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The New Measures: A Theological History of Democratic Practice brings thick cultural history to contemporary debates about religion and democracy. Combining histories of performance, space, institutions, and ideas, the book tells the story of the 'new measures' that circulated in the religious revivals of the 1820s and '30s. The book's attention to detail moves it beyond abstraction and caricature to a more materialist political theology. And its eschatological hope resists narratives of progress and decline to understand American democracy as both tangled in contradiction and caught up in redemption.Read more
- Current debates about democracy in America tend to polarize into narratives of progress or decline
- The book introduces Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno into debates in Christian Ethics/Religious Ethics; while Habermas has received extensive discussion by ethicists, Benjamin and Adorno have been almost completely ignored
- The book tries to revive the neglected genre of theological history
- The New Measures does political theology through a history of the practices of preaching: it therefore connects theology and ethics to homiletics and practical theology
- Full of interesting stories: a lynching at Oberlin, riots led by a Sacred Music Society, a preacher accused of murder, the relationship between phrenology and revival, and more
Reviews & endorsements
"Democracy can be interpreted by abstract theories but it is lived and practiced by people in specific times and places. Ted Smith's The New Measures is a thought-provoking and fascinating analysis of specific practices of the intersection of American democracy and Christinianity. Smith's text joins recent debates in theology and ethics about democracy but adds a historical depth and theoretical specificity that should change the nature as well as the purpose of just debates. And Smith's own theological ability to narrate our historical practices through an eschatological lens allows us to avoid the tired and unsatisfying progress and decline theories of both democracy and Christianity. Ted retrieves the venerable tradition of H. Richard Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr and W. E. B. Dubois in combing history, theology and ethics to make democracy and Christianity still a task before us." --Rebecca Chopp, Colgate UniversitySee more reviews
"Who could have dreamed that one could produce a book drawing such figures as the German philosopher Walter Benjamin and the nineteenth-century revivalist Charles Finney into a common arena within which the reader can encounter both the subtle insights of critical theory and the colorful details of American popular religion? Smith subjects American preaching—and by extension American religious culture—to a “critique from within” by delving into tensions and ironies that expose hidden assumptions and subvert cultural certitudes but also hint at resolutions hovering just beyond our grasp. This is a genuinely original contribution to American history, theology, and critical thought." --E. Brooks Holifield, Emory University
"In both method and message, The New Measures: A Theological History of Democratic Practice is a pivotal book in the field of homiletics. Ingeniously, in correlation with six aspects of contemporary social criticism, Smith both “mortifies” and “redeems” six fundamental characteristics of revival-influenced preaching in North America: effectiveness, novelty, decision, equality, celebrity, and illustration. From the ashes of critique Smith helps preachers discover profound ethical, theological, and homiletical wisdom for preaching today. A “must-read” book." --John S. McClure, Vanderbilt University Divinity School
Recommended by the editors of The Christian Century... Smith learned from pragmatist philosopher Jeffrey Stout the ethical weight of the actions of ordinary citizens, and from theologian Stanley Hauerwas the need for specifically Christian speech. He combines the emphases of this unlikely pair in a thoughtful reading of the revivalist techniques of the Second Great Awakening and their effects on democratic life. Smith, a theological ethicist at Vanderbilt University, has written a minor classic.
"This beautifully written book brims with moral wit and wisdom on the "new measures" for revival in America..."
Douglas A. Sweeney, The Journal of American History
"This is a superb book...This fine work deserves broad readership. As an interdisciplinary study, it is an exceptional resource for clergy as well as seminary and religious studies scholars and students especially in the field of church history, theological ethics and homiletics. Political scientists will also find much enlightenment in its pages." --Peter Browning, Drury University
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- Date Published: October 2012
- format: Paperback
- isbn: 9781107410534
- length: 358 pages
- dimensions: 229 x 152 x 20 mm
- weight: 0.53kg
- availability: Available
Table of Contents
The Flyer: a preface for theologians, ethicists, historians, and homileticians
The Fugleman: a brief drill in methodology
1. Some measures are plainly necessary
2. You must have something new
3. Sinners bound to change their own hearts
4. Whosoever will
5. The measure of self.
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