From Sentimentality to Social Reform

Dan McKanan

in Identifying the Image of God

Published in print November 2002 | ISBN: 9780195145328
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834471 | DOI:

Series: Religion in America

 From Sentimentality to Social Reform

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Offers an overview of antebellum social reform movements, with particular emphasis on temperance, abolitionism, and nonresistance. These movements had diverse causes, including Jeffersonian liberalism, Protestant revivalism, liberal Protestant theology, and direct encounters between privileged reformers and members of oppressed groups. Some key leaders of social reform movements may be classified as “radical Christian liberals” because they linked their liberal faith in human nature to the Christian doctrine of the imago dei, yet were willing to contemplate the overthrow of all social institutions, even ostensibly liberal or Christian ones, that blocked the free expression of the imago dei. Radical Christian liberals may be subdivided into three groups: ultra reformers (William Lloyd Garrison, Lydia Maria Child) who embraced absolute nonviolence; sentimental reformers (T. S. Arthur, Harriet Beecher Stowe) who were implicitly nonviolent insofar as they stressed literary rather than political action; and revolutionary reformers (Gerrit Smith, Frederick Douglass) who were open to the use of coercion in the pursuit of radical social transformation.

Keywords: abolitionism; Jeffersonianism; liberal; nonresistance; revivalism; revolutionary; sentimental; social reform; temperance; theology

Chapter.  11269 words. 

Subjects: Christianity

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