Tag Archives: Protestantism

Bendroth, “The Last Puritans”

In October, the University of North Carolina Press will release “The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past,” by Margaret Bendroth (executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston).  The publisher’s description follows: 

Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England’s first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth’s critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

Bendroth chronicles how the New England Puritans, known for their moral and doctrinal rigor, came to be the antecedents of the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal of all Protestant denominations today. The demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists, Bendroth argues, to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination’s storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms–from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants–as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.

White, “Reforming Sodom”

In August, the University of North Carolina Press will release “Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights,” by Heather R. White (University of Puget Sound). The publisher’s description follows:

With a focus on mainline Protestants and gay rights activists in the twentieth century, Heather R. White challenges the usual picture of perennial adversaries with a new narrative about America’s religious and sexual past. White argues that today’s antigay Christian traditions originated in the 1920s when a group of liberal Protestants began to incorporate psychiatry and psychotherapy into Christian teaching. A new therapeutic orthodoxy, influenced by modern medicine, celebrated heterosexuality as God-given and advocated a compassionate “cure” for homosexuality.

White traces the unanticipated consequences as the therapeutic model, gaining popularity after World War II, spurred mainline church leaders to take a critical stance toward rampant antihomosexual discrimination. By the 1960s, a vanguard of clergy began to advocate for homosexual rights. White highlights the continued importance of this religious support to the consolidating gay and lesbian movement. However, the ultimate irony of the therapeutic orthodoxy’s legacy was its adoption, beginning in the 1970s, by the Christian Right, which embraced it as an age-old tradition to which Americans should return. On a broader level, White challenges the assumed secularization narrative in LGBT progress by recovering the forgotten history of liberal Protestants’ role on both sides of the debates over orthodoxy and sexual identity.

Raponi, “Religion and Politics in the Risorgimento”

I’m a bit late in noting this book, but the subject is so interesting that an Raponiexception was needed. Danilo Raponi’s (Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main) still new Religion and Politics in the Risorgimento: Britain and the New Italy, 1861-1875, was published by Palgrave Mamillan last fall and looks to be a wonderful resource on an insufficiently studied topic. The publisher’s description follows.

This book examines Anglo-Italian political and cultural relations in the years of the ‘Roman Question’, and it analyses the impact and importance of religion in the construction of a British ‘Orientalist’ perception of Italy. It focuses on the British and Foreign Bible Society’s attempts to turn Italy into a Protestant nation, showing how perceived shortcomings in the national character of the Italians convinced the British that such ‘Protestantisation’ was necessary if Italy was ever to achieve nationhood. Their efforts encountered, however, strong popular and intellectual resistance from both the Italian people and the Catholic clergy, who called on Catholic Ireland to intervene in their defence. By looking at the interplay between religion and foreign policy, this book breaks through the boundaries between high politics and culture in a way that has not been attempted so far in the study of modern Italy, and puts religion at the centre of a harsh political and cultural war, one that was fought primarily on a transnational level.

Fitzpatrick, “Descendancy”

This month, Cambridge University Press releases “Descendancy: Irish Protestant Histories Since 1795” by David Fitzpatrick (Trinity College, Dublin).  The publisher’s description follows:

DescendancyThis book examines Protestant loss of power and self-confidence in Ireland since 1795. David Fitzpatrick charts the declining power and influence of the Protestant community in Ireland and the strategies adopted in the face of this decline, presenting rich personal testimony that illustrates how individuals experienced and perceived ‘descendancy’. Focusing on the attitudes and strategies adopted by the eventual losers rather than victors, he addresses contentious issues in Irish history through an analysis of the appeal of the Orange Order, the Ulster Covenant of 1912, and ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the Irish Revolution. Avoiding both apologetics and sentimentality when probing the psychology of those undergoing ‘descendancy’, the book examines the social and political ramifications of religious affiliation and belief as practised in fraternities, church congregations and isolated sub-communities.

Hampton, “Storm of Words: Science, Religion, and Evolution in the Civil War Era”

In August, University of Alabama Press will publish Storm of Words: Science, Religion, and Evolution in the Civil War Era by Monte Hampton (North Carolina State University). The publisher’s description follows.

Storm of Words is a study of the ways that southern Presbyterians in the wake of the Civil War contended with a host of cultural and theological questions, chief among them developments in natural history and evolution.

Southern Presbyterian theologians enjoyed a prominent position in antebellum southern culture. Respected for both their erudition and elite constituency, these theologians identified the southern society as representing a divine, Biblically ordained order. Beginning in the 1840s, however, this facile identification became more difficult to maintain, colliding first with antislavery polemics, then with Confederate defeat and reconstruction, and later with women’s rights, philosophical empiricism, literary criticisms of the Bible, and that most salient symbol of modernity, natural science.

As Monte Harrell Hampton shows in Storm of Words, modern science seemed most explicitly to express the rationalistic spirit of the age and threaten the Protestant conviction that science was the faithful “handmaid” of theology. Southern Presbyterians disposed of some of these threats with ease. Contemporary geology, however, posed thornier problems. Ambivalence over how to respond to geology led to the establishment in 1859 of the Perkins Professorship of Natural Science in Connexion with Revealed Religion at the seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. Installing scientist-theologian James Woodrow in this position, southern Presbyterians expected him to defend their positions.

Within twenty-five years, however, their anointed expert held that evolution did not contradict scripture. Indeed, he declared that it was in fact God’s method of creating. The resulting debate was the first extended evolution controversy in American history. It drove a wedge between those tolerant of new exegetical and scientific developments and the majority who opposed such openness. Hampton argues that Woodrow believed he was shoring up the alliance between science and scripture—that a circumscribed form of evolution did no violence to scriptural infallibility. The traditionalists’ view, however, remained interwoven with their identity as defenders of the Lost Cause and guardians of southern culture.

The ensuing debate triggered Woodrow’s dismissal. It also capped a modernity crisis experienced by an influential group of southern intellectuals who were grappling with the nature of knowledge, both scientific and religious, and its relationship to culture—a culture attempting to define itself in the shadow of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

“Irish Religious Conflict in Comparative Perspective” (Wolffe, ed.)

Later this month, Palgrave Macmillan releases Irish Religious Conflict in Comparative Perspective: Catholics, Protestants and Muslimsedited by John Wolffe (Open University UK). The publisher’s description follows:

By setting the Irish religious conflict in a wide comparative perspective, this book offers fresh insights into the causes of religious conflicts, and potential means of resolving them. The collection mounts a challenge to widely held views of ‘Irish exceptionalism’ and points to significant historical and contemporary commonalities across the Western European and North Atlantic worlds. In so doing it enriches understanding not only of the cultural and political legacies of Christendom’s internal divisions, but also of the factors currently hampering the peaceful assimilation of Muslims in Western societies. The ‘on the ground’ experience detailed in several of the chapters shows, however, that religion can be part of the ‘solution’ as well as part of the ‘problem’, and the book develops conclusions and implications that are important for practitioners and policy-makers as well as for academics.

Pinheiro, “Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War”

Next month, Oxford will publish Missionaries of Republicanism: A 9780199948673_140Religious History of the Mexican-American War, by John C. Pinheiro (Aquinas College). The publisher’s description follow.

The term “Manifest Destiny” has traditionally been linked to U.S. westward expansion in the nineteenth century, the desire to spread republican government, and racialist theories like Anglo-Saxonism. Yet few people realize the degree to which Manifest Destiny and American republicanism relied on a deeply anti-Catholic civil-religious discourse. John C. Pinheiro traces the rise to prominence of this discourse, beginning in the 1820s and culminating in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.

Pinheiro begins with social reformer and Protestant evangelist Lyman Beecher, who was largely responsible for synthesizing seemingly unrelated strands of religious, patriotic, expansionist, and political sentiment into one universally understood argument about the future of the United States. When the overwhelmingly Protestant United States went to war with Catholic Mexico, this “Beecherite Synthesis” provided Americans with the most important means of defining their own identity, understanding Mexicans, and interpreting the larger meaning of the war. Anti-Catholic rhetoric constituted an integral piece of nearly every major argument for or against the war and was so universally accepted that recruiters, politicians, diplomats, journalists, soldiers, evangelical activists, abolitionists, and pacifists used it. It was also, Pinheiro shows, the primary tool used by American soldiers to interpret Mexico’s culture. All this activity in turn reshaped the anti-Catholic movement. Preachers could now use caricatures of Mexicans to illustrate Roman Catholic depravity and nativists could point to Mexico as a warning about what America would be like if dominated by Catholics.

Abend, “The Moral Background”

k10263This March, Princeton University Press will publish The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics by Gabriel Abend (New York University). The publisher’s description follows.

In recent years, many disciplines have become interested in the scientific study of morality. However, a conceptual framework for this work is still lacking. In The Moral Background, Gabriel Abend develops just such a framework and uses it to investigate the history of business ethics in the United States from the 1850s to the 1930s.

According to Abend, morality consists of three levels: moral and immoral behavior, or the behavioral level; moral understandings and norms, or the normative level; and the moral background, which includes what moral concepts exist in a society, what moral methods can be used, what reasons can be given, and what objects can be morally evaluated at all. This background underlies the behavioral and normative levels; it supports, facilitates, and enables them.

Through this perspective, Abend historically examines the work of numerous business ethicists and organizations–such as Protestant ministers, business associations, and business schools–and identifies two types of moral background. “Standards of Practice” is characterized by its scientific worldview, moral relativism, and emphasis on individuals’ actions and decisions. The “Christian Merchant” type is characterized by its Christian worldview, moral objectivism, and conception of a person’s life as a unity.

The Moral Background offers both an original account of the history of business ethics and a novel framework for understanding and investigating morality in general.

Bottum, “An Anxious Age”

Next month, Random House will publish An Anxious Age by Joseph Bottum. The publisher’s description follows.9780385518819

We live in a profoundly spiritual age, but not in any good way. Huge swaths of American culture are driven by manic spiritual anxiety and relentless supernatural worry. Radicals and traditionalists, liberals and conservatives, together with politicians, artists, environmentalists, followers of food fads, and the chattering classes of television commentators: America is filled with people frantically seeking confirmation of their own essential goodness. We are a nation desperate to stand of the side of morality–to know that we are righteous and dwell in the light.
In An Anxious Age, Joseph Bottum offers an account of modern America, presented as a morality tale formed by a collision of spiritual disturbances. And the cause, he claims, is the  most significant and least noticed historical fact of the last fifty years: the collapse of the mainline Protestant churches that were the source of social consensus and cultural unity. Our dangerous spiritual anxieties, broken loose from the churches that once contained them, now madden everything in American life.

Updating The Protestant Ethic and the Sprit of Capitalism, Max Weber’s sociological classic, An Anxious Age undertakes two case studies of contemporary social classes adrift in a nation without the religious understandings that gave them meaning. Looking at the college-educated elite he calls “the Poster Children,” Bottum sees the post-Protestant heirs of the old mainline Protestant domination of culture: dutiful descendants who claim the high social position of their Christian ancestors even while they reject their ancestors’ Christianity. Turning to the Swallows of Capistrano, the Catholics formed by the pontificate of John Paul II, Bottum evaluates the early victories–and later defeats–of the attempt to substitute Catholicism for the dying mainline voice in public life.

Sweeping across American intellectual and cultural history, An Anxious Age traces the course of national religion and warns about the strange angels and even stranger demons with which we now wrestle. Insightful and contrarian, wise and unexpected, An Anxious Age ranks among the great modern accounts of American culture.

Mandelbrote & Ledger-Lomas (eds.), “Dissent and the Bible in Britain, c.1650-1950″

Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Dissent and the Bible in Britain, c.1650-1950 by Scott Mandelbrote (University of Cambridge) and Michael Ledger-Lomas (King’s College). The publisher’s description follows.

The claim that the Bible was “the Christian’s only rule of faith and practice” has been fundamental to Protestant dissent. Dissenters first braved persecution and then justified their adversarial status in British society with the claim that they alone remained true to the biblical model of Christ’s Church. They produced much of the literature that guided millions of people in their everyday reading of Scripture, while the voluntary societies that distributed millions of Bibles to the British and across the world were heavily indebted to Dissent. Yet no single book has explored either what the Bible did for dissenters or what dissenters did to establish the hegemony of the Bible in British culture. The protracted conflicts over biblical interpretation that resulted from the bewildering proliferation of dissenting denominations have made it difficult to grasp their contribution as a whole. This volume evokes the great variety in the dissenting study and use of the Bible while insisting on the factors that gave it importance and underlying unity. Its ten essays range across the period from the later seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century and make reference to all the major dissenting denominations of the United Kingdom. The essays are woven together by a thematic introduction which places the Bible at the center of dissenting ecclesiology, eschatology, public worship, and “family religion,” while charting the political and theological divisions that made the cry of “the Bible only” so divisive for dissenters in practice.