Last month, Random House released the paperback edition of Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman’s Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence, by Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt. The publisher’s description follows:
In 1935, at the height of his powers, Howard Thurman, one of the most influential African American religious thinkers of the twentieth century, took a pivotal trip to India that would forever change him—and that would ultimately shape the course of the civil rights movement in the United States.
When Thurman (1899–1981) became the first African American to meet with Mahatma Gandhi, he found himself called upon to create a new version of American Christianity, one that eschewed self-imposed racial and religious boundaries, and equipped itself to confront the enormous social injustices that plagued the United States during this period. Gandhi’s philosophy and practice of satyagraha, or “soul force,” would have a momentous impact on Thurman, showing him the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance.
After the journey to India, Thurman’s distinctly American translation of satyagraha into a Black Christian context became one of the key inspirations for the civil rights movement, fulfilling Gandhi’s prescient words that “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.” Thurman went on to found one of the first explicitly interracial congregations in the United States and to deeply influence an entire generation of black ministers—among them Martin Luther King Jr.
Visions of a Better World depicts a visionary leader at a transformative moment in his life. Drawing from previously untapped archival material and obscurely published works, Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt explore, for the first time, Thurman’s development into a towering theologian who would profoundly affect American Christianity—and American history.
This December, Harvard University Press will release “American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism” by Matthew Avery Sutton (Washington State University). The publisher’s description follows:
The first comprehensive history of modern American evangelicalism to appear in a generation, American Apocalypse shows how a group of radical Protestants, anticipating the end of the world, paradoxically transformed it.
Matthew Avery Sutton draws on extensive archival research to document the ways an initially obscure network of charismatic preachers and their followers reshaped American religion, at home and abroad, for over a century. Perceiving the United States as besieged by Satanic forces—communism and secularism, family breakdown and government encroachment—Billy Sunday, Charles Fuller, Billy Graham, and others took to the pulpit and airwaves to explain how Biblical end-times prophecy made sense of a world ravaged by global wars, genocide, and the threat of nuclear extinction. Believing Armageddon was nigh, these preachers used what little time was left to warn of the coming Antichrist, save souls, and prepare the nation for God’s final judgment.
By the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and conservative Republicans appropriated evangelical ideas to create a morally infused political agenda that challenged the pragmatic tradition of governance through compromise and consensus. Following 9/11, the politics of apocalypse continued to resonate with an anxious populace seeking a roadmap through a world spinning out of control. Premillennialist evangelicals have erected mega-churches, shaped the culture wars, made and destroyed presidential hopefuls, and brought meaning to millions of believers. Narrating the story of modern evangelicalism from the perspective of the faithful, Sutton demonstrates how apocalyptic thinking continues to exert enormous influence over the American mainstream today.
This January, Little, Brown and Company Publishing will release “One Nation, Under Gods: The Hidden History of the Religious United States” by Peter Manseau (Smithsonian Fellow). The publisher’s description follows:
At the heart of the nation’s spiritual history are audacious and often violent scenes. But the Puritans and the shining city on the hill give us just one way to understand the United States. Rather than recite American history from a Christian vantage point, Peter Manseau proves that what really happened is worth a close, fresh look.
Thomas Jefferson himself collected books on all religions and required that the brand new Library of Congress take his books, since Americans needed to consider the “twenty gods or no god” he famously noted were revered by his neighbors. Looking at the Americans who believed in these gods, Manseau fills in America’s story of itself, from the persecuted “witches” at Salem and who they really were, to the persecuted Buddhists in WWII California, from spirituality and cults in the ’60s to the recent presidential election where both candidates were for the first time non-traditional Christians.
One Nation, Under Gods shows how much more there is to the history we tell ourselves, right back to the country’s earliest days. Dazzling in its scope and sweep, it is an American history unlike any you’ve read.
This January, Fortress Publishing will release “Lutherans in America: A New History” by Mark Granquist (Luther Seminary). The publisher’s description follows:
The story of Lutherans in America is one of mutual influence. From the first small groups of Lutherans to arrive in the colonies, to the large immigrations to the rich heartland of a growing nation, Lutherans have influenced, and been influenced by, America.
In this lively and engaging new history, Granquist brings to light not only the varied and fascinating institutions that Lutherans founded and sustained but the people that lived within them. The result is a generous, human history that tells a complete story—not only about politics and policies but also the piety and the practical experiences of the Lutheran men and women who lived and worked in the American context.
Bringing the story all the way to the present day and complemented with new charts, maps, images, and sidebars, Granquist ably covers the full range of Lutheran expressions, bringing order and clarity to a complex and vibrant tradition.
This January, Wiley Publishing will release “Inspiration and Innovation: Religion in the American West” by Todd M. Kerstetter (Texas Christian University). The publisher’s description follows:
Covering more than 200 years of history from pre-contact to the present, this textbook places religion at the center of the history of the American West, examining the relationship between religion and the region and their influence on one another.
- A comprehensive examination of the relationship between religion and the American West and their influence on each other over the course of more than 200 years
- Discusses diverse groups of people, places, and events that played an important historical role, from organized religion and easily recognized denominations to unorganized religion and cults
- Provides straightforward explanations of key religious and theological terms and concepts
- Weaves discussion of American Indian religion throughout the text and presents it in dialogue with other groups
- Enriches our understanding of American history by examining key factors outside of traditional political, economic, social, and cultural domains
This January, University of Virginia Press will release “Patriotism and Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation” by Jonathan J. Den Hartog (University of Northwestern, St. Paul). The publisher’s description follows:
In Patriotism and Piety, Jonathan Den Hartog argues that the question of how religion would function in American society was decided in the decades after the Constitution and First Amendment established a legal framework. Den Hartog shows that among the wide array of politicians and public figures struggling to define religion’s place in the new nation, Federalists stood out—evolving religious attitudes were central to Federalism, and the encounter with Federalism strongly shaped American Christianity.
Den Hartog describes the Federalist appropriations of religion as passing through three stages: a “republican” phase of easy cooperation inherited from the experience of the American Revolution; a “combative” phase, forged during the political battles of the 1790s–1800s, when the destiny of the republic was hotly contested; and a “voluntarist” phase that grew in importance after 1800. Faith became more individualistic and issue-oriented as a result of the actions of religious Federalists.
Religious impulses fueled party activism and informed governance, but the redirection of religious energies into voluntary societies sapped party momentum, and religious differences led to intraparty splits. These developments altered not only the Federalist Party but also the practice and perception of religion in America, as Federalist insights helped to create voluntary, national organizations in which Americans could practice their faith in interdenominational settings.
Patriotism and Piety focuses on the experiences and challenges confronted by a number of Federalists, from well-known leaders such as John Adams, John Jay, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Timothy Dwight to lesser-known but still important figures such as Caleb Strong, Elias Boudinot, and William Jay.
This January, St. Augustine’s Press will release “Unquiet Americans: U.S. Catholics and America’s Common Good” by Gerard Bradley (Co-Director of the Natural Law Institute). The publisher’s description follows:
Before the Second Vatican Council, America’s Catholics operated largely as a coherent voting bloc, usually in connection with the Democratic Party. Their episcopal leaders generally spoke for Catholics in political matters; at least, where America’s bishops asserted themselves in public affairs there was little audible dissent from the faithful.
More than occasionally, the immigrant Church’s eagerness to demonstrate its patriotic bona fides furthered its tendency to speak with one voice about national matters, and in line with the broader societal consensus. And, notwithstanding the considerable conflict which Catholics encountered, and generated, in American political life, there was before the Council broad agreement in American culture about the centrality of Biblical morality to the success of Americans’ experiment with republican government.
In other words: before the Council, American Catholics’ relationship to the political common good was mediated, somewhat uncritical, and insulated from conflict (both within and without the Church) over such fundamental matters as protection of innocent life, marriage and family life, and (to a lesser extent) religious liberty.
This has all changed since the mid-1960s. For the first time in the Church’s pilgrimage on these shores, controversial questions about the basic moral requirements of the political common good are front and center for America’s Catholics. These questions require Catholics to confront matters which heretofore they either took for granted, read off from the background culture, or which they left to the bishops to handle. But the Council Fathers rightly recognized that Jesus calls upon a formed and informed laity to act as leaven in the public realm, to bring Gospel values to the temporal sphere. In this book of essays touching upon Catholic social doctrine, the truth about human equality and political liberty, and religious faith as it bears upon public life and the public engagement of lay Catholics, Gerard Bradley supplies indispensable aid to those seeking to answer Jesus’ call.
This January, Oklahoma University Press will release “Religious Freedom in America: Constitutional Roots and Contemporary Challenges” by Allen D. Hertzke (University of Oklahoma). The publisher’s description follows:
All Americans, liberal or conservative, religious or not, can agree that religious freedom, anchored in conscience rights, is foundational to the U.S. democratic experiment. But what freedom of conscience means, what its scope and limits are, according to the Constitution—these are matters for heated debate. At a moment when such questions loom ever larger in the nation’s contentious politics and fraught policy-making process, this timely book offers invaluable historical, empirical, philosophical, and analytical insight into the American constitutional heritage of religious liberty.
As the contributors to this interdisciplinary volume attest, understanding religious freedom demands taking multiple perspectives. The historians guide us through the legacy of religious freedom, from the nation’s founding and the rise of public education, through the waves of immigration that added successive layers of diversity to American society. The social scientists discuss the swift, striking effects of judicial decision making and the battles over free exercise in a complex, bureaucratic society. Advocates remind us of the tensions abiding in schools and other familiar institutions, and of the major role minorities play in shaping free exercise under our constitutional regime. And the jurists emphasize that this is a messy area of constitutional law. Their work brings out the conflicts inherent in interpreting the First Amendment—tensions between free exercise and disestablishment, between the legislative and judicial branches of government, and along the complex and ever-shifting boundaries of religion, state, and society.
What emerges most clearly from these essays is how central religious liberty is to America’s civic fabric—and how, under increasing pressure from both religious and secular forces, this First Amendment freedom demands our full attention and understanding.
This January, University of North Carolina Press will release “For God, King, and People: Forging Commonwealth Bonds in Renaissance Virginia” by Alexander B. Haskell (University of California). The publisher’s description follows:
By recovering a largely forgotten English Renaissance mindset that regarded sovereignty and Providence as being fundamentally entwined, Alexander Haskell reconnects concepts historians had before treated as separate categories and argues that the first English planters in Virginia operated within a deeply providential age rather than an era of early modern entrepreneurialism. These men did not merely settle Virginia; they and their London-based sponsors saw this first successful English venture in America as an exercise in divinely inspired and approved commonwealth creation. When the realities of Virginia complicated this humanist ideal, growing disillusionment and contention marked debates over the colony.
Rather than just “selling” colonization to the realm, proponents instead needed to overcome profound and recurring doubts about whether God wanted English rule to cross the Atlantic and the process by which it was to happen. By contextualizing these debates within a late Renaissance phase in England, Haskell links increasing religious skepticism to the rise of decidedly secular conceptions of state power. Haskell offers a radical revision of accepted narratives of early modern state formation, locating it as an outcome, rather than as an antecedent, of colonial endeavor.
This December, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers will release “The First Great Awakening: Redefining Religion in British America, 1725-1775” by John Howard Smith (Texas A&M University). The publisher’s description follows:
The First Great Awakening, an unprecedented surge in Protestant Christian revivalism in the Eighteenth Century, sparked enormous of controversy at the time and has been a source of scholarly debate ever since. Few historians have sought to write a synthetic history of the First Great Awakening, and in recent decades it has been challenged as having happened at all, being either an exaggeration or an “invention.” The First Great Awakening expands the movement’s geographical, theological, and sociopolitical scope. Rather than focus exclusively on the clerical elites, as earlier studies have done, it deals with them alongside ordinary people, and includes the experiences of women, African Americans, and Indians as the observers and participants they were. It challenges prevailing scholarly opinion concerning what the revivals were and what they meant to the formation of American religious identity and culture.