Sarah Osborn's World The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America Catherine A. Brekus

New Directions in Narrative History
Publication date:
23 Aug 2017
Yale University Press
448 pages: 235 x 156mm
23 b-w illus.
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A colonial woman's riveting personal journal and correspondence opens a window on America's first-generation evangelicals

In 1743, sitting quietly with pen in hand, Sarah Osborn pondered how to tell the story of her life, how to make sense of both her spiritual awakening and the sudden destitution of her family. Remarkably, the memoir she created that year survives today, as do more than two thousand additional pages she composed over the following three decades. Sarah Osborn's World is the first book to mine this remarkable woman’s prolific personal and spiritual record. Catherine Brekus recovers the largely forgotten story of Sarah Osborn's life as one of the most charismatic female religious leaders of her time, while also connecting her captivating story to the rising evangelical movement in eighteenth-century America.

A schoolteacher in Rhode Island, a wife, and a mother, Sarah Osborn led a remarkable revival in the 1760s that brought hundreds of people, including many slaves, to her house each week. Her extensive written record—encompassing issues ranging from the desire to be "born again" to a suspicion of capitalism—provides a unique vantage point from which to view the emergence of evangelicalism. Brekus sets Sarah Osborn's experience in the context of her revivalist era and expands our understanding of the birth of the evangelical movement—a movement that transformed Protestantism in the decades before the American Revolution.

Catherine A. Brekus is Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School. She lives in Auburndale, MA.

Winner of the 2013 Aldersgate Prize given by John Wesley Honors College, Indiana Wesleyan University.

Won an Honorable Mention for the 2013 New England Book Festival given by the JM Northern Media Family of Festivals, in the General Non-Fiction Category.

Received an Honorable Mention for the 2013 American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE), in the Theology & Religious Studies category.

Winner of the 2015 Outler Prize sponsored by the American Society for Chruch History.

“This will become the best biography we have on a female evangelical in colonial America, following naturally from Brekus’s earlier book on women preachers in early America. But I would also recommend this as simply one of the best books I have read on the life of an American evangelical, female or male, particularly because Brekus is able so successfully to combine historical analysis of evangelicalism with the details of Osborn’s life and writings.”—Thomas Kidd, Baylor University
Sarah Osborn’s World reflects unusually industrious research, profound historical insight, and extraordinary human empathy. It offers a superb depiction of the long and complex life of a woman who was at the heart of eighteenth-century American evangelical history. The remarkable character of that life is matched by the remarkable success of this book."—Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame

 “Sarah Osborn’s World describes the emergence of evangelicalism with incomparable precision and profound grace, using the struggling life of one woman to convey the grand scope of eighteenth-century history. I defy anyone to read this book and not remain haunted by its subject.”—Kathryn Lofton, author of Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon

 "Sarah Osborn’s World is written beautifully and reads like a novel. The beginning undergraduate or non-historian will turn the pages with delight, but the academic specialist will long ponder the significance of this book for his or her own work. The life of Sarah Osborn is not only narrated splendidly on its own terms but also carefully placed to illuminate a wide range of scholarly discussions of religion and culture in which Brekus is well-informed. There is no better biographical study of an eighteenth-century religious woman."—Bruce Hindmarsh, author of The Evangelical Conversion Narrative