This morning I am giving a presentation to teachers from the Conroe Independent School District on religion and the founding. Since I am morally opposed to providing paper handouts, I am posting here the list of resources that I recommend to those who wish to dig deeper into the origins of America’s religious tradition. This list is not exhaustive, but rather introductory.
- Frank Lambert, The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America (Princeton University Press). This is an excellent overview of the different “foundings” of America, from the colonization efforts in the seventeenth century to the revolutionary age of the eighteenth. It digs into the elite politics of religious establishment more than nearly any other work.
- John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction (Westminster John Knox Press). Fea speaks directly yet sympathetically to the modern anxiety over America’s “Christian” founding. He offers a responsible and measured correction to much more, well, irresponsible work that floods popular culture. And make sure to see the recently revised edition.
- Stephen K. Green, Inventing a Christian Nation: The Myth of the Religious Founding (Oxford University Press). Green places the popular myth of America’s Christian founding in his crosshairs and teases out how the idea began and why it distorts our history.
- Matthew Harris and Thomas Kidd, eds., The Founding Fathers and the Debate Over Religion in Revolutionary America: A History in Documents (Oxford University Press). Once you read the general overviews, it is important to dig into some primary sources from the period yourself.
- John A. Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty (Oxford University Press). Virginia was the fulcrum for religious disestablishment–the separation between church and state–so this story is crucial to the much broader narrative.
- Thomas Kidd, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press). It is important to highlight the diversity of beliefs, even among the “founders.” Kidd argues that Franklin, though far from orthodox, foreshadowed America’s later obsession with non-denominational spirituality.
- Catherine A. Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (Yale University Press). As you can tell, the historiography on religion and the founders is pretty male-centric. It is crucial to explore what role women played in this world, too, so here’s a captivating biography of one of the period’s most popular female religionists.
- John F. Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Harvard University Press). Race also played a huge role. This book tells the tale of a former slave who traveled across countries and oceans as part of a transatlantic religious revival during the revolutionary age.
- Spencer McBride, Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America (University of Virginia Press). How did the role of clergymen change during and after the Revolution? The answer is complex and nuanced. McBride shows how ministers navigated the new terrain of a disestablished nation.