3:30 pm to 5:30 pm
“The Church in the Wilderness: Popular Religion and the American Revolution”
Christopher Rogers, Northwestern University
Little discussed in histories of religion and the American Revolution has been the rise in New England’s backcountry of new forms of popular religiosity, characterized by evangelical, charismatic, and apocalyptic beliefs and rituals. The religious sectarians known as the Shakers emerged in this counter-cultural environment, providing alternative modes of community and meaning to “marginal” frontier people who rejected both the war and the orthodox culture that promoted it. The Shakers’ successes, however, stirred up a vicious backlash of intolerance and persecution from local communities who feared their divisive powers and licentiousness as a portent of social anarchy and renewed imperial tyranny. Political and personal insecurities converged, generating mob actions and repression in the name of the public good. The conflicts in these borderland communities thus offer an important dimension in the debates over the nature and implications of the American Revolution. More broadly, they challenge the dominant historical paradigms that have linked liberal religion and politics in the shaping of the early American republic.