Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity

Article excerpt

American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity. By Paul K. Conkin. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1997. Pp. xvii, 336. $55.00 hardcover; $18.95 paperback.)

Religious liberty not only keeps denominations from shooting each other, but it also clears and fertilizes the ground so that new religions may sprout and grow. This is especially true where, as in the United States, no lengthy tradition of a national church leaves a heavy heritage that retards or restrains. Innovation conquers inertia.

With great skill, Paul Conkin of Vanderbilt University plows this fertile soil of religious novelty in America. Limiting himself to Christianity-which for most of the nation's history is no severe restriction-he classifies the "originals" according to the following types: restoration (Christians and Disciples), humanistic (Unitarian and Universalist), apocalyptic (Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses), Mormons, spiritualist (Christian Science and Unity), and ecstatic (Holiness and Pentecostal). These groups, he explains, are more than simply schisms or separations of which it would be difficult for anyone to keep count. They are, rather, "new departures in basic doctrines and practices" (p. x). The author has also chosen to concentrate on "the largest and most influential" innovations, believing that in his six types he can find "well over 90 per cent of Americans who have embraced new or original forms of Christianity" (p. …

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