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Everyday infidels: a social history of secularism in the postwar Pacific Northwest

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dc.contributor.author Block, Tina Marie
dc.date.accessioned 2010-01-29T22:00:27Z
dc.date.available 2010-01-29T22:00:27Z
dc.date.copyright 2006 en
dc.date.issued 2010-01-29T22:00:27Z
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/1828/2125
dc.description.abstract Together, British Columbia and Washington State have constituted a uniquely secular region. Residents of the Pacific Northwest were (and are) far more likely than their counterparts elsewhere to reject or ignore religious institutions, and religion itself. Historians have devoted little attention to this phenomenon. This dissertation draws on a wide range of manuscript, quantitative, and oral history sources to interrogate the nature and meanings of Northwest secularism in the years between 1950 and the early 1970s. Scholars have typically depicted secularism as something produced and disseminated within institutions and by cultural elites. Inspired by the rich literature on popular and lived religion, this study departs from convention and explores secularism at the social and everyday level. It does not reveal any coherent doctrine of secularism, nor does it suggest that the Pacific Northwest was a region of atheists. Just as church involvement is not the sole measure of religiosity, atheism is not the singular expression of secularity. Northwesterners were secular in multiple, ambiguous, and contested ways - ways that did not exclude encounters with the sacred. This dissertation traces certain widely shared elements of secularism in the postwar Pacific Northwest, including an indifference towards organized religion, and ambivalence around personal religion and belief. Influenced by normative ideas of race. class, gender. and family, postwar religious and cultural commentators blamed the distinct irreligion of the Northwest on single, working-class men in the region. Northwest secularism also tended to be constructed as a problem particular to whites in the region. In rejecting religion. white Northwesterners were seen as contravening dominant expectations of respectable whiteness. This study argues that Northwest irreligion was broadly based rather than anchored to a particular demographic group within the region. It challenges the assumption that secularity had little to do with women, the middle classes. and families. At the same time, this study also contends that class, race, gender, and family shaped and differentiated the meanings and experiences of religion and irreligion. For example. white, middle-class women in the Pacific Northwest were far less committed to organized religion, and religion itself, than their counterparts in other regions. However, in everyday life, secular women confronted and struggled against entrenched ideals of feminine and middle-class piety. On the other hand, working-class men were freer to behave in non-religious ways, since for them this behaviour conformed to, rather than contradicted, class and masculine norms. For men and women from all social locations, the deepest tensions around religion emerged in relations with family. The ambivalent secularism of the Northwest took shape in ordinary households, as people worked to reconcile their own secular impulses with family demands and expectations. Although they were secular in different ways, all social groups helped to produce and sustain the distinct irreligion of the Northwest. This dissertation argues that certain historical, demographic, and imaginative factors combined to broaden the possibilities for rejecting or avoiding religion in this cross-border region. While the region has been, and remains, a place of abundant spiritual energies, over time irreligion has become entwined in the myths and expectations of Northwest culture. This dissertation highlights the neglected intersections between geography and religion, and demonstrates the importance of place to secular and religious practice and identity. en
dc.language English eng
dc.language.iso en en
dc.rights Available to the World Wide Web en
dc.subject secularism en
dc.subject Washington State en
dc.subject British Columbia en
dc.subject.lcsh UVic Subject Index::Humanities and Social Sciences::History::Canada--History en
dc.subject.lcsh UVic Subject Index::Humanities and Social Sciences::History::United States--History en
dc.title Everyday infidels: a social history of secularism in the postwar Pacific Northwest en
dc.type Thesis en
dc.contributor.supervisor Marks, Lynne Sorrel
dc.degree.department Dept. of History en
dc.degree.level Doctor of Philosophy Ph.D. en


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