Leo Hirrel

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In an exciting reinterpretation of the early nineteenth century, Leo Hirrel demonstrates the importance of religious ideas by exploring the relationship between religion and reform efforts during a crucial period in American history. The result is a work that moves the history of antebellum reform to a higher level of sophistication.

Hirrel focuses upon New School Congregationalists and Presbyterians who served at the forefront of reform efforts and provided critical leadership to anti-Catholic, temperance, antislavery, and missionary movements. Their religion was an attempt to reconcile traditional Calvinist language with the prevalent intellectual trends of the time. New School theologians preserved Calvinist language about depravity, but they incorporated an assertion of nominal human ability to overcome sin and a belief in the fixed, immutable nature of truth.

Describing both the origins of New School Calvinism and the specific reform activities that grew out of these beliefs, Hirrel provides a fresh perspective on the historical background of religious controversies.

Leo Hirrel holds a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.

"Represents an expanding concept of religious history in which theology can become an important analytical perspective as historians attempt to understand and explain American society."—American Religious Experience

"A clearly written history of New School Calvinism in the Presbyterian and Congregationalist traditions."—Choice

"Hirrel’s argument that theology grows out of a historical context is wisdom itself."—Church History

"Shows how theological ideas provided the intellectual grounding and moral motivation for powerful reform movements in antebellum America. . . . A significant contribution that scholars of American religion and culture cannot afford to ignore."—Curtis D. Johnson

"A lucid description of a central strand in antebellum American culture, of value to students of both religion and history."—Daniel Walker Howe

"A significant contribution to our understanding of antebellum religion and reform. Hirrel has succeeded in showing that New School Calvinism was a primary motivating force for a number of leading antebellum reformers."—H-Net Book Review

"A cast study of Protestant benevolence and moral reform that explores interactions of religion and republicanism, not in the new nation where we have been accustomed to looking, but during the antebellum generation."—Journal of the Early Republic

"Bringing fresh insight to 19th-century intellectual and religious history, Hirrel clearly explains the beliefs of the New School Calvinists and demonstrates their place in the history of religious controversies in America."—McCormick (SC) Messenger

"Explores the connections between New School Calvinism in the Congressional and Presbyterian churches and certain antebellum reforms: sabbatarianism, antiCatholicism, temperance, antislavery, and the missionary activities sponsored by the so-called benevolent empire."—New England Quarterly

"Hirrel here carefully and cautiously analyzes the public rhetoric and published writings of New School Presbyterians."—American Historical Review

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






New School Calvinism, Calvinism, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Church history


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Children of Wrath: New School Calvinism and Antebellum Reform
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