The Fate of Religious Liberalism

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Fri, 06/01/1984
End Date: 
Sun, 05/31/1987

Robert Michaelsen and Phillip Hammond of the University of California at Santa Barbara directed a study on “The Fate of Religious Liberalism” that investigated the decline of American Protestantism evident in the mainline denominations since the mid 1960s. The study surveyed the manner in which the denominations addressed the important socio-political issues of the period and analyzed their approach in resolving these issues. Professors Michaelsen and Hammond took Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation of American religious life as their point of departure: “Each sect worships God in its own fashion…, all preach the same morality.” Michaelsen and Hammond contended that as long as the same morality prevailed in liberal Protestantism, the churches flourished; however, since the 1960s the moral consensus had crumbled, exposing a “floundering religio-political situation” and ethical relativism among the denominations. <p> The study’s method involved a textual analysis of the mainline denominational periodicals since 1965. The directors, together with two graduate assistants, focused their research on how the denominations addressed the most problematic and ambiguous issues of the day such as immigration, new religious movements, abortion and euthanasia, homosexuality, and government sponsored public piety among others. Michaelsen and Hammond communicated their findings through a conference convened in the Spring of 1985. Michaelsen and Wade Clark Roof published the conference proceedings in their book Liberal Protestantism: Realities and Possibilities (Pilgrim Press, 1986).