Critiquing the literary-critical habit of approaching religion primarily in terms of individual belief, this essay proposes that the sociologist Danièle Hervieu-Léger’s definition of religion as a “lineage of belief” can reorient literary scholars to religion’s investment in its own survival and reproduction. Hervieu-Léger’s model emphasizes that religious institutions ensure their continuity by negotiating intracommunity conflict and intergenerational transformations. Building on this model, the essay argues that literary texts participate in religion’s collective memory and self-definition, then illustrates this point by demonstrating how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Oldtown Folks (1869) creates a bildungsroman-like narrative to shape the story of Protestantism’s Anglican-Puritan branch from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Although this representation is political in that it reinforces Protestantism as integral to American identity, Oldtown Folks prioritizes the vibrancy and longevity of Anglo-American Puritanism and Episcopalianism as relatively autonomous, family- and community-based institutions that maintain complex relationships to state violence and imperialism. For instance, while Oldtown Folks endorses Protestantism’s collaboration with North American settler colonialism, it also challenges the efficacy and desirability of the Congregational Church’s South Seas missionary work.

You do not currently have access to this content.