Edwin Gaustad, Religious Historian, Dead at 87

HISTORIANS PASSINGS:

Edwin Gaustad, Religious Historian, Is Dead at 87
Source: NYT, 4-3-11

Edwin S. Gaustad, who took his place in the front rank of American religious historians with seminal works on the religious ideas of the founding fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, and the arguments about church versus state that evolved from the dissenting sects in colonial America, died on March 25 at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 87. The death was confirmed by his daughter Susan.

Although his principal field was colonial religious history, Professor Gaustad ranged far and wide as a scholar. He explored the contested territory of religious liberty, pluralism and dissent in colonial America, but he also wrote general histories that carried the story forward to the present day and published a series of atlases, frequently updated, that gave a geographical picture of religious belief in the United States. His first book, “The Great Awakening in New England” (1957), made the case that the religious revival fanned by preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield had more than religious importance, profoundly affecting political and intellectual life in America. He also challenged the revisionist view that the movement was really an economic and class insurgency, arguing that it enjoyed support among all classes.

“The Awakening was ‘Great’ because it was general: none escaped its influence or avoided its controversy,” he wrote. “In both coastal and frontier areas, within cities and rural communities, in churches and in open fields, people gathered to hear an earnest evangelistic gospel, be it preached by their own minister, a neighboring pastor, a trespassing itinerant or an exhorter.”

He went on to write several histories of religion in America that became classic texts for students and historians alike, notably “A Religious History of America” (1966), revised with Leigh Schmidt and republished as “The Religious History of America” in 2002; “Dissent in American Religion” (1973); and “Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation” (1987)…

“My interest in him relates principally to his historic contributions to religious liberty — a full freedom in matters of the soul,” he told the journal Church and State in 2005. “Williams advocated the scariest political heresy of his day: namely, that a civil institution could survive without the supporting arm of the church. He was alone in this view in all New England, alone in most of the other colonies, and certainly alone in his own homeland of England….READ MORE

James McPherson: Princeton professor brings perspective to conflict that split nation

Sesquicentennial Update: Civil War at 150

HISTORY PROFILES:

Source: The Times of Trenton, 4-3-11

382998_2_$$ttjame00.JPGPrinceton University History Department Professor Emeritus James McPherson in his home in Princeton, March 2, 2011. (Cie Stroud for The Times)

(Editor’s note: First of three parts.) The occasion may have escaped the notice of most people, but there’s a sesquicentennial going on. That is, a 150th anniversary of — in this case — the Civil War. One hundred and fifty years ago this month Confederate troops fired on a Union-held fort in Charleston, S.C., the opening salvo in a four-year war that would claim 620,000 American soldiers’ lives and end the nation’s legal endorsement of slavery.
Considering that Princeton historian and Pulitzer prize-winning author James McPherson filled over 900 pages of his book “Battle Cry of Freedom” with the history and fallout of the Civil War, it would be folly to draw overly generalized conclusions about it here, even 150 years later. But one thing is certain, particularly for McPherson. The myths surrounding the war persist. One in particular.
“There was a myth that prevailed for a long time as a central theme among especially white southerners that slavery was not the reason that they went to war,” McPherson said during an interview at his Princeton home. “That’s an example of a big myth and it’s still circulating today.
“By this point, 98 percent of historians agree that slavery was the principal reason of the secession. Without slavery there wouldn’t have been a war.
“All one needs to do to see that slavery was the main cause of secession, and therefore of the war that followed, is to read the declarations of secession conventions, speeches to those conventions and newspaper editorials supporting secession,” he added. “They all pointed to the issue of slavery as the reason.”…READ MORE

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