Sitting Alone with a Text

Textuality and the Protestant Bias in United States Education


  • Joel N. Lohr Hartford Seminary



education, Protestantism, Bible, reading, literacy, America


This essay explores how frameworks of education in the United States have been shaped by particularly Protestant ideals—and, especially, how notions concerning individuals and their engagement with texts have had an outsized influence on educational practice. Following an examination of a number of historical issues related to our topic, and in particular Protestantism and the rise of the printing press, I examine the foundations of American education, including Puritan models of schooling as religious instruction. This leads to a discussion of the birth of Pluralism and Fundamentalism in the United States, which in turn leads to some reflections on the current educational milieu in this context, especially as related to religious identity in the classroom and higher education more generally. I suggest that a greater awareness of the cultural values that are embedded in our educational practices is vital if we are going to be responsive to the needs of increasingly diverse student populations.


Allen, Ansgar. 2013. “The Examined Life: On the Formation of Souls and Schooling.” American Educational Research Journal 50: 216–50.
Bindewald, Benjamin J. 2015. “In the World, But Not of the World: Understanding Conservative Christianity and Its Relationship With American Public Schools.” Educational Studies 51: 93–111.
Blumenfeld-Jones, Donald. 2016. “Is Curriculum Studies a Protestant Project: A Jew and some Protestants Walked into a Bar …” Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 31.1: 1–3. This is the editor’s introduction to the journal essays that follow on the relationship between Protestantism and education, which readers will also want to consult.
Bruce, Steve. 2004. “Did Protestantism Create Democracy?” Democratization 11.4: 3–20.
Bryk, Anthony S., Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul G. LeMahieu. 2015. Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.
Burke, Kevin J., and Avner Segall. 2017. Christian Privilege in U.S. Education: Legacies and Current Issues. New York: Routledge.
Cherry, Conrad. 1998. God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny. Revised and updated edition. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Ebeling, Eric R. 1999. “Massachusetts Education Laws of 1642, 1647 and 1648.” In The Historical Dictionary of American Education, edited by Richard J. Altenbaugh, 225–26. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Estep, William R. 1996. The Anabaptist Story: An Introduction to Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Ferrara, Mark S. 2015. Palace of Ashes: China and the Decline of American Higher Education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Fischer, Steven Roger. 2003. A History of Reading. London: Reaktion.
Fraser, James W. 2016. Between Church and State: Religion and Public Education in a Multicultural America. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Gilmont, Jean-François. 1998 [1990]. The Reformation and the Book. St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History. Translated by Karin Maag. Brookfield, VT: Ashgate.
Goold, Ben, Jen Root, Paul Cabana, and Julian P. Hobbs. 2012. Mankind: The Story of All of Us. New York, NY: The History Channel. See especially the episode “The Printing Press,” partially available at . Accessed 28 February 2020.
Hendry, Petra Munro. 2011. Engendering Curriculum History. New York: Routledge.
Hewitt, Thomas W. 2006. Understanding and Shaping Curriculum: What We Teach and Why. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Holifield, E. Brooks. 2007. “Let the Children Come: The Religion of the Protestant Child in Early America.” Church History 76: 750–77.
Horodowich, Elizabeth. 2012. “Introduction: Speech and Oral Culture in Early Modern Europe and Beyond.” Journal of Early Modern History 16: 301–313.
Howard, Robert Glenn. 2005. “The Double Bind of the Protestant Reformation: The Birth of Fundamentalism and the Necessity of Pluralism.” Journal of Church and State 47: 91–108.
Hughes, Richard T. 2003. Myths America Lives By. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Jenkins, Philip. 2003. The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice. New York: Oxford University Press.
Jewell, Helen M. 1998. Education in Early Modern England. Social History in Perspective. London: Macmillan.
King, John N. 2001. “‘The Light of Printing’: William Tyndale, John Foxe, John Day, and Early Modern Print Culture.” Renaissance Quarterly 54: 52–85.
Luke, Carmen. 1989. Pedagogy, Printing, and Protestantism: The Discourse on Childhood. Suny Series in the Philosophy of Education. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Luther, Martin. 2016 [1520]. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, 1520. The Annotated Luther Study Edition. Edited by Erik H. Herrmann and Paul W. Robinson. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Massachusetts General School Law of 1647. . Accessed 28 February 2020.
McGreevy, John T. 2003. Catholicism and American Freedom: A History. New York: W. W. Norton.
McKitterick, David. 2003. Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450–1830. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McKnight, Douglas. 2010. Schooling, the Puritan Imperative, and the Molding of an American National Identity: Education’s ‘Errand Into the Wilderness.’ New York: Routledge.
Monsma, Stephen V. and J. Christophen Soper. 2008. The Challenge of Pluralism: Church and State in Five Democracies. 2nd ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Northey, Margot, Bradford A. Anderson, and Joel N. Lohr. 2019. Making Sense in Religious Studies: A Student’s Guide to Research and Writing. 3rd ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Osmer, Richard Robert. 2000. “The Christian Education of Children in the Protestant Tradition.” Theology Today 56: 506–523.
Pacific, University of the. 2016. “Fast Facts.” . Accessed 28 February 2020.
Pearson. 2014. “Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment.” Learning Curve 2014 Report. . Accessed 14 November 2017.
Plantinga, Alvin. 2000. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pettegree, Andrew, and Matthew Hall. 2004. “The Reformation And The Book: A Reconsideration.” The Historical Journal 47: 785–808.
Pulliam, John D., and James J. Van Patten. 2012. The History and Social Foundations of American Education. 10th ed. Boston: Pearson.
Putnam, Robert D. 2015. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Ravitch, Diane. 2016. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. 3rd ed. New York: Basic Books.
Ryrie, Alec. 2017. Protestants: The Radicals Who Made the Modern World. London: HarperCollins.
Shea, William M. 2004. The Lion and the Lamb: Evangelicals and Catholics in America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Smith, Anthony D. 2003. Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity. New York: Oxford University Press.
Spring, Joel. 1990. The American School 1642–1990: Varieties of Historical Interpretation of the Foundations and Development of American Education. 2nd ed. New York: Longman.
Stephanson, Ander. 1995. Manifest Destiny: American Expansion and the Empire of Right. New York: Hill and Wang.
Tröhler, Daniel. 2011. The Languages of Education: Protestant Legacies, National Identities, and Global Aspirations. New York: Routledge.
Weaver-Zercher, David L. 2016. Martyrs Mirror: A Social History. Young Center Books in Anabaptist and Pietist Studies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Whiteley, Greg. 2015. Most Likely to Succeed. West Hollywood, CA: One Potato Productions.
Woodberry, Robert D., and Timothy S. Shah. 2004. “Christianity and Democracy: The Pioneering Protestants.” Journal of Democracy 15.2: 47–61.






How to Cite

Lohr, J. N. (2020). Sitting Alone with a Text: Textuality and the Protestant Bias in United States Education. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 11(1), 103–114.