Sing Them over Again to Me: Hymns and Hymnbooks in America

Sing Them over Again to Me: Hymns and Hymnbooks in America

Sing Them over Again to Me: Hymns and Hymnbooks in America

Sing Them over Again to Me: Hymns and Hymnbooks in America

Excerpt

This book demonstrates how much can be learned about the broad sweep of American religious life from studying the writing, publishing, and singing of Christian hymns. Its academic premise is that scholarship has fallen far short of capturing the immensely important role of hymns and hymn singing for American experience. This scholarly deficiency is particularly regrettable in light of the worthy efforts historians have made in recent decades to recover the ordinary lives of ordinary people in their ordinary experiences. It is thus a special irony that one of the most protean of ordinary religious activities—the singing of hymns—remains so seriously understudied. Throughout American history—for men, women, and children, for members of almost every ethnic group, for practitioners of high, low, and middle-brow culture, especially for the great numbers of Americans associated with Protestant churches, and at all the critical moments of the life cycle—hymns have created and sustained community, expressed fundamental human aspirations, invigorated religious convictions with moving emotional force, promoted religious fellowship among disparate peoples, allowed otherwise inarticulate people to voice their most ardent longings, summarized with power the often recondite opacity of doctrinal formulas, comforted the grieving, nerved vast numbers for religious and social service, and—it must also be conceded—offered more than ample resources to parodists, satirists, and naysayers eager to subvert the pieties of mainstream religious cultures.

The three sections of this book represent efforts to remedy the scholarly lack of attention. The first traces complex transformations in the use of three well-known individual hymns. The second examines the shape of hymnbooks and hymn texts as critical cultural icons. And the third section documents the way that hymnody gave shape to American Protestantism during the great age of its cultural preeminence during the nineteenth century.

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