At Religion in American History, John Turner, Professor of History at the University of Southern Alabama, reviews two books that evoke the ghosts of Antebellum America.

The first is John Lardas Modern’s Secularism in Antebellum America, a work that focuses on American Protestants in the 1850s that “collectively shaped what they came to understand as true religion and in the process created a ‘secular imaginary’”:

Modern “contends that human agency was and remains an open question … For those living within a secular imaginary, decisions about religion were often one’s own, yet the range of available choices had been patterned and shaped by circumstance. Institutions making their invisible demands. Media generating models of particular choices. Machines enabling you to interact with your decisions and those of others. A choice being made before it presents itself as such. Unseen somethings haunting the day.” Toward the end of his book, Modern uses Foucault’s “notion of subjectivization” “to call into question a dominant paradigm of American religious historiography that continues to operate according to the same epistemological and political principles that gave rise to the discipline in the mid-nineteenth century.”

Next, Turner provides a synopsis of Nancy Lusignan Schultz’s Mrs. Mattingly’s Miracle. Schultz’s work tells the story of Ann Mattingly, “sister of Washington, D.C.’s Catholic mayor Thomas Carbery—moved inexorably closer to dying from breast cancer.” Following numerous prayers from Mattingly’s parishioners and receipt of the Eucharist, Mattingly returned to health and “became one of the most famous Catholics in the United States”:

Schultz reports that something extraordinary happened to Ann Mattingly. “How this happened, though,” she comments at the outset, “and whether the explanation is natural or supernatural, pushes deep into the realm of faith. This book does not try to guide you there.” Hamlet and Horatio will act according to their preconceptions. Still, she takes seriously the testimony of Ann Mattingly and many others who described her healing in affidavits.

There is a good bit of haunting in Schultz’s book as well. She opens each of her chapters with “adumbrations,” ghost stories that foreshadow or otherwise thematically relate to the subsequent material.

Read the full review here.