The Democratization of American Christianity (Paperback)

By Nathan O. Hatch

Yale University Press, 9780300050608, 326pp.

Publication Date: January 23, 1991

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In this prize-winning book Nathan O. Hatch offers a provocative reassessment of religion and culture in the early days of the American republic, arguing that during this period American Christianity was democratized and common people became powerful actors on the religious scene. Hatch examines five distinct traditions or mass movements that emerged early in the nineteenth century—the Christian movement, Methodism, the Baptist movement, the black churches, and the Mormons—showing how all offered compelling visions of individual potential and collective aspiration to the unschooled and unsophisticated.


"Rarely do works of scholarship deserve as much attention as this one. The so-called Second Great Awakening was the shaping epoch of American Protestantism, and this book is the most important study of it ever published."—James Turner, Journal of Interdisciplinary History


"The most powerful, informed, and complex suggestion yet made about the religious, political, and psychic 'opening' of American life from Jefferson to Jackson. . . . Hatch's reconstruction of his five religious mass movements will add popular religious culture to denominationalism, church and state, and theology as primary dimensions of American religious history."—Robert M. Calhoon, William and Mary Quarterly


"Hatch's revisionist work asks us to put the religion of the early republic in a radically new perspective. . . . He has written one of the finest books on American religious history to appear in many years."—James H. Moorhead, Theology Today


The manuscript version of this book was awarded the 1988 Albert C. Outler Prize in Ecumenical Church History from the American Society of Church History


Awarded the 1989 book prize of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic for the best book in the history of the early republic (1789-1850)


Co-winner of the 1990 John Hope Franklin Publication Prize given by the American Studies Association for the best book in American Studies


Nathan O. Hatch is professor of history and vice president for Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Notre Dame.  


Praise For The Democratization of American Christianity

"Professor Hatch's amply documented study captures a wide range of the many-sided demands for equality and freedom that have characterized American Protestant Christianity, and the disdain for deference and patronage—nowhere more so than among black preachers. . . . The Democratization of American Christianity constitutes vital reading for those who would understand just what experience of the United States has done to Christian belief and practice."—Bryan Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

"A superb treatment of Christianity during the volatile period of the early American Republic, which every student of American religious history must read, savor, and incorporate into his or her thinking of American religion and culture."—Timothy E. Fulop, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"A standard reference on American religious history."—Michael Cromartie, First Things

"Rarely do works of scholarship deserve as much attention as this one. The so-called Second Great Awakening was the shaping epoch of American Protestantism, and this book is the most important study of it ever published. . . . Hatch's account of the inner dynamic of American Protestantism is not merely plausible but compelling. We will never again look at the Second Great Awakening—or at the history of religion in America—with the same eyes."—James Turner, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"A seminal and revisionist book. . . . Hatch's paradigm has persuasive power because it seems to explain what is still happening in American religious life. . . . His book is . . . an important corrective to prevailing views and a marvelous impetus to further investigation."—Dewey D. Wallace, Jr., American Studies International

"This volume adds a crucial element to the narrative of the emergence of American culture after the revolution and, like all good revisions, should open the door to a new and necessary era of investigation."—John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Journal of Religion

"Hatch's detailed analysis of the life of the churches during the formative years of the republic is on the whole thoroughly convincing."—Winthrop S. Hudson, Church History

"A landmark in the interpretation of early American religion. . . . His call to place populist religion at the center of the Second Great Awakening is categorically correct and long overdue. This volume provides a compelling new vision of religion in the early republic and invites scholars to a rich interpretive discourse certain to reshape its historiography."—Stephen A. Marini, American Historical Review

"Not only is Nathan O. Hatch's Democratization of American Christianity thoroughly researched and a pleasure to read, it is also one of the most important books on U. S. religious history to be published in the last decade. . . . The Democratization of American Christianity is a major achievement. Every teacher and student of early U. S. history will profit greatly from reading this splendid volume."—Curtis D. Johnson, The Historian

"This superbly written volume is an intellectual history. . . . This splendid book will surely be widely quoted—and should be. It is a must-read for evangelicals and for all students of modern Christianity. As a classic, it will shape future discussion."—David W. Hall, Calvin Theological Journal

"[A] magnificent new history of democratic evangelicism in the New Republic."—Robert M. Calhoon, The Southern Friend, Journal of the North Carolina Friends Historical Society

"Nathan Hatch presents an excellent and provocative account of the triumph of popular religion in the antebellum republic. . . . Valuable material for students of nineteenth-century prose."—J. Lawrence Brasher, Nineteenth Century Prose

"Put this superb book on your must-read list. Nathan O. Hatch has written a fascinating, almost hagiographical history that seeks to canonize some forgotten or overlooked religious leaders who were immensely popular in early nineteenth-century America. Hatch’s broad theme is empowerment. He demonstrates beautifully through biography, social history, rhetorical analysis, the study of hymn lyrics and the history of thought how various Protestant movements in nineteenth-century America transformed largely powerless individuals into powerful religious leaders. The scope of his argument is extraordinary, his prose accessible, his theme vital. This is a relevant yet historically grounded work. . . . This timely history will challenge and enrich one’s understanding of both past and present."—Jon Pahl, The Christian Century

"Analyzing five distinct religious movements which began in the early nineteenth century (the Christian movement, Methodism, the Baptists, black churches, and Mormonism), Hatch concludes that in the decades following the Revolution, American society’s increased emphasis on egalitarian values extended into the religious consciousness of the nation. Newer religious movements offered a ’religious populism’ that stressed greater individualism."—Studies in the American Renaissance

"This fine book presents a new and exciting picture of American religion. . . . The focus is new, the story is new. Also because the research is fresh, imaginative, and insightful, the result is striking in its impact. . . . After Nathan Hatch’s book, it will be possible, and increasingly plausible, to interpret an enormous amount of what we see around us in the 1990s in terms of the powerful movement that he describes: the democratization of American Christianity."—Edwin S. Gaustad, Catholic Historical Review

Winner of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic’s annual book prize for the best book in the history of the early republic (1789-1850) published in 1989

Selected for the distinction of best books in American studies published in 1989 by the American Studies Association

Winner of the 1988 Albert C. Outler Prize in Ecumenical Church History given by the American Society of Church History

Winner of the American Studies Association distinction for best books in American studies published in 1989

Winner of a Christianity Today 1990-91 Critics’ Choice Award

"This is the best book on religion in the early Republic that has ever been written."—Gordon S. Wood, Brown University

"This deeply researched, superbly written book goes to the very heart of American religious and cultural development."—Jon Butler, Yale University