Paper pub. date
November 2015
ISBN 9780870717789 (paperback)
6 x 9, 320 pages.

Outsiders in a Promised Land

Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History

Dale Soden

Outsiders in a Promised Land explores the role that religious activists have played in shaping the culture of the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington and Oregon, from the middle of the 19th century onward. The region’s earliest settlers came to work in the mines and forests, and a culture of saloons, gambling halls, and brothels grew up to serve them. When migration to the region intensified, newcomers with families and religious traditions often saw themselves as outsiders in opposition to the prevailing frontier culture.


As communities grew in population, early activists found common ground in a desire to protect women and children, and make their towns more hospitable to religious values. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews worked together to transform communities. Together they introduced public and private schools, health care institutions, libraries and orphanages, and lobbied for the prohibition of alcohol.


Beginning in the 1930s, religious activism played a crucial role in the emerging culture wars between liberals and conservatives. Liberals rallied around the protection of civil rights and the building of social safety nets, while conservatives decried the rise of secularism, liberalism, and communism. Today, religious activists of many faiths are deeply engaged in matters related to women’s and gay rights, foreign policy, and environmental protection.


Outsiders in a Promised Land is a meticulously researched, comprehensive treatment of religion in Pacific Northwest public life. The first book of its kind, it is destined to be an essential reference for scholars, activists, and religious leaders of all faiths.

About the author

Dale Soden earned his B.A. in History at Pacific Lutheran University and his Master’s and Ph.D. in American Intellectual History at the University of Washington. He has taught most of his career at Whitworth University in Spokane, with an emphasis on American intellectual, cultural, and religious history. Author of Whitworth University’s history, An Enduring Venture of Mind and Heart, Soden has published numerous scholarly articles and books centered on the Pacific Northwest, including The Reverend Mark Matthews: Activist in the Progressive Era, and Historic Photos of Washington State.  

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"As I have read to better understand the roles of specific religious activists, both of liberal and conservative bent, I found the book to be fair and without overstatement concerning their achievements. And, Professor Soden does not attempt to enter the turbulent realm of internal politics of those churches where little effort is made in the direction of public activism." 

Larry Hasse, retired, Oakwood University, Huntsville, Alabama, and summer adjunct professor, Whitworth University


"Soden easily accomplishes his goal of demonstrating the influential role of religious activists in the Northwest and introduces dozens of generally unknown but fascinating individuals."

Anne M. Blankenship, Oregon Historical Quarterly


"Outsiders in a Promised Land is a thoroughly researched and comprehensive treatment of the power of religion in Pacific Northwest life. It can be a sobering reminder that society is often comfortable with injustice, and indeed will prefer to perpetuate injustice rather than change."

Susan Storer-Clark, Real Change

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