Graduate Course Readings in Early American Religion

This fall I am teaching a history graduate course at Baylor (doctoral and master’s students) on early American religion, and have recently submitted my book orders. What am I trying to do with this list of readings? Several goals overlap: first, I want to introduce students to some of the most important recent academic titles in colonial American (roughly pre-1763) religious history. Second, I want to give students material to frame their own discussions of American religion, since most of the history graduate students at Baylor are interested in writing and teaching on religion themselves.  Third, the list will help me stay current, since some of the books are new to me, as well (indeed, some have only just been published). This is especially valuable right now since I will soon begin writing a broad overview of colonial American history for Yale University Press.

I am just listing the books below, although we will have a number of accompanying article-length readings, such as Perry Miller’s classic essay “Errand into the Wilderness.”

Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Puritan Conquistadors: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550-1700 (Stanford University Press, 2006)

Allan Greer, Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits (Oxford, 2004)

James Horn, A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America (Basic Books, 2005)

Kristen Block, Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean: Religion, Colonial Competition, and the Politics of Profit (Georgia, 2012)

David Hall, A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England (Knopf, 2011)

Walter Woodward, Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676 (UNC, 2010)

Brian Levack, The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West (Harvard, 2013)

Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (Yale, 2007) [a dubious choice indeed!]

Catherine Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (Yale, 2012) [my Gospel Coalition review of Brekus is here]

Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Jesus is Female: Moravians and Radical Religion in Early America (Penn, 2007) [my review of Fogleman is here (subscription wall)]

Janet Moore Lindman, Bodies of Belief: Baptist Community in Early America (Penn, 2008)

Edward Andrews, Native Apostles: Black and Indian Missionaries in the British Atlantic World (Harvard, 2013)

Steven Hackel, Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis: Indian-Spanish Relations in Colonial California, 1769-1850 (UNC, 2005)

Note that this is not simply an exercise in selecting the “best” 13 or so books I can find on the topic – issues of geographic and topical coverage come into play, and I am as interested in books that are causing a “buzz” in the guild of historians as books that I personally like. Also, being mindful of grad students’ budgets, I don’t generally assign books that are only available in hardback, or priced at more than about $30, which knocked out some obvious contenders.

Any books that you would add, or subtract? Let me know what you think!

  • Bebbington’s Students

    I would include “Early Evangelicalism: A Reader” :-)

  • David Parrish

    I might include the revised edition of ‘Under the Cope of Heaven’ although it goes a bit past 1763. I think it’s a readable classic. Another contender would be Travis Glasson’s ‘Mastering Christianity’.

    • Thomas Kidd

      thanks David!


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