A "Judeo-Christian" America? Competing Visions of a Nation in Turmoil


A "Judeo-Christian" America? Competing Visions of a Nation in Turmoil

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020  •  1:30pm  •  The University Club  •  ASU Tempe Campus

From the podiums and pulpits of politicians and pastors, “Judeo-Christian” is a term that is frequently used to invoke a sense of inclusion. Despite its commonplace use, it is also a term conveniently used to mask a history of conflict and exclusion.

Beginning with its widespread adoption in the 1930s, Judeo-Christian terminology has carried two different meanings. Its virtue lay in its seeming promotion of inclusivity and religious pluralism, principles that were used to help shaped arguments about the nature of democracy during the Cold War. But the use of the term could also signal a dangerous exclusivity, one that has been used to mask internal anti-Semitism and to send a message to the world about the relationship between Christianity and democracy. Today, its influence continues, serving as a marker of the culture wars that persist.

In her talk, K. Healan Gaston (Harvard Divinity School) will challenge the myth of monolithic Judeo-Christian America, arguing that the term, which claims to promote inclusiveness, actually promotes narrow conceptions of religion, secularism, and politics. By taking a deep dive into the origin and implementation of the term, Gaston will unpack how imagining America as a Judeo-Christian nation has influenced politics in the 20th and 21st centuries. Join us in exploring these and other questions:

  • How has Judeo-Christian terminology shaped our understandings of American identity, as well as our religious and political culture?
  • How has the Judeo-Christian construct been used as a weapon that promotes anti-Semitic agendas?
  • How can seemly inclusive language be mobilized for anti-egalitarian purposes?
  • What lessons can be learned by unpacking religious and political language as tools that promote inclusion or exclusion?

Join us for this timely and important conversation.

Reception and book signing to follow
Free and open to the public, but RSVPs are kindly requested



About the speaker:

K. Healan Gaston is Lecturer on American Religious History and Ethics at Harvard Divinity School for 2019–20. She is the author of Imagining Judeo-Christian America: Religion, Secularism, and the Redefinition of Democracy (University of Chicago Press), the first comprehensive study of “Judeo-Christian” constructions of American democracy and national identity. She is currently writing a second book—part history and part ethics—that circles outward from a fascinating intellectual relationship between two leading mid-twentieth-century thinkers who also happened to be brothers: the Christian ethicist and public intellectual Reinhold Niebuhr and his younger brother, the theologian and ethicist H. Richard Niebuhr. Her work on this project builds on a remarkable set of previously unknown letters between the Niebuhr brothers that Gaston discovered in the HDS archives in 2008. A former president of the Niebuhr Society, Gaston also served as a senior advisor to the filmmaker Martin Doblmeier on his recent documentary Reinhold Niebuhr: An American Conscience. Before coming to HDS, she taught in Harvard’s Social Studies and Freshman Seminar programs. A specialist in the history of religious thought, ethics, and theology, Gaston teaches courses on religion’s roles in the intellectual, cultural, and political history of the United States, focusing especially on how that history speaks to the ethical dilemmas we face in a diverse society. Her interests include religious pluralism, secularism and secularization, religion and the law, the ethno-religious and religio-racial dimensions of American experience, interfaith religions, and religion's changing place in an increasingly global, corporate, and digital age.



Tuesday, January 28, 2020 • 1:30pm
The University Club • ASU Tempe Campus