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Authors: Maskell, Caleb Joseph David
Advisors: Glaude, Eddie S
Contributors: Religion Department
Keywords: benevolence
Subjects: Religious history
American history
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Between 1816 and 1834, evangelical Protestant societies for national Christianization burgeoned in the United States. Collectively known as the “Benevolent Empire” or the “evangelical United Front,” it was an unlikely moment for this coalition of elite-led societies to emerge. The years after the War of 1812 were characterized by a political mood of anti-elitist democratization among white citizens, seemingly an uncongenial environment for elite projects of national social engineering. This dissertation shows how the “formalist evangelical” managers of these societies developed an ideology of millennial anticipation, enabling them to thrive in this democratizing moment. They reimagined the popular American evangelical doctrine of the millennium – a theology of gradual social improvement prior to a thousand-year earthly reign of Christ – casting their societies in the role of instrumental improvers. This metahistorical logic appealed to their optimistic, democratic cultural moment, while simultaneously narrating their elite organizations as essential to its flourishing. In the first three chapters I draw on diverse sources to examine how organizations like the American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, the American Colonization Society, and the New York Sunday-School Union framed their existence via this ideology of imminent millennial anticipation, and performed it through ritualized celebrations at New York’s Anniversary Week. In Chapter Three I show how this ideology was radically challenged in 1834 when the new, interracial American Anti-Slavery Society publicly argued that its “benevolent” millennial vision was fundamentally organized around white supremacy. Critiquing the American Colonization Society, they argued that national Christianization really meant establishing white Christian America – a reckoning moment for the Benevolent Empire. Against the background of this abolitionist challenge, millennial malaise began to take hold among formalist evangelicals in the 1830s. It became necessary to construct alternative millennialisms that tethered evangelical metahistorical self-consciousness to concrete historicity. In my final chapters, I look at three individuals who undertook this constructive work. I explore Joseph Emerson and Ralph Emerson, ecclesial teachers who tried to reconcile millennial hope with the ambiguities of history. Finally, I investigate Sylvester Graham’s millennial body reforms, which substituted temporal millennial anticipation with a rigorous program for this- worldly embodiment of heaven on earth.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Religion

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