The Lost Art of Political And Religious Tracts… And Two Questions

Once upon a time, tracts were a crucial way to spread new ideas, and a surprisingly effective one. Tract writing was an art mainly practiced by radicals, non-conformists and other outsiders, and the tracts usually manifested an overflow of passionate argument.

Tracts were small, cheap documents that could be printed in large numbers and left about (in buses, trains and so on) for people to pick up and read. The graphic I’ve used here was a place to deposit tracts in train cars. Anyone who cared enough could shove their tracts into them for people to read. And these receptacles remained into the 1980s.

Alas, this art has all but vanished. And I, one of its few surviving practitioners, mourn for it.

But I also wonder whether a time for tracts may be returning. What I’m thinking is this:

  1. People are bombarded with electronic words and images these days. To call it an avalanche would probably be an understatement.

  2. More than that, this avalanche of information is mundane, repetitive and predictable. As an old musician’s adage goes, when you accent everything, you accent nothing.

  3. Once people turn off the phone, they are faced with blank space. I happen to think that blank space can be good for us, but it is, for sure, a fertile space. The flashing images are turned off and after a few minutes to adjust, serious ideas can be appreciated… even savored.

This chain of thought makes me wonder whether the noble tract could make a comeback.

We live in a world where novelty has been souped-up, scientifically designed, tweaked to the nines and more. The result, ironically enough, is a stream of shouting, glittering sameness. In such a setting, the cheap, unpolished, even slightly grimy tract becomes truly novel.

I, however, am biased, and in some ways out of date. And so, my two questions:

  1. Do you think there is any truth to this?

  2. If so, what kinds of tracts would you actually distribute?

Subject to time and other limitations, if there’s a demand for this, I’ll try to produce them in an easily printable format; you can run ‘em off on your printer or on a copy machine.



Paul Rosenberg

6 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Political And Religious Tracts… And Two Questions”

  1. Most famous Christian tracts were Chick tracts- many were scary but all caught your attention. I don’t agree with the message they gave but it was gripping. The info you and others provide would make great tracts. Just got done watching The Secret of Oz movie- so issues like money, crypto, etc could educate all of us about truth- not illusion. Could probably be done on Facebook, etc. with some decent artwork, music[maybe], and a professional voice.

  2. I am keenly aware of a religious group heavily involved, up to recent years and the advent of digital media options and innovation, in the global dissemination of many, many 100’s of millions of tracts in 100’s of languages. Research Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

  3. Quite right on the first two comments, religious tracts still exist, but I think they’ve become a few more internal thing; left at the back of the church for members. I haven’t seen them out in the wild for a long time.
    I have seen Jehovah’s Witnesses standing with tracts in a display, but not loose tracts in a train station, etc.

  4. If it were up to me, I would begin with the basic principles. Watching the movie “The Intern” I was struck by the lack of understanding of the basic principles necessary for success, both in business and in life. In today’s world the achievement of a certain level of success is made possible without an understanding of the principles involved, especially with respect to economics and how to treat other people. People are overwhelmed by Political Correctness and do not understand the principles that really are important.
    After that, I would suggest tracts on the Constitution and Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. Too many people do not understand how it was all developed and the thinking behind it.

  5. This might be sadly typical, but I can easier imagine handing out tracts for other people to read, rather than accepting a stranger’s tract.

    With so much noise out there, I have become very selective of the ideas I cultivate. Hence, my subscription here.

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