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Social Gospel in American Life

Historians have often construed the Social Gospel as an elite theological movement within Liberal Protestantism – one which was driven by white, male ministers and seminary professors and which flourished primarily in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. In this course we will explore the viability of an alternative narrative, which posits a much wider and
longer Social Gospel tradition in American life. Over the course of the last two centuries countless American Christians have sought to apply the gospel to the most pressing problems of their day. Believing that sin infects not only persons but also systems and structures, they have set out to save not just individual souls but also the whole of society. In this class students will be introduced to a diverse array of social gospelers – women and men, rich and poor, Catholics and Protestants, African Americans, Latinos, and more – who participated in social struggles ranging from abolitionism to the labor movement, from battles for Civil Rights to campaigns to revive blighted urban neighborhoods. As we move chronologically from the early-nineteenth century to the present, we will spend most of our time immersed in primary documents, but we will also attend throughout to historical contexts, with an eye especially toward understanding the larger impact that social gospelers have had on the modern United States.


This syllabus was created for the Young Scholars in American Religion program.

Heath Carter

Valparaiso University

Private College or University
Institution Type

Resource Type

Undergraduate Course
Class Type

Date Published

History, Theology

Catholic, Other Christianities, Protestant
Religous Tradition


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