Was the early United States a “Christian nation?” Did most of its citizenry accept God and the Bible as the moral authority that bound them together as one nation?
Scholars have taken a binary stance on these questions. Some argue that early America was a thoroughly religious place and that even those who didn’t attend church were on the same basic page as those who did. While others argue early America boasted an increasingly secularized society.
Christopher Grasso, a professor of history at William & Mary and the author of Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War, challenges and complicates these two ideas by offering a third explanation: the religious landscape of early America was a continuum where many people experienced both faith and doubt over the course of their lives.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.
Christopher Grasso, a professor of history at William & Mary and the author of Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War, challenges and complicates traditional ideas about the early American religious landscape by offering the idea that religion and doubt operated along a continuum.
As we explore this idea, Chris reveals what early Americans meant by faith and skepticism; The role of religion and skepticism in early American life; And, why we need to study both skepticism and faith when we explore the religious history of early America.
What You’ll Discover
- What early Americans meant by faith and skepticism
- The role of religion in early American life
- The role of skepticism in early American life
- Historical sources used to investigate faith and skepticism
- Ethan Allen & Reason, the Only Oracle of Man
- William Beadle murders
- Response to Ethan Allen and his treatise
- How believers treated non believers in early American society
- Where non-Protestant believers fit into the debate between Christians and skeptics
- The rise of Methodism in early America
- The democratizing power of faith in early America revisited
- The Second Great Awakening and the role women played in its revivalism
- African Americans and the debate between skepticism and faith
- How sectionalism impacted the debates between skeptics and believers
- Why it’s important to study both skepticism and faith in early America
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- Christopher Grasso
- Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War
- Bloody Engagements: John R. Kelso’s Civil War
- A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut
- William and Mary Quarterly
Seattle Meet Up Details
- Episode 117: Annette Gordon-Reed, The Life and Ideas of Thomas Jefferson
- Episode 127: Caroline Winterer, American Enlightenments
- Episode 134: Spencer McBride, Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America
- Episode 169: Thomas Kidd, The Religious Life of Benjamin Franklin
- Episode 182: Douglas Winiarski, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light, the Great Awakening in New England
In your opinion, what might have happened to the role and place of skepticism in the early United States if the Enlightenment had not taken place during the 18th century? Without the Enlightenment what does the religious history of early America look like?
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