Gospel Sobriety: Before and After

In his last (for now, anyway) offering as a Points guest blogger, Eoin Cannon offers some thoughts on the aesthetics of redemption.

Noontime Prayer on Fulton Street, 1857

In my book-in-progress on the origins of modern recovery narrative, I look closely at the stories that came out of the post-Civil War “gospel rescue missions,” especially in New York City. These weren’t the first evangelical missions to the urban poor, of course. Specifically, they were outgrowths of similar activity during the Second Great Awakening, such as the New York City revival of 1857-58. Nor did they represent the first movement of reformed drunkards with tales to tell, emerging a couple of decades after the heyday of the Washingtonian Society. But, founded by the converts themselves in collaboration with their religious sponsors, the postbellum rescue missions combined revival, temperance, and moral reform in an unprecedented and very influential way. They moved evangelical religion in a therapeutic direction, and they acted as rebuttals to fatalistic social theory. Their growth drew social reformers to the slums to witness first-hand evidence that the far-gone drunkard and the vicious immigrant really could be changed. By the 1890s, the ex-drunkards and their patrons had produced a lively literature of conversion narratives.

The published narratives were occasionally accompanied by a fascinating before-and-after imagery.

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