Perilous Body Gospels
This chapter provides an introduction to the book. It pursues a winding passage through distinct American paradigms of religious embodiment, describing briefly some resonant strands in the colonial period and early Republic, but focusing on the post-Civil War period through the twentieth century. That quasi-mythic trajectory has by no means been a straight and easy one, nor does this story follow a tidy chronological sequence of events so much as a series of specific, highly charged cultural moments and episodes: modulated echoes upon common devotional themes. Tropes on the order of purity and peril, virtue and vulnerability, for instance, have recurrently surfaced as Christians—along with the cultures they have helped to shape—wrestle with competing prototypes of the body. Within that tradition, the flesh serves as a conduit of grace and temple of the Holy Spirit, as well as an unruly repository of sin, temptation, and defilement.
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