Religion and Society in Frontier California


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Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

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The chaotic and reputedly immoral society of the California mining frontier during the gold rush period greatly worried Protestant evangelicals from the Northeast, and they soon sent missionaries westward to transplant their religious institutions, beliefs, and practices in the area. This book tells the story of that enterprise, showing how it developed, why it failed, and what patterns of religious adherence evolved in the West in place of evangelical Protestantism.

Laurie Maffly-Kipp begins by analyzing the eastern-based religious ideology that underlay the movement westward and by investigating the motives behind the founding of home mission boards dedicated to the spread of Christianity and civility among new settlers. Drawing on the diaries, letters, and journals of hundreds of California "argonauts," Maffly-Kipp describes those missionaries and their wives sent to California after 1848 and the virtually all-male mining society that resisted the missionaries' notions of moral order and in turn created new religious beliefs and practices. Maffly-Kipp argues that despite its alleged immorality, the California gold rush was actually one of the most morally significant events of the nineteenth century, for it challenged and brought into conflict the cherished values of antebellum American culture: a commitment to spiritual and social progress; a concern with self-discipline, moral character, and proper gender roles; and a thirst for wealth fostered by the spirit of free enterprise.

Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp is assistant professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"In Religion and Society in Frontier California Laurie Maffly Kipp provides a wonderfully intriguing and beautifully written narrative about the efforts of American Protestant missionary groups to bring so-called immoral and irreligious gold seekers back into the Christian fold, about the miners' surprising responses, and about the unexpected roles women played in the effort. It is Maffly-Kipp's careful, probing, insightful analysis of a huge, much-neglected topic - religion in the American West, that makes this book so important."—Howard Lamar

"Beautifully written and artfully organized, the book is an original investigation of the impact of evangelical religion on frontier society."—Edwin S. Gaustad, professor emeritus of religion at the University of California at Riverside

"In this insightful contribution to the study of religious belief and activity in the Western states, Maffly-Kipp discusses the efforts made by Protestant evangelicals to transplant their religion to California during the period between 1848 and 1849. . . . An intriguing and stimulating work."—Choice

"In a tightly-woven and engaging volume, Laurie Maffly-Kipp has made an important contribution to the growing literature addressing religion's influence on western social and cultural development."—Michael S. Engh, Western Historical Quarterly

"This book is a remarkable piece of scholarship. . . . Ms. Maffly-Kipp has written a challenging and important study of religion in Gold Rush California, and of religion in antebellum America."—Jeffrey M. Burns, Catholic Historical Review

"A much needed addition to earlier works on California's gold rush society and an important contribution to the literature of nineteenth-century American religious history."—George M. Lubick, History

"A well-crafted, carefully reasoned, and artfully written account of an important aspect of life in gold rush California that helps explain that region's subsequent religious history and sheds new light on nineteenth-century American Protestantism from a Pacific Coast perspective."—Eldon Ernst, Southern California Quarterly

ISBN: 9780300206449
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
252 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
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