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Review products

David A.Hollinger, Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017)

MelaniMcAlister, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018)

Ronit Y.Stahl, Enlisting Faith: How the Military Chaplaincy Shaped Religion and State in Modern America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 April 2019

Department of History, University of Wisconsin, Madison E-mail:


The study of US foreign relations (what is now often called “America and the World”) has been in a protracted “religious turn” for at least a decade. One of the most prominent statements of the turn was Andrew Preston's article in Diplomatic History from 2006, “Bridging the Gap between the Sacred and the Secular in the History of American Foreign Relations.” Preston, a trained diplomatic historian who made an indelible contribution to the turn with his later Sword of Spirit, Shield of Strength: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (2012), called for “paying more attention” to religion in the field of American foreign relations. More precisely he urged historians to make of religion “a systematic rubric under which various moments in the history of American foreign relations, or the whole history itself, can be analyzed and explained.”

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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1 Preston, Andrew, “Bridging the Gap between the Sacred and the Secular in the History of American Foreign Relations,” Diplomatic History 30/5 (2006), 783812CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For later discussions of the same turn see Shah, Timothy Samuel, Stepan, Alfred C., and Toft, Monica Duffy, eds., Rethinking Religion and World Affairs (New York, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sterk, Andrea and Caputo, Nina, Faithful Narratives: Historians, Religion, and the Challenge of Objectivity (Ithaca, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Scanlon, Sandra, “Determining Cause and Effect: Religion in the Study of United States Foreign Relations,” Journal of American Studies 51/1 (2017), 226–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Turek, Lauren, “An Outpouring of the Spirit: A Historiography of Recent Works on Religion and U.S. Foreign Relations,” Passport: The Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations Review 48/2 (2017), 2532Google Scholar.

2 Preston, “Bridging the Gap,” 790–91. Preston acknowledges previous attempts to look at the intersection of religious and US foreign relations, including Patricia Hill, R., “Religion as a Category of Diplomatic Analysis,” Diplomatic History 24/4 (2000), 633–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 See recent work on the Cold War, which has increasingly pointed to religious factors to explain US policies. For example, Inboden, William, Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945–1960: The Soul of Containment (Cambridge, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Herzog, Jonathan P., The Spiritual–Industrial Complex: America's Religious Battle against Communism in the Early Cold War (New York, 2011)Google Scholar; and Steding, William, Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy: Jimmy Carter t Disciple and Ronald Reagan the Alchemist (Basingstoke, 2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Hollinger's Protestants Abroad received a dedicated panel at the 2017 SHAFR conference; McAlister's The Kingdom of God Has No Borders will have a dedicated panel at the 2019 SHAFR conference.

5 Hollinger, Protestants Abroad, 22.

6 See, for example, Hunt, Michael, “What's in a Name?Diplomatic History 41/2 (2017), 237–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 The cited works throughout this essay attest to a broad range of both diplomatic and nondiplomatic historians attributing explanatory power to religion. For a dissenting view see Ribuffo, Leo, “Religion and American Foreign Policy: The Story of a Complex Relationship,” National Interest 52 (1998), 3651Google Scholar. Ribuffo was skeptical of the explanatory power of religion even before the religious turn began, concluding (at 48, original emphasis) that religion had “a limited impact” and that “although religious interest groups at home and religious issues abroad have affected foreign policy, no major diplomatic decision has turned on religious issues alone.” For a range of contemporary views see the recent H-Diplo (19/19 (2018)) roundtable on Walter McDougall's The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest, at

8 Hollinger, David, After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History (Princeton, 2013)Google Scholar.

9 Hollinger, Protestants Abroad, 298.

10 The tensions at the center of Protestants Abroad are evident in recent work on nineteenth-century American missionaries, including Makdisi, Ussama, Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East (Ithaca, 2008)Google Scholar; Sharkey, Heather J., American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire (Princeton, 2008)Google Scholar; Dogan, Mehmet Ali and Sharkey, Heather J., eds., American Missionaries and the Middle East: Foundational Encounters (Salt Lake City, 2011)Google Scholar; and Conroy-Krutz, Emily, Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic (Ithaca, 2015)Google Scholar.

11 Hollinger, Protestants Abroad, 1.

12 Woodberry, Robert D., “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy,” American Political Science Review 1062 (2012), 244–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Woodberry, , “Reclaiming the M-Word: The Legacy of Missions in Nonwestern Societies,” Review of Faith & International Affairs 4/1 (2006), 312CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 See Hutchison, William, Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions (Chicago, 1993)Google Scholar; and, for a regional perspective, the classic Grabill, Joseph L., Protestant Diplomacy and the Near East: Missionary Influence on American Policy, 1810–1927 (Minneapolis, 1971)Google Scholar.

14 Hollinger, Protestants Abroad, 115. On secular and religious categories in US foreign relations see also Thompson, Michael, For God and Globe: Christian Internationalism in the United States between the Great War and the Cold War (Ithaca, 2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Burnidge, Cara, A Peaceful Conquest: Woodrow Wilson, Religion, and the New World Order (Chicago, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 The relationship between Protestantism and secularism has preoccupied scholars in religious studies and religious history far more than it has historians of America and the world. See, for example, Lofton, Kathryn, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon, 1st edn (Berkeley, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Modern, John Lardas, Secularism in Antebellum America (Chicago, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For work that does address US foreign relations see Mark Edwards, God in the Think Tank: Faith and Foreign Affairs in the American Century (forthcoming from Lexington Press).

16 See, for example, Kieser, Hans-Lukas, Nearest East: American Millennialism and Mission to the Middle East (Philadelphia, 2010)Google Scholar; Jacobs, Matthew F., Imagining the Middle East: The Building of an American Foreign Policy, 1918–1967 (Chapel Hill, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and the forthcoming Fields, David P., Foreign Friends: Syngman Rhee, American Exceptionalism, and the Division of Korea (Lexington, 2019)Google Scholar; and Sutton, Matthew, Double Crossed: The Missionaries Who Spied for the United States during the Second World War (New York, 2019)Google Scholar.

17 Hollinger, Protestants Abroad, 93.

18 McAlister, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders, 5.

19 Ibid., esp. 159–74.

20 Ibid., 105–7.

21 For overviews of these more conventual evangelical positions see Wilsey, John D., American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea (Downers Grove, IL, 2015)Google Scholar; Amstutz, Mark R., Evangelicals and American Foreign Policy (Oxford, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 See Swartz, David R., Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (Philadelphia, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Lauren Turek, To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelicals, Human Rights, and U.S. Foreign Relations (forthcoming from Cornell University Press).

23 See, for example, Su, Anna, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power (Cambridge, MA, 2016)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hurd, Elizabeth Shakman, Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion (Princeton, 2015)Google Scholar; and Carenen, Caitlin, The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel (New York, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

24 McAlister, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders, 290.

25 Stahl also discusses the importance of American civil religion, an issue also recently studied by Haberski, Raymond J., God and War: American Civil Religion since 1945 (New Brunswick, NJ, 2012)Google Scholar.

26 Stahl, Enlisting Faith, 5.

27 Ibid., 6.

28 See, for example, Zeiler, Thomas W., “The Diplomatic History Bandwagon: A State of the Field,” Journal of American History 95/4 (2009), 1053–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also the draft paper by Daniel Bessner and Fredrik Logevall, “Deprovincializing the United States: The History of the U.S. in the World after the International and Transnational Turns,” delivered at the Ideas between Political Cultures and Cultural Politics Workshop, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Nov. 2018.

29 Stahl, Enlisting Faith, 280 n. 28.

30 See, for example, some of the work on display in Johns, Andrew L. and Lerner, Mitchell B., eds., The Cold War at Home and Abroad: Domestic Politics and US Foreign Policy since 1945 (Lexington, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.