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Popular Media and the Global Expansion of American Evangelicalism in an Imperial Age


This article examines the crucial role that print media played in the global expansion of American evangelicalism during the late 1890s: a moment when the United States was exercising new forms of military, economic, and cultural power to extend its influence in world affairs. Analyzing the strategies that publicists employed to make the popular press an effective medium of spreading American evangelicalism sheds light on the theological and social factors that influenced – and circumscribed – the ways in which evangelicals imagined, fostered, and undermined the creation of a global Christian community in this increasingly imperial era.

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1 “Dr. Talmage Bids Good-Bye,” Christian Herald (hereafter CH), 18 June 1894, 382; “Dr. Talmage Belts the Globe,” CH, 24 Oct. 1894, cover; “Dr. Talmage's New Book: ‘The Earth Girdled,’” CH, 4 March 1896, 200; and “Record of Christian Effort,” CH, 4 Dec. 1895, 811.

2 Anderson, Benedict R., Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, rev. edn (New York: Verso, 2006), 36 . Anderson and others, such as Ninkovich, Frank A., Global Dawn: The Cultural Foundation of American Nationalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), have analyzed the important role that popular media (and especially newspapers) played in the formation of nationalist identities and other kinds of imagined community in the nineteenth century. This article builds on this scholarship by considering the ways in which religious groups employed popular publications to strengthen a sense of identity within and beyond national boundaries in this increasingly global era. I am also indebted to the pioneering work on religious journalism by scholars such as O'Brien, Susan, “Eighteenth-Century Publishing Networks in the First Years of Transatlantic Evangelicalism,” in Noll, Mark A., Bebbington, David, and Rawlyk, George A., eds., Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies in Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles, and Beyond, 1700–1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 3857 ; Nord, David Paul, Faith in Reading: Religious Publishing and the Birth of Mass Media in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004); and Brown, Candy Gunther, The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789–1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

3 These figures are drawn from American Newspaper Directory (New York: Geo. P. Rowell & Co., 1902), 655–61.

4 Technically, Talmage was ordained as a Presbyterian but he strongly downplayed his denominational connections and avidly promoted the Brooklyn Tabernacle as a church that welcomed a diverse array of Protestants.

5 Banks, Louis A., T. DeWitte Talmage: His Life and Work (London: O. W. Binkerd, 1902), 66, 67; “Publisher's Notice,” CH, 26 Feb. 1890, 136; and Curti, Merle, American Philanthropy Abroad: A History (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1963), 620 . For a fuller history of Talmage's ministry see Reid Starkey Thomas, “Thomas DeWitt Talmage in Perspective,” PhD dissertation, Emory University, 1974, 82; and for Klopsch's career see Pepper, Charles M., Life-Work of Louis Klopsch: Romance of a Modern Knight of Mercy (New York: Christian Herald Association, 1910).

6 “Forward!”, CH, 4 June 1890, 360; Nord, 6–10; and Gutjahr, Paul, “Diversification in American Religious Publishing,” in Casper, Scott E., Groves, Jeffrey D., Nissenbaum, Stephen W., and Winship, Michael, eds., A History of the Book in America, Volume III (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 194202 .

7 Gutjahr, 194–95.

8 Thomas de Witt Talmage, “The Kingdom Coming,” CH, 7 April 1897, 276; and “A Gospel Press,” CH, 15 Aug. 1894, 518.

9 Scholarship on the growth of the foreign missionary movement is voluminous. For analysis of the connections between missions and communications networks see especially Tyrrell, Ian, Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Reform Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010). “The evangelization of the world in this generation” was a popular missionary slogan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For the history of this phrase see Dana L. Robert, “The Origin of the Student Volunteer Watchword: ‘The Evangelization of the World in This Generation’,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Oct. 1986), 146–49.

10 “Newspaper Influence,” CH, 13 Sept. 1893, 598; and T. DeWitt Talmage, “Two Thousandth Publication,” CH, 23 Feb.1898, 144–45.

11 Brown; “The Secular Newspaper,” CH, 3 Feb. 1892, 70; “Newspaper Influence,” 598; “A Purer Press,” CH, 7 April 1897, 276; and “A Purer Journalism,” CH, 5 May 1897, 368. For more general histories of sensational journalism in this period consult Campbell, W. Joseph, “1897: American Journalism's Exceptional Year,” Journalism History, 29, 4 (Winter 2004), 190200 ; and Campbell, , The Year That Defined American Journalism: 1897 and the Clash of Paradigms (New York: Routledge, 2006); Smythe, Ted Curtis, The Gilded Age Press, 1865–1900 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003); and Spencer, David R., The Yellow Journalism: The Press and America's Emergence as a World Power (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007).

12 “Newspapers,” CH, 4 Nov. 1891, 694; and “Getting Our Million,” CH, 14 June 1899, 466.

13 T. DeWitt Talmage, “A Greeting to All,” CH, 26 Feb. 1890, 136; “Religious Newspapers,” CH, 18 June 1890, 392; “The Christian Herald,” Christian & Missionary Alliance, 3 Nov. 1897, 460; “Newspaper Theology,” CH, 19 Oct. 1892, 666; Editorial, CH, 18 May 1892, 310; Pepper, 321–22; “Sensation vs. Stagnation: Talmage for the Plaintiff,” New York Times, 20 Jan. 1879, 8; and Pepper, 310.

14 “Christian Herald for 1895,” CH, 5 Dec. 1894, 777; and Pepper, 4–5, 309.

15 Pepper, 4; “Our Mail Bag,” CH, 30 Oct. 1895, 712; and “The Age of Pictures Is Here,” CH, 26 March 1890, 200.

16 Talmage, “A Greeting,” 136; Pepper, 9; “Newspaper Influence,” 593; “Newspaper Reading,” CH, 20 Sept. 1893, 614; Pepper, 8; American Newspaper Directory (New York: Geo. P. Rowell & Co., 1895), 607; “Dr. Talmage's New Field,” CH, 9 Oct. 1895, 653; and T. DeWitt Talmage, “Religious Journalism,” CH, 1 Dec. 1897, 908–9.

17 Talmage, “A Greeting,” 136; and Pepper, 370.

18 “Newspaper Reading,” 614. The literature on scientific racism in this period is voluminous and growing. For a particularly helpful study that discusses the intersections of racial ideology, religious ideas, and American national identity see Goldschmidt, Henry and McAlister, Elizabeth, eds., Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

19 Thomas de Witt Talmage, “Democracy of Religion,” CH, 25 April 1894, 262; see also “Universal Brotherhood,” CH, 31 March 1897, 261.

20 “Newspaper Reading,” 614; Talmage, “A Greeting,” 136; “Mrs. Amanda Smith,” CH, 16 July 1890, 452–53; “A Cry for Sunday Schools: One Million White Children in the Southwest without Religious Privileges,” CH 6 May 1891, 276–77; “Missionary Life in Africa,” CH, 17 Dec. 1890, 812; “A Japanese Convert,” CH 15 July 1891, 435; and “Greetings from Persia,” CH, 15 July 1891, 435.

21 “The Christian Herald for 1896,” CH, 4 Dec. 1895, 815; and T. DeWitt Talmage, “Pictures Good and Bad,” CH, 21 June 1899, 492–93.

22 “Marion Harland Off to the Holy Land,” CH, 25 Oct. 1893, 693; “The Native Girl,” CH, 14 March 1894, 171.

23 “Religious Newspapers,” 392.

24 Helpful studies on the history of sentimental ethics and the production of sympathy in American culture include Halttunen, Karen, “Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture,” American Historical Review, 100, 2 (1995), 303–34; Normal Fiering, “Irresistible Compassion: An Aspect of Eighteenth-Century Sympathy and Humanitarianism,” Journal of the History of Ideas, April 1976, 195–218; Haskell, Thomas L., “Capitalism and the Origins of the Humanitarian Sensibility, Part I,” American Historical Review, 90, 2 (1985), 339–61; Laqueur, Thomas, “Bodies, Details, and the Humanitarian Narrative,” in Hunt, Lynn, ed., The New Cultural History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 176204 ; and Daniel Wickberg, “What Is the History of Sensibilities? On Cultural Histories, Old and New,” American Historical Review, June 2007, 661–84.

25 “‘The Christian Herald’ in Heathen Japan,” CH, 14 Dec. 1892, 799; “The Gospel in Macedonia,” CH, 25 Dec. 1895, 886; and “Our Mailbag,” CH, 21 March 1900, 226.

26 For a more thorough articulation of this argument see Curtis, Heather D., “Depicting Distant Suffering: The Politics of Images & Evangelical Humanitarianism in the Age of American Imperialism,” Material Religion, 8, 2 (June 2012), 154–83. Another very helpful treatment of the tensions between evangelical universalism, racism, and nationalism is Derek Chang, “Marked in Body, Mind and Spirit: Home Missionaries and the Remaking of Race and Nation,” in Goldschmidt and McAlister, Race, Nation and Religion, 133–56.

27 “A Righteous War,” CH, 4 May 1898, 392; and Talmage, “Two Thousandth Publication,” 144.

28 “War or Peace,” CH, 13 April 1898, 320.

29 T. DeWitt Talmage, “Alleviations of War,” CH, 18 May 1898, 428–29.

30 “Face to Face with Our Destiny,” CH, 25 May 1898, 448; Talmage, “Alleviations of War,” 428–29; “Our War with Spain Begun,” CH, 4 May 1898, cover and 390–91; “Humanity in the War,” CH, 20 July 1898, 590; “A Righteous War,” 392; “What Next After War?”, CH, 3 Aug. 1898, 624; “Indemnity Not Revengeful,” CH, 17 Aug. 1898, 656; “Good Samaritan among Nations,” CH, 3 Aug. 1898, 624; and “Our Mail Bag,” CH, 14 Sept. 1898, 714.

31 “Face to Face,” 448; “End of War,” CH, 10 Aug. 1898, 638; “America's New Responsibility,” CH, 19 Oct. 1898, 808; and Talmage, “Alleviations of War,” 428–29.

32 “What Next?” CH, 5 April 1899, 260; and T. DeWitt Talmage, “Expansion,” CH, 7 June 1899, 436–37.

33 “Scenes in Our New Colonial Possessions in the Philippines,” CH, 18 May 1898, 431; “Let All Help Porto Rico!” CH, 23 Aug. 1899, 646; “Famine Follows Flood in Cyclone-Swept Porto Rico,” CH, 23 Aug. 1899, 644; Margaret Sangster, “Our Friends in Luzon,” CH, 14 Feb. 1900, 132; and “The Gospel in Our New Colonies,” CH, 26 April 1899, 325.

34 “The Future of the Philippines,” CH, 18 Oct. 1899, 792; and Talmage, “Expansion,” 436.

35 “Our Mail Bag,” CH, 17 Aug. 1898, 650; and “Our Mail Bag,” CH, 22 Feb. 1899, 134.

36 “Pastor Sheldon's Christian Daily,” CH, 7 Feb. 1900, 103; and “What Will Mr. Sheldon Do?”, CH, 7 Feb. 1900, 103. For more on Sheldon and his publishing experiment see Jensen, Billie Barnes, “A Social Gospel Experiment in Newspaper Reform: Charles M. Sheldon and the ‘Topeka Daily Capital,’Church History, 33, 1 (March 1964), 7483 ; and Miller, Timothy, Following in His Steps: A Biography of Charles M. Sheldon (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987).

37 “The War Spirit,” Topeka Daily Capital, 13 March 1900, 1; Charles M. Sheldon, “The Topeka Capital This Week,” Topeka Daily Capital, 13 March 1900, 2; Charles M. Sheldon, “The Soldier's Worst Enemy: The End of the Canteen Farce,” Topeka Daily Capital, 13 March 1900, 2; “The Philippines: What Justice Brewer Would Do with Them,” Topeka Daily Capital, 13 March 1900, 5; “What Next after War?” 624; “Against War,” Topeka Daily Capital, 16 March 1900, 1; and “For the Sake of Humanity, Draw the Curtain on This Act,” Topeka Daily Capital, 14 March 1900, 1.

38 “Our Mail Bag,” CH, 10 Aug. 1898, 634; American Newspaper Directory (New York: Geo. P. Rowell & Co., 1902), 655–61.

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Journal of American Studies
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