The Protestant Voice in American Pluralism

The Protestant Voice in American Pluralism

The Protestant Voice in American Pluralism

The Protestant Voice in American Pluralism


For 350 years, Protestantism was the dominant religion in America--and its influence spilled over in many directions into the wider culture. Religious historian Martin E. Marty looks at the factors behind both the long period of Protestant ascendancy in America and the comparatively recent diffusion and diminution of its authority. Marty ranges across time, covering such things as the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in 1607, the 1955 publication of Will Herberg's landmark book Protestant-Catholic-Jew, and the current period of American ethnic and religious pluralism.

For centuries, American Protestantism dominated in three main ways, says Marty: in the sheer numbers of its committed practitioners (spread across some two hundred denominations), in the Protestant leanings of nonadherents, and in the influence of the Protestant ethic in activities as diverse as business and art. To discover what is particularly "American" about Protestantism in this country, Marty looks at Protestant creencias, or beliefs, that complement or supplement pure doctrine. These include the notion of God as an agent of America's destiny and the impact of the biblical credos of mission, stewardship, and vocation on innumerable nonreligious matters of daily life. Marty also discusses the vigencias, or binding (though unwritten) customs, of Protestantism. They include the tendencies to interpret matters of faith in market terms and to conflate biblical and enlightenment ideology into "civic faith."

Challenges to Protestant hegemony came and went over the centuries, says Marty, but never in such force and to such effect as in the twentieth century. Among other factors contributing to the rise of pluralism and to schisms between mainstreamers and Fundamentalists, Marty lists changes in immigration laws, U.S. Supreme Court decisions on school prayer, the women's movement, and Vatican II.

Today, our Protean spirituality is the topic of everything from sermons to bumper stickers. All in all, this is good, reassures Marty, for to debate our spirituality is to sustain the life of a functioning, thinking, believing republic. Those who pine for some golden age of Protestantism are misled by nostalgia or resentment. The real work to be done by Protestants now is to serve, partner, and cooperate where they once managed, controlled, and directed.


The George H. Shriver Lectures: Religion in American History is an endowed series of lectures at Stetson University established by Dr. George Shriver, Professor of History Emeritus at Georgia Southern University. An alumnus of Stetson, Dr. Shriver created this lecture series to honor his alma mater and to enhance the understanding of religion’s role in American society, both past and present. So that the lectures reach a wider audience, Dr. Shriver’s endowment provides assistance for the publication of each lecture series. An author and professor for forty-one years, Dr. Shriver has received several awards during his career, both for his teaching and his scholarly publications. Among his numerous publications are his books Philip Schaff: Christian Scholar and Ecumenical Prophet and Pilgrims through the Years: a Bicentennial History of First Baptist Church, Savannah, Georgia, as well as Contemporary Reflections on the Medieval Christian Tradition and Dictionary of Heresy Trials in American History, which he edited, and From Science to Theology, which he translated.

The speaker for the 2002 Shriver Lectures, delivered on January 30–31, 2002, was Dr. Martin E. Marty, widely recog-

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