Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

A Divinity for All Persuasions: Almanacs and Early American Religious Life

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

A Divinity for All Persuasions: Almanacs and Early American Religious Life

Article excerpt

A Divinity for All Persuasions: Almanacs and Early American Religious Life. By T. J. Tomlin. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014, Pp. x, 220. $78.00.)

T. J. Tomlin's first book is a very important one. Analyzing the religious messages contained in nearly 2,000 Early American almanacs, Tomlin contributes to the historiographic shift in American religious studies from the study of ecclesiastical institutions, and resulting inter-religious strife, to the study of shared popular religion conveyed in cheap print. Instead of focusing on denominational identities and struggles, Tomlin introduces us to a "pan-Protestantism," conveyed in almanac prose and verse, which united readers across creedal and geographic lines.

Describing almanacs as the most widely printed, and easily accessible, form of early American cheap print, Tomlin argues that the pithy verses and stories they contained conveyed profoundly religious messages. He convincingly contends that almanacs, and their astrological calendars, were not, as many later historians have maintained, demonstrative of the secular and the occult. As religious texts, almanacs pointed the way to God's revelation in nature (astrology) and in scripture. Importantly, the religion contained in the pages of the humble annuals was not the same as that preached from early America's pulpits. Peddled on the pluralistic marketplace, almanacs eschewed creedal conformity for a commonsense ecumenism that ensured healthy profits and, at the same time, forged a pan-Protestant identity. As Tomlin argues, almanacs are not the places to investigate the finer points of doctrine that divided early American Christians. They are, however, texts where one can discern the broad brush strokes of a shared religious sensibility rooted in shared understandings of morality and rationality.

Retelling humorous anecdotes and verses from nearly a century of American almanacs, Tomlin demonstrates that the genre's pan-Protestantism reaffirmed classic Protestant beliefs in heaven, hell, and the centrality of Biblical revelation. Almanacs also used nonProtestants, most notably Roman Catholics but also atheists, Jews, and Muslims, as foils to explicate the perceived superiority of Protestant beliefs. Reaching out to a pluralistic Protestant audience, almanacs emphasized moral behavior over purity of belief. …

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