Retelling U.S. Religious History

Article excerpt

Retelling US. Religious History. Edited by Thomas A.Tweed. (Berkeley: University of California Press. 1997. Pp. xii, 302. $40.00 clothbound $13.95 paperback.)

In this creatively provocative set of essays plus an introduction, nine American religious historians offer examples of what many of us have longed for and worked at for several decades: narratives about religion in America that make use of new topics and new participants, new angles and perspectives, and new ways to think about relationships among multiple religious communities in American history. In his introduction,Thomas A.Tweed states the goal of the volume as the effort to be suggestive, not exhaustive," and to demonstrate, as Catherine Albanese does at length in the concluding essay, that the ongoing reality of contact and combination of religious groups has fostered a constant and dynamic, not always easy, remaking of religious traditions.The related motifs of the volume, says Tweed, are contact, boundary, and exchange.

The volume is divided into two sections.The first,"Meaning and Power at Social Sites," includes essays by Ann Taves on sexuality; Tamar Frankiel on ritual; Ann Braude on women in American religious history from the perspective of women's presence rather than men's absence; and Roger Finke on"supply-side" interpretations of church growth and decline."Bodies, laws, and churches," says Tweed, are the prominent social sites of this section.

In the second section, Contact and Exchange at Geographic Sites," Laurie Maffly-Kipp writes a west-to-east religious history from the Pacific Rim. Joel Martin grounds a narrative of contact, colonialization, and combination among the Muskogee Creek Indians and concludes with an outline for a postcolonial narrative of Indian religions.William Westfall, a Canadian historian, elaborates on insights that can be gained from the Canadian border, a site that both separates and joins two nations and makes possible a"parallel historical discourse"from an outsider's perspective. …