Religion and the Influence of Intellectual Networks: Interpretation and Operationalization of Ideas in the Nineteenth Century

Solicited by the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH)

Saturday, April 4, 2020, 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Intellectual; Politics; Religion


This panel brings together a diverse group of emerging scholars in the field of intellectual history to
explore the intersection of religion, national and international networks, and the history of ideas in
the long nineteenth century. In particular, this discussion examines how the study of national and
international intellectual networks illumines how ideas shaped nineteenth-century politics, religion,
and culture. For instance, robust intellectual networks helped to refine conceptions of American
exceptionalism, to legitimize global imperialism, and even to transform Socialist communities into
quasi-religious establishments. Collectively, these presentations demonstrate the complex ways that
individuals from a variety of backgrounds engaged with significant intellectual movements and how
they used their understandings of religion to interpret and operationalize ideas in broader national
and global contexts.

Baysa begins with a study of nineteenth-century conceptions of American exceptionalism. He roots
his study in the eighteenth century before moving forward to explore how liberal religious traditions
and international networks influenced understandings of American exceptionalism, with particular
emphases on industrialization and war. In each of the intellectual contexts explored by Baysa,
international networks reinforced, challenged, and transformed understandings of American
exceptionalism, particularly when facilitated by liberal religious traditions.
Klumpp examines understandings of imperialism within a group of rural Protestant immigrant
communities during the latter half of the nineteenth century. These men and women drew on
understandings of empire that were informed by thinkers in both Europe and North America, and
they used religion to justify their own imperial expansion. They heralded an imperialism that
emphasized missionaries, teachers, and physicians yet also aimed to expand economic and political
dominance throughout the globe. Transatlantic intellectual networks provided an imperialistic
paradigm and their religion justified an ambitious plan of expansion.
Drake concludes the panel with her study of Socialism among working class men and women in the
United States. In particular, she explores how the Socialist Party of America utilized a multifaceted
national network to fashion itself as a replacement for traditional religious institutions. She focuses
on how working-class citizens received information about the movement and applied the ideas
presented within it in a way that placed them at odds with religion. By doing so, Drake demonstrates
how Socialism managed not only to adopt the trappings of a religious movement but also to
position itself in opposition to more traditional expressions of religion.

Within each of these papers, religion and intellectual networks intersect to inform how men and
women interpreted and operationalized ideas in the nineteenth century. For some, this meant
refining definitions of American exceptionalism within international contexts or embracing global
imperialism under the banner of Christian evangelization. Yet, for others, it involved creating
meaningful communal organizations located outside of traditional religious organizations. American
exceptionalism, global imperialism, and the Socialist movement represent three powerful ideas that
shaped the nineteenth century, and together these papers demonstrate how religion and carefully
cultivated intellectual networks informed how men and women interpreted and acted upon these
influential nineteenth-century ideas.

Papers Presented

Liberal Religion’s International Networks and the Tensions of a Globally-Conscious American Exceptionalism

Building on Amy Kittelstrom’s 2015 book The Religion of Democracy, which traces the development of the “religion of democracy” within the liberal religious tradition, this paper will explore the international networks of the liberal religious tradition and the ways these global connections contributed to embedded assumptions about American exceptionalisms by some of their adherents. This paper begins with the views of Universalist Charles Chauncy (1705–1787) on individual reason and experience, which encouraged the international travels and conversion of his trainee Calvinist-turned-Catholic priest John Thayer (1755–1789). The next section explores the contributions of Unitarian William Ellery Channing (1780–1842) to Boston Associate Nathan Appleton’s (1779–1861) industrialization, particularly his fraught views about the moral exceptionalism of American industrialism within the context of Irish immigration. The final section will explore the liberal intellectual connections and resonances between Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) and philosopher William James (1842–1910), particularly on James’s anti-imperialist stance toward the Philippine-American War. Tying these three connections together are the ways international networks supported, combated, and made malleable claims to American exceptionalism within the liberal religious tradition. The liberal tradition is defined not just by the adherents’ belief in the total moral agency of human beings but also in their privilege in knowing and the responsibility to live out this religious principle. How should Americans learn from those they deemed less enlightened? What responsibilities do benevolent Americans have toward the less fortunate? And how should America see itself relative to other nations?

Presented By
Michael I. Baysa, Princeton University

Building Our Empire at Home and Abroad: The Global Imperialism of Nineteenth-Century Immigrants to the Midwest

On June 24, 1864, a band of Dutch immigrants gathered on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan to christen the keel for a new missionary vessel. When they had arrived in the United States fewer than two decades earlier, they brought more with them than their famous tulips and sturdy wooden shoes. They also carried a vision of global religious and political imperialism that shaped the international posturing of Dutch immigrant communities throughout the Midwest. Even amid the tumult of the Civil War, these communities remained hopeful that after the conflict they would be poised to continue to develop their own standing in the United States and throughout the world. The ship they blessed in June of 1864 was to play a crucial role in that vision. Due to financial and leadership crises, the ship never materialized; nevertheless, the global aims of these communities persisted. The collection of Dutch colonies throughout the Midwest continued draw on the intellectual and religious traditions they brought with them from Europe to pursue their global vision. This paper examines how these rural immigrant communities understood their engagement with imperialism and the efforts they took to participate in religious, economic, and political imperial expansion by both the U.S. and the Dutch Empires in the nineteenth century. It emphasizes how international networks formed by doctors, missionaries, and professors living in all corners of the global Dutch Empire and throughout the United States constructed a particular imperial vision. This vision, furthermore, relied on religious imperatives to evangelize to justify a broad imperialistic agenda. In this way, intellectual networks and religious justifications undergirded an international imperial program.

Presented By
Andrew Klumpp, Southern Methodist University

Youth Networks in Early Nineteenth-Century American Religious Culture: Employing Age as a Category of Analysis for Religious and Intellectual Histories

This paper connects emerging scholarship on childhood studies with religious history by examining how nineteenth-century ideological reconstructions of the meaning and significance of age facilitated the creation of religious communities that enabled young people to contribute to the rise of voluntarism in the early republic.

In recent decades, scholars of childhood such as Steven Mintz (2003) and Anna Mae Duane (2013) have pioneered the use of age as a major category of analysis for understanding the formation of American politics, society, and culture. This paper extends this initiative by applying age as a category of analysis to the rise of religious reform activity, using the creation of youth leadership networks within Sunday schools in the first half of the nineteenth century as a case study. The paper analyzes how Sunday school promoters harnessed the spread of romanticized reconstructions of age to establish physical and imagined communities of faith exclusively for young people. This in turn offered youth new avenues for pursing religious activity, most significantly by enabling them to serve as Sunday school teachers. Providing adolescents with this unprecedented opportunity for assuming religious authority enabled young people to participate in the national expansion of the Protestant community in their own right, turning these youth leadership networks into a self-sustaining source of reformist energy that helped power the machine of voluntarism across the nation.

By highlighting this synergistic relationship between childhood, youth, and voluntarism, this paper demonstrates that shifting intellectual discourses about age combined with religious beliefs to undergird the impulse toward social reform in the early republic, helping propel the growth of American Protestantism and contributing to the formation of American national identity.

Presented By
Elise Leal, Whitworth University

Session Participants

Chair and Commentator: David Mislin, Temple University
David Mislin is assistant professor (teaching) in the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple
University. He is the author of Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of
the Secular Age
(Cornell University Press, 2015) and Washington Gladden and the Making of the American
Religious Left
(forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), and is now at work on a book
considering religious liberalism in small-town America from the early twentieth century to the
present. His work has also appeared in Church History and Religion & American Culture.

Presenter: Michael I. Baysa, Princeton University
Michael Baysa is a graduate student pursuing his PhD in American Religious History at Princeton
University in the Department of Religion. Prior to his coming to Princeton, Michael received his
M.Div. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and his STM in Church History at Boston
University School of Theology. His research centers on Calvinist-turned-Universalist Boston
minister Charles Chauncy (1705-1787). Using a variety of methodologies from material/book history,
literary studies, and religious studies, Michael’s work attempts to track the discourse surrounding
Charles Chauncy’s secret Universalism and map the networks his manuscript created prior to its
publication. Michael hopes to parallel the material transformations of Chauncy’s theological
developments with the broader literary, theological, and social changes within late-eighteenth
century New England religious history. Before pursuing his studies in American Religious History,
Michael earned his BS in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance at Boston
University and had worked at Fidelity Investments as a paralegal for five years where he assisted
attorneys with casework on customer, litigation, arbitration, and regulatory issues.

Presenter: Andrew Klumpp, Southern Methodist University
Andrew Klumpp is a Ph.D. candidate in American Religious History at Southern Methodist
University. He specializes in the religious and intellectual history of rural America in a global
context. Active within various subfields in the guild, he currently serves as the treasurer for the
Society for U.S. Intellectual History and on the national Graduate Student Committee for the
American Academy of Religion. His research has been supported by the State of Iowa Historical
Society, the American Antiquarian Society, the New-York Historical Society, and the Van Raalte
Institute. His work has also appeared in The Annals of Iowa, The Society for U.S. Intellectual History
and The Huffington Post.

Presenter: Elise Leal, Whitworth University