U.S. Religious Sects Originating in the 19th Century

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

The United States was the setting for new developments in religion in the 19th century. Sects and movements of many types arose, inspired variously by new interpretations of the Bible, the teachings of new prophets and thinkers, the expectation of Christ's second coming, and the social, scientific, and philosophical questions of the time. Sects that have thrived for over 100 years include the Christian Scientists, the Mormons, the Seventh-day Adventists, and the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Christian Scientists

Founded by Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) in the 1860s and 1870s, Christian Science views creation as entirely spiritual. The church holds the Bible as authoritative yet interprets it in a distinct way, focusing on the life of Jesus as a model of healing by prayer, a necessary element of spiritual growth. According to the Christian Science concept of Mind-healing, physical illness and injury result from error or wrong belief and can be healed through one's own prayer or the ministrations of a Christian Science practitioner. Worship services focus on readings from the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Eddy's definitive textbook. Christian Science is based at the Mother Church in Boston, Massachusetts. The Christian Science Monitor, established under the direction of Eddy, has long been recognized for excellence in journalism.

See also Encyclopedia: Christian Science.


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established by Joseph Smith Jr. (1805–1844) of New York. He described an encounter with an angel who gave him the text that would become the Book of Mormon, which, together with the Bible and other texts, forms the Mormon scriptures (Mormon is an ancient American prophet noted in the book). Smith organized a church in 1830; due to persecution, church members searched for a place to practice their faith, finally settling in Utah. Salt Lake City, Utah, is home to institutions such as the Family History Library, the world's largest collection of genealogical information. Mormons believe that the Godhead consists of three separate personages (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), that souls preexist this life, and that the faithful will gain eternal life as gods. These rites can be undertaken by proxy for one's dead forebears. In the Mormon view, the second coming of Christ will lead to a chain of events culminating in a final resurrection, after which earth will become a celestial home for all people.

See also Encyclopedia: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Seventh-day Adventists

Seventh-day Adventists trace their beginnings to the preacher William Miller (1782–1849), who expounded the idea that the second coming of Christ would occur between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. His followers, called Adventists, had to rethink their convictions when that event did not occur. Some believed that Miller's dates designated the beginning of God's examination of the Book of Life, which would soon culminate in the final judgment and Christ's reign on earth. In 1863 they established the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, appointing Saturday (the seventh day) for worship and rest. Seventh-day Adventists practice vegetarianism and avoid alcohol and caffeine. They accept the Bible as the word of God and await the second coming. Among their leaders, Ellen Harmon White (1827–1915) was particularly influential; some consider her writings prophetic. Other Adventist groups hold to somewhat different views.

See also Encyclopedia: Adventists.

Jehovah's Witnesses

This sect grew out of the International Bible Students Association, founded in 1872 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916). After intensive study of the Bible, he concluded that the invisible return of Christ had occurred in 1874, that the Gentile period would cease in 1914, and that, following a war, the kingdom of God would be established on earth. Jehovah's Witnesses no longer set such specific dates but believe that God's kingdom, the Theocracy, will follow Armageddon, the great war described in prophetic books of the Bible. They believe that biblical prophecies are being fulfilled in world events and that Jesus was created by God and acts as his agent. Jehovah's Witnesses worship at meeting places called Kingdom Halls. Because they believe that secular governments are unknowingly entangled with Satan, they do not salute flags or join the military. Jehovah's Witnesses actively seek converts; members are expected to spread the message. Their publishing efforts include the magazines Watchtower and Awake!

See also Encyclopedia: Jehovah's Witnesses.

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