"...an erudite and coherent analysis of Universalism as a powerful religious idea in the wider culture of American Protestantism."
"Provides welcome guidance through the complexities of this neglected movement....this well-researched and well-argued book deserves a wide reading among early Americanists and students of nineteenth-century religion and reform."
-William and Mary Quarterly
This book offers the first cultural history of Universalism in America. Bressler argues that Universalism began as a radical, community-oriented faith and only later became a "comfortably established" progressive and individualistic one. She distinguishes Universalist values from more liberal Unitarian values, and shows how Universalists adopted and later abandoned Calvinist beliefs.
In 1805, a thirty-four-year-old preacher unknown outside scattered church circles in New England published A Treatise on Atonement. Written some three and a half decades after John Murray had begun to spread the notion of universal salvation in America, the work was a straightforward and lively exposition of Universalist faith. His widely read Treatise established Hosea Ballou as the foremost theologian of a popular religious movement that was just then experiencing a rapid shift from reliance on itinerant preachers to the establishment of settled congregations.
Some fourteen years later, William Ellery Channing, the pastor of an elite congregation in Boston, delivered a sermon at the Baltimore ordination of Jared Sparks that became “the chief manifesto of American Unitarianism.”1 Outlining the major elements of the liberal faith that had grown up within Boston’s Standing Order, Channing sought to explain Unitarian principles to a new audience. His willingness to state forthrightly the precepts of “Unitarian Christianity” confirmed him as the “prime embodiment” of the Unitarian movement.
About the Author
Ann Lee Bressler received her doctorate in American history from the University of Virginia. She has previously held adjunct appointments to the faculty of Davidson College and is now an independent scholar.