For 350 years, Protestantism was the dominant religion in
America--and its influence spilled over in many directions into the
wider culture. Religious historian Martin E. Marty looks at the
factors behind both the long period of Protestant ascendancy in
America and the comparatively recent diffusion and diminution of
its authority. Marty ranges across time, covering such things as
the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in 1607, the 1955
publication of Will Herberg's landmark book
Protestant-Catholic-Jew, and the current period of
American ethnic and religious pluralism.
For centuries, American Protestantism dominated in three main
ways, says Marty: in the sheer numbers of its committed
practitioners (spread across some two hundred denominations), in
the Protestant leanings of nonadherents, and in the influence of
the Protestant ethic in activities as diverse as business and art.
To discover what is particularly "American" about Protestantism in
this country, Marty looks at Protestant creencias, or beliefs, that
complement or supplement pure doctrine. These include the notion of
God as an agent of America's destiny and the impact of the
biblical credos of mission, stewardship, and vocation on
innumerable nonreligious matters of daily life. Marty also
discusses the vigencias, or binding (though unwritten) customs, of
Protestantism. They include the tendencies to interpret matters of
faith in market terms and to conflate biblical and enlightenment
ideology into "civic faith."
Challenges to Protestant hegemony came and went over the
centuries, says Marty, but never in such force and to such effect
as in the twentieth century. Among other factors contributing to
the rise of pluralism and to schisms between mainstreamers and
Fundamentalists, Marty lists changes in immigration laws, U.S.
Supreme Court decisions on school prayer, the women's movement, and
Today, our Protean spirituality is the topic of everything from
sermons to bumper stickers. All in all, this is good, reassures
Marty, for to debate our spirituality is to sustain the life of a
functioning, thinking, believing republic. Those who pine for some
golden age of Protestantism are misled by nostalgia or resentment.
The real work to be done by Protestants now is to serve, partner,
and cooperate where they once managed, controlled, and
Subjects: History, Religion, Sociology
Table of Contents
You are viewing the table of contents
You do not have access to this
on JSTOR. Try logging in through your institution for access.