Household Gods: creating Adams family religion in the American Republic, 1583-1927
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Over the course of the long nineteenth century, American Christianity changed dramatically, leaving lasting imprints on how families lived, worked, played, and prayed. As America’s prolific “first family,” the Adamses of Massachusetts were key interpreters of the place of religion within a rapidly changing American republic facing denominational turf wars, anti-Catholic violence, a burgeoning market economy, Civil War, shifting gender roles, and the collapse of providentialism. Constant globe-trotters who documented their cultural travels, the Adamses developed a cosmopolitan Christianity that blended discovery and criticism, faith and doubt. Claiming Puritan ancestry and the supremacy of a Unitarian covenant with God, the family was unusually forthright in exploring a subject as personal and provocative as faith. This dissertation shows how they interpreted religious ideas and rites in America over three centuries of civic service. I argue that the Adamses’ cosmopolitan encounters led them to become leading lay critics of New England religion, even as they marshaled Christian rhetoric to sustain American democracy. While scholars of American religion have relied on “fringe” groups to explain the growth and democratization of American Christianity, little has been studied of seekers like the Adamses, transnational agents of American thought and culture who sought avidly among other faiths yet chose to stay within the mainline fold. My study offers a new perspective on the political dynasty, by mapping the religious journeys of Americans who looked for God in eclectic places and then made their return, greatly changed, to the family pew.
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