Questions from the Introduction to Religion and American Culture (please provide page numbers for your answers.)
1-What are the two meanings of religion that Marsden offers?
2-How does he define “secular”? What are some examples he offers in American society that he considers to be secular?
3-Who are the insiders in American culture who had a disproportionate influence in shaping American culture, according to Marsden?
4-What groups does he define as the outsiders who had to contend with the insiders who dominated the culture until recently?
Questions from Marsden, Chapter 1
1-Why did the Protestant Reformation take place?
2-How does Marsden describe Calvin’s theology that challenged the institutional authority of the Catholic Church?
3-What event took place in 1588 that convinced English Protestants that God was on their side? Why was it important to the English settlement of the New World?
4-Why were the Puritans in England not pleased by the Elizabethan compromise? (See page 20.)
5-What were the beliefs of the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony?
6-According to Marsden, how have Puritan traditions shaped Americans’ collective self-understanding?
7-How did the Baptists differ from the Puritans?
8-What principles did Roger Williams and the early Baptists promote that later became important in the next century?
9-What were some of the key beliefs of the Quakers?
10-What did preachers emphasize during the revivals that took place in America during the Great Awakening? In what ways were the revivals revolutionary?
11-What were some of the outcomes of the Awakening in America over time?
Introduction to the text, Religion and American Culture, pp. 1-7
Reading the Introduction to Religion and American Culture is critical. Marsden explains the themes in the book that he intends to address in the book and this helps you to understand the organization of his book. He notes on page 2 that his book attempts to answer two questions about the relationship between American Religion and American culture:
1-“. . .in what ways have American religions shaped American morality, value systems, beliefs about priorities, and views about themselves, other humans, their families, and the nation?
2-“. . .to what extent has the American experience transformed traditional religious beliefs?”
On page 5, under the heading “What This Book is About”, he explains another central theme in his book: “how the United States has always been simultaneously a very religious and a very secular nation. In the paragraph above he defines his book’s primary meaning for the word “religion”. On page 6, he defines “secular”. Please note these definitions.
The Influence of the Protestant Reformation on the Settlement of the New World
At the beginning of Chapter 1 (pp. 16-18), Marsden provides some information about the Protestant Reformation which you should read carefully.
The Protestant Reformation was a reaction by Europeans to what they viewed as the corruption of the Catholic Church that had been taking place over a long period of time. Martin Luther, a former Roman Catholic priest from Germany, nailed to the door of a Wittenberg cathedral his objections to Catholic ideas and religious practice in 1517. Luther rallied the largest group of early Protestants who were called Lutherans. Note on pp. 16-17 Marsden’s description of the influence of the other prominent Protestant reformer, the leader of the second generation of the Reformation, John Calvin. The invention of the printing press and the improvement of the manufacture of paper helped spread new ideas, including those of the Protestants, and were part of sweeping changes in the 16th century in Europe.
In response to the criticisms of the Protestants, Catholic leaders from all over Europe met in Trent, Italy, in the middle of the 16th century. They reaffirmed their doctrines but also began to reform many of the clerical abuses that had given rise to the Protestant Reformation.
These Catholic leaders looked to the New World as a place to gather new souls for the Catholic Church. The French and the Spanish Catholics were the first to launch missionary campaigns to the New World. Marsden notes at the bottom of page 17 that the Catholic missions were part of the plan for the expansion of Christendom but also a way of providing new wealth for France and Spain.
The English Reformation pp. 19-20
Marsden summary of England’s role in the battle between Protestants and Catholics is important to us for its explanation of the origin of the Puritans many of whom left England to establish colonies in America. Marsden also introduces an idea that we want to follow over time—the Protestant idea that started in England and was transferred to the New World by Protestant settlers that God was on their side.
The Puritans pp. 21-23
On pp. 21-23 Marsden offers us a more detailed description of why the Puritans left England and their goals for their colonies in the New World. The Puritan belief that God had a special mission for them is important to our understanding of American religion because that belief has influenced our view of our nation throughout our history. Because the Puritans were well-educated and expressed their beliefs so well, they had a strong influence over time over American culture including political thought.
Christians as Outsiders
Please read through pp. 23-25 to understand what Marsdens means when he refers to Christian outsiders. These Protestant groups had a different view of what the relationship between religion and society should be from the Puritans. Of these groups, the Baptists were the most influential. Note how Roger Williams, who was briefly a Baptist, boldly challenged some core Puritan beliefs.
William Penn was the son of a British admiral who after converting to Quakerism was imprisoned for his religious beliefs. However, the Stuarts owed Penn’s father a large sum of money and to pay off this debt, Charles II granted Penn the province of Pennsylvania in the New World. It extended west and south from the Delaware River to Maryland.
Penn began advertising to encourage people to settle in his province. He offered religious freedom, representative government, and a generous land policy. As a result, Pennsylvania rapidly became the fastest growing area in British America. The colony was remarkable for its religious and ethnic tolerance. Marsden notes that “. . .by the mid-1700s, the Quaker spiritual values helped create a society in Pennsylvania that anticipated many of the ideals of modern secular politics and of later America.” (page 30) They were very early opponents of slavery and viewed women as the “spiritual equals of men”. (page 29).
The English Civil War
Marsden maintains that the English Civil War was “an important precedent for the American Revolution.” (page 26). Even though Puritan rule under Cromwell didn’t last long in England, once the Anglican Church lost its power, different popular religious groups emerged and some of their members made the journey to the New World. The Quakers were the most important of these groups to come to America because of their belief in spiritual equality.
The Great Awakening
The Great Awakening in America was part of a revival that affected churches of many denominations scattered across the world during the 18th century. This revival began in Germany in the late 1600s. In the English-speaking world, its influence was felt in England, Scotland, and Wales as well as America. As it spread throughout the American colonies, it profoundly affected American religious life.
Marsden explains on page 33 some of the revolutionary changes that the Awakening brought to religion in America and how the Pietist revival , of which the American Great Awakening was a part, attempted to renew churches. Revivalists preachers’ style of preaching and what they wanted from their listeners was radically different from the traditional churches of the day.
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