Thesis ID: CBB558685393

Reading the Bible Scientifically: Science and the Rise of Modern Biblical Criticism in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century United States (2021)


This dissertation traces the development and reception of a particular accommodation between scientific knowledge and biblical knowledge, which I have named scientific biblical criticism, in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. My research focuses on tensions that arose as American Protestants attempted to reconcile the biblical foundation of their worldview with the increasingly prominent accumulation of scientific facts and approaches. In juxtaposing the narratives in which each component of this method was developed, I document how nineteenth-century science was a multivalent and dynamic body of knowledge among disciples of religion as well as among disciples of nature. I also demonstrate how, viewed together, these accounts constitute an underappreciated religious discourse providing important insights into the formation and character of modern American science. The larger context of this research is the struggle for legitimacy of two bodies of knowledge sometimes appearing to be at odds with one another. By assembling a diachronic view of the formation of scientific biblical criticism and considering the internal development of both religious knowledge and scientific knowledge, this dissertation establishes an intellectual history of a schism within American Protestantism with important repercussions for the reception of modern science. Out of this split emerged two practically incommensurable cosmologies with divergent conceptions of what constitutes legitimate science and admissible interpretation of the Bible. Because both of these worldviews spread from professional circles to lay audiences, this project also examines both scholarly and popular literature to add considerable detail and nuance to the histories previously dominated by elite actors. In addition to chronicling the significant activity of the proponents of scientific biblical criticism in the United States, I illustrate how various communities of academics and laypeople received this scholarly method and the disruption to traditional epistemology that it entailed. Exploring the internal dynamics of Protestant networks on their own terms, my research offers important insights about scientific knowledge, its practice, and its boundaries among the religious adherents of science underrepresented in the historical literature.

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Authors & Contributors
Meer, Jitse M. van der
Snobelen, Stephen David
Ashley, J. M.
Blowers, Paul M.
Bono, James J.
Bright, Pamela
Brepols Publishers
Oxford University Press
Development of science; change in science
Natural philosophy
Augustine, Saint
Brahe, Tycho
Campanella, Tommaso
Cuvier, Georges
Edwards, Jonathan
Foscarini, Paolo Antonio
Time Periods
17th century
18th century
19th century
16th century
Great Britain
Rome (Italy)
United States
Académie des Sciences, Paris
Jesuits (Society of Jesus)
Royal Society of London

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