Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Social History of American Fundamentalism

To what extent were the leaders of the fundamentalist movement representative of the rank and file evangelicals in the pew?  Did the King's Business and similar journals reflect the thinking and practice of ordinary fundamentalists?  How many theologically conservative church-goers saw the need to separate from mainline denominations during the so-called Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the 1920s?

The students in my "History of American Evangelicalism" course keep raising questions like this as we work our way through George Marsden's magisterial Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925.  They are good questions.  (For more about our reading of this book see my last three virtual office hours.  You can watch them here and here and here).

I think it goes without saying that Marsden has provided us with an intellectual history of the fundamentalist movement.  His narrative is focused heavily on ideas--common sense realism, Baconianism, premillenialism, dispensationalism, Keswick holiness, modernism, inerrancy, etc...

As I have been teaching this book, and my students ask questions about fundamentalism in the pews, I wonder if it is actually possible to write a history of fundamentalism from the bottom-up.  Where would the historian find sources?

I am sure there have been efforts to write the fundamentalist story, or at least part of it, from the perspective of social history or the history of everyday life.  Does anyone know of any authors who have made this attempt?  My work in early America has prevented me from keeping up with the most recent work on the history of American fundamentalism.