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In this clever and entertaining look at the United States and religious freedom, Robert C. Fuller introduces us to religious revolutionaries who, in very unique ways, shaped American religious tradition and fought to establish new forms of spirituality. Chronological in scope, Religious Revolutionaries takes us from Puritanism and Calvinism in America's colonial period to present-day belief systems. We meet religious rebels who are widely recognized, such as Thomas Jefferson, the architect of our constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. We meet Andrew Jackson Davis, America's first trance channeler and forceful champion of the inner divinity of every person. We are introduced to Mary Daly, who openly confronted the sexist bias of most organized religion. We also learn about trailblazers such as Phineas P. Quimby, who challenged the Protestant theology of his day and whose ideas became the foundation for Christian Science philosophy, and James Cone, the bold spokesperson for black power and black spirituality. Religious Revolutionaries is a page-turner that focuses on the people who shaped religion in the United States, but it is also a captivating journey through the history of our diverse country.
Fuller picks up where his Spiritual, but Not Religious (Oxford 2001) left off in this study of men and women who were "creatively religious" as they encountered the main currents of American religion. Fuller sets his study of these "religious revolutionaries" in the context of their own times, thus providing a helpful and concise overview of American religious history from colonial times to the 21st century. He begins his study with Anne Hutchinson, who preached that God's revelation to individuals could occur mystically and outside of official church meetings and questioned the prevailing Puritan doctrine that external works provided a manifestation of God's grace. Fuller also examines Thomas Jefferson's Deism, Ralph Waldo Emerson's metaphysical spiritualism, Joseph Smith's sectarian visions, Phineas Quimby's mesmerism, Andrew Jackson Davis's spiritualism, William James's psychology of religion, Paul Tillich's existential theology, Mary Daly's radical feminism and James Cone's black theology. Fuller deserves kudos for reintroducing Tillich's notion that faith is the state of being ultimately concerned, an idea that lies at the burgeoning study of popular culture and religion. However, Fuller's study of Cone neglects to emphasize that Cone's theology is more rooted in spirituals and the blues than in the conflict between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Many of the book's figures can hardly be called religious revolutionaries, even in their own times, but rather men and women who pointed to alternative ways of being religious in America. Despite these shortcomings, Fuller offers a useful, though not definitive, guide to the development of American religion.