People of faith: Recommended resources part 1

MANY RESOURCES EXIST TO HELP navigate the landscape of the diverse and thriving nature of American religion. Here are a few books, web resources, and articles from past issues of Christian History to get you started. (You can access these articles most easily by going to the online version of this issue at and clicking on the titles of the articles that interest you. For a list of all of CH’s back issues, see

General works and websites

• Association of Religion Data Archives, Under the direction of sociologist Roger Finke, this website provides free data on most aspects of American religion with “features for educators, journalists, religious congregations, and researchers.”

• Randall Balmer, The Making of Evangelicalism. From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond. Focuses on “four great turning points” in the history of evangelicalism: the Great Awakenings, the nineteenth-century shift to premillennialism; the 1925s Scopes trial; and the rise of the religious right.

• Catherine Brekus and W. Clark Gilpin, eds., American Christianities: A History of Dominance and Diversity. Features essays about the diverse nature of Christianity in America—by race, gender, geographical location, theological approaches, and social concerns.

• Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776–2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy. Finke and Stark are perhaps the most famous modern popularizers of the thesis that diversity in the religious marketplace causes religion to thrive, and this book uses the last few centuries of American religious history to explain why they feel this is so.

• James Fisher, Communion of Immigrants: A History of Catholics in America. Surveys Catholicism’s progress through, and impact on, American history, with attention to its cultural and ethnic diversity.

• Richard Hughes, ed., The American Quest for the Primitive Church. Explores how many different religious traditions in America—from Mormon to Baptist—have sought to restore primitive Christianity, and the wide diversity of the results.

• Martin Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America. This survey history of American Christianity highlights the personalities and the waves of migration that have shaped its story.

• Carolyn McCulley, “Baptist Power” (issue 62). “From this sprinkling of churches [in the early 1800s] came a thriving denomination that a mere century later produced the Revs. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesse Jackson—products of the black Baptist tradition of activism.”

• Charles Morris, American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church. This comprehensive history of Catholicism in America includes its current challenges.

• National Humanities Center, “Divining America: Religion in American History,” www.national Over 30 brief essays explore how to teach (and learn about) various aspects of American religious history, each with copious links to further resources.

• Mark Noll, The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity. This survey history of Christianity in America emphasizes what distinguished it, in Noll’s view, from its European parents: “space, race and ethnicity, pluralism, and the absence of confessional conservatism.”

Early settlement, colonial, and revolutionary periods

• Donald Durnbaugh, “The Flowering of Pietism in the Garden of America” (issue 10). “Pietism clearly provided the foundations for much of American religious structure. Its emphasis on the Christian walk, on evident piety, and active and mutual support fit well with the American environment.”

• David Eller, “The Germans Have Landed” (issue 84). “It is October 1683. In a temporary cave-dwelling on the high banks of the Delaware, a German Mennonite family and several German Quaker families cast lots for parcels of land. The settlement they are founding—Germantown—will play a crucial role in the early history of the American Anabaptists.”

• Edwin Gaustad, “Quest for Pure Christianity” (issue 41). “Whether one thinks of Puritanism as bane or blessing, this is sure: no religious experiment in the New World has had a more enduring impact upon our nation’s education, literature, sense of mission, church governance, ethical responsibility, or religious vision. This is the story of the Puritans’ mission, what they termed an ‘errand into the wilderness.’”

• Thomas Kidd, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. Explores how evangelicals and deists cooperated in the revolutionary era in the service of a belief that religious freedom and diversity were important to the early republic.

• Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity. Argues that “the theme of democratization is central to … understanding the development of Christianity and that the years of the early republic are the most crucial in revealing that process.”

• James Smith, “The Father of California” (issue 35). “On the morning of July 16, 1769, on a windswept hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Father Junipero Serra celebrated High Mass before a hewn wooden cross. The Mass signaled the sunset of Spain’s mission colonization of the New World but the dawn of Father Serra’s greatest work.” See also “Highlights of the California Missions” (Mark Galli) and “Christianity Comes to the Americas” (William Taylor) in the same issue.

• Harry Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism. This biography of George Whitefield highlights how much he contributed to the ethos of modern evangelicalism and how his theatrics prefigured the rise of modern televangelism.

• Harry Stout, “Heavenly Comet” (issue 38). “By 1750 virtually every American loved and admired Whitefield and saw him as their champion. … Whitefield’s mode of revivalism—theatrical, passion-based, non-denominational, international, experience-centered, and self-consciously promoted through media—outlived him. Whether or not they knew it, generations of evangelical revivalists, chaplains, youth and student parachurch leaders, and religious philanthropists followed a trail first blazed by George Whitefield.” See also “The Religious Odd Couple” (Frank Lambert) in the same issue on Benjamin Franklin’s friendship with Whitefield.

• Harry Stout, “The Puritans and Edwards” (issue 8). “The vision of a redeemer nation and a covenant people was dazzling and none, including Edwards, could escape its glare. As one voice among thousands, Edwards helped perpetuate that quintessentially Puritan notion of a righteous city set high upon a hill for all the world to see.”

Nineteenth century

• Elesha Coffman, “Alternative Religions” (issue 66). “Many non- and semi- Christian groups also laid claim to the West, but none more successfully than the Mormons.”

• Jay Dolan, Catholic Revivalism: The American Experience 1830–1900. Explores the history of how Catholics participated in revival through the use of the “parish mission.”

• Carl Hallberg, “A Church of Their Own” (issue 66). “As immigration boomed between 1840 and 1920, the central plains attracted Europeans from agrarian backgrounds, while the West Coast and the Rockies lured Europeans and Asians seeking opportunity. By 1870, nearly three in ten westerners were foreign-born—and many of these newcomers had strong religious ties. Not unexpectedly, then, ethnic churches became the cornerstones of many immigrant communities.”

• Bonnie Harvey, “The West That Wasn’t Won” (issue 66). “In 1925, after three centuries of missions, the Native American Christian community stood at a meager 35,000. Mistreatment by the US government and lack of understanding by white missionaries were simply too much to overcome.”

• James Johnson, “Charles Grandison Finney: Father of American Revivalism” (issue 20). “The career of Charles Finney was nothing short of remarkable. From international fame as a revivalist, to professor at and president of a unique educational institution, to advocate and defender of a controversial doctrine of Christian perfection, Finney has left a major imprint on American religion.”

• R. Laurence Moore, Selling God: American Religion in the Marketplace of Culture. Merchandising of religion is nothing new, and this book is a history of attempts at it since the beginning of the nineteenth century, from George Whitefield to Brigham Young to P. T. Barnum to Fulton Sheen.

• Edwin Woodruff Tait, “The Cleansing Wave” (issue 82). “The 19th-century holiness revival took many forms as it swept across denominational boundaries.”

• Charles Edward White, “Holiness Fire-Starter” (issue 82). “During her life (1807–1874) Phoebe Palmer spoke to over 100,000 people about Jesus and sparked a revival that brought nearly a million people into the church. Her influential theology paved the way for such modern holiness denominations as the Church of the Nazarene and the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), and for Pentecostalism as well.”

Twentieth and twenty-first centuries

• Nancy Ammerman, ed., Everyday Religion: Ob­serving Modern Religious Lives. This collection of essays describes modern American religious diversity as it functions “on the ground.”

• Jackson Carroll, Mainline to the Future. Argues for the continued vitality of the mainline tradition, but also maintains that it needs to adapt to the changes surrounding it in modern society.

• Elizabeth Hill Flowers, Into the Pulpit: South­ern Baptist Women and Power Since World War II. Reveals the complicated history of women in the Southern Baptist Convention during the growth of conservative power in the church.

• Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism. Though several decades old now (before the prominence of the emergent church), this book traces the rise of “postmodern traditionalist” and postdenominational megachurches and the way they have transformed the American religious landscape.

• Ted Olsen, “American Pentecost” (issue 58). “In a skeptical front-page story titled ‘Weird Babel of Tongues,’ a Los Angeles Times reporter attempted to describe what would soon be known as the Azusa Street Revival.”

• Robert Putnam and David Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Based on extensive surveys of religious believers in America today, with in-depth profiles of a number of diverse congregations, the authors argue that “unique among nations, America is deeply religious, religiously diverse, and remarkably tolerant. But in recent decades the nation’s religious landscape has been reshaped.”

• Christian Smith, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving. This detailed sociological study explores who modern evangelicals are and how they not only have survived, but continue to thrive, in modern, pluralistic America.

• Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. This is a comprehensive and sympathetic history of one of modern America’s major, and thriving, religious movements.

• Robert Wuthnow, America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity. Argues that “responses to religious diversity are fundamentally deeper than polite discussions about civil liberties and tolerance would suggest. Rather … religious diversity strikes us at the very core of our personal and national theologies. Only by understanding this important dimension of our culture will we be able to move toward a more reflective approach to religious pluralism.”

• Robert Wuthnow, After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s. Examines the diverse approaches to religious belief and practice in modern America, including the many people who define themselves as “not religious but spiritual.”

• From the “Ten Most Influential Christians of the 20th Century” feature (issue 65):

– William Martin, “Evangelicalism: Billy Graham.” “As an evangelist he has preached to millions; as an evangelical he put a movement on the map.” 

– Mark Galli, “Missions and Ecumenism: John R. Mott.” “Evangelist and ecumenist.” 

– Russel Moldovan, “Martin Luther King, Jr.” “No Christian played a more prominent role in the 20th century’s most significant social justice movement.” 

– Vinson Synan, Pentecostalism: William Seymour.” “What scoffers viewed as a weird babble of tongues became a world phenomenon after his Los Angeles revival .”


By The Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #102 in 2012]

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