unleavened thoughts

i would like to address two assumptions pervasive in literature regarding the 18th and early 19th century American religious landscapes:

first: the notion that the majority of American during the post-Revolutionary period were religious. that is, that they were religious in the same mode of expression we usually frame such a conception, ie. as a member of an organized faith.

second: the notion that Americans since the post-Revolutionary period were evangelical. and, as a result, that the present-day practice of evangelicalism has its antecedents clearly bound up in the American experience more broadly.

without getting into the matter too deeply at the present time, I want to proffer two potential causes for these widespread fallacies.

first: there is a persistent bias in historical and social scientific treatments of religion which inadvertently projects a conflation of religion with organized religion. this viewpoint serves to disregard the majority of early Americans relationship with religious expression, which took the form of folk religious practice, the occult, and a magical worldview.

second: the evangelical tradition (if it can be used here as representing one consolidated consciousness) has a definite interest, perhaps even a deliberate agenda, in propagating the view that evangelicalism and American identity are in large part historically synonymous.

in the future I would like to dive into this discussion much more deeply, but for the present i can only offer the documented fact that only roughly 1/5 of Americans were members of an organized religion in the early 19th century, with women disproportionately representing more than 3/5 of that total membership. it is not until the mid to late 19th century that a majority of Americans would belong to a religion in the ‘organized’ understanding of the term.

so, what was everyone else up to?


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