By Gretchen Buggeln
Following the American Revolution, the majority of Connecticut’s religious societies tore down their boxy eighteenth-century meetinghouses and replaced them with something totally different: spired churches with an elaborate entrance portico on one of the shorter facades. These new buildings signaled a change in how these Christians conceptualized worship space, and in their fundamental understanding of the relationship between the spiritual and material aspects of their lives.
Because these new churches evoked a much-beloved myth of tightly-bound communities sharing democratic values and faith in God, they have often been romanticized as emblems of a bygone era of pastoral serenity. Yet, New England of the early nineteenth century – and its religious life in particular – was anything but tranquil. Revivalism, evangelicalism, and religious pluralism meshed with social, economic, and political dislocation to create a volatile period in which Christianity’s place was uncertain.
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