The Protestant Voice in American Pluralism

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For 350 years, Protestantism was the dominant religion in America--and its influence spilled over in many directions into the wider culture. Religious historian Martin E. Marty looks at the factors behind both the long period of Protestant ascendancy in America and the comparatively recent diffusion and diminution of its authority. Marty ranges across time, covering such things as the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in 1607, the 1955 publication of Will Herberg's landmark book Protestant-Catholic-Jew, and the current period of American ethnic and religious pluralism.

For centuries, American Protestantism dominated in three main ways, says Marty: in the sheer numbers of its committed practitioners (spread across some two hundred denominations), in the Protestant leanings of nonadherents, and in the influence of the Protestant ethic in activities as diverse as business and art. To discover what is particularly “American” about Protestantism in this country, Marty looks at Protestant creencias, or beliefs, that complement or supplement pure doctrine. These include the notion of God as an agent of America’s destiny and the impact of the biblical credos of mission, stewardship, and vocation on innumerable nonreligious matters of daily life. Marty also discusses the vigencias, or binding (though unwritten) customs, of Protestantism. They include the tendencies to interpret matters of faith in market terms and to conflate biblical and enlightenment ideology into “civic faith.”

Challenges to Protestant hegemony came and went over the centuries, says Marty, but never in such force and to such effect as in the twentieth century. Among other factors contributing to the rise of pluralism and to schisms between mainstreamers and Fundamentalists, Marty lists changes in immigration laws, U.S. Supreme Court decisions on school prayer, the women's movement, and Vatican II.

Today, our Protean spirituality is the topic of everything from sermons to bumper stickers. All in all, this is good, reassures Marty, for to debate our spirituality is to sustain the life of a functioning, thinking, believing republic. Those who pine for some golden age of Protestantism are misled by nostalgia or resentment. The real work to be done by Protestants now is to serve, partner, and cooperate where they once managed, controlled, and directed.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In three delightfully witty and deceptively informal chapters, Martin Marty distills decades of research and reflection on religion in America. All who wish to understand not only the complex trajectory of American Protestantism from 1607 to the present but also the broader contours of American religious history—and indeed the nation itself—will welcome this book."--Paul S. Boyer, Editor-in-Chief, The Oxford Companion to United States History

“Once again, Martin Marty serves as our master guide to American Protestantism. With wonderful ease of expression, he couples a historic guide to the always plural nature of the American Protestant tradition with a provocative interpretation of efforts made by contemporary Protestant leaders to exert influence while no longer 'running the show.'"--R. Laurence Moore, Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies / History, Cornell University

"An extremely valuable contribution to the conversation about interpretations of U.S. religion. Not since Edwin S. Gaustad's Religion in America: History and Historiography (1973) has there been a short volume that provides as helpful an overview of the field. This is essential reading for all scholars of American religious history."--Thomas A. Tweed, Catholic Historical Review

"We should appreciate this elegant expression of Marty’s insights and convictions, distilled from his long and distinguished career of reflecting on American Protestantism(s) and the pluralism that so deeply frames our twenty-first-century common life.”--John F. Wilson, Journal of Religion

"An excellent overview of cultural unity that emerged from groups theologically at odds, showing when that consensus came apart and advising Protestants 'not [to] aspire to run the show but to serve where they managed, to partner where they controlled, to cooperate where they directed.'"--Susan Curtis, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Smoothly written and very brief distillation of some of his most important insights."--American Studies

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Martin E. Marty has taught at the University of Chicago in its Divinity School, its Department of History, and its Committee on the History of Culture. He is the author of more than forty books, including the three-volume Modern American Religion; The One and the Many; Politics, Religion, and the Common Good; and Righteous Empire, which won the National Book Award. Marty has long been associated with the Christian Century as an editor and writer, and he is a past president of the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Church History, and the American Catholic Historical Association.
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Table of Contents

1 When Protestants Ran the Show: When Homogeneity Ruled, 1607 to 1955 1
2 More Rings in the Circus: Realized Pluralism, after 1955 51
3 Is There Still a Tent, or Are There Many Tents?: Protestantism Gone Public, within Pluralism 65
Index 81
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