What John Quincy Adams Thought About His Pastors and Schoolmates


This is a great post from J.L. Bell at Boston 1775. A taste:

promised more cattiness from John Quincy Adams as a college student.

In his diary for the year 1787, Adams inserted several profiles of his classmates and other people he met at Harvard. Often he was complimentary, understanding of people’s weaknesses and attempts to improve, and frank about his own flaws. But that’s no fun, is it?

Sometimes it’s clear that Adams really didn’t like a fellow student, or a faculty member. And he really didn’t like his time being wasted in church. Here are some choice comments from early in the year.

Here is my favorite passage. I assume Mr. Hilliard was preaching from Ephesians 6:11-18:

Mr. Hilliard entertained us all day, with a couple of Sermons, upon the whole armour of god. The shield, and the helmet, the sword and the arrow, afforded subject for description, and application. The improvements which might result from these two discourses, are wholly concealed to me; that it is the duty of man, to avoid Sin, is a self evident maxim, which needs not the assistance of a preacher for proof; yet it was all Mr. H. aimed to show: how barren must the imagination of a man be, who is reduced to give descriptions of warlike instruments, to fill up a discourse of 20 minutes!

Read the rest here.

Interpreting Evangelicals Who Go To Church During This Pandemic


Rodney Howard-Browne held services at his Florida church during the pandemic

Here is religion scholar Robert Orsi at Notre Dame’s “Contending Modernities” blog:

The woman leans confidently out of her car window, her right hand at high noon on the steering wheel. “I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” she tells the reporter for CNN, who has just asked about her decision to attend a crowded late afternoon evangelical church service in the middle of a deadly global pandemic. “Aren’t you concerned you could infect other people inside?” the reporter presses. The woman swings her head defiantly, her straight black hair catching the overhead lights. “No, no, I’m covered in Jesus’s blood,” she says. People who don’t go to her church “could get me sick,” she says, when she goes to Walmart or Home Depot, “but I’m not, because I’m covered in Jesus’s blood.” Then she drives off.

It may protect this woman against infection, but Jesus’s blood paints me into an epistemological corner. I have argued for an approach to religion I’ve been calling plural ontological realism, which in this case means I take this woman at her word: her experience of Jesus being really present to her in the community of other Christians (she was clear in her brief comments how important the church was to her) protects her from infection (and perhaps from infecting others, although she seemed to care less about this). I am committed to resisting the impulse, deep in the theoretical inheritances of the modern study of religion, to lift this woman out of the ontology in which she became (or remade herself as) a subject and through which she lives her subjectivity in relation to others, among whom are, in this instance, the people she meets in Walmart and Home Depot. Any theoretical work about the role of religion must begin (although it does not end) with the reality of this woman’s claim of immunity, within her world, without translating it, and relocating her, into alien ontologies. This is not to suggest that her world is singular: it is adjacent to and cross-cut by other ontologies (such as the reporter’s). Amid this ontological diversity, evangelical Christianity of a particular sort is determinative for this woman, at this moment in history and in her life.

Every sentence of the preceding paragraph requires discussion, but this is not why I am here right now. Rather, I want to think outwards from the corner. I begin by wondering why, ever since I heard this woman’s comment on the night’s news, I have been feeling I needed to do something about it. What is this imperative and where does it come from? Is it the disciplinary impulse to speakforothers (she seems to be doing ok on this front); or, is it the drive to translate her to others? If it’s the latter, then to what end? The way the question insisted on itself to me was specifically in the form: what is to be done about this woman? Eventually, I came to see this as an articulation of the drive to power that moves through the study of “religion” in modernity. We scholars of religion are more aware of this drive now, but, still, the temptation exists to offer our services as deputies of law and order. Resisting this is the first thing to do in response to this woman’s statement about being washed in Jesus’s blood. I accept the ontology of facts as given: she continues to shop at Walmart in a pandemic because she is protected by the blood of the Lord in which she has been washed.

Read the rest here.

Elizabeth Craft’s Diary, 1770-1771


White diary can be read at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston

Over at The Beehive, the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Erin Weinman introduces us to the diary of Elizabeth Craft White.  From December 27, 1770 to January 23, 1771 White wrote about her spiritual life in the wake of her husband’s death.  This looks like a wonderful source for those working in 18th-century lived religion.

Here is a taste of Weinman’s piece:

The diary is heartbreaking, but Elizabeth White’s thoughts were not uncommon during a period in which mourning became intertwined with religious culture. In early Massachusetts, it wasn’t uncommon for people to use the death of a loved one as a time to reflect upon their own souls and ask God to forgive their sins, faced with the reality that their own end could be near. Ministers often encouraged their parishioners to keep diaries to embellish their faith in Heaven, viewing this as another way to become closer to God and to understand what death meant. Sermons often revolved around the topic of dying, such as Timothy Edwards’ All the living must surely die, and go to judgement.

Man is born to trouble as the Sparks fly upward tears sorrow & Death is the Portion of every person that is Born into the world. I have been born, most certainly & it is as certain that I must die & I know not how soon. Die I must! & die I shall! (Elizabeth White, January 18, 1771).

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner With Doug Winiarski

WinarskiDouglas Winiarski is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at the University of Richmond.  This interview is based on his new book Darkness Falls of the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Darkness Falls on the Land of Light?

DWAn earthquake, actually, and a stunning discovery at a public library in Massachusetts. I was a master’s student at Harvard Divinity School looking for some interesting texts to study for a paper I had planned to write about popular religious responses to the famed Great Earthquake of 1727. On a broiling hot summer day in 1995, I drove up to the public library in Haverhill, Massachusetts—which was located near the epicenter of the earthquake—hoping to examine the town’s earliest Congregational church record book. The archivist gruffly informed me that the original volume was too delicate to be retrieved from their vault. But after a little prodding he wandered into the back room pulled out a small bundle of manuscripts: hundreds of neatly trimmed slips of paper bearing short religious narratives written by nearly everyone in the community, from wealthy merchants and Harvard graduates to obscure single women and African Americans.  Half of them had been composed during the surge of church admissions that followed the earthquake. The Haverhill relations turned out to be one of the richest—and certainly one of the largest—collections of religious autobiographical writings composed in British North America prior to 1750. And only a handful of scholars had ever seen them. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. I knew instantly that I had a story to tell about the religious experiences of ordinary people in eighteenth-century New England. Figuring out what that story was, however, required more than two decades of archival work in New England and abroad.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument Darkness Falls on the Land of Light?

DWThe rise of trans-Atlantic evangelicalism during New England’s era of great awakenings sundered an inclusive and flourishing Congregational establishment. The key agents inciting this dynamic and divisive change were not prominent ministers and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, but ordinary people who learned to experience religion in extraordinary new ways over the course of the eighteenth century.

JF: Why do we need to read Darkness Falls on the Land of Light?

DW: Darkness Falls on the Land of Light is the first book to examine both the thriving Congregational system in provincial New England and the shattering of that system entirely through the religious experiences of lay men and women. The book features an eclectic cast of fascinating characters and unusual events. And it’s built on a vast array of remarkable manuscripts. Although Darkness Falls on the Land of Light is primarily a study of the transformation of New England Congregationalism, readers will come away with a greater appreciation for the diversity of denominations in the region by the time of the American Revolution: Anglicans, Baptists of varying stripes, sectarian groups, and “nothingarians,” or people who held all religious institutions at arm’s length. Above all, I devote considerable attention to examining the costs of the so-called Great Awakening revivals of eighteenth century, something that scholars have been slow to acknowledge. The “people called New Lights”—progenitors of today’s evangelicals—were religious insurgents, troublemakers, radicals; and many of them were bent on breaking apart the Congregational establishment. New Englanders struggled to come to terms with the marketplace of fractious and competitive religious groups that emerged from the revivals. It’s as important a story today as it was during the eighteenth century.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DWI guess you could say I’m a child of the American Bicentennial. I was caught up with the celebrations and pageantry of my home town in 1976. Four years later, my mother took me on a trip to visit Revolutionary War sites in Boston. I can still remember walking the Freedom Trail and visiting the Old South Church for the first time. I had no idea that these places would play such a prominent role in my professional life. It wasn’t until the final week of college that one of my mentors encouraged me to connect my interest in early American history with my recent undergraduate training in religious studies by applying to graduate school. Suddenly, everything seemed to fall into place.

JF: What is your next project?

DWI am currently working on a new book that explores the fascinating but troubled relationship between the earliest western Shaker converts and the followers of Tenskwatawa, the controversial Shawnee Prophet and brother of the famed war captain Tecumseh, during the years leading up to the War of 1812. The story of the Shakers and the Shawnee Prophet—at least as I envision it at this early stage—is about a religious culture that might have been, one that could have taken shape in the crucible of the early American frontier. It’s a tragic tale in which two notorious groups of dangerous religious outsiders briefly discovered common ground and mutual respect within a racially charged and violent backcountry world. Perhaps when it’s finished, the book may offer a cautionary message for our own times about how we, as a society, should think about religious difference and the relationship between religion and violence. We’ll see.

JF: Thanks, Doug!

Psychic Dogs and Other U.S. Government Experiments With the Paranormal

jacobsenIt turns out that the United States government has had a long fascination with psychics, the paranormal, ESP, and the occult.

Check out Colin Dickey’s review of Annie Jacobsen’s book Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis at the New Republic.

A taste:

In 1952, the U.S. Army asked Duke University to help them develop a program to determine if dogs were psychic. Specifically, they wondered, could dogs use extrasensory perception (ESP)? To this end, researchers carried out a series of 48 tests on a beach in Northern California to see if dogs could locate underwater explosives. At first, the results pleased the scientists, who concluded that there was “no known way in which the dogs could have located the under-water mines except by extrasensory perception.”

Let us pause for a minute before going further. A dog’s olfactory capabilities are 40 to 50 times greater than those of a human; its hearing is four times stronger. Judging them by human metrics, dogs literally have extrasensory perception. This does not mean, however, that they are psychic or paranormal. And sure enough, further tests failed to deliver any supernatural results. A follow-up program was deemed an “utter failure,” and researchers noted a “rather conspicuous refusal of the dogs to alert.”

This experiment is only one of the strange stories—many of them recently declassified—in Annie Jacobsen’s Phenomena: The Secret History of the U. S. Government’s Investigations Into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis. As with her previous books on Area 51, Operation Paperclip (the secret project to bring Nazi rocket scientists to the U.S. after the war), and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which develops new technology for the Defense Department), this one begins with the fallout of World War II and the extreme measures the military-industrial complex took to unlock and weaponize psychic abilities in the early days of the Cold War. Spanning over 50 years, Jacobsen’s tale takes us from the immediate postwar years to the CIA’s experiments in the 1960s and ‘70s. The Defense Department, she tells us, began its own experiments in the 1980s and ‘90s, before their final incarnation, Project Stargate, was finally decommissioned in 1995.

Read the rest here.


More Reader Response on Evangelicals, Fear and Anti-Intellectualism

Read the original piece here:

A reader from Tennessee (a history professor) writes:

As the essay notes, the 76% of evangelicals supporting the EO closely correlates to the 81% who voted for Trump. I won’t pretend to be a sociologist, but with most social movements that’s pretty close to speaking with “one voice.” Which raises these questions about these leaders: do they have followers? And are they themselves meaningfully evangelical by anything other than a narrow theological definition?

Do these evangelical leaders have followers?  Of course they do. And their following is very large.  But if I have learned anything from scholars who study popular religion in America, there is not necessarily a one-to-one correlation between what a religious leader says on a given issue and the way followers appropriate the message.  If history is a guide, the most ardent follower of a popular religious leader does not necessary follow him/her on EVERYTHING.

The Author’s Corner with T.J. Tomlin

T.J. Tomlin is Associate Professor of History at the University of Northern Colorado. This interview is based on his book, A Divinity for all Persuasions:Almanacs and Early American Religious Life (Oxford University Press, October 2014).

JF: What led you to write A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: I wanted to know how early American popular culture reflected or responded to changes in church membership between 1730 and 1820. Of course, much has been written about the causes and consequences of denominational shifts during this period. So I was curious to see if popular culture might add something new to the debate. I turned to almanacs because they were early America’s most widespread genre. I expected to find either critiques of upstart and “unrefined” denominations like the Methodists or populist attacks on Anglicans and other established churches. Instead I found Protestantism everywhere and denominational specifics almost nowhere. It became apparent very quickly that almanacs had much to say about “true religion” but were completely unconcerned with intra-Protestant competition. In fact, they argued that denominational rivalry was antithetical to authentic religion.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: Early American religious life is best characterized by the pan-Protestant sensibility articulated in its most ubiquitous popular genre. Most early Americans defined and organized their religious lives around Protestant “essentials” and “golden rule” morality rather than denominational specifics.

JF: Why do we need to read A Divinity for all Persuasions?

TT: Early American religious history remains largely centered on what was going on in churches. This book fills an important gap in the historiography by using popular print rather than church-based sources to answer core questions about early American religion. I also hope the book generates new interest in and appreciation of almanacs. Their annual sales figures are astonishing. I think they offer unique insight into the everyday concerns of early Americans and religion’s fundamental role in helping people make sense of life and death.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

TT: Both of my parents were teachers, so I always assumed I would teach something. I began college as a secondary-education/ English major. Around my sophomore year, I realized I was more interested in the context of the literary works I was reading than the content. About the same time, I began taking history classes with some great professors. I remember reading Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity and thinking: “I want to do this.”

JF: What is your next project?

TT: I am working on a history of chance in early America. While researching A Divinity for All Persuasions, I came across an eighteenth-century lottery ticket at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Intrigued, I learned that state and local governments, Ivy League Universities, and churches relied on lotteries to raise funds. The word chance also shows up quite a bit in almanacs as a critique of Atheism—the argument is that Atheists rely on the foolish notion of “chance” rather than God to explain the created order. Some churches condemned card-playing, dice, and other games of chance as an insult to God’s providential oversight of human affairs. At the same time, Moravians and others were casting lots to decipher God’s will. I want to place changing formulations of chance in the context of eighteenth century intellectual, scientific, and religious debates.

JF: Can’t wait to hear more about it! Thanks TJ.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of the Author’s Corner.

Popular Religion in Colonial America

As we near the end of my British colonial America course this semester, we have discussed several topics related to what might be called “popular religion.”  They include:

  • witchcraft in Salem and beyond
  • “horse-shed” Christians in Puritan New England
  • George Whitefield’s facial tic
  • reactions to Mary Dyer’s “monstrous birth.”
  • religious practices among slaves in the rice fields of colonial South Carolina

Through the examination of these and other supernatural, popular, or occult-like practices and beliefs, I hope my students come away with an understanding that colonial British America was a proverbial “foreign country.”

Over at Religion in American History, John Crow provides a nice overview of some of the literature on the “occult” and popular religion in colonial America.  

Here is a taste:

It is unlikely I have to tell the readers of this blog about the significance of Jon Butler’s Awash in a Sea of Faith (Harvard 1992) or David Hall’s Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment (Harvard 1990). Both books were important in examining the way the occult manifested in the religious practices of early colonialists. Less known is Herbert Leventhal’s In the Shadow of the Enlightenment: Occultism and Renaissance Science in Eighteenth-Century America (NYU 1976). Whereas Butler and Hall make a division between orthodox religion and so-called “popular religion,” Leventhal does not erect such boundaries noting that everyone in the eighteenth-century had a cosmological view that permitted the existence of spirits and asserted the connection between human health and the position of the stars. It was not the commoners casting astrological charts and making diagnoses, it was the court physicians. This is a point that Walter W. Woodward makes in his recent Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676 (UNC 2010). Though Woodward does perform some contortions to maintain some divisions between elite and popular religiosity, he squarely identifies alchemy as a practice for the elite, and that there was an active network of alchemists communicating throughout Europe and the British Colonies. It was Winthrop, Jr. along with others, according to Woodward, who resisted claims of witchcraft, not because he said that witchcraft was false, but because it was complex and beyond the abilities of the most uneducated. It seems alchemy and witchcraft were the purview of the elite!

Read the rest here.

God and the Weather

During the biennial meeting of the Conference on Faith and History this past weekend I got the chance to hear T.J. Tomlin, University of Northern Colorado history professor and shedworker extraordinaire, present a paper on his current book project on almanacs and popular religion in eighteenth-century America.  The paper was entitled “Popular Culture and Religious Authority in Early America.”

While I was listening to T.J. deliver his talk, I sent off the following tweet: @johnfea1

After listening to TJ Tomlin’s talk on almanacs in the 18th c., I think we need a good book on weather and religion in early America. 

Well, lo and behold, it looks as if someone is already working on this topic.  “The Beehive,” the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society, reports on the work of Lauri Coleman, a graduate student at the College of William and Mary.  Here is a taste:

On Wednesday, 3 October, research fellow Lauri Coleman from The College of William and Mary, gave her brown-bag lunch talk, “ ‘Some are Weatherwise, Some are Otherwise’: Popular Almanacs and Weather Cosmology in Mid-eighteenth Century America.” Coleman’s dissertation research explores how mid eighteenth-century New Englanders, from the 1740s to the 1780s,  experienced and made sense of the weather generally and natural disasters such as draughts and earthquakes in particular. New Englanders during this period experienced the weather in two distinct yet interconnected ways: “providentially” (as a sign of God intervening in human affairs) and through the discourse of natural philosophy, scientific observation through which divine laws might be discerned. Coleman argues that these two frameworks for understanding weather – one through which God is understood to act disruptively and violently, the other through which God is seen to act benevolently and in an orderly fashion – exist together in collective consciousness throughout the period.  In the face of natural disasters, these two interpretations were often pitted against one another in public discussion (in newspapers and sermons, for example) as citizens attempted to make sense of the event.

Sounds like a great project.  Maybe Lauri and T.J. can get together for a panel on almanacs at the next major historical conference. I would attend that session.

T.J. Tomlin’s Writing Shed

Ever since I began sharing my desire for a writing shed with the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, I have learned that I am not alone in my dream of one day working in a backyard shed.

It also seems that many of my readers are better than I am at making this shedworking dream a reality.

One such person is T.J. Tomlin, assistant professor of history at the University of Northern Colorado.  T.J. is at work on what promises to be an excellent book that examines early American religion through print culture, particularly almanacs.  I have read his dissertation and it has much potential to reshape how we think about American religious history and popular religion.

When I learned that T.J. bought a writing shed (on Craigslist!) I had to feature him and his shed at the blog.  Here are some pictures of his shed and a short interview.

JF: Why a writing shed?

TJT:  I first encountered (and was an instant convert to) the concept of “shedworking” about five years ago. The cost kept me from going for it until this past spring, when I found my shed on craigslist. I prefer to work in a quiet, private space rather than in public or with any kind of background noise. I also have three-year old twins. They make my life far richer and my house far noisier. Although I have a comfortable office at my university, it is 40 minutes away. Many of my days, nights, and weekends are spent writing, grading, and preparing courses from home. Working from a shed offers a clear, physical separation of work from the rest of my life that has been very refreshing.

JF: How has having the shed changed or sustained your writing habits?

TJT:  By offering an attractive, quiet, and convenient workspace, the shed has made it easier to structure my days around writing. I typically do two sessions: an early morning and an afternoon, with reading and other tasks in-between. It has also been far easier to remain focused on my work and not drawn away by, say, laundry or other in-home distractions. For me, shedworking really does feel like “going to the office.”

JF: Do you plan to write in the shed year-round?

TJT: Yes. In fact, I’m looking forward to the winter. We get a lot of snow and consistent sun. I’ll use a space heater or a patio heater in the winter months, but the shed is well insulated. Thus far, I’ve been able to work in the summer by using curtains during the heat of the day. At some point, I may need to purchase a portable evaporative cooler or air conditioner.

JF: Any drawbacks to working in a shed?

I would prefer to use my desktop PC rather than my laptop. However, I am afraid that the lack of climate control could damage it. In time, I suspect I could find a solution. Otherwise, I have not discovered any major drawbacks. Shedworking has been every bit as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be.

Thanks, TJ!  I am officially jealous.  Maybe someone will read this post and my other posts on writing sheds and build me a shed in exchange for free publicity for his/her shed building company at The Way of Improvement Leads Home!  Let’s work out a deal.  Any takers?  (OK–enough wishful thinking!)

Do you work in a writing shed?  We would be happy to consider featuring you here at the blog.

David D. Hall: Why I Became a Historian

Randall Stephens continues his series with notable historians.

This time around he interviews David D. Hall, the Harvard Divinity School historian and dean of “popular” and “lived” religion.  My favorite Hall books are Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Belief in Early New England and Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of PracticeI also had the privilege of learning from Hall back in 1998 during a summer seminar on the history of the book at the American Antiquarian Society.

The Ongoing "Ubiquitarianism" of American Religion

Back in the mid-1990s I was working on a dissertation on the religious development of the West Jersey colony. (For those unfamiliar with British-American history, this was a colony founded by Quakers in 1676. In 1702 it merged with the “East Jersey” colony to form the royal colony of “New Jersey”).

I tried to pitch the revised dissertation to university presses under the title “Temples of Holiness, Foundations of Virtue: Protestantism and the Moral Improvement of the Southern New Jersey Countryside.” I had chapters on the Quaker founding of West Jersey, everyday rural life in the colony, the fragile state of religious life, the impact of the First Great Awakening, and the growth of Presbyterians, Swedish Lutherans (with a particular emphasis on religion and ethnicity), and, eventually, Methodists. I still think it is a pretty good project, but I have to agree with the acquisition editors who told me that it was too narrow for a wide readership. Maybe someday I will publish it in book form. (If there are any publishers out there who might be interested, shoot me an e-mail).

One of the chapters in the manuscript was (and is still) entitled “The Ubiquitarians of Eighteenth-Century South Jersey.” This chapter explored the behavior and beliefs of laypersons in the region. Studies of the laity in early America was very “hot” at the time and I thought I better have a chapter dealing with ordinary churchgoers as a counter to the ministerial-focused narrative that drives a good portion of the manuscript.

In a remote region like southern New Jersey, where clergyman were hard to come by, laypersons had no qualms about traveling to places where spiritual nourishment could be found. They were not religious consumers per se, since consumerism implies a choice of products. Instead they flocked to the only religious game in town–no matter the denominational affiliation. Laypersons affiliated themselves with churches so that they might baptize their children or bury their parents.

In 1741, Wilhelm Berkenmeyer, a German Lutheran minister, described early New Jersey as a place where “very few believe that the difference (in religion) has any significance” and where most people wish that no difference would be observed.” This casual orientation toward religion was captured best by the Rev. William Lindsay, a Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (Anglican) priest assigned to Trenton, New Jersey. Lindsey complained about the large number of “ubiquitarians” living within the bounds of his parish. He defined this group of Protestants as those who regularly attended religious services, but seldom frequented the same church. Throughout South Jersey, I argued, attempts at what Jon Butler has called “denominational order” were consistently foiled by these “indifferent,” but spiritually sensitive, “ubiquitarians.” (This term was first identified by Patricia Bonomi in Under the Cope of Heaven).

Later I would use this research in a paper at a meeting of the American Society of Church History. Before a crowd of less than ten people at an 8:00am Sunday morning panel, I boldly questioned the usefulness of the term “denomination” when applied to eighteenth-century America. Oh well, at least it was a line on my vita.

As I look back on this chapter (I never published it), I now remember what I was trying to do. I wanted to say something about what “popular religion” or “lived religion” might look like in the middle colonies. So much of the work on this subject–David Hall was the prime practitioner at the time–focused on New England, where the Puritan-Congregational establishment held sway. As a result, early American popular religion” was always defined in terms of resistance to a dominant or established religious culture. What might we say, I wondered, about “lived” or “popular” religion in a region like the Mid-Atlantic where religious establishments did not exist?”

I was reminded of all this “ubiquitarianism” after I read the recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life about the way in which the religious practices of Americans do not “fit neatly into conventional categories.” It seems that Americans today are engaging in “multiple religious practices, mixing elements of diverse traditions.” According to the report, “many say they attend worship services of more than one faith or denomination–even when they are not traveling or going to special events like weddings and funerals.”

The report is very interesting and revealing, but it reminds me a lot of my eighteenth-century south Jersey ubiquitarians who ran from church to church in the rural countryside. While the habits of today’s “ubiquitarians” are much more pluralistic than my middle colony Protestants, this kind of popular religious behavior is not particularly new.