Fortress Press

Introduction to the History of Christianity in the United States: Revised and Expanded Edition

Introduction to the History of Christianity in the United States

Revised and Expanded Edition

Nancy Koester (Author)


The history of Christianity in the United States is a fascinating and lively story. In this revised and expanded account, Nancy Koester introduces students to the major events and movements that influenced the tradition.

This comprehensive and highly accessible overview of Christian history in the United States, from colonial times to the present, is informed by both classical and recent scholarship and is written for the nonspecialist. Four key insights frame the book: Christianity in America is chiefly a story of popular movements, is influenced by conflict and engagement with modern ideas, directly affects public life, and expresses its identity and seeks its mission in a pluralistic culture.

Unlike many histories, Koester offers ample coverage of Protestant, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic developments, and the ecumenical focus is further strengthened in this newest edition.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451472059
  • eBook ISBN 9781451472394
  • Dimensions 7.25 x 9.5
  • Pages 292
  • Publication Date August 15, 2015


“Engaging, informative, and skillfully written, Koester’s work provides a panorama of the history of American Christianity, adding just the right amount of nuance and detail to reveal the depth and color of the landscape.  Teachers as well as students and other interested readers will be grateful for this substantive, clear, and useful account.”
—Russell Kleckley
Augsburg College

“Many general readers and beginning students want a concise, basic overview instead of a massive, detailed volume about the historical development of Christianity in the United States.  That is just what this book provides – a brief survey, in understandable language, based upon respected academic sources.  The breadth of content covered in so few pages is remarkable.  Koester is balanced and judicious in her narrative, and she is aware of the themes and issues of current scholarship.  The excerpts from primary documents and the additional illustrations in this revised edition are significant enhancements that help bring the story to life.”
—Bruce David Forbes
Morningside College

My Teaching Tools

One-Semester sample syllabus from Fortress Press
One-semester sample syllabus


We asked Nancy Koester why she wrote a textbook of the history of Christianity in the United States to begin with, what's new in this second edition, and how the latest edition meets students where they're at. Read below for the full interview!

FP: Why did you want to write a textbook on the history of Christianity in the United States?

NK: I wanted to write this because this subject—the story of Christianity in America—has always engaged my imagination and challenged my mind. This subject has a profound effect on U.S. culture and history, yet few people know much about it. Many public schools don't teach the subject, and by the time students get to college most of them have only the impressions they have picked up from mass media. I have had many students who are surprised to learn that the Civil Rights Movement had any connection to the black church, or that Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister.

FP: What unique perspective on the history of Christianity in the United States do you present in your textbook?

NK: In college I majored in American studies, an interdisciplinary method that draws from history, theology, sociology, politics and popular culture. Later, I earned a Master of Divinity and a PhD in historical theology. I also bring pastoral experience, and the life experience of parenting to my task, seeking out the human dimensions within history. History is full of contradictions, but that's what makes it so interesting. It never fits into what we think it should be, because human beings are both deeply flawed and gifted with courage and vision.

FP: What updates have been made in this new textbook from the previous edition, The History of Christianity in the United States: A Fortress Introduction (2007)?

NK: What you'll notice first as you open the book is color. Color images. . . art, maps, and portraits. The visual appeal of the book has taken a huge leap forward, but it isn't just to look pretty. The new images provide another dimension of learning. The next thing you'll notice are the callout boxes, shaded in color to set them apart from the main text. These callout boxes contain short primary sources. For example, the letter George Washington wrote to the members of a synagogue, assuring them that Jewish people will have freedom of religion and respect in this country. Or, to take another example, the slave narratives, in which you can read what former slaves wrote about their experiences. The callout boxes have enabled me to include new perspectives on religion and politics, and to include more on Native Americans, women, and popular forms of religion. In the main text itself, most of the updates are in the chapters closest to our own time, as new events unfold. For example, you will find information on Asian American Christians, the vast cultural changes on homosexuality and how this relates to churches, and the tragedy of racism that continues to plague us. The most recent chapters in history are always the hardest to write, and this book went to press just before the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and before the tragic shooting at the church in Charleston. However, the discerning reader will see that these recent events belong to the larger stories that are told in this book.

FP: You stress in your preface that Christian history in the United States is "a story, or many stories, woven into the fabric of everyday life and into beliefs about the meaning of American history." How does this concept of history as story reveal itself throughout the text?

NK: This book, though economical in size, is rich in stories. The stories of individuals include famous and not so famous people, and the stories of religious movements, or migrations, or ideas, show the individuals within the mass. I like to show how people both cause things to change, and get caught up in changes not of their own making. As for the meaning of American history, there have always been conflicting stories and always will be. I have set the book up to show some of these contrasts, say, between "Manifest Destiny" and Native American points of view, or how Christians have sought to live out their faith in times of war. We are both makers of meaning, and subject to the meanings made by others. . . until we try to challenge or change it. And this quest for meaning is deeply religious.

FP: How have you kept the student in mind when crafting this latest iteration of the book? What makes this textbook the most user-friendly for students who are new to the study of Christian history in the U.S.?

NK: I have kept the student in mind by keeping the writing short and lively. I hope that reading this book will be not just one more assignment, but a pleasure. I write to spark curiosity on the part of my readers, to show that the past is always closer to us than it appears, just like objects in the rearview mirror. From many years of teaching, I have learned what takes students by surprise, and how their perspectives change when they learn more about this history. And my students have taught me what they care about and want to know more about. They have taught me not to make assumptions about what they believe, what they know or don't know. So the writing needs to be clear, evenhanded but not boring. It needs to include the basics, and some surprises and unexpected angles along the way. The book is user-friendly because it is well organized, has themes that are easy to follow, and variety to keep things interesting. The basic text holds it all together, while the new illustrations and callout boxes offer challenge and diversion. There is a glossary of basic terms and a timeline of major events. There is even some humor in the book!

FP: How does this textbook present the history of Christianity in America as relevant for students living in a pluralistic America today?

NK: As I tell the story—or should I say stories—of Christianity in America, I tell it as a story of paradox. It is deeply flawed and yet life-giving. I pay attention to race, gender, ethnicity, and strive to be respectful to all. Students of any religion, or no religion, can profit from reading this book because they will gain a deeper understanding of American history and culture. Religious freedom is a work in progress, and we are writing the next chapter together.


1. Colonial Beginnings
2. Awakening, Enlightenment, and Revolution
3. Christianity in the New Republic
4. Slavery and Civil War
5. Moving People
6. Responses to Modernity
7. The Great War to the Cold War
8. A New Millennium
Bibliography Glossary