Historical Perspectives On Contemporary Issues

Stephen Weldon — The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism

Scientific Spirit of American Humanism

Closed-captioning available on Youtube.

In this episode of Perspectives, we speak with Stephen Weldon, author of The Scientific Spirit of American Humanism.

In his book, Stephen Weldon uncovers how, at the beginning of the twentieth century, liberal ministers and rabbis created the humanist movement to accommodate religion to an increasingly scientific world and worldview. Joined by academic philosophers and prominent scientists in the years that followed, the movement engaged in battles not only with religious fundamentalists, but also with itself, as democratic humanists influenced by pragmatism fought with those influenced by the arch-rationalist philosophy of logical positivism. Professor Weldon places humanists and their "scientific spirit" at the vanguard of an increasingly secular and non-theistic America in the twentieth century. However, he also shows how humanism evolved over time, becoming more defensive in its response to the upswell of born-again Christian religiosity of the 1970s and 1980s.

To cite this podcast, please use footnote:

Stephen Weldon, interview, Perspectives, Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, February 10, 2022, https://www.chstm.org/video/135.

Photo of Stephen Weldon

Stephen Weldon is Associate Professor in the Department of History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Oklahoma and is the editor of the Isis Current Bibliography of the History of Science. Dr. Weldon received his Ph.D. in History and History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 



Insights from the Collections

The Consortium's collections provide many opportunities to learn more about science, religion, and the humanist movement. 

Our cross-institutional search tool allows researchers to investigate materials across multiple institutions from a single interface. With more than 4.4 million catalog records of rare books and manuscripts, the Consortium's search hub offers scholars and the public the ability to identify and locate relevant materials. 

Search the Consortium search hub.

Some archival materials related to this topic include:

John H. Dietrich Papers, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard University.

John Herman Randall, Jr. Papers, Columbia University.

B.F. (Burrhus Frederic) Skinner Papers, Harvard University. 

George Gaylord Simpson Papers, American Philosophical Society

National Center for Science Education: William V. Mayer Papers, American Philosophical Society

Leonard Carmichael Papers, American Philosophical Society

Julian Sorell Huxley Papers, American Philosophical Society

See also recent work by our fellows:

Adam Shapiro, An Unfit Darwinist: Disability, Slander, and America's First Evolution Trial

David Ceccarelli, Between Cope and Osborn: The Role of the American Biological Discourse on the Public Debate on Evolution