American Religious Liberalism

American Religious Liberalism

American Religious Liberalism

American Religious Liberalism

Synopsis

Religious liberalism in America has often been equated with an ecumenical Protestant establishment. By contrast, American Religious Liberalism draws attention to the broad diversity of liberal cultures that shapes America's religious movements. The essays gathered here push beyond familiar tropes and boundaries to interrogate religious liberalism's dense cultural leanings by looking at spirituality in the arts, the politics and piety of religious cosmopolitanism, and the interaction between liberal religion and liberal secularism. Readers will find a kaleidoscopic view of many of the progressive strands of America's religious past and present in this richly provocative volume.

Excerpt

In this new book on American religious liberalism, Leigh Schmidt, Sally Promey, and their coauthors have set themselves a daunting task. To define, dictionaries tell us, is to delimit—to draw a line around what is being defined so that we know clearly what it is and what it is not. Definitions are boundary guards to keep out objects that are not under scrutiny and to mark unmistakably the objects that are. Given this police work, what do scholars do when they need to define an important phenomenon that they and others know is real but that evades easy—and even rigorous—attempts to mark it? How do they find the precision on which definitions depend when their “object” spreads amoebalike outside its holders and blends into a middle ground that is complex and thick with related and unrelated forms?

To say this another way, religious liberalism, in its American context (and probably elsewhere, too) is messy. Scholars who seek meticulous nomenclature and characterization will, perforce, go home defeated in their encounter with liberalism. To complicate matters further, editors and authors are grappling here not simply with definition in a steady-state world but instead with the fluid and developmental character of a historically contingent category. Add to this the fact that the story of religious history in America is no longer narrowly confined to what might be called classic or traditional theological, spiritual, and devotional categories.

What is therefore so impressive in this new book is the progress Schmidt, Promey, and their coauthors have made in surveying and untangling strands of the liberal phenomenon in religion as it has appeared from the late nine-

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