1. The success of the American Revolution demonstrated that significant social change could emanate from the masses and not from figures and institutions of authority. To understand that is to understand how revolutionary and populist ethos could penetrate religion in the United States. It also helps explain the peculiarly "American" character of religious practice and belief in the country. In that regard, McDannell (1998, p. 6) cites "American exceptionalism" as one traditional aspect of analysis of religion in the United States.
Undoubtedly, American religious (mainly Protestant) practice deviated from its European models by liberalizing in various ways that can be attributed to American civic virtue. McDannell cites the privately owned nondenominational Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, which was not controlled by sectarian clergy, as well as the more general trend toward privately owned graveyards whose headstones articulated civic and domestic rather than specifically religious values (p. 107).
The federal system of government that emerged in 1789 owed something in substance and form to the Great Awakening of the middle of the 18th century, which was distinguished by the evangelical passion of religious revivalism. Deviations from established-church praxis from colony to colony facilitated cross-colonial solidarity, fostering in turn nascent nationalism and rebellion (Becker, 1915). Something of the same dynamic occurred during the period of the Second Great Awakening, which flourished in the years following the Revolutionary War. There was no longer a state church, but rural revivalism flourished, apparently because Americans wanted both religious and social participation in a structure designed for the purpose: "Along with religion, [revivalists] sought comraderie, diversion from routine, and relaxation from labor" (Moore, 1994, p. 45).
Revivalism itself became purposeful. Zealous reform, particularly among the mid...