The crisis of sectarianism : Restorationist, Catholic, and Mormon converts in antebellum America.
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The antebellum era is often portrayed a time of religious flourishing, when the state got along with the church, when revivalism gave a voice to the voiceless, and when churches grew faster than the population. While these aspects are significant, one must also examine the unintended effects of radical freedom and egalitarianism, such as sectarianism, individualism, and heterodoxy. As each religious sect claimed to be the true church, a number of Americans began to experience a sense of religious confusion, detachment, and instability. This resulted in a crisis of sectarianism, induced a number of conversions from traditional Protestant denominations. This paper examines why antebellum Americans converted to Restorationism, Catholicism, and Mormonism. While each of these traditions was considerably different from one another theologically, they each offered converts a sense of religious stability through defined authority and security through cohesive communities and rituals. Furthermore, the critiques of the all the traditional Protestant denominations voiced by these converts, reveals the inherent danger in the American values of freedom, liberty, and independence, as applied to religion, when not maintained by a semblance of order.
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