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date: 25 September 2017

Protestantism in America

Summary and Keywords

It is virtually impossible to understand the history of the American experience without Protestantism. The theological and religious descendants of the Protestant Reformation arrived in the United States in the early 17th century, shaped American culture in the 18th century, grew dramatically in the 19th century, and continued to be the guardians of American religious life in the 20th century. Protestantism, of course, is not monolithic. In fact, the very idea at the heart of Protestantism—the translation of the Bible into vernacular languages so it can be read and interpreted by all men and women—has resulted in thousands of different denominations, all claiming to be true to the teachings of scripture.

Protestantism, with its emphasis on the belief that human beings can access God as individuals, flourished in a nation that celebrated democracy and freedom. During the period of British colonization, especially following the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, Protestantism went hand in hand with British concepts of political liberty. As the British people celebrated their rights-oriented philosophy of government and compared their freedoms with the tyranny of France and other absolute monarchies in Europe, they also extolled the religious freedom that they had to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. Following the American Revolution, this historic connection between political liberty and Protestant liberty proved to be compatible with the kind of democratic individualism that emerged in the decades preceding the Civil War and, in many respects, continues to define American political culture.

Protestantism, of course, is first and foremost a religious movement. The proliferation of Protestant denominations provides the best support for G. K. Chesterton’s quip that “America is a nation with the soul of a church.” Spiritual individualism, a commitment to the authority of an inspired Bible, and the idea that faith in the Christian gospel is all that is needed to be saved from eternal punishment, has transformed the lives of millions and millions of ordinary Americans over the course of the last four hundred years.

Keywords: Protestantism, mainline Protestantism, Evangelicalism, African American religion, American history, women’s history

The Protestant Reformation

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk living in Wittenberg, Germany, composed ninety-five arguments against the Catholic Church’s practice of indulgences, certificates that could be purchased for the purpose of lessening the time that friends and relatives spent in purgatory. Luther, who was in the midst of a rigorous study of the Bible at the time that Johannes Tetzel arrived in Wittenberg to sell indulgences, nailed his so-called Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the town church. The practice of spiritual and intellectual leaders nailing theological announcements to church doors was common in 16th-century Europe, but the content of Luther’s message was not. Luther argued, initially in the Ninety-Five Theses and more fully in his later writings, that salvation did not come from the purchase of indulgences or, for that matter, any human effort. It was instead an act of God’s grace—a free gift offered to all those willing to repent of their sins, turn toward God, and believe in the atoning power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Luther’s theology, which has been boiled down to three basic ideas—justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and sola scriptura—spread quickly throughout Europe as an alternative form of Christianity to the one that had been offered for over a thousand years by the Catholic Church. Soon the followers of Luther were known as “Protestants,” perhaps stemming from the Wittenberg monk’s “protest” against Church teaching. In Zurich, a Catholic priest named Ulrich Zwingli preached doctrines similar to Luther, challenging the practice of indulgences and the Church’s prohibition against clerical marriage and affirming the belief that the Bible alone, and not the teachings of the Church, was the sole authority for Christian practice. Others pushed Luther and Zwingli to go even further in their reforms. Led by Conrad Grebel and eventually Menno Simons, a group of radical Protestants known as “Anabaptists” spoke out strongly against government-sponsored Christianity. They favored the baptism of believers over infant baptism and claimed that war and violence were not compatible with the teachings of Jesus.1

But perhaps no individual had more impact on the type of Protestantism that developed roots in the British colonies than John Calvin, a legal scholar and theologian from Geneva. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion embraced much of the Bible-centered theology of Luther and Zwingli, but placed a strong emphasis on the sinfulness of human beings and the sovereignty of God as applied through the doctrines of predestination and election. Unlike the Anabaptists, Calvin believed that Protestant Christianity must reform all aspects of society, and he set out to turn Geneva into nothing less than a Protestant civilization.2

By the middle of the 16th century, Calvin’s ideas had made their way to England. After King Henry VIII pulled England out of the Roman Catholic Church following a dispute with the pope over Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Calvinist ideas began to slowly penetrate English religious life through the work of Thomas Cranmer and others who favored reform. When Henry VIII died, the throne passed to his young son Edward VI. During Edward’s short reign, Cranmer was influential in the publication of the Book of Common Prayer and a Protestant confession of faith commonly referred to as the “Forty-Two Articles.” These reforms suffered a setback when Edward died and Henry’s daughter Mary took the throne, but they were eventually restored by Queen Elizabeth when she replaced Mary in 1558. Under Mary, the Church of England remained closely connected to the state, and from this point forward England would be a Protestant country.3

The Planting of Protestantism in America

While Catholicism would greatly influence the colonization of North America, especially in the French settlements of New France and the Spanish settlement of New Spain, Protestantism would have the most formidable influence on the British colonies established along the eastern coast of the continent. In April 1601, King James I of England issued a charter to a group of investors known as the London Company to settle what would become Jamestown, the first successful English colony in America. The charter urged the settlers, among other things, to “tend to the Glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagating of Christian Religion to such People, [who] as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God.” By the end of 1607 the settlers of Jamestown had constructed a church for Anglican worship and eventually required all inhabitants of the colony to attend. During much of the 17th century the Virginia government was actively involved in promoting Christian morality through laws that punished adulterers, fornicators, and slanderers. Though Jamestown was best known for the pursuit of wealth through tobacco, Protestantism also played an important role in its settlement and the development of the entire Chesapeake region.4

In 1620, a group of English Calvinists arrived on what today is Cape Cod to establish the Plymouth Colony. Known as “separatists,” and later “pilgrims,” these settlers believed that the Church of England had grown so corrupt that it was not worth saving. They thought that the only way to have a pure church was to leave the Church of England. Many of them left England physically as well, establishing a small settlement in Holland. Some of them eventually found their way to America, arriving aboard the Mayflower. Most English Calvinists, however, were not willing to abandon the Church of England. Believing separation from the mother church to be sinful, they attempted to purify it from within. This proved difficult, especially when Anglican authorities, under the leadership of King Charles I and Charles Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury, set out to remove whatever influence these appropriately named “Puritans” had in the Church of England. Puritan ministers were removed from office for refusing to use the Book of Common Prayer in their worship. Church courts fined and excommunicated Puritan laypersons. These religious struggles, coupled with an economic downturn in England during the late 1620s, prompted many Puritans to leave England in search of religious freedom and access to more land. Throughout the 1630s, in what became known as “the Great Puritan Migration,” over twenty thousand English Calvinists came to America. One of the most successful of these settlements was founded by Puritans who arrived in present-day Boston in 1630 under the leadership of soon-to-be colonial governor John Winthrop.5

Winthrop knew exactly what kind of colony he wanted to build in America. On the voyage across the Atlantic, on a ship called Arbella, Winthrop delivered one of the best-known sermons in American history, “A Model of Christian Charity.” This sermon called for the Puritans to build a Protestant civilization that would stand as a “city on a hill”—a model Calvinist society that would draw the attention of the English-speaking world. The Massachusetts Bay Colony tried to construct its society on the tenets of Christian orthodoxy as the colonists understood it. At the core of this society would be what Puritans called “visible saints.” These were individuals who could testify to a conversion experience. Visible sainthood was required for church membership, a privilege that gave people the right to participate in local congregational governance (for adult males), partake of Communion, and have their children baptized. While the Puritan leaders were clearly interested in creating a pure and holy Protestant society, it is hard to tell if they had the demographic base of committed Christians to sustain it. In the early years of settlement, attendance at religious services was required of all inhabitants. Church membership, however, was never high in the 17th century. Membership was a mark of true Christian commitment, and one could obtain it only through a conversion experience. As the 17th century progressed, all indicators suggest that church membership gradually declined throughout New England.6

New England colonists often practiced forms of spirituality that did not necessarily conform to the teachings of Puritan ministers. They were lukewarm adherents to the Puritan way who tended to live their faith on their own terms and in their own manner. Those who challenged Puritan orthodoxy usually found themselves on the outside looking in. Roger Williams, for example, ran into trouble with colonial officials when he insisted that the church and state remain completely separate in Massachusetts and opposed the way Winthrop’s government was treating the local Indian populations. In 1635 he was banished from the colony. He eventually bought land from the local Narragansett Indians and founded a new settlement at a place called Providence. Anne Hutchinson was another dissenter. She challenged the authority of the Puritan ministers, and by extension the government of Massachusetts, by affirming that the Puritans’ way of salvation was the equivalent of a form of works righteousness. It did not help her case that she was presiding over a Bible study in her home that included men, as spiritual authority in Puritan society rested in the hands of men. Finally, constructing a Puritan civilization in America meant dealing with New England’s Indian population. Though the Puritan policy toward Native Americans was not as brutal as that of the Spanish in Central and South America, it did require a series of “just” wars and the conversion of Indians to Puritan Christianity through the establishment of missionary activity often carried out in communities known as “praying towns.”7

When the Stuart crown in the person of Charles II was restored in the wake of the English Civil War and the reign of Oliver Cromwell, several more colonies were founded in North America. In the lower South, North Carolina, South Carolina, and eventually Georgia all fused religion with the state through the establishment of the Church of England. Meanwhile, the middle colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania joined Rhode Island in promoting religious freedom. Dutch Calvinists had established New Netherland in 1620, and Manhattan became a place where different Protestant denominations (as well as Catholics and Jews) were able to worship, for the most part, without government interference. When the English defeated the Dutch and established New York, an Anglican establishment was put in place, but the colony remained religiously diverse. Meanwhile, in 1681, William Penn founded Pennsylvania as a haven for Quakers and other persecuted European dissenters. By the turn of the 18th century, Pennsylvania was the most diverse of the British colonies. Swedish Lutherans (many of whom were the descendants of the settlers to the New Sweden Colony, a Delaware Valley settlement that predated Pennsylvania) were present in the Delaware Valley. German Calvinists, Lutherans, and Anabaptists (of many different varieties) were moving onto the Pennsylvania frontier where they were joined by large numbers of Scots-Irish Presbyterians.8

Protestantism in 18th-Century British America

Protestant life intensified during the 18th century, but it also, somewhat ironically, made its peace with the forces of the Enlightenment. Evangelical revivals had been part of local congregations in the Protestant Atlantic world since the Reformation, but during the 1730s and 1740s, piety, “heart religion,” and the propagation of a new form of Protestantism centered on the experience of the “new birth” reached a fever pitch through a series of transatlantic evangelical revivals that have been described as the “First Great Awakening.” In the late 1730s, Anglican preacher George Whitefield traveled throughout the colonies to raise money for his orphanage in the new colony of Georgia and, in the process, challenged his audiences to a deeper spiritual encounter with God through the New Birth. Whitefield preached before massive crowds in colonial cities and effectively used the burgeoning print culture in the colonies to market himself and his egalitarian message that had special appeal women, slaves, and the poor. As Whitefield stirred evangelical passions with his powerful speaking voice and extemporaneous sermons, Jonathan Edwards, the Congregational minister in Northampton, Massachusetts, stirred the evangelical mind. Edwards is perhaps best known for his revival sermon “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God,” but his most important contribution to the awakening was his efforts to defend it as a true work of the spirit of God against the clerical critics—Boston minister Charles Chauncy being the most prominent—who thought the revivals represented a new form of evangelical religion that was subversive of ministerial authority, disorderly, and overly enthusiastic. For the rest of the 18th century, the defenders of this Great Awakening brand of evangelicalism were described as the “New Lights” (or the “New Side” in the Presbyterian middle colonies), while those who favored a more rational version of Christianity garnered the label “Old Lights” (or “Old Sides” in the mid-Atlantic).9

As evangelical revivals raged, the 18th century also saw a close connection between Protestantism and the transatlantic intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment. While European Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire and Hume railed against Christianity in all its forms, the influence of the so-called Age of Reason in British America was always bound with Christianity. Though deists such as Thomas Paine or Ethan Allen could be found in the British colonies, most intellectuals found ways to integrate reason and the pursuit of moral improvement with traditional forms of Christianity. Many Anglicans, for example, embraced a latitudinarian version of Protestantism that celebrated Enlightenment universalism by promoting the moral principles shared by all Protestant faiths, rather than the specific doctrines of particular brands of Protestantism. Many 18th-century Calvinist evangelicals in the middle colonies, especially John Witherspoon, the president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton, maintained a belief in the New Birth and the importance of warm-hearted piety, but turned to the Scottish Enlightenment as a guide for understanding morality. Unlike Jonathan Edwards, who believed that virtue could only come through an encounter with God through conversion, Witherspoon embraced the New Moral Philosophy, an enlightened approach to virtue which taught that all humans can act ethically in society because they were created with a moral sense or conscience.10

As white Protestants wrestled with the implications of evangelical religion and the Enlightenment, they lived among thousands of African slaves who were forcibly brought to the British colonies as a source of labor. With the exception of some Quakers and a few German Anabaptists, there was little anti-slavery sentiment in the colonies. Enslaved Africans were slow to embrace Protestantism, preferring to practice the African religious traditions they brought with them to North America. Cases of slaveholders with an interest in converting their labor force to Christianity were few and far between. Protestant missionaries were often discouraged that slaves appropriated the gospel message on their own terms, assimilating it with their African belief systems. Many slaveholders feared that the democratic and egalitarian message of the evangelical movement, especially as preached by Whitefield and his followers, would pose a threat to the God-ordained social order that they hoped to maintain in the 18th-century South.11

From the American Revolution to the Civil War

While the major colonial statements written to resist British taxation schemes between 1765 and 1774 relied more upon Whig political thought and the long history of English liberties than the Bible or Christian theology, Protestants did play a role in precipitating American independence. Colonial clergy were consumed with the political issues of the day. It was quite common for ministers to blend Whig politics with biblical themes to justify rebellion against England. As good Protestants, clergy argued that the tyranny of the King and Parliament was similar to the religious tyranny of the Catholic Church. Calvinists argued that “Providence” was on the side of the patriots because God was always on the side of liberty. Others took biblical ideas about “freedom in Christ” and conveniently applied them to the cause of political liberty. Loyalists, or those who opposed the American Revolution, also made arguments based on the Bible. Many Anglican ministers appealed to verses such as Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 to make the case that Christians should obey the government. The colonial rebellion, they argued, was conceived in sin. Church attendance and membership during the American Revolution remained low. Many churches were destroyed during the war, Anglican ministers fled to New York or Canada, and people became more preoccupied with the political issues of the day.12

Bible-centered Protestantism seems to have had little impact on the official statements made by the Founding Fathers about the meaning of their rebellion and the form of government they sought to establish. The Declaration of Independence made vague references to a “Creator” but said nothing about the Bible or Christianity. The Constitution said even less. It made no reference to God and it opposed religious tests for federal office holders. The First Amendment separated church and the state through its rejection of an establishment of religion and provided for the free exercise of religion by all Americans. This, however, did not stop some individual states from keeping their Protestant establishments in place or requiring religious tests for officeholders. For example, the Congregational Church remained the official religion of Massachusetts until 1833.13

Ironically, it was the disestablishment of religion that led to a revival of Protestantism in the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Without government support, denominations needed to compete for members and offer a brand of Protestantism that would be attractive to a growing nation of farmers who were moving ever so rapidly to the frontier. During the 19th century the U.S. population experienced rapid growth, but the growth of church membership and attendance outpaced it. Churches with European roots, such as the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists gave way to forms of Protestantism that were more conducive to the free-will and democratic character of American culture. The Methodists and Baptist benefited immensely from this “democratization of American Christianity.” Itinerant preachers such as Francis Asbury and, later, Charles Finney brought organization to this democratic brand of Protestantism and were influential in triggering new revivals on the frontier, in the so-called burned-over district of upstate New York, and on college campuses.14

In addition to the Methodists and Baptists, new religious movements began to form in the midst of this voluntary religious society. For example, Presbyterians Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone forged a movement to restore the spirt of the 1st-century church. Their Restoration Movement quickly spread among people looking for a common-sense approach to Protestantism that drew on the primitive faith that they had read about in the Acts of the Apostles. Joseph Smith founded the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormons, after he received a revelation from God that he believed added to the teachings of the Bible. Other Protestant groups, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, or Millerites, built their religious community around a Saturday Sabbath and a belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ. There was a certain Protestant logic to this proliferation of new denominations. As men and women read the Bible and interpreted it for themselves, they began to gather with other believers who read and interpreted the Bible in the same way. The American experiment in religious freedom and disestablishment, coupled with the political culture of American democracy, made this possible.15

As revival fires burned and new forms of Protestant emerged, many evangelical believers set out in the early republic to forge a Christian republic. Though the U.S. Constitution made it clear that there would be no official state church or religious establishment in the nation, Protestant parachurch organizations known as voluntary societies or “benevolent” societies sought to forge an unofficial moral establishment. Fueled by the evangelical revivals and the threat of secularism that they often associated with Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and their skeptical followers, organizations such as the American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, the American Sunday School Union, and the American Temperance Society, to name a few, formed what popular minister Lyman Beecher described as a “disciplined moral militia” to keep Protestant culture strong. Some of these societies, like the American Bible Society and the American Tract Society, were part of a surge in religious print in antebellum America. Some were catalysts for moral reforms such as temperance, the defense of the Christian Sabbath, and women’s rights. The American Board of Commissioner for Foreign Missions took the benevolent empire abroad. Other missionaries stayed home to spread the gospel among Native Americans. The flood of evangelical zeal during this period also led to abolitionism. Organizations such as the American Anti-Slavery Society and abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Arthur and Lewis Tappan, and Harriett Beecher Stowe were all, in one way or another, products of evangelical awakenings.16

Much of the grassroots effort behind the “benevolent empire” in the United States came from evangelical women, prompting one historian to conclude that “women’s history is American religious history.” Women dominated the membership rolls of Protestant churches in 19th-century America. They joined benevolent societies, and formed their own, to express their faith publically in a way that was not available to them in the 18th century. Men believed women had a natural capacity for charity work because their disposition was more tender and affectionate. As one of the leaders of the American Bible Society put it, women were able “to soften the severity of the male character and sympathize more fully” with those in need. Some believed that women had an important role to play in the development of Protestant morality in the nation by training sons to exemplify a love for God and country. Such “republican motherhood” gave women a part to play in the cultivation of a virtuous republic. Many evangelical women developed national reputations as leaders in the women’s rights movement. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the organizers of the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, were just two examples of the way in which Protestant church life nurtured the growing women’s suffrage movement.17

Protestantism also made inroads among the enslaved and free blacks in this period. In the South, slaves forged their own understanding of Christianity, one that stressed joyous singing and dancing and the hope of freedom. These religious celebrations birthed a distinct African American Protestantism that is still with us today. Though slaveholders remained reluctant to convert their slaves, many of them were attracted to those Protestant denominations—such as the Methodists and the Baptists—who preached more democratic forms of Christianity that celebrated spiritual equality before God. Some churches in the South opened their doors to slaves and free blacks, usually reserving seats in the balcony for them. Free blacks also began, for the first time, to establish their own congregations and denominations. In Philadelphia, Richard Allen was a popular Methodist preacher among the African American community. In 1793 he established the Bethel Church for Negro Methodists and eventually organized a separate black Methodist denomination: the African Methodist Episcopal Church.18

Nineteenth-century Protestants often debated the finer points of the biblical theology. Virtually every denomination had its own schools, seminaries, and theologians for the purpose of defending its specific readings of the Bible. But for many, Protestantism was also defined by what it was not. Adherents to various denominations may have had their theological and ecclesiastical differences, but they were united in the fact that they were not Catholics. Anti-Catholicism in America had been around since the founding of the British colonies in the 17th century, but it reached a fever pitch when Irish and German immigrants began arriving to the United States in large numbers between roughly 1830 and 1860. Lyman Beecher’s tract A Plea for the West discussed the dangers of “popery” on the American frontier and drew upon longstanding fears that Catholic beliefs were antithetical to Protestant liberty. Political parties such as the American Party (or Know-Nothings) were formed by Protestants with the intent purpose of keeping Catholic immigrants out of the country.19

In many ways, the American Civil War could be understood as a struggle over the fate of Protestantism in the United States. In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln reminded the nation that “both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Both the Union and the Confederacy thought that their cause was blessed by God and supported by his providence. They both claimed to be Protestant Christian nations. The Union believed that the Constitution was a sacred document that put the stamp of God on the United States and the Confederacy, by seceding, was committing a sinful act. Moreover, as the war became less about preserving the Union and more about ending slavery, representatives of the Union drew upon Protestant-based abolitionist arguments for the moral superiority of their cause. In the South, the Confederacy had little problem reconciling slavery with their claim to a Protestant civilization. Southern clergy justified slavery with a host of biblical passages and chided northern abolitionists for their failure to obey the Word of God on this issue. The people of the Confederate States of America believed that they were citizens of a Christian nation precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery. No one was more forceful in promoting this view than Robert Dabney. Reflecting on the Civil War, he argued that slaveholders were doing the will of God by lifting the nation’s four million slaves “out of idolatrous debasement.” By Christianizing slaves the South had brought “more than half a million adult communicants in Christian churches!” Indeed, both the North and South read and interpreted the Bible differently. This was the problem of Protestantism.20

American Protestantism: 1865–1919

Following the Civil War, American Protestants were forced to deal with massive changes to American society. The rise of big business and mass manufacturing coincided with urbanization and a wave of new immigrants to American shores, mostly Catholics and Jews from eastern and southern Europe. Many middle-class Protestants—such as Frances Willard, the leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union—continued to fight for traditional moral values. Others—such as Dwight L. Moody and, later, Billy Sunday—responded to change by staging mass revivals for the purposes of spreading evangelical Protestantism to the urban population in the hopes that souls would be saved and morals would be improved. Liberally minded Protestants, such as Walter Rauschenbusch, a professor at Rochester (NY) Theological Seminary, and Washington Gladden, the pastor of a Congregational church in Columbus, Ohio, put forward a new brand of Protestant Christianity concerned more with improving this world than preparing one’s soul for the next world. Known as the Social Gospel, the leaders of this movement set out to Christianize America through reforms, government programs, and voluntary societies designed to tackle the social problems—poverty, disease, and immorality—resulting from industrialization, urbanization, and immigration.21

Many late 19th-century evangelical Protestants found comfort in changing times by attending prophecy conferences. Speakers at these conferences were devoted to interpreting the prophetic books and passages of the Bible as a means of predicting how the plan of God would unfold in the so-called last days. The speakers at these conferences entertained and edified their audiences with lectures on the “rapture,” the Second Coming of Christ, the “tribulation,” and the meaning of the various creatures and events in the book of Revelation. As some evangelicals waited for the Second Coming of Christ, others fought for social change. William Jennings Bryan, arguably the era’s most famous evangelical, ran for president of the United States three times as the nominee of the Democratic Party. His faith led him to fight for the dignity of all human beings, to oppose American involvement in World War I, and to protect schoolchildren from Darwinian evolution. Billy Sunday shared many of Bryan’s commitments. A former professional baseball player, he converted to evangelical Christianity and became a full-time evangelist. Not only did he try to win his audience to Christ with his theatrical preaching, but he crusaded relentlessly against what he deemed to be the evils of the saloon.22

World War I was the decisive moment that turned 19th-century evangelicals into 20th-century fundamentalists. Many linked German higher criticism—the belief that the Bible was not God-inspired and should be read and interpreted much like any other piece of literature—with the German war machine. They thus viewed the war as a battle against both the Kaiser and the German university. Following the war, American evangelicals transferred their militant opposition to Germany into a fight for control of their denominations. In 1920, Baptist editor Curtis Lee Laws coined the term “fundamentalist” to describe any evangelical who was willing “to do battle royal for the Fundamentals [of the Christian faith].” Many of these “fundamentals” came from a series of essays titled The Fundamentals: A Testimony to Truth published by theologically conservative Protestants between 1910 and 1915 for the purpose of defending orthodox Christianity against higher criticism, liberal theology, and evolution. These evangelicals were angry because their denominations were in danger of being taken over by Protestant liberals who denied traditional Christian doctrines such as the inerrancy of the Bible and the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Bryan’s fight against Darwinism culminated in 1925 when the evangelical hero agreed to prosecute John Scopes, a school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, who had violated state law by teaching evolution in his science classes. The American Civil Liberties Union hired famed trial lawyer Clarence Darrow to defend Scopes. The trial was an utter disaster for the fundamentalist movement. Darrow called Bryan to the stand as an expert witness and proceeded to embarrass him before a room of national print and radio reporters. Bryan passed away five days after the trial ended, and the fundamentalist movement went with him. These militant evangelicals lost control of their denomination and their hold on American culture.23

The winners in the so-called fundamentalist-modernist controversy were the liberal Protestants who were willing to adapt their faith to fit the intellectual and scientific spirit of the age. Many liberal Protestants questioned core doctrines affirmed by the historic Christian church. They were often described as “modernists” because of their willingness to conform their theological convictions to modern culture. Many modernists believed in the authority of the Bible for matters of faith and practice, but understood it more as a witness to God than as the Word of God. Some liberals believed in a Creator-God but thought that this God worked through the science of evolution. Ultimately, they tied their theological wagons to the train of progress. In 1908, several liberal clergy established an ecumenical fellowship of Protestant churches known as the Federal Council of Christian Churches. The churches of the Federal Council would work together in a variety of projects related to missions and the promotion of Protestantism in the United States. The Federal Council of Churches, and its successor, the National Council of Churches, would serve as the umbrella organizations for all the major Protestant denominations for decades to come.24

Liberal Protestants were strong supporters of American involvement in World War I. Though there were many pacifists in their ranks, the majority of liberals at the turn of the 20th century saw war as a means of securing a peaceful world—the kind of world that would spread God-inspired democracy and even precipitate the Second Coming of Christ. In this sense, liberal Protestants understood World War I as a “war for righteousness.” It pitted the forces of God, in the form of the United States of America and its commitment to democracy and social justice, against the forces of evil, as embodied in the religious tribalism and antidemocratic tendencies of Germany. These liberals found support for their messianic vision from President Woodrow Wilson. A liberal Presbyterian elder himself, Wilson often told audiences of clergy and religious laypersons that the United States was a nation with a special destiny to spread Christianity to the world. Before the American entrance into World War I, Wilson was an advocate of peace. But his efforts to negotiate with European leaders for an end to the war did not please many liberal Protestant clergy. One group of progressive ministers, which included noted New York pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick, criticized Wilson’s efforts on behalf of peace, claiming that an end to the war in 1917 would fail to fulfill God’s plan to punish Germany for the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania, the invasion of Belgium, and the general instigation of the conflict.25

Not all American Protestants participated in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. The wars for control of denominations did not seem to affect Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, for example, in the same way that they divided Presbyterians and Baptists. Some evangelicals, who had been influenced by the 18th-century Methodist preacher John Wesley’s emphasis on personal holiness expressed their faith in intensely personal ways, as opposed to the institutional forms of Protestants fighting battles over correct doctrine. One of these evangelicals, Charles Fox Parham, established schools in Kansas and Texas that emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in the practice of Christian faith. He believed that it was possible for Christians to reach a state of spiritual perfection and receive a second “baptism of the Holy Spirit” that would usher them into a deeper relationship with God often evidenced by speaking in tongues. In 1906, William Seymour, an African American preacher and pastor of the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, led a revival of tongues-speaking men and women who claimed to have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Seymour and the other leaders of this revival compared the experience to the outpouring of God’s spirit on the followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The Pentecostal movement was born and would grow into a worldwide force in global Christianity known for its celebration of women’s leadership and its ethnic and racial diversity.26

The Pentecostal movement attracted large numbers of African Americans. In the wake of slavery, blacks began to form their own churches, denominations, religious schools, and publications to mirror white churches in an age of segregation and Jim Crow. Many of these black churches, such as those affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the National Baptist Convention, were led by preachers with strong personalities. In his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, African American intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois described black preachers as “the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American soil.” The preacher functioned as “the healer of the sick, the interpreter of the Unknown, the comforter of the sorrowing, the supernatural avenger of the wrong, and the one who rudely but picturesquely expressed the longing, disappointment, and resentment of a stolen and oppressed people.” It was also during this period that millions of African Americans left the South for northern cities, a movement often described as the “Great Migration.” The black churchgoers of the South fundamentally transformed African American religious life in the urban North by introducing a more emotional style of worship and an emphasis on exile and deliverance that had been drawn from their experience in slavery.27

Protestantism and the Battle for Christian America

In the wake of World War I, modernists gained control of the major denominations and became the unofficial, and in some way self-appointed, guardians of America’s Christian culture. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt described the United States as a “Protestant country.” Mainline Protestants—Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Northern Baptists, and Disciples of Christ—held immense cultural authority and could be found in the upper echelons of business, government, and education. The liberals of the Protestant mainline fellowshipped together under the auspices of the National Council of Churches (which replaced the Federal Council of Churches in 1950), took ecumenical approaches to Christian unity, maintained American Protestantism’s long history of anti-Catholicism, and turned to the editors of The Christian Century magazine to provide them with a theological voice. Though many of the laypeople who filled Protestant churches in this period sought to live lives of piety and personal devotion to God, the movement’s intellectual leadership often took cues from the Social Gospel movement, tending to stress social activism over evangelical conversation as the best indicator of true Christian faith. But it was also true that during the 1930s and 1940s mainline Protestants expressed difficulties of their own. The modernist dream of ushering in the Second Coming of Christ through efforts at moral reform seemed utopian and out of touch with the economic woes experienced by Americans living through the Great Depression. Many optimistic Protestants became disillusioned by the horrors of two world wars that discredited their project of wedding Christianity to progress. Union Theological Seminary professor Reinhold Niebuhr used his national voice to challenge the utopian visions of social change promoted by the Protestant left and the social gospelers while simultaneously chiding evangelicals for their literal interpretations of the Bible and restrictive views of religious faith. Mainline Protestants also believed that they were in a fight for religious and culture control of America against the forces of secularism and the ever-growing Catholic Church.28

Meanwhile, Protestant fundamentalists, ousted from their denominations and positions of cultural power, turned inward. In the half century between 1925 and 1975, fundamentalists withdrew from public life and developed their own subculture made up of Christian schools, colleges, publications, radio programs, youth agencies, and other parachurch organizations. They also returned to their roots in revivalism. If evangelicals were no longer custodians of the culture, they could still forge a Christian America by winning people to Christ. This focus on revivalism was promoted heavily by the National Association of Evangelicals, a fellowship of conservative Protestant denominations who were ready to eschew the label “fundamentalist” and all its negative trappings in favor of “evangelical.” The great evangelical hero of the era was Billy Graham, a youth evangelist who grew into perhaps the most recognizable Christian of the 20th century. At the peak of his career in the 1950s and 1960s, Graham crusaded throughout the United States and the world delivering the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. His messages were filled with jeremiads against divorce, promiscuous sex, materialism, alcohol abuse, and crime, but he always ended his sermons by calling people to accept Jesus Christ as personal savior as a means of gaining eternal life and overcoming America’s social problems. Graham was joined in this movement by a group of young, educated evangelicals who sought to bring conservative theology into the mainstream of American intellectual and religious life. These so-called neo-evangelicals included Carl F. H. Henry, Edward Carnell, John Harold Ockenga, and a host of other thinkers who helped to found Fuller Theological Seminary and Christianity Today magazine.29

Both mainline Protestants and evangelicals contributed mightily to the massive growth of organized Christianity in the 1950s. President Dwight D. Eisenhower set the agenda for this new awakening when he wrote, “Without God there could be no American form of government, nor an American way of life.” During the 1950s the U.S. population grew by 19 percent, but church attendance grew by 30 percent. Between 1951 and 1961 Protestants added over twelve million people to their ranks. Church giving also boomed. Between 1950 and 1955 financial contributions to some Protestant churches rose by nearly 50 percent. What was most striking about this new revival of American religion was the sense of Protestant unity that it fostered. Differences between evangelicals and mainline Protestants did not disappear during this decade, but Protestants of all stripes shared a common purpose of responding to perceived threats from Catholics and communists. Much to the chagrin of some evangelicals, Billy Graham reached out to mainline Protestant clergy by bringing them onto the platform during his crusades and giving them the opportunity to speak and pray.

A close link between Christianity and the federal government also emerged in this period—a phenomenon that scholars have called “civil religion.” When the National Council of Churches was formed in Cleveland in 1950, those present at the meeting witnessed a ten-foot-high banner over the main platform that said, “This Nation Under God.” In 1954, Congress approved an act to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. This connection between God and country was further strengthened when in 1955 Congress opted to put the words “In God We Trust” on all U.S. coins and currency. The following year it changed the national motto from “E pluribus unum” to “In God We Trust.” Eisenhower was a strong supporter of this civil religion. He opened his cabinet meetings with prayer and even read a prayer at his inauguration ceremony.30

The 1950s and 1960s also witnessed the powerful role of black Protestant churches in the fight to end government-sponsored segregation. While white Protestants in the South remained committed to maintain the legacy of Jim Crow, African American clergy and their followers led the movement for civil rights. Most historians now agree that this powerful social movement in American life was less about the triumph of progressive and liberal ideals and more about a revival of an Old Testament prophetic tradition that led African Americans to hold their nation accountable for the decidedly unchristian behavior it showed to many of its citizens. In 1950, in the wake of Montgomery bus boycott, a young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. brought black ministers together to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight segregation. Several historians have described the civil rights movement as nothing less than a religious crusade. African Americans appealed to the Old Testament story of Exodus. Their marches and protests often included hymns and sermons. In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King understood justice in Christian terms. Segregation laws were unjust not only because they violated the principles of the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) but because they did not conform to the laws of God. King argued, using the views of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and theologian Paul Tillich, that segregation degraded “human personality.” He used biblical examples of civil disobedience—such as the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the Jews who took a stand for God’s law over the law of King Nebuchadnezzar—to make his points. King and the early leaders of the civil rights movement set out to construct a new kind of Christian nation—a beloved community of love, harmony, and equality.31

The 1960s were not good years for American evangelicals concerned about the Christian identity of the United States. The counterculture seemed to be challenging the kind of morality necessary for a Christian republic to survive. The feminist movement empowered women in a way that led them to reject what some evangelicals saw as women’s God-given place in society. Rock-and-roll music and the culture that came with it glorified drugs, alcohol, and free sex. In 1962 the Supreme Court, in Engel v. Vitale, made prayer in school unconstitutional. A year later, in School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, the high court declared Bible reading in public schools to be unconstitutional. In the early 1970s two significant Supreme Court cases galvanized evangelicals who were concerned about the fate of Christian America. In Green v. Connally (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that a private school or college that discriminated on the basis of race would no longer be considered for tax-exempt status. Conservative evangelicals in the South who ran segregated private schools saw this decision as nothing less than government intrusion on their religious liberty. When Jimmy Carter, a self-proclaimed “born-again Christian,” threw his support behind Green v. Connally, he alienated many conservative evangelicals, including Virginia Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell, Christian psychologist and radio host James Dobson, and conservative activist Paul Weyrich. By 1976, the year that Newsweek declared to be “the year of the evangelicals,” the so-called Christian Right had organized into a full-blown political movement. Fifty years of evangelical slumber, at least when it came to public life, had come to an end.32

The second major Supreme Court case that mobilized the Christian Right was Roe v. Wade, which legalized certain types of abortion in the United in States in 1973. Prior to Roe v. Wade, abortion had never been an important issue for conservative Protestants. Most evangelicals believed abortion was morally suspect but thought of opposition to abortion as a distinctly Catholic cause. This all changed, however, after 1973. More and more evangelicals began to publicly oppose abortion and Roe v Wade. The Christian Right got a great boost from the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Reagan was fond of talking about the Christian roots of American freedom, often mentioning the 17th-century Puritan belief that the United States was a “city on a hill.” Since 1980, a significant portion of American evangelicals had turned to politics to save the nation from moral decline and build a Christian nation.33

As these conservative Protestants became more influential in American political life their churches also began to grow. On the other hand, in the 1970s and 1980s, mainline Protestants saw major declines in membership. One way that historians and sociologists have explained this decline is by pointing to the failure of mainline denominations to offer anything beyond a message of social justice. Many evangelicals criticized mainline Protestantism for its failure to preach and spread the gospel of salvation and provide its members with transcendent theological truths. As mainline denominations declined, evangelicalism was thriving. Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God were some of the fastest-growing Protestant groups by the end of the century. By the first decades of the 21st century, evangelicals made up roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population. As has been the case throughout American Protestant history, evangelicals in this period flocked to charismatic leaders—such as Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen—who build “megachurches” that drew worshippers by the thousands on a given Sunday morning. Many of these evangelical megachurches offered services and amenities such as contemporary music, coffeehouses, bookstores, and relevant sermons that applied the teachings of the Bible to everyday life. Mainline Protestants have been forced to either adapt to religious consumers in search of such amenities or close their doors.34

Today, in a nation characterized by unprecedented religious diversity, more people continue to adhere to Protestantism than any other world religion. With the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965 (the Hart-Cellar Act) and the subsequent arrival of immigrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, the ethnic and racial face of Protestantism has changed considerably and will continue to change. But certain dimensions of American Protestantism remain the same. The theological tenets of justification by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers, and the authority of the scriptures remain, though they have been interpreted and understood in different ways. Over the last four hundred years Protestantism has proven that it fits quite well with the individualism, egalitarianism, and democratic spirit that have informed American political and cultural ideals. Its voluntary nature has allowed Protestantism to be malleable and creative in the ways that it adapts to culture. Sometimes it has spoken out prophetically against American culture, but most of the time Protestantism has so imbibed American values that it often seems to indistinguishable from it.

Discussion of the Literature

The history of Protestantism in America continues to be a thriving research field. In 2009, the American Historical Association announced that religious history had surpassed all other topical categories in their annual survey of the research efforts of their membership.35 American religious history, and more specifically, the study of American Protestantism, has no doubt contributed to this development.

Over the last decade, historians of the Protestant experience have continued to diversify our understanding of this movement in American history by placing women, African Americans, and immigrants into the narrative. Moreover, with the meteoric rise of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism in the global South, historians of American Protestantism have begun to situate their work in an international context.

While all developments have provided us with a much deeper understanding of the Protestant experience in America, four specific subfields have garnered much attention. They are African American Protestantism, lived religion, 20th-century mainline Protestantism, and the origins of the Christian Right.

Recent works by Wallace Best, David Chappell, Noel Erskine, Curtis Evans, John Giggie, Paul Harvey, Lerone Martin, Mark Noll, Edward Blum, Sylvester Johnson, Gary Dorrien, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, and others have provided much-needed surveys of the African American Protestant experience and specialized work on the role of religion in the “great migration,” the ideas of W. E. B. Du Bois, the origins of slave religion, and the place of the black church in the civil rights movement.36

The experience of ordinary Christians and the way in which their stories have the potential to reshape traditional narratives of American Protestantism have also garnered much attention from historians in recent years. Catherine Brekus’s biography of 18th-century evangelical Sarah Osborn and a collection of essays on lived religion in American history edited by Laurie Maffly-Kipp and Leigh Eric Schmidt are just two of the many highlights in this field.37

Historians are also beginning to recover the history of mainline Protestantism. Studies have shown the important role that liberal Protestantism played in shaping mid-20th-century American culture. Books by David Hollinger, Elesha Coffman, and Matt Hedstrom have made significant contributions in this area.38

Finally, studies on the history of American evangelicalism continue to pour in from university and trade presses. Scholars have shown a particular concern with finding the origins of the evangelical engagement with politics through the Christian Right. Matthew Sutton, Kevin Kruse, Darren Dochuk, Daniel Williams, Markku Ruostila, and Neil Young have all published impressive studies attempting to explain why evangelicalism emerged in the political sphere with such force in the 1970s and 1980s.39

Primary Sources

The history of Protestantism in the United States is a vast subject. Primary source materials can be located in archives throughout the country. Some of these archives—such as the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia or the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville—are devoted to one particular Protestant denomination. But because Protestantism is so pervasive in the United States, one can research this topic in archives devoted to general American history—such as the National Archives, Newberry Library, Huntington Library—as well. Students of American Protestantism use many different kinds of primary sources, including spiritual diaries, letters, church records, denominational records, and religious publications.

More and more primary documents are being placed on the Internet and in databases. Students of early American Protestantism can access published sermons, tracts, pamphlets, and broadsides through the Early American Imprints collection, which is available in online form at most major universities and colleges. Papers of the American Founding Fathers reveal important information about church–state relations in revolutionary America. Those interested in the history of American Protestantism in the South will find materials at Documenting the South and the Valley of the Shadow. Other web-based primary source collections include the Digital Quaker Collection, the Sunday School Books Collection at the Library of Congress, and the African American Religion history project at Amherst College. The National Humanities Center also has links to primary sources related to all aspects of American religious history. These are just a sampling of the materials available.

Finally, students in search of primary sources should not forget about local churches and religious institutions that might hold papers and other materials. Local and county historical societies can also offer religious sources that shed light on the way Protestantism was lived and practiced in American history.

Further Reading

Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. New England’s Generation: The Great Migration and the Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Boylan, Anne. The Origins of Women’s Activism: New York and Boston, 1797–1840. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Braude, Ann. “Women’s History Is American Religious History.” In Retelling U.S. Religious History. Edited by Thomas Tweed, 87–107. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Brekus, Catherine. Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740–1845. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Brekus, Catherine. Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Carpenter, Joel. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Chappell, David. A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Fea, John. Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Fea, John. The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Frey, Sylvia, and Betty Wood. Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.Find this resource:

Hall, David D.Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Harvey, Paul. Freedom’s Coming: Religious Culture and the Shaping of the South from the Civil War through the Civil Rights Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Hatch, Nathan. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.Find this resource:

Hollinger, David. After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Kazin, Michael. A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan. New York: Random House, 2007.Find this resource:

Kidd, Thomas. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Kruse, Kevin. One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. New York: Basic Books, 2015.Find this resource:

Marsden, George. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Noll, Mark. America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Noll, Mark. The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Stout, Harry S. (2012) The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Sutton, Matthew. American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Wacker, Grant. America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of the Nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Williams, Daniel. God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) Heiko Oberman, Martin Luther: Man between God and the Devil (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989); Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation: A History (New York: Viking, 2003); George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation, 3d ed. (Kirksville, MO: Truman State Press, 2000).

(2.) Richard A. Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002).

(3.) Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: The Church in England Society, 1559–1625 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982).

(4.) Edward L. Bond, Spreading the Gospel in Colonial Virginia: Preaching Religion and Community (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2004).

(5.) David Cressy, Coming Over: Migration and Communication between England and New England in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Virginia DeJohn Anderson, New England’s Generation: The Great Migration and the Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

(6.) Edmund Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965); Harry Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

(7.) David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990); Edwin Gaustad, Roger Williams (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Timothy D. Hall, Anne Hutchinson: Puritan Prophet (Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2009).

(8.) Joyce Goodfriend, ed., Revisiting New Netherland: Perspectives on Early Dutch America (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005); Evan Haefeli, New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); William J. Frost, A Perfect Freedom: Religious Liberty in Pennsylvania (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993); Sally Schwartz, A Mixed Multitude: The Struggle for Toleration in Colonial Pennsylvania (New York: New York University Press, 1988).

(9.) Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007); Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014); George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003).

(10.) John Fea, The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Ned Landsman, From Colonials to Provincials: American Thought and Culture, 1680–1760 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000); Mark Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

(11.) Sylvia Frey and Betty Wood, Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

(12.) John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011); Thomas Kidd, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (New York; Basic Books, 2012).

(13.) Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

(14.) Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity.

(15.) Richard Lyman Bushman, Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Hatch, Democratization of American Christianity; Richard Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2008); Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); David Rowe, God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2008).

(16.) Robert Abzug, Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); John Fea, The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

(17.) Ann Braude, “Women’s History Is American Religious History,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Thomas Tweed (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 87–107; Anne Boylan, The Origins of Women’s Activism: New York and Boston, 1797–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Carol Faulkner, Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).

(18.) Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South, updated edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); Richard S. Newman, Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers (New York: New York University Press, 2009).

(19.) Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Patrick Carey, Catholics in America: A History (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).

(20.) Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); Drew Gilpin Faust, The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989); Mitchel Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separation in the Antebellum South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993).

(21.) Ian Tyrrell, Women’s World/Women’s Empire: The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement in International Perspective (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991); Bruce J. Evenson, God’s Man for the Gilded Age: D. L. Moody and the Rise of Modern Mass Evangelism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Susan Curtis, A Consuming Faith: The Social Gospel and Modern American Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991).

(22.) George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, new edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); B. M. Pietsch, Dispensational Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (New York: Random House, 2007); Lyle Dorsett, Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991).

(23.) Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture.

(24.) William R. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976).

(25.) Richard Gamble, The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003); P. C. Kemeny, Princeton in the Nation’s Service: Religious Ideals and Educational Practice, 1868–1928 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); Ronald J. Pestritto, Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005).

(26.) Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).

(27.) W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903), chapter 10; Wallace Best, Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915–1952 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

(28.) Elesha Coffman, The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); David Hollinger, After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).

(29.) Joel Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995); Matthew Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014); Grant Wacker, America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of the Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

(30.) James Hudnut-Beumler, Looking for God in the Suburbs: The Religion of the American Dream and Its Critics, 1945–1965 (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994); Kevin Kruse, One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015); Robert Wuthnow, The Restructuring of American Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988).

(31.) David Chappell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (Chicago: Christian Century, 1963).

(32.) Randall Balmer, The Life of Jimmy Carter (New York: Basic Books, 2014); Daniel Williams, God’s Gown Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Neil Young, We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

(33.) Daniel K. Williams, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

(34.) Hollinger, After Cloven Tongues of Fire; Wacker, Heaven Below; Philip Luke Sinitiere, Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity (New York: New York University Press, 2015).

(35.) Robert Townsend, “A New Found Religion? The Field Surges Among AHA Members,” Perspectives on History, December 9, 2009, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2009/a-new-found-religion-the-field-surges-among-aha-members.

(36.) Wallace Best, Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915–1952 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); David Chappell, Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); Noel Leo Erskine, Plantation Church: How African American Religion Was Born in Caribbean Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); John Giggie, After Redemption: Jim Crow and the Transformation of African American Religion in the Delta, 1875–1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Paul Harvey, Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013); Edward Blum and Paul Harvey, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014); Edward Blum, W. E. B. Du Bois: American Prophet (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); Lerone Martin, Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Shaping of Modern African American Religion (New York: New York University Press, 2014); Mark Noll, God and Race in American Politics: A Short History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010); Sylvester Johnson, African American Religion, 1500–2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Curtis Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Gary Dorrien, The New Abolition: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015); Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

(37.) Catherine Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013); R. Marie Griffith, Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004); Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, Practicing Protestants: Histories of Christian Life in America, 160–1965 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006); David Yoo and Ruth Chung, Religion and Spirituality in Korean America (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2008); Anthea Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); Leigh Eric Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).

(38.) Elesha Coffman, The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); Matthew Hedstrom, The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); David Hollinger, After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Protestant Liberalism in Modern American History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013). Other books of interest on liberal Christianity include Heath Carter, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), and Christopher Cantwell, Heath Carter, and Janine Giordano Drake, eds., Pew and Picket Line: Christianity and the American Working Class (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2016).

(39.) Matthew Sutton, American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014); Kevin Kruse, One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (New York: Basic Books, 2015); Darren Dochuk, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012); Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); Williams, Defenders of the Unborn; Markku Ruotsila, Fighting Fundamentalist: Carl McIntire and the Politicization of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015); Neil J. Young, We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).