A Guide to the History of Illinois

By John Hoffmann | Go to book overview

11
RELIGION AND EDUCATION

RICHARD S. TAYLOR

COMPREHENSIVE HISTORIES OF religion and education in Illinois have yet to appear. Neither university-trained scholars nor non-academic historians have attempted a synthesis of the widely divergent beliefs, practices, and traditions embraced by Illinoisans in either field. Most authors have cultivated instead their particular interests, producing an enormous number of "house histories," admiring biographies, and other celebratory accounts. Scholars more concerned with larger patterns of historical change have likewise eschewed state history, choosing rather to analyze specific institutions, individuals, or locales, most often Chicago. Their case study approach, while less ostensibly colored by piety or pedagogical special pleading, has tended to distort in its zeal for typicality and generalization. The overall result is a vast, badly fragmented, and highly partisan literature well beyond the scope of this essay. Yet by focusing on the larger picture, it still is possible to discern some of the ever-shifting patterns of religious and educational diversity that have shaped Illinois history.

An understanding of those patterns has been, above all, distorted by enduring institutions. Successful churches and schools sponsor histories and preserve the manuscript collections that influence the research interests of otherwise independent scholars, while less enduring institutions and ideals often vanish, leaving barely a trace. The Indians who once occupied Illinois, for example, left little evidence with which to reconstruct their spiritual lives or educational practices. No attempt has been made to replace Clarence Walworth Alvord's badly dated

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