Cover image for The Universalist movement in America, 1770-1880
The Universalist movement in America, 1770-1880
Bressler, Ann Lee.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
viii, 204 pages ; 24 cm.
Reading Level:
1630 Lexile.
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BX9933 .B74 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this volume Ann Lee Bressler offers the first cultural history of American Universalism and its central teaching -- the idea that an all-good and all-powerful God saves all souls. Although Universalists have commonly been lumped together with Unitarians as "liberal religionists," in itsorigins their movement was, in fact, quite different from that of the better-known religious liberals. Unlike Unitarians such as the renowned William Ellery Channing, who stressed the obligation of the individual under divine moral sanctions, most early American Universalists looked to the omnipotent will of God to redeem all of creation. While Channing was socially and intellectually descendedfrom the opponents of Jonathan Edwards, Hosea Ballou, the foremost theologian of the Universalist movement, appropriated Edwards's legacy by emphasizing the power of God's love in the face of human sinfulness and apparent intransigence. Espousing what they saw as a fervent but reasonable piety,many early Universalists saw their movement as a form of improved Calvinism. The story of Universalism from the mid-nineteenth century on, however, was largely one of unsuccessful efforts to maintain this early synthesis of Calvinist and Enlightenment ideals. Eventually, Bressler argues, Universalists were swept up in the tide of American religious individualism andmoralism; in the late nineteenth century they increasingly extolled moral responsibility and the cultivation of the self. By the time of the first Universalist centennial celebration in 1870, the ideals of the early movement were all but moribund. Bressler's study illuminates such issues as therelationship between faith and reason in a young, fast-growing, and deeply uncertain country, and the fate of the Calvinist heritage in American religious history.

Author Notes

Ann Lee Bressler received her doctorate in American history from the University of Virginia. She has previously held adjunct appointments to the faculty of Davidson College and is now an independent scholar.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Bressler provides a historically informed and theologically nuanced account of Universalism, an often-neglected movement in the American religious landscape. She identifies the distinctive features of American Universalism through its responses to the criticisms of Unitarianism, on the one hand, and Protestant evangelicalism on the other, deftly tracing its rise and fall between 1770 and 1880. Of particular interest to the author are the steps that Universalism took to distance itself from liberal religion and to document its Calvinist connections through Jonathan Edwards and his successors. Drawing on an impressive and diverse array of primary sources, Bressler presents a lively account of Universalism's response to wider religious and social movements including revivalism, religious disestablishment, foreign missions, benevolent societies, antislavery, Freemasonry, penal reform, anti-Catholicism, and women's roles. The result is a study that presents a concise and informative discussion of value to the general reader and the specialist alike. B. M. Stephens Pennsylvania State University, Delaware County Campus

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. vii
The Universalist Movement in America 1770-1880p. 2
Introductionp. 3
1 Calvinism Improvedp. 9
2 The Challenge of Communal Pietyp. 31
3 Controversy and Identityp. 54
4 Universal Redemption and Social Reformp. 77
5 Universalism and Spiritual Sciencep. 97
6 Winning the Battle, Losing the Warp. 126
Conclusionp. 147
Notesp. 151
Indexp. 197