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This article is from the Fall 2015 issue of Jewish Quarterly Review - Vol. 105.4


Nathan Glazer's American Judaism: Evaluating Post-WWII American Jewish Religion

by Rachel Gordan


IN 1957, the sociologist Nathan Glazer’s book American Judaism

was published in the University of Chicago’s History of American Civilization

series, setting it alongside studies of American Protestantism and

American Catholicism. The inclusion of the book reflected a shift in

American perceptions of Judaism, and Glazer reacted with surprise to

this offer of a seat at the table of American postwar religions. As he wrote

in the introduction, he found it incredible that ‘‘the Jewish group, which

through most of the history of the United States has formed an insignificant

percentage of the American people, has come to be granted the status

of a ‘most favored religion.’ ’’1 He identified a central paradox of the cultural

moment in which he was writing—that Judaism had rather suddenly

gained popularity as a religion, even though according to him it fit

awkwardly within that category. Unlike other religions, Glazer wrote,

‘‘Judaism is tied up organically with a specific people, indeed a nation.’’

So strong was this association, he noted, that ‘‘the word ‘Jew’ in common

usage refers ambiguously both to an adherent of the religion of Judaism

and to a member of the Jewish people.’’ Glazer’s study probed the implications

of the midcentury shift from the idea of Jews as a ‘‘race’’ (with

its strong associations with ‘‘people’’ and ‘‘nation’’) to a ‘‘religion.’’