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The Democratization of American Christianity Paperback – January 23, 1991

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hatch examines the Christian movement, the Methodists, the Baptists, the black churches and the Mormons in early America to show how powerful influence was often exerted by common people, thanks to the democratization of religion.

Copyright 1991 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (January 23, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300050607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300050608
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I always like a book in which the author sets out his or her thesis clearly. In this case, such a statement comes in the first two sentences of Chapter 1!
"This book is about the cultural and religious history of the early American republic and the enduring structures of American Christianity. It argues both that the theme of democratization is central to the understanding the development of American Christianity and that the years of the early republic are the most crucial in revealing the that process." (p. 3)
But the clear thesis statement is not the only reason why I enjoyed reading "The Democratization of American Christianity." In presenting his argument, Hatch tells a highly entertaining story about a fascinating time in the history of the American Protestantism. It was a time filled with such colorful characters as Barton Stone, Francis Asbury, Lorenzo Dow, and Charles Grandison Finney. It was a time during which developed such famous -- or perhaps infamous -- American Church institutions as the circuit rider, the camp meeting, and "the anxious bench." And, most importantly -- as Professor Hatch points out -- it was the time during which the spirit of independence and democratic idealism that had propelled the Americans successfully through the Revolutionary War seeped into the American churches, giving shape to the distinctive form of Christianity in present-day America.
In this 312-page book, Hatch examines five separate religious traditions, or "mass movements," as he terms them, that played upon the American stage during the early 19th Century: the Christian movement, the Methodists, the Baptists, the black churches, and the Mormons.
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Format: Paperback
Hatch's approach to the religion of the early republic is to define the principal conflict along class lines--the educated, eastern, Reformed, Federalist establishment versus the unschooled, western, anti-creedal, Jeffersonian populists. Judging from the prizes this book has won, numerous historians have considered it a landmark perspective on the early republic and subsequent American epochs, which must be taken into account in any future study.
Hatch marshals a copious amount of testimonial evidence as to the methods and convictions of both the religious populists and the clerical aristocrats against whom they rebelled. Unquestionably, Hatch is on to an integral part of early 19th-century religious life. Unfortunately, though, we are left to take Hatch's word for exactly how much this class warfare dominated the religious landscape. Hatch provides little statistical evidence to back up the populists' claims of a vast gulf between rich and poor, and one is left wondering about an excluded middle. Imagine writing an account of the religious history of our time purely from the quotes of Jerry Falwell and Ted Turner, and you see the problem--a vast, silent middle ground of religious opinion is neglected amid the rhetorical blasts of the polarized belligerents.
He never clearly locates the middle class (such as the mercantile bourgeoisie of New York City) on his socio-religious spectrum, only mentioning them in his penultimate chapter, which addresses the years 1830-1860. Similarly, though Hatch mentions a few counter-cultural educated Jeffersonians like Francis Asbury and Jefferson himself, he does not explore their unique fit into this era.
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Format: Paperback
The United States is unique among its peers due to the strong religiosity of its people in comparison to other Western industrial powers. "The Democratization of American Christianity" by Nathan O. Hatch, a highly influential scholar of American religious studies and current president of Wake Forest University, argues that this is due to the ongoing force of a populist strain of Protestant thought that first arose in the 1790s with the widespread demand that the Revolutionary rhetoric of freedom and democracy be fully realized in politics, society, and, inevitably, religion. The Second Great Awakening, which ran through the 1830s, was a time of millennial experimentation and renewal, as well as upheaval within the old Calvinist denominations.

Impoverished Americans of the early nineteenth century have been nevertheless described as a "set of fierce republicans" fully aware of the Revolutionary promises of liberty and equality. The preachers of the Second Great Awakening frequently reminded their audiences of the humble origins of Christ and his early followers, as well as their oppression by the ruling classes - a theme that blended nicely with the fervent Jeffersonianism that characterized the early American republic. The post-Revolutionary era saw the rapid growth of newspapers, volunteer societies, the organization of political parties, new definitions of citizenship and the role of women, and virulent attacks on elite professions, especially the clergy. As forms of hierarchy in all areas of life began to collapse, radical Jeffersonians began to reclaim the Revolutionary rhetoric, which had once united colonists from all walks of life, to rouse the common folk against "aristocrats.
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