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Traumatized performance: Antebellum Methodist camp meetings and the re-making of the American frontier

Scott W. Cole. "Traumatized performance: Antebellum Methodist camp meetings and the re-making of the American frontier." Diss. U of Washington, 2007.


This study will examine early nineteenth century religious camp meetings as performance and read them against the simultaneous exorcism and conquest of the antebellum American frontier. In this liminal zone, this frontier, the camp meeting became a religious instrument of exorcism and conquest as its traumatized performance radically altered the landscape of the American west. Focusing on Methodist itinerant preachers and Methodist camp meetings in particular, this study will show how the performance of religion successfully exorcised the landscapes and people of the frontier re-making it and them "safe" for America's "Manifest Destiny."
I will begin with a history of the camp meeting placing its growth in context with the simultaneous growth of the westward population of the American frontier. I will then turn towards an examination of the inherent theatricality of the camp meeting performance; with the preacher as performer, the worshipers as audience, and the camp meeting space as surrogate theatrical spaces of religious expression. From these sacred and theatrical spaces, the traumatized performance of the camp meeting will be analyzed and read against the simultaneous transformation of the antebellum bodies and landscapes of the American frontier, engendering a radical sense of transformation of both body and space. Objective transformation follows subjective transformation, and from these initial chapters I will conclude my study with an in depth analysis of the exorcism of the American frontier as it was played out objectively by three religious faiths inspired by Methodist success--the Shakers, the Plan of Union Missionaries, and the Mormons. Through this study the articulation of religious performance in the conquest and exorcism of the American frontier will be analyzed to show how camp meeting performances served as an effective tool in both the conquest of the American frontier and the (re)making of the United States as the "New" New Zion.

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