I find that it

June 18, 2003

I find that it helps me figure out what I think if I write a casual discussion of my points.

For the revised beginning of chapter 4, I wrote a new intro paragraph yesterday. I did some brainstorming today. Let me use this weblog as a first, rough pass of what it is I am trying to do with the introduction. Then I will move to wordperfect and write it for real.

The narrative of chapter 4 hinges on the notion that religious Americans experienced an identity crisis in the 1840s. They had discussed a common Christianity in the 1820s with Joseph Story, that was the point of chapter 2. They had tried to build organizations and thought patterns that actually used this common christianity, and the whole thing had collapsed under internal tensions among the members. That is the story of chapter 3. Chapter 4 then picks up with a gaping hole: there was a loose alliance of calvinists and, surrounding them, a penumbra of other trinitarian revival protestants.

The loose alliance of calvinists and revival trinitarians had a rough sense of who they were. And, each member of that group, if asked, could have listed other religious groups that they approved of, in the order in which they approved of them. Some people would have ranked by doctrines, others by practices, others by manners and social presentation, but all could have made a list. And, while the orders would have differed, the various lists would have shown a high level of overlap. Religious groups, like nation states, acquire legitimacy when their peer institutions offer it. Nations exchange diplomats; religious groups accept sacraments, exchange pulplits, or exchange delegates to governance meetings, invite one another to their revival meetings, or participate in interdenominational rituals and organizations. Both exist in a social environment where status is conferred by your peers (much like what Wyatt-Brown calls an honor society in his Southern Honor

I want to argue that, at the start of this identity crisis, they knew who they were but they did not know how to describe who they were. They had a de-facto mainstream but they did not have a shared ideology and definition of what that mainstream consisted of. They used to have a good working definition, some people tried to maintain the idea of common christianity and interdenominational institutions, but the scisms of the 1830s meant that simple commonalities no longer worked. Baptists printed their own Bibles, everyone exchanged their own tracts, even the Sunday School Union shifted from working directly with volunteer and local Sunday schools to providing materials for denominational classes.

Once I can establish that crisis, then I can go ahead and describe the various ways that people tried to resolve the crisis and the unexpected way that anti-catholicism ended up spreading an understanding of multiple churches that the Evangelical Alliance would use as the basis for a new collective religious identity.

But first, I need to 1, establish the crisis and 2, explain why I think that the concept evangelical came to matter a great deal in 1845 while most historians use it as a simple synonym for "protestant" until the 20th century.

That helped, now to switch over to wordperfect.

Posted by Red Ted at June 18, 2003 03:02 AM | TrackBack