Redeeming a Nation: Religious Conceptions of Union in the Atlantic World in the Wake of the American Revolution

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 4:10 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Benjamin E. Park, Sam Houston State University
The Age of Revolutions posed as many problems as it did solutions. The unsettling of traditional allegiances, the rise of new forms of sovereignty, and the realignment of political understandings, all brought immense change to diverse elements of cultural practices, especially in America. Scholars have demonstrated the impact of these changes on the religious climate of the young United States, and it is common to refer to the “democratization” of Christianity in the early republic. Faced with a new world, many citizens adapted their cultural messages about God to meet new standards. Yet what is often overlooked is the role that religion played in these political transitions.

How did religious thought influence processes like the democratization of politics, the centralization of federal power, and the unification of civic allegiance? This paper examines how religious contexts structured the debates that led to and descended from the Constitutional Convention, and places them within a broader Atlantic context. For many, these transformations were guided by religious notions of how societies functioned and rights were enacted. I examine how that dynamic played out regarding constitutional power at the state and federal levels. My study uses a range of individuals and genres, including fast and thanksgiving sermons written to explicate the role of religion in reconceptualizing citizenship and political belonging. At the heart of these texts lay a tension over how diverse populations struggled to imagine a united community, one worthy of divine approval and further progress in an age of revolution.

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