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date: 23 September 2017

Moderation in American Religion

Summary and Keywords

Religious moderation is hardly the first thing that comes to mind when considering the history of the United States. Would one have spoken of the Puritans as moderates? Could one characterize the many great revivals and awakenings that coursed through colonial and early republican American in such terms? And what about the impertinence of Anne Hutchison, the audacity of Jarena Lee, the bold experiment of Prohibition, or the modern political fervor that accompanied the rise of the religious right? When compared to England and many other nominally Christian European nations, the United States generally figures as an example of religious zeal. Yet moderation holds a special place in American religious thought, and not just recently. Since the Protestant Reformation, at least, the concept of religious moderation has been inescapably entangled with concerns about the form and shape of government. Just how much religious “enthusiasm” is safe for a monarchy, a democracy, or a republic? wondered English political theorists in the 1600s and 1700s. Their concerns unavoidably carried to the “New World,” contributing to the persecution or marginalization of Quakers, Shakers, and other religious practitioners deemed too immoderate in their passions and, not infrequently, their gendered practices and sexualities. With the birth of the new republic, Americans also raised questions about the political valences of religious moderation when debating which residents of the nation could fully enjoy the rights of citizenship. Appeals to moderation were used for centuries to exclude not only religious minorities but also racial and ethnic minorities and women. And yet the contours of moderation were continually contested by both those who wielded power and those subject to it.

Since the late 1800s, questions of religious moderation have also been intertwined with questions of modernity and the reconfiguration of public and private spaces. This was especially true with the rise of the fundamentalist movement in the early 1900s, a movement that opposed some of the modernist interpretive measures gaining currency among many American Christians, as well as the idea (increasingly popular over the course of the 20th century—particularly after the failure of Prohibition) that most forms of religion properly belong to the private realm. While fundamentalists were no less technologically savvy or educated than their theological opponents, their positions were nevertheless cast as anti-modern and immoderate, in that fundamentalists ostensibly held more closely to revelation than to modern science. This notion of fundamentalism as the incursion of immoderate anti-modernism, traditionalism, or enthusiasm into politics and public life has continued into the 21st century. While 21st-century arguments for religious moderation are most often directed at Muslims (who, in addition to conservative Christians, are frequently depicted as prone to trampling on the rights of those with whom they disagree), American history has no shortage of incidents involving pressures, often violent, on racial and religious minorities to moderate or privatize their ostensibly uncivilized behavior for the sake of the nation or even for humanity.

Keywords: moderation, moderate, enthusiasm, America, abolition, suffrage, temperance, fundamentalism, civil rights, immigration, Islam, Catholicism, Judaism

Moderation from the Old World to the New

Throughout American history, religious moderation has been defined as a personal virtue necessary for living a pious life and as a civic practice necessary for managing the competing interests of a diverse body politic. In fact, these aspects have long been intertwined, with calls for religious moderation—the definition of which has changed according to time and circumstance—almost always connected to political concerns over such things as which residents of the continent could claim belonging as Americans, which ones could exercise the full rights and privileges of citizenship, and how to treat those deemed unsuitable for full inclusion.

The ideal of moderation is hardly a uniquely American one. In fact, the concept—along with its heavy political implications—is as old as Aristotle, who advocated a middle way, or “golden mean,” between extremes. Between Aristotle’s time and the advent of the American republic, however, the notion went through many permutations, as Aristotle’s teachings were adapted and expanded by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian intellectuals of the Middle Ages, among others. It would continue to change as various inhabitants of the North American continent laid claim to the land and, later, invoked moderation when attempting to define the contours of proper conduct and belief in the new nation.

In the prehistory of America, moderation as a religious and political value is often traced to a pivotal Renaissance humanist—the 16th-century Dutch Catholic priest known as Erasmus, who believed in the need for ecclesiastical reform but avoided the path of dissidents like Martin Luther. Erasmus advocated a via media, or middle road, between the suggestions of Protestant reformers who wanted to break from or change practices within the Roman Catholic Church and the traditionalism of those who deferred to the church hierarchy despite what some saw as untenable abuses.1 This middle path of piety was one of the primary connotations of moderation in the early Reformation Era—a time when the political ramifications of religious contests were often more apparent than they are now.

It was during the Reformation that Europeans began to heavily colonize the Americas. Colonizers included Spanish, Portuguese, and French Catholics who rejected many of the reformers’ positions, as well as Protestants who had left the Catholic Church. Some Protestants represented powerful empires like England, and some were dissidents who had fled their homes and first took refuge in a European country known for its relative tolerance of difference: Erasmus’s home, the Netherlands.

The impact of Erasmus’s teaching on 17th-century English philosopher John Locke, who penned one of the earliest treatises on toleration and greatly influenced the U.S. founders, figures centrally in some religious histories of America.2 And yet, while many historians emphasize this noble legacy of toleration—which seemingly depends on moderating religious and political fervor—more nuanced histories demonstrate that the practice of moderation has always had a dark side. Occasionally, moderation has been regarded as a social ill or personal vice because it seems to indicate a lack of religious or political conviction.3 More frequently, moderation has been lauded as a personal or civic virtue, and even a divine command, with the uses of force often connected to it obscured.

The King James Version of the Bible, one of the earliest English-language texts of the complete Protestant scriptures, was published in 1611. (The first version, the Great Bible, was commissioned in 1535 by Henry VIII, who broke from Rome and institutionalized the English Reformation.) It translated chapter five, verse four, of the book of Philippians as “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” With this translation, moderation became not just a philosophical mandate for English-speaking Protestants but a specifically biblical one that both male and female writers would enjoin upon the populace during political conflicts—especially those between Christian sects.4 Yet in early modern England and its colonies, religious moderation was seen not just as a personal quality necessary for creating a stable monarchy or peaceable commonwealth but also as a mandate that required the coercive, and often violent, hand of the state. Moderation did not mean tolerating all religions; it often meant identifying the kinds of religion (i.e., certain kinds of Protestantism) that were not too different from dominant practices to be included in the body politic and the kinds that were considered in need of suppression or extermination.

Religious “enthusiasm,” seemingly the opposite of moderation, was regarded as particularly threatening and as something likely to incite insurrection, as in the case of Anabaptist leader John of Leiden, a radical Dutch reformer who had led the Münster Rebellion in the Holy Roman Empire in 1534. Consequently, acting in the name of moderation and political stability, both Catholic and Protestant empires persecuted Anabaptists and others deemed guilty of enthusiasm—those, in other words, who believed in the possibility of deriving inspiration and instruction directly from God without the assistance of clergy. Such persecution eventually led to the migration of many Anabaptist groups (e.g., Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites) and Quakers from Europe to the New World. Despite their long journey, these religious communities did not find an end to their trials.

Quakers and other enthusiasts were violently persecuted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony formed by Puritans (Protestants often considered extremist in England because they insisted on purifying the Anglican Church of any Roman Catholic influence after the English Reformation). Although Puritans had been tolerated in England to a greater extent than Anabaptists or Quakers, who also insisted on adult conversion and baptism, they were still deemed insufficiently moderate in their beliefs and considered politically volatile. Within the Anglican Church, those in charge of disciplining dissidents like the Puritans and reconciling them with established powers were frequently known as “moderators.”5 (Scottish Presbyterians would borrow that term.) Many Puritans argued in vain that ecclesiastical exercises of discipline were the truly immoderate practice and that political power should not be vested in religious clergy.6 Nevertheless, experiences of marginalization did not prevent the most separatist of Puritans, who immigrated to New England, from severely repressing others.

Although the Puritans considered it immoderate to allow the clergy in England to wield political power, they also deemed it immoderate to allow individual believers to interpret the Bible without clerical oversight. Consequently, they too used demands for moderation to justify exercises of violence. While Quakers and Anabaptists were the Puritans’ primary targets, even those within the Puritan fold were not exempt from charges of enthusiasm—particularly if they were female. In 1638, for example, Anne Hutchison was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for interpreting scripture in an overly individualist way and for publicly instructing men. Exiled, she later joined the nearby colony of Rhode Island, established by another Puritan dissident, Roger Williams.7 Williams, who insisted on separating from the Church of England and questioned the validity of taking land from Native Americans, founded the first Baptist Church in the colonies in his new home of Providence. He also wrote a letter to that town in 1654 pleading for freedom of worship for “both papists [Catholics] and protestants, Jews and Turks [Muslims].”8

The 1689 Act of Toleration somewhat mitigated persecution against Quakers in England and its colonies, but it did nothing to protect dissident Puritans from persecution. Such oppression became less violent over time, but not immediately. One need only recall the witch trials of the 1690s to know that Puritans and other Congregationalists in Massachusetts (such as the Pilgrim settlers) still found maintaining correct, moderate belief a matter that required coercive violence—particularly against unruly women.

Three years before passage of the Act of Toleration, the Quaker William Penn—who founded the colony of Pennsylvania as a haven for freedom of conscience—composed an open letter to those who treated enthusiasts and others to the lash or to exile. In it, he pleaded for these ostensible moderates to refrain from policing the boundaries of proper piety and to exercise true moderation in the form of tolerance toward those who differed. In his letter, “A Persuasive to Moderation to Church Dissenters, in Prudence and Conscience,” he equated moderation with allowing freedom of belief and worship—neither of which, he maintained, threatened civic life in the way that Puritans and others suggested. “Moderation, the Subject of this Discourse,” he began, “is in plainer English, Liberty of Conscience to Church Dissenters: A Cause I have, with all Humility, undertaken to plead, against the Prejudices of the Times.”9

Penn’s 1687 letter on moderation and toleration would influence many, not least of whom was John Locke, who had already been introduced to the ideas of Erasmus through acquaintance with Dutch Protestants. Nevertheless, controversies over moderation and enthusiasm would continue to rock Puritan and other colonial communities over the subsequent century. Before turning to such controversies, it is important to recognize that the English were not the only ones to appeal to moderation in political and religious affairs.

Some Spanish colonists in South America made reference to the ostensible virtue of moderation as well. Francisco de Vitoria, a Dominican scholar, frequently opined from his post at the University of Salamanca on the treatment of indigenous populations under the Spanish encomienda regime—a system in which the Spanish crown, under authority given by the Catholic pope, granted individuals title to both lands and the labor of the people who lived on them. Vitoria recognized criticisms like those of fellow Dominican Bartolomé de las Casas, who opposed the subjugation of Native Americans. (Las Casas suggested that Africans be used as slaves instead, before coming to oppose all forms of slavery.) While he ultimately rejected the monarchy’s practice of enslaving indigenous populations, Vitoria did not challenge Spain’s right to extend its religious, political, or material empire. This led another Spanish Catholic scholar, the Jesuit missionary and naturalist José de Acosta, to label Vitoria “un abogado moderado”“a moderate lawyer.” Acosta placed himself in the same category, in direct opposition to “uncritical enthusiasts” for the Indians such as las Casas.10

Although the contours of debates over moderation and enthusiasm took shape differently in Spanish Catholic contexts than in British Protestant ones, concern about the dangers of religious enthusiasm to political stability and established powers permeated both Catholic and Protestant communities during the early modern period, characterizing dynamics within these religious polities and dynamics between them in both Europe and the Americas. As a new kind of religious fervor swept English-speaking colonies during the 18th century, moderation would again become central to debates about the relationship between piety and politics. And again, debates over religious belief and practice were infused with concerns about the public role and political status of women and non-white populations, in addition to those of religious minorities.

Awakenings and Revolution

Leaders of Puritan and other settlements in the New World did not want members of their flocks to become so engrossed in personal piety that they forsook direction. Neither, though, did they want an apathetic community devoid of religious fervor. When the population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony came to be comprised not of recent immigrants but their descendants, ministers began to fear such apathy. Membership in the Puritan Church was synonymous with membership in the civic body and came with all of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Such membership was only open to those who could prove their piety and personal conviction, however, which second- and third-generation settlers seemed to have more trouble doing than their predecessors had, despite their otherwise upright lives.

One compromise, promoted by Puritan leader Solomon Stoddard, was to allow the children of full members to enjoy half membership in the church and civic body, with the benefits of baptism but not the ability to vote. While many leaders opposed this plan (with some denigrating Stoddard by comparing him to the Catholic pope), those who supported it hoped that partial membership would encourage people toward true piety eventually, and they conducted their services with great fervor. In Stoddard’s case, this involved emphasizing the hellfire that would consume errant believers in the afterlife.

Puritan leaders in established areas such as Boston disapproved of such immoderate tactics. So strict was their standard of moderation that even Stoddard’s senior colleague, Cotton Mather, who opposed Stoddard’s ways, was denied the presidency of Harvard College for being overly “enthusiastic,” among other things.11 Nevertheless, Stoddard’s grandson Jonathan Edwards, who succeeded his grandfather in the pulpit of a Northampton church in 1725, also adopted the practice of motivating the faithful with accounts of hell. The revival he helped to spark, known as the Great Awakening, spread far beyond Massachusetts and led to new controversies over the dangers of religious enthusiasm to the established political order and to new debates over moderation.

Charles Chauncy, a Congregationalist minister who traveled widely to collect accounts of what he considered inappropriate behavior in the revival services, preached in 1742 at the Old Brick Meeting House in Boston a sermon titled “Enthusiasm Described and Caution’d Against.”12 The next year, Chauncy condemned the fervent revivalist preachers as enthusiasts not unlike those first turned out of Europe nearly two centuries before.13 Just as the established Church of England had suppressed religious immoderation for fear it would lead to political instability, he implied, so too should the established churches of New England and the Middle Colonies—territories including Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, where revivalist sentiment and fervor spread among churches of various Protestant denominations.

In 1743, Edwards addressed the charges of enthusiasm leveled at the revivals, including the claim that ministers manipulated peoples’ “affections” rather than appealing to reason. This emphasis on rationality reflected a new influence in debates over piety and politics: 18th-century Enlightenment philosophy that deemed reason the ultimate standard for public or private decision-making and action. Turning arguments for religious moderation on their heads, Edwards responded to the charge that his preaching caused the “affections” to be moved without “enlightening” the understanding. His rejoinder: “An exceeding affectionate way of preaching about the great things of religion” is not inherently likely to promote irrational beliefs.14 Rather, it produced a “truer” understanding of ultimate concerns than did “a moderate, dull, indifferent way.”15

Despite what some considered his unsavory and immoderate practices, Edwards held doctrinally to what later scholars have described as a “moderate Calvinism” that upheld the teaching of predestination common to Puritan and Presbyterian churches, among others. Briefly, this teaching holds that certain people are selected for salvation and others are not and that no amount of individual yearning, belief, or action can change that. Because religious status was tied to citizenship in early New England, the doctrine of predestination served at times to suppress political ferment. While revivalists like Edwards sought to encourage as many as possible toward pious living and true conversion, they did not believe—as did revivalists who followed Arminian teachings stressing God’s grace—that an individual’s ultimate fate could change with improved piety or comportment. Doctrinally, their Protestantism provided something of a middle way between competing schools at the time. Yet there was another aspect of the revivals that also rankled the white Protestant establishment of the time, at least at first. That was their appeal to large numbers of slaves.

During his first sojourn in North America in 1738, British minister George Whitefield traveled from England to Savannah, Georgia, to serve as priest for a particular parish. It was his itinerant revivalist preaching in 1740 and after, however, that attracted tens of thousands of white Protestant listeners to outdoor revival gatherings, as well as thousands of African slaves, many of whom had never been introduced to Christianity before. Whitefield saw in them great potential for serious, learned piety.

As a result of the slave conditions Whitefield witnessed, he penned an indictment of slaveholders in colonies where slavery was legal.16 Tragically, despite his early convictions about the evil of slavery and political challenge to it, Whitefield accepted slaves as gifts in the mid-1740s from some of his slaveholding converts and even promoted slaveholding by the end of his life.17 The ultimate impact of his ministry to African Americans was thus not the growth of abolitionist sentiment in the United States but the growth of Christianity among slaves. This turn of events would lead to a long history of debate over the style of black American Christian worship, which would be depicted as immoderate, overly emotional, and insufficiently rational for centuries to follow. This canard of black American irrationality and immoderation was in turn used to buttress white Americans’ arguments for keeping black Americans enslaved and, after that, for withholding from them the full benefits of citizenship.18

The revivals of Edwards’s and Whitefield’s day were only the first in a long string of “awakenings” to sweep across Protestant communities in North America. The Second Great Awakening, which historians date from the 1790s to the 1840s, followed a fervent tide of a different kind: that of the American Revolution. During the revolutionary era, moderation was again central to political and religious discourse. For those who felt that the colonies should remain under England’s rule—including those who represented the Church of England, which was the official church in many colonies—the heightened insurrectionist fervor could be quite frightening. Simultaneously, however, many colonial clergy members of the Anglican Church were sympathetic to colonists’ grievances against the English crown. Some of these clergy resolved to avoid taking sides publicly. Writing to their London-based superior in 1775, they promised to continue to “pray for a Settlement, and to pursue those Principles of Moderation and Reason which your Lordship has always recommended to us.”19

With the advent of independence from Britain and the transformation of colonies into states, moderation became a political imperative in a new way. Framers of the Constitution, attempting to avoid entanglement in disputes between Christian sects, refused to allow the establishment of any official religious body. Nevertheless, several of the new states had established churches. Writing in 1785, James Madison argued against allowing the Commonwealth of Virginia to pass a bill “establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion.”20 For Madison, religion—or, more precisely, one’s specific manner of practicing Christianity—“can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” Recognizing any particular church as the official ecclesiastical body, he believed, would only “destroy that moderation and harmony” that laws preventing the establishment of religion had recently effected.21

Although Madison, following Thomas Jefferson, was victorious in Virginia, legislators in other states would specify official churches in their state constitutions and declarations of rights, and some would even require religious tests for officeholders. The founding documents of many states declared that liberty and civic harmony required citizens to practice “justice, moderation, and temperance.”22 Some, though not all, would trace such virtues directly to Christianity rather than, as Madison did, to the toleration of religious difference. Just as during previous religious conflicts in England and colonial America, the nature of moderation was heavily debated, as were its political consequences. For Madison and Jefferson, like William Penn before them, moderation and toleration were synonymous. Theirs was not a majority opinion, however, and would not become a dominant perspective for another two centuries.

During the early 1800s, moderation was rarely a word used to describe the revivals that marked the Second Great Awakening. Like the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s, the Second Great Awakening, which ignited just as the new republic took shape, owed much of its power to outdoor preaching—but this time in the form of organized “camp meetings,” where Americans would gather for days of religious sermons and revival. Such meetings were especially attractive to settlers on the American frontier—from western New York, to Kentucky, to the Midwest—where opportunities for social gatherings were limited, and they remained popular until the middle of the 19th century.

While Edwards’s and Whitefield’s Calvinist traditions had influenced the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening was marked as much or more by an expansion of Arminian teachings in the form of Methodism, the tradition begun by John Wesley, which stressed the ability of any person to earn salvation. For many people, it was not a far step from such religious egalitarianism to political egalitarianism. Disdainful of revivalists’ practices as much as their revolutionary theology, critics of enthusiasm such as fellow Methodist itinerant minster Nathan Bangs condemned the extemporaneousness and spontaneity that they believed showed “impatience of scriptural restraint and moderation.” Writing in 1818 about the style of worship he encountered in a Methodist church in New York City, Bangs decried the “clapping of the hands, screaming, and even jumping, which marred and disgraced the work of God.”23 He also objected to the kind of singing common at camp meetings.

The charges of immoderation leveled at participants in the Second Great Awakening are perhaps not surprising, given that religious emotionalism and enthusiasm were seen not only as the antitheses of reason (generally considered a manly virtue) but as the province of women and other less rational creatures. During the revivals, female participants outnumbered males significantly, and a few women—including the black American convert Jarena Lee—took up the task of preaching themselves, thus expanding female (and black American) participation in the public realm.24

The impact of this female religiosity was felt long after the end of the Second Great Awakening. Although the revivals did not contribute to the kind of ferment that birthed a new nation, as the First Great Awakening had, they did spur a social revolution with vast political consequences. Women got involved in contemporary social issues and created organizations to promote piety in forms ranging from temperance to abolition, while black Americans created their own independent religious bodies. Both kinds of organizations allowed marginalized members of the national community to exercise leadership and engage in public participation to an extent. Others participating in national debates about social issues such as temperance and abolition, like critics of the revivals’ adherents, often invoked moderation. As they interacted with increasing numbers of religious and racial outsiders, however (not just other white Protestants but greater numbers of immigrating Catholics and Jews, as well as newly freed slaves, among others), they would appeal to moderation in new ways—including in debates over how Protestant Americans should disagree about fundamental issues and over whether it was even possible for blacks, women, and “Romanists” (Catholics) and other non-Protestants to exercise moderation, take an active part in public life, and lay claim to full Americanness.

New Gendered and Racialized Debates over Moderation

Painfully aware of the newness of their republic, citizens of early 19th-century America sought to prove their superiority over their European ancestors and contemporaries and to find ways to unite the diverse inhabitants of the nation. In so doing, many emphasized the supremacy of Protestant Christianity—something often conflated with Anglo-Saxon whiteness and seen as a requirement for assimilation. “By equating the Anglo-Saxon race with Christianity and by converting non-Anglo-Saxons to Christ,” one historian has noted, “White Americans hoped to make veritable Anglo-Saxons of all of the people in America,” thus making them fit for the duties of citizenship.25 But while white Protestants tried to assimilate immigrants (especially Irish and Italian Catholics) that way, they disagreed about whether Americanness or even full humanity could be extended to black inhabitants of the nation.

In the midst of such disagreements, social reformers—many inspired by the Second Great Awakening—worked to put an end to American slavery. Congress had banned the importation of African slaves in 1807, and many northern states passed laws abolishing slavery shortly after the Revolution. The agricultural economies of the South, however, were deeply reliant on slave labor, and traffic in humans within the states would continue for over a half century more. Debate about the morality of holding slaves was not new in 1816, but that year was the first that a radical abolitionist minister, George Bourne, took the bold step of publicly labeling the practice a sin. And “moderation against sin,” Bourne wrote in The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable, “is an absurdity.”26

The year before, Bourne had petitioned the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to decide whether slaveholders could be considered Christians. When the Church refused to recognize the question, Bourne published his highly influential text about slavery’s incompatibility with biblical teachings, in which he argued that “every man who holds Slaves and pretends to be a Christian . . . is either an incurable Idiot who cannot distinguish good from evil or an obdurate sinner who resolutely defies every social, moral, and divine requisition.”27

Bourne’s scathing disregard was directed not only at unrepentant slaveholders—those who attempted to justify the practice as moral and biblical—but also at Christian “moderates,” some of whom decried only the abuses committed by slaveholders (such as physical violence, separating families, and not Christianizing slaves) but not slaveholding itself. Other moderates opposed slavery but did not support the additional things that radical abolitionists often advocated.28

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., for example—father of the noted Civil War officer and jurist—associated with abolitionists but, like many educated northerners, could not bring himself to fully agree with them. Not only did radical abolitionists like Angelina Grimké and William Lloyd Garrison call for ending slavery, they supported the equal rights of whites and blacks (and, in Grimke’s case, since women were prohibited from exercising all of the rights that men did, she advocated the equal rights of white and black men and women). Although Holmes had some sympathy for the abolitionist position, if not that of the suffragists, he maintained that “the White man must be the master.”29 Perceiving rhetoric like Bourne’s as itself unchristian, Holmes called for “love, understanding, and moderation” toward the South, rather than the use of force.30

Many Protestant denominations split over the question of slavery in the years surrounding the Civil War, as leaders marshaled moral and biblical arguments both for and against the practice. With the triumph of the Union army, several northern reformers who had been inspired by recent religious awakenings turned from their abolitionist cause to other pressing social issues. Among the problems many hoped to address—particularly Frances Willard and her followers in the nation’s largest women’s organization, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union—was the public drunkenness that seemed to blight the growing urban centers of industrializing America and render citizens and residents unfit for civic duty.

Protestant leaders and reformers disagreed about whether drinking should be curtailed or outright banned after the Civil War. Nevertheless, many associated overindulgence with immigrant populations. Some believed that proper piety would Americanize these immigrants, in part by teaching them the virtue of moderation. Such moderation was considered a uniquely American (and white) Protestant trait. As a speaker before the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance opined, Christians “may lawfully follow the Apostolic direction to ‘take a little wine’—And why not? We are not Musselman!”31 Proper piety and decorum allowed for moderate drinking, as the Apostle Paul had enjoined, but not drunkenness like that associated with “Romanists” (as Catholics were often derisively called) or the fanatical avoidance of alcohol associated with Muslims.

With anti-immigrant fervor increasing during the 19th century, along with industrialization and social ills like drunkenness that were linked to urban overcrowding, abuses of labor, and inadequate sanitation (including inadequate drinking water), advocates for individual moderation lost out to those who supported governmental restrictions. The Maine Law of 1851, which largely prohibited the sale of alcohol, quickly inspired similar legislation in other states. Some opponents of such legislation likened temperance advocates to superstitious Muslims, whose abstinence from alcohol had ostensibly sapped their manly virtues and ability to progress. Others, however, like the popular cartoonist Thomas Nast, spent the latter half of the 19th century depicting recent immigrants—particularly Irish and Italian Catholics—as swarthy drunkards incapable of moderation, who needed the coercive hand of the state to bring them under control.32

Catholic immigrants’ ostensible drinking habits were not the only indicators of their immoderation, according to anti-immigrant nativists. Influential Congregationalist minister Josiah Strong and others also feared that Catholics could not moderate their allegiance to foreign powers. In Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis, an 1855 jeremiad against immigrants and call for Anglo-Saxon Protestant leadership over U.S. society, Strong rejected the notion that some “Romanists” were capable of loyalty to the United States. Against what he regarded as the idealistic picture of “moderate Romanism,” Strong claimed that it had been proven that “Roman Catholic training, from childhood up,” was a form of brainwashing, making it unlikely that “any considerable number of even moderate and liberal Romanists would . . . forsake their allegiance to the Pope.”33

In contrast to the charges of immoderation leveled against Catholic immigrants, observant Jews were rarely regarded as politically disloyal or as overly indulgent—at least where alcohol was concerned. Rumors about the superhuman Jewish ability to resist disease had circulated in Europe for decades. At the turn of the 20th century, a Russian social scientist speaking before the Fourth Zionist Congress in London refuted that canard, but also tried to explain why the rumors seemed so believable.

Jews were not physically different from other Europeans, Max Mandelstamm argued, but their religious regulations dealing with hygiene had protected them from the degenerative effects of insobriety. Jews only partook of food and drink moderately, Mandelstamm claimed. Particularly important, in his opinion and that of other Zionist scientists, was their moderate intake of alcohol, which helped them resist infections. Unfortunately, Mandelstamm alleged, this hygienic tendency was on the wane because “better-off Jews assimilate into the non-Jewish population” and adopt unhealthful habits.34 For him, way to protect against Jewish physical degeneration was to shun social and political integration and thus maintain the moderation practiced within the insulated community.

Ironically, Mandelstamm’s concern was greatest not for Jews in Western Europe but for those in Eastern European ghettos, who were simultaneously the most isolated and, in his opinion, the most physically degenerate. Similar scientists, such as the Viennese physician Martin Engländer, claimed that Western European Jews also suffered from an overly integrated life. Although they did not suffer physically like Eastern European Jews, he argued, echoing stereotypes about Jews common in Europe and the United States at the time, Western Jews suffered mentally and emotionally from immoderate habits. Their highly active brains (often judged by cranial size and deemed out of balance with the rest of their bodies) contributed to nervous conditions and insanity, Engländer, Mandelstamm, and others claimed. Further, Engländer asserted, their material success in the modern industrial economy had contributed to higher rates of suicide.35

Engländer, Mandelstamm, and several other Zionist scientists who published and lectured regularly believed that the remedy for such problems was to create a specifically Jewish state that insulated the community and protected Jewish health and virtues.36 Non-Jewish social scientists, however—including American eugenicists, who often traveled to Europe and focused less on truisms about moderation than on long-circulating stereotypes about degenerate Eastern Jews and materialistic Western ones—proposed other solutions.

American eugenicist Harry Laughlin, who was awarded a medal by the Nazis in the 1930s, helped not only to shape early 20th-century American anti-immigration laws but also to craft model legislation to permit forcibly sterilizing undesirables.37 Long before the 1920 federal prohibition on making and selling alcohol, laws like Laughlin’s paved the way for sterilizing those with ostensible hereditary problems that made them incapable of moderation and, thus, a threat to the health of the nation. These included alcoholics (a stereotype commonly applied to Catholics), other addicts (opium addiction being commonly ascribed to Chinese immigrants at the time), and the mentally enervated or insane (something often associated with Jews). While being deemed insufficiently moderate did not lead to immediate extermination, as it did in Nazi Germany, it could lead to genocide through the prevention of procreation.

Those Jewish Americans who did not want to be segregated and marked as entirely different but who did want to maintain some sort of communal distinctiveness at the turn of the 20th century also appealed to the virtue of moderation. Such was the case with proponents of “moderate reform,” a movement often traced to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who sought to unify the various Jewish communities in the United States under a common practice suited to American conditions.38 Wise refused to condemn those who did not observe traditional Jewish dietary laws, but he also did not want Jews to completely assimilate into American culture—as many felt pressed to do socially, politically, or for the sake of personal safety—without maintaining communal or religious cohesiveness.

Although Wise probably did not use the term “moderate reform” for his practice of Judaism, which has since become known as Reform Judaism, others ascribed that label to his movement by the early 1900s. Seeking applicants in 1911 for a new rabbinic post in the American Israelite (a paper Wise founded), a Canadian Jewish congregation noted its openness to candidates from the “moderate reform” tradition.39 Even before that, by 1885, other Jewish intellectuals had come to describe the need to innovate and adjust to the American environment while remaining faithful to Jewish tradition in terms of moderation.40

For many Jewish American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one way to assimilate while maintaining communal solidarities and distinctiveness was to allow men to integrate into American business, political, and social spheres while encouraging women—the ostensible guardians and transmitters of religion and morality—to remain at home. In this, Jewish American communities were often no different from other middle-class American communities that largely emphasized such Victorian gender arrangements. Jewish American women, however, like other middle-class American women, did not always agree with such strategies.41 For white Protestant women, Victorian norms involved the privatization of so-called femininity and the relegation of women to the non-public realm. For non-Protestants, it meant the privatization not only of gendered differences but also of religious ones—a trend that continues to affect Catholics, Muslims, and other groups, with those who earn religious toleration often being those who do not insist that their differences be accommodated publicly or politically.42

As previously mentioned, antebellum women had organized religiously oriented reform associations to deal with social issues ranging from slavery to drunkenness. Some of these female-led organizations, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, overtly supported women’s suffrage, while others, like the abolitionist movement of the Grimké sisters, supported women’s rights more broadly. Even those organizations that did not promote women’s rights gave women experience in leadership positions and a religiously sanctioned place in public affairs—an area that was increasingly defined during the 19th century as the province of men. As some women demanded greater social and political prerogatives and other women entered the political arena to denounce them, moderation was again invoked as a cardinal virtue.

Male and female opponents of women’s suffrage opined that women were not yet ready to exercise political power and that they must first undergo a period of education (an argument also made to withhold suffrage from black Americans and other minority populations). Women must be patient and wait for the proper time, it was commonly stated, and not impetuously and immoderately seize a privilege for which they were not prepared. As the prominent Boston minster O. B. Frothingham put it in his 1894 pamphlet “Woman Suffrage Unnatural and Inexpedient,” women “should have the preparatory training in affairs out of which is born sober expectation, knowledge of what can be done, moderation of hope.”43 His words reveal a common fear among those who opposed immediate suffrage: that women (and others) who gained the vote would then immoderately hope for more than their rightful share—perhaps even political office.

American women gained the vote after ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. With ratification the year before of the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol, it might seem that the question of moderation in both women’s political activity and alcohol consumption had been effectively settled. Far from it; in 1928, activists who opposed both the moralizing of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (which helped to police the boundaries of acceptable femininity despite lobbying for the vote) and the federal enforcement of Prohibition formed the Women’s Moderation Union to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment, in the process seizing the mantle of moderation for their female-led politicking in favor of personal rights.44 The Eighteenth Amendment was eventually repealed in 1933. Debates about women’s public and political activity would continue, however—particularly with the rise to prominence of a new religious movement: Christian fundamentalism.

Civil Rights, the Religious Right, and the Modern Specter of Irrational Enthusiasm

Debates about gender roles, the dangers of alcohol, and the Americanization of immigrants were only a few of the contested issues that characterized American society at the turn of the 20th century. While many Americans looked to their religious communities or texts to answer questions about social and political life, American Protestant communities were also increasingly riven by debates about the very nature of Christian teaching and interpretation. The pertinent dispute was over how or whether Christians should believe those parts of the Bible that seemed to conflict with science or contemporary social mores and how much varying beliefs should influence public policy and legislation.

In contrast to increasingly prevalent Christian interpretations that regarded any scientifically contradictory portions of the Bible as moral myths rather than actual historical narratives, a movement of Protestant leaders from different churches began to insist on particular points of doctrine that they saw as fundamental to Christianity and nonnegotiable. These included the infallibility of the Bible and the reality of Jesus’ birth to a virgin, all of Jesus’ reported miracles, Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for the sins of humankind, and his subsequent physical resurrection. By 1920, those who held to such beliefs were called “fundamentalists.” By the 1930s, those who identified as fundamentalists had begun to form their own networks of schools, publishing houses, and other institutions.45 Hewing to “traditional” gender norms was a key way for fundamentalists to show their distinctiveness and their opposition to theological and social currents that they considered overly modern.46 Nevertheless, the rapidly changing gender norms that characterized American society were far from fundamentalists’ only social concern.

During the 1920s, fundamentalists’ ostensible lack of theological moderation and efforts to influence public policy were frequently covered in national newspapers. Perhaps no one was more influential or antagonistic in opposing them than Baltimore Sun columnist H. L. Mencken. Mencken had lampooned Methodists for aligning themselves with Prohibition and was no fan of Catholics. Nevertheless, he reserved particular ire for southern and midwestern evangelicals who, in his words, “plunge into an abyss of malignant imbecility.”47 Having to choose between Protestant churches that seemed to grow increasingly ceremonial in the fashion of Catholicism and other Protestant churches that seemed to grow increasingly irrational and emotional in, as he saw it, the fashion of fundamentalists, “the Christian who retains some sanity, the moderate and peaceable fellow,” Mencken opined, begins to lose faith in religion at all and turns to science.48

Mencken’s most notable coverage of fundamentalist-related controversies involved the infamous 1925 court case State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes (also known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial”), during which Scopes was found guilty of teaching human evolution in a public school. Scopes’s actions had violated an act passed earlier that year in the state that prohibited teachers from denying the Biblical account of human creation. Following the trial, Mencken began inveighing against electing those whom he regarded as overly religious to public office. Shunning the tactics and ideas of the Ku Klux Klan, Mencken nevertheless assented to interrogating Catholics (a Klan target), Methodists who might support a “jehad” against alcohol (note the anti-Muslim comparison), and other immoderate believers who might seek to mold public policy to fit their religious persuasions.49

Although Scopes was fined for his actions, Mencken’s coverage is largely credited with discrediting fundamentalists in the court of public opinion. Fundamentalists spent the next decades building significant institutions, networks, and followings but would not emerge again as a public force until the 1970s and 1980s, when gender issues and women’s rights again became a pressing social issue. In the meantime, debates about the political valences of religious moderation took yet another turn, as ministers of various kinds led the charges for and against black Americans’ attempts to gain access to civil rights and full participation in the American body politic.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., was frequently derided as an extremist by white opponents in the 1950s. In turn, King railed against so-called white moderates—Christians who ostensibly supported giving civil rights to black Americans eventually but opposed tactics such as picketing and using facilities designated for whites only. Writing from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama, where he was imprisoned in 1963 for defying an injunction against protesting, King wrote that he was “gravely disappointed with the white moderate . . . who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and whom King saw as perhaps a more significant obstacle to achieving civil rights than even outright opponents such as the Ku Klux Klan.50 And yet, although King was in many ways absolutist about the need for immediate civil rights, he was often depicted as moderate in comparison to black Muslim separatists and nationalists such as Nation of Islam spokesperson Malcolm X.

A 1959 television special first brought the black separatist Nation of Islam movement to the attention of many white Americans. In contrast to religious leaders like King, who supported nonviolent resistance to white oppression, many in the Nation of Islam refused to suffer violence without reacting and proposed more revolutionary methods for securing rights. One such method was to seek not integration within a racist and violent white society but independence from it. Yet in 1964, just after King had decried the moral passivity of white moderates, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam for what he believed was the race-blind tradition of Sunni Islam. Although hardly less radical in his politics, Malcolm X no longer associated with a movement accused of violence. The next year, only months before his assassination, Malcolm X participated in a debate about the contours of moderation.

Invited to Oxford University, Malcolm X (who by then went by the name El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz) was asked to comment on a recent phrase uttered by the Republican candidate for president, Barry Goldwater, whom most Republicans and Democrats considered an extremist. “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” Goldwater had argued at that year’s Republican National Convention in what many saw as a tacit nod to the Ku Klux Klan, and “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”51 Defending Goldwater’s statement while noting the irony of agreeing in principle with someone he found so unprincipled, Malcolm inverted aspects of Goldwater’s philosophy by presenting a case against American treatment of blacks at home and the effects of American foreign policy on non-whites abroad. Prior to his speech at Oxford University, Malcolm had already argued, “The conditions our people suffer are extreme and an extreme illness cannot be cured with a moderate medicine.”52

Although Goldwater lost his race for the presidency to Lyndon Johnson, who signed into law multiple civil rights acts and created programs attempting to address the severe social and economic inequalities black Americans faced, Goldwater’s candidacy was a turning point for the modern Republican Party. Many of his positions had lacked support in 1964. Johnson’s civil rights legislation, however, inspired a conservative backlash. The backlash contributed to the decline of “moderate Republicans” (also known as “Rockefeller Republicans”—those who hewed to the ideas of Nelson Rockefeller and supported government spending on infrastructure and social projects) and to the rise of more right-wing leaders. This segment of the Republican Party gained crucial support in the 1970s and 1980s from fundamentalist Christians who opposed what they saw as overly liberal trends, including civil rights, calls for economic justice, second-wave feminism, and inter-religious cooperation involving Catholics.53

Prepared to re-enter politics and the public arena, fundamentalist leaders established several organizations to combat what they saw as frighteningly immoderate currents. “What is the catalyst turning traditionally conservative and moderate Christians toward the left?” asked the conservative Christian publication Christianity Today.54 The political influence fundamentalists gained through organizations like the Moral Majority, in turn, seemed extreme to Americans who identified as religiously liberal or secular. Each side invoked the need for religious moderation to prevail over the nation’s social and political life, and each side claimed that mantle while depicting the others as extremists.

When the Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis occupied national headlines in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some of these liberals and secularists began to apply the fundamentalist label to Muslims, explicitly comparing them to the ostensibly irrational and extremist Protestants who, they believed, had inappropriately injected conservative religion into politics.55 These comparisons, which were meant to shame fundamentalists by association, would last into the 21st century. After the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 and terror attacks of 2001, denigration of so-called Muslim fundamentalists took on a new domestic resonance and was accompanied by demands for and debate over Muslim moderation. Such calls would come not only from private citizens but also, increasingly, from various levels of government.

Moderate Religion since the Late 20th Century

In May 1993, the New York Times featured a story about black American Muslims who had changed their affiliation from the Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam. It was the first time the paper had described any American Muslims as “moderate” (in the past, the Times consistently presented Martin Luther King Jr. as a moderate in comparison to black Muslims like Malcolm X), and it was a significant event, given the tenor of discussion about Muslims in the United States after the bombing of the World Trade Center by terrorists in February of that year.56 It was also a contested description and remained one for decades.

After the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building, pundits and politicians immediately described the attack as an act of terror and speculated that Muslims must be responsible. While the attacker was actually a white supremacist, media attention to conflicts in Muslim-majority areas led many Americans to associate Muslims, more than any other group, with intolerance and violence. Just a few years later, as Republican congressman Newt Gingrich petitioned Congress to fund a program to “moderate” Iranian leaders, the Times ran letters from readers who debated the character of Muslims in the United States. One argued that Muslims should not be uniformly blamed for isolated acts of terror. Another argued that, due to Muslim leaders’ ostensible failure to prevent terror attacks, “moderate” was simply not a word that could be used to describe anyone from that tradition.57

While average Americans argued about whether Muslims, like Catholics and Jews before them, could be considered moderate and therefore capable of contributing positively to American public life, government officials actively sought to recruit Muslim Americans to serve as allies for projects at home and abroad. This was not a new development. U.S. officials had sought such allies since the beginning of the Cold War.58 At the turn of the 21st century, however, some officials and analysts deemed a particular segment of Muslims more moderate than others, and in so doing proved again just how unstable and highly political the designation of religious moderation often is.

Relying on both orientalist generalizations and romanticization common in popular culture, many State Department officials came to view Sufis (practitioners of what is frequently described as the mystical form of Islam) as the kind of moderate Muslim allies the United States needed.59 Ironically, Sufism—a practice that is often described as more personal and individualistic than other forms of Islam—would surely have drawn the ire of moderate critics of “enthusiasm” in previous centuries.60 In fact, in several Muslim-majority countries, the practice of Sufism is considered suspect for some of the same reasons that English authorities and colonial officials frowned on the practices of religious dissenters. Like those dissenters, Sufis sometimes engage in personal ecstatic communion with the divine or adhere to the teachings of religious leaders not supported by state officials—positions that can be threatening to those in power. For the U.S. State Department and policy analysts, however, particularly those working after the terrorist attacks of 2001, Sufis’ ostensible religious individualism seemed likely to lead them to question existing authorities and to promote democracy—exactly the things such analysts and officials hoped to encourage among Muslims worldwide.61

The post-2001 push to identify and cultivate moderate Muslims has had far-reaching implications, domestically and abroad. Just as use of the term “fundamentalist” was broadened in the 1970s, the term “moderate” has been globalized in new ways since 2001, with the U.S. government and non-governmental organizations leading the way in promoting moderate religion worldwide.62 This has frequently led the U.S. government to ally with other governments that commit broad human rights abuses against political dissenters in the name of promoting religious moderation and prosecuting those they label as terrorists. The legacy of 16th-century Europe seems not far off.

Domestically, political and media emphasis on the need for Muslim moderates often, ironically, leads pundits and journalists to focus less on the millions of ordinary, law-abiding Muslims who live in the United States and more on those rare individuals who commit violence and happen to be Muslim—whether or not they were impelled by religious motives. In the meantime, violence committed by non-Muslims—whether the frequent violence committed against people of color in general, such as the shooting of black American churchgoers by a white supremacist in 2015, or the frequent violence against Muslim citizens by anti-Muslim Americans more specifically—is rarely labeled “terrorism” or followed by calls for white Christian moderation.63 This is despite the fact that American intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials routinely identify white, right-wing militants as a more dangerous and pervasive threat to American citizens than so-called immoderate Muslims.64

Far from a solely personal virtue or a consistent philosophical position, religious moderation has been a contested and deeply political value since at least the early modern period. During many periods of American history, its promoters have variously and simultaneously encouraged tolerance of diversity and justified state violence against those who are different. Contests over the nature of moderation and its political ramifications are far from over. As the United States becomes an increasingly diverse society, with white Protestants comprising an ever-smaller portion of the population, and as American intervention in foreign countries is increasingly contested, debates over moderation are certain to change again, reflecting new power dynamics and new notions of piety among the next generations.

Review of the Literature

Religious moderation has only become a subject of critical reflection in the field of American religious history since the late 20the century. As with many aspects of the field, previous analyses of the topic were mostly descriptive and denominationally based, with a heavy Protestant bias. Although Catholics were not regarded as religiously moderate for much of American history, for example, religious and political historians have written about the “moderate Catholics” of France (a distinct 16th-century political faction) since the 1800s. It was only during the early 21st century that historians began to question the politics behind that designation and the way it was applied to other cases.65

The trend of examining claims of religious moderation more critically gained steam in the 1980s. In 1985, historian Leigh Eric Schmidt reappraised how moderation had been narrated in the Great Awakening context, most specifically with reference to Jonathan Dickinson, often described (and idealized) as a moderate.66 Along with this critical reappraisal came new examinations of those deemed immoderate—namely, “enthusiasts”—and of the political ramifications of such narratives.67 Historians began to pay particular attention to the ways women, members of non-white racial groups, and non-Protestants, especially, were cast as irrational, overly emotional, and incapable of moderation.68

Following the terrorist attacks of 2001 on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, as politicians and members of the general public began to demand that Muslims demonstrate their moderation in particular ways, many historians began to wonder about the power dynamics linked to calls for moderation.69 Such inquiries have not been limited to American history. Rather, historians of Europe have increasingly investigated notions of moderation in the history of that continent, including how the political control and social repression exerted in the name of moderation extended across the Atlantic. As one such scholar argued, the “intrinsically aggressive character of moderation is far too rarely emphasized,” with the result that the tone of early modern debates over moderation—with their “powerful connotations of coercion and control”—has been lost.70 Finally, other academics began to wonder about the utility and political valences of American attempts to promote a certain kind of Islam or certain kind of “moderate religion” worldwide.71 Although more a recent addition to the subject, monographs devoted to such inquiries are likely to increase in number in the years to come.

Further Reading

Corbett, Rosemary R.Making Moderate Islam: Sufism, Service, and the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Ellis, Carol A.“The Tragedy of the White Moderate”: Father Albert Foley and Alabama Civil Rights, 1963–1967. Birmingham: University of Southern Alabama, 2002.Find this resource:

Hatch, Nathan O.The Democratization of American Christianity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.Find this resource:

Heyd, Michael. Be Sober and Reasonable: The Critique of Enthusiasm in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries. New York: Brill, 1995.Find this resource:

Hurd, Elizabeth Shakman. Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Khan, M. A. Muqtedar, ed. Debating Moderate Islam: The Geopolitics of Islam and the West. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Laborie, Lionel. Enlightening Enthusiasm: Prophecy and Religious Experience in Early Eighteenth-Century England. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Lovejoy, David S.Religious Enthusiasm in the New World: Heresy to Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

Oshatz, Molly. Slavery and Sin: The Fight against Slavery and the Rise of Liberal Protestantism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Racaut, Luc, and Alec Ryrie, eds. Moderate Voices in the European Reformation. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005.Find this resource:

Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Restless Souls: The Making of American Christianity. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006.Find this resource:

Shagan, Ethan H.The Rule of Moderation: Violence, Religion and the Politics of Restraint in Early Modern England. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Watt, David Harrington. Antifundamentalism in Modern America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Wood, Simon A., and David Harrington Watt, eds., Fundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014.Find this resource:


(1.) On the need to use caution when historicizing moderation or ascribing the label of “moderate” to historical figures, including Erasmus, see Ethan H. Shagan, The Rule of Moderation: Violence, Religion and the Politics of Restraint in Early Modern England (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 19.

(2.) See, for example, Joseph Loconte, God, Locke, and Liberty: The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the West (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2014).

(3.) Such is the case in accounts of 16th-century France, where those who attempted to mediate religious and political disputes within the Catholic territory were considered insufficiently principled and overly political, or politique—something English-speaking commentators and subsequent historians translated as “moderate.” See Luc Racaut and Alec Ryrie, “Introduction: Between Coercion and Persuasion,” in Moderate Voices in the European Reformation, eds. Racaut and Ryrie (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005), 9–10.

(4.) See, for example, Mary Astell, Moderation Truly Stated, or A Review of a Late Pamphlet Entitul’d Moderation a Vertue, or the Occasional Conformist Justify’d from the Imputation of Hypocrisy (London: J. L., 1704).

(5.) Shagan, Rule of Moderation, 113.

(6.) Ibid., 119–129.

(7.) On Hutchison and Williams, see David S. Lovejoy, Religious Enthusiasm in the New World: Heresy to Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).

(8.) Roger Williams, “Letter to the Town of Providence on the Limits of Religious Liberty,” in American Religions: A Documentary History, ed. R. Marie Griffith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 75–76.

(9.) William Penn, “A Persuasive to Moderation to Church Dissenters, in Prudence and Conscience,” in Griffith, American Religions, 76–81.

(10.) “Francisco de Vitoria on the Evangelization of the Unbelievers (1534–35),” in Colonial Spanish America: A Documentary History, eds. William B. Taylor and Kenneth Mills (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1998), 52–64, and “José de Acosta on the Salvation of the Indians (1588),” in ibid., 115–124.

(11.) Abijah Perkins Marvin, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather, D.D., F.R.S., or A Boston Minister of Two Centuries Ago, 1663–1728 (Boston: Congregational Sunday School and Publishing Society, 1892), 512.

(12.) Charles Chauncy, Enthusiasm Described and Caution’d Against: A Sermon Preach’d at the Old Brick Meeting House in Boston, the Lord’s Day after the Commencement, 1742 (Boston: J. Draper, 1742), quoted in Lionel Laborie, Enlightening Enthusiasm: Prophecy and Religious Experience in Early Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 165n170.

(13.) Charles Chauncy, Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England (Boston: Rogers & Fowle, 1743), quoted in Griffith, American Religions, 106–109.

(14.) Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (Lexington: J. Charles, 1803), quoted in Griffith, American Religions, 98.

(15.) Ibid. Although Edwards did not decry the “exstatick rapturous joys” other ministers criticized, such as falling to the floor, he did condemn what he saw as enthusiastic extremes—particularly that of believing oneself to be more authentically Christian, and thus better, than one’s neighbor. See Leigh Eric Schmidt, “Jonathan Dickinson and the Moderate Awakening,” American Presbyterians 63.4 (Winter 1985): 346, and Conrad Cherry, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards: A Reappraisal (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990).

(16.) Thomas S. Kidd describes Whitfield’s “Letter to the Inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina” in “George Whitfield’s Troubled Relationship to Race and Slavery,” Then and Now (Christian Century blog), January 6, 2015.

(17.) Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitfield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014).

(18.) See, for example, Curtis J. Evans, The Burden of Black Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Derek Chang, “‘Marked in Body, Mind, and Spirit’: Home Missionaries and the Remaking of Race and Nation,” in Race, Nation, and Religion in the Americas, eds. Henry Goldschmidt and Elizabeth McAlister (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 133–156; and Leigh Eric Schmidt, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 129–130.

(19.) “Pennsylvania Anglicans,” in A Documentary History of Religion in America to the Civil War, ed. Edwin S. Gaustad (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 239.

(20.) James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” in Griffith, American Religions, 152.

(21.) Ibid., 155.

(22.) These words were common to the 1776 Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights, the 1780 Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights that served as their common template. See Barbara A. McGraw, Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012), 76, 215n48.

(23.) Quoted in Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), 202.

(24.) On female converts, see Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman’s Sphere” in New England, 1780–1835 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 132. On Jarena Lee, see Anne Braude, Sisters and Saints: Women and American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 28–48.

(25.) Daniel B. Lee, “A Great Racial Commission: Religion and the Construction of White America,” in Goldschmidt and McAlister, Race, Nation, and Religion, 86.

(26.) Quoted in Molly Oshatz, Slavery and Sin: The Fight against Slavery and the Rise of Liberal Protestantism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 40.

(28.) See Oshatz’s chapter on “Antislavery Moderation,” ibid., 43–60.

(29.) Quoted in John T. Cumbler, From Abolition to Rights for All: The Making of a Reform Community in the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 188n133.

(31.) Quoted in Timothy Marr, The Cultural Roots of American Islamicism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 176.

(32.) See Marr, Cultural Roots of American Islamicism, 179–180, and Fiona Deans Halloran, Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

(33.) Josiah Strong, Our Country: Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis (New York: American Home Missionary Society, 1885), quoted in Griffith, American Religions, 373, 375.

(34.) Mitchell Bryan Hart, Social Science and the Politics of Modern Jewish Identity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 104–106, quote from 106. See also 115 and 146 for other Zionist scientists’ claims about Jewish moderation.

(35.) Ibid., 115–116. On the prevalence of such ideas in the United States and connections between American notions and European ones, see Eric Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 35–38.

(36.) Engländer, for example, in an argument against integration, claimed that Eastern European Jews were particularly physically degenerate, suffering from diseases that also concerned American immigration officials, such as trachoma and tuberculosis. Because of their moderate habits of living, however, including “moderation in food and drink,” they at least did not generally suffer from syphilis. Quoted in Hart, Social Science, 115.

(37.) On Laughlin, his influence, and his travels between the United States and Europe (including a commendation from the Nazis), see Nathaniel Deutsch, Inventing America’s Worst Family: Eugenics, Islam, and the Fall and Rise of the Tribe of Ishmael (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 7–10, 101–106, 130–133, 155.

(38.) On Wise, see Goldstein, Price of Whiteness, 12–30.

(39.) Quoted in Michael Brown, “The Beginnings of Reform Judaism in Canada,” Jewish Social Studies 34.4 (October 1972): 328.

(40.) See, for example, Alexander Kohut, “What is Progress?” in Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History, ed. Zev Eleff (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016), 62.

(41.) On gendered ways of negotiating concerns about assimilation, see Goldstein, Price of Whiteness, 12–16, 22–25.

(42.) On the marginalization of Catholics (particularly Catholic women) for public displays of piety, see, for example, Robert A. Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880–1950 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). More pervasive more recently has been discrimination and violence against Muslims (particularly Muslim women) simply for wearing an article of clothing demonstrating their piety. For some of the politics of this dynamic in the United States, see Lila Abu-Lughod, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith, and Kathleen M. Moore, Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

(43.) Quoted in Anne Myra Benjamin, Women against Equality: A History of the Anti-Suffrage Movement in the United States from 1895 to 1920 (Raleigh, NC: Lulu, 2014), 78.

(44.) Kenneth D. Rose, American Women and the Repeal of Prohibition (New York: New York University Press, 1997), 72–74.

(45.) On the history of the movement and the terminology, see David Harrington Watt, “Fundamentalists of the 1920s and 1930s,” in Fundamentalism: Perspectives on a Contested History, eds. Simon A. Wood and David Harrington Watt (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014).

(46.) See Margaret Lamberts Bendroth, Fundamentalism and Gender: 1875 to the Present (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996).

(47.) H. L. Mencken, “The Decline of Protestantism,” American Mercury, March 1925.

(49.) H. L. Mencken, “On Religion in Politics,” Baltimore Evening Sun, December 7, 1925.

(50.) Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” quoted in Griffith, American Religions, 507.

(51.) Quoted in Saladin Ambar, Malcolm X at Oxford Union: Racial Politics in a Global Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 35.

(52.) Ibid., 31.

(53.) Neil Young, We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

(54.) David L. Weeks, “Capitalism: For Good or Evil?” Christianity Today, October 7, 1983, 81, quoted in Young, We Gather Together, 231.

(55.) See the introduction to Wood and Watt, Fundamentalism.

(56.) Don Terry, “Black Muslims Enter Islamic Mainstream,” New York Times, May 3, 1993.

(57.) “No Muslim Outrage,” New York Times, January 28, 1996.

(58.) Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

(59.) Rosemary Corbett, Making Moderate Islam: Sufism, Service, and the “Ground Zero Mosque” Controversy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016).

(60.) For early American critiques of mysticism as “enthusiasm,” see Schmidt, Restless Souls, 36–37.

(61.) Ibid., 88–100.

(62.) Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015).

(63.) Such selective labeling was evident, for example, in the 2017 list of terror attacks that Donald J. Trump’s presidential administration identified as “underreported” incidents. None of the attacks involved assaults on Muslims, nor did notable attacks by white assailants (such as Dylann Roof’s shooting of black parishioners) make the list. See Max Fisher and Kitty Bennett, “Our Articles on the Attacks Trump Says the Media Didn’t Cover,” New York Times (February 7, 2017).

(64.) See, for example, Daryl Johnson, Right-Wing Extremism: Current Political and Economic Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, 2009), and Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, Law Enforcement Assessment of the Violent Extremism Threat (Durham, NC: Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, 2015).

(65.) See Louise Campbell, “A Diagnosis of Religious Moderation: Matthew Parker and the 1559 Settlement,” in Moderate Voices in the European Reformation, eds. Racaut and Ryrie, 35.

(66.) Schmidt, “Jonathan Dickinson and the Moderate Awakening.”

(67.) See, for example, David S. Lovejoy, Religious Enthusiasm in the New World: Heresy to Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).

(68.) An interesting exception to this trend can be found in attention to stereotypes about Chinese Americans, who were often cast as insufficiently enthusiastic. See Chang, “Marked in Body,” 141–145.

(69.) See, for example, Corbett, Making Moderate Islam.

(70.) Shagan, Rule of Moderation, 9.

(71.) See, for example, the contributions to M. A. Muqtedar Khan, ed., Debating Moderate Islam: The Geopolitics of Islam and the West (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007), and Hurd, Beyond Religious Freedom.