What was the focus of humanitarian reformers?

Few historians familiar with the subject would argue with Thomas Haskell’s assertion that humanitarian reformers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries “were consummate interpreters of a new moral universe.” They have differed greatly, however, over what compelled them to become reformers—class interest, the market, guilt? Yet despite the breadth of scholarly interest in the sources of humanitarianism as a factor in early American reform movements, Robert Abzug’s
study, Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination, stands alone in its effort to examine the cosmology of early American reformers. Many aspects of what he defines as their cosmology have been studied to one degree or another, but not as a whole; not, that is, as an intense, all-encompassing, even desperate, attempt by a very passionate group of young reformers to make “religious sense of society, economy, race, politics, gender, and physiology” (4).

reason for this neglect, Abzug points out in his finely crafted “Preface,” is the tendency by a fairly substantial body of scholars to assume that religion exists “as a conscious or unconscious cover for [End Page 724] something else: status anxiety, the quest for control of one class by another, personal or collective environments, or some other psychological or material concern.” Nonetheless, as Abzug goes on to explain, most studies of American reform movements have
acknowledged the importance of religion and have paid attention to the “religious” tone or substance of reform.

Cosmos Crumbling, according to its author, goes beyond those previous efforts in several ways: first, by exploring the religious dimension of American reform as it was reflected in the cosmological thinking of a small but influential group of reformers; next, by the emphasis it has placed on the religious aspects of reform ritual; and, lastly, by the attention the study
has devoted to “the relation between sacred and profane elements in reform, treating religious dimensions of social and personal life as equal in importance to those of the so-called secular realm” (viii). 1

Abzug has clearly identified an important and neglected area in which to situate his research, and Cosmos Crumbling both fills and illuminates the vacancy. In terms of its primary thesis, however, it is best understood as extending and expanding a previously
developed theme in the literature on antislavery in America: the idea of reform as a sacralization of a secular dilemma and domain. 2 Cosmos Crumbling not only demonstrates the broader application of that argument, but by focusing on the cosmological dimension of reform thought, it opens a new window on the meaning of reform to the reformer and the nature of its acceptance within the larger society. Abzug’s penetrating and often revelatory gaze through that window is the
source of his study’s special contribution to its field.

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The study begins, appropriately, with a prologue that reminds us of the “especially ambiguous place” reformers have held “in our national consciousness.” On the one hand, Abzug notes, we have been, in varying degrees, annoyed and irritated by their apparent self-righteousness, viewing them as “gadflies on the periphery of society,” while on the other hand, “Americans have been deeply moved by the reformer’s dedication,” finding in
their “steadfast will . . . the very essence of heroism” (3). In the case of the small cadre of antebellum reformers who serve as the focus of Cosmos Crumbling, Abzug contends that their religious concerns exacerbated the ambivalence with which they were perceived. They inspired ambivalence not only because the causes they championed—the abolition of slavery, temperance, women’s rights, vegetarianism, and phrenology—were controversial and often divisive, but because of their “tendency
to apply [End Page 725] religious imagination and passion to issues that most Americans considered worldly” (3).

Borrowing from Max Weber, Abzug has identified such reformers as a distinctive social type Weber called “religious virtuosos”—Protestant equivalents of the holy men, monks, and mystics Weber had in mind. Without a conception of this sort, Abzug argues, “Such characters defy much of what passes for scientific…

journal article

Henry Dunant’s Imagined Community: Humanitarianism and the Tragic

Alternatives: Global, Local, Political

Vol. 38, No. 1 (February 2013)

, pp. 3-28 (26 pages)

Published By: Sage Publications, Inc.


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Humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect are two examples often used of the separation between humanitarian action and the political. To say that humanitarianism is separate from the political comes from a very particular theological reading. To understand this reading, the article provides a detailed analysis of the life of Henry Dunant, the founder of the
ICRC, to show his religious and historical environment in Calvinist Geneva.

Journal Information

 A peer-reviewed journal, Alternatives explores the possibilities of new forms of political practice and identity under increasingly global conditions. Specifically, the editors focus on the changing relationships between local political practices and identities and emerging forms of global economy, culture and

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Sara Miller McCune founded SAGE Publishing in 1965 to support the dissemination of usable knowledge and educate a global community. SAGE is a leading international provider of innovative, high-quality content publishing more than 900 journals and over 800 new books each year, spanning a wide range of subject areas. A growing selection of library products includes archives, data,
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What was the focus of humanitarian reformers quizlet?

The goal of humanitarian reformers was to improve housing and working conditions for impoverished city dwellers. How did the 1917 immigration law signal a victory for those who wanted to limit immigration? It banned immigration of many types of individuals deemed undesirable.

What type of reform did progressives advocate?

Progressives sought the elimination of government corruption, women’s suffrage, social welfare, prison reform, prohibition, and civil liberties.

Why did humanitarian reformers support women’s suffrage?

Why did humanitarian reformers support women’s suffrage? They believed women could help them further their political goals of social reform. These reformers supported suffrage for women, whose votes, they believed, would help purify electoral politics and elect candidates committed to social and moral reform.

What type of reform did progressives advocate quizlet?

What type of reform did Progressives advocate? Progressives advocated government intervention and change without upsetting capitalism or the democratic political system.

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