Cover image for Protestantism in America
Protestantism in America
Balmer, Randall Herbert.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiii, 295 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BR515 .R36 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



As America has become more pluralistic, Protestantism, with its long roots in American history and culture, has hardly remained static. This finely crafted portrait of a remarkably complex group of Christian denominations describes Protestantism's history, constituent subgroups and their activities, and the way in which its dialectic with American culture has shaped such facets of the wider society as healthcare, welfare, labor relations, gender roles, and political discourse.

Part I provides an introduction to the religion's essential beliefs, a brief history, and a taxonomy of its primary American varieties. Part II shows the diversity of the tradition with vivid accounts of life and worship in a variety of mainline and evangelical churches. Part III explores the vexed relationship Protestantism maintains with critical social issues, including homosexuality, feminism, and social justice. The appendices include biographical sketches of notable Protestant leaders, a chronology, a glossary, and an annotated list of resources for further study.

Author Notes

Randall Balmer is the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of American Religion at Barnard College, Columbia University.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Balmer and Winner begin this volume of Columbia's Contemporary American Religion series by observing that Protestantism is no longer an organizing principle for American religious historiography. Thereafter, they informatively struggle to separate Protestantism from American culture. Proceeding in loose chronology, they consider Lutheranism (the first Protestantism, though not the first in America), moving on to Calvinism, Zwinglism, and the sects of the radical Reformation; and they introduce the distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism as a more useful organizing principle for American religious historiography. At the heart of their account is the shift from mainstream to evangelical Protestantism, which they argue is more properly regarded as a reassertion of evangelicalism. That shift has proved effective in leading Protestantism from the secular city and recasting it in opposition to secularism. The shift also colored the recent discussions of homosexuality, feminism, and social justice that preoccupy the third part of the book, which, despite distracting asides on feminist language and Episcopal bishop John Spong, is a useful starting point for reflection on the future of Protestantism. --Steven Schroeder

Library Journal Review

Following the general pattern of previous volumes in the "Columbia Contemporary American Religion" series (e.g., Jane I. Smith's Islam in America), this volume provides a brief historical overview, case studies of churches, and essays on significant issues facing Protestant congregations today. Balmer (American religion, Barnard Coll.) and Winner, a doctoral candidate at Columbia, do an admirable job of synthesizing recent scholarship and have created an engaging, if occasionally irreverent, account. While always acknowledging the diversity and complexity of Protestant denominations, this book basically divides Protestants into two camps evangelical and liberal with both camps receiving equally critical evaluations. In exploring the challenges of feminism, homosexuality, and social justice, the authors consider both how the issues have affected the churches and how the churches have affected the broader culture. The work also contains brief profiles of significant individuals, a time line, and a glossary. While the book could have used tighter editing virtually identical sentences explaining various terms appear multiple times the amount of information presented and the quality of the analysis make this a useful work for academic and public libraries. Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This is the fourth publication in the Columbia Contemporary American Religion Series, following books on Roman Catholicism, Islam, and Buddhism. The text itself is divided into three sections: the first focuses on the history of Protestantism; the second consists of three contemporary congregational case studies (mainline, African American, and charismatic); and the last discusses the "challenges" of feminism, homosexuality, and social justice. The volume's portrait of Protestantism is somewhat selective, so much so that the book might more appropriately be entitled "American Evangelicalism," since "mainline Protestantism" (which the authors call both an "aberration" and a "mirage") and other Protestant groups are dealt with sparingly. Thus Pat Robertson receives the longest entry in an appendix that profiles important historic Protestant leaders, while Horace Bushnell is not even mentioned. Balmer (Barnard College) and Winner (doctoral candidate, history, Columbia Univ.) have produced a book that is quite readable, but their rhetoric (regarding non-Evangelicals) becomes at times almost snide, e.g., when they caricature ecospirituality as a movement "to liberate kelp beds." Suitable for general readers and above. D. Jacobsen Messiah College

Table of Contents

Preface: Easter Sunday
1 Protestantism in America
2 Brief History of Protestantism in America
3 Varieties of Protestantism in America
4 Williston Federated Church
5 Abyssinian Baptist Church
6 New Life Family Fellowship
7 Protestants and Feminism
8 Protestants and Homosexuality
9 Protestants and Social Justice