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Dispatch from Berkeley: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Elesha Coffman

Last week I spent a fantastic, albeit smoky, few days out at Berkeley at a workshop on "Ecumenical Protestantism and Post-Protestant Secularism in the United States," convened by David Hollinger. The elegiac song I've used in my title was inescapable. How does one define ecumenical/liberal/mainline Protestantism? "Something here inside / Cannot be denied." What has happened to it over the past century? "When a lovely flame dies / Smoke gets in your eyes." But wait--is the topic really as nebulous, and the outlook as grim, as that?

Not at all! Well, maybe. It depends on what you're talking about. But scholars are talking about this, and a case can even be made that the center of gravity in the study of American Protestantism is shifting from evangelicalism and fundamentalism toward ecumenical Protestantism and post-Protestant secularism. The "mainline moment" continues!

I can't even try to summarize all of the rich conv…

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