A Review Note on David F. Holland: Sacred Borders

David F. Holland
Sacred Borders
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 2, 2011)
ISBN-10: 9780199753611
ISBN-13: 978-0199753611

David Holland’s recent work through Oxford is an examination of New England’s flirtation with the Bible and its status among Protestants of various constitutions. Is the Bible the last word on canon, if so, which bible? Can you “tear off the back cover” so to speak, and tack more on? Is the Bible a revelation or a historic collection of revelations/histories? Is it the end of revelation or merely an example of it?

Holland looks at these questions and others asked by Christians of various sorts as well as other figures from the Early Republic. Puritans, Shakers, Evangelicals, Transcendentalists and other liberals, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Catholics and deists all get their turn.

It is in few words, a fine book. An excellent treatment of an important subject which will surprise you at various turns. You get to know wonderful figures like Ann Hutchinson and Jemima Wilkinson, Rebecca Jackson and Orestes Brownson.

The book keeps its focus, which is an admittedly narrow one, yet it drills down to the very meaning of faith in early America and allows the reader to see across a fabulous landscape of interpretation and opinion. For anyone interested in religion in the antebellum period, this book is a necessary brick in the wall of your education.

The cost? It’s not cheap. $63 from Amazon. I really don’t see what Oxford is playing at here. You’re not paying for expensive pictures or multicolor illustrations. But if you’ve got a dog in this race, pony up! (har) Either that or grab it at your local library. I’d let you borrow mine, but I’m on my second read.

Sacred Borders: open your wallet and curb the trips to Wendy’s for a while. Your brain will be glad and so will your heart.

P.S. See Sam Brown’s more extensive review here.

Joseph Smith and Catholicism

During Joseph Smith’s youth it is unlikely that he knew many or perhaps any, Catholics. The New England area was home to few Catholics in 1805, and they were an unappreciated minority. But during the first half of the 19th century, America began to experience a boom in Catholic population. This growth can be seen in the number of Catholic houses of worship following the war of 1812. Edwin Gaustad (Historical Atlas of Religion in America) provides some figures: in 1820 there were 124 such structures in the US, a comparatively tiny number even in church-poor America. By 1850, the number had grown to 1,221. Ten years later there were 2,550. From 1820-1860, this was nearly a 2000% increase in Catholic buildings, a doubling in the final decade. For comparison, Methodist houses of worship — the fastest growing Protestant denomination of the period — increased by about 600%. Congregational buildings increased by about 100%, representing the slowest growth rate among major Protestant groups (this is a little remarkable because the Congregational church was “established” in New England– i.e., had state support–for many years. The constitutional provision did not apply to the states). Immigrants were responsible for much of this growth and this was particularly true in terms of Irish immigration (in regard to Catholic growth).
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