"Root hog or die": William Taylor, entrepreneurial self-sufficiency, and the global spread of American frontier Christianity
Tzan, Douglas D.
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This dissertation offers a close study of American frontier Christianity and its exportation abroad through the career of William Taylor (1821-1902), a Methodist preacher, missionary, author, evangelist, mission promoter, and bishop. In the nineteenth century, a populist Christianity took shape on the expanding American rural frontier. It embraced the religious experiences and energy of ordinary people, was·used to challenge the authority of elites, and created powe1ful new religious leaders. Through revivalism it mobilized its adherents to adopt new forms of organization. Entrepreneurial self- sufficiency, exemplified in the frontier idiom "root hog or die," was valued. In the late nineteenth century, increased global travel and British imperial expansion created new settings similar to those on the American frontier. Taylor's introduction of American frontier Christianity to six continents is reconstructed through historical analysis of newspapers, books, correspondence, and memoirs. He was among the first Protestant missionaries in California and preceded the Reconstruction-era flood of Americans into Palestine. Taylor was the first of a wave of international evangelists to tour Australasia. His introduction of American revivalism played a catalytic role in the South African Revival of 1866. In India, Taylor organized churches among a marginalized population that other Christian missionaries had disregarded. In postwar America, he led a grass-roots missionary movement to challenge his church's leadership. Taylor began missions in South America at a time when liberal political regimes opened the social space necessary for new Protestant missions. He took advantage of European exploration to pioneer new missions in Central Africa. Analysis of Taylor's career reveals a complex interplay between religious belief and social context. Taylor fused his frontier Christianity, a theology informed by the nineteenth century American holiness movement, and his global encounters with different cultures, languages, and religions into a novel and influential theory for Christian mission. In multiple settings, people who already identified themselves as Christians, but for whom that identity had weakened due to migration, social disruption, or marginalization, were most receptive to Taylor's populist, entrepreneurial, and voluntarist style of frontier Christianity.
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