The Practice of Pluralism: Congregational Life and Religious Diversity in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1730-1820

By Longenecker, Steve | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Practice of Pluralism: Congregational Life and Religious Diversity in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1730-1820


Longenecker, Steve, The Catholic Historical Review


The Practice of Pluralism: Congregational Life and Religious Diversity in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 1730-1820. By Mark Häberlein. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2009. Pp. xi, 276. $79.00. ISBN 978-0-271-03521-5.)

Mark Häberlein's tightly written book chronicles religion in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as it evolved from backcountry to maturity during the colonial, revolutionary, and early-republican periods. Five congregations- three German-speaking (German Reformed, Lutheran, and Moravian) and two English (Anglican and Presbyterian)- form the core of Häberlein's inquiry into this thriving inland town. The Practice of Pluralism is a revised version of Häberlein's dissertation written at Penn State University, and the author currently is professor of modern history at the University of Bamberg, Germany.

At first glance, The Practice of Pluralism appears most similar to works on diversity in the Midatlantic, such as Sally Schwartz's A Mixed Multitude: The Struggle for Toleration in Colonial Pennsylvania (New York, 1989) or Aaron Spencer Fogleman's recent counterargument in Jesus Is Female: Moravians and Radical Religion in Early America (Philadelphia, 2007). But Häberlein's theme- that the "quest for order and stability" (p. 1 2) dominated religious life during the ninety-year period of his study- puts his book in a different category. According to Häberlein, challenges to congregational life included immigrants who needed to adjust, questions about lay authority, and disagreements over church order, but by the late-eighteenth century stability reigned in the form of impressive buildings, charters of incorporation, and lengthy pastorates.Thus, the closest relatives to Häberlein may be After the Backcountry: Rural Life in the Great Valley of Virginia, 1800-1900 by Kenneth E. Koons and Warren R. Hofstra (Knoxville, 2000), which tracks maturity in another part of Greater Pennsylvania, and Richard L. Bushman's The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York, 1992), a discussion of the quest for improvement.

One of the book's major strengths is its research. …

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