Self-Help And Popular Religion In Early American Culture

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One of two volumes on the relationship between popular religion and the self-help tradition in American culture, this book focuses on early America, from the Protestant Ethic and Puritan New England through Revivialism and American Romanticism. The concept of self-help is a distinctive part of the American character of individualism. This volume provides an introductory interpretive guide to major self-help figures and movements with origins in popular religious movements. The opening chapter recounts the perspectives and conclusions of previous histories of American self-help and includes analyses of several important related works. The following chapters present a historical narrative that traces those junctures where American history and popular religion have reputedly and actually intersected. In surveying the historical and scholarly materials that depict the history of popular religion and self-help, this volume emphasizes the historiographical debates that shape the interpretation of the ideas and figures.

This reference will serve as a valuable research tool for American religion and popular culture scholars. Arranged chronologically, this volume discusses, in three major sections, the Protestant Ethic and Puritan New England; Benjamin Franklin, Cotton Mather, and Individualism; and Revivalism, Religious Experience, and the birth of mental healing. An extensive bibliography is included.

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Editorial Reviews

The first of two volumes in which Anker (English and film, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan) looks particularly at how popular religion has given rise to the self-help tradition within American culture. He keeps to a narrow track, describing only actual outbreaks of the phenomenon rather than general trends or the genealogy of ideas. The first volume covers the Protestant ethic and Puritan New England; Benjamin Franklin, Cotton Mather, and individualism; and revivalism, religious experience, and the birth of mental healing. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780313311369
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/30/1999
  • Series: American Popular Culture Series
  • Pages: 258
  • Lexile: 1570L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

ROY ANKER teaches English and Film at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
1. Introduction 1
2. Academic Histories of Self-Help 11
3. The Protestant Ethic and Puritan New England 45
The Weber Thesis and the Legacy of Puritanism 46
What Brought the Puritans to New England 52
New England Puritan Social History 61
Puritan Collective Culture 67
Boston and Economic Diversification 73
Declension in New England 76
Puritan Literature and the Weber Thesis 87
A Brief History of the Histories of Puritan New England 91
4. Benjamin Franklin, Cotton Mather, and Individualism 105
An Imposing Life 106
Ben Franklin and Poor Richard 109
Franklin and the Autobiography 115
Franklin and the Puritan Ethos 118
The Case of Cotton Mather: Puritanism, Self-Help, and Historical Influence 124
Historiographical Discussion of Franklin and His Legacy 132
5. Revivalism, Religious Experience, and the Birth of Mental Healing 145
Religious Innovation: The Second Great Awakening 150
Interpreting Revivalism: Historians Seek Understanding 160
American Romanticism: Nature, Harmony, and Healing the Self 168
The Coming of Mesmerism and Mind-Cure 176
Phineas Parkhurst Quimby 181
Figures in the Emergence of New Thought 193
Twentieth-Century Heirs to New Thought 221
Bibliography 227
Index 243
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