Unitarianism in the Antebellum South: The Other Invisible Institution


Macaulay challenges the prevailing belief that religion in the South
developed solely through "revivalistic emotion" and not by religious rationalism.

John Macaulay's model study of Unitarianism in the antebellum
South reestablishes the denomination's position as an ...

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Macaulay challenges the prevailing belief that religion in the South
developed solely through "revivalistic emotion" and not by religious rationalism.

John Macaulay's model study of Unitarianism in the antebellum
South reestablishes the denomination's position as an influential religious
movement in the early history of the region. By looking at benevolent societies,
lay meetings, professional and civic activity, ecumenical interchange,
intellectual forums, business partnerships, literary correspondence, friendships,
and other associa-tions in which southern Unitarians were engaged with
other southerners on a daily basis, Macaulay sees a much greater Unitarian
presence than has been previously recognized. Instead of relying on a count
of church steeples to gauge numbers, this volume blurs the lines between
southern Unitarianism and orthodoxy by demonstrating how their theologies
coexisted and intertwined.

Macaulay posits that just beneath the surface of organized
religion in the South was an "invisible institution" not unlike Franklin
Frazier's Black Church, a nebulous network of liberal faith that represented
a sustained and continued strand of Enlightenment religious rationalism
alongside and within an increasingly evangelical culture. He shows that
there were in fact two invisible religious institutions in the antebellum
South, one in the slave quarters and the other in the urban landscape of
southern towns. Whereas slave preachers rediscovered in music and bodily
movement and in themes of suffering a vibrant Christian community, Unitarians
witnessed the simple spiritual truth that reason and belief are one unified

In offering this fresh argument, Macaulay has chipped
away at stereotypes of the mid-19th-century South as unreservedly "evangelical"
and contributed greatly to historians' understanding of the diversity and
complexity in southern religion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"John Macaulay sculpts the southern face of antebellum American Unitarianism with clarity, empathy, and discernment. Macaulay's almost startling portrait resurrects one of the South's most elusive, itriguing spiritual groups even as it illustrates Unitarainism's unexpected adaptability in the South and the region's intriguing spiritual diverisity. This is a subtle, superbly researched, engagingly written book that rejuvenates a fascinating chapter of pre-Civil War southern history.
—Jon Butler, Yale University
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817310868
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2001
  • Series: Religion and American Culture Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John A. Macaulay is an independent scholar educated at Erskine
College, Duke University Divinity School, and the University of South Carolina.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction 1
1 A Declaration of Independence 13
2 The Enlightened Journey: The Origins of Southern Unitarianism 20
3 The Uni-Uni Connection: Peripheral Universalism in New Orleans and Richmond 47
4 Urban Unitarianism and the Invisible Tradition 57
5 The Spirit of Improvement 95
6 "Our Old and Primitive Faith": The Theology and Influence of Southern Unitarianism 112
7 Sectional Tension 128
8 Oil and Vinegar: The Politics of "Puritan Fanaticism" 144
9 The Fork in the Road 158
10 Institutional Decline and the Ghost of Southern Unitarianism 171
Notes 185
Bibliography 203
Index 213
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