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 ...

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 Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.