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History of American Christian Movements: Introduction

Distinctly North American Christian groups such as Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, Shakers, Mormons, Adventists, and Christian Scientists
First Church of Christ, Hartford, Connecticut
First Church of Christ, Hartford, Connecticut, source: Wikimedia

"American Christian Movements" designates several varieties of Christianity that have arisen in the United States, or been deeply influential in the formation of American Christianity and culture.

Evangelicals and fundamentalists did not arise only in the United States, but developments and events there have had world-wide repercussions and have tended to set evangelical and fundamentalist agendas world-wide.  Recent political events have forced a re-examination of these terms, as noted on that page of this guide.

Shakers, Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Millerites-Adventists (now Seventh-Day Adventists), the Oneida Community, and Christian Scientists all originated on American soil, although some early leaders in various groups immigrated at some point.  Of these groups, Latter-Day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Christian Scientists remain active; the Oneida Community dissolved in 1881, and the Shakers (United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing) slowly dissolved during the 20th century, leaving only one extant community in Sabbathday Lake, Maine.

This library research guide is intended for scholarly use, and avoids religious or rhetorical evaluation of any and all of these movements.

LibGuide Author

Written by Peter Gavin Ferriby, Ph.D., University Librarian and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies.  Last revised September, 2019.

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History of American Christian Movements Research Guide by Peter Gavin Ferriby is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Burned-over District of upstate New York

Wikimedia map of the Burned-over district
Map Source: Wikimedia

The Burned-over District of Upstate New York

The "burned-over district" saw the origins of several major religious or social movements associated with the "Second Great Awakening" (ca. 1790-1840).  Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Millerites-Adventists, Shakers, spiritualists, the Oneida Community, evangelical revivals, the later Social Gospel, abolitionists, early feminists and suffragetes, Fourierist communities, and others either originated in the district, or were deeply influential in it.

The name "burned-over district" comes from a phrase by Charles Grandison Finney, a Presbyterian evangelical preacher who led a particularly influential revival in Rochester, N.Y. 1830-1832. In his 1876 autobiography, he wrote, "I found that region of country what, in the western phrase, would be called, a 'burnt district.' There had been, a few years previously, a wild excitement passing through that region, which they called a revival of religion, but which turned out to be spurious."  In other words, the regions was both an arena of many "wild excitements," and had grown to become skeptical of them.

Organized study of the District began in 1950 with a book by Whitney Cross (see resources, below). Another significant study was published in 1978 the Paul E. Johnson, and in 1981 by Lawrence Foster. Hadley Kruczek-Aaron studied the social archaeology of the District in 2015. Linda K. Pritchard critiqued the idea of the District in 1984, using statistical information to note that it was not far different from other areas at that time, such as the Ohio River Valley, or the rest of upstate New York.  None of those other areas, however, had similar lasting impact on the religious and social life of the nation. Studies of the District continue to be published, and it has an enduring hold in historical discourse.