Between 1890 and 1920 in the United States, Protestant ministers demonstrated increasing concern for boys between the ages of twelve and eighteen. In particular, they described a two-fold "boy problem," defined both in terms of heightened juvenile delinquency and passive effeminacy. This essay analyzes one of the chief ways in which church leaders attempted to combat these issues: the development of Christian boy ministries rooted in the stories and themes of medieval knighthood. Looking at the use of such themes in Protestant literature and in new church organizations such as the Knights of King Arthur and the Knights of the Holy Grail, this article reveals why medievalism had such power and resonance in this era. In part, the symbolic use of the Middle Ages fit well with emerging psychological theories of adolescent development. According to G. Stanley Hall and other proponents of racial recapitulation, adolescent boys were instinctually driven by a need to join their medieval forebears in fighting battles, worshiping heroes, and forming romantic relationships marked by love and chivalry. In addition, the medieval knight emerged as the ideal exemplar for dealing with both aspects of the early twentieth-century boy problem. While boys struggled with moral decadence and effeminate weakness, knights were both morally refined and confidently virile. In the end, I argue that the proliferation of medieval themes in this period reflected a growing consensus regarding the "ideal Christian man." While uncontrolled masculine expression produced the violent man, and the suppression of masculine expression produced the weak man, carefully channeled masculine expression would produce the "knightly" man, the ideal "Christian gentleman" capable of pursuing purity and virtue through manly and aggressive means.
- ©© 2010 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture