Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States

Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States


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From the Founding Fathers through the present, Christianity has exercised powerful influence in the United States—from its role in shaping politics and social institutions to its hand in inspiring art and culture. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States outlines the myriad roles Christianity has played and continues to play. This masterful five-volume reference work includes biographies of major figures in the Christian church in the United States, influential religious documents and Supreme Court decisions, and information on theology and theologians, denominations, faith-based organizations, immigration, art—from decorative arts and film to music and literature—evangelism and crusades, the significant role of women, racial issues, civil religion, and more.

The first volume opens with introductory essays that provide snapshots of Christianity in the U.S. from pre-colonial times to the present, as well as a statistical profile and a timeline of key dates and events. Entries are organized from A to Z. The final volume closes with essays exploring impressions of Christianity in the United States from other faiths and other parts of the world, as well as a select yet comprehensive bibliography. Appendices help readers locate entries by thematic section and author, and a comprehensive index further aids navigation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781442244313
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 11/10/2016
Pages: 2864
Product dimensions: 9.80(w) x 11.90(h) x 9.90(d)

About the Author

George Thomas Kurian (1931–2015) was president of the Encyclopedia Society and the editor of sixty-five books, including numerous encyclopedias and dictionaries. He was also a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science. He was the editor, among others, of The World Christian Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, and Encyclopedia of Christian Literature.

Mark A. Lamport is a professor at graduate schools in the United States and Europe. He is co-editor of Encyclopedia of Christian Education, and editor of the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation and Encyclopedia of Christianity in the Global South.

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Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States

By George Thomas Kurian, Mark A. Lamport

Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.

Copyright © 2016 George Thomas Kurian and Mark A. Lamport
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4422-4432-0


A Snapshot of Pre-Colonial and Colonial Christianity

While the title of this entry speaks of "Pre-Colonial and Colonial Christianity," it is important at the outset to recognize that there was not one but many brands of the Christian religion that came to exist in Europe, much less in the post-Columbian western hemisphere. Christianity had a long, rich, but divisive history in the Middle East, northern Africa, and Europe. During the early modern centuries of exploration, European colonizers espoused and exported competing versions of Catholicism and Protestantism of various national and regional stripes. Added to this, new, hybrid Christianities were created by Native Americans and First Peoples, initially as a result of interaction with European missionaries but later independently. And Africans, who were forcibly taken as slaves into the New World by European Christians, forged vibrant versions of Christianity apart from their white Christian masters.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the countries of western Europe in particular were developing into a dominating force in the world, a position they would hold until the twentieth century. But these countries were also experiencing the internal strife that went along with growth. Intellectually and artistically, movements such as Christian Humanism called for reform of the church, an individual approach to religion, and a historical approach to the Scriptures. Such ideas, along with new findings in science and theology, spread through the new technology of printing, which made learning more widely available. Politically, it was a time of growing nationalism and the evolution of the nation-state, in which the notion of the divine right of kings led to absolute monarchs in some countries, while some protestant countries moved toward constitutionalism and republicanism. The Roman Catholic church was perceived by many as acting as an earthly power, corrupt, guilty of seeking earthly wealth through simony and indulgences, and tolerating immoral and illiterate clergy. It was an Age of Exploration as well, in which many European powers financed expeditions and colonies in different parts of the world. But exploration was not merely geographical. Over against nominalist demands from Catholic leaders for implicit faith in the church's teachings and practices, some searched for alternative, "truer" forms of Christianity, a more subjective "heart" religion in which the individual conscience could achieve a sense of peace and communion with the divine. Such a searcher was Martin Luther, whose criticisms of the church ignited the Reformation in the early sixteenth century, causing schism and breakaways, including the entire Church of England in the 1530s. Reform groups — protestants — included Lutherans in the German states and Scandinavia; Calvinists in Switzerland, France, the Low Countries, and England; and Anabaptists, Pietists, Free Spirits, and a welter of other movements large and small scattered throughout the continent. Voices for change were heard from within Catholicism as well, from Quietists to Jansenists, as old monastic orders and schools were reformed and leaders sought renewal, and new orders, such as the Jesuits, were founded. However, conciliation between protestants and Catholics could not be reached, and the decades in the wake of the Reformation witnessed devastating religious wars, including The Thirty Years' War of the early seventeenth century.

Before the arrival of Europeans, the "New World" had long been a rich, and richly populated, landscape. It is also important to remember that, before European incursion, the many cultures of Natives, Indigenous, and First Peoples in the New World had developed a diverse and ancient array of religious and quasi-religious beliefs and practices, many of which were severely disrupted if not eradicated by European contact. Generally, native beliefs can be described as animistic, in which spirits or manitou inhabited physical elements of the universe, such as plants, animals, cultural functions, and physical sites in the landscape such as mountains. Deities could be one but also multiple in nature, having more than one gender, being both kind and cruel, and personified in the seasons or winds. Punishment could be visited on humans in the form of natural catastrophes, illness, drought, infertility, or defeat in war. Personal and communal observance of rituals and sacrifices were made to sites and spirits in order to maintain or restore cosmic balance. Usually, a select number of "pow wows" or seer-healers interpreted visions, predicted future events, practiced traditional medicine, and carried on other such similar roles.

Though there were some rare exceptions, Europeans, whatever their religious allegiance, generally perceived of Native Americans as savages, bereft of civilization. They were, as a result, heathens, infidels, and put on the same level in the Christian mind as Muslims. The legacy of the Reformation justified extermination of enemies who would not conform to "true" Christianity, and such was the fate of indigenous peoples who would not accept the gospel — or would not accept what their European teachers considered to be the correct version of the gospel. Along with imported diseases, the native population was decimated by wars and by deprivations that came as a result of Europeans' negative perceptions and fears. Natives were demonized as well, portrayed as under the thrall of Satan, which further made any treatment of them legitimate. The alternative, to the European Christian, was for the Native American to become Christianized and "civilized," which meant conforming completely to European beliefs and lifestyles.

The first European colonial power to effectively extend its imperial power into the western hemisphere was Portugal, which colonized "Amazonia," or Brazil, beginning as early as the late fifteenth century. Missionaries and settlers brought with them Roman Catholicism, in which the indigenous tribes who came under their control were baptized and proselytized. They were also enslaved, forming the basis of labor in the region for Portugal's lucrative economies of spice-gathering and mining, as well as enlisting them to help defend settlements against hostile tribes. Coming along later, the Jesuits opposed enslavement of the natives, and prospered through the establishment of a series of aldeias, or mission villages and colonial outposts, under their auspices. The first half of the eighteenth century was the golden age of Amazonian missions; by the 1740s, some 50,000 native converts resided in more than 60 aldeias run not only by the Jesuits but other orders as well. To augment their labor force, the Portuguese also imported African slaves, which, through miscegenation, led to the creation of mixed-race classes and to synthetic forms of Christianity, such as Santeria, which blended Afro-Caribbean beliefs with Christian practices. By 1776, there were some 2 million inhabitants in Brazil — native, Europeans, Africans, and creoles — a total rivaled only by the British North American colonies.

Spanish missionaries followed quickly in the wake of the conquistadors in what came to be called New Spain, a huge area roughly comprehending western South America, Latin America, parts of the Caribbean, and what is today the southwestern United States, which Spain held until the early nineteenth century. Franciscans, who became the majority Catholic order represented in the New World, arrived in 1493, while Jesuits were posted beginning in the 1560s. As in Portuguese Brazil, the strategy was to baptize natives en masse; for example, by 1609, it is estimated that Spanish missionaries baptized in excess of 16 million people. Initially, Spanish religious leaders tolerated the blending of native beliefs and practices with Christianity, but that did not last. Once individuals had received the seal of the church, the process of catechizing and "civilizing" began; through the reduccion, natives were relocated to mission stations, where they were forced to undergo hispanicization. All the same, natives transferred traditional meanings to the new symbols of Christianity. Spanish territories were ruled through crown and church hierarchies that included two viceroys, those of New Spain and Peru, including the establishment of an archbishopric and cathedral cities such as Mexico City. While settlement was concentrated in present-day Mexico, on the northern frontier it was sparser, creating different military and religious strategies, often competing with French and English. Nonetheless, by the middle of the eighteenth century the Spanish had reached far into the North American interior and along the west coast, establishing a series of mission posts and securing the Latino-Catholic influence to this day.

New France was just as vast, but its domination of its claimed territories was quite different from that of Spain. Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, till much of New France was yielded to Great Britain, settlement was very sparse. Yet, France claimed all of the area in a huge arc from the St. Laurence Seaway, through the Great Lakes region, down the Mississippi River to Louisiana, not to mention several Caribbean islands. Thus, French policy toward First Peoples was very different: they relied on alliances and understandings with the natives for access to trade goods, such as furs; to a large degree, the colonizers lived on the sufferance of the natives. Nominally, New France was Roman Catholic, with control centered in Montreal, which came to feature a seminary and an order of women religious. The bishop was one of the three ruling figures, along with a military and civil representative. No dissent was tolerated, which meant that Huguenots, or French Protestants, were prohibited from immigrating there, which is why many ended up in British colonies such as New York and the Carolinas. The Jesuits dominated missions to the First Peoples from the 1630s onward. In contrast to Spain and Portugal, here, at least at first, missionaries did not practice mass baptisms but went out to the native villages and lived in an embedded fashion, learning their languages and tolerating native adaptations of Christian teachings. Later, however, the Jesuits also founded mission villages, to which native proselytes were invited. Though there was resistance to the gospel at first, and some early missionaries were killed, the identification of native tribes in the St. Laurence Seaway area with Catholicism was strong, and this religious allegiance was an important factor in the ongoing conflicts with English (and later, American) neighbors to the south and west.

In the early seventeenth century, the Dutch were exploring the eastern coast of North America, and its major colony there was New Netherlands, and its major city, New Amsterdam. From the start, the port was a melting pot of adventurers and entrepreneurs from many European nations, as well as free and enslaved natives and Africans. By 1650, for example, nearly twenty different languages were spoken in New Amsterdam. The Dutch Reformed Church, a strong adherent to Protestant Calvinism, was the established religion. The few ministers did little mission work, though there were some efforts to Christianize among the traders and Indians of the Hudson River Valley. Separated by an ocean from the Dutch homeland from which the colonial churches took their cues (and their ministers), adherence was light and diversity great. New Amsterdam included the first significant Jewish population. Jews settled there as early as the 1650s, and established a synagogue before the end of the century.

Further to the south, in the Chesapeake Bay region, Sweden established a small colony of its own. It was actually composed of mostly Finns and the official religion was Lutheranism; but, as with New Netherlands, the church did not have much of a presence and little if any mission outreach. Eventually, the Dutch took over New Sweden, doing little to change its character. However, during the latter half of the seventeenth century the English were coming to the fore in North America, and the Dutch had to surrender their holdings to them, so that New Amsterdam became New York City.

As in the colonized empires to the north and south, religion was a major contributing factor in the texture and experience of the British colonies in North America and in the Caribbean. These colonies, however, were settled by groups espousing a spectrum of Protestantisms. Although, after the Restoration of the monarchy in the 1660s, they were nominally all under the Church of England, this was hardly the case on the ground. Indeed, virtually every British colony had an established religion of some sort, and citizens were required to attend services and provide financial support, usually through taxation. In New England, Congregationalism was the established form, the "Standing Order," until well into the nineteenth century. In the colonies of New York, New Jersey, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, Presbyterians and Baptists vied with and often overpowered the Anglican establishment. Maryland was founded as a short-lived haven for English Catholics. Only in the colonies of Pennsylvania and Rhode Island was toleration practiced, though even then the Quakers held sway in the former and Baptists in the latter. Yet, the colonies contained a welter of religious denominations, sects, and groups — Reformed, Lutherans, German Pietists, Adventists, Anabaptists, Labadists, Schwenkfeldians, Dunkers, Moravians, and others — who existed and in some cases thrived alongside established churches. British missions were varied as well, with the Congregationalists of New England forming a string of "praying towns" for Indian proselytes and the Church of England sending out itinerating missionaries, but all emphasized education, literacy, and Anglicization, first printing the Bible and religious literature in native languages and then teaching natives to read and speak English.

With the coming of the religious revivals of the eighteenth century, the diversity and sometimes contentions only became more pronounced. New movements, such as Methodism, arose to challenge the status quo, especially in the British southern colonies. Other new movements, such as the Moravians, who stressed tolerance and ecumenism, were very successful at bringing in white, native, and black converts. Itinerating preachers, most famously the Anglican minister George Whitefield, introduced a new, emotional, and spontaneous form of sermonizing that brought huge crowds searching for the "New Birth." The "Great Awakening" of this period was instrumental in the formation of native and African American forms of Christianity, both organized and informal, characterized by blending of traditional and Christian beliefs and practices. Some of the features of these new forms of Christianity were a strong prophetic and visionary experience, a unique body of sacred hymns, and dramatic, incantatory preaching.

One of America's revolutionary principles was to do away with a national church or religion, and to make participation voluntary. But to the inhabitants of the British North American colonies, the idea of no established religion was inconceivable and foreign. Religious pluralism and toleration of multiple religions, Christian or otherwise, had their roots in colonial experience; but these were by no means principles enacted at settlement, and they were slow to be accepted in the new United States.


A Snapshot of Nineteenth-Century Christianity in the United States

The history of US Christianity in the nineteenth century constitutes a remarkable journey among divergent expressions of faith, within a varied multiplicity of people groups, and across a significant portion of the North American continent. It was during this century that the United States developed and embraced the notion of "Manifest Destiny," spreading forth its arms from the Atlantic to the Pacific and beyond. This geographic expansion reflected and contained important implications for politics and culture, not to mention the religious forms and expressions of the United States and its people. Just as the nation found itself in a much different place at the turn of the twentieth century than it did in the first years of the nineteenth, so too Christianity exited the era mightily changed.

What took place within US Christianity during this period represents a deep Christianization of a people and culture. Emerging into the new century as a young republic with Enlightenment ideals of deism and disestablishment, there were legitimate questions about the ability of traditional Christianity to persevere. Yet in many ways these fears were shortsighted. It was not long before the expanding nation's people embraced a faith that matched their broader national yearnings and began the process of Christianity's indigenization along those lines.


Excerpted from Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States by George Thomas Kurian, Mark A. Lamport. Copyright © 2016 George Thomas Kurian and Mark A. Lamport. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Martin E. Marty

Contextual Snapshots of Christianity in the United States

·A Snapshot of Pre-Colonial and Colonial Christianity
·A Snapshot of Nineteenth Century Christianity in the US
·A Snapshot of Twentieth Century Christianity in the US
·A Snapshot of the Future of Christianity in the US
Statistical Profile of Christianity in the United States (2015)

Timeline: Milestones in the History of Christianity of the United States

Volume 1: A-E
Volume 2: F-J
Volume 3: K-N
Volume 4: O-R
Volume 5: S-Z

Perspectives of Christianity in the United States

·An Asian Impression of Christianity in the United States
·An Atheist Impression of Christianity in the United States
·An Australian Impression of Christianity in the United States
·A European Impression of Christianity in the United States
·A Jewish Impression of Christianity in the United States
·A Middle Eastern Impression of Christianity in the United States
·A Post-Modern Impression of Christianity in the United States
·A South American Impression of Christianity in the United States
Selected Bibliography (Listed by Thematic Section)

A: Christianity in the Context of All Religions in the United States of America
B: Entries Listed by Thematic Sections
C: Entries Listed by Author

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