Space, Time, and Religion in Early America will bring together scholars at the forefront of the study of religion in early America to think about the real and imagined horizons of time and space that characterize the religious actors we study. For much work in the field, the time and space delimited by “early America” is second nature. We mark historical time according to a set of presumably shared events – Contact, Great Awakening, Revolution, Second Great Awakening. In turn, we think about our historical subjects’ sense of imagined time through a practiced list of interpretative concepts: millennialism, primitivism, typology. We mark both geographic and imagined space with conventional place names and concepts – North, South, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Caribbean, nation, manifest destiny – without often stopping to consider their contingent, non-inevitable nature and the relationships among them. The conventional time-space markers of the field, while useful in their own ways, can abstract from the richness of the historical record and often occlude fascinating questions about religion in early America. The goal of this conference is to highlight scholarship that is interrogating, recombining, and pushing beyond default assumptions about time and space as inhabited and imagined by our historical subjects, and to provide an opportunity for the development and cross-pollination of this work.
The range of questions opened up by this focus is broad. How did a would-be missionary from New England imagine the South, or Africa, or India before traveling there? How did archaeological discoveries and evolving notions of geologic time affect lay understandings of biblical time in early America? What was the relationship between African and Native-American notions of time and place and the experiences of loss, forced migration, and cultural endurance? What might we learn about the practices of early American religion by attending to regional differences of climate and topography? How did relative distance – from the metropole, from relations, from religious authorities – affect various religious practices in a time of developing roads and water routes? How does a hemispheric approach to “early America” change our perspective on early American religion, and how might we reimagine the periodization of early American religious history for ourselves and for our students?