“Nurseries of the Church of God”: Sunday Schools, Childhood, and the Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Early American Republic
My paper supports this argument using case studies from leading Sunday school organizations from Philadelphia. I begin by describing the broader religious and social context, showing how increases in youth conversions during revivals and the spread of sentimentalized views of childhood inspired reformers to seek new ways of generating child conversions. My paper illustrates the impact of these changes within the Sunday and Adult School Union, an evangelical organization created in 1817. In contrast to traditional views, this society affirmed that youth were easier to convert than adults and devoted its resources to designing educational methods just for children. Finally, I discuss the society’s transformation into a national organization in 1824, which solidified the pursuit of childhood conversion as a legitimate religious reform. By exploring how reformers made Sunday schools into a child-centric institution based on shifting conceptions of age, my paper shows how children shaped the mobilization of nineteenth-century evangelicalism and offers an entry point for integrating children into the broader narrative of American religion.
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