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Sin in the City

Chicago and Revivalism, 1880-1920

Thekla Ellen Joiner

Publication Year: 2007

  Long before today’s culture wars, the “Third Great Awakening” rocked America. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, evangelists such as Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday roused citizens to renounce sin as it manifested in popular culture, moral ambiguity, and the changing role of women.

            Sin in the City examines three urban revivals in turn-of-the-century Chicago to show how revivalists negotiated that era’s perceived racial, sexual, and class threats. While most studies of this movement have focused on its male leaders and their interactions with society, Thekla Ellen Joiner raises new questions about gender and race by exploring Third Awakening revivalism as the ritualized performance of an evangelical social system defined by middle-class Protestant moral aspirations for urban America. Rather than approaching these events merely as the achievements of persuasive men, she views them as choreographed collective rituals reinforcing a moral order defined by ideals of femininity, masculinity, and racial purity.

            Joiner reveals how revivalist rhetoric and ritual shifted from sentimentalist identification of sin with males to a more hard-nosed focus on females, castigating “loose women” whose economic and sexual independence defied revivalist ideals and its civic culture. She focuses on Dwight L. Moody’s 1893 World’s Fair revival, the 1910 Chapman-Alexander campaign, and the 1918 Billy Sunday revival, comparing the locations, organization, messages, and leaders of these three events to depict the shift from masculinized to feminized sin. She identifies the central role women played in the Third Awakening as the revivalists promoted feminine virtue as the corrective to America’s urban decline. She also shows that even as its definition of sin became more feminized, Billy Sunday’s revivalism began to conform to Chicago’s emerging color line.

            Enraged by rapid social change in cities like Chicago, these preachers spurred Protestant evangelicals to formulate a gendered and racialized moral regime for urban America. Yet, as Joiner shows, even as revivalists demonized new forms of entertainment, they used many of the modern cultural practices popularized in theaters and nickelodeons to boost the success of their mass conversions.

            Sin in the City shows that the legacy of the Third Awakening lives on today in the religious right’s sociopolitical activism; crusade for family values; disparagement of feminism; and promotion of spirituality in middle-class, racial, and cultural terms. Providing cultural and gender analysis too often lacking in the study of American religious history, it offers a new model for understanding the development of a gendered theology and set of religious practices that influenced Protestantism in a period of enormous social change.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xii

In some ways, I should not be writing a book on sin. I am not a theologian, and I am not interested in philosophizing about the nature of good and evil. I am interested, however, in how a society defines “sin,” and in how history and culture can mold its meaning. I am particularly intrigued with America’s twenty-first-century “culture wars” and the way that “New Right” evangelicals tout the righteousness of “traditional family values”...


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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. 1-20

Protestant evangelicalism entails an individual’s belief and an individual’s behavior. Religious revivals cover both dimensions in terms of communicating and reinforcing evangelicalism’s religious and social intent. Periodic expressions of awakening serve to revitalize Protestantism and attract more followers to the faith. American revivalism began in the eighteenth century. The First Great Awakening spread through the British...

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Chapter 1. “True Christianity ” in the Second City Chicago Evangelicals

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pp. 21-62

By 1890 Chicago had emerged as America’s “second city.” As the largest city in the developing West, Chicago’s grain, lumber, meatpacking, and farm implement industries spurred the city to unparalleled success in both manufacturing and shipping. Canals and then railroads positioned the city as an intermediary between the East and the West, a “gateway city” that tied the western hinterland’s farms and small towns to the economies of the Northeast, particularly New York. The 1871 Chicago...

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Chapter 2. “Sow the Wind, Reap the Whirlwind ” - The 1893 World ’s Fair Campaign

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pp. 63-108

By the 1880s revivalist Dwight L. Moody was approaching the latter years of a successful evangelistic career in both Europe and the United States. In 1889, Moody was returning to the States from Europe when the drive shaft on his ship, the German Lloyd S.S. Spree, malfunctioned and punctured the hull. The revivalist later recounted that as the ship floundered in the dark waters of the Atlantic, he struck a bargain with the...

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Chapter 3. “Convert Chicago through Its Women!” - The 1910 Chapman-Alexander Simultaneous Campaign

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pp. 109-167

In October 1910 the Simultaneous Evangelistic Campaign of J. Wilbur Chapman and Charles Alexander came to Chicago. The Simultaneous Revival concept was a modern addendum to Third Awakening schemas, a plan that recognized urban diversity and instituted a decidedly organized approach to spreading the Gospel. Like earlier Third Awakening revivals,the Simultaneous campaign headlined two male evangelists, J. Wilbur...

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Chapter 4. “I’ll Never Be an Angel If I Haven’t Manhood Enough to Be a Man!” - The 1918 Billy Sunday Revival

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pp. 168-222

In March 1918 Billy Sunday came to Chicago for a ten-week revival.Sunday’s sensational New York City campaign in the spring of 1917 fol-lowed by revivals in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., brought the revivalist to Chicago as a religious célèbre. The 1918 Chicago revival,however, would be Sunday’s last revival in a major urban area. The campaign replaced J. Wilbur Chapman’s simultaneous model with a highly...

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Conclusion: “Thank You, Lord, for Our Testosterone ” - The End (Times)

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pp. 223-242

World War I marked a turning point, if not the end, of the Third Awakening. Despite the media blitz that surrounded Billy Sunday’s 1918 campaign and his popularity in Chicago, revivalism as a whole became far less extravagant and moved to much smaller venues.Several factors contributed to the decline in enthusiasm. First, largely in response to Billy Sunday’s reputation as an evangelist and as a modern-day...

Works Cited

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pp. 243-264


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pp. 265-271

E-ISBN-13: 9780826265807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826220035

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2007