American Denominational History

Paul Harvey

Is there anything more dreaded, or derided, in American religious studies than "denominational history." At one time, probably not, since such studies tended to the antiquarian or the hagiographical. In recent years that has changed; and while it still does not count as "hip," it is simply a fact that denominations remain the major institutional expression of American Christianity, at least, and arguably of other religious expressions as well.

American Denominational History: Perspectives on the Past, Prospects for the Future, edited by Keith Harper (University of Alabama Press, 2008), is a new essay collection that surveys the field and projects possibilities for study in the future. It should be of particular help to graduate students and others seeking contemporary scholarly overviews and historiographical syntheses. Here's the table of contents:

Introduction, by Keith Harper

Catholic Distinctiveness and the Challenge of American Denominationalism by Amy Koehlinger

New Directions on the Congregational Way by Margaret Bendroth

Presbyterians in America: Denominational History and the Quest for Identity by Sean Michael Lucas (you can read this essay here)

From the Margin to the Middle to Somewhere In Between: An Overview of American Baptist Historiography by Keith Harper

"Everything Arose Just as the Occasion Offered": Defining Methodist Identity through the History of Methodist Polity by Jennifer L. Woodruff Tait

Black Protestantism: A Historiographical Appraisal by Paul Harvey

Mormon Historiography by David J. Whittaker

Interpreting American Pentecostal Origins: Retrospect and Prospect by Randall J. Stephens

"We're All Evangelicals Now": The Existential and Backward Historiography of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism by Barry Hankins


Anonymous said…
This looks like a strange take on "denominations," lumping "Black Protestantism" into one chapter and giving a chapter to "Evangelicals" despite other chapters on denominations that are considered Evangelical (making the book overly Evangelical-focused, while many denominations are absent). It almost looks like a table of contents demonstrating the limitations and biases of "denominational history." Are the editorial choices discussed in the introduction?
Paul Harvey said…
Yes, the introduction discusses all of that, and the book does not propose to be comprehensive, just some historiographical sketches of studies of some groups. There are pluses and minuses to the organizational approach, as there would be to any other used; the essays themselves should be of use to readers.
Anonymous said…
I'm puzzled that the book, like your otherwise splendid blog in general, ignores American Lutheranism. Why is that? Their numbers are fairly large, as compared to Episcopalians and Presbyterians. They don't tidily fit into "liberal" or "evangelical" boxes, either, and their ties to ethnicity/immigration make them an interesting test case in assimilation.