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Book Chapter

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Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



In December of 1990, after the completion of a section on Jonathan Edwards at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City, a dozen or so of mostly younger scholars of Jonathan Edwards swept around the corner from the convention hotel and settled themselves down to a staggering repast at a posh north Italian restaurant. In the midst of some very un-Edwardsean consumption, I offered a question to everyone around the table: What is the most important book which you've ever read on the Great Awakening? With only one exception, the Young Edwardseans gave the palm to an obscure nineteenthcentury Congregationalist, Joseph Tracy; the one dissenter held out for a book from the 1960s, but it was the book that most Young Edwardseans are ritually required to' despise, Alan Heimert's Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the American Revolution. These unexpected choices could illustrate, alternately, how disillusioned historians are with virtually all current writing on the Great Awakening, or an entirely lopsided adoption by younger historians of one half of a long-term argument about the Great Awakening, or even what David Hall tactfully called the difficulty early modern historians have in recapturing the meaning of religion to the peoples of early America. The strangest aspect of these responses, however, was the appearance of consensus they suggested, for hardly ever in American history has a single event raised more questions about what an event might actually be, or proven so alluring and so elusive of interpretation. [excerpt]

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