profound new explanation of modern America. Gaston illuminates the critical shift from post–World War II Judeo-Christianism to the religious right’s adoption of Judeo-Christian language, which has shaped the culture wars of the last four decades.”

Mark Silk, Trinity College

Table of Contents

Introduction    Dreaming America, Deciphering Judeo-Christianity

Part 1          The Genesis of America’s Judeo-Christian Discourse

1                      From Hebraic-Hellenic to Judeo-Christian: The Roots of a Discourse
2                      A Protestant Nation No More: Facing Religious Diversity between the Wars
3                      Democracy’s Tradition: The Emergence of a Religio-Political Category, 1931–1942      

Part 2          Secularism and the Redefinition of Democracy

4                      The Flowering of a Discourse: Defending Democracy in Wartime America, 1942–1945
5                      From World War to Cold War: Judeo-Christian Exceptionalism Ascendant, 1945–1950
6                      Fighting Godless Communism: Religion and Secularism in Judeo-Christian America, 1950–1955

Part 3          From Tri-faith to Multireligious America

7                      Secularism Reconsidered: Finding Exceptionalism’s Limits, 1955–1965    
8                      Judeo-Christian Visions under Fire: New Patterns of Pluralism, 1965–1975
9                      Multireligious Possibilities: Judeo-Christian Discourse in a Multicultural Age

Conclusion      The Future of Judeo-Christian Discourse: Beyond Multireligious America?

Bibliographic Essay

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