Calvinism and Public Life: A Case Study of Western Pennsylvania 1900-1955

Open Access
Flynn, Jr., Tyler B.
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 08, 2006
Committee Members:
  • Gary Scott Cross, Committee Chair
  • On Cho Ng, Committee Member
  • John Philip Jenkins, Committee Member
  • Sanford Ray Schwartz, Committee Member
  • Joel Carpenter, Committee Member
  • modern America
  • social reform
  • religion
Using Pittsburgh’s Presbyterian community as a case study, this dissertation argues that American political and religious behavior in modern times has been complex, variegated, and has rarely conformed to simple categorization. Although scholars have described this religious and economic elite as primarily a foe of significant social reform in twentieth-century Pittsburgh, close examination of their religious writings indicates otherwise. Members of this religious subculture, on the contrary, expressed a wide range of perspectives concerning their duty to public life ranging from strongly pro-business to strongly in sympathy with labor. The outcome of these differences, which sprang in large part from competing views of how to interpret their Calvinist theological tradition, was that Pittsburgh’s wealthy Presbyterians by the 1930s were openly supporting the cause of labor and urban renewal. The story of this business-minded subculture’s foray into social reform demonstrates the inadequacy of characterizing Americans as merely conservative or liberal, reactive or reformist, religious or secular.