Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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A movement principally within liberal Protestantism during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that sought to apply the principles of "real Christianity" or "the religion of Jesus" to ameliorate the problems of the poor and working classes, particularly as a result of industrialization and urbanization.

Although the precise connections are complex, this movement had a direct impact on the development of sociology; it also had connections to Christian socialism, particularly in Europe. American leaders included Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch. In academic settings, Social Gospel principles were taught under such headings as "Applied Christianity," "Practical Christianity," and "Christian Sociology." In the United States, the principles of the movement tended to be adopted in secularized form in both the organized labor movement and New Deal legislation. In Europe, Max Weber initially worked with the Evangelical Social Movement, as it was called there, but withdrew as the movement increasingly became a political party.

In terms of the development of American religious history, the Social Gospel movement in many ways inherited the mantle of abolitionism as the "conscience of the nation" but now focused its attention primarily on the rapidly industrializing North. Factory working conditions and the treatment of immigrants, particularly with regard to housing and sanitation, became major concerns. These were sometimes aligned with, other times set in contrast to, the rising temperance movement, but as a whole were a part of the progressivist agenda. Over time, the Social Gospel agenda became a major factor in the division between conservatives and liberals in U.S. Protestantism particularly, and to some extent this is still so. A major shift occurred beginning in the 1970s, however, as conservatives, who previously eschewed involvement in "politics" as being in conflict with their core mission of the redemption of individual "souls," developed a social agenda of their own, focused especially on opposition to abortion and advocacy of school prayer.

See also Christian Sociology, Progressivism

William H. Swatos, Jr .


P. Kivisto and W. H. Swatos, Jr., "Max Weber as 'Christian Sociologist,'" Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 30(1991):347-362

W. Rauschenbusch, "The Ideals of Social Reformers," American Journal of Sociology 2(1896):202-219

W. H. Swatos, Jr., Faith of the Fathers (Bristol, Ind.: Wyndham Hall Press, 1984).


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