The Newberry Seminar in American Religious History
Co-Sponsored by the University of Chicago Divinity School and the University of Illinois at Chicago
Thursday, February 12, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm
"'Dominies and Doughboys:' The Great War, Religious Authority, and the American Fighting Man"
Jonathan Ebel, University of Chicago
This paper examines American soldiers' understandings of religious authority during their involvement in the Great War. During the most intense fighting America had endured since 1864, the spiritual shepherds of America's soldiers found their legitimacy questioned by the sheep. In attempting to bring men to Christianity in the four decades preceding the war, American clergymen had forged a Christian ideal that placed physicality and vigor, above theological education, pastoral service, and other allegedly sissified, overcivilized pursuits. As a result, even the coarsest man fighting and dying in France for the cause of civilization surpassed the chaplain and religious aid worker as an imitator of Christ the man. Soldiers used masculine Christian teachings to fashion themselves as the true religious authorities of the Western Front, authorizing religious leadership, sorting religious essence from irrelevant accretion, and forging meaning when standard answers did not satisfy.
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