American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism

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American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism. By Thomas S. Kidd. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2009. Pp xx, 201. $29.95. ISBN 978-0-691-13349-2.)

In the last two decades, several books have appeared that take their subject the relationship between American Christians and the Middle East. (For example, see Ussama Makdisi's superb study Artillery of Heaven [Ithaca, NY, 2008], and Fuad Shaaban's Islam and Arabs in Early American Thought: Roots of Orientalism in America [Durham, NC, 199 1]). Yet, for the most part these have been narrowly focused scholarly works. American Christians and Islam is the first book that covers the longue durée of American Christian views on Islam and Muslims. Starting from the colonial period and extending through the post-9/11 era, Thomas S. Kidd aims to show that American Christians (in reality almost exclusively white conservative Protestants) have always had a problematic and primarily antagonistic relationship with Islam. Rather, than see 9/11 as the turning point in that relationship, he shows that the same themes (conversion of Muslims, missionary work among Muslims, and Islam and Muhammad as the antithesis of Christianity and Christ) have coursed through Evangelical discourse and diatribe for more than 300 years.

Across eight chapters, Kidd illustrates his argument with a rich and convincing collection of evidence. Amongst early Americans, Islam came to play a key role in shaping both intra-Protestant theological arguments (where opponents associated each other's views with that of Muhammad), as well as the nascent American national narrative. The same themes continued through the age of the early American Republic. As with the Barbary piracy in the eighteenth century, pirate attacks on American ships in the nineteenth century generated a keen interest in captivity narratives and eschatological writing with a historicist bend. Thus, Islam came to be seen by the likes of Jonathan Edwards as the smoke locusts in Revelation 9. According to Kidd, it was this sense that there was a growing clash between Islam and Christianity that underpinned the American missionary efforts to Muslims. While producing only a handful of converts to Christianity, this nineteenth and early-twentieth missionary movement was formative in the shaping of American Orientalism with its "Bible lands" travel narratives and conversion stories that depicted Muslims as thirsting for Christ. …