Graduate Course Readings in Early American Religion

I’m gearing up for the start of classes, so here’s another edition of my readings for the semester. This fall at Baylor I am teaching an introductory American history survey, and a history graduate course (doctoral and master’s students) on early American religion. What am I trying to do with the list of readings for the graduate course? 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).

I am only 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,” and Sarah Rivett’s recent “Early American Religion in a Postsecular Age.”

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)

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

Michael Winship, Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641 (Princeton, 2002)

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

Stephen Berry, A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life and Atlantic Crossings to the New World (Yale, 2015) [focuses on the journey that brought John Wesley and Moravian missionaries to Georgia in the 1730s]

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 priced at more than about $32, which knocked out some obvious contenders. Kindle editions less than $20 also help.

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

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • stefanstackhouse

    I don’t know if you would consider it sufficiently “academic” for you (although it surely comes close), but how about David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed? While Fischer’s book is not exclusively about religion in colonial America, it does constitute a major motif. His basic theme is that there were four main migrations, each by a different regional group from Britain that each came with their own different religious traditions, and that these differences were the basis for the regional differences of colonial and post-colonial America. I’d think that it would at least constitute a good background source.

  • Henry Christoph

    I would suggest that Harry Stout’s The New England Soul would make a good addition, as would David Hall’s A Reforming People.

  • philipjenkins

    This is a general comment on graduate teaching (and I am certainly not speaking for my colleague Tommy Kidd).

    Two of the books mentioned in these two comments, namely ALBION’S SEED and Harry Stout’s work, are excellent and highly valuable, and students need to be aware of such classics. It’s hard to believe though that a book like Albion’s Seed dates from 1989 – well before some of those graduate students were born. Stout’s book is 1986.

    In a course like Tommy is describing, it is very important to give students an idea of the current state of writing and research in the field. When I teach my Global Christianity course at Baylor this coming Spring, I have a strict policy of using no set texts more than a decade old, and most books used are from the past five years. That doesn’t mean that such books are better than everything that went before, obviously, but they do reflect the state of the field.

    Anyway, that’s my approach.

    I do agree with you about REFORMING PEOPLE! Fine scholarship.

  • Charlie Johnson

    Huh, I feel a bit out of date (though America isn’t my primary field). From a course on Mainstream Protestantism and American Religion, the assigned pre-Civil War monographs:

    Patricia Bonomi, Under the Cope of Heaven
    Thomas Kidd, as above
    Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (personal favorite)
    Elizabeth Fenton, Religious Liberties