Toward a Bibliography of Religion in the Midwest

Paul Putz

Map by Bill Rankin
I've written previously about recent efforts to bring renewed scholarly attention to the Midwest. In the time since then, I've often wondered: what would a history of religious life in the Midwest look like? What already published books and articles would need to be considered and incorporated?

To my knowledge, the most complete attempt to probe what is distinct about religion in the Midwest is Religion & Public Life in the Midwest: America's Common Denominator? (2004). As part of AltaMira's Religion by Region Series, editors Philip Barlow and Mark Silk put together a series of fascinating essays covering a range of topics: the Midwest as the United States writ small, the Midwest's enduring Methodist tinge, its high concentration of Lutherans, its distinct brand of Catholicism (more innovative and ethnically diverse), Chicago (need I say more?), the diversity of religious affiliations brought about by recent changes in immigration patterns, and the contrast between urban, suburban, and rural forms of religious expression. While the essays were insightful, they were also rather short and suggestive. If you believe that considering the Midwest as a region is a useful enterprise, there is plenty of work to be done.

To that end, I'd like your help developing a working bibliography. I am interested here in two things: first, what books or articles, if any, have been framed distinctively as a study of religion (or of a specific religion, religious group, or religious leader) in the Midwest. And second, among the many books or articles that are set in the Midwest but that do not purport to be studying the Midwest as a region, which would be helpful to any attempt to offer a synthesis of the history of religious life in the Midwest?

In getting this list started, I've relied on the same regional definition as Barlow and Silk in their edited volume. That is, I've recognized that the definition for what counts as "Midwest" is very much contested, and then I've gone ahead and included the states you see outlined on the book cover to the left.

My list has plenty of gaps (hardly any pre-1970 works, nothing featuring Canada, not enough attention to various American Indian nations, etc.), which is why I'd love your help. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments. I should also point out that although there are tons of great and useful articles in the various Midwestern state historical journals, for the most part with this list I've set those aside. But if you know of a particularly great article, please let me know.

With that said, here is my attempt to get a working bibliography started, with items listed in reverse chronological order.

Update: I've had a couple people reach out to me via email and twitter and offer suggestions to the list. You can find me on twitter @p_emory or email me (my gmail address is paul.putz) if you'd like. Any additions that I make to this list will be marked with an *.
  • Christina Dickerson-Cousin, ''I Call You Cousins': Kinship, Religion, and Black-Indian Relations in Nineteenth-Century Michigan," Ethnohistory 61 (Winter 2014)
  • Shari Rabin, “‘A Nest to the Wandering Bird’: Iowa and the Creation of American Judaism, 1855–1877,” Annals of Iowa 73 (Spring 2014)
  • Isaac Weiner, "Calling Everyone to Pray: Pluralism, Secularism, and the Adhān in Hamtramck, Michigan," Anthropological Quarterly 87 (2014)*
  • Timothy Gloege, "Faith Healing, Medical Regulation, and Public Religion in Progressive Era Chicago," Religion & American Culture 23 (Summer 2013)
  • Barton E. Price, "The Central Christian Advocate and the Quest for a Heartland Identity in American Methodism, 1852-1900," Methodist History 50 (July 2012)
  • Cara Burnidge, "Following in His Steps: Kansas, the Kingdom of God, and Charles M. Sheldon's Homiletic Novels," Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900-present 11 (Spring 2012)*
  • Matthew Pehl, "'Apostles of Fascism,' 'Communist Clergy,' and the UAW: Political Ideology and Working-Class Religion in Detroit, 1919-1945," Journal of American History 99 (September 2012)
  • Michael Stamm, "Broadcasting Mainline Protestantism: The Chicago Sunday Evening Club and the Evolution of Audience Expectations from Radio to Television," Religion & American Culture 22 (Summer 2012)
  • Brian Wilson, “The Michigan Origins of Seventh-day Adventism,” Michigan History (Nov./Dec., 2012)*
  • Deborah Kanter, "Making Mexican Parishes: Ethnic Succession in Chicago Churches, 1947-1977," U.S. Catholic Historian 30 (Winter 2012)
  • Jennifer Graber, “Mighty Upheaval on the Minnesota Frontier: Violence, War, and Death in Dakota and Missionary Christianity” Church History 80 (March 2011)
  • William Kostlevy, "Perfecting Mennonites: The Holiness Movement's Impact on American Mennonites with Special Reference to Kansas," Brethren in Christ History & Life 34 (August 2011)
  • Kevin D. Smith, "Breaking Faith: Religion, Americanism, and Civil Rights in Postwar Milwaukee," Religion & American Culture 20 (Winter 2010)
  • Heath Carter, "Scab Ministers, Striking Saints: Christianity and Class Conflict in 1894 Chicago," Nineteenth Century History 11 (September 2010)
  • Alan F. Bearman and Jennifer L. Mills [Wiard], "Charles M. Sheldon and Charles F. Parham," Kansas History 32 (Summer 2009)
  • Stephen Gross, "The Grasshopper Shrine at Cold Spring, Minnesota: Religion and Market Capitalism among German-American Catholics," Catholic Historical Review 92 (April 2006)
  • Fadwa El Guindi, "Islam in Urban America: Sunni Muslims in Chicago," Journal of American Ethnic History 24 (Summer 2005)
  • John E. Miller, "Lawrence Welk and John Wooden: Midwestern Small-Town Boys Who Never Left Home," Journal of American Studies 38 (April 2004)
  • Andrew Rieser, "Bobos in Search of Paradise: Chautauqua Boosters in the American Midwest and West, 1874-1900," Journal of the West  42 (Fall 2003)
  • Susan Nance, "Mystery of the Moorish Science Temple: Southern Blacks and American Alternative Spirituality in 1920 Chicago," Religion & American Culture 12 (Summer 2002)
  • Brian Wilson, “The Spirit of the Motor City: Three Hundred Years of Religious History in Detroit” Michigan Historical Review 21 (Spring 2001)*
  • Michael D. McNally, "The Practice of Native American Christianity," Church History 69 (December 2000)
  • Aaron K. Ketchell, "Contesting Tradition and Combating Intolerance: A History of Freethought in Kansas," Great Plains Quarterly 20 (September 2000)
  • Terell Dale Goddard, "The Black Social Gospel in Chicago, 1896-1906: The Ministries of Reverdy C. Ransom and Richard R. Wright, Jr." Journal of Negro History 84 (1999)
  • J. Stanford Rikoon, "The Jewish Agriculturalists' Aid Society of America: Philanthropy, Ethnicity, and Agriculture in the Heartland," Agricultural History 72 (Winter 1998)
  • Timothy D. Willig, "Prophetstown on the Wabash: The Native Spiritual Defense of the Old Northwest," Michigan Historical Review 23 (March 1997)
  • Frank E. Johns, "Inspired By Grace: Methodist Itinerants in the Early Midwest," Methodist History 35 (January 1997)
  • Randall Balmer, “The Tragedy of Billy Sunday: The Allure of Populism and the Peril of Anachronism.” The Annals of Iowa 105 (Fall 1996)* [note: this article was part of a special edition of The Annals of Iowa that featured articles discussing Billy Sunday with a Midwestern context/perspective]
  • Melissa A. Pflug, "Politics of Great Lakes Indian Religion," Michigan Historical Review 18 (March 1992)
  • Timothy L. Smith, "The Ohio Valley: Testing Ground for America's Experiment in Religious Pluralism," Church History 60 (December, 1991)
  • Bruce C. Nelson, "Revival and Upheaval: Religion, Irreligion, and Chicago's Working Class in 1886," Journal of Social History 25 (Winter 1991)
  • Joan R. Gundersen, “The Local Parish as a Female Institution: The Experience of All Saints Episcopal Church in Frontier Minnesota,” Church History 55 (September 1986)
  • Daniel O'Neill, "The Development of an American Priesthood: Archbishop John Ireland and the Saint Paul Diocesan Clergy, 1884-1918," Journal of American Ethnic History 4 (Winter 1985)
  • Grant Wacker, "Marching to Zion: Religion in a Modern Utopian Community," Church History 54 (December 1985)
  • Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., “Charles Oliver Brown at Dubuque: A Study in the Ideals of Midwestern Congregationalists in the Late Nineteenth Century” Church History 53 (March 1984)*
  • Robert Ostergren, "The Immigrant Church as a Symbol of Community and Place in the Upper Midwest," Great Plains Quarterly 2 (1981)
  • Timothy Walch, "Catholic Social Institutions and Urban Developments: The View from Nineteenth-Century Chicago and Milwaukee" Catholic Historical Review 64 (January 1978)
  • Charles Tyrrell, "Primitive Methodism: The Midwestern Story," Methodist History 15 (October 1976)
  • Charles Edwin Jones, "Disinherited or Rural? A Historical Case Study in Urban Holiness Religion," Missouri Historical Review 66 (April 1972)
  • Jon Butler, "Communities and Congregations: The Black Church in St. Paul, 1860-1900," Journal of Negro History 56 (1971)
  • Peter Argereinger, "Pentecostal Politics in Kansas: Religion, the Farmer's Alliance, and the Gospel of Populism," Kansas Quarterly 1 (1969)
  • Timothy L. Smith, "Religious Denominations as Ethnic Communities: A Regional Case Study," Church History 35 (June 1966)
  • Frank W. Stephenson, "The Development of the Methodist Protestant Church in the Midwest," Methodist History 3 (January 1965)
  • Leigh D. Jordan, “The Wauwatosa Theology, John Philipp Koehler, and the Theological Tradition of Midwestern American Lutheranism,” Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1964*
  • James Findlay, "Preparation for Flight: D.L. Moody in Illinois and the Midwest, 1865-1873," Journal of Presbyterian History 41 (May 1963)
  • William Warren Sweet, Religion on the American Frontier, 4 vols. (Chicago, 1931-1946)*

Along with all those, there are numerous books set to be released this year that feature Midwestern geographical settings: 

  • Matthew Pehl, The Making of Working Class Religion: Class, Culture, and Christianity in Detroit, 1910-1970 (Illinois, forthcoming)
  • David Krueger, Runestone Myths: Viking Martyrs and the Birthplace of America (Minnesota, forthcoming)
  • Heath Carter, Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago (Oxford, forthcoming)
  • Julia Marie Robinson, Race, Religion, and the Pulpit: Rev. Robert L. Bradby and the Making of Urban Detroit (Wayne State, April)
  • Eve A. Hargrave, Shirley J. Schermer, Kristin M. Hedman, and Robin M. Lillie, eds. Transforming the Dead: Culturally Modified Bone in the Prehistoric Midwest (Alabama, April)
  • Lila Corwin Berman, Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit (Chicago, April)
  • Robert Marovich, A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music (Illinois, April)
  • Timothy Gloege, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (North Carolina, April)
  • Mark T. Mulder, Shades of White Flight: Evangelical Congregations and Urban Departure (Rutgers, March)
  • Paul D. Numrich and Elfriede Wedam, Religion and Community in the New Urban America (Oxford, March)


CEN said…
UW-Madison's Religious Studies Program is launching a new research project, "Lived Religion in Wisconsin," covering the historical and contemporary as well as local and global Wisconsin. Beginning with undergraduate field projects modeled somewhat on the Pluralism Project, we aim to expand to collaborate with graduate research and scholars elsewhere. We'd love to hear from others with similar projects, bibliographical or research suggestions, etc. Contact Dr. Corrie Norman,
David Howlett said…
Randall Balmer frames the following article about Billy Sunday by trying to describe the changing "place" of the Midwest in American culture. “The Tragedy of Billy Sunday: The Allure of Populism and the Peril of Anachronism.” The Annals of Iowa, LLV (Fall 1996), 369‐373.

Also, my book does not think about religion and region, but takes place in the American Midwest and deals with the history of Midwestern Mormons (RLDS). David J.Howlett, Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014). Another book that is helpful is Craig S. Campbell, Visions of the New Jerusalem: Mormon Faction Interpretations of Independence, Missouri (University of Tennessee Press, 2004).
Sarah E. Dees said…
This is great - thanks, Paul! I’m looking forward to checking out sources that you’ve mentioned and seeing what else others add. I have a few ideas to share.

First, I wanted to highlight a recent article that isn't focused as much on religion but offers a thoughtful discussion on the ways that “The Midwest” has been defined—historically, geographically, materially—at times overlooking Native American polities: Doug Kiel, “Untaming the Mild Frontier: In Search of New Midwestern Histories,” Middle West Review 1.1, 9-38 (Fall 2014).

Dawn Marsh at Purdue University has been working on Native American history and Indian removal in the Old Northwest. See Marsh, A Lenape among the Quakers: The Life of Hannah Freeman (Nebraska, 2014) [,675832.aspx] and “Old Friends in New Territories: Delawares and Quakers in the Old Northwest Territory,” in Contested Territories: Native Americans and Non-Natives in the Lower Great Lakes, 1700-1850 (Michigan State, 2012).

Discussions of Native American revitalization movements are important; in addition to the sources you’ve listed on the Spirit Dances and the Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa, there’s Greg Dowd’s A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815 (Johns Hopkins, 1993).

Focusing more on Indigenous spiritual traditions themselves, Lawrence Gross has recently published a book on Anishinaabe religion, Anishinaabe Ways of Knowing and Being (Ashgate, 2014). I highly recommend it! (It’s a bit pricy so request it for your libraries!)

On the western edge of the Midwest you’re getting into the Plains/Western region, but it’s worth mentioning a couple of relevant projects. Nebraska’s Center for Great Plains Studies has publications that discuss religion: The Department of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas has a great "Religion in Kansas" Project that features archival materials:
Paul Putz said…
David and Sarah, thanks so much for the great additions. I've added them to the list. Ya'll are definitely helping to fill in my historiographical blind spots. Also, it's great to hear about the projects at Nebraska, Kansas, and Wisconsin!
Christopher said…
This is great, Paul. A couple of other suggested additions:

John Wigger, "Ohio Gospel: Methodism in Early Ohio," in The Center of a Great Empire: The Ohio Country in the Early Republic, ed. by Andrew R. L. Cayton and Stuart D. Hobbs (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005).

Chapters 5 ("Reform and the Missionary Drive: Methodists in the Ohio Country") and 7 ("God's Chosen Sojourners: The Inspirationists of Amana, Iowa") in Scott Rohrer's Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2010).
Unknown said…
Paul, thanks so much for making this a cooperative effort. This will be of benefit to many of us. Although there is contention about whether or not Missouri is properly considered Midwest, I'd like to suggest two more books: Aaron Ketchell's Holy Hills of the Ozarks: Religion and Tourism in Branson, Missouri (Johns Hopkins, 2007) and Bethany Moreton's To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Harvard, 2010). Branson, MO is viewed as a site to experience "old-time religion" for the scores of Midwestern tourists who make a yearly pilgrimage there (including my parents!) The early days of the Wal-Mart story is also instructive about Evangelical populism and commerce in the Midwest. I know I'll have more to suggest later!
Barton Price said…
Wow! Great list, and I'm honored to be on it!

Brian Wilson at Western Michigan has the most exhaustive work I can think of. His works are as follows

"The Battle for Battle Creek: Sectarian Competition in the Yankee West," Quaker Theology 12:2 (Summer/Fall 2013): 72-91.

“The Spirit of the Motor City: Three
Hundred Years of Religious History in Detroit” Michigan Historical Review 21:7 (Spring 2001): 1-32.

“Religion in Michigan,” The American Midwest:Religion. Peter W. Williams (ed.) Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2003.

“Religion in the Midwest” in
The Midwest, Joseph Slade and Judith Lee (eds.) Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2004.

“Religion in the Great Lakes States” in Encyclopedia
of Religion in America, Charles Lippy and Peter Williams (eds.) Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2010.

“The Michigan Origins of Seventh-day Adventism” Michigan History
(Nov./Dec., 2012): 43-49

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and
the Religion of Biologic Living. Indiana University Press, 2014
Paul Putz said…
More great recommendations, thanks all! I've added them to the list. Barton, I couldn't find the existence of a book titled _The American Midwest: Religion_ anywhere. I did a few google searches, checked the Ohio State UP website, and Amazon, but nothing turned up. Do you have a link you could point me towards?
jedidiah said…
The work of William Warren Sweet would be helpful for the migration of American religious groups into the Midwest, especially Indiana and Ohio. He edited a 4 volume documentary history of "Religion on the American Frontier" (a volume each for Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists).

Also wrote:

A History of the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church from Its Organization, in 1844 to the Present (

Circuit-rider Days in Indiana
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…
The correct citation for those three encyclopedia articles by Brian C. Wilson that Barton referred to is: Richard Sisson, Christian K. Zacher, and Andrew Cayton (eds.). The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007. (My bad, not Barton's.) The Encyclopedia has an excellent section on religion in the Midwest edited by Peter Williams. Thanks to Barton Price for the initial post, and thanks to Paul Putz for creating this bibliography!
Paul Putz said…
Thanks Jedidiah. That helps to fill in the "pre-1960" gap a bit! Brian, thanks for clarifying. I've added the Encyclopedia to the list.
danielsilliman said…
The Dutch Calvinists and some of the German Reformed churches have a strong regional identity:

Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, James Bratt (Eerdmans, 1984).

Dutch Chicago: A History of the Hollanders in the Windy City, Robert P. Swierenga (RCA, 2002).

Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Church of the 19th Century, Robert P. Swierenga (RCA, 1999).

Divided by a Common Heritage: The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium, Corwin Smidt, et al. (Eerdmans, 2006).

A History of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, David Dunn, et al. (Pilgrim Press, 1990).

The Shaping of the United Church of Christ: An Essay in the History of American Christianity, Louis H. Gunnemann (United Church Press, 1999).
Trevor Burrows said…
Looking forward to reading through this bibliography closely, Paul, and hopefully contributing a few titles. Thanks for putting it together!
zellerbe said…
This is really great. I'm developing a new class next year on religion in gilded age Chicago, and there is a lot here that will be useful for me.

Ben Zeller
Lake Forest College (Chicago suburbs)
Unknown said…
I recently wrote a paper on black churches on Chicago; perhaps some of sources could be useful for this list.

Harris, Fredrick C. “Black Churches and Machine Politics in Chicago.” In Black Churches and Local Politics: Clergy Influence, Organizational Partnerships, and Civic Empowerment. Edited by R. Drew Smith and Fredrick C. Harris. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005.

Harris, Michael W. The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church. New York, Oxford UP 1992.

Kostarelos, Frances. Feeling the Spirit: Faith and Hope in an Evangelical Storefront Church. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. [An ethnography of a black church on Chicago's West Side]

Drake, St. Clair and Horace R. Cayton. Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1945. [Which drew heavily from Drake's earlier work: Drake, St. Clair. “Churches and Voluntary Associations in the Chicago Negro Community” Chicago: 1940]

Hope some of that was helpful.
Paul Putz said…
Fantastic stuff. Thanks Daniel and Nicholas. Ben, I wish I could enroll in your class!
zellerbe said…
Hi Paul!

One of the joys of teaching at a small liberal arts college is the freedom to develop and teach new courses. As I work up my bibliography, I'll come back and post whatever else I find to this page.

Richard Seager's *The World's Parliament of Religions: the East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893* should definitely be on the list as well.
Paul Putz said…
Sounds great. I'll keep tabs on the comment page so I can keep the list updated. Good call on Seager's book. Excellent example of how focusing on the Midwest need not preclude the transnational or global.

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