Cincinnati’s Religious Landscape, 1788–1873Matthew Smith
A case study about the formation of American pluralism and religious liberty, The Spires Still Point to Heaven explores why—and more importantly how—the early growth of Cincinnati influenced the changing face of the United States. Matthew Smith deftly chronicles the urban history of this thriving metropolis in the mid-nineteenth century. As Protestants and Catholics competed, building rival domestic missionary enterprises, increased religious reform and expression shaped the city. In addition, the different ethnic and religious beliefs informed debates on race, slavery, and immigration, as well as disease, temperance reform, and education.
Specifically, Smith explores the Ohio Valley’s religious landscape from 1788 through the nineteenth century, examining its appeal to evangelical preachers, abolitionists, social critics, and rabbis. He traces how Cincinnati became a battleground for newly energized social reforms following a cholera epidemic, and how grassroots political organizing was often tied to religious issues. He also illustrates the anti-immigrant sentiments and anti-Catholic nativism pervasive in this era. The first monograph on Cincinnati’s religious landscape before the Civil War, The Spires Still Point to Heaven highlights Cincinnati’s unique circumstances and how they are key to understanding the cultural and religious development of the nation.
“The Spires Still Point to Heaven is an important story about the hard-fought battle between evangelical Protestants and Catholics to save souls in Cincinnati, where revivalism became respectable and made the city a religious hub for the nation. Sectarian identity also became inseparable from sectional politics, and religious identification gave women access to the public sphere. Here, the debate about the place of religion in public education has relevance today. Matthew Smith’s study of religious competition in Cincinnati, often expressed as evangelical fervor, helps us better understand the evolution of pluralism, toleration, and liberty in American history.”—R. Douglas Hurt, Professor of History at Purdue University
“Matthew Smith has immersed himself in primary and secondary sources, including often overlooked contemporaneous secondary materials, and has synthesized these into a very well-written and compelling narrative. What he demonstrates, among other things, is the relentless push toward toleration and accommodation, even though that push episodically crashed against the shoals of race, ethnicity, religion, and privilege. What is especially impressive about The Spires Still Point to Heaven is its discursive character, covering everything from geography and natural history to William Holmes McGuffey, the female seminary movement, and the (in)famous Cincinnati Bible War. This is an impressive achievement born of prodigious research.”—Randall Balmer, John Phillips Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College, and author of Passion Plays: How Religion Shaped Sports in North America
From Improvement to City PlanningHenry C. Binford