A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada

By Mark A. Noll | Go to book overview

PART IV
THE EMERGENCE OF
RELIGIOUS PLURALISM

BETWEEN THE CIVIL WAR AND WORLD WAR I, AN IMPORTANT TRANSITION occurred in the history of Christianity in America. To be sure, as we have seen, these decades witnessed the high point of American Protestant civilization. Yet at the same time they also witnessed another set of circumstances that undercut the Protestant hegemony that had prevailed from shortly after the Revolution.

In the first instance, an increasingly broad spectrum of Christian expressions either expanded or took root in postbellum America. For example, not only did immigration and natural increase make Roman Catholics the largest Christian communion in America, but the Catholic Church also began cautiously to break from its ghettos in order to participate in the nation’s public life. In addition, Protestants of non-British background, especially the Lutherans, established an unmistakable presence in the nation. Black Christians, now liberated from hereditary slavery, organized for themselves. Representatives of various Eastern Orthodox churches made their first appearance. And beyond the Christian orbit, other religious groups, at first Jews but then others as well, began to claim a place in the sun. A majority of Americans still identified themselves as Protestants, and most of these Protestants had some connection to the nation’s traditional denominations, but the age of Protestant hegemony was nearly over. The changes that led to this broadened spectrum are discussed in Chapter 13.

But a number of other factors related more directly to the participation of Protestants in the Civil War also undermined the certainties of “evangelical America.” These factors — including the way in which the War affected the place of blacks, opened up settlement in the West, promoted contrasting varieties of civil religion, influenced approaches to Scripture, and changed the stakes for education — are taken up in Chapter 12.

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