Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Baynton, Douglas C

Second Advisor

Cox, Jeffrey L

First Committee Member

Midtrod, Tom Arne

Second Committee Member

Gordon, Colin

Third Committee Member

Mentzer, Raymond A


Despite the prevailing rhetoric of religious liberty in the nineteenth century, Protestant religious values dominated historical and public policy discourses. Histories celebrated Anglo-Saxon Protestant triumphalism, while laws regarding blasphemy, temperance, Sunday observance, polygamy, and religious instruction in public schools, as well as the Federal Indian mission policy, amply demonstrated Protestant influence on various levels of American government. My dissertation examines intersections of religion, historical writing, and political advocacy in the late nineteenth century. I focus my study on the Gilded Age (1865-1900) because of the importance American history assumed during this time. American history became an established part of public school curricula and university studies, and amateur and professional historical studies flourished as individuals sought to understand and preserve American national identity. I argue that historical writing by religious thinkers played a central role in the construction of religious nationalisms in the late-nineteenth century, while also informing the public policy position of their adherents. Using a case-study approach, I examine key thinkers representing mainstream Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Seventh-day Adventism, Quakerism and Reform Judaism. These religious intellectuals wielded the new historical sensibility to comment, from the perspective of their religious beliefs, on the nature of American public and private institutions, immigration restriction, Sabbath laws, race relations, and questions of war and pacifism. Their aim was to construct a vision of America's past, present, and future that would allow believers to wholeheartedly embrace an American national identity without compromising their beliefs.

Current historical literatures on religion and nationalism criticize prevailing Anglo-Saxon Protestant views of the nation in the Gilded Age yet frequently fail to address how others in the period understood themselves and their place in American society. In contrast, this study provides a balance of views including outsider contributions to American political culture. Methodologically, a comparative and thematic approach provides an analytical alternative to historical narratives that either focus on dominant coherent narratives or those that present the "messy realities" of American national culture. Moreover, in contrast to current historical literatures which claim that marginalized religious groups in America constructed variant nationalisms based on binary "insider" or "outsider" identities, I argue that these classifications overlook significant subtleties. Finally, rather than simply focusing on "conflict" or "exclusion," this study demonstrates negotiation and participation. While strategic choices varied, grounding national identity in history and theology ensured the persistence of religious components in American political cultures.


v, 276 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 258-276).


Copyright 2012 Annie Parker Liss

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