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Faith in Reading (Religion in America Series): Religious Publishing and the Birth of Mass Media in America

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In the twenty-first century, mass media corporations are often seen as profit-hungry money machines. It was a different world in the early days of mass communication in America. Faith in Reading tells the remarkable story of the noncommercial religious origins of our modern media culture. In the early nineteenth century, a few visionary entrepreneurs decided the time was right to reach everyone in America through the medium of print. Though they were modern businessmen, their publishing enterprises were not commercial businesses but nonprofit societies committed to the publication of traditional religious texts. Drawing on organizational reports and archival sources, David Paul Nord shows how the managers of Bible and religious tract societies made themselves into large-scale manufacturers and distributors of print. These organizations believed it was possible to place the same printed message into the hands of every man, woman, and child in America. Employing modern printing technologies and business methods, they were remarkably successful, churning out millions of Bibles, tracts, religious books, and periodicals. They mounted massive campaigns to make books cheap and plentiful by turning them into modern, mass-produced consumer goods. Nord demonstrates how religious publishers learned to work against the flow of ordinary commerce. They believed that reading was too important to be left to the "market revolution," so they turned the market on its head, seeking to deliver their product to everyone, regardless of ability or even desire to buy. Wedding modern technology and national organization to a traditional faith in reading, these publishing societies imagined and then invented mass media in America.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...a welcome addition to the developing interest in American religious history as an important element in the larger national story." —The Historian

"The volume brilliantly achieves what it sets out to do: present a coherent institutional history and an analysis of the organizational logic of several major nonprofit religious publishers. The book makes an important contribution to scholarship in the history of the book, communications, economics, and Protestant religious history. This volume is a significant addition to scholarship of religious publishing and economic history that deserves faithful reading." —Journal of Religion

"...short, clearly argued book that is a valuable contribution to the study of print media." —American Historical Review

"David Paul Nord's Faith in Reading is a learned, imaginative, and deft interpretation of the innovative role that evangelical Protestants played in the development of mass communication in 19th-century America. Nord writes with economy and grace, providing an elegant account of evangelicals' motives and methods within the larger context of the print revolution that preceded the Civil War. —Richard D. Brown, University of Connecticut

"David Paul Nord's Faith in Reading is a jewel of a book, sparkling with crystal clear prose and coruscating from each of its facets: on reading in the churches and the world, on religion and commerce, on business for mission and for profit, on slavery and voluntary societies, and much, much more." —Mark A. Noll, author of Americas God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

"An important book, sophisticated in its reflections on the so-called market revolution and democratization, and for these reasons deserving the attention of everyone who studies antebellum Protestantism." —David D. Hall, Harvard University

"Provides compelling insight into the relation of individuals to books at a crucial moment in American publishing." —SHARP News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195173116
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/19/2004
  • Series: Religion in America Series
  • Pages: 222
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David Paul Nord is Professor of Journalism and Adjunct Professor of History at Indiana University. He is also Associate Editor of the Journal of American History. Nord's research interests revolve around the history of journalism, religious publishing, and readership. He is author of Communities of Journalism: A History of American Newspapers and Their Readers (2001).

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Table of Contents

Introduction : the finger of providence, 1815 3
1 Religion and reading in early America 13
2 Millennial print 27
3 The new mass media : economic foundations 41
4 The new mass media : national institutions 61
5 The new mass media : systematic distribution 89
6 How readers should read 113
7 How readers did read 131
Epilogue : fragmentation and denomination 151
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