Darren DOCHUK, Thomas S. KIDD, and Kurt W. PETERSON, eds.American Evangelicalism: George Marsden and the State of American Religious History. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2014. pp. 518. Np. ISBN 978-0-268-03842-7. Reviewed by Calvin MERCER, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858.


This excellent Festschrift, prompted by Marsden’s retirement from the University of Notre Dame, is a substantive contribution to evangelical history in America and as such a worthy tribute to a major historian of American religious history, a field that has been rapidly growing for three decades. American history, especially since World War II, cannot be sufficiently understood without adequate attention to religion, as Marsden and many others have made clear.

In his 40 years of prolific writing and work with graduate students at Duke and Notre Dame, Marsden played a major role in distinguishing issues that have commanded the attention of historians working in this area. He identifies as an evangelical and is widely respected for maintaining the most rigorous standards of the academy, thereby helping move believing historians into the mainstream historical research community. 

The collection is well organized around five sections, each associated with a time period and focused on a major publication by Marsden: “Puritan Beginnings” (Jonathan Edwards: A Life), “Protestantism’s Century” (The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth-Century America), “Protesting Modernity” (Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925), “Pluralism’s Challenge” (The Soul of the American University), and “Pluralism’s Blessing” (Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism). 

The section on “Protesting Modernity” well illustrates Marsden’s impact and the original contribution of this Festschrift. As noted by the editors, Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980) inaugurated extensive scholarly analysis of American fundamentalism that continues to this day. Barry Hankins points out in his chapter that Marsden’s study is “virtually every scholar’s starting point for discussing fundamentalism.” (159)

Marsden distinguished ideas and movements that contributed to the rise of fundamentalism: e.g., Baconian science, revivalism, pietism, Baptist traditionalism, and dispensational premillennialism. He argued that fundamentalism was a coherent ideology that constituted a cultural, and potent (“militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism”), response to changes occurring in culture, science, and religion. His book was published the year Ronald Reagan became president in an election that was significantly informed by fundamentalism, i.e., the Christian Right. 

While this collection assesses the work of, and heaps plenty of well-deserved praise on, Marsden, many of the chapters also forge new directions. One good example is Michael S. Hamilton’s “The Interdenominational Evangelicalism of D. L. Moody and the Problem of Fundamentalism.” In a complex, well-argued chapter, Hamilton challenges some of the usual thinking about Moody and breaks new ground, e.g., about the origins of the fundamentalist movement and how Moody helped bring into being an interdenominational evangelicalism.

Chapter contributors include Douglas A. Sweeney, Thomas S. Kidd, John Wigger, Margaret Bendroth, Peter J. Wallace, Jay R. Case, Barry Hankins, William L. Svelmoe, Kristen Kobes Du Mez, Timothy E. W. Gloege, Michael S. Hamilton, John Schmalzbauer, Steven M. Nolt, John G. Turner, Rick Ostrander, Garth M. Rosell, Darren Dochuk, Kathryn T. Long, David R. Swartz, and Mark Noll.