Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley
As a historian of modern America, Ronit Y. Stahl's work focuses on pluralism in American society by examining how politics, law, and religion interact in spaces such as the military and medicine. Her book, Enlisting Faith: How the Military Chaplaincy Shaped Religion and State in Modern America(link is external) (Harvard University Press, 2017), traces the uneven processes through which the military struggled with, encouraged, and regulated religious pluralism over the twentieth century. Just as the state relied on religion to sanction war and sanctify death, so too did religious groups seek recognition and legitimacy as American faiths. The chaplaincy incorporated new religious groups slowly, especially because blurred religious and racial categories confounded a military invested in racial segregation. Indeed, opening the chaplaincy to more faiths was neither accidental nor fully envisioned; rather, it emerged over decades of war through a combination of incremental decisions made by government officials and agitation from civilians. Hence war and military service placed chaplains at the center of debates that defined modern American life: questions about religious pluralism and sectarianism to be sure, but also racial justice and gender equality, imperial ambitions and global obligations, state-perpetrated violence and death, sexuality and family life, legal rights and educational opportunities.
In 1919, Lee Levinger buried four soldiers in France. The responsibility to preside over a funeral was not unusual for military chaplains. But during World War I, most Americans would have been surprised to learn that a...