Material History of American Religion Project

Diane Winston

Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army

The Salvation Army, an evangelical mission that arrived in the United States in 1880, held the postmillennial view that all aspects of every day life could be sacralized. To usher in its version of the Kingdom of God, Salvationists waged a stealth campaign, adopting the idioms and instruments of commercial culture to subvert the values and ideology of advanced industrial capitalism. Its strategy was to "spiritualize" everyday life, fashioning a vernacular religion that turned the familiar—coffee and donuts, uniforms and parades—into reminders of the sacred. Using commercial culture as an interpretative lens, Winston places the Army in the thick of city life, viewing it as an urban cultural phenomenon with religious and social dimensions. By focusing on material culture, she reveals a set of discourses involving gender, class and performance that complicate previous interpretations of the Army as a conservative social mission.

Winston argues that the Army offered a new mode for religiosity: a vernacular, non-sectarian faith present in commonplace objects such as bonnets, kettles, and donuts. One result—the once ragtag mission has become the nation's largest charitable fund-raiser.

For an example of the religious meaning of material objects, see Winston's discussion of the Salvation Army doughnut in our Documents section. She discussed the Army’s uniform and other practices in an interview with the project staff.

Diane Winston is a Program Officer in Religion at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army was published by Harvard University Press in 1999. She received her B.A. from Brandeis, a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, a masters in journalism from Columbia, and her Ph.D. in religion from Princeton University.

Religion Program
Pew Charitable Trusts
One Commerce Square
2005 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 1910

Return to the participants page

Return to project home page