A Wandering Oklahoman Was My Father: Religion, Migration, and America's Great Depression

Team Members/Contributors

Jonathan H. Ebel University of Illinois Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

A Wandering Oklahoman Was My Father is a study of meaning-making in the midst of the economic and social catastrophe that was the Great Depression. It is an examination of human struggles with forces at once immediate and transcendent and of attempts both to frame the crisis and to end it. To this end I draw on the words of public figures in the religious and governmental realms, but also look closely at lay religious responses to experiences of poverty and dislocation primarily among those who migrated from the Dust Bowl west to California. This project reframes the Great Depression as a fundamentally religious crisis and argues that governmental, communal, and individual engagements with it, though often discussed in secular terms, were in fact deeply informed by theological commitments, ritual sensibilities, and normative stances vis-à-vis the embodiment and cultivation of virtue. As the United States struggles to emerge from another economic crisis, an as American churches continue the crucial work of giving aid to those who have lost and suffered as a result of actions and attitudes all too familiar, this study promises to provide historical context and insights both hopeful and cautionary. Moreover, it encourages people of faith to question too-easy dichotomies between religious and economic life, the sacred and the secular.