Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, RELIGION ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

Subscriber: null; date: 18 December 2018

Primitivism in America

Summary and Keywords

Historians most often use the term primitivism to refer to the attempt to reconstruct a religious tradition’s original theology, structure, or beliefs. Primitivists believe that the earliest expressions of the faith are the most efficacious, powerful, and valid, and hence they attempt to recapture them in as complete a form as it is possible for them to imagine. Thus, they frequently dissent from established religious traditions, believing that those constructed under the primitive impulse achieve superior purity. Of course, these attempts are normally incomplete or inaccurate, reflecting the desires or needs of the group doing the restoring more than the original version of whatever faith is involved.

Primitivism has taken on a number of forms throughout American history. This essay follows a chronological approach, but uses Richard Hughes’s designations of “ethical,” “ecclesiastical,” and “experiential” primitivism to distinguish among various movements and provide some order to the narrative. These are common impulses in American religion, particularly in the years immediately following the American Revolution commonly called the Second Great Awakening. The language of primitivism has provided Americans with the weight of historical authority, often invoked to overturn established hierarchies and replace them with forms of religious practice deemed, alternately, more democratic, more biblical, more conducive to religious experience, or more ethically demanding. Whatever the case, primitivism has spoken to the American impulse toward reform, resistance to institution, and individual capacity.

Keywords: restorationism, primitivism, Puritanism, Methodism, Mormonism, Pentecostalism, Baptists, Enlightenment, reform, revitalization movements, Judaism

The notions of religious primitivism, and its slightly more narrow analogues revitalization and restorationism, refer to the effort to correct faults in a religion through a reconstruction of its presumed ancient, original order. The words are most often used to describe a religious version of Mircea Eliade’s notion of the “primordium.” For Eliade, the primordium represents the origins of things and hence the ideal nature of reality itself. Therefore it offers, as Eliade puts it, the “exemplary model for all significant human activities.”1 Some have suggested that the word restorationism might be best used to describe the impulse to recover not Eliade’s theoretical primordium but the presumably historical time described in founding texts: God’s covenant with Israel in the Hebrew Bible, for instance, or the burgeoning early Christian church of the New Testament. Following this argument primitivism refers to a less specific yearning for simplicity and purity free from the stifling trappings of modern civilization and restorationism to a particular religious order. This essay takes primitivism to refer to a generalized longing for an earlier time expressed in religious language and uses words like revitalization and restorationism to refer to specific manifestations of the primitivist impulse in various traditions.

Of course, words like restorationist are slippery, and the primitivist impulse appears in a number of different religious movements. Particularly in the first centuries after Europeans colonized the American continent, few had detailed or accurate knowledge about that ancient, original order, insofar as such a thing existed. Often, then, the primitivist impulse has served as a way to lend the authoritative rhetoric of history to a certain set of religious values, not as a way to accurately reproduce the past. Thus, exploring the impulse reveals a great deal about how these religious movements imagine and construct themselves. Richard Hughes distinguishes among three impulses primitivist rhetoric might serve. First, “ethical” primitivists wish to restore moral rigor and a commitment to holy living present in the earliest generations of a religious tradition. Second, “ecclesiastical” primitivists believe that proper forms of worship and organization have been lost and require renewal. Third, experiential primitivists are convinced that a particular emotional and experiential encounter with the divine, present in earlier times, is needed to vitalize religious experience in the present.

That this typology is somewhat artificial is evident: its categories to a certain extent bleed into each other, and many movements fit into multiple of them. Yet it helps give some shape to a movement so extraordinarily broad that its ideas appear everywhere from the Puritans to contemporary political appeals to the American Founding Fathers.

Primitivism in Colonial America: Catholicism and Puritanism

During the time of the Reformation both Roman Catholicism and emergent Protestantism looked to the early Christian church for validation of their quite distinct organization and practices. The Council of Trent was called into session in 1545, a generation after Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses inaugurated the Reformation. There Roman Catholic bishops rejected the notion that a Protestant schism was possible by resting their claims to ecclesiastical power “on the authority of that Almighty God, Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost, and on the authority of His blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, an authority which we also exercise on earth.” Though the council affirmed continuity with the past rather than an outright restoration of it, over and over the council insisted upon rerooting its claims in the primitive church, confident that an examination of the New Testament would bring new vigor to its ecclesiastical hierarchy. At Trent the bishops invoked the legacy of the apostles as a mandate for affirming the seven sacraments, for a hierarchical priesthood, and for accepting the Apocrypha as scripture. Truth came from scripture as written by “the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating.”2 It came from the traditions of the church, which the apostles began. The path to the apostles, the Council affirmed, led inevitably to Roman Catholicism itself. Thus, Tridentine Catholic primitivism was historical; it justified the present by demonstrating the stability of its connection to the past.

Trent left many Roman Catholics with a sense of experiential restoration, which they carried with them as they began the work of converting the Americas. In particular, new or renewed missionary orders like the Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans, all of which assumed responsibility for spreading Roman Catholicism to the Native Americans, understood their mandate to be an expression of primitivism. They understood their vows of poverty and celibacy to be in imitation of the early church, which held “all things in common” (Acts 4:32, KJV), and had special access to divine gifts for that reason. As one Jesuit wrote about a community of Native American converts in Paraguay, “[T]he gentleness, faith, selflessness, union and charity that reign among these new followers, never ceased to remind me of the Church in that happy time when Christians . . . had but one heart and one soul.”3 To many Catholics, the colonization of the Americas was an attempt to recapture the spirit of the apostolic church in settlements from Latin America to Canada.

In response to Trent, the Protestant Reformers invoked a restoration of their own. Their critique of Roman Catholicism was both ecclesiastical and ethical. Even before Martin Luther, humanist scholars like Erasmus and radicals like John Hus argued that the earlier was better: Erasmus famously preferred ancient Christians to medieval theology, finding in ancient writers an optimistic humanism. Hus declared that true Christianity could only be lived in the warm communalism of the Acts of the Apostles. Similarly, Reformers like Martin Luther and British leaders like Thomas Cramner spurned Catholic sacramental theology as a corrupted mass of medieval philosophy, moral exhortation, and cynical appeals for loyalty that had little to do with the teachings of the apostles. Luther particularly emphasized an ethical reformation, arguing that Catholic commitment to repentance through ritual practices missed the point of the Gospel of Christ, marked rather by devotion to scripture and spiritual experience. Among many Lutherans and German-speaking Protestants, this sort of ethical and experiential impulse became powerful. The Moravians, a group of German Pietists who followed a Lutheran nobleman named Nicholas von Zinzendorf, compared their spiritual experiences to those of the biblical day of Pentecost and sent missionaries and settlements all over North America. They founded communities in the Caribbean, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, preaching a renewed commitment to the simple communities of the New Testament and to the spiritual experiences they promised could derive from that way of life.

While Luther’s ethical message was widely embraced, other reformers also spurred forward ecclesiastical reformation and rejected Trent’s claims to priestly authority for everyone from the pope to a parish priest. Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin in Switzerland and the Puritans in England argued that Trent’s affirmation of hierarchy and organization represented the accretions of Christianity’s encounter with Roman imperialism and European monarchies rather than the intentions of Jesus and instead sought to implement simpler, more localized organization centered upon the congregation.

All the reformers, regardless of their emphasis, shared a common sense of disjuncture with the past, and it is this anxiety that lies behind the Protestant devotion to the Bible. The Reformation’s rejection of Roman Catholicism made history and tradition untrustworthy. The Bible, however, stood as an untainted channel to the sacred time of the nation of Israel and the ministry of Jesus Christ. Devotion to the Bible became particularly intense among the English Puritans, whose faithfulness to scripture was intensified by their encounter with the entirely unsatisfactory restorationism of the Church of England, which shared Roman Catholicism’s traditionalism and devotion to ecclesiastical authority. Indeed, the Puritan impulse toward restorationism was so powerful that it led them toward separatism: many concluded that if they wanted to rebuild the true Christianity they found in the Bible, they had no choice but to depart England for the Americas. From 1620 to 1640, approximately eighty thousand Puritans left England. Roughly a quarter of those arrived in New England; many more went to the West Indies or to the Netherlands. Many Americans since have looked to the Puritans’ sense of mission and their desire to escape the accrued corruption of European religion, politics, and society and found there a way to understand the United States. It is important not to overestimate the Puritans’ influence. As the presence of Roman Catholicism indicates, theirs was not the only primitivism on the American continent. Nevertheless, the Puritans combined ecclesiastical, ethical, and experiential desires in their experiment in New England, and many later movements that emphasized one or another of these strands, even in revolt against the Puritan emphasis on the others, reflect their influence.

Puritan primitivism can be hard to distinguish from its millennialism. Some historians have insisted that the Puritans looked to the future rather than to the past and argue that they understood their errand in New England to be the creation of an ideal Christian society that would prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus. This is not wrong, but it is also important to recognize that the Puritans imagined that ideal society as a restoration of the proper Christian communities described in the Bible. Their vision of the future was thus a recreation of the past. The Puritans believed that, as their Cambridge Platform of 1648 put it, the ideal social order was “exactly described in the word of God . . . so that it is not left to the power of men, officers, Churches or any state in the world to add, diminish, or alter any thing in the least measure therein.”4 The Puritan minister Cotton Mather claimed of the churches of New England that “I do say, and am sure, that they are very like unto those that were in the first ages of Christianity.” 5 The belief that the Bible offered a full accounting of the practice and community of early Christianity allowed the Puritans to believe they could reconstruct both their worship and their daily lives according to the patterns they found there. This was simultaneously an ethical and ecclesiastical restoration of an older Christian society.

For instance, John Cotton’s Way of the Churches of Christ in New England offered both a descriptive and normative accounting of how the Puritans sought to live “according to the ancient president [precendent],” as he put it.6 The Puritans of Cotton’s New England structured their churches according to congregational pattern, recognizing any authority above the congregation as unbiblical. Each church had both lay and ministerial leadership by pastors, deacons, and elders, and Cotton insisted its rituals should conform only to those in the Bible: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, preaching, and the singing of psalms. Churches were founded by covenants of at least seven prospective members, each convinced that the others had sound beliefs and were among the elect who had received salvation. Similarly, the Puritans believed that God forged covenants with states as well, and they strove to replicate the holy communities described in the Hebrew Bible. They looked to biblical kings like Hezekiah and Josiah for models of what a righteous magistrate should be and determined that civil government should be concerned with guarding the church through laws and punishments and enforcing expectations of moral orthodoxy upon Puritan society.

By the 1670s and 1680s, Puritan leaders feared their restoration was threatened. Ministers thundered from the pulpits of New England, denouncing the encroachment of non-Puritans, burgeoning capitalism, and doctrinal laxity into the New England colonies. These jeremiads—so called because they echoed the biblical prophet Jeremiah’s gloomy denunciations of Israel—were themselves primitivism, but now the gaze of the Puritan ministers did not push so far back. The jeremiads called for a restoration of the primitive church but also mourned the pure restoration they believed had been temporarily accomplished by their grandfathers. Their generation was afflicted with something new: a longing for restoration within a restoration, and a series of activists and movements throughout the 17th and 18th centuries claimed that the Puritans themselves had failed to recognize and restore critical aspects of the biblical order.

Primitivism and Revolution

Almost universally, dissenters from Puritanism argued for experiential primitivism and grew increasingly suspicious that any form of ecclesiastical order would inhibit the possibility of a true restoration of New Testament Christianity. Roger Williams, among the first of them, believed that the Puritans’ zeal for the Hebrew Bible had led them to neglect what he believed was the true mandate of the biblical church: the separatism and pure spiritual experience of the persecuted first generation of Christians who skulked around the margins of the Roman Empire. Williams argued that “Christ Jesus never directed his Disciples to the civil Magistrate to help in his cause” and believed that the Puritan fixation on covenant had led them to erect a pagan state that smothered religious experience in ecclesiastical tyranny.7 Thus, Williams’s Rhode Island offered a society far more lightly regulated in things of religion than other New England colonies, and it became a haven for many who distrusted the Puritan establishment and longed for spiritual experience.

Williams’s hunger proved prescient. His suspicion of institution and emphasis on spiritual experience set the tone for a series of revivals that swept the British colonies of North America in the 18th century and the United States in the 19th. Even Puritans like Jonathan Edwards heralded a new age of spiritual feeling and Christocentric piety in the 1730s and 1740s, a period sometimes called the First Great Awakening. From his pulpit in Northampton, Massachusetts, Edwards argued that God had inaugurated a new “season of grace.” This was a special outpouring of divine influence with precedent in prior ages—including the Reformation and early Christianity—and that was working, slowly, to undo the effects of the Fall of Adam and Eve upon the world and restore a pristine divine order through the conversion of the Anglo-American world. Edwards and other clerical leaders of these revivals, like the Anglican minister George Whitefield, worked to channel this primitivist impulse through the established social and religious order; they urged new converts to join existing churches and respected conventional social and cultural expectations, but others who participated in the revivals believed that restoration demanded a more thoroughgoing transformation of Christianity.

Most prominent of these, in both New England and some southern British colonies like Virginia, were the Baptists. A number of factions of Christians called themselves Baptists of one sort or another, but what united them all was the conviction that the Bible required baptism only of the believer and that any churches that practiced infant baptism therefore failed the legacy of the New Testament. More, Baptists taught that to become a believer, one must experience a spiritual conversion. This they held in common with many Calvinists like Edwards or Whitefield, but Baptists distinctively insisted that too much institution of any type, from the state to ecclesiastical government, would fatally inhibit the working of the Holy Spirit. They believed that early Christianity lacked much in the way of ecclesiastical organization whatsoever and sought to reproduce that in their own churches. Isaac Backus embraced that principle with particular firmness. He mourned that “heathen philosophy” had been “taken to draw a veil over the truth and church order described in the gospel” but also celebrated that “a great and effectual door is now opened for the terminating of these disputes, and a return to the primitive purity and liberty of the Christian church.”8 Backus called for Baptists to depart from any organized form of Christianity and embrace instead a New Testament congregational model, simply because the New Testament itself offered little detail. These Baptists were anticlerical, evangelical in their piety and preaching, and focused on personal piety and spiritual experience rather than tradition or liturgy. The Baptists followed Williams in more than this: they also strongly protested the covenantal society the Puritans had made and pushed instead for the elimination of any state interest in or regulation of religion.

In that effort Baptists found unlikely allies. Through the 18th century the experiential emphasis of the revivalists paralleled a rationalist, ethical primitivism among American intellectuals. Its roots were in the early modern scholar Erasmus’s interest in ancient biblical texts, but in the 18th century it was driven forward by the Enlightenment’s confidence in human reason. By the end of the century, Unitarians like the British dissenter Joseph Priestley and the Americans Joseph Buckminster and Henry Ware had developed Puritan theological rigor into an optimistic philosophy that emphasized ethics and rationality. The ranks of the American Revolution’s leaders were full of such people, and while they showed little interest in the spiritual rebirth the Baptists and Edwards called for, they nonetheless perceived the Revolution as a moment of ethical and moral rebirth. Both they and the revivalists invoked the language and ideas of primitivism to interpret the Revolution.

In 1776, for instance, Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, heavily influenced by the Enlightenment, and Connecticut minister Cyprian Strong’s sermon on the House of Israel each invoked the biblical nation of Israel as a useful model for the fledging United States of America. Paine was no believer, but he insisted that the American army would do well to imitate the zealous morality of the children of Israel. Strong, on the other hand, a descendent of the Puritans, similarly insisted that provided they were righteous, Americans could take up the divine covenant God had made with the biblical kingdom of David. For both, the Bible offered a potent way to understand the potential of the new American nation.

Other Americans influenced by the Enlightenment agreed that a return to the roots of Christianity would aid the Revolution’s project. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, felt certain that the flourishing democracy of the United States allowed Americans to understand the true mission of Jesus better than any other nation. “I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its conscience to neither kings nor priests,” he wrote to Benjamin Waterhouse, “the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.” The rational and ethical religion of Unitarianism corresponded nicely to what Jefferson believed the New Testament truly taught. “To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself,” he told Benjamin Rush.9 His New Testament consisted largely of moral instruction, and he discarded miracles as irrational corruptions inserted into Jesus’s story by later chroniclers. Throughout the 19th century, many liberal Protestants likewise emphasized the importance of Jesus’s teachings and moral code, though most did not go so far as Jefferson in eliminating Jesus’s supernatural qualities.

Jefferson and his ally James Madison shared with the Baptist revivalists the conviction that true restoration could not be accomplished through new hierarchy and organization. In 1780s Virginia, soon after the Revolution gained the American colonies independence from Great Britain, the two sides cooperated to hammer out a series of statutes that established precedent for the relationship between church and state in the new United States. Under Madison’s guidance and Baptist pressure, Virginia’s legislature enacted formal separation between Virginia’s Christian churches and its government, ending state funding for the state’s Anglican parishes. These laws laid the foundation for the gradual disestablishment of Christian churches all over the United States. All the parties involved in disestablishment believed that the dismantling of the Puritans’ project would enable true restoration to go forward—but what that restoration might look like was under debate.

Primitivism and the Early Republic

If Americans like Jefferson, Madison, and the Baptists believed that the United States would facilitate the restoration of true religion, other groups in early America feared the opposite. Among the most prominent were Native Americans, who feared that the creation of an independent United States would destroy their lives and cultures. The 18th and 19th centuries saw a series of what scholars have termed revitalization movements, in which Native religious leaders urged Native Americans to reject the corrupting influence of European culture in order to give new energy to traditional ways of life. Just as with other primitivist movements, however, these revitalization movements often showed Native cultures adapting to confront new situations as much as returning to an ideal past.

The 1760s movement led by the Delaware shaman Neolin and the similar movements of the early-19th-century visionaries Handsome Lake (a Seneca) and the Shawnee Tenskwatawa demonstrate the phenomenon. All three men experienced periods of fasting, meditation, and trance states; Neolin was purposefully seeking revelation, while Handsome Lake and Tenskwatawa suffered illness related to alcoholism. All three experienced visions that revealed to them a supreme supernatural being, whom Neolin and Tenskwatawa called the “Master of Life” and Handsome Lake “the Creator.” In consequence, all three urged their followers to reject practices they blamed on European influence, drinking alcohol foremost among them. As Handsome Lake said, “Now let those who use this evil drink know that it consumes the elements of life. They must repent.”10 The influence of alcohol, they taught, had led to social breakdown among Native Americans, and they wished their followers to recommit to a strong family structure and communal support for the poor and needy. They also encouraged the revitalization of some traditional practices; Neolin directed his followers to hunt only with the bow and arrow and to reject European cloth in favor of animal skin for their clothing. Tenskwatawa ordered purges of Christian Indians. Handsome Lake endorsed some traditional religious practices. All encouraged Native Americans to reject the material goods Europeans offered them in order to pursue purity and independence. They promised that should Native Americans adopt these practices, the Supreme Being would sweep white civilization from the continent and restore the traditional Native way of life.

Many Native Americans followed these men, finding in their teachings a way to preserve a distinctive Native identity. The powerful Odawa war leader Pontiac drew on Neolin’s ideas to mount Pontiac’s Rebellion, an attempt to eliminate British influence in the Great Lakes region in the 1760s. Fifty years later, Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh led a pan-Indian coalition that clashed with the American military in Ohio and Indiana, and they supported the British against the United States in the War of 1812. And yet, some of these prophets faced critique that their revitalization efforts were less true restoration than new religious movements that drew on Christian monotheism and the disciplined morality of evangelical Protestantism as much as on traditional Native religious practices. Whereas he encouraged some traditional practices, for instance, Handsome Lake rejected others, claiming that “it is not right for you to have so many dances and dance songs . . . A man calls a dance in honor of some totem animal from which he desires favor or power. This is very wrong.”11 Nonetheless, such movements gained influence and support from many Native peoples, and similar revitalization efforts persisted long after both men were dead.

Revivals among American Protestants erupted again in the earliest years of the American republic, at a scale far beyond those of a few decades earlier. Primitivism appeared in these revivals in two distinctive ways: one experiential and the other ecclesiastical. While the most prominent leaders of the earlier revivals, Edwards and Whitefield, believed that the revivals’ primitivist impulses could be satisfied in the ecclesiastical structures of Puritanism or Anglicanism, participants in the newer revivals often eschewed Puritan and Anglican ecclesiology alike. Some of these revivalists argued that true restoration of the early church was evident primarily in religious experience. Others insisted that an ecclesiological restoration was necessary. Many believers sought religious experience and ecclesiastical reorganization alike, and tension among primitivism’s various impulses emerged in any number of movements.

The spiritual manifestations that reached dizzying heights in the revivals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries seemed to many Americans to be proof positive that the blessed state of early Christianity had again been achieved. In 1801, at a massive revival at Cane Ridge in Kentucky, the minister Richard McNemar observed myriad seemingly odd spiritual manifestations: people barking like dogs, swooning, dancing wildly, jerking their limbs, and sobbing profusely. These manifestations were not unknown during earlier revivals, but their concentration and profusion at Cane Ridge struck McNemar as of immense significance. “While the everlasting covenant was thus ministered in truth by the Apostles and true witnesses of Christ, it was confirmed by the most convincing signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost,” he wrote. “When the true administration of the covenant ceased the signs and seals of confirmation ceased with it. [But] when God in infinite kindness began to revive the everlasting truth in these latter days, the living seals of the covenant . . . have excited as great astonishment in the minds of mankind as those of antiquity.”12 McNemar’s enthusiasm led him into separatism; he was disciplined by the Presbyterian Church and embraced its rejection of him, for the sake of his insistence that only congregations which embraced such dramatic spiritual manifestations were truly Christian.

The Cane Ridge revival inspired other primitivists in differing ways. Perhaps its most prominent advocate was the Presbyterian minister Barton Stone, who embraced the spiritual manifestations at the revival but took a somewhat different lesson from them than did McNemar. He discarded the label Presbyterian, as did McNemar, but the revival left Stone not with a vision of a constantly outpouring Holy Spirit but with a conviction that denominational labels and arguments over doctrine were entirely beside the point. Rather, Stone and his allies argued of the Presbyterian synod that expelled them, “We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large.”13 Stone argued that any denominational distinction whatsoever was incompatible with the model of the New Testament church, in which doctrinal disputes paled against the unity of spiritual feeling and communal living the early Christians modeled. Many Separate Baptists caught Stone’s vision and flocked to his movement, which Stone resolutely refused to call a “church.” Rather, he argued, the living presence of the Holy Spirit among his people determined who was a “Christian.” And that was what they called themselves—simply “Christians.” Stone himself renounced a salary and position as a paid minister, believing that to be incompatible with early Christianity. Rather he supported himself on a farm, leading his movement in his spare time.

In the 1830s, Stone’s movement united with that of Alexander Campbell. Like Stone, Campbell sought a restoration of the primitive church, but a tension existed between the two that offers a useful model for the paradoxes of primitivism in the United States generally. To Stone’s resolute restorationism of the early Christian ethics and experience, Campbell could not help but add a desire for ecclesiastical restoration. To Stone, the Bible offered a model for how the Christians should live; for Campbell, it also offered a model of a church. Though the two shared much, a tension persisted in their movement throughout the 19th century.

Campbell was the son of Thomas Campbell, a Scottish Presbyterian who had settled in Pennsylvania and in 1809 published a tract called the Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington. This got his ministerial credentials suspended by the local Presbyterian synod, and Campbell and his son, Alexander, began formulating their own ideas of how Christians should worship. Quickly Alexander took the lead, and soon the two men began baptizing adults by immersion, convinced that was what the New Testament taught. In 1811, they organized a “Christian Association,” seeking to model their practices on the New Testament. Alexander carefully examined that text and called for “a return to the faith and manners anciently delivered to the saints—a restoration of original Christianity both in theory and practice.” The New Testament, he claimed, was “the only perfect and complete rule and standard of Christian faith and manners . . . in the family, church, and national relations of life.” He carefully studied the Bible, enumerating which practices he believed commanded and essential—as he put it, “expressly enjoined” by Jesus or the apostles—and which he believed to be optional or merely a product of New Testament time and culture.14 Unlike the Stone movement, then, Campbell’s followers embraced a meticulous set of expectations to guide their worship. They were expected to be baptized by immersion, to participate in the Lord’s Supper weekly, and to organize congregationally. Stone, on the other hand, believed that the precise form of baptism was far less relevant than a spiritual experience and was always far more open to spiritual expression than was Campbell, who believed that the gifts of the spirit, like speaking in tongues or prophecy, were intended for New Testament times only. While Stone used the term Christian, Campbell’s followers called themselves the “Churches of Christ,” or the “Disciples of Christ.”

Despite their differences, on January 1, 1832, the two groups consummated an agreement of unity negotiated the previous month. Disagreements even over what name to use persisted for decades, and the dispute over baptism particularly rankled. However, the two movements cooperated in funding mission work and publishing until 1906, when a faction calling themselves the “Churches of Christ” and leaning more toward Stone’s legacy separated themselves from the major body, which thereafter used the title “Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ).”

The tensions within the Stone-Campbell movement were echoed in other efforts across the nation. Early Methodism in the United States embraced similar emphasis upon revival and spiritual experience, but the primary Methodist church in the United States, the Methodist Episcopal Church, sought to fuse it with a firm allegiance to spiritual hierarchy. Francis Asbury, the British Methodist who took from John Wesley the mandate to build Methodism in America, insisted that while the Reformation had “only beat off a part of the rubbish,” Methodism “must and will restore and retain primitive order: we must, we will, have the same doctrine, the same spirituality, the same power in ordinances, in ordination, and in spirit.”15 Asbury’s insistence reflects the dual aspirations of early Methodism: its commitment both to a rigorous ethical primitivism grounded in spiritual experience and to ecclesiastical organization. For Asbury, the spiritual power of Methodism lay in its ability to energize tens of thousands of laypeople, inspiring hundreds of uneducated, unlettered farmers to become lay preachers, riding circuits around the American frontier to spread the Methodist gospel. At the same time Asbury sought to formulate, as had Methodist founder John Wesley in his 1730s mission to Georgia, a restoration of early Christian worship. Wesley emphasized the importance of sacraments, of mutual prayer and emotional preaching, and of rigorous personal devotion: things he believed would inspire emotional spiritual experiences among Christian worshippers. Asbury claimed the title of bishop and insisted that his authority in the Methodist Episcopal Church he founded mirrored that of bishops in early Christianity.

Other Methodists in early America found Asbury and Wesley’s version of restorationism too hierarchical and, following the Baptists, emphasized instead spiritual independence. James O’Kelly, an outspoken abolitionist and circuit rider in North Carolina, withdrew from Asbury’s Methodist Episcopal Church in 1792, protesting that the power Asbury wielded smacked more of Roman Catholicism than of the spiritual community he found in the New Testament. He called his followers simply “Christians,” and eventually their movement came to be known as the “Christian Connection.” In 1828 another group of Methodists in Baltimore withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church, organizing what they called the Methodist Protestant Church, which embraced Methodist emphasis on devotionalism and spiritual experience while rejecting Asbury’s ecclesiology.

The most dramatic attempt to ground Methodism in an ethical, experiential primitivism was the holiness movement. Drawing on John Wesley’s notion of “entire sanctification,” advocates for Methodist holiness, most notably the New York lay preacher Phoebe Palmer, taught that following a demanding moral code could lead to communion with the Holy Spirit. Palmer believed that the middle-class, urban lifestyle many Americans were enjoying by the middle 19th century corrupted the soul, and she prescribed rejection of extravagance and leisure, sacrificed in favor of rigorous devotion and ethical observance she believed better characterized the church of the New Testament. As she wrote of herself, her “chief endeavors shall be centered in the aim to be an humble Bible Christian . . . Should she not at once resolve on living in the entire consecration of all her redeemed powers to God[?]”16 Palmer taught that such piety would lead to entire sanctification, in which the believer was enabled, through a special experience of the Holy Spirit, to live entirely without conscious sin.

Baptists in the early American republic similarly sought to combine experiential primitivism and ecclesiastical restorationism. While earlier Baptists like Isaac Backus believed in stripping down church organization to its barest bones, in the antebellum American South, John Robinson Graves and his Landmark Baptist movement went a step further. Graves argued from Proverbs 22:28: “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (KJV). Landmark Baptists not only insisted that the Baptist impulse toward recreating a New Testament church was correct but also added to it the idea that only in Baptist churches could people really practice true Christianity. As J. M. Pendleton, a Graves associate, wrote in denouncing child baptism, “If Paedobaptists fail to exemplify the precepts of the New Testament in reference to the subjects and the action of baptism, they have no churches of Christ among them.”17 Landmark Baptists rejected any sort of cooperation with churches that did not subscribe to their own interpretation of the New Testament’s mandates. More, they followed the Roman Catholic argument from history: Landmark Baptist historians examined the history of Christianity and identified small Christian groups from the ancient world to the present—often those persecuted in the Roman Catholic era, like the Donatists or Waldenses, or those scorned in the Reformation for being too radical, like the Anabaptists—and declared that here was the true church of Christ preserved across the centuries. The Landmark Baptists believed theirs was the primitive church not simply for reasons of imitation of scripture but for reasons of inheritance.

Diverse Restoration Movements in the 19th Century

To many other Protestants, Landmark Baptist claims seemed excessively exclusive and radical. However, they reflected a common impulse in a disestablished United States of America. The logical conclusion for many ecclesiastical primitivists was the creation of new churches that would restore ancient Christianity, and the rapid expansion of the American nation into the western areas of the North American continent and its growth in population facilitated the rise of religious diversity. Baptists and the Disciples of Christ believed that the primitive church could be restored through the scraping of the accumulated barnacles of centuries from the hull of Christianity. Other restorationists, though, believed that the true church had to be rebuilt. Similarly, new religious groups began arriving within the boundaries of the United States. Both causes resulted in the rapid appearance of restorationist efforts in America.

The most well known of those who organized new churches were the Mormons, formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Joseph Smith, the movement’s founder, declared that God had instructed him in an 1820 vision that no present church on the earth was the true church of the New Testament and that the priestly authority Christ gave to the apostles was essential for its full restoration. Smith, the son of a farmer, spurned ministerial training or scriptural scholarship, insisting that the true church would be guided by direct revelation rather than theology. He ordained carpenters and farmers to offices like priest and apostle and constructed an elaborate hierarchy that drew on New Testament titles and culminated with the office of president of the church, understood to be a prophet like Moses. He also maintained that rites like baptism and the Lord’s Supper could be effective only if performed by one so ordained.

Mormon restorationism was not distinctive only because of its extensive hierarchy. Unlike many other movements, Smith’s restorationist vision encompassed the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament. In addition to New Testament offices like apostle and seventy, he claimed also titles like prophet and priest. As did Barton Stone and Phoebe Palmer, early Mormons sought to restore the economically disciplined and communal New Testament community, rejecting American capitalism in favor of what Smith called the “law of consecration.” But late in his life Smith also sought to restore the practice of plural marriage, which he found in the Hebrew Bible. “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world,” ran a revelation Smith dictated. “I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee, my servant Joseph, an appointment, and restore all things.”18 Under similar inspiration, Smith produced extensive new scripture. Some, most important among them the Book of Mormon, presented entirely new ancient Christian societies. But much other of Smith’s scripture revisited the Hebrew Bible, retelling the stories of Adam and Eve and Sarah and Abraham in new ways, imputing Christianity to these ancient patriarchs and matriarchs and finding in them models for the Mormons’ own efforts. Smith claimed these new narratives were literally restorations of scripture that had been lost over the centuries and demonstrated, as the Landmark Baptists claimed, that his own version of Christianity had an impeccable historical genealogy.

As Mormonism has grown, its restorationist impulse has not waned. Mormon missionaries today use a curriculum that instructs them to ask prospective converts why, if throughout the Bible God spoke to Moses, Isaiah, John, and other visionaries, no major Christian church on earth today but theirs claims leadership by a prophetic figure. “To each of these prophets God granted priesthood authority and revealed eternal truths,” the manual instructs. “After centuries of being lost, the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth.”19 Similarly, because of this strong restorationist focus, Mormon leaders have consistently rejected participation in interfaith dialogue and worship services. Ironically, throughout its history, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), headquartered today in Salt Lake City, has faced restorationist movements of its own. One group of dissenters, dismayed by polygamy, abandoned Joseph Smith and his successor, Brigham Young, and founded what they called the “True Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Similarly, many contemporary schismatic groups that embrace the term Mormon fundamentalist, insisting that the LDS Church should never have abandoned the practice. Joseph Smith’s claim that revelation led him to restore a pure church has left the church he founded open to countless imitators.

Several other 19th-century Christian movements took paths similar to Mormonism, rejecting entirely traditional Christian denominations and instead seeking to construct a restored ecclesiology and theology more consonant with what they found in scripture. The British doctor John Thomas, for instance, renounced his earlier baptism and joined the Stone-Campbell movement after he barely survived a shipwreck in 1832. Later, he renounced the Stone-Campbell movement and its baptism in turn, becoming convinced that fidelity to the Bible required a rejection of the traditional doctrines of the Trinity and the immortality of the soul. His followers, whom he dubbed Christadelphians (or Friends of Christ) rejected the term church for many years and still are governed by lay leadership, which Thomas also believed was in accordance with biblical Christianity. Thomas and the Christadelphians also followed the restorationist inclinations of the Adventist movement, which, although it organized around a millennialist rather than restorationist impulse, adopted Saturday as the Sabbath owing to confidence in its biblical grounds.

Two major Christian primitivist movements emerged later in the 19th century. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, taught that her faith restored “primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing.”20 Eddy’s impulse was of the experiential kind: in February 1866, she claimed to have experienced a miraculous healing from damage from a fall. She previously had studied with Phineas Quimby, who believed in mesmerism and mind cure, the notion that thought could relieve one from sickness. In 1875, Eddy produced Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, which argued that a mark of the true Christian church in the New Testament as in her own day was the presence of divine healing. Eddy contended that trust in the Holy Spirit and a proper understanding that reality is a manifestation of the Divine Mind would lead to the cure of all physical ailments. In 1879, she organized the Church of Christ, Scientist, which still teaches her doctrine.

The same decade, in 1870, Charles Taze Russell and some associates began a Bible study group. As a result of his study, Russell concluded that after the death of the original apostles, the Christian church entered a state of apostasy. Through divine revelation, Russell found true doctrine and ecclesiology in the Bible and determined that Christ’s Second Coming had begun in 1874, with an expected consummation date in the near future. (Russell’s original date of 1914 has been altered multiple times.) The Witnesses believed that their brand of Christianity is that practiced in the 1st century, marked, like Mormonism, by lay male leadership guided by revelation, a rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity, and an urgent commitment to continued evangelism.

Yet Christian movements were not the only movements to demonstrate restorationist impulses. Native American revitalization movements like those of Neolin persisted throughout the 19th century. The Paiute Wovoka revived a message similar to those of Neolin, Tenskwatawa, and Handsome Lake in the 1880s and 1890s, synthesizing it into a movement called the Ghost Dance, after its most distinctive practice. Like those men, Wovoka claimed a vision of God, which he experienced on New Year’s Day in 1889 and in which he was commanded to tell the Native Americans to abandon the destructive practices of American culture and to embrace a new ritual called the Ghost Dance, which would eliminate sickness and disease all over the world. Many of Wovoka’s followers included in that promise the removal of white Americans. An adaptation of the common Native circle dance, the Ghost Dance quickly spread among Native Americans all over the country, until the US Army’s massacre of dozens of Sioux practitioners of the dance at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in December 1893 caused many Native Americans to fear its continued practice.

The same decades saw the emergence of arguments about primitivism in American Judaism as well. By the late 19th century, Reform Judaism had become the dominant expression of Judaism in the United States, bolstered against traditional Orthodox Judaism by immigration from Germany, where the movement was strongest. Reform Jews advocated the adaptation of traditional practice and ritual to accommodate the demands of modern life and was embraced by many Jews in the United States. Thus by the 1880s the graduation banquet at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, served shellfish, a dish forbidden by the Torah. In 1885, a group of Reform rabbis endorsed the Pittsburgh Platform, which declared: “We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state.”21

The growth of Reform Judaism sparked a primitivist resistance. Conservative Jews rejected what they saw as Reform Judaism’s cavalier discarding of tradition and original Jewish identity. Also rooting its origins in Germany, Conservative Judaism gained strength in the United States in the 1880s in reaction to the emerging strength of Reform Judaism. Though Conservative Jews did not embrace the strict traditional practices and interpretations of Orthodox Jews, neither did they accept the wholehearted embrace of contemporary cultural values that Reform Jews did. They argued that Judaism should be understood historically: that is, Judaism neither should remain static, as they perceived Orthodoxy to insist, nor should it discard outright older practices that it now found alien, as they saw Reform Jews doing. Rather, said Conservative leader Alexander Kohut, Judaism should be understood as an organic connection between the present and the past. The laws in the Torah should be embraced but understood also in the context of historical change over time. Judaism, Kohut said, was that “chain of tradition continued unbroken from Moses through Joshua, the Elders, the Prophets and the Men of the Great Synagogue, down to the latest times . . . Is Judaism definitely closed for all time, or is it capable of and in need of continuous development? I answer both Yes and No. I answer Yes, because Religion has been given to man; and as it is the duty of man to grow in perfection as long as he lives, he must modify the forms which yield him religious satisfaction, in accordance with the spirit of the times. I answer No, insofar as it concerns the word of God, which cannot be imperfect.”22 For Kohut primitivism was the continued effort to maintain fidelity to past tradition in every age. This might require adaptation or alteration, but it also required a continued commitment to preservation of the original revelation of God.

Restorationism in the 20th Century: Pentecostalism and African American Movements

The Methodist Holiness movement persisted through the 19th century and, toward the end of the century, developed into a full-fledged revival movement. In the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, Holiness camp meetings spread across the United States and Great Britain and moved beyond Methodism to evangelical churches more generally. One branch of evangelicals who embraced Holiness ideas of sanctification and religious experience came to call themselves Pentecostals. To the notion of entire sanctification, they added ideas that had emerged first at Cane Ridge and earlier revivals. In their teaching, sanctification might lead to spiritual gifts, faith healing, and speaking in tongues. They often termed this experience baptism with the Holy Spirit.

In 1900, a Holiness believer named Charles Fox Parham founded the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. He taught his students about entire sanctification and about baptism with the Holy Spirit. On New Year’s Day in 1901, Parham held a worship service, and his students began speaking in tongues. Parham began to spread the news and in 1905 opened a school in Houston. The next year, one of his students, a black one-eyed preacher named William Seymour, preached at the Azusa Mission in Los Angeles, and another mass baptism by the Holy Spirit began. It lasted for three years.

Frank Ewart, a leader of the Asuza Street revival, declared that by “one great revolutionary wrench, [God] is lifting His Church back over the head of every sect, every creed, every organized system of theology, and [putting] it back where it was [on] the Day of Pentecost.”23 The movement took its name from that day described in the book of Acts when the Holy Spirit allowed the apostles to preach to dozens of hearers in their own languages. Its primitivism, then, rejected the flow of history and, like the Landmark Baptists and Roman Catholics, asserted an unbroken continuity with the past. Pentecostals insisted that their movement replicated the experience of the early church in exquisite detail. Pentecostal theologian George Taylor taught that the outpourings of the Holy Spirit that marked these revivals mirrored the patterns of rainfall in ancient Palestine, where rain fell early and late in the season, an observation that led many Pentecostals to embrace the term latter rain to describe their movement. Charles Parham claimed that his baptism of the Holy Spirit lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the hours on which Christ hung on the cross.

Early Pentecostals claimed an ethical as well as an experiential restoration. At Asuza Street, unlike virtually any other religious community in America at the time, African Americans and Euro-Americans worshipped side by side. Women preached. Like the Mormons, Pentecostals scorned ordained clergy and regularized ecclesiastical government; they argued that their communities were formed only by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and transcended the social prejudices and hierarchies of the United States. They found their best analogue in the marginalized communities of the New Testament church. By the later 20th century, this inclusivity had somewhat faded. African American and white Pentecostals had sorted themselves into various Pentecostal denominations, most prominently the Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God, respectively. Still, its experiential emphasis remains as strong as ever.

African Americans found Pentecostal primitivism empowering; indeed, on the whole, through the 20th century many African Americans turned to ideas of primitivism to assert identities separate from the segregation and discrimination they faced in the United States. William Seymour, for instance, celebrated the empowerment Pentecostalism brought African Americans and other marginalized Americans, saying that the “real Pentecost that has been hidden for all these centuries the Lord is giving back to earth through some real humble people that have no better sense than to believe God.”24 Often these movements embraced forms of religion themselves ignored or marginalized in white America. Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican who called for a black nationalist movement in economics, politics, and culture, inspired a number of movements that claimed to restore uniquely black religious experiences. For instance, through the mid-20th century a number of African American religious leaders claimed a divine mandate to restore Islam as God had intended it to be practiced, and they often took Garvey as an inspiration.

Both Timothy Drew (who called himself Noble Drew Ali), founder of Moorish Science, a small sect that grew popular in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s, and Elijah Muhammad, who governed the Nation of Islam during its period of most explosive growth from the 1940s to the 1960s, asserted that Islam truly understood was a religion intended for black people and claimed to be restoring the faith as it was understood and practiced in a presumed ancient African past. Noble Drew Ali, who embraced Garvey as a forerunner, said that African Americans were, in fact, the descendants of an ancient race, the Moors, who had practiced Islam for generations. Slavery had robbed them of that heritage, but if they remembered and restored their past, they could reclaim their lost greatness. “Our forefathers are the true and divine founders of the first religious creed for the redemption of mankind on earth,” Noble Drew taught. “We, the Moorish Americans, are returning to Islam, which was founded by our forefathers for our earthly and divine salvation.”25 Similarly, Elijah Muhammad declared that “Christianity is from the white race . . . Islam is the natural religion of the black Nation. It is the nature in which we are made. We are called to return to Islam.”26 Both men believed that racial oppression had stripped African Americans of their true identities and that returning to their people’s presumed original religion would restore to them dignity and power.

Restorationism in the 20th Century: A New Age

The 20th century saw other movements react to the onset of the sort of religious pluralism and concern for human rights that mobilized the Nation of Islam. American Christian churches often sought simplification, echoing earlier traditions. The Second Vatican Council, held from 1962 to 1965, transformed Roman Catholicism in ways Catholic scholars sometimes described as “ressourcement,” a French term referring to renewal through a return to original sources and ideas. The council sought to penetrate through thickets of theology and dogma, easing claims about Catholic exclusivity and invoking instead biblical ideas and imagery to describe the essence of Christianity in practice, as Puritans and Baptists had done before them. In the United States, this manifest often in ecclesiology and increased concern for co-participation between the laity and clergy in Catholic worship and governance, and many Catholic churches reformed Sabbath services, abandoning Latin for the vernacular, incorporating participatory liturgies, and encouraging greater participation of laity in the running of the church. Other Catholics, however, felt these reforms actually abandoned the original intentions of Roman Catholicism, and they rejected these reforms in favor of a return to the designs laid out by the Council of Trent: restorationism of a different kind.

Some Protestant Americans similarly sought renewal through a return to the simple faith of the New Testament. The Jesus People movement of the 1960s and 1970s sought to discard ecclesiology entirely, understanding Christianity in almost entirely ethical and experiential ways. The Jesus People embraced ascetic and simple lifestyles, taking up poverty and communal living and seeking spiritual experiences, visions, and miraculous healing. Many evangelical Protestant churches in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, such as the Vineyard movement and the house church movement, draw on the combination of simple worship and spiritual gifts that emerged with the Jesus People.

At the same time, Americans outside conventional Christianity invoked primitivist arguments to bolster their religious claims. Beginning most prominently with Theosophy, various hermetic religious movements claimed true access to the lost theology and practices of ancient civilizations. Helena Blavatsky, the main proponent of Theosophy, taught that a system of esoteric truths about the universe had been discovered and rediscovered throughout human history and flourished in ancient India, Greece, and other civilizations. All religions in the contemporary world were but fragments of the truth and hence had some efficacy but remained flawed and incomplete. The Theosophical Society that Blavatsky and her associates founded in 1875 claimed renewed access to what she called “Divine Wisdom” (to which the phrase Theosophy refers). Theosophy, Blavatsky claimed, embraced “the ideas of all antiquity with regard to the primeval instructors of primitive man and his three earlier races. The genesis of that wisdom-religion, in which all theosophists believe, dates from that period.”27 Theosophy’s investigation into the lost truths of the past would restore that knowledge to the modern world.

Theosophy never grew large, but its influence belied its size. Throughout the 20th century, appeals to lost ancient wisdom or special knowledge about the past proved widely influential in the New Age movement but also in other Christian sects. In 1908, Levi Dowling published The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, which argued that in his youth Jesus traveled to India, where he absorbed many Hindu and Buddhist ideas before returning to Palestine to perform his biblical ministry. Dowling’s blend of South Asian ideas like reincarnation and karma shaped his interpretation of Christianity, which instructed that human beings progressed toward their own “Christhood” over countless lives by following the teachings of Jesus. Dowling claimed to have learned of this story through the Akashic records, a metaphysical archive Theosophists taught was available outside humanity’s normal plane of existence.

Dowling’s claims about Jesus’s true teachings were echoed by the mid-20th century in the so-called New Age movement, a loose collection of mystics, students of the esoteric, visionaries, and other like-minded people who organized themselves around ideas similar to those of Theosophy. Its leaders claimed that true knowledge of the lives and teachings of various ancient religious figures—Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Muhammad and the like—would reveal a common unity behind all religions corrupted by the detritus of history. As the actress and New Age author Shirley MacLaine wrote, “Christ was a member of the Essene brotherhood . . . Traces of Essene teachings appear in almost every culture and religion in the world . . . their teachings, principles, values and priorities in life so similar to the so-called New Age today.”28 Advocates of the New Age argued that Jesus’s miracles reflected the sort of power they believed was accessible to many figures in the ancient world and to advocates of the New Age in their present.

Primitivism, then, is an endlessly malleable concept, invoked in a wide variety of contexts and movements and taking on a multiplicity of forms. The primitivist impulse promises vast potential for renewal and rebirth. Hence, those groups that seek its power are often those invested in overturning existing hierarchies and established institutions. It flourished in antebellum America, in an era of disestablishment and democracy; it continues to develop among historically marginalized groups as well as those groups that historically embraced it.

Review of the Literature

Other than Eliade, the major theoretical work on the notion of primitivism has been done by Richard Hughes, primarily a scholar of the Disciples of Christ movement. His 1988 Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630–1875, written with C. Leonard Allen, gives the major theoretical contours to the idea, and his edited collection of the same year, The American Quest for the Primitive Church, surveys restorationism in a number of American Christian movements, emphasizing their desire to recreate the ecclesiastical structures of the ancient Christian church. Other scholarly works, like Theodore Bozeman’s work on Puritanism and Jan Shipps’s groundbreaking study of Mormonism, have lent their own theoretical weight to the concept, offering case studies that have helped to give boundaries to the concept.

Sociologist Anthony F. C. Wallace’s 1956 essay “Revitalization Movements” added another dimension to the concept of primitivism. Much work that uses the term restorationism focuses on Anglo-American Christian traditions and emphasizes theology, but Wallace’s work shows how the impulse can serve cultural as well as strictly religious imperatives beyond largely white Christian organizations. His work has been applied by scholars studying groups from Native Americans, which Wallace himself focused on, to other indigenous peoples, to the New Age movement.

Islamic and Jewish movements in the United States and Europe have likewise drawn on primitivist language. Edward E. Curtis IV’s work on African American Islam shows how notions of restoration of a time of creation, when black supremacy was established, attracted many followers to the Nation of Islam; similarly, Michael Cohn’s work on Conservative Judaism shows how central notions of history and recovery of the past were to that movement. The breadth of the historiography of primitivism, then, reflects the breadth of the movement itself.

Further Reading

Bozeman, Theodore. To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension in Puritanism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.Find this resource:

    Byrd, James. Sacred Scripture: Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

      Cave, Alfred A. Prophets of the Great Spirit: Native American Revitalization Movements in Eastern North America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.Find this resource:

        Cohn, Michael R. The Birth of Conservative Judaism: Solomon Schechter’s Disciples and the Creation of an American Religious Movement. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

          Conkin, Paul. American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.Find this resource:

            Curtis, Edward E. Islam in Black America: Identity, Liberation, and Difference in African American Islamic Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.Find this resource:

              Hatch, Nathan O. The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

                Hughes, Richard T. ed. The American Quest for the Primitive Church. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.Find this resource:

                  Hughes, Richard T. Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of the Churches of Christ in America. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.Find this resource:

                    Hughes, Richard T., and Leonard C. Allen. Illusions of Innocence: Protestant Primitivism in America, 1630–1875. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.Find this resource:

                      McDannell, Colleen. The Spirit of Vatican II: A History of Catholic Reform in America. New York: Basic Books, 2011.Find this resource:

                        Pike, Sarah. New Age and Neopagan Movements in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                          Sarna, Jonathan. American Judaism: A History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                            Shipps, Jan. Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.Find this resource:

                              Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

                                Wigger, John. American Saint: Francis Asbury and the Methodists. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.Find this resource:


                                  (1.) Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality (New York: Harper and Row, 1963), 5–6.

                                  (2.) Reproduced in Michael Mullett, The Catholic Reformation (London: Taylor and Francis, 1999), 39–40.

                                  (3.) Cited in Girolamo Imbruglia, “A Peculiar Idea of Empire: Missions and Missionaries in the Society of Jesus in Early Modern History,” in Marc Andre Bernier, Clorinda Donato, and Hans-Jurgen Lusebrink, eds., Jesuit Accounts of the Colonial Americas: Intercultural Transfers, Intellectual Disputes, and Texualities (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 39.

                                  (4.) The Cambridge and Saybrook Platforms of Church Discipline (Boston: T. R. Marvin, 1830), 28.

                                  (5.) Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana (1702; Hartford: Silas Andrus, 1820), 1:25, 2:183.

                                  (6.) John Cotton, The Way of the Churches of Christ in New England (Shropshire, U.K.: Quinta Press, 2008), 115.

                                  (7.) Richard Groves, ed., Roger Williams’ The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2001), 70.

                                  (8.) Isaac Backus, A History of New England with Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptist (Newton, MA: Backus Historical Society, 1871), 2:v–vi.

                                  (9.) Thomas Jefferson Randolph, ed., Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville: F. Carb, 1829), 4:350, 3:514.

                                  (10.) Arthur C. Parker, ed., The Code of Handsome Lake (Albany: New York State Museum, 1913), 53–54.

                                  (11.) Parker, The Code of Handsome Lake, 39.

                                  (12.) Richard McNemar, The Kentucky Revival (Albany, NY: E. and E. Hosford, 1807), 18–19.

                                  (13.) Barton Stone, “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery,” in Churches of Christ: A Historical, Biographical and Pictorial History, ed. John Thomas Brown (Louisville, KY: John P. Morton, 1904), 39.

                                  (14.) Alexander Campbell, Christian Baptism: With Its Antecedents and Consequences (Bethany, VA: Campbell, 1851), 38; Alexander Campbell, Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell (Cincinnati: H.S. Bosworth, 1861), 49.

                                  (15.) Elmer T. Clark, ed., The Journals and Lettesr of Francis Asbury: The Letters (London: Epworth Press, 1958), 478.

                                  (16.) Phoebe Palmer, The Way of Holiness (New York: Piercy and Reed, 1843), 8, 10.

                                  (17.) J. M. Pendleton, “Ought Baptists to Recognize Paedobaptist Preachers as Gospel Ministers?,” in J. R. Graves, ed., Southern Baptist Almanac and Register (Nashville: Graves, 1855), 9.

                                  (18.) Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 132:30, 40.

                                  (19.) Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004), 72.

                                  (20.) Cited in Stephen Gottschalk, The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life (Berkeley: Univeristy of California Press, 1973), 23.

                                  (21.) Reproduced in William A. Link and Susannah J. Link, eds., The Gilded Age and Progressive Era: A Documentary Reader (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 170.

                                  (22.) Alexander Kohut, The Ethics of the Fathers (New York: Publishers Printing Company, 1920), 3, 14–17.

                                  (23.) Cited in Grant Wacker, “Playing for Keeps: The Primitivist Ideal in Early Pentecostalism,” in Richard T. Hughes, ed., The American Quest for the Primitive Church (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 206.

                                  (24.) Cited in Wacker, “Playing for Keeps,” 209.

                                  (25.) Noble Drew Ali, “The Holy Koran of the Moorish Science Temple,” in Edward E. Curtis, ed., The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 63.

                                  (26.) Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Blackman in America (Phoenix, AZ: Memps, 2003), 80, 83.

                                  (27.) Helena Blavatsky, “Is Theosophy a Religion?,” Theosophy 1, no. 6 (April 1913), 242.

                                  (28.) Shirley MacLaine, Going Within: A Guide for Inner Transformation (New York: Bantam, 1990), 214–218.