13: Religion in America

Bill of Rights cropped


I. Origins of Abrahamic Religion in America

U.S. Bill of Rights

Key Terms

  • Puritans
  • Pilgrims
  • Deism
  • First Amendment
  • Western religious traditions imported from Europe
  • Motives for sending colonists to the New World
    • Civil War
    • Rebellion
    • Less land and resources
    • Land = resources = power = money
  • Motives for colonists moving to the New World
    • Scarcity of cheap land
    • Scarcity of well–paying jobs
    • Religious freedom


II. Protestantism in America

John Winthrop

We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.

  • A. Lutherans
    • Origins in Germany and Scandinavia
    • Emphasis on liturgy and hymns
    • Personal piety

  • B. Calvinists
    • Absolute sovereignty of God and depravity of humanity
    • Predestination
    • Reformed church in Scotland becomes Presbyterians in America

  • C. Anglicans
    • Split in England from the Catholic Church
    • Became Episcopal Church in America
    • Origin of the Book of Common Prayer and King James Bible

  • D. Anabaptists
    • American Mennonites, Amish, Quakers
    • Adult Baptism, pacifists, separation of church and state
    • Quakers formed the colony of Pennsylvania in America

  • E. Diversification of Protestantism
    • Pilgrims land near Plymouth, Massachusetts in December 1620
    • Pilgrims = Separatist Puritans, view that opposed any accommodation with the Anglican Church or Catholicism
    • Puritans arrived in 1630
    • Non-separatist Puritans, wanted to purify Anglican practices
    • Led by John Winthrop, religious idealist, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1630-1649
    • Wanted to be examples to the world, a “City on the Hill”
    • Exclusivity is a big factor in colonial Christianity
Protestant Groups



III. Judaism in America

  • Arrive in mid-1600s from Brazil after fleeing persecution in Europe
  • Faced discrimination and governmental neglect
  • Judaism illegal in MD, CT, NH, and MA colonies
  • First full–time American Rabbis didn't exist until 1820s

First Amendment to the
United States Constitution

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof


IV. Islam in America

  • First American Muslims are West African slaves
  • About half of all African slaves in America came from Islamic areas
  • Syncreticism with Islam and West African indigenous religions


Treaty of Tripoli 
Article 11

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

V. Religion and the Founding of America

  • A. The First Amendment
    • Motivations of the founding fathers: religious wars in Europe
    • Religion guaranteed both from restriction and compulsion
    • Refining the First Amendment

  • B. The Treaty of Tripoli
    • ‘We are not a Christian Nation’
    • Deist Founders: reason instead of faith
    • Rejection of prophets (religion revealed from God)
    • The Jefferson Bible by Thomas Jefferson


VI. Religion in America in the 1800s

  • A. The Second Great Awakening
    • Protestant revival movement
    • Popular with Baptists and Methodists
    • Reaction against Deism; secular politics
    • Second Coming is near

  • B. Seventh–Day Adventism 
    • Saturday is the Lord’s Day
    • Ellen G. White, prolific author and spiritual leader
    • Emphasis on the physical body — health and exercise

  • C. Pentecostalism
    • Name from Acts, chapter 2
    • Focus on gifts of the Holy Spirit — e.g. speaking in tongues, faith healing
    • Charismatic groups break off from established denominations
    • Second Coming is near

  • D. Reformed Christianity
    • Reformed Church of America
    • Early origins in Calvinism
    • Heirs of Jonathan Edwards and the 1st Great Awakening
    • Second Coming is near

  • E. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–Day Saints
    • Charismatic Leadership
      • Joseph Smith (1805-1844)
      • Led by a vision to a sacred text inscribed on gold tablets
      • Translated the tablets, which he said were another testament of Jesus
      • Taught that American Indians were originally Jews who had fled
      • This story was saved on gold plates by Mormon, an Ancient Jew/Indian
    • Biblical Connections
      • God was a mortal who achieved godhood
      • Likewise, Mormons seek perfection so that they too can become gods
      • Identify with the Jews as a chosen people: temple worship, call outsiders Gentiles, priesthood, tribal identity, exodus
      • Exodus to the Promised Land of Utah (which was first called “Deseret”)
    • Plural Marriage Controversy
      • Smith practices polygamy in the 1830s
      • Instituted as official church doctrine in 1850s
      • Polygamy banned by Church in 1890
      • Utah allowed to be a state in 1896