Press Releases

“In Surge of Piety, Christopher Lane ably shows the ways in which Norman Vincent Peale’s potent combination of Protestant Christianity, popular psychiatry and nationalist politics helped remake America.”—Kevin M. Kruse, author of One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America

For Release: Publication Date November 15, 2016


Surge of Piety: Norman Vincent Peale and the Remaking of American Religious Life

After the Great Depression, Norman Vincent Peale and a handful of highly placed allies helped inflame religious sentiment in the United States. Through his influential books and organizations, his radio and TV platforms, his pulpit in New York, and his friends in Washington, Peale promoted the idea that belief in God was essential to the health and harmony of all Americans.

In Surge of Piety, to be published November 15 by Yale University Press, Christopher Lane shows how Peale’s brand of positive Christian psychology cemented a powerful, and lasting, public association between religious belief and mental health.

Drawing on Peale’s extensive archives, Lane shows how Peale and his supporters—from J. Edgar Hoover at the F.B.I. to Dwight D. Eisenhower in the White House—orchestrated major changes in the way Americans viewed religion. With faith and freedom designated as inseparable and uniquely American, and piety tied directly to prosperity and well-being, these crusaders made it seem both un-American and unhealthy to be unreligious. As he traces the largely untold story of Peale’s religio-psychiatric movement, including its ties to major American corporations and controversial role in aligning religiosity with mental health, Lane assesses its varied effects from the height of its influence in the 1950s to our own time.

Among the topics Lane illuminates:

*How anticommunism in the 1930s and 1940s was turned into a pro-Christian, pro-American stance.

*Why evangelical Americans today so often return to the cultural and political concerns that roiled the 1950s.

*How secularism was made to seem at odds with normalcy, with neutrality toward religion cast as a sign of weakness.

*How Freud’s ideas played an unintended role in promoting America’s religious revival.

*And how organizations founded by Peale served as a bridge between the nation’s religious communities, its psychiatrists and psychologists, and its business and political leaders, bringing them all into closer alignment.

Throughout the book, Lane considers the changing relationship between religion and science, adding complexity and nuance and providing new perspective on the sizable tension between these two domains over the last half-century.

As America’s least religious generation ever comes of age in a political climate still influenced by Peale’s ideas, not least with Donald Trump celebrating Peale as his minister and inspiration, Surge of Piety provides essential context for understanding the present moment and the contentious times ahead.

About the Author

A professor of English at Northwestern University, Christopher Lane has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Mellon Foundations. His work has appeared in numerous national publications, including the New York Times. He lives in Chicago, IL. 

Publication Details

Surge of Piety: Norman Vincent Peale and the Remaking of American Religious Life

Christopher Lane

Publication Date: November 15, 2016

224 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4; 12 b/w illus.

ISBN: 978-0-300-20373-8

Hardcover: $28.00

Advance Praise for Surge of Piety

“Carefully examining everything from Freudian psychology to traditional revivalism, Lane masterfully shows why we cannot make sense of the tremendous mid-century upsurge in American religiosity without understanding the inimitable Peale.”—Matthew Avery Sutton, author of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

“Christopher Lane reveals a surprisingly understudied dimension of Eisenhower’s political consensus: the religio-psychiatry of Norman Vincent Peale. Lane’s is a fascinating and accessible reassessment of a pivotal political moment, and the enduring fusion of popular religion and psychology in American life.”—Darren Dochuk, University of Notre Dame

Praise for Other Books by Christopher Lane

Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness

“As Lane’s research reveals, the cost of blaming anxieties on brain chemistry imbalance goes beyond dollars, to drug dependency, debilitating side effects and consumers convinced they’re hamstrung by their physiology.”—Robin Tierney, San Francisco Examiner

“A provocative look at an important chapter in the history of modern psychiatry.”—Judith Graham, Chicago Tribune

“Lane argues in this well-researched . . . controversial book that shyness [has been] pathologized, to the detriment, especially, of children and teenagers.”—Elsa Dixler, New York Times Book Review

The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty

“Lane asks the right questions of the doubting pundits, past and present… An altogether admirable study.”—Edward Norman, Literary Review

“As Christopher Lane argue[s] in The Age of Doubt, the explosion of questioning among Christian thinkers in the Victorian era transformed the idea of doubt from a sin or lapse to necessary exploration.”—Julia Baird, New York Times


Press Release: “Arguing in Defense of Doubt: What America Can Learn from the Victorians’ Religious Uncertainty”

Source:  Yale University Press
For Release: Publication Date March 29th, 2011
Contact: Tanya Wiedeking, 203-432-7762,

“Lane’s stimulating analysis asks whether acknowledging how science, religion, and society have produced a growing chasm between faith and doubt, and even destroyed belief, can offer a way forward.”—Keith Thomson, author of The Young Charles Darwin

By analyzing the parallel battles over faith and reason in the nineteenth century and ours, scholar Christopher Lane (author of Shyness, Yale, 2007) makes a case for the benefits of religious uncertainty.

The Victorian era was the first great “Age of Doubt” and a critical moment in the history of Western ideas. Leading nineteenth-century intellectuals battled the Church and struggled to absorb radical scientific discoveries that upended everything the Bible had taught them about the world. In The Age of Doubt: Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty, published on March 29th by Yale University Press, distinguished scholar Christopher Lane tells the fascinating story of a society under strain as virtually all aspects of life changed abruptly.

Because scientific discoveries by James Hutton, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Charles Lyell, and Charles Darwin challenged the opening verses of Genesis, which Christians were taught to accept as truth rather than poetry, the debates between religion and science that followed had an “earth-shaking” effect on Victorian society. Well-known figures such as Thomas Carlyle, Leslie Stephen, and Mary Ann Evans (better known as the novelist George Eliot) all grappled with the ensuing crisis of faith. In The Age of Doubt, Lane revisits their work to show how intelligently they sought to reconcile this conflict while leaving room for freethought and responsible unbelief. While Lyell himself would only privately concede that the question of evolution horrified him, Lane shows how the sparks of a growing debate about evolution were fanned and hotly debated in Victorian homes when influential clergymen and devout scientists ridiculed the theory of evolution and insulted its proponents as “infidels.” In deft portraits of the scientific, literary, and intellectual icons who challenged the prevailing religious orthodoxy, from Robert Chambers and Anne Brontë to Darwin and Thomas H. Huxley, Lane indicates how they and other Victorians succeeded against great odds in turning doubt from a religious sin into an ethical necessity.

The dramatic adjustment of Victorian society has echoes today as technology, science, and religion grapple with moral issues that seemed unimaginable even a decade ago. Yet the Victorians’ crisis of faith generated a far more searching engagement with religious belief than the “new atheism” that has evolved today. More profoundly than any generation before them, the Victorians came to view doubt as inseparable from belief, thought, and debate, as well as a much-needed antidote to fanaticism and unbridled certainty. By contrast, a look at today’s extremes—from the biblical literalists behind the Creation Museum to the dogmatic rigidity of Richard Dawkins’ atheism—highlights our modern-day inability to embrace doubt.

By analyzing the powerful forces shaping nineteenth-century Britain and America, Lane shows how little is to be gained from the heated, polarized, and trivializing debates taking place in America today, whether in the books on religious faith and the “new” atheism that battle it out on the best-seller lists, or in the fierce defense of Creationism to which four in ten Americans continue to subscribe. While America today is sadly reverting to the black-and-white thinking the preceded the Victorians, Lane demonstrates how robust a stance agnosticism remains and how embracing doubt can challenge religious extremism.

More advance praise for

The Age of Doubt, Tracing the Roots of Our Religious Uncertainty
by Christopher Lane
248 pages with 19 b/w illus.
Publication Date: March 29th 2011

“The story of Victorian doubt is both fascinating and important for understanding why we continue to be mired in fierce cultural battles over the status of evolution and the value of religious faith. This provocative book is well worth the read.”— Bernard Lightman, York University

“A fresh and nuanced examination of how the major scientific assumptions of the nineteenth century informed and were shaped by doubt.”—Jude V. Nixon, Professor of English & Dean of Arts & Sciences, Salem State University, and Editor of Victorian Religious Discourse

Press Release: “New Book: How Shyness Became a Mental Illness”

Source:  Northwestern University NewsCenter
MEDIA CONTACT: Wendy Leopold at 847-491-4890 or

EVANSTON, Ill. — What’s wrong with being shy, and just when and how did bashfulness and other ordinary human behaviors in children and adults become psychiatric disorders treatable with powerful, potentially dangerous drugs, asks a Northwestern University scholar in a new book that already is creating waves in the mental health community.

In “Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness” (Yale University Press, October 2007), Northwestern’s Christopher Lane chronicles the “highly unscientific and often arbitrary way” in which widespread revisions were made to “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM), a publication known as the bible of psychiatry that is consulted daily by insurance companies, courts, prisons and schools as well as by physicians and mental health workers.

“The number of mental disorders that children and adults in the general population might exhibit leaped from 180 in 1968 to more than 350 in 1994,” notes Lane, Northwestern’s Herman and Beulah Pearce Miller Research Professor. In a book that calls in doubt the facade of objective research behind psychiatry’s revolution, Lane questions the rationale for the changes, and whether all of them were necessary and suitably precise.

By labeling shyness and other human traits as dysfunctions with a biological cause, the doors were opened wide to a pharmaceutical industry ready to provide a pill for every alleged chemical imbalance or biological problem, he adds.

Lane, who meticulously and systematically researched the archives of the American Psychiatric Association, uses social anxiety disorder (first dubbed social phobia) as the lens through which to analyze American psychiatry’s extraordinary shift in the last 30 years from a psychoanalytic orientation relying on talk therapy to its current emphasis on neuroscience and drugs.

He draws on previously neglected letters and memos written by the framers of the new disorders to argue that DSM revisions to social phobia or social anxiety disorder placed the diagnostic bar too low, turning social anxiety into a mental illness common enough to be considered, according to recent studies, third only to alcoholism and major depression.

The DSM continues to stipulate that social anxiety disorder (SAD) must be “impairing” for a diagnosis to occur. The problem, Lane argues, is that DSM-defined symptoms of impairment in 1980 included fear of eating alone in restaurants, concern about hand trembling while writing checks, fear of public speaking and avoidance of public restrooms.

By 1987 the DSM had removed the key phrase “a compelling desire to avoid,” requiring instead only “marked distress,” and signs of that could include concern about saying the wrong thing. “Impairment became something largely in the eye of the beholder, and anticipated embarrassment was enough to meet the diagnostic threshold,” says Lane.

“That’s a ridiculous way to assess a serious mental disorder, with implications for the way we also view childhood traits and development, given the increased focus on reticence,” Lane adds. “But that didn’t stop SAD from becoming what Psychology Today dubbed ‘the disorder of the 1990s.'”

In addition to providing extensive documentation from the American Psychiatric Association archives, Lane includes previously confidential material from the drug companies themselves that present a worrisome history of the antidepressant Paxil.

The drug came onto the marketplace in 1996 despite the fact that its makers earlier had considered shelving it because of poor performance and early signs of side effects in clinical trials. Using a memo circulated among drug company executives, Lane presents evidence that a lot of information about the drug’s poor track record was withheld from the public.

When Paxil became the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of social anxiety disorder in 1999, however, its makers launched a $92 million awareness campaign on the theme “Imagine Being Allergic to People.” This and other advertising campaigns helped change the way Americans think about anxiety and its treatment.

“Every marketer’s dream is to find an unidentified or unknown market and develop it. That’s what we were able to do with social anxiety disorder,” a product director for the drug told Advertising Age magazine. In 2001, with 25 million new prescriptions written for Paxil, the drug’s U.S. sales alone increased by 18 percent from the year before.

Although psychiatrists insist that the line between ordinary shyness and social anxiety disorder (SAD) is sharply defined, Lane points to psychiatric literature that repeatedly confuses them, putting patients at risk of over-diagnosis and unnecessary, sometimes harmful treatment.

A professor of English in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Lane previously directed a psychoanalytic studies program in Emory University’s psychiatry department. Long interested in psychology, he presents evidence of a burgeoning backlash to psychiatry’s current trends in the form of analyses of novels including “The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen and “The Diagnosis” by Alan Lightman, as well as the film “Garden State” by Zach Braff.

Lane, who was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study psychopharmacology and ethics, audited medical courses and invited psychiatrists and pharmacologists to review his book, particularly a chapter on rebound syndrome. That term refers to a boomerang effect experienced by some patients on discontinuing Paxil that is more intense and dangerous than the turmoil that caused them to take the drug in the first place.

In examining the American Psychiatric Association archives, Lane — who argues that psychiatry is using drugs with poor track records to treat growing numbers of normal human emotions — even came across a proposal to establish “chronic complaint disorder,” in which people moan about the weather, taxes or the previous night’s racetrack results.

“It might be funny,” he says, save for the fact that the DSM’s next edition, due to be completed in 2012, is likely to establish new categories for apathy, compulsive buying, Internet addiction, binge-eating and compulsive sexual behavior. Don’t look for road rage, however. It’s already in the DSM, under intermittent explosive disorder.
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