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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things (American) Evangelicals Might Have Forgotten About

This is a short review of American Evangelical Protestantism and European Immigrants, 1800-1924 by William J. Phalen. 

American Evangelicals often forget, or don't even know, just how many of their current practices started. For example, the association of evangelicalism with the Republican Party seems like something natural for many Americans.   However, there were historical and sociological reasons for such associations that often escaped religious reasons.  

In this text, we get a glimpse of quite a few historical associations.   Phalen uses primary documents from both sides to make his points, and there is much to be learned here. Speeches, sermons, and articles used by evangelicals get to speak for themselves.   Much time is spent specifically on the plight of Irish American immigrants and the struggles they faced as they came to the United States.  German and Chinese immigrants also get some attention, but the focus is definitely on the Irish. 

After doing a quick google search, it was easy to find out why Phalen had written this book; it was his dissertation at Rutgers.  Although there is at least one significant difference, the addition of a chapter on the  Social Gospel, for the most part the book follows Phalens' dissertation.  The only reason I bring this up, is that is how this book reads- a dissertation by a PhD in history.  It does not significantly interact with motivations or reasons, let alone the diversity of beliefs within American Evangelicalism at the time.  It is accessible to the lay reader, but is often stagnant and tepid.  

I would recommend this book to undergraduates needing an introduction to the history of American Evangelicalism in connection with immigration.  It serves to acquaint us with ideas such as nativism, early prohibitionist stances, ruralism, and the Know Nothing Party.  I would never recommend it on its own.  Probably the best writing deals with the connection between the development of parochial and public schools in this country, but even in this area I would recommend reading this book alongside either books on the history of education or the primary documents.  

Phalen's work may be appreciated for turning our (American Evangelical Protestants) eyes towards history which often informs our present.  Nonetheless, this text requires supplementation to provide the full picture of history.  

Thank you to the publisher, McFarland, for my review copy.

The book is currently for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers. It has a suggested retail price of $45, typical for a book intended more for an academic audience. 

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