(I think this is a goals post for the entire upcoming semester.)
Kenneth Startup wrote the following, in this, and it is the best:
It may be useful to add that the Southern clergy’s defense of slavery, however energetic and strident, was never the center or ground of Southern evangelicalism; actually evangelism, the saving of souls, was the ground and center of Southern evangelicalism. And a more complex worldview grew out of this single redemptive aspiration, a worldview far larger than the plantation ethos.
This is neat, to me, because historians have tended to view religion as a rhetorical adjunct to various discourses over racial and gendered power. Not that those discourses did not exist, and not that evangelicals did not rely on their understanding of biblical order to support white and masculine power; they did, and they did. Anyhow, I like the re-prioritization of religious experience, but it does not mean that I see religious experience as somehow pure or exclusive. In fact, I like Startup’s description of how economic sin fit into “a worldview far larger,” and think that the conclusion to my dissertation will be to offer a version of how cultural sin fit into the same evangelical frame.
But, whatever. I’ve got to work on the next chapter (which is actually the first chapter) to get there. As always, I find that Beth Schweiger has already done it:
The social and cultural context of Southern religious life changed enormously over the course of the nineteenth century, but it did so in the context of Southerners’ abiding ambivalence about change. In the South, as in the nation as a whole, Protestants embraced some modern ideas and forms even as they rejected others. Many Southern Protestants displayed apprehension about liberal theology that bore no relation to their embrace of modern bureaucratic methods. The assumptions and structures of both white and black institutional Protestantism in the nineteenth-century South were distinctly modern. … They evangelized the nineteenth century South through organization, printing presses, strategic planning, and settled institutions, rather than through the revival preaching long hailed by historians. [Italics mine]
That’s basically fifty percent of my first chapter, right there. I sat down yesterday and sketched an outline of this “post-revival” religious atmosphere in North Carolina by taking on the establishment of Sunday Schools, colleges, foreign and domestic mission societies, parsonages and buildings, the “mission to the slaves,” and the promulgation of regular “extended meeting” services in place of revivals. After that, I hope to explore a cultural sensibility that all this institution-building cultivated—“liberality”—or, the prescription to be civic- and morality-minded, and generous with one’s money and time. This, I think, is quite different from the planter ethos that encouraged a gregarious and beneficent public persona based on paternalistic obligation, but on a…well…more egalitarian and less power-obsessed evangelical virtue.
I’ve got the material on the institution building, but I have just now started to think about this liberality business. Obviously, it needs development.
But that’s just the beginning. I aim to show that all this refinement hasn’t—by the late antebellum—dampened the evangelical spirit at all for ordinary lay people. (In historiography, this is the inevitable consequence of church growth.) Then it gets real fun, because I can get back to Caroline, and introduce a new character in this dissertation…a Presbyterian!