A common faith swept the country. According to Mark Noll's now-famous thesis, early republican and antebellum America was characterized by an ideological synthesis of evangelical religion, republican political theory, and common sense epistemology. Noll calls it “the Protestant consensus.” John Modern largely agrees. In Modern's telling, antebellum America was mired in the same entanglement of piety, politics, and epistemology. But in lieu of the civic language of consensus, Modern describes his formation as an “atmosphere,” a kind of conceptual cloud-hanging so thickly in the air that antebellum Americans inhaled it with every breath. This pervasive atmosphere is what Modern means by “the secular.”
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