Eighteenth Century Religious Change in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick

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Eighteenth Century Religious Change in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick

The central religious themes of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick reflect the turbulent and changing religious climate of their time. In their use of themes from both traditional Calvinism and modern reform, the syncretic efforts of both of these texts offers a response to the uncertainty and change of the period. However, their uses of these themes are different; while Stowe used a precise focus on a Christian polemic against slavery, Melville intentionally de-centralized his text in a way that asks the reader to look beyond the medium of expression to the truth which lays behind it, but cannot be contained in it.

In this paper, I will investigate the shift in
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Neither one of them can be precisely placed in any of the religious categories of the period; Calvinism (both orthodox and reformed), Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, and liberal "Christocentric humanism" all exerted definite influences on both works, but both works similarly resist direct placement not only because of the syncretic nature of their programs, but the fluidity of these very traditions. Therefore, while some hesitancy is a necessary hazard of such a investigation, it nevertheless preserves a respect for the complexity of the religious history involved.

With this much said precautionarily, it is nevertheless possible to place both of these works in the climate of questioning, re-definition, and uncertainty which occurred in the American political and social scenes as part of this religious shift. The first important factor in this shift was the Second Great Awakening; while William McLoughlin dates its conclusion at 1830, it had an important influence on both of these works which were composed between 1850 and 1852. This movement established a break from the Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards through both in popular form of revivals and its connection to the more elite movement of Unitarianism, and thus set a precedent for later religious reform.

The concept of American nationhood was challenged in the early eighteenth century on

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