Up INTRODUCTION TOPIC 1 TOPIC 2 TOPIC 3 TOPIC 4 Topic 5 Topic 6 Topic 7 Topic 8 Topic 9

Topic 4
Burgeoning Diversity, Competitive Denominationalism & the Evangelical Empire

From the beginning of the Republic to the Civil War both the nation and its religious life expanded remarkably. In those seventy years American religion took on its distinctive characteristics: pluralistic, individualistic, competitive, expansionist. As the implications of the Founders' revolutionary ideas of religious liberty became clearer, Americans invented new ways to make religious faith meaningful and relevant to national life. The results, often dizzying, controversial and contradictory, shaped American identity and character.

Marty devotes almost three packed chapters to this period. 


He organizes chapter 10, Into the West and the World around the related themes of denominational growth, westward expansion and missionary outreach to Asia and Africa


Chapter 11, Beyond Existing Bounds, looks at new ways of being religious and of dissenting from existing religious and social traditions


Chapter 12, A Century of Exclusion, examines the religious dimension of reform movements, particularly the religious responses to the problems of slavery, racism, sexism, and prejudice in America. 

Cherry in Part Three provides a counterpoint to the diversity theme by exploring the ways westward expansion transformed the American sense of their covenanted destiny as a new Israel; in Part IV he focuses on the theme of America's special destiny in the crucible of Civil War. 

Because Marty's cast of characters and plot lines are so rich, his readers can easily get lost. To avoid confusion as you use these chapters and the readings in Cherry and the Online sources, keep in mind the basic question for this syllabus topic: What are the connections between the growth of the nation during the first half of the 19th century on the one hand and the burgeoning system of Competitive Denominationalism and the  campaign for an Evangelical Empire on the other?


The religion of the new American republic was evangelicalism, which, between 1800 and the Civil War, was the "grand absorbing theme" of American religious life. During some years in the first half of the nineteenth century, revivals (through which evangelicalism found expression) occurred so often that religious publications that specialized in tracking them lost count. In 1827, for example, one journal exulted that "revivals, we rejoice to say, are becoming too numerous in our country to admit of being generally mentioned in our Record." During the years between the inaugurations of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, historians see "evangelicalism emerging as a kind of national church or national religion." The leaders and ordinary members of the "evangelical empire" of the nineteenth century were American patriots who subscribed to the views of the Founders that religion was a "necessary spring" for republican government; they believed, as a preacher in 1826 asserted, that there was "an association between Religion and Patriotism." Converting their fellow citizens to Christianity was, for them, an act that simultaneously saved souls and saved the republic. The American Home Missionary Society assured its supporters in 1826 that "we are doing the work of patriotism no less than Christianity." With the disappearance of efforts by government to create morality in the body politic (symbolized by the termination in 1833 of Massachusetts's tax support for churches) evangelical, benevolent societies assumed that role, bringing about what today might be called the privatization of the responsibility for forming a virtuous citizenry. [Introduction to Religion in the New Republic, Library of Congress Exhibit.]


1. Expanding Republic, Democratic Currents and New Religions

      Evangelicalism, Revivalism, and the Second Great Awakening [overview by Donald Scott, Queens College, in the Humanities Center's Divining America Series.]

      Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) also 


      Mormons: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

      Succinct Essay on the Mormon Faith Tradition by J. Gordon Melton

      Book of Mormon: An Introduction

      The Oneida Community

      Slavery and Marriage

      Battle Axe Letter and Noyes' letter to Miss Holton

      John Humphrey Noyes: Complex Marriage and Male Continence

      Noyes and the Oneida Perfectionists

      The Shakers

      The American Shakers - a Boadside

2. The Protestant Quest for a Christian America, Reform Movements, Abolitionism

Reading: Marty, chap. 12 (227-254)

Revivalism and Benevolence, [Short lecture by Terry Matthews, Wake Forest University.]

Evangelicalism and a Social Movement, [Donald Scott]

Abolitionism: Student Protest at Lane Seminary

3. The Crisis of Civil War

Reading: Cherry, Part 4; Marty, pp. 220-224
Lincoln, Letter to J. Speed
Lincoln, Meditation
Lincoln, Fast-Day
Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural