This book offers the first cultural history of Universalism and the Universalist idea - the idea that an all-good and all-powerful God saves all souls. Ann Bressler argues that Universalism begins as a radical, eschatological, and communally-oriented faith and only later became a 'comfortably established' progressive and individualistic one. Although Universalists are usually classed with Unitarians as pioneering Protestant liberals, says Bressler, they were in fact quite different from both contemporary and later liberalism in their ideas and goals. Unitarians began by rejecting the Calvinist idea of sin as corporate, universal, and absolute, replacing it with their moral self-cultivation. Universalists, on the other hand, accepted the Calvinist view of absolute corporeal sinfulness but insisted on absolute corporeal salvation. Bressler's surprising claim is that Universalists, in their defiance of individualistic moralism, were for much of the 19th century the only consistent Calvinists in America. Bressler traces the emergence of the Universalists' 'improved' Calvinism and its gradual erosion over the course of the 19th century.

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