Over the last decade, a noteworthy number of published studies have, in one fashion or another, been defined with reference to religious denominations. This is an arresting fact, for, coincidentally, the status of religious denominations in the society has been called into question. Some formerly powerful bodies have lost membership (at least relatively speaking) and now experience reduced influence, while newer forms of religious organization(s)—e.g., parachurch groups and loosely structured movements—have flourished. The most compelling recent analysis of religion in modern American society gives relatively little attention to them. Why, then, have publications in large numbers appeared, in scale almost seeming to be correlated inversely to this trend?
No single answer to this question is adequate. Surely one general factor is that historians often “work out of phase” with contemporary social change. If denominations have been displaced as a form of religious institution in society in the late twentieth century, then their prominence in earlier eras is all the more intriguing.