Apocalyptic, Restorationist Christianities and the United States in the 19th Century

This semester, I’m teaching my “Religion in the United States” class. In a couple of months, I’ll introduce four branches of Christianity that emerged in the United States in the 19th or very early 20th century: The Latter-day Saints (1830); the Adventists with the Millerite Movement (1840s); the Jehovah Witnesses’ (1870s); and the Pentecostals (1900s). I tend to emphasize the pre- and post-Civil War ethos as a rationale for these movements but that seems incomplete. This past week, the question has lodged in my head and keeps coming back to me: What was it about the United States in the 19th century that made it the place that birthed these expressions of Christianity?

I have the Kindle version of Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis but I need a physical copy because I can’t sustain reading in a digital format. Also, I see there are books like Anthony Avenue’s Apocalyptic Anxiety: Religion, Science, and America’s Obsession with the End of the World and the collection of essays that make up Apocalypse and the Millennium in the American Civil War Era but other than those two books, and histories of the origins of the aforementioned groups, I’m not sure where to start. Any American historians out there who would recommend a history of 19th century America that captures the country’s mood and movements? This is a topic I want to explore further.

(Side note: I’m aware that the origins of Pentecostalism can’t be limited to Los Angeles alone but I think it’s fair to say that what because global Pentecostalism was greatly influenced by American culture and events.)


The Latter-day Saints and modern America

I just finished McKay Coppins’ wonderful article “The Most American Religion” (for The Atlantic). It’s about how the Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormons”) have adjusted and assimilated to American culture only to find that modern America is changing. The main case study might be how LDS voters responded to the last president when juxtaposed with how white Evangelicals responded to him. Here’s the take-away paragraph:

What happens when a religious group discovers that it’s spent 200 years assimilating to an America that no longer exists? As their native country fractures and turns on itself, Mormons are being forced to grapple with questions about who they are and what they believe. And a loose but growing liberal coalition inside the Church is pushing for reform.

Educating in the Era of COVID-19: Day 2

Yesterday, Google Classroom revealed to me that my students have received their assignments and some of them even completed them already! Most of my classes receive their assignments today. Our school has divided up the week so that students receive materials on different days based on what class period they would’ve been studying that topic. So, for example, my 3rd Period students received their classwork (which doubles as homework!) yesterday since Periods 1-3 receive materials on Mondays and Thursdays, whereas my 4th-7th Period students (I teach 3rd-7th) all received their materials today and will receive more on Friday.

This morning I used Google Meet to conduct a virtual Advisory. It was good to see my advisees. They seem to be doing well. Most of them shared a basic report: it’s super easy to get all their work done, but they miss being with people. Welcome to online learning, students!

To protect us, and our students, my employer requires that we record our online sessions. Google Meet’s recording option is simple. I imagine the same is true of Zoom. Additionally, this allows me to post the video for advisees/students who may have missed the ‘live’ event.

Today I’m lesson planning for my ‘Religion in the United States’ course. My students will learn about the Latter-day Saints and the Adventists this week. Next week, they’ll be introduced to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals. I tie these groups together in a few ways. First, they’re all expressions of Christianity that emerged in an American context. Second, they’re all shaped by the glow of the Civil War and world as it was around the turn from the 19th century to the 20th century. Third, each group is ‘restorationist’ in nature, claiming to have found something about the earliest version of Christianity that had been lost and needed to be recovered. Fourth, each group emphasizes the Second Coming of Christ in some way whether it be the very identity of the Latter-day Saints, or the predictions of William Miller for the Adventists, or the mystery of the 144,000 for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the restoration of ‘apostolic power’ during the ‘latter rain’ for the Pentecostals. I’ll miss discussing these groups in person, in class, with my students. They’re all fascinating in their own right. I just hope my students still get a basic understanding of these movements, their founders, their distinctive identities and such, in spite of being limited to the virtual classroom.

Day 1