Academic journal article International Social Science Review

American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice

Article excerpt

Raboteau, Albert J., American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and their Struggle for Social and Political Justice. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016, 224 pages. Hardcover, $29.95.

Albert J. Raboteau, esteemed Professor of Religion at Princeton University, briefly examines the lives of seven influential civil rights activists and explains how their political beliefs and religious affiliation guided their view of the world, and their obligation to use this understanding to direct humanity from its primitive state into one in which civil rights were universally upheld and protected.

Raboteau first introduces Abraham Joshua Herschel, lone survivor of his immediate family of the Holocaust. Herschel relied on his Hasidic academic training to understand man's relationship with the world. He concluded that humans are mere agents that God uses to further man's progression in civilized society. Herschel believed religion and politics are intertwined. However, the author omits the inherent danger of asserting the interdependence of the two in a democratic society in which there is a supposed separation of church and state. Herschel's personal experience galvanized his interest to rectify the pervasiveness of civil rights violations and to confront those responsible for its existence.

Raboteau next introduces AJ Muste, a professor and an advisor to foreign dignitaries, who experienced an inner conflict between belief systems--Ukrainian Orthodox, Quaker, Presbyterian, and his political persuasion. He concluded that God is not aloof from human affairs, but is involved in day-to-day affairs. He translated pacifism to be non-violent in one's reaction to injustice and suffering, but proactive in grassroots organizing to defend laborers' rights.

Next, Professor Raboteau discusses activist Dorothy Day, who reconciled her disillusionment with her prior religious beliefs through personal failures into action for civil rights and war protests. Day believed in feeding and sheltering the poor and promoting civil rights, but it was primarily based in Catholic missionary work rather than advocating civil rights in the broader context of American society.

The author also provides an overview of Howard Thurman's life, highlighting his and his family's experiences with institutionalized racial discrimination. Thurman philosophized that separatism of humanity and nature caused emotional and mental conflict for man who seeks wholeness and continuity in his existence. He understood exclusion had a similar effect of man being separated from man; one sees his existence as part of the whole but is separate from that which he is naturally connected. This is reminiscent of the prolific historian WEB DuBois' assessment of black consciousness amid racial violence and discrimination. (i)

Raboteau thereafter directs the reader to Thomas Merton, a French Catholic convert and monk who migrated to the United States in the 1940s. Merton asserted that monastic life separated oneself only in name and that monks co-existed in the same world as laymen. He concluded that neither would benefit had he remained in seclusion and failed to compassionately speak of the social ills which plagued those vulnerable voices dominant society sought to muffle. For Merton, impoverished areas were a sign of mercy to the white oppressor, and that if America's social tyranny continued it would reap the wrath of the God. …

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