At the 2015 Winter Meeting of the American Society of Church History, the panel “Futures of the American Religious Past” examined two of the most provocative and influential recent analyses of antebellum American protestantism—Mark A. Noll's America's God and John Lardas Modern's Secularism in Antebellum America. In one sense, the pairing is odd. The two books appear drastically different, stylistically and methodologically. Modern's highly original monograph constructs a genealogy of antebellum American secularism, illuminating ways in which this cultural force haunted the historicity of American protestantism. His analysis interweaves the theoretical and discursive approaches of cultural studies and religious studies. Noll's book, on the other hand, constructs a more traditional, though deeply creative, history of protestant religious ideas, attentive to the agency of individual thinkers and institutions. Both books are brilliant, yet they exist at two opposite disciplinary poles in the study of American religions. Their juxtaposition embodies what Laurie Maffly-Kipp in her 2013 American Society of Church History Presidential Address called our “transitional moment” in American religious history, as theoretical developments of religious studies confront traditional church history paradigms.
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