“Religious progressives have been a key part of small-town life in the United States, and the influence of their faith and action can be seen in communities nationwide. ”
This grant would support archival research and field work for a book project in which I chronicle the overlooked history of religious progressivism in small towns throughout the United States. The project examines how religious liberals have shaped small-town life, particularly through the development of institutions that reflect their values. It analyzes unique facets of small-town religious progressivism that explain why this faith tradition has been largely overlooked in histories of American religion and present-day public discourse. In doing so, the project promises a deeper understanding of religious progressivism in its diverse forms.
Scholarship of American religious liberalism typically focuses on urban centers, obscuring the presence and influence of religious progressives in small communities. This oversight has contributed to the image of the United States as a nation divided between rural religious conservatism and urban spiritual progressivism. This study seeks to capture a long history in which contemporary small-town religious liberals can situate their work. It also explores relevant instances from the past when progressives overcame political, theological, and denominational divisions with their neighbors in order to foster vibrant religious life. Such examples offer lessons for church leaders in today's small towns.
The grant will allow archival research from a wider range of geographic and denominational sources, capturing a broader array of perspectives on small-town religious progressivism than would be possible without support.