Perishing Heathens: Stories of Protestant Missionaries and Christian Indians in Antebellum America

By Julius H. Rubin | Go to book overview

3
The Endless Chain of Religious Intelligence
The Emergence of an American Evangelical Identity

The lives, travails, and untimely deaths of missionary women like Dolly Hoyt and Miss D need to be seen as exemplars of piety and religious personhood championed by evangelical thought in an age of awakenings. Religious periodicals and published memoirs commemorated each life lost in the cause of domestic and foreign missions, adding another link in the seemingly endless chain of religious intelligence that inspired many readers to dedicate their lives to the cause of extending the light of the Gospel to the darkness of perishing heathens.

This religious intelligence provided a cultural template and idealized model that instructed missionary women about how to forge a life in the crucible of Brainerd’s legacy of piety, how to foster a distinctive religious personhood founded upon evangelical Protestant values and purposes. However, we need to consider the fate of evangelical idealism when missionaries entered the field and encountered adversity, where their lived experiences did not conform to the romanticized accounts that first drew them to this religious vocation and adventure.

The endless chain of religious intelligence included countless tracts, devotional literature and pastoral theology, and book-length memoirs of missionaries and epigones of conversion and godly living that reached a national audience. During the first three decades of the nineteenth century,

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