The great communion of scholars : the American South, Germany, and the creation of modernity in the nineteenth century.


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This study examines how influential intellectuals from the American South’s four major Protestant denominations came to embrace a form of historicism, the vocation of scholarship, and the idea of the modern university all prior to the Civil War. The embrace of these distinctive characteristics of modernity was facilitated by the spiritual bonds that evangelical southern intellectuals shared with the leaders of the German Awakening, a revival movement contemporary to the Second Great Awakening in the United States that asserted conservative influence on German intellectual and religious life against Enlightenment rationalism and science. By studying in German universities and corresponding with prominent Awakened theologians, southern intellectuals established a transatlantic network that they referred to as “the great communion of scholars.” From Awakened scholars, southerners imbibed and later adapted a conservative vision of modernity that sought to defend orthodox Christianity and preserve established social and political hierarchies, whether European aristocracy or southern slaveholding. At the same time, black evangelicals in the North ironically shared many theological commitments with Awakened Germans, but sought to use the authority of German institutions to oppose slavery and assert full equality, while reaffirming conservative religious beliefs and practices among African American Christians. White southern women also intervened in discussions of Germany by framing their commentary on intellectual and religious matters within the socially sanctioned sphere of domesticity. This dissertation shows that engagement with conservative German religious thought not only shaped the development of antebellum American intellectual life and higher education, but also debates over slavery, racial equality, and gender.



Antebellum American South. Modernization. Historicism. Education. Intellectual history. Slavery.