Contesting the Sabbath : a history of weekly sacred times in America, 1848-1920




Lee, Michel Sunhae

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Historians have written much about “Sabbath-keeping” as a topic of legal battles and moral reform, particularly in the Midwest and the Northeastern regions of the United States. This dissertation shifts focus, examining the cultural and social forces that shaped the religious landscape of California, and turned it into a laboratory for sacred timekeeping practice. Protestant Sunday-keeping took on only a seeming ascendance in California, a historically Catholic region and a place without a historic Protestant establishment, between 1848 and 1920. In the wake of the Gold Rush of 1849, white American Protestants institutionalized and reified this practice through the building of colleges and other religious institutions, the development of state and municipal law, public advocacy, and more. But these efforts failed to permanently secure a sacred regard for Sunday amongst Californians. Instead, proponents of the public, and often enforced, observance of Sunday as a day of rest and their opponents became locked in long contestations that continued throughout this period. More specifically, I argue that these two factions were both imagined—that is, the product of historical narration by various communities—and actual social and political entities, campaigns, and communities. Even as the language of weekly sacred timekeeping evolved between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, two broadly inclusive positions on time continued to be in tension with one another. Moreover, the contestations that these two factions generated is not episodic, appearing occasionally in legal battles only, but is a perpetual characteristic of American society and culture.


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