History, Department of


Date of this Version



Reviews in American History, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Mar., 1976), pp. 68-72


Copyrigh 1975 by the Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.


American church history, as practiced by its traditionalists, has recounted the intricacies of theological thought and debate, the mighty deeds of church fathers, and their positions on important social and political questions of the day. Despite the considerable influence of H. Richard Niebuhr's Social Sources of Denominationalism (1929), which illuminated the relationship between ethnicity and the growth of American churches, only rarely have professional historians focused their analytical skills on the foundational unit of American denominations, that is, the local congregation, parish, or synagogue. Similarly, immigration historians have described the contributions of this or that ethnic group to the composite American culture, and while they have long recognized the importance of the church for the newcomers, they have seldom identified the local congregation as the preeminent immigrant institution. The obscurity of the parish, moreover, was compounded by the fact that for years many historians refused to recognize either church history or immigration history as serious or important fields of study.