The Puritan founder John Winthrop preached about "a city upon a hill," Abraham Lincoln's two greatest speeches have been called "sermons on the mount," and Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" oration is nothing if not a sermon. Not only can the history of the United States be told through its reflection in the landmark sermons preached from its pulpits and in front of its memorials, but in fact it was often the sermon that inspired and helped define American history.
Between the colonization of America and the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the sermon has both shaped America's self-understanding and reflected both sides of its most important social, political, military, and philosophical debates. That is the story of A City Upon a Hill: How the Sermon Made America, a narrative history of events, people, and ideas, showing us at our best--and sometimes at our worst. The book will cover American history from 1606 to 2001, building links between the pulpit and politics, between preachers and presidents, between sermons and historical events.
A City Upon a Hill will elaborate on two unifying themes. The first and central theme will be the idea of America as a "chosen" nation (raised as recently as the second inaugural of President Bush in 2005). A second underlying theme will be the perennial debate in America between liberty and order. In addition, the role of the sermon as the first mass media will be examined.
As a narrative history, A City Upon a Hillwill ask about, for example, the role of religion in the American Revolution and slavery, whether religious affiliation has grown or declined in various centuries, and how much ideas and beliefs affected policies, andvice versa. The sermon offers a uniquely compelling vehicle to tell the national story. The sermon shows that what America says and believes can often be better than what it does, serving as a national conscience amid centuries of triumphalist claims. The sermon gathers together four centuries of disparate strands and provides a solid grip for defining a nation.