Double-vortex tornado in Elkhart County, Indiana, on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965. Photograph by Paul Huffman,  Elkhart Truth .

Double-vortex tornado in Elkhart County, Indiana, on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965. Photograph by Paul Huffman, Elkhart Truth.

President Barack Obama hugs Amy Simpson, principal of Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, after seven students at the school died in a tornado in May 2013. White House photograph by Pete Souza.

President Barack Obama hugs Amy Simpson, principal of Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, after seven students at the school died in a tornado in May 2013. White House photograph by Pete Souza.

Ruins of Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church, St. Louis, after a tornado devastated much of the city in May 1896. Photograph courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

Ruins of Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church, St. Louis, after a tornado devastated much of the city in May 1896. Photograph courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

Tornado God: American Religion and Violent Weather

Peter J. Thuesen

Forthcoming in Spring 2020

Preorder from Oxford University Press

One of the earliest sources of humanity’s religious impulse was severe weather, which ancient peoples attributed to the wrath of storm gods. Enlightenment thinkers derided such beliefs as superstition and predicted they would pass away as humans became more scientifically and theologically sophisticated. But in America, scientific and theological hubris came face-to-face with the tornado, nature’s most violent windstorm. Striking the United States more than any other nation, tornadoes have consistently defied scientists’ efforts to unlock their secrets. Meteorologists now acknowledge that even the most powerful computers will likely never be able to predict a tornado’s precise path.

Similarly, tornadoes have repeatedly brought Americans to the outer limits of theology, drawing them into the vortex of such mysteries as how to reconcile suffering with a loving God and whether there is underlying purpose or randomness in the universe. In this groundbreaking history, Peter Thuesen captures the harrowing drama of tornadoes, as clergy, theologians, meteorologists, and ordinary citizens struggle to make sense of these death-dealing tempests. He argues that in the tornado, Americans experience something that is at once culturally peculiar (the indigenous storm of the national imagination) and religiously primal (the sense of awe before an unpredictable and mysterious power). He also shows that in an era of climate change, the weather raises the issue of society’s complicity in natural disasters. In the whirlwind, Americans confront the question of their own destiny—how much is self-determined and how much is beyond human understanding or control.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction

1. “Whirlwind of the Lord”:
The Enduring God(s) of the Storm

2. “The Violence of Winds, and the Reasonings of Men”:
Storms and Providence in Colonial America

3. “Stormy Wind Fulfilling His Word”:
Meteorology and Theology in the Nineteenth Century

4. “Every Wind of Doctrine”:
Explaining the Whirlwind, 1900-1965

5. “As Stubble Before the Wind”:
Divine Mystery and Human Responsibility

Conclusion: The Primal Whirlwind

Notes
Bibliography
Index