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In 1843 in Seneca Falls, New York, Rhonda Bement was brought before a disciplinary trial at her church, the First Presbyterian Church, charged with unchristian and unladylike behavior. Her transgression was to challenge the authority and integrity of her minister because he had refused to read to the congregation her anuncement about abolitionist lectures taking place in the village, and she was eventually excommunicated. The transcript of her trial is the centerpiece of Revivalism, Social Conscience, and Community in the Burned-Over District, which presents through the testimonies of the witnesses the tensions between organized religion and the reform movements of abolitionism, temperance, and women's rights that were sweeping the country in this period. The book is divided into three parts. Jan M. Saltzgaber sets the stage in an introductory essay that examines the religious and social ramifications of the Second Great Awakening in the burned-over region of New York, analyzing in detail the changing social and ecomic environment of Seneca Falls and delineating connections between these changes and the currents of revival and reform in the 1830s and 1840s. The fully-antated text of the trial is then presented in its entirety. In the epilogue, Glenn C. Altschuler uses the trial and evidence from other local churches to reassess the divisive effects of revivalism, stressing local conditions and church practices that acted as centripetal forces that impressed conservatives, moderates, and even ultraists with the importance of church unity.
Glenn C. Altschuler is Dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions and Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is a former columnist for the New York Times and the author or coauthor of several books, including Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century and All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America.