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Richard Rankin probes the religious, intellectual, and social lives of North Carolina's antebellum elite to expose the dramatic effect of religious revival in the first half of the nineteenth century. Rankin uses family letters and church records to document an embrace of evangelism's emotionalism by the female upper class, a swift objection to evangelism's egalitarian tenets by the male upper class, and the domestic tension that ensued. Rankin evaluates the revival of the Episcopal church as a male strategy to replace evangelism with a more conservative approach to religion, and he speculates that it was North Carolina's escalating quarrel with northern states over slavery that effectively convinced women to abandon their religious enthusiasm. Dispelling the myth of the plantation-era Christian gentleman, Rankin argues that wealthy North Carolina males lived not by Christian doctrine but by an ethic of reason and honor. Similarly, females followed a fashionable social code. Rankin shows that as revival spread, many upper-class women experienced spiritual rebirth, focused their lives on the church rather than on social circles, and attempted to convert their husbands to fundamental Christianity as well as a more intimate, caring type of marriage. Rankin says that upper-class males, however, were determined to resist a force that would upset a social order over which they presided. While rarely becoming full communing members themselves - an act which would have prevented the dueling, drinking, and womanizing that their code of honor allowed - these men encouraged their wives, daughters, and sisters to submit to the high churchmanship of conservative Episcopal priests. In chroniclingthe subsequent growth of the Episcopal church, Rankin credits a growing fear of slave unrest and the Abolitionist Movement rather than the male upper class or the Episcopal clergy with squelching religious fervor among North Carolina's female aristocracy.
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