The "Christianization" of Israel and Jews in 1950s America

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Abstract

In the 1950s, the United States experienced a domestic religious revival that offered postwar Americans a framework to interpret the world and its unsettling international political problems. Moreover, the religious message of the cold war that saw the God-fearing West against atheistic communists encouraged an unprecedented ecumenism in American history. Jews, formerly objects of indifference if not disdain and hatred in the United States, were swept up in the ecumenical tide of "Judeo-Christian" values and identity and, essentially, "Christianized" in popular and political culture. Not surprisingly, these cultural trends affected images of the recently formed State of Israel. In the popular and political imagination, Israel was formed by the "Chosen People" and populated by prophets, warriors, and simple folk like those in Bible stories. The popular celebration of Israel also romanticized its people at the expense of their Arab (mainly Muslim) neighbors. Battling foes outside of the Judeo-Christian family, Israelis seemed just like Americans. Americans treated the political problems of the Middle East differently than those in other parts of the world because of the religious significance of the "Holy Land." A man such as Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who combined views of hard-nosed "realpolitik" with religious piety, acknowledged the special status of the Middle East by virtue of the religions based there. Judaism, part of the "Judeo-Christian civilization," benefitted from this religious consciousness, while Islam remained a religion and a culture apart. This article examines how the American image of Jews, Israelis, and Middle Eastern politics was re-framed in the early 1950s to reflect popular ideas of religious identity. These images were found in fiction, the press, and the speeches and writings of social critics and policymakers. The article explores the role of the 1950s religious revival in the identification of Americans with Jews and Israelis and discusses the rise of the popular understanding that "Judeo-Christian" values shaped American culture and politics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-147
Number of pages39
JournalReligion and American Culture
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Religious studies

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