The United States has a long history of religious pluralism, and yet Americans have often thought that people’s faith determines their eternal destinies. The result is that Americans switch religions more often than any other nation. The Chance of Salvation traces the history of the distinctively American idea that religion is a matter of individual choice.
Lincoln Mullen shows how the willingness of Americans to change faiths, recorded in narratives that describe a wide variety of conversion experiences, created a shared assumption that religious identity is a decision. In the nineteenth century, as Americans confronted a growing array of religious options, pressures to convert altered the basis of American religion. Evangelical Protestants emphasized conversion as a personal choice, while Protestant missionaries brought Christianity to Native American nations such as the Cherokee, who adopted Christianity on their own terms. Enslaved and freed African Americans similarly created a distinctive form of Christian conversion based on ideas of divine justice and redemption. Mormons proselytized for a new tradition that stressed individual free will. American Jews largely resisted evangelism while at the same time winning converts to Judaism. Converts to Catholicism chose to opt out of the system of religious choice by turning to the authority of the Church.
By the early twentieth century, religion in the United States was a system of competing options that created an obligation for more and more Americans to choose their own faith. Religion had changed from a family inheritance to a consciously adopted identity.
The Chance of Salvation deftly captures the chaotic nature of American religion in the 19th century…Mullen helps us see how a distinctly evangelical approach to salvation had ripple effects beyond evangelicals, and he should be commended for it.
Americans switch religions more frequently than people from just about any other nation. Mullen connects this phenomenon with the distinctively, though not uniquely, American idea that religion is a choice rather than an inheritance…This well-written and innovative work will be enjoyed by students of American religious history and those interested in investigating the deeper historical roots of contemporary American spirituality.
Marvelous…Recognizing that all conversions contain losses and gains, Mullen approaches his topic with both intellectual depth and nuance and with empathy for the struggles, losses, and victories of the millions of people who took new paths in their spiritual and religious lives in 19th-century America.
Offers an exciting topic, provocative set of questions, and a trove of intriguing vignettes. It is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time.
Looking at American religious history through the lens of conversion brings forth many interesting tales of 19th-century subjects grappling with changing landscapes of religion and philosophical thought.
This freshly synthetic work shows how religious choice developed as the backbone of American religious life…An important book and a pleasure to read.
Quite successful…in illustrating the varieties of religious experience in nineteenth-century America and in conveying some of the meanings they held for the converts.
Engagingly written…[Mullen] historicizes an important aspect of the complicated but infinitely fascinating democratization of American religion.
A valuable contribution for readers to understand the dynamics of conversion and religious history in the United States. It is also beneficial for those who examine the American religious landscape, pluralism, and the origins of why Americans often change religious affiliations.
- 2018, Winner of the Best First Book in the History of Religions Award
- 384 pages
- 1-3/16 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
Sorry, there was an error adding the item to your shopping bag.
Sorry, your session has expired. Please refresh your browser's tab.