Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Kathi Kern


This dissertation examines the ways in which military personnel interacted with religion during World War II. It argues that the challenges of wartime service provided the impetus and the opportunity to improvise religious practices, refine religious beliefs amid new challenges, and broaden religious understanding through interaction with those from other traditions. Methodologically, this dissertation moves beyond existing analyses that focus primarily on institutions and their representatives such as military chaplains. Instead, it explores first-person accounts left by men and women who were not part of the chaplain corps and analyzes ways in which non-chaplains engaged religion. The exigencies of war contributed to religious innovation as soldiers and sailors improvised religious practices. Lay leaders sometimes filled in to lead services as chaplains were often not available. Soldiers and sailors also modified individual religious practices such as diet, fasting, and prayer to fit the context of military service. The challenges of wartime service also led troops to refine previously held religious beliefs as well as to adopt new interpretations based on personal experiences. Soldiers and sailors often clung to whatever religious beliefs or practices they saw as potentially beneficial. Finally, religious mixing combined with social dislocation and stress to create an atmosphere in which troops questioned and reformulated their religious identities. As soldiers and sailors formed bonds with those from other traditions, it became more difficult to maintain previous assumptions rooted in suspicion and rumor about other faiths. Understanding how soldiers and sailors interacted with religion in World War II anticipates significant aspects of what many scholars have described as a religious revival in the two decades following the war. It suggests that many veterans returned to civilian life with more confidence in their own religious agency and with sharpened conceptions of what they considered religious essentials.