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Feeling Christian in America

For many Christians in America, becoming filled with Christ first requires being empty of themselves—a quality often overlooked in religious histories. In Emptiness, John Corrigan highlights for the first time the various ways that American Christianity has systematically promoted the cultivation of this feeling.  

Corrigan examines different kinds of emptiness essential to American Christianity, such as the emptiness of deep longing, the emptying of the body through fasting or weeping, the emptiness of the wilderness, and the emptiness of historical time itself. He argues, furthermore, that emptiness is closely connected to the ways Christian groups differentiate themselves: many groups foster a sense of belonging not through affirmation, but rather avowal of what they and their doctrines are not. Through emptiness, American Christians are able to assert their identities as members of a religious community.

Drawing much-needed attention to a crucial aspect of American Christianity, Emptiness expands our understanding of historical and contemporary Christian practices. 

232 pages | 8 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

History: American History

Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion

Religion: Christianity, Religion and Society


“A scholarly tour de force. . . . Offers many interesting and significant historical insights.”

Catholic Library World

“The book not only provides an important study of religion and emotion; it also provides a model for historical scholarship to use this approach to examine additional aspects of religion.”

Review and Expositor

“Outstanding. . . . In the field of American religious history, obsessed as it is with politics and public doctrine, Emptiness is a breath of fresh air.”

Christian Century

“Readers will find in Corrigan's Emptiness a compelling case for seeing this emotion as critical to Christians' understanding of themselves and their purpose on earth. He has woven disparate threads of cultural expressions into a comprehensive and comprehensible interpretive framework and, by doing so, helps us to see the broad Christian American experience in new light.”

Journal of Social History



"In this evocative study, John Corrigan manages to foreground an emptiness that lends depth and complexity, if not quite coherence, to the fractious history of American Christianity."

Church History

“Corrigan’s latest book turns a surprising theme—emptiness—into a fresh way to conceptualize the American religious landscape. Drawing on an impressive range of sources, he argues that emptiness is a ubiquitous feature of American Christianity and is experienced in multiple ways—emotionally, bodily, spatially, temporally, and doctrinally. Rich, erudite, and thought-provoking, this is a highly original contribution and a work of considerable theoretical importance.”

Peter J. Thuesen, author of Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine

“In this sweeping study of emptiness in American Christianity, Corrigan masterfully navigates difficult terrain, expertly ushering readers through centuries of religious behavior and across many traditions. With depth and creativity, he explores everything from the diaries of conflicted Puritans to Catholic Mel Gibson’s cinematic bloodletting. This is a powerful history.”

Matthew Avery Sutton, author of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

“This challenging and rewarding study adds an important dimension to the history of emotion and a grasp of the Christian experience in the United States. Impressively varied research combines with nuanced analysis and a clear line of argument. This is a rare kind of work that explores not only intellectual parameters, but also personal meanings.”

Peter N. Stearns, founder and editor of the Journal of Social History

“A compelling and counter-intuitive compendium of emptiness and the myriad ways in which this curious state of being has generated striving, struggle, and the histories of American Christianity. Corrigan is the first to tackle how emptiness has become Americanized, for better and for worse, over the last few centuries.”

John Lardas Modern, author of Secularism in Antebellum America

Table of Contents


1. Feeling
2. Body
3. Space
4. Time
5. Believers


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