This introductory chapter provides an overview of the role of religion and faith in the life of working people. In many studies, religion served as an impediment to workers' understanding their class interests. Religion either divided workers of different faiths, served as a tool for the upwardly mobile, or provided a numbing fatalism that prevented working people from taking action against their exploiters. In other studies, the stimulus provided by Herbert Gutman weighed heavily. He was drawn to the examples he uncovered of a Christian spirit infusing the rhetoric and writings of labor activists and offering a postmillennial justification for working-class solidarity. Neither group of scholars tried to grapple systematically with the messiness of spiritual convictions and how those convictions interacted with lived experiences to shape the consciousness and actions of average working people.
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