Revised Focus Statement & Methodology (and Bertoti)

The major points that people brought up in regards to my focus statement in class were to be more assertive and more specific about what I’m discussing. I’ve tried to tighten up my focus statement to reflect these things as much as possible at this stage in the project. As far as the methodology goes… this is definitely a work in progress. I talked to Dr. Quigley about some options, but I won’t really know until I do more reading to see what’s out there. I’ll do my best to put something down for now, though it will be rather vague at this point. For instance- I’m not really sure what all is involved with linguistic theory, but I’ll probably need to learn at some point!

Focus Statement:
Nineteenth century Americans lived within a society thoroughly permeated with religious ideology and moral language. In the South, white Protestants combined honor and religious feeling in defense of a southern social order characterized by the racial hierarchy imposed by slavery with few dissenters.[1] In the North, some Protestants used Christianity as a means of disparaging slavery and calling for abolition, while others left such dilemmas to the providence of God and called for peace instead.[2] Both Northerners and Southerners, however, became accustomed in the first half of the nineteenth century to inserting religious discourse into the public sphere normally reserved for politics. In order to examine how people understood the intersection between religion and politics, I will examine how Protestants in Philadelphia and Charleston understood the Secession Crisis of 1860-1861 in religious terms, paying special attention to the language used in religious and popular sources. Philadelphia and Charleston were chosen due to the status of each as a vital commercial and intellectual center of their respective regions. Although each city is unique, my goal is to draw out broader religious and political themes that were present in other areas of the United States at the time. Using sermons, newspapers, letters, diaries, and obituaries, I will explore how Protestants in Philadelphia and Charleston understood their distinctive duties as Christians in relation to debates over slavery and secession. I will argue that the way people understood ‘Christian Duty’ was a vital part of how they interpreted the Secession Crisis and the decision to go to war. Such a study will help to illuminate the ways in which nineteenth century Americans imbued words with distinctive and powerful meanings. These words in turn shaped political debates, expressing passions that resulted in the denial of compromise and the call for war.

[1] Several historians have discussed the ways in which secession served to unite Southern religious leaders in defense of slavery and Confederacy. One notable example may be seen in Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

[2] Fewer studies have been done on the role of religion in the North outside of the Abolitionist movement. One exception is James Moorhead, American Apocalypse: Yankee Protestants and the Civil War, 1860-1869 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978).

In analyzing my sources, I will rely on several strands of methodology. First, Foucault’s concept of “discourse” will be helpful because of its ability to describe a large system of meaning. Linguistic theory will also be used in the analysis of religious texts, such as sermons. By breaking down the structure of these texts, I will be able to identify the major themes being put forward. Cultural history as a broad framework will also be useful for this study as I seek to identify the religious meanings that attained influence during the Secession Crisis.

Thoughts on Bertoti– I was pretty pleased with how Bertoti went after all of the prep work that went into it. There were a few logistical issues (cups, missing presenters, name tags, etc.), but most of those are pretty unavoidable when putting on events. In terms of next year, it might be worth it to name an event coordinator to troubleshoot any issues that arise the day of. Reporting problems was a bit complicated since so many people had a hand in the conference! But overall, I felt the conference was a success and really enjoyed the chance to hear some great speakers and presenters!


Revised Focus Statement & Methodology (and Bertoti) — 9 Comments

  1. Kristin,
    RE methodology, I think you are about right where you should be at this point. And agree that you might want to explore how rhetoricians (a word I just learned this year — who knew they had a noun!)look at argument and persuasion. I wonder if you want to think not only of how religion was incorporated in political debates, but also how political debates were incorporated into religion, used to illustrate religious principles (perhaps like Christian duty).
    And…a much clearer ownership of the project and the argument in this statement!

    • Yes, I will definitely want to look at how political debates were incorporated into religious discourse. I’m not doing a great job of articulating myself, so thank you for clarifying!

  2. Definitely more assertive this times around, Kristin! Have you thought how you will analyze chirstian duty between the two cities (i.e, comparatively, or seperately)

    Have you considered looking at ecclesiastic art? Especially in charleston, you might find some pieces, or even imagery/ cartouches in newspapers/ sermons.

  3. Heck yeah! Sounds like you’ve stepped up and are really taking the bull by the horns now. I’m impressed that you’re tackling linguistic theory.That’s an awesome idea and it makes total sense for your project. I think you’ll actually find it pretty fascinating as you look into it further even if it’s a little intimidating at first.Would semiotics help you at all with this project, I wonder? Anyway, you’re doing really well on this project, Kristin.

  4. This is a great improvement–even though you protested to me earlier that things are “still up in the air,” I can definitely se your project coming together. Well done! Using discourse analysis sounds good, but I was wondering whether you saw your project as examining a single discourse, or several intersecting ones?

  5. Major improvements! Also, great that you were able to narrow down your geographic foci (focuses? no, i think its foci). Your writing is very clear and concise, but you could watch some of your repetitive word choices! Have you started thinking about how you will define terms such as “Christian Duty”?

  6. This sounds like a great approach to take. Americans in the mid-19thC certainly talked the talk of keeping religion and politics separate, but the two categories overlapped very frequently. So I think you will find lots of good material to help you figure out what role religious ideas played in attitudes towards secession. I think one of the challenges will be to place the ideas/concepts that you focus on (duty, for example) within their specific contexts. You might find those concepts mean different things in the two cities. You will certainly find that they meant different things in 1860 than they do today. Another thought: you say you’ll use religious and popular sources. I think you would find connections between religion and politics in just about every kind of source you could look at, from newspapers to speeches to sermons. So it might be worth thinking about whose perspective you are most interested in. Ministers trying to use religion to guide their congregants through a political crisis? Politicians using religion to advance their own agenda? Ordinary people trying to figure out how to respond to secession as citizens and Christians? Maybe all of the above?

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