Religion In America

The Lively Experiment: The Shaping of Christianity in America, by Sidney E. Mead (Harper & Row, 1963, 220 pp., $4), is reviewed by Robert M. Sutton, professor of history and associate dean of the graduate college, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois.

The Lively Experiment, a series of nine thoughtful and well-integrated essays by Dr. Sidney Mead, is itself a lively treatise on the shaping and “institutionalizing” of Christianity (i.e., Protestantism) in this country. In the author’s own words, these essays (all but one of which have appeared previously in print) were intended as “interim reports … by one devoted to the exploration of the complex terrain of American church history” and were “originally designed to stand alone, but into each is woven the same central motifs.”

The author’s canvas is a broad one stretching all the way from the colonial foundings in the seventeenth century to the recent past (c. 1930). The study opens with an examination of the early American, be he immigrant or emigrant, and his time-space relationship on the new continent. The existence of almost unlimited space (and the fact of distance that is associated with it) was perhaps the most significant ingredient in shaping the character of American religion throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. The vast lands to the west beckoned the various churches and denominations to work out their own destiny on the heels of (and sometimes in advance of) the ever moving frontier.

In this connection, the discussion of the establishment of religious freedom is particularly appropriate. Certain points stand out. One, the favored or “established” ...

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