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Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation (American Beginnings, 1500-1900) Hardcover – April 23, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Amanda Porterfield convincingly challenges Nathan Hatch's assertions in his The Democratization of American Christianity, contending that Hatch over-emphasized evangelical aversion to religious and political authority. . . . Porterfield shows that nineteenth-century evangelicals’ stance towards political authority was manipulation for religious purposes and enlightens readers about evangelical Christianity and politics during this era, as well as the relationship of the two to one another. Highly recommended”

“Amanda Porterfield’s subtle study of religio-political formations, intellectual virtue, and declension narratives marks a needed contrast to the tide of amateurish history and bloviations about the colonial era . . . Conceived in Doubt is a fresh inquiry into the emergence of the independent category 'religion' in American political life.”

(Jason Bivens Religion in American History)

"Amanda Porterfield is a rare historian and Conceived in Doubt is a gem of a book. She dives directly into the fear, doubt, and skepticism that Americans drank widely in the early national period and finds that religion did not save them, but contained them. The new evangelicalism of the era corralled doubt and then used it to create new definitions of religion and politics. In the process, they carved a space for themselves while carving others to pieces. Conceived in Doubt is a brilliant work. By forcing us to reconsider the relationship between religion and politics in the early republic, it helps untangle some of the knots that continue to lace them together today."
(Edward J. Blum author of Reforging the White Republic)

“With sound scholarship and deep research, Porterfield offers a fresh interpretation of the symbiotic relationship between evangelical popular religion and libertarian politics in the early republic. I am confident that Conceived in Doubt will take its place as a seminal work in the study of American religion and politics.”—Franklin Lambert, Purdue University

(Franklin Lambert Purdue University)

“In this lively and provocative book, Amanda Porterfield counters the now commonplace notion that evangelicalism in post-revolutionary America served as an anti-authoritarian and democratizing force. Instead, Porterfield finds that evangelical groups fueled a culture of anxiety, mistrust, and bitter partisanship that paved the way for an eventual assertion of political authority. Conceived in Doubt covers much ground in cultural and political history, marshaling a wide array of evidence for Porterfield’s innovative claims about the relationship of evangelical religion and politics in the early United States. The book should gain a wide readership and point scholars in productive new directions.”
(Kirsten Fischer University of Minnesota)

“I welcome Amanda Porterfield's book for its originality and scope. It will stimulate students and scholars to rethink the evangelical movement in America, including the manner in which it provided a sense of security in the face of frequently dismaying circumstances.”
(Daniel Walker Howe Church History)

"Sobering. . ."
(North Carolina Historical Review)

About the Author

Amanda Porterfield is the Robert A. Spivey Professor of Religion and professor of history at Florida State University.


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Product Details

  • Series: American Beginnings, 1500-1900
  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (April 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226675122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226675121
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,197,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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According to the author, historian Amanda Porterfield, this book is about "religion's powerful relation to American politics." More specifically, it's about "the codependence of libertarian politics and evangelical religion in the formative era of American politics and religion" which, she says, "has not received the attention it deserves." Okay, even more specifically, this book is a take down of Nathan O. Hatch's much-loved modern classic, The Democratization of American Christianity. As Porterfield sees things, "misrepresenting evangelicalism as antiauthoritarian and disregarding the connection between the evangelicalism and the growth of slavery and invasion of Indian lands, Hatch did as much to mask the developing relationship between religion and politics as to reveal it" (p. 11).

Porterfield seems to be saying that the growth of religion in the early republic was not so much the result of the democratization of truth, but rather the resolution, and sometimes the management, of doubt. The last sentence of her Introduction reads: "With doubt the cultural sickness that religion nursed, religion thrived as a way to interpret, relieve, and feed it" (13).

Contrary to Hatch--a graduate of a Christian college (Wheaton), who wrote his book during the Reagan Administration--the growth and strength of conservative protestantism in the U.S. was not simply the result of American political freedom. Instead, as rationalists and skeptics like Jefferson and his ilk warmed up to conservative protestants, a sort of quid pro quo emerged. Jeffersonians backed off of their public suspicions of supernaturally-revealed religion, while the religionists, Baptists and especially Methodists in this case, were expected to back off of their opposition to citizens' control of property (i.e., slaves).
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