Religion in the Development of American Culture, 1765-1840

Religion in the Development of American Culture, 1765-1840

Religion in the Development of American Culture, 1765-1840

Religion in the Development of American Culture, 1765-1840

Excerpt

The recognition by American historians of religion as having had an important part in American social and cultural development may be said to date from the presidential address of J. Franklin Jameson before the American Historical Association in 1907. The address, entitled "The American Acta Sanctorum," is a plea for a wider conception of history, which at that time was largely confined to its constitutional and political phases. The address opens with numerous illustrations of the profit which the mediaeval historians have derived from the lives of the mediaeval saints. As an American parallel he points to the fact that our knowledge of the Indians has been largely obtained from the lives and narratives of such Indian missionaries as John Eliot, the New England Apostle, and David Brainerd; from the Jesuits of the north and the Franciscans of the southwest. The autobiographies and journals of the pioneer itinerant missionaries have furnished us also with the best descriptions of backwoods life and conditions; of the rude agriculture, of the clearings and log cabins, of the perpetual fevers, of the Indian depredations, of the fraternal kindness and the limitless hospitality which opened the door of every log cabin to the stranger. "Stouthearted, downright, muscular, practical, the circuit-rider faced the actual world of the frontier, and saw it clearly. If, like Peter Cartwright or Henry Smith, he leaves behind him a description of what he saw, we are much the gainers."

In this epoch-making address Jameson also contended that "of all the means of estimating American character . . . the pursuit of religious history is the most complete." "He who would understand the American of past and present times, and to that end would provide himself with data representing all classes, all periods, all regions, may find in the history of American religion the closest approach to the continuous record he desires." Religion . . .

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