George Marsden Fundamentalism and American Culture New ed. (Oxford: OUP, 2006).
This book’s been a page turner for me, partly because of my morbid fascination with fundamentalism and partly because it is well researched and smoothly written.
It’s a historical study of the origins of fundamentalism in late 19th and early 20th century USA. I’ll share some things which have stood out for me so far:
- The significance of revivalism as the mindset out of which fundamentalism emerged. Yet Marsden paints revivalists favourably, as a group with a positive agenda for individual piety and lacking the strong emnity toward the academy, liberalism and modernism which was to escalate in the 1920s.
- The significance of ‘Scottish Common Sense Realism’ as the philosophical mindset of fundamentalism. I encountered this a lot growing up – the idea that the Bible (and the world) made ‘plain sense’ to any common person with the willingness to read it correctly. It was easy to hold this kind of approach in the early 19th century when there was what Marsden calls a ‘broad evangelical consensus’; everyone a believer knew probably did read the Bible and the world in the same way. But the increasing splintering of Protestant Christianity and non-Protestant immigrants made the consensus harder to hold up. You could walk into many churches in Perth today and find this mindset, though. No need for an understanding of culture, genre and context – just believe what it says.
- The phrase ‘let go and let God’, which was surely on my fridge as a child at some stage, has been kicking around for over 100 years. One of the revivalists Marsden discusses may have coined it.
- In the USA during WWI, within Christian circles the loudest opposition to the war came from premillennialists; while the loudest support came from liberal postmillennialists who felt that victory could move the world one step closer to lasting peace. Those premillennialists may not have embraced the Left Behind series.