This article discusses how Harriet Beecher Stowe and her contemporaries envisioned the present and future of society in terms of the institutions of religion and political economy. Drawing on the rhetoric surrounding the disestablishment of the state church in Massachusetts, on the political economy of Francis Wayland and Francis Bowen, and on Stowe’s fiction and essays, I argue that an overemphasis on the individual in Stowe’s thought has eclipsed how Stowe—and many others—depicted society through institutions. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe weighs the family and the voluntary church against slavery and the economy as institutions in order to illustrate a society purified of slavery’s detrimental influence precisely through the institutions that criticism on Stowe has neglected. Put bluntly, we need to read Stowe’s novel in terms of Tom’s cabin and not just in terms of Tom as an individual martyr. Only by investigating such institutional thinking about society in the nineteenth century, I suggest, can we understand the relationship between religion, literature, and society in the wake of the secularization thesis.


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pp. 249-276
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