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Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture, 1885-1925: Book by Josh McMullen

Under the Big Top: Big Tent Revivalism and American Culture, 1885-1925

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ISBN: 9780199397860    Publisher: Oxford University Press Year of publishing: 2015     Format:  Hardback No of Pages: 248        Language: English
Under the Big Top challenges the utility of the fundamentalist-modernist dichotomy in understanding turn-of-the-twentieth-century American Protestantism. Through an examination of the immensely popular...Read more
Under the Big Top challenges the utility of the fundamentalist-modernist dichotomy in understanding turn-of-the-twentieth-century American Protestantism. Through an examination of the immensely popular big tent revivals, the book develops a new framework to view Protestantism in this transformative period of American history. Contemporary critics of the revivalists often depicted them as anachronistically anxious and outdated religious opponents of a new urban, modern nation. Early historical accounts followed suit by portraying tent revivalists as Victorian hold-outs bent on re-establishing nineteenth-century values and religion in a new modern America. Josh McMullen argues that rather than mere dour opposition, big tent revivalists participated in the shift away from Victorianism and helped in the construction of a new consumer culture in the United States between the 1880s and the 1920s. McMullen also seeks to answer the question of how the United States became the most consumer-driven and yet one of the most religious societies in the western world.
Early critics and historians of consumer culture concluded that Americans' increasing search for physical, mental, and emotional well-being came at the expense of religious belief, yet evangelical Christianity grew alongside the expanding consumer culture throughout the twentieth century. A study of big tent revivalism helps resolve this dilemma: revivalists and their audiences combined the Protestant ethic of salvation with the emerging consumer ethos by cautiously unlinking Christianity from Victorianism and linking it with the new, emerging consumer culture. This innovative, revisionist work helps us to understand the continued appeal of both the therapeutic and salvific worldviews to many Americans as well as the ambivalence that accompanies this combination.
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About the author: Josh McMullen
Josh McMullen is Assistant Professor of History at Regent University.

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Review:
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans loved circuses and freak shows. They also loved big tent revivals. In this fascinating and well-researched book, McMullen carefully...Read more
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Americans loved circuses and freak shows. They also loved big tent revivals. In this fascinating and well-researched book, McMullen carefully demonstrated how the United States' largest revivals and most popular evangelists, working out of tents, tabernacles, and sports arenas, shaped and reflected an age of dramatic change. Religion became not just something to experience but to consume alongside the greatest spectacles of the era. Matthew Avery Sutton, author of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism McMullen's work offers a carefully textured, gracefully written study of a small but influential group of 'big tent' evangelists at the turn of the twentieth century. Drawing on impressive research, he argues that these figures both wittingly and unwittingly blended old-fashioned revivalist theology with new-fashioned therapeutic consumer culture. The results proved as ironic as they were effective. McMullen significantly enriches our understanding of religion in that formative era. Grant Wacker, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Christian History, Duke Divinity School In Under the Big Top, Josh McMullen explodes traditional stereotypes that label evangelicalism a backward and retrograde cultural force. Instead, he shows how Victorian evangelicals mobilized advertising, celebrity culture, and the desire for healing - all too familiar tropes of the modern age - on behalf of their message. And in so doing, he argues, they helped usher in the America we know today. Matthew Bowman, author of The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism
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