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Religion on the Margins: Transatlantic Moravian Identities and Early American Religious Radicalism

  • Author(s): Pietrenka, Benjamin Michael
  • Advisor(s): Westerkamp, Marilyn J
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation traces transatlantic processes of German religious and social identity formation in eighteenth-century North America through the lens of an expansive correspondence network established by the pastoral missionaries and common believers of the Moravian Church, a small group of radical German Protestants who migrated to all four Atlantic world continents and built community outposts and mission settlements in diverse religious, political, and social environments. Common Moravian believers, I argue, fashioned this pioneering correspondence network into a critical element of their lived religious experience and practice, and it became fundamental to both the construction and maturation of their personal and collective identities. In addition, this correspondence network functioned as a medium for ordinary believers to articulate nonconformist spiritualities, communicate new standards of moral conduct, and advocate alternative gender and racial hierarchies. British American society worked to construct and then deconstruct Moravian radicalism in the public sphere by attacking and then respecting the embodied piety, religious practices, and spiritual authority of common Moravian believers.

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