Almanacs and American popular theology, 1730-1820
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] This dissertation centers on the relationship between religion and popular culture in early America. It argues that the religious content of almanacs, early America's most widespread form of popular print, is a more accurate reflection of eighteenth-century America's prevailing religious sensibility than church-based sources such as sermons, clerical letters, and membership figures. For decades, historians of American religion have used the rise of democratically-minded denominations such as the Methodists and Baptists in the wake of the American Revolution as the weathervane of American religious history in the late colonial and early national periods. While their work has uncovered a fundamental shift in formal, institutional religious practice, it has overlooked non-institutional religious life. By analyzing the religious content of everyday print, this dissertation demonstrate that a distinct current of American religious life was unaffected by dramatic changes in church membership. Almanacs offered a coherent yet flexible alternative, eschewing denominationally-specific doctrinal issues in favor of a shared core. This was, if nothing else, a shrewd business decision for most printers. Attuned to public taste, they disseminated a distilled and widely shared version of Christianity not found in church sources. By proving that popular culture offered a distinct way of being religious, this project encourages historians to reconsider the very nature of religious life in early America.
Access is limited to the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia.