A Contoversial Spirit offers a new perspective on the origins and nature of southern evangelicalism. Most recent historians have focused on the differences between evangelicals and non-evangelicals, leading to the perception that during the "Era of Awakenings" American evangelicals constituted a united front. Philip N. Mulder dispels this illusion by examining the internal dynamics of evangelicalism. Although the denominations shared the goal of saving souls, he finds they disagreed over the correct definition of true religion and conversion. Examining conversion narratives, worship, polity and rituals, as well as more formal doctrinal statements in creeds and sermons, Mulder is able to provide a far more nuanced portrait of southern evangelicals than previously available, revealing the deep differences between denominations that the homogenization of religious history has until now obscured.

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