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The Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880$
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Ann Lee Bressler

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780195129861

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195129865.001.0001

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Controversy and Identity

Controversy and Identity

Chapter:
(p.54) Three Controversy and Identity
Source:
The Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880
Author(s):

Ann Lee Bressler

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0195129865.003.0004

What gave Universalists identity as a group in the early decades of the nineteenth century was primarily their acceptance of a single controversial doctrine. Beyond this, Universalists were united mostly by a sense of what they opposed: all that appeared unreasonable, superstitious, arbitrary, and oppressive in traditional and prevailing religious teachings. Precisely because its central teaching was so controversial, Universalism attracted members who were not afraid of disputation; indeed, their rationalist streak made many Universalists positively eager for debate about religious questions. During the ferment of the Second Great Awakening, this aspect of Universalist identity came to the fore; the period between 1820 and 1840, when Universalists were most openly and consistently engaged in battle with other religious groups (although they were less disturbed by Catholic expansion than by the course of American Protestantism), was also the period of the denomination’s most rapid growth and greatest overall vitality. However, when the intense controversy of that era began to ebb, Universalists showed growing confusion about the proper direction of their movement.

Keywords:   American Protestantism, American Universalism, Catholicism, identity, rationalism, Second Great Awakening, Universalism

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