How Did Evangelicals Get To “Own” Religion in America?

A historical look at its rise in 19th Century America by the historian Gary Nash. Contrary to the political sloganeering you hear today, the dominant view of religion in Revolutionary generation had little in common with those of evangelicalism. The balance shifted only with the Great Awakening. Nash explains: After the revolution, an outpouring of ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

A historical look at its rise in 19th Century America by the historian Gary Nash. Contrary to the political sloganeering you hear today, the dominant view of religion in Revolutionary generation had little in common with those of evangelicalism. The balance shifted only with the Great Awakening. Nash explains:

After the revolution, an outpouring of evangelical religion erupted, in which, as the historian Nathan Hatch has written, "the right to think for oneself became . . . the hallmark of popular Christianity." "The right to think for oneself." That proposition may sound unremarkable today, but it was a radical notion 200 years ago. Traveling ministers in the early 19th century carried that message to working people throughout the country. The movement they represented?deeply democratic and, in its focus on personal revelation, at odds with Church hierarchy?would do more than anything else to spread Evangelical Protestantism and eventually make it the dominant religion in the nation.

Note: "The right to think for oneself" refers to understanding scripture individually, as opposed to accepting the authority of church leaders.

A historical look at its rise in 19th Century America by the historian Gary Nash. Contrary to the political sloganeering you hear today, the dominant view of religion in Revolutionary generation had little in common with those of evangelicalism. The balance shifted only with the Great Awakening. Nash explains:

After the revolution, an outpouring of evangelical religion erupted, in which, as the historian Nathan Hatch has written, “the right to think for oneself became . . . the hallmark of popular Christianity.” “The right to think for oneself.” That proposition may sound unremarkable today, but it was a radical notion 200 years ago. Traveling ministers in the early 19th century carried that message to working people throughout the country. The movement they represented?deeply democratic and, in its focus on personal revelation, at odds with Church hierarchy?would do more than anything else to spread Evangelical Protestantism and eventually make it the dominant religion in the nation.

Note: “The right to think for oneself” refers to understanding scripture individually, as opposed to accepting the authority of church leaders.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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