March 18, 2009
In his book A Shopkeeper’s Millenium, Paul E. Johnson tries to analyze the conditions under which religious revivals occur. Focusing on Rochester New York, he examines Charles Finnley’s revival in the 1830s and the state of the city before, during, and after the revival. Ignoring much of what has already been written about the event, Johnson uses almost entirely primary sources to argue his point. His point is that the religious revival of 1830 was, at least in Rochester, a successful attempt by the town’s elites to retain control over the rest of society, which they felt was slipping away.
Johnson is an Assistant Professor of History at Yale University who especially enjoys the history of popular religion. (MORE?!?!?) To begin with, Johnson offers the argument of Emile Durkheim that religious beliefs give credence to moral rules, which govern society. By existing outside the individual himself, these rules allow an individual to be obedient to the social order while still retaining his independent identity. According to Durkheim, religion is grounded in certain types of social relationships. When fractures or problems in those relationships occur, there is a period of religious tension and a revival is the way of getting things back on track (p. 10-13). Johnson reasons that if we can identify the relationships between people that existed at the time and how they changed before the revival, we can determine the effects of it.
Johnson then proceeds to describe how important social relationships changed in the 1820s and set the stage for a revival in the next decade. Drastic changes in Rochester’s economy, political arena, and power struggles upset the social order and made people in Rochester uncertain about how to keep their city under control. Rapid industrialism, coming into a city that was primarily agricultural and SMALL TIME brought with it swift changes that were unsettling and upsetting...