Contested Boundaries

Itinerancy and the Reshaping of the Colonial American Religious World

Contested Boundaries

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: Published: December 1994

Author: Timothy D. Hall

American Studies, History > U.S. History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

The First Great Awakening in eighteenth-century America challenged the institutional structures and raised the consciousness of colonial Americans. These revivals gave rise to the practice of itinerancy in which ministers and laypeople left their own communities to preach across the countryside. In Contested Boundaries, Timothy D. Hall argues that the Awakening was largely defined by the ensuing debate over itinerancy. Drawing on recent scholarship in cultural and social anthropology, cultural studies, and eighteenth-century religion, he reveals at the center of this debate the itinerant preacher as a catalyst for dramatic change in the religious practice and social order of the New World.
This book expands our understanding of evangelical itinerancy in the 1740s by viewing it within the context of Britain’s expanding commercial empire. As pro- and anti-revivalists tried to shape a burgeoning transatlantic consumer society, the itinerancy of the Great Awakening appears here as a forceful challenge to contemporary assumptions about the place of individuals within their social world and the role of educated leaders as regulators of communication, order, and change. The most celebrated of these itinerants was George Whitefield, an English minister who made unprecedented tours through the colonies. According to Hall, the activities of the itinerants, including Whitefield, encouraged in the colonists an openness beyond local boundaries to an expanding array of choices for belief and behavior in an increasingly mobile and pluralistic society. In the process, it forged a new model of the church and its social world.
As a response to and a source of dynamic social change, itinerancy in Hall’s powerful account provides a prism for viewing anew the worldly and otherworldly transformations of colonial society. Contested Boundaries will be of interest to students and scholars of colonial American history, religious studies, and cultural and social anthropology.


“[A] creative interpretation of the larger cultural significance of itinerancy and its message of evangelical awakening.” — Journal of Religion

“[A] valuable consideration of an important dimension of Protestantism in the eighteenth century—a facet of American religious life destined for yet greater significance in the early nineteenth century.” — William & Mary Quarterly

“As Timothy Hall argues in an elegant new study on itinerancy and religious culture in early America, [itinerant preachers] brought more than the gospel to their audiences as they journeyed from one end of colonial America to the other. . . . Hall’s volume is a worthy addition to the religious and cultural history of early America. Moreover, this book makes contributions to the debate on the relationship between religious revivals and the American Revolution and to the question of colonial identity and the emergence of nationalism as colonists contested the boundaries of empire.” — Georgia Historical Quarterly

“By employing a fresh methodological approach to overworked sources, Hall provides a unique and valuable contribution which fits nicely with recent work on eighteenth-century itinerancy. . .” — Religious Studies Review

“By shining a light on itinerancy, Timothy Hall gives the practice an importance it has not had before. . .” — Journal of Ecclesiastical History

“Hall’s most important contribution lies in his discussion of the debate waged in print over itinerancy and of the resolution of this dispute by the elites of both sides.” — Quarterly Journal of Speech

“In this engaging, theoretically informed monograph, Timothy D. Hall uses the debate over itinerancy to analyze the Great Awakening and, more broadly, evangelical Christianity’s adaptation to modern life. . . . Contested Boundaries is an important, even pathbreaking work. Hall skillfully blends theory with narrative, locates the emergence of itinerancy within the wider context of transatlantic developments and, above all, offers convincing explanations for the transforming power of itinerancy in reshaping the religious worldview of colonial America.” — Church History

“In this provocative work, Timothy D. Hall examines published arguments about itinerant preaching between the Great Awakening and the Revolution. . . . Hall’s most significant and original contribution lies in his suggestive linkage of an openness to itinerancy with an openness to a competitive and commercial order. His case for the centrality of itinerancy in the debates about revivalism is persuasive, as is his argument that the itinerant is an unlikely proponent of a communitarian cultural system.” — Journal of American History

“Timothy D. Hall has brought a fresh perspective to familiar sources. . . . [His] thesis is original and stimulating. . .” — American Historical Review

"In Contested Boundaries, Timothy Hall has provided us a glimpse of the dynamic among geographic mobility, economic, intellectual, and spiritual commerce, and social transformation as it was expressed in American colonial debates over itinerant preaching that arose during the period of religious revivalism known as the Great Awakening." — , Ideas Aesthetics and Inquiries

"Contested Boundaries makes a telling and timely argument. It opens up rich new insights into eighteenth-century Protestantism and the changing colonial mindset in the face of escalating populations, increased multiculturalism, improved modes of travel, rising rates of literacy, strengthened transatlantic commerce, and the arduous, extended transition from subsistence to markets." — Peter H. Wood, Duke University

"Vitally fresh . . . an impressive book. The sophistication of the theoretical and historiographical introduction promises the reader that historical inquiry and interpretation of the first order await. It is a thrilling study." — Samuel S. Hill, University of Florida


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Timothy D. Hall is Assistant Professor of Early American History at Central Michigan University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. Itinerancy in Historical Perspective 17

2. The Menace of Itinerancy 41

3. Itinerancy and the Evangelical Imagination 71

4. The Proliferation of Itinerancy 101

Conclusion: Itinerancy and the Transformation of the Early American Religious World 129

Notes 141

Index 177
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1522-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1511-7
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