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Christian Thought in America: A Brief History

Author: 
Hannah Schell (Author) Daniel Ott (Author)
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Description

Christian Thought in America: A Brief History is a short, accessible overview of the history of Christian thought in America, from the Puritans and other colonials to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Moving chronologically, each chapter addresses a historical segment, focusing on key movements and figures and tracing general trends and developments. The book conveys a sense of the liveliness and creativity of the ongoing theological debates. Each chapter concludes with a short bibliography of recent scholarship for further reading.

ISBN: 
9781451487732
Price: 
$49.00
Release date: 
July 1, 2015
Pages: 
340
Width: 
6
Height: 
9

Contents

1. Introduction
2. “Errand in the Wilderness”: Colonists in the New World
3. Religious and Political Awakenings: The Revolution
4. Religious Thought in the New Republic: Something New, Something Old; Revival and Restoration
5. New Paths in the Nineteenth Century
6. Times of Turmoil: The Civil War
7. Spreading the Word: Victorian Evangelicalism and the Varieties of Protestantism
8. Progressivism and Its Discontents
9. Twentieth Century Developments
10. Into the Twenty-First Century
 

A word from the authors

Christian Thought in America: A Brief Introduction was written to be a short, accessible text that traces the developments of Christian thought in the North American context from the colonial period through the beginning of the twenty-first century, with the hope of conveying a sense of the liveliness and vibrancy of that thought. It is a book that celebrates American Christianity as substantive and intellectually alive, but our account also suggests some of the complexities and even problems that attend those developments. This is a story above all else of soulful struggle.

While there are excellent books that ambitiously cover "religion in America," we emphasize intellectual developments rather than church history or a broader social history, and we take a chronological approach, exploring the ideas in their historical context. In focusing on Christianity and on the contours of Christian thought, several interesting themes emerge that shape the story in our telling. For example, we underscore how a sense of divine mandate—of God having a special relationship with America as a nation—has had profound and problematic implications for Americans' religious self-understanding. We explore an ongoing tension between individualism and a larger responsibility to one's community. We touch upon, from a theological and intellectual point of view, the challenges posed by an abiding and robust sense of religious liberty. Likewise, we highlight moments when American Christians understood the gospel as implying that they should withdraw from the larger society, yielding either forms of quietism or sectarianism. But we also draw attention to those who understood the gospel as compelling them to engage the larger world. As Robert Abzug has so astutely shown, a sense of the "cosmos crumbling" yielded many important and long-standing social reform movements in the US in the nineteenth century, and this sense for many continues into the present day.  

The story is in some measure told as we have relayed it to our undergraduate students over several years in the classroom. Their interests and their abilities were very much in our minds as we wrote, and the book is organized into manageable sections that have worked well in the classroom context.  But we also hope that you will find this book to be clear, reliable, and accessible to many audiences.  We can imagine undergraduate and graduate students as well as students in seminary reading as they seek to develop a strong foundation for further study on a particular thinker, period, or movement. We also see this book as being of interest and use to nonstudents, whether read as part of an adult reading group or as part of solitary pursuit. The book is written to tell the history as succinctly as possible and then provides reading suggestions at the end of each chapter for those who would like to dig deeper.

Our hope is that this brief treatment provides some sort of roadmap for better understanding American Christian thought's complex and interesting history. But, even more, it is our hope that the reader will become enamored as we are with the fascinating history and that this book will inspire further study of the ideas and personalities that make up this rich history.   

Hannah Schell & Daniel Ott
May 27, 2015

Endorsements

“This is the best book I’ve seen in a long time for exploring the long sweep of Christian thought, rather than doctrine, in American history right into the twenty-first century. Schell and Ott have performed a huge service in making it available as a short history.”
—Nancy Frankenberry​
Dartmouth College

“Anyone thinking that Christianity in America comprises a singular religious tradition will find abundant evidence to the contrary in these pages. Emphasizing the ‘soulful struggle’ of the American nation, Schell and Ott reveal the complexity of intellectual perspectives addressing prominent theological concerns that have defined much of the religious history of America. Their brief but lively introduction highlights how various Christian groups and influential religious personalities have engaged issues ranging from questions of providence and authority among the earliest colonists to globalization and the challenges of diversity for contemporary Christians. Attention to the vibrancy of Christian theological traditions and the persistent role of dissent offers a valuable perspective on the dynamic nature of American intellectual history.”
—Thomas S. Bremer
Rhodes College

“Schell and Ott have produced a history of Christian thought in America that wonderfully complements and balances the bulk of contemporary scholarship focused on popular or ‘lived religion.’ A special strength of the book is its careful treatment of philosophers (from William James, Alfred North Whitehead, and Charles Hartshorne to contemporaries like Jeffrey Stout and Robert Neville), often ignored in accounts that emphasize the work of systematic theologians. On their engaged and informed telling, the story of American religious thought comes alive here in a way that will make this book truly indispensable for college teachers tasked with designing courses about this topic.”
—Michael L. Raposa​
Lehigh University