Press and Pulpit: The Growth of Religious Magazines in Antebellum America
Many controversies in the sociology of religion hinge on how different schools of thought view religious denominations. Are they akin to for-profit firms that compete for adherents, groups that forge community among geographically dispersed adherents, or coordinating bodies that distribute resources across subunits? These three perspectives not only reflect divergent assumptions about what religious organizations are, they also emphasize different causal mechanisms (competition, social integration, or coordination), and make arguments at different levels of analysis (local communities or national fields). These fundamental differences have made it hard to reach agreement about what religious organizations do to mobilize and retain members, how they distinguish themselves from or align themselves with other faiths, and how interactions within and between them drive their behavior. We assess the empirical implications of these three perspectives for a key resource religious organizations use to mobilize adherents and build distinctive identities: religious magazines. We test hypotheses derived from all three perspectives on original data covering virtually all religious denominations and magazines in antebellum America, a time of great religious ferment. With this analysis, we seek not only to heal schisms in the sociology of religion, but also to shed light on group dynamics more generally, by revealing how interactions among the diverse groups that constitute modern societies affect how groups mobilize members and build distinctive identities through group media.
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