Remembering the old faith in the new nation : American Protestants and the Christian past, 1780–1865.
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Gutacker, Paul James. 1985-
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This study demonstrates the cultural and political importance of American uses of religious history between 1780 and 1865. While scholars emphasize the ahistorical, antitraditional nature of American Christianity, a close study of periodicals, sermons, pamphlets and books reveals an ongoing engagement with an argument over the meaning of the Christian past. Contrary to conventional scholarly accounts, American Protestants did not ignore the history of Christianity but read and cited it voraciously. Popular narratives about church history provided Americans with historical legitimization and fortified American exceptionalism. At the same time, religious memory was implicated in arguments over church and state, gender and racial equality, and slaveholding. On each of these questions, American Protestants from a wide range of denominations appealed to tradition, Christian practice, and the history of Christianity. The study shows that interpretations of the Christian past crucially shaped the development of American political, religious, and cultural life, while also shifting scholarly understanding of religious authority and Protestant biblicism.