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The Word in the World

Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789-1880

By Candy Gunther Brown

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 51 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5511-9
    Published: March 2004
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6333-6
    Published: December 2005

Buy this Book

The recent success of the Left Behind book series, which sold over 50 million books, points to an enormous readership of evangelical Christian literature that has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream publishing world. But this is not a recent phenomenon; the evangelical publishing community has been growing for more than two hundred years. Candy Gunther Brown explores the roots of this far-flung conglomeration of writers, publishers, and readers, from the founding of the Methodist Book Concern in 1789 to the 1880 publication of the runaway best-seller Ben-Hur. Brown shows how this distinct print community used the Word of the Bible and printed words of their own to pursue a paradoxical mission: purity from and a transformative presence in the secular world.

Although scholars usually claim that religious publishing fell prey to the secularizing engines of commodification, Brown argues that evangelicals knew what they were doing by adopting a range of strategies, including the use of popular narratives and beautiful packaging. An informal canon of texts emerged in the nineteenth century, consisting of sermons, histories, memoirs, novels, gift books, Sunday school libraries, periodicals, and hymnals.

Looking beyond the uses of texts in religious conversion, Brown examines how textual practices have transmitted cultural values both within evangelical communities and across a larger American cultural milieu. An epilogue conveys crucial insights into twenty-first-century ties between religion and the media.

About the Author

Candy Gunther Brown is professor of religious studies at Indiana University.
For more information about Candy Gunther Brown, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"A virtual taxonomy of religious publishing in nineteenth-century America, revealing its significance for comprehending the social history and material culture of the era."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"A learned, perceptive analysis of the dynamic efforts of evangelical denominations both to serve and to extend their memberships by means of the press. . . . Simultaneously a study in the history of reading the book and of popular religion. . . . Copiously illustrated."--Journal of American History

"Brown's careful, abundantly detailed, and beautifully illustrated work is a major contribution to the ongoing enterprise of exploring the close but shape-shifting relationship between religion and American cultural life."--American Historical Review

"Every scholar of 19th-century American evangelicalism should read this benchmark study of the material culture that developed between 1789 and 1880. . . . A more authentic account of evangelical print culture than earlier, oversimplified portraits; [Brown] accomplishes this through her painstaking research and perceptive writing. . . . Highly recommended."--Choice

"The Word in the World succeeds admirably. . . . [It] advance[s] our understanding of the relationship between religion, commerce, and print in nineteenth-century America."--Business History Review

"The Word in the World makes a very substantial contribution toward answering important historical and cultural questions about nineteenth-century popular American culture. It is a pioneering effort, worthy of the most serious attention, both for its grasp of what Protestants published in that era and how those publications reflected (and shaped) the culture of the time."--Mark Noll, McManis Professor of History, Wheaton College