A Peaceful Conquest: Woodrow Wilson, Religion, and the New World Order (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016)

A Peaceful Conquest CoverA century after his presidency, Woodrow Wilson remains one of the most compelling and complicated figures ever to occupy the Oval Office. A political outsider, Wilson brought to the presidency a distinctive, strongly held worldview, built on powerful religious traditions that informed his idea of America and its place in the world.

With A Peaceful Conquest, Cara Lea Burnidge presents the most detailed analysis yet of how Wilson’s religious beliefs affected his vision of American foreign policy, with repercussions that lasted into the Cold War and beyond. Framing Wilson’s intellectual development in relationship to the national religious landscape, and paying greater attention to the role of religion than in previous scholarship, Burnidge shows how Wilson’s blend of Southern evangelicalism and social Christianity became a central part of how America saw itself in the world, influencing seemingly secular policy decisions in subtle, lasting ways. Ultimately, Burnidge makes a case for Wilson’s religiosity as one of the key drivers of the emergence of the public conception of America’s unique, indispensable role in international relations.

Author Interviews:
header_logoCara Lea Burnidge on Religion and Woodrow Wilson,”Research on Religion Podcast

Author’s Corner With Cara Burnidge, The Way of Improvement Leads Home

America Goes to War,” May 14, 2017, BBC4

Reviews of A Peaceful Conquest:

“Brilliantly situating Wilson as a member of the early 20th-century social Christian elite, Burnidge describes how the white supremacism he absorbed in his youth dovetailed seamlessly with the imperialistic vision of international affairs embraced by many leaders within the Federal Council of Churches.” Heath Carter, “Woodrow Wilson’s Troubling Faith,” The Christian Century

“By examining the development of Wilson’s foreign policy thought through the lens of social Christianity, race, and social order, she sheds new light on Wilson as a president and on American Protestantism in the first decades of the twentieth century. The book is expertly researched, drawing on a wide range of sources that recreate the intellectual nodes of white Protestant society in the Progressive era. It is also written in a clear, compelling style. To be sure, this is an intellectual and religious history as much as it is a history of Wilsonianism” Lauren Turek, Montreal Review 

“With deft analysis and impressive command of her sources, Burnidge provides a new perspective not only on Wilson’s foreign policy but on the changes convulsing American Protestantism in the early decades of the twentieth century.” Randall Balmer, Journal of Southern Religion 

“Throughout the author’s impressive narrative, she provides many insights into Wilson’s leadership, pointing out both its strengths and its weaknesses, and also places his leadership within the broad context of shifts in liberal Protestantism and social Christianity.She does not praise, or condemn, Wilson but instead provides readers with a subtle and insightful analysis of the connections between his religious convictions and his public policies and the many reasons for his “haunting presence” in American history.” Charles E. Neu, Journal of American History 

“Burnidge’s argument is well thought out, well written, and the result of a great deal of careful reading of both Wilson’s writings and those of his Christian contemporaries. Eschewing an overabundance of jargon, the author avoids the pitfall of losing readers without a degree in theology.” Mark Benbow, American Historical Review 


Religious Influences on U.S. Foreign Policy,” in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, ed. Jon Butler (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.013.266.

This essay, reflects upon current scholarship, outlining a history of religion in U.S. foreign policy through a variety of lenses (nationalist discourse, law, policy paradigms, institutions, and networks). For example, the cartoon to the left, “Another Shotgun Wedding, With Neither Party Willing” intersects with religion in foreign relations in a number of ways: McKinley’s personal religious beliefs or public persona; Christian imperialism; Christian rhetoric and imagery in empire building; American civil religion; race, class, gender, and religious norms in foreign policy;  and so forth. Just as with this cartoon, religion can be “found” in U.S. foreign policy in a variety of ways, depending on one’s methodology and approach. As a result, the essay concludes with suggestions for new directions forward for the subfield.

America in the World, 2 vols., Dictionary of American History Supplement (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2016)

America in the WorldPrimarily aimed at undergraduates, America In The World will answer the needs of students while satisfying the general reader’s increasing curiosity about America’s role on the world scene; the impact of U.S. policies not only nationally, on the domestic agenda, but globally; and the reactions of the world’s nations to America’s rise, 1776 to the present. The set includes key figures from John Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette to Bob Dylan and Barack Obama, and also covers organizations like IBM and the RAND Corporation, the American Colonization Society and the Red Cross, along with topics exploring social and cultural themes, such as Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West, Captain America, Americanization, Exceptionalism, and the Lost Generation. The emphasis on global perspectives brings fresh insights to such domestic topics as the Texas Republic, Wounded Knee, the Department of Homeland Security, and Martin Luther King, Jr. The entry on King, for example, answers the following questions: how did he develop and articulate a global vision of the struggle against colonialism and imperialism during his years of fight against segregation in America? What role did he play in the fight against Apartheid in South Africa? How was King influenced by the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi? Referred to in the academic world as “transnational history,” the content in our volumes introduces an increasingly popular approach to teaching US history in the context of the world at large.

The editorial board includes Edward Blum (editor-in-chief), Emily Conroy-Krutz, David Kinkela, and myself. My area of expertise as a member of the editorial board was 1898-1940 as well as religious traditions and influences on America in the world.