by Emily Simpson*
On Thursday November 21, Oregon State’s School of History, Philosophy, and Religion was privileged to welcome esteemed scholar of American religious history Jon Butler as part of the Horning Lecture Series. His presentation God in Gotham is an interesting re-interpretation of the relationship between religious and secular aspects of life in New York City between the 1880s and 1960s. He provides a variety of evidence to upturn the common idea of New York City’s standing as the capital of American secularism–from the culture of various religious communities, changes in immigration patterns, to the prominence of well-known religious architecture within the city.
New York City is a critical example of a fundamental problem that Dr. Butler sees in interpreting the history of religion. How do we draw strict lines between what is a secular age and what is a religious age? To argue against the notion that the world of religion has fallen to secular society, Dr. Butler first re-evaluates the state of harmony that we often see when Western religious influence was at its peak-the medieval period. According to Dr. Butler, there has never been a point in history where religion was not a disputed issue. The total unity of ideas within medieval society is a myth.