Charles Fletcher Dole, Liberal Theology, and Reform: A Life Well-Lived is a historical look at the life and theology of Charles Fletcher Dole. Dole was born into what he described as an “ultra-orthodox” religious family. He was unable to accept the severe, quasi-Calvinist theology of his relatives, and when he attended Harvard College, he was influenced by the intellectual currents set in motion by Darwinism. He then tacked off to the radical wing of Unitarian theology. It was incumbent on the faithful—of any religious tradition—to live in ways that helped further the divine plan. This moral imperative prompted Dole, as the long-term minister in the Unitarian Church to advocate for reforms not unlike those of his parents and other relatives, including temperance, women’s suffrage, improved race relations, anti-imperialism and pacifism. This historical recovery and interpretation of Dole argues that while Dole’s radical theology was the source of his civic engagement, his iteration of the social gospel was to some extent also shaped and delimited by the socio-economic position he occupied.
Paul T. Burlin is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of New England.
Chapter One: Historical Background
Chapter Two: Forebearers
Chapter Three: Education
Chapter Four: Two Churches and Locales
Chapter Five: The Liberal Theological Context
Chapter Six: What Evolution Wrought
Chapter Seven: Social Gospel I: Citizenship and Political Economy
Chapter Eight: Social Gospel II: Temperance, Gender, and Race
Chapter Nine: Social Gospel III: Imperialism, War, and Peace
About the Author
In this meticulously researched and well-written book, Paul Burlin chronicles the life and intellectual development of the Rev. Charles F. Dole, a leading liberal theologian and a prolific author. Burlin acknowledges that Dole’s optimistic “onward and upward” type of theology has long been out of fashion in academic circles, but he explains why that theology was popular in Dole’s time (the Progressive Era), and he argues effectively that we ought to know more about liberals such as Dole, a figure whom scholars have generally overlooked. Raised as an orthodox Calvinist in Maine, Dole ended up as a progressive Unitarian minister in Boston, and Burlin ably recounts this interesting transformation. He also uses Dole as a lens through which to view how the Protestant establishment responded to major nineteenth and early twentieth century movements such as evolutionism, pacificism, socialism, Black rights, and women’s rights.
Paul Burlin has written an important book about an unjustly neglected figure from an era when religious conviction and theological debates permeated public discussion of national issues. Over his long and consequential career as a civically engaged intellectual, Charles Fletcher Dole made formidable contributions to issues ranging from scriptural inerrancy and social justice to race and American imperialism. In this appreciative but balanced biography, he finally receives the recognition that is his due.
Burlin has crafted a dual biography of a major religious figure that is deeply researched and engagingly written. He illuminates the trajectory of Dole’s personal life and examines his tireless social activism and prolific work as an author and lecturer. Burlin’s study represents a major contribution to late 19th and early 20th century religious and cultural history.
Rev. Charles Fletcher Dole early embraced evolution – but as demanding cooperation. While a shared Calvinist upbringing led to complicity by his kin in the U.S. annexation of Hawai’i, he countered with a radical Unitarian theology of good will that saw value in all religions, opposed imperialism, supported immigration, demanded education for true democracy, and embraced a Social Gospel. He was prophetic in seeing that state socialism could lead to crony capitalism and new oligarchs. He opposed both World War I and its aftermath, and inspired congregant Emily Greene Balch to found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and win the Nobel Peace Prize. With meticulous research, nuanced interpretation, and lucid prose, Paul Burlin here gives us an over-due biography of a lost religious voice in the intellectual history of American social justice efforts.