Cooperation or Conquest: Christian Masculinity in the Era of the Great War

Seth Dowland from Pacific Lutheran University is researching gender roles in American Christianity. He will be at MF for a week this fall, giving a guest lecture on the role of men in the Christian United States. The lecture is free and open for all.


12.09.2019 - 11:30 to 13:00

Seth Dowland will focus on the role of men in the Christian United States with a historical perspective. The lecture will go back to the end of the 109h century and the transition to the 20th century, and then to discussion about politics, sports, the ideal mean to today's debates. 

Read more about Seth's research here:

Lecture description: 
Muscular Christians believed that physical activity was essential to spiritual development, and they worried about the enervating effects of urbanization on white Protestant men. Reformers built YMCAs and encouraged men to engage in "the strenuous life." The apex of progressive era muscular Christianity coincided with the onset of the Great War in 1914. Even before the U.S. joined the Allied war effort in 1917, muscular Christians weighed in on the conflict, connecting the tactics of the battlefield to the strategies, disciplines, and teamwork they had developed for team sports. Key YMCA figures like Luther Gulick and Sherwood Eddy viewed the war and its aftermath as a providential opening for the spread of a just, democratic, and manly Christianity.

Desires for an international coalition of muscular Christians stood in tension with the ethos of conquest. This paradox surfaced in the YMCA-sponsored Inter-Allied Games in Paris, a 1919 Olympiad featuring veterans from twenty-nine Allied nations. The American muscular Christians who conceived and sponsored the games saw a linkage between fair play, sportsmanship, and democracy. They believed the event would lay the groundwork for a unified Europe. But their efforts were compromised by the ethos of conquest that lay at the heart of competition. The YMCA’s celebration of the games betrayed its confusion about the ultimate goal of sports: were they about cooperation or conquest?

The inability of progressive era muscular Christians to resolve this question led liberal Protestants to mute their promotion of "manly Christianity," even as more conservative groups took up the mantle of muscular Christianity.  A hard-edged Christian masculinity has surfaced in the U.S. recent decades, with little awareness of its linkages to century-old debates. This lecture will illustrate how careful study of progressive era muscular Christianity can illumine
contemporary manifestations of Christian masculinity.