Wednesday, May 22, 2019

New and Noteworthy--Chaplains, Missionaries and Soldiers On Campaign

In God's Presence: Chaplains, Missionaries and Religious Space During the American Civil War, Benjamin Miller, University of Kansas Press, 256 pages, illustrations, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index. $39.95

Benjamin Miller sheds light  on how wartime clergy interacted with soldiers, both blue and gray. Could soldiers and pastors construct roles and a spaces for religious faith in the midst of winter encampments, campaigns, battles, hospitals, prisons and graveyards? To do so successfully, some practices had to be jettisoned and new practises had to be created.

The author compares and contrasts our current notions of religious space with the notions that mid-19th century individuals held. He defines religious space as the place where one confers with the divine, a physical site that offers spiritual guidance and fulfillment. It is a space both inside a building or tent or outside of any structure and located in the natural environment. Religious spaces may in the midst of profane space where gambling, profanity and drunkenness competes with the presence of the sacred.

In God's Presence offers detailed evidence from soldiers' and chaplains' diaries, letters and recollections. During the pre-war era, there were substantial differences in religious practices of the North and the South, in the enthusiastic or emotional, and reflective or meditative worship practices.
With few exceptions, the author finds that chaplains and missionaries ministered to men regardless of religious beliefs, racial identities or army affiliations.

The  environment of encampments, marches and prison camps fostered the abandonment of denominations and  sectarian differences.  Ecumenicism fostered by the limited resources of chaplains who lived and traveled along side soldiers. The antebellum lives of clergy, their worldviews and practices are examined. The changes that occurred among the clergy is discussed, as is the worldviews, patriotism, and near-death experiences of the soldiers.

Soldiers as worshipers are thoroughly presented: antebellum religious beliefs and practices, wartime adaptations in the roles and work of pastors, and the creation of literature devoted to soldiers' considerations of the role of providence during wartime.Throughout In God's Presence: Chaplains, Missionaries and Religious Space During the American Civil War, Benjamin Miller offers the words of the soldiers as they describe their inner conflicts, psychological changes, and their sense of loss and even abandonment of previously held understanding of their faith. What is remarkable is that Miller includes the a consideration of the creation, development and change over four years of war and during the post-war years of the soldiers' beliefs regarding American civil religion.  In God's Presence is a balanced work of both personal and public histories, both individual and denominational confessions of faith, and the experience of personal grief and societal shock at the loss of lives on battlefields and prison camps.

From the publisher: When thousands of young men in the North and South marched off to fight in the Civil War, another army of men accompanied them to care for these soldiers spiritual needs. In God’s Presence explores how these two cohorts of men, Northern and Southern and mostly Christian, navigated the challenges of the Civil War on battlefields and in military camps, hospitals, and prisons.
In wartime, military clergy—chaplains and missionaries—initially attempted to replicate the idyllic world of the antebellum church. Instead they found themselves constructing a new religious world—one in which static spaces customarily invested with religious meaning, such as houses and churches, gave way to dynamic sacred spaces defined by clergy to suit changing wartime circumstances.

At the same time, the religious beliefs that soldiers brought from home differed from the religious practices that allowed them to endure during wartime. With reference to Civil War soldiers’ diaries, letters, and memoirs, this book asks how clergy shaped these practices; how they might have differed from camp to battlefield, hospital, or prison; and how this experience affected postbellum religious belief and practice.
Religion and war have always been at the center of the human condition, with warfare often leading to heightened religiosity. The Civil War cannot be fully explained without understanding religions role in the conflict. In God’s Presence advances this understanding by offering critical insight into the course and consequences of America’s epochal fratricidal war

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