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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Pietism (from the word piety) was an influential movement within Lutheranism that combined Lutheran emphasis on Biblical doctrine with the Reformed emphasis on individual piety and living a vigorous Christian life. Although it was active exclusively within Lutheranism, it had a tremendous impact on Protestantism worldwide, particularly in North America and Europe.

Pietism originated in modern Germany in the late 17th century with the work of Philipp Jakob Spener, a Lutheran theologian whose emphasis on personal transformation through spiritual rebirth and renewal, individual devotion and piety laid the foundations for the movement. Although Spener did not directly advocate the quietistic, legalistic and semi-separatist practices of Pietism, they were more or less involved in the positions he assumed or the practices which he encouraged.

Pietism spread from Germany to Switzerland and the rest of German-speaking Europe, Scandinavia and the Baltics (where it was heavily influential, leaving a permament mark on the region's dominant Lutheranism, with figures like Hans Nielsen Hauge in Norway, Carl Olof Rosenius in Sweden, Katarina Asplund in Finland, and Baroness Barbara von Krüdener in the Baltics), and the rest of Europe. It was further taken to North America, primarily by German and Scandinavian immigrants. There, it influenced Protestants of other ethnic backgrounds, taking part in the 18th century foundation of Evangelicalism, a vibrant movement within Protestantism that today has some 300 million followers.

The movement reached its zenith in the mid-18th century, and declined through the 19th century, and had almost vanished in America by the end of the 20th century. While declining as an identifiable Lutheran group, some of its theological tenets influenced Protestantism generally, inspiring the Anglican priest John Wesley to begin the Methodist movement and Alexander Mack to begin the Brethren movement among Anabaptists.

In the United States, during some of its history Protestant denominations came to be categorized by historians as either pietistic or liturgical depending on their theology, as well as on their general support of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Pietistic Protestants included Quakers, Free Will Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists, Regular Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and some Protestants from the British and African-American communities—all based in the Northern United States; some of these groups in the South would rather support the Democrats. A substantial part of the Pietistic Protestants was formed by German Sectarians, Norwegian Lutherans, Swedish Lutherans, and Haugean Norwegians.

Though Pietism shares an emphasis on personal behavior with the Puritan movement, and the two are often confused, there are important differences, particularly in the concept of the role of religion in government.

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