Under the big top: big tent revivalism and American culture, 1880-1925
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] What was the relationship between itinerate evangelism and the rapidly changing American society and culture at the turn of the twentieth-century? The incredible popularity of big tent revivalism in this period has continually compelled historians to answer this question. Early scholars often portrayed tent revivalists as Victorian hold-outs bent on re-establishing small town values in a new urban America. More recent scholarship has attempted to revise that earlier notion but few works have focused on big tent revivalism as a whole. Historians have also increasingly noted the important transition from Victorian to consumer culture that accompanied the changes of American society in this period. When examining big tent revivalism and consumer culture in light of one another a new picture emerges. Rather than mere dour opposition, big tent revivalists participated in the shift away from Victorianism. Revivalism made an uneasy alliance with the emerging consumer culture, reconciling evangelical piety with patterns of consumption. Revivals retained nineteenth-century Protestant language that emphasized sin, character, salvation and hard-work but this language was increasingly spoken with a consumer accent. Big tent revivals were fashioned to fit the urban consumer culture, drawing on the city's idioms of consumption, therapeutic self-fulfillment and entertainment, offering the old-time gospel but in novel ways.
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