Critical Issues in American Religious History: A Reader by Robert R. Mathisen

By Robert R. Mathisen

American citizens as a non secular humans event either stress and indecision as they combat with a number of serious matters on a daily basis. American society regularly struggles with its non secular previous. the first and secondary fabrics incorporated during this quantity tune non secular America's efforts to articulate its identification and future and enforce its non secular creeds and beliefs in an ever-changing society.

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Central to the American religious configuration has been the phenomenon of denominationalism. In medieval and Reformation-era Europe, religious groups had either the status of an established church—recognized and supported by the government to the exclusion of all others—or a dissenting sect, composed of a small number of zealous believers who pursued their independent course outside the law and frequently at the risk of their lives. The pluralism of New World society, later given the force of law by the First Amendment, introduced a new kind of religious organization—the denomination—which was both self-supporting and free from external interference.

Is it still possible to present a narrative account of the religious life of the people of the United States as a unified whole? Or shall we, in postmodern fashion, regard each locus of individual or group religious experience as an equally valid and useful entrée into understanding something about the American religious scene, while making no claims to seeing a whole which most likely does not even exist? What I am setting out to do in the following pages is something different from either, although it partakes of both approaches in passing.

Clebsch, “A New Historiography of American Religion,” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 32 (1963): 225–57. Arthur S. Link argues eloquently that from the point of view of “Biblical faith,” there is no such thing as Christian history as distinguished from other history (“The Historian’s Vocation,” Theology Today 19 [1963]: 75–89). 33 In the exuberance of the moment even Sidney Mead, sometimes criticized for his moderation by other “church” historians, said that it was no longer necessary to pay homage to “the rather presumptuous occupants of university chairs of secular history,” or to orient church history according to “the unpredictable and transient interpretive vagaries” or these men.

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