Fortress Press

The Progressives' Bible: How Scriptural Interpretation Built a More Just America

The Progressives' Bible

How Scriptural Interpretation Built a More Just America

Claudia Setzer (Author)


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While conservative groups have often appealed to the Bible to support their positions, so too have many progressive voices rooted in the Bible, seeing their struggles in its narratives and characters, and drawing on its verses to prove the truth of their arguments. Abolitionism countered pro-slavery arguments with copious biblical material. Women's rights advocates strongly disagreed with one another about whether the Bible was good news for their cause, but some argued that it was. Temperance, a broadly inclusive reform movement in the nineteenth century, employed arguments that reflected a critical, non-literalist stance to the text. Civil rights speakers identified with biblical figures and struggles, infusing their rhetoric with familiar verses. The Progressives' Bible foregrounds women, especially women of color, like Maria Stewart, Septima Clark, and Fannie Lou Hamer, while also considering the works of crucial figures like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. A final chapter describes contemporary social justice movements that draw strength from biblical and religious traditions, from Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506497082
  • eBook ISBN 9781506497099
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 206
  • Publication Date May 21, 2024


By examining the ways in which intelligent, critical, and creative readings of the Bible have played a pivotal role in advancing some of the most significant social reforms in US history, Claudia Setzer offers us a powerful counter to interpretations of the Bible that have served what she calls "the wrong side of history." The Progressives' Bible is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking a fuller understanding of American history and a more complete sense of the Bible's place and role in America. A book I have long needed for my university classroom, it will no doubt be a revelation to all readers.

Mary F. Foskett, Wake Forest Kahle Professor of Religious Studies, Wake Forest University

For those who want to understand the varied and creative ways that social reformers have used the Bible to advocate for a more just, inclusive, and equitable America, there is no better guide than The Progressives' Bible. Claudia Setzer treats the reader to the arguments of a remarkably wide-ranging and diverse array of activists from the early 1800s to the present, highlighting scriptural passages that have figured prominently in their thinking and the interpretive strategies they have used to understand them. If, as Setzer argues, hope is the prerequisite for reform, then readers concerned with the issues of our own day will find tremendous hope in her accounts of the progressive champions who have gone before us.

Mark A. Chancey, professor of religious studies, Southern Methodist University

This is a must-read volume for all who are captivated by how the Bible has been interpreted in the (North) American context. From abolitionism to women's rights to temperance, progressive thinkers grappled with conflicts in light of the wider culture's investment in biblical interpretation, which became a guide for biblical interpreters in the Civil Rights era. Prof. Setzer navigates these conversations with skill and expertise and allows readers to follow how our nineteenth-century forebears both tackled exegetical quandaries and expressed moral sensibilities in their interpretive strategies. Setzer proves what she admirably writes: "The Bible on its own did not and cannot reform society. It was the people."

Emerson Powery, professor of biblical studies and interim dean of the School of Arts, Culture, and Society, Messiah University

Based on a broad and sophisticated understanding of the Bible, Setzer offers an insightful survey of how different biblical texts were used in discussing abolition, women's rights, temperance, and civil rights. She artfully combines sources from well-known figures and those that should be better known. This book is an important resource for scholars of American religion and for contemporary progressives who might want to utilize the Bible.

Marc Zvi Brettler, Bernice and Morton Lerner Distinguished Professor in Judaic Studies, Duke University