Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Religious Roots in America

Thomas Kidd has written several books on the Great Awakening and its influence on colonial, revolutionary and post-revolutionary America.  God of Liberty seems to provide the broadest overview of the subject, focusing on the age old question, Was our nation founded on Christian values?

I think it would be interesting to look at religion in colonial and revolutionary America.  Robert noted Making Haste from Babylon which goes back to the Mayflower and explores the very early religious life in America.

There is also Nathan Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity, which explores the various strains of Protestantism in this country, as they grew out of the Second Great Awakening. 

Feel free to suggest other titles if the topic interests you.


  1. Religion seems to be a hot topic with C-Span viewers. Questions came up often for Maier.

    A couple things she said that I found interesting:

    That Jefferson probably couldn't be elected president today -- his religious views were too radical. (I noticed the other day that the Smithsonian is working on preserving his Bible which is or is soon to be put on display for the rest of the year).

    Her response to prayer in school was that it didn't belong. The early public school system was so Protestant that Catholics didn't feel comfortable sending their children to them -- I had never thought of that as the origin of Catholic schools. All children should be made welcome in public schools.

    I also thought her description of Madison and Jefferson's religious beliefs -- that it was a matter of opinion and the state has no business interfering with opinion (or belief) -- was interesting.

  2. They were both Deists, as I recall, and took a broader view of religion. I think it was Kwame who was sworn into Congress on Jefferson's copy of the Koran. It is ironic that so many on the religious right would view them, along with the rest of the fathers as pious leaders. I think the only one who really was pious was Adams.

  3. I read Philips book, American Theocracy, sometime back and was rather disappointed. He really doesn't seem to understand the role religion has had in shaping American politics, and pays only desultory mention to the Great Awakenings that had a profound impact on the American religious psyche. Not to mention that religion shaped much of the progressive movement in America from abolition to William Jennings Bryan's presidential bids.

    Like most neo-cons (and neo-libs as well), they would like to discount religion all together, but here we are with yet another devoutly religious president who obviously has had a very hard time coming to terms with gays in the military.

    Unfortunately, it really is hard to engage in relatively objective discussions on the matter of religion, and most books seem to promote one or another agenda. However, this reshaping of the religious views of the founding fathers that has been taking place is most disconcerting, as it shows virtually no regard for history.

  4. I have really liked the books I read by Philips, but he's not a historian. He's more a disappointed Republican. I wish he were still writing. Plus, I think it's hard to write honestly about religion in this country -- it's such a personal subject, as it should be. We do seem to have backed a long way off the enlightenment, though.

    Religion was one of the topics that I found interesting in the ratification process when they argued about the risk of letting papists and mohammedanists (or Jeffersonians) get into the government. But on the other side, you have those who didn't even want a prayer introduced for fear of insulting someone.

    If ever there were a distinction between the "founders" and the "people" -- that is a good one to point to.

  5. All these new books are that are being suggested for the next reading appear to be excellent choices.

  6. They are tempting. I think you can explore religion objectively, at least in terms of its influence on politics, which is very pervasive. I don't know if any of these books necessarily does that but exploring the religious roots in America does help one get a sense of the baggage we carry with us. The attempt at creating a truly secular state hasn't exactly panned out.

  7. Have always meant to read a book on this as a lot of religious sects took hold in Western NY and the Finger Lakes including the start of the Mormon religion.I was driving down a country road a few years back and came upon a small graveyard that holds one of Joeseph Smith's wives.It was odd because he found the tablets miles away and in the day of Horse and Buggy it was a good days ride but he evidently spent time one village south of ours back in the day.

  8. My bad it was actually Brigham Young who lived and worked as a carpenter in Mendon,NY and lost a wife Miriam(died 1832?) who is buried in Tomlison's Corner graveyard.Ironic because Smith was a county over to the east.

  9. Here's a link from Bo to a look at that graveyard. I always find these kinds of sites fascinating:


  10. Sounds like you have enough interest in the topic to get a group together, Gintaras. I may be able to join you, but will probably catch up with the next book. Maybe we could do Clark then?

  11. The concept of "Hell" seems to be hotly debated these days among evangelicals,


    There was a special on the History channel not so long ago, where the Book of Revelations was examined, with various evangelical pastors interviewed, including one who had reached the same conclusion as Bell that there is simply too much emphasis on "Hell" and not enough on "Love." He too was thrown out of his church but has since rebuilt a congregation.