This book traces the rise of the Protestant mainline to the status of putative American religious establishment by examining the early history of one of its key institutions, The Christian Century. This is quite a different project from an investigation of mainline thought (theology, political philosophy, and so on) or a narrative centered on more concrete institutions such as denominations, seminaries, or the National Council of Churches. The category “mainline,” though—the idea of the mainline, as distinct from mainline ideas—remains unexplored territory. This lack of scrutiny is consistent with the mainline’s self-conception as the center, compared to which all other religious groups were peripheral, but it obscures the amount of painstaking effort (and, at times, sheer bluster) that mainline leaders devoted to the centering of their own tradition.
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