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Book Review: Muscular Christianity by Clifford Putney

Paul C. Kemeny (Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary; Th.M., Duke University; M.Div., Westminster Seminary) is professor of religion and humanities at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.  Kemeny has taught at Calvin College and was a research fellow at the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He belongs to the American Academy of Religion, the American Historical Association, the American Society of Church History and the Conference on Faith on History. Other books by Kemeny include Princeton in the Nation’s Service: Religious Ideals and Educational Practice, 1868-1928 (Oxford University Press, 1998) and American Church History: A Reader (coedited with Henry Warner Bowden, Abingdon Press, 1998).


Director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture

Professor of History and Southern Studies

Ted Ownby has a joint appointment in History and Southern Studies. He is the author of American Dreams in Mississippi: Consumers, Poverty, and Culture, 1830-1998 (1999) and Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865-1920 (1990) and editor of Black and White: Cultural Interaction in the Antebellum South (1993). He is the coeditor of the Mississippi Encyclopedia and writes and teaches classes on the social and cultural history of the American South.

Ralph Lamar Turner-– He has worked in the medical field of sports medicine as well as academia.  He has been a Fulbright Scholar in Germany and Turkey where he taught sociology and history classes on sports and culture, and in the Education Department.  He has 3 books, the most relevant of which is his latest work, Football as a War Game, published in 2002.  He attended Emory & Henry College and studied Interdisciplinary Studies, Eastern Mennonite University for MA in Religion, and his last 3 degrees were attained at East Tennessee State University.

Reviewer one, Dr. Kemeny, tells readers that Protestants in the postbellum period quickly overcame their early inhibitions and soon embraced manliness as a crucial way of nurturing godliness, equipping Protestant men to meet the challenges of modernity, and, perhaps most important, saving the church from the devastating effects of effeminacy, which pretty much boils down to the idea that white men were afraid of letting the church get in the hands of effeminate men and women, and used their religion to put them in positions of power throughout the country.  His review also focuses on the chapters about turning boys into men and men being able to change themselves from sissies to ideal, masculine, Protestant men.  He says that Putney’s work may be lacking in the research and full examination of his theories, one specifically is Putney’s ‘social anxiety’ thesis.  Reviewer two, Dr. Turner, tells readers that Putney argues that fear was a driving force behind muscular Christianity and social engineering.  He further states that Muscular Christianity’s biggest impact on society probably revolved around sports and physical strength and health.  He makes certain to point out the athletes that Putney uses to present muscular Christianity, like Alonzo Stagg, as well as showing how a man could change himself and create his own masculinity, like Theodore Roosevelt.  Reviewer three, Dr. Ownby, gives the most direct thesis statement from Putney when he says “like many studies of manhood, this volume concentrates on hos muscular Christianity developed out of fear.”  This reviewer focused on the fears that men displayed in the nineteenth century and how the men in the church began to seek changes in masculinity and the rearing of children that would soon fill leadership positions in the religion.  The only criticism he really offers is that Putney does not offer much analysis.

Clifford Putney:  Fields of specialization include U.S. cultural, religious, gender and recreational history, and the history of the Progressive Era. In addition to teaching U.S. and world history, he has spoken at various academic conferences and published a number of historical books and articles. He is currently writing a book about missionaries to the Pacific region. He has received a number of fellowships and grants, including a Brandeis Crown Fellowship, a Smithsonian Fellowship, and an American Philosophical Society Research Grant.  He has 3 books, but this is the only one concerning gender directly.


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