Themes in Religion and American Culture

Themes in Religion and American Culture

Themes in Religion and American Culture

Themes in Religion and American Culture

Synopsis

Designed to serve as an introduction to American religion, this volume is distinctive in its approach: instead of following a traditional narrative, the book is arranged thematically. Eleven chapters by top scholars present, in carefully organized and accessible fashion, topics and perspectives fundamental to the understanding of religion in America. Some of the chapters treat aspects of faith typical to most religious groups, such as theology, proselytization, supernaturalism, and cosmology. Others deal with race, ethnicity, gender, the state, economy, science, diversity, and regionalism--facets of American culture that often interact with religion.

Each topical essay is structured chronologically, divided into sections on pre-colonial, colonial, revolutionary and early republican, antebellum, postbellum and late nineteenth-century, early twentieth-century, and modern America. One can study the extended history of a certain theme, or read "across" the book for a study of all the themes during a specific period in history. This book's new approach offers a rich analysis of the genuine complexity of American religious life. With a helpful glossary of basic religious terms, movements, people, and groups, this book will become an essential tool for students and teachers of religion.

Contributors:
Yvonne Chireau, Swarthmore College
Amy DeRogatis, Michigan State University
William Durbin, Washington Theological Union
Tracy Fessenden, Arizona State University
James German, State University of New York, Potsdam
Philip Goff, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis
Paul Harvey, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Sue Marasco, Vanderbilt University
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, University of Chicago Divinity School
Roberto Trevino, University of Texas, Arlington
David Weaver-Zercher, Messiah College

Excerpt

We offer this book as something unique in the field of American religious studies. We made it purposefully so.

The text reflects the changes in our field of study. During the 1980s, scholars challenged many aspects of the traditional narrative of American religious history. Like its secular counterpart, religious history had for decades highlighted the thoughts of men, mostly white, as the “real story,” while everyone else who was religious provided either background or alternatives that were usually understood merely as foils to the metanarrative. The past decade saw those walls fall, as many scholars situated themselves outside the traditional places from which the story was told—highlighting instead the roles of women, or various regions, or ethnicities that were usually ignored. Together, they effectively demolished the long-standing narrative of the cultural hegemony of (particularly) Protestant ideas played out against the backdrop of America, a “decentralization” of the story in order to include more of its components.

The toughest criticism to be made against this new approach is that it leaves too little coherence to the story—if the metanarrative is broken, like Humpty-Dumpty’s shell, it can never be patched together or replaced by another coherent structure. This criticism is less academic than it is practical, for how are we to teach about America’s religious past if, in fact, it can only be understood in pieces, never as a whole? Can students really be asked to . . .

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