New Research

 Open Hearts, Closed Doors: Immigration Reform and the Waning of Mainline Protestantism – Q&A with Dr. Nicholas T. Pruitt

1.       What led to your interest in this area of study?

After finishing my MA degree, I began considering prospective topics to pursue for a PhD in history. I noticed that the historiography largely overlooked U.S. Protestant responses to immigration and refugee resettlement after 1924. I wasn’t certain I would find much on the topic, but did start by skimming through the 1924 volume of Christian Century, the standard periodical for mainline Protestants, when significant restrictive immigration legislation was passed. From there, I entered a doctoral program in history at Baylor University. While working on the dissertation, I discovered a wealth of sources in various archives for the project. 

2.       Could you give us an overview of your recently-published book Open Hearts, Closed Doors: Immigration Reform and the Waning of Mainline Protestantism?

This book considers white mainline Protestant responses to immigrants and refugees during a very tumultuous period in history, the mid-twentieth century. The study approaches the topic in two ways. First, I examine home mission materials of several leading Protestant denominations and ecumenical organizations to decipher their cultural interpretations of immigration, assimilation, and pluralism. Second, the book uncovers the extensive advocacy of mainline Protestant leaders for congressional immigration reform at midcentury, including overturning both Asian exclusion and the racist quotas. My overall argument is that mainline Protestants often supported cultural pluralism while shying away from religious pluralism. But eventually, the immigration reform they worked toward would usher in an era where religious diversity was a more dominant ideal and mainline Protestants began to see their cultural hegemony dissipate.

3.       Could you tell us a bit more about the framing of your book. In particular, what time period does your book cover, and what is the reasoning behind this?

The bookends for this project are 1924 and 1965. Both of these dates are tied to significant immigration legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. The Immigration Act of 1924 set up the infamous quotas that reflected nativist and racist sentiments of a large part of the U.S. population, and the 1965 law was an attempt to overturn the discriminatory legislation from 1924. Historians had largely overlooked this forty-one year period when I started the project, though significant work has been done on this period since then (see Maddalena Marinari, Madeline Hsu, María Cristina García ( and Jia Lynn Yang (

4.       What was the biggest challenge you faced writing this book?

A particular challenge I faced was deciphering the responses of a large, and diverse, group of people. Many of the sources published by official denominations were progressive, but I realized many of the rank and file Christians within these groups were more varied and ambivalent over immigration. Another layer of this challenge is sorting through the links and differences between the positions of clergy and laity.

5.       What is one core thing you hope that readers will take away from your book?

My hope is that readers will recognize the nuance and diversity of opinion within midcentury Protestant circles on the topic of immigration and the role these Christians played in America’s multicultural narrative. A second hope is that readers will critically assess historical mainline Protestant positions in order to better respond to the needs of the world today.  

6.       What are you working on now?

My current project is a study of Christian nationalism in the United States during the Second Red Scare, including its various manifestations in mainline, evangelical, and fundamentalist Protestantism and Catholicism.

Open Hearts, Closed Doors: Immigration Reform and the Waning of Mainline Protestantism is available now from NYU Press: