Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

America's Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

America's Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

PETER W. WILLIAMS. America's Religions: From Their Origins to the Twenty-First Century. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Pp. xvi + 601, introduction, bibliography, index. $29.95 (paper).

America's Religions attempts to emphasize the unique histories of religious communities without losing the broader sweep of American religion or the deeper insights of a thematic approach. To a remarkable degree it succeeds. In both the depth and breadth of his analysis, Peter W. Williams, Distinguished Professor of Religion and American Studies at Miami University, Ohio, shows himself worthy of his title. Though some readers may be daunted by its 600-plus pages, the book's readable style and structure make its length easy to navigate from beginning to end or to negotiate in parts as a desktop reference.

A major reworking of his 1990 America's Religions: Traditions and Cultures, the current volume remains chiefly oriented to the evolution of individual communities whose stories are framed within the typical periods of American history. Therefore, the Anglicans are not forgotten when Britain loses its American colonies. Their successor Episcopalians make an appearance nearly every twentieth page throughout. Indeed, in the account of the new republic, Episcopalians and Lutherans, another community commonly given short shrift, merit eight pages to the Constitution's four. Later, as an "Anglican Renaissance," Episcopalians are given another six pages. Though this attention to Episcopalians is unusual in a survey text, one cannot argue that other traditions are sacrificed to it. America's Religions manages to include meaningfully both religious mainstream and margins over the course of American history.

As for his narrative approach, Williams provides the necessary challenge to American exceptionalism by showing the nation's original and continuing indebtedness to other places and peoples, including indigenous ones. …

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