Designed to serve as an introduction to American religion, this volume is distinctive in its approach: instead of following a traditional narrative, the book is arranged thematically. Eleven chapters by top scholars present, in carefully organized and accessible fashion, topics and perspectives fundamental to the understanding of religion in America. Some of the chapters treat aspects of faith typical to most religious groups, such as theology, proselytization, supernaturalism, and cosmology. Others deal with race, ethnicity, gender, the state, economy, science, diversity, and regionalism--facets of American culture that often interact with religion.
Each topical essay is structured chronologically, divided into sections on pre-colonial, colonial, revolutionary and early republican, antebellum, postbellum and late nineteenth-century, early twentieth-century, and modern America. One can study the extended history of a certain theme, or read "across" the book for a study of all the themes during a specific period in history. This book's new approach offers a rich analysis of the genuine complexity of American religious life. With a helpful glossary of basic religious terms, movements, people, and groups, this book will become an essential tool for students and teachers of religion.
Yvonne Chireau, Swarthmore College
Amy DeRogatis, Michigan State University
William Durbin, Washington Theological Union
Tracy Fessenden, Arizona State University
James German, State University of New York, Potsdam
Philip Goff, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis
Paul Harvey, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
Sue Marasco, Vanderbilt University
Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, University of Chicago Divinity School
Roberto Trevino, University of Texas, Arlington
David Weaver-Zercher, Messiah College
Most introductions to American religion adopt a chronological approach: they begin with Native Americans, cover European exploration/exploitation, spend disproportionate amounts of time on the First and Second Great Awakenings, entirely ignore the Civil War and then touch on late 19th- and early 20th-century changes to the religious landscape due to immigration, urbanization and theological innovation. In iconoclastic fashion, Goff and Harvey hit upon the brilliant structural concept of organizing the book by 11 broad topics, and then chronologically within each topic, to allow students to see how a theme plays out through generations and across religions. The first four chapters address themes that are common to many religions: theologies, proselytization, supernaturalism and cosmology. Each chapter introduces its theme with the precolonial era and roughly follows the usual historical trajectory to modern times. Other chapters analyze where religion intersects with issues: race, ethnicity, gender, the state, the economy, science and regional diversity. Although some essays are better written than others, the fact that they can stand alone and be read in any order makes them ideal for classroom use or for the general reader. Overall, this primer is a breath of fresh air; it maintains the integrity of the overall story while giving due attention to its various parts.