Dissatisfied with a Victorian culture focused on domesticity and threatened by physical decline in sedentary office jobs, American men in the late nineteenth century sought masculine company in fraternal lodges and engaged in exercise to invigorate their bodies. One form of this new manly culture, developed out of the Protestant churches, was known as muscular Christianity. In this fascinating study, Clifford Putney details how Protestant leaders promoted competitive sports and physical education to create an ideal of Christian manliness.
Provides a much needed overview of muscular Christianity and its appeal during the Progressive Era. Clifford Putney's insightful work goes a long way toward correcting the scholarly blindness toward Christianity's role in creating a culture of American masculinity in the late nineteenth century and toward understanding its apparent replacement by (among other things) a secular gospel of health in the twentieth. He contributes to the literature on masculinity in crucial ways, blending new data with information previously brought to light in other works and helping us see the latter from a fresh perspective. A work that highlights the religious character of American masculinity during the Progressive Era is a welcome addition to the literature, one that scholars from a wide variety of fields will want to read.
In Muscular Christianity, Clifford Putney revisits some familiar quarries: the denominational periodicals and writings of Christian leaders during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By looking at these materials through the lens of gender, however, he has discerned a rich, new lode of meaning. That there was something of a masculinist movement in American society has been apparent for some time: one thinks of Teddy Roosevelt's unsubtle big stick. But Putney has found that American Protestantism itself--long thought to be a bastion of feminine "sentimentality" was imbued with a macho style and ideology. By illustrating the depth and range of this masculinist sentiment, Putney has forced us to rethink the ways in which men and women alike shared the prevailing gender conventions of the period.
In this finely crafted study, Clifford Putney combines the most innovative interdisciplinary strategies of the new cultural studies with the sturdiest methods of traditional historical analysis to breathe new life into a host of topics ranging from schools to sermons, from sports to sculpture. Although Putney draws insights from the latest historiography on gender, religion, and American culture, his own contribution will outlast much that is currently fashionable because of his rock-solid archival research and his demonstration of the ways in which influential reformers translated shifting assumptions and aspirations into enduring institutions that continue to shape Americans' lives.
Long relegated to occasional academic journal articles and mediocre, hagiographic books, the relationship between Protestantism and sports in America now has the definitive treatise the topic has long deserved...If historians will find Putney's revisions fascinating, the general reader will also be riveted by the story he tells; his prose is as vigorous as his subject matter, and the anecdotes he scatters liberally throughout the book are captivating. In an age when Christian leaders like Bill McCartney are again using athletics to get men into the church, this study couldn't be more timely.
With vigorous prose, Putney shows how in the late 19th century protestant clergy and lay leaders of the muscular Christianity movement abandoned the sentimentality and "feminine" forms of Victorian religion for a new model that stressed action rather than reflection, and aggression rather than gentility...Advocates of muscular Christianity promoted organized sports and outdoor activities like camping to build bodies able to evangelize and effect social reform...[Putney's] arguments on the construction of "muscular Christianity" add much to our understanding of the Progressive era and American cultural imperialism. Highly recommended.
On his way to becoming a stone face on Rushmore, Theodore Roosevelt converted to a now largely forgotten form of liberal Protestantism emphasizing masculine exertion and healthy living. Putney here chronicles the rise and eventual decline of this new creed of muscular Christianity, which, for all its brawn and bravado, actually betrayed its founders' fears: that Christian men would degenerate into feminine weakness in a church dominated by women; that Anglo-Saxon Protestants would be overwhelmed by the influx of swarthy Catholics; that infidels would roll back the gains won by previous generations of valiant missionaries. When the horrors of world war induced a national pacifism, liberal Protestants finally sidled away from this cult of masculine piety. But Putney detects the strange reemergence of a recognizably similar masculine orthodoxy in a new setting: conservative Protestants have taken up the cause in initiatives such as Promise Keepers and Athletes in Action. A fascinating study shedding light on a hidden link between the liberal Protestants of the past and the fundamentalists of today.
[This] fascinating study offers a fresh angle on gender issues and our attitudes about sports today.
Far more women than men were going to church by the 1880s and 1890s, and ministers often exhibited a softness and delicacy of their own. Advocates of muscular Christianity, deploring this state of affairs, set themselves the task of bringing men back to church and showing that Jesus, the rugged, hard-bodied carpenter of Nazareth, was no sissy. Clifford Putney's superb Muscular Christianity shows that they tried to do it by linking Christianity to manly sports.
- 310 pages
- 0-15/16 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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