Hymnody in American Protestantism

The Hymnody in American Protestantism project resulted in grants, a list compiling the 300 most frequently-published hymns, and a CD inspired from the research.


Probably more than any other single source, hymns have played a central role in the devotional lives of American Protestants, opening a window on both the shared theology and the deepest emotions of the average person in the pews. Sadly, this central aspect of the American Protestant experience has been seriously under-studied by historians of American religion. The Hymnody in American Protestantism project hoped to begin remedying this situation.

Listing of American Hymns

Serving as "ground zero" for the project was the work of Stephen Marini (Wellesley College) whose research compiled a list of the 300 most frequently-published American hymns. This combination "Canon/Billboard Top 300" served as a reference point for the competitive and commissioned grants which undergirded the public conference, May 17-20, 2000, as well as for the volume of essays later edited.

American Protestant Hymns Project: A Ranked List of Most Frequently Printed Hymns, 1737-1960 >>

CD of Hymns

Nine of America's leading arrangers of sacred music were commissioned to draw up a CD with exciting new choral arrangements of hymns. The CD, Selah Songs of Rejoicing, produced by Selah Publishing, features over 50 minutes of music that will be cherished by any lover of the great hymns of the church.

Published Book 

Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, compiles eleven essays, many of which were first presented at the "Hymnody in American Protestantism" conference, and makes a strong case that hymns are both a fascinating and an irreplaceable type of primary source document for both intellectual and social religious history. The chapters also extol the centrality of hymns in American Protestant worship services and evangelical life.

The book is divided into three sections: 1) In the beginning was Watts, 2) Hymns and the ordering of Protestant Life, 3) Hymns as Good (or Bad?) Theology.

Contributors to this volume include Mark Noll, Esther Rothenbusch Crookshank, Rochelle A. Stackhouse, Robert A. Schneider, Kevin Kee, Thomas E. Bergler, Felicia Piscitelli, Virginia Lieson Brereton, Jeffrey VanderWilt, Susan Wise Bauer, and Richard J. Mouw.


In the Spring of 1998, the ISAE sponsored a grant competition which attracted approximately 450 inquiries and over 115 proposals. Thirty-seven scholars were selected in late July 1998 to receive grants and to present their findings at the May 17-20, 2000 public conference.

Grant Recipients and their Topics

Campmeeting holiness hymnody, 1867-1890
Armstrong, Christopher (Duke University)

"Narrative" and "logical" hymns and American Christian views of "liberal" and "conservative"
Bauer, Susan Wise (College of William and Mary)

Hymnic reflections of the national rift in antebellum America
Bence, Philip (Houghton College)

Youth culture and hymnody (Youth for Christ influences)
Bergler, Thomas (Notre Dame)

Hymns in the black gospel tradition
Brereton, Virginia (Tufts University) 

Missionary hymns in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and American expansionism in the early 20th century
Boots, Cheryl (Boston University)

Hymns and the religious experiences of children, 1780-1850
Curtis, Heather (Harvard University)

Textual editing and the "making" of hymns in the 19th century
DeJong, Mary (Altoona College, Penn State University)

19th century AME church music
Dickerson, Dennis (Williams College)

Hymnody in the Swedish Covenant Church
Erickson, Scott (Harvard University) 

Original poems versus printed hymns: editorial choices in contemporary American hymnals
Fox, Donald H. (UCC Church, La Crosse, WI)

Revivalist hymns and listener responses to the Old Fashioned Revival Hour
Fuller, Daniel, Philip Goff, and Kate McGinn (Fuller Theological Seminary)

Domesticity in American hymns, 1820-1870
Gallagher, Susan VanZanten (Seattle Pacific University)

American evangelical hymnody and Swedish immigrant denominations
Granquist, Mark (St. Olaf College)

Popular hymnody and the flowering of evangelical culture, 1830-1880
Gunther, Candy (Harvard University)

Evangelical song and Presbyterian hymnals in 20th-century America
Hart, D. G. (Westminster Theological Seminary)

"Amazing Grace": the history of a hymn and cultural icon
Hindmarsh, Bruce (Briarcrest Biblical Seminary)

Depression-era hymnals
Hinkley, Willard

Virginia Baptist hymnody, 1780-1800, and constructions of religious liberty
Ingham, Cynthia Jo

Hymns and gospel songs in Canadian evangelism, 1884-1957
Kee, Kevin (Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario)

A case study of hymnals and the life of an historic evangelical congregation
King, Chuck (College Church, Wheaton, IL) 

Hymns of the Civil War era
Mathieu, Lea

Nautical imagery in American hymnody
Mouw, Richard (Fuller Theological Seminary)

Creating the hymnal of the Presbyterian Church in Canada
Murison, Barbara (University of Western Ontario)

"All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name"
Noll, Mark (Wheaton College, IL)

"Mercer's Cluster"
Norton, Kay (Arizonia State University)

Protestant hymnody in Roman Catholic worship
Piscitelli, Felicia (Texas A & M University)

Hymnody as ideology in American Latino Protestantism
Ramirez, Daniel (Duke University)

Textual changes in popular occasional hymns
Rogal, Samuel (Illinois Valley Community College) 

Isaac Watts in Victorian America
Rothenbusch, Esther (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)

Popular American hymns and Protestant foreign missions
Schneider, Robert A. (Temple University)

How the Mennonite hymnological tradition made the transition from German to English, and how that transition correlated to changes in theology influenced by North American Protestantism
Smucker, David (Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society)

Watts' "O God Our Help in Ages Past" and "I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord" and hymns as reflectors of contemporary issues and molders of public discourse and action
Stackhouse, Rochelle

"Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" and the development of American Methodism
Tyson, John R. (Houghton College)

Singing about death in American Protestant hymnody
VanderWilt, Jeffrey (Loyola Marymount)

Shaping concepts, attitudes and worship practices through hymnal indices
VanDyke, Mary Louise (The Hymn Society, Oberlin College)

Hymnody and Lutheran self-understanding in the early 20th century
Young, Ellen


Lilly Endowment, Inc.


This project was funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment >>

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