Protestant Institutionalism: Religion, Literature, and Society After the State Church

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Protestant Institutionalism: Religion, Literature, and Society After the State Church

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Title: Protestant Institutionalism: Religion, Literature, and Society After the State Church
Author: Weimer, David E.
Citation: Weimer, David E. 2016. Protestant Institutionalism: Religion, Literature, and Society After the State Church. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Even as the Church of England lost ground to political dissent and New England gradually disestablished its state churches early in the nineteenth century, writers on both sides of the debates about church establishments maintained their belief in religion’s role as a moral guide for individuals and the state. “Protestant Institutionalism” argues that writers—from Herman Melville and Harriet Beecher Stowe to George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell—imagined through literature the institutions that would produce a religiously sound society as established churches began to lose their authority. Drawing on novels and poems as well as sermons and tracts about how religion might exist apart from the state, I argue that these authors both understood society in terms of institutions and also used their literature to imagine the institutions—such as family, denomination, and nation—that would provide society with a stable foundation. This institutional thinking about society escapes any literary history that accepts Protestant individualism as a given. In fact, although the US and England maintained different relationships between church and state, British authors often looked to US authors for help imagining the society that new forms of religion might produce precisely in terms of these institutions. In the context of disestablishment we can see how the literature of the nineteenth century—and nineteenth-century novels in particular—was about more than the fate of the individual in society. In fact, to different degrees for each author, individual development actually relies on the proper understanding of the individual’s relationship to institutions and the role those institutions play in supporting society
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:33493395
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