A Controversial Spirit

A Controversial Spirit : Evangelical Awakenings in the South

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A Contoversial Spirit offers a new perspective on the origins and nature of southern evangelicalism. Most recent historians have focused on the differences between evangelicals and non-evangelicals. This has led to the perception that during the "Era of Awakenings" (mid-18th and early 19th centuries) American evangelicals constituted a united front. Philip N. Mulder dispels this illusion, by examining the internal dynamics of evangelicalism. He focuses on the relationships between the Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists who introduced the new religious mood to the South between 1740 and 1820. Although the denominations shared the goal of saving souls, he finds they disagreed over the correct definition of true religion and conversion. The Presbyterians and Baptists subordinated the freedom, innovation and experience of the awakenings to their particular denominational concerns. The Methodists, on the other hand, were more aggressive and innovative advocates of the New Light awakenings. They broke through the insularity of the other two groups and revolutionized the religious culture of the emerging nation.
The American Revolution exacberated the growing competition and jealousy among the denominations by displacing their common enemy, the established Anglican church. Former dissenters now turned to face each other. Free religious competition was transformative, Mulder argues. The necessity for competing for converts forced the Presbyterians and Baptists out of their narrow confines. More importantly, however, competition compromised the Methodists and their New Light ideals. Methodists had presented themselves as an ecumenical alternative to the rigid and rancorous denominations of England and America. Now they turned away from their open message of salvation, and began using their distinctive characteristics to separate themselves from other denominations. The Methodists thus succumbed to the evangelical pattern set by others - a pattern of distinction, insularity and competition.
Examining conversion narratives, worship, polity and rituals, as well as more formal doctrinal statements in creeds and sermons, Mulder is able to provide a far more nuanced portrait of southern evangelicals than previously available, revealing the deep differences between denominations that the homogenization of religious history has until now obscured.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 248 pages
  • 166.9 x 243.1 x 25.4mm | 521.64g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New
  • 0195131630
  • 9780195131635

Review quote

A Controversial Spirit serves as a timely and poignant reminder to all historians to proceed with due caution when advancing generalizations about early southern evangelicals. * Journal of Presbyterian History * ... an important and exciting book. * The North Carolina Historical Review * ... bold and innovative. * The North Carolina Historical Review * ... brief and elegant. * The North Carolina Historical Review * Mulder culls an impressive array of sources to tell his story in clear and graceful prose. The book is a delight to read and is one of the most fresh and nuanced studies we have of the theological origins of American Protestant evangelicalism. * The North Carolina Historical Review * Here is a book that significantly adds to our understanding of the internal dynamics of southern religion from the colonial Great Awakening to the pivotal post-Revolutionary years. * Journal of the Early Republic * One of this book's virtues is that it draws together a wide range of sources on groups that are usually dealt with separately. Mulder makes use of an impressive cross section of manuscripts and published records for each of the three churches he addresses. * Journal of the Early Republic * ... this book helps to clarify our understanding of southern religion in the early republic. * Journal of the Early Republic * ... a first-rate book that deepens our understanding of religious pluralism in America. * American Historical Review *
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About Philip N. Mulder

Philip N. Mulder received his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied with Donald G. Mathews. Raised in Michigan, he now resides in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with his family.
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