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American Misfits and the Making of Middle-Class Respectability$
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Robert Wuthnow

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780691176864

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691176864.001.0001

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Not a Fanatic

Not a Fanatic

Zeal in the cause of zion

(p.101) Chapter Four Not a Fanatic
American Misfits and the Making of Middle-Class Respectability

Robert Wuthnow

Princeton University Press

One of the more difficult aspects of middle-class respectability has been getting it right when it comes to displays of emotion—too little and a person seems stoical, indifferent, cold; too much and a person is likely to be accused of wearing their feelings on their sleeve, incapable of self-control, being dangerous, overzealous, a fanatic. Religion is a particularly interesting context in which to consider the display of emotion. This chapter examines how accusations of zealotry populated nineteenth- and early twentieth-century discussions of American religion. Zealotry was a contested idea that religious leaders, public officials, scholars, and the popular press discussed repeatedly. It was good, many commentators argued, for Americans to be zealous. But it was not good to be labeled a zealot. Zealots were led too much by their emotions. They were easily confused, frequently irrational, and sometimes dangerous.

Keywords:   religion, zealots, zealotry, American religion, middle class respectability, nineteenth century, emotion, emotional displays

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