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Production of American Religious FreedomThe Production of American Religious Freedom$
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Finbarr Curtis

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781479882113

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479882113.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM NYU Press SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.nyu.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of NYU Press Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NYSO for personal use.date: 16 September 2021

Sentiment Rules the World

Sentiment Rules the World

William Jennings Bryan and Populism

(p.42) 3 Sentiment Rules the World
Production of American Religious Freedom

Finbarr Curtis

NYU Press

Many progressive historians and political commentators who celebrate William Jennings Bryan’s early populist crusade for economic justice lament his later decline into religious conservatism. However, Bryan’s views on the relationship between religion and economy remained consistent throughout his career. For Bryan, financial reform was grounded in the cultivation of sympathy with the plight of farmers and workers, and these sympathetic bonds in turn depended upon a shared spiritual sensibility. Without the bonds of sympathy and sentiment shaped by a pervasively Christian environment, social deterioration and degeneration were inevitable. The logic of Bryan’s populist rhetoric confounded secular liberal distinctions that divided religion, politics, science, and economy into discreet and autonomous spheres of social life. Rejecting abstract and quantifiable measures that reduced the economy to sets of technical problems, Bryan emphasized shared experience of human welfare and suffering that criticized individualism as the basis of social and economic life. However, this same emphasis on sympathetic attachments also animated racial and regional forms of identification that undermined the possibility of a broad populist coalition of farmers and workers.

Keywords:   individualism, populism, prohibition, Scopes Trial, sympathy

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