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Bearing Witness against Sin: The Evangelical Birth of the American Social Movement

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226960869
ISBN-10: 0226960862
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Editorial Reviews


"In Bearing Witness against Sin, Michael Young offers a creative and insightful reconsideration of the specifically religious origins of the national social movement in America. This is a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of religion in politics and of the political capacities of religious traditions." - Christian Smith, author of American Evangelism: Embattled and Thriving"

From the Inside Flap

During the 1830s the United States experienced a wave of movements for social change over temperance, the abolition of slavery, anti-vice activism, and a host of other moral reforms. Michael Young argues for the first time in Bearing Witness against Sin that together they represented a distinctive new style of mobilization—one that prefigured contemporary forms of social protest by underscoring the role of national religious structures and cultural schemas.

In this book, Young identifies a new strain of protest that challenged antebellum Americans to take personal responsibility for reforming social problems.In this period activists demanded that social problems like drinking and slaveholding be recognized as national sins unsurpassed in their evil and immorality. This newly awakened consciousness undergirded by a confessional style of protest, seized the American imagination and galvanized thousands of people. Such a phenomenon, Young argues, helps explain the lives of charismatic reformers such as William Lloyd Garrison and the Grimké sisters, among others.

Marshalling lively historical materials, including letters and life histories of reformers, Bearing Witness against Sin is a revelatory account of how religion lay at the heart of social reform.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (February 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226960862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226960869
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,154,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Joshua D. Fahler on September 7, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Michael P. Young's reviewers have been amazed by the fact that he has attempted to tackle a long-trodden era and issue and develop new interpretations using the sociological method. These reviewers are correct, and perhaps the most important interpretive work since Robert Abzug's _Cosmos Crumbling_ has come out of the University of Texas as Austin's faculty to further understand the multiple reform movements in the United States.

My only personal qualm is that like many other monographs of this type, the author's focus revolves around the established Presbyterian and Congregationalist denominations - something that we might want to move past, especially considering the fact that Nathan Hatch's groundbreaking _The Democratization of American Christianity_ is nearing ten years old. Also, this work will strike readers who are already engrossed in the field as much more important, as it remains what it is: a reinterpretation and realignment of research - albeit a very important one.
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Format: Paperback
Michael Young's _Bearing Witness_ tackles the question of where we can locate the origin of what he terms "confessional protest" - the type of protest that makes strong, public moral claims about issues of justice. He finds that origin in the early Evangelical movement and its involvement with the abolition movement. With this, his work evokes a host of similar studies (Gorski's _Disciplinary Revolution_, Walzer's _Revolution of the Saints_, and even Weber's _Protestant Ethic_) by making the claim that beliefs, embedded in specific structural contexts, can mediate the emergence of new structures and practices that have lasting significance.

For anyone interested in social movements, religion as a motivation for action, and American religious history generally, this will provide a provocative argument and fodder for further investigation of where our modern practices come from as well as the somewhat unexpected outcomes of religious beliefs and practices.
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