Thursday, January 16, 2014

AHA Conference Review: Friday, January 3, 2014, 8:30-10:00

I arrived at the Washington Hilton on Thursday, but did not get much conference stuff done. After a run on the treadmill Friday morning, I got to my first panel, State Authority and Religious Pluralism: Debating Religion and in World War II America. Not exactly Gilded Age or Progressive Era stuff, but a topic that interested me and one that I thought might help me in my upcoming US History 2 (Civil War to present) survey course. As commander-in-chief President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted a generic religion comprised of Judeo-Christian moral and ethical principles as way of drawing a distinction between the US and our enemies. He did not have a horse in the race, so to speak, when it came to backing one religion over another, which opened ground in the middle for sectarian conflict.

In "The Free Exercise of Religion: Religion and the New Deal  Liberalism at War" G. Kurt Piehler described the emergence of the USO, its mission, and the sectarian conflicts among the different groups sponsoring it. I did not know anything about the USO before attending this panel. My assumption that it was solely a military organization established to provide some sort of entertainment to military personnel was way off base. It was a private-public partnership -- with religious groups providing the private sector portion -- to supply wholesome entertainment to troops. The various groups, however, remained suspicious of each other. Piehler noted his surprise that there was so much conflict between these groups.  Depending on the sect running a particular USO there could be some variation in what fit the description of "wholesome." Dancing and entertainment on Sunday seemed to be the points of variance.

In "Religious Freedoms Behind Barbed Wire: Worship in Japanese American Incarceration Camps" Anne Blankenship  examined religious life in the internment camps. She found that there was no effort to Christianize the internees. Instead, the government promoted freedom of religion within a certain spectrum. Shintoism, for example, was deemed a cult and prohibited. All non-Catholic Christian sects were lumped together as Protestant. Catholic, Protestant, and Buddhist formed the triumvirate of accepted religious options. In an effort to protect religious freedom inside the camps, administrators prevented proselytization from without. Blankenship argued that this policy, however well meaning, limited the religious diversity and hence freedom within the camp. It reduced the spectrum of choices, and hurt Catholics in particular.

In "Between Race and Religion: The Army's Approach to African American and Japanese American Chaplains in World War II" Ronit Stahl made an interesting comparison between two marginalized groups. Despite the Army's efforts, race and religion could not be seperated. The Army established a quota system to allocate chaplains among different groups. In their nomenclature "black" was a category, and the Army exerted significant energy recruiting black chaplains. To the contrary, there was only a weak effort to recruit Buddhist chaplains for Japanese units. A Lutheran chaplain served in the first Japanese regiment. When the second Japanese regiment was formed, however, a conscious effort was made to recruit a Buddhist chaplain. One candidate was identified, but he failed the medical examination. With no other candidate the unit did not get its Buddhist chaplain.

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