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Religion As A Major Organizing Ideology To The Social And Political Reality Of The Nineteenth Century

3995 words - 16 pages

Religious scholar, Stephen Prothero, sees religion as a major organizing ideology to the social and political reality of the nineteenth-century. For Prothero, there is a close and intimate ideological relation between theological beliefs and a culture; therefore, they are not separable from characterizing the religious mood of the nineteenth-century. Prothero argues that many Americans were, “inspired by [the] republican rhetoric of liberty and equality, and by a popular revolt against deference and hierarchy” (47). This liberalizing spirit applied to the religious, political, and domestic spheres inspired women to protest against the narrow role to which they had been consigned by the existing hierarchy. The well-defined strictures of religion, like the law, were structured in dominance; black women encountered its hegemony in both their gendered and racial construction and white women principally by their gender. However, both groups consciously reshaped the organizing framework of religion to diminish its ordering of their lives within the public and private sphere. Prothero posits that while “The Bible remained authoritative [. . .] Americans insisted on interpreting it for themselves” (47), especially women who lived under its patriarchal construction. “In that effort,” Prothero continues “they were assisted by a new culture hero: the populist preacher, who combined evangelicalism and egalitarianism in daring new ways” (47). Prothero maintains that it was “the rise of pulpit storytelling” (51) that allowed such reimagining of religious ideology. Prothero goes on to argue that the “story sermon” (51) as a rhetorical style “did not catch on as fast in New England as it did in the South and the West (51),” a point that can explain the revolutionary tone of feminist orators in those regions of America during the nineteenth-century. An examination of Willard and Wells’ theological rhetoric illustrates its intersubjectivity with the narratives of law. Further, it demonstrates that religion, as an ideology, is simultaneously faith-based and political. The intersection of the pulpit and the court violated the separate spheres ideology that confined white and black women to a rigid spatial ordering based on gender and race in both the public and private sphere. However, with the rise of evangelical religion during the Second Awakening the unification of these two domains—the pulpit and the court—strengthened. By rejecting the “predictable eighteenth-century style of chapter-and-verse preaching,” Willard and Wells, as feminist orators, opened a wider space for the “feminization of American religion” (56-58), which broadened and changed views on the nature of race and gender in the social order. Prothero locates this feminization of religion in the context of a feminized Jesus, arguing that women “made him [Jesus] over in the light of Victorian ideals of the feminine” (59). This not only demonstrated the strength in...

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