Tag Archives: Religion in America

Prothero, “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections)”

In January, HarperCollins Publishers will release “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America from Jefferson’s Heresies to Gay Marriage,” by Stephen Prothero (Boston University). The publisher’s description follows: 

In this timely, carefully reasoned social history of the United States, the New York Times bestselling author of Religious Literacy and God Is Not One places today’s heated culture wars within the context of a centuries-long struggle of right versus left and religious versus secular to reveal how, ultimately, liberals always win.

Though they may seem to be dividing the country irreparably, today’s heated cultural and political battles between right and left, Progressives and Tea Party, religious and secular are far from unprecedented. In this engaging and important work, Stephen Prothero reframes the current debate, viewing it as the latest in a number of flashpoints that have shaped our national identity. Prothero takes us on a lively tour through time, bringing into focus the election of 1800, which pitted Calvinists and Federalists against Jeffersonians and “infidels;” the Protestants’ campaign against Catholics in the mid-nineteenth century; the anti-Mormon crusade of the Victorian era; the fundamentalist-modernist debates of the 1920s; the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s; and the current crusade against Islam.

As Prothero makes clear, our culture wars have always been religious wars, progressing through the same stages of conservative reaction to liberal victory that eventually benefit all Americans. Drawing on his impressive depth of knowledge and detailed research, he explains how competing religious beliefs have continually molded our political, economic, and sociological discourse and reveals how the conflicts which separate us today, like those that came before, are actually the byproduct of our struggle to come to terms with inclusiveness and ideals of “Americanness.” To explore these battles, he reminds us, is to look into the soul of America—and perhaps find essential answers to the questions that beset us.

“Teaching Civic Engagement” (Clingerman & Locklin, eds.)

In December, the Oxford University Press will release “Teaching Civic Engagement,” edited by Forrest Clingerman (Ohio Northern University) and Reid B. Locklin (St. Michael’s College and University of Toronto).  The publisher’s description follows:

Using a new model focused on four core capacities-intellectual complexity, social location, empathetic accountability, and motivated action–Teaching Civic Engagement explores the significance of religious studies in fostering a vibrant, just, and democratic civic order.

In the first section of the book, contributors detail this theoretical model and offer an initial application to the sources and methods that already define much teaching in the disciplines of religious studies and theology. A second section offers chapters focused on specific strategies for teaching civic engagement in religion classrooms, including traditional textual studies, reflective writing, community-based learning, field trips, media analysis, ethnographic methods, direct community engagement and a reflective practice of “ascetic withdrawal.” The final section of the volume explores theoretical issues, including the delimitation of the “civic” as a category, connections between local and global in the civic project, the question of political advocacy in the classroom, and the role of normative commitments.

Collectively these chapters illustrate the real possibility of connecting the scholarly study of religion with the societies in which we, our students, and our institutions exist. The contributing authors model new ways of engaging questions of civic belonging and social activism in the religion classroom, belying the stereotype of the ivory tower intellectual.

“Religion, Secularism, and Constitutional Democracy” (Cohen & Laborde, eds.)

In January, Columbia University Press will release “Religion, Secularism, and Constitutional Democracy” edited by Jean L. Cohen (Columbia University) and Cécile Laborde (University College London). The publisher’s description follows:

Polarization between political religionists and militant secularists on both sides of the Atlantic is on the rise. Critically engaging with traditional secularism and religious accommodationism, this collection introduces a constitutional secularism that robustly meets contemporary challenges. It identifies which connections between religion and the state are compatible with the liberal, republican, and democratic principles of constitutional democracy and assesses the success of their implementation in the birthplace of political secularism: the United States and Western Europe.

Approaching this issue from philosophical, legal, historical, political, and sociological perspectives, the contributors wage a thorough defense of their project’s theoretical and institutional legitimacy. Their work brings fresh insight to debates over the balance of human rights and religious freedom, the proper definition of a nonestablishment norm, and the relationship between sovereignty and legal pluralism. They discuss the genealogy of and tensions involving international legal rights to religious freedom, religious symbols in public spaces, religious arguments in public debates, the jurisdiction of religious authorities in personal law, and the dilemmas of religious accommodation in national constitutions and public policy when it violates international human rights agreements or liberal-democratic principles. If we profoundly rethink the concepts of religion and secularism, these thinkers argue, a principled adjudication of competing claims becomes possible.

Soden, “Outsiders in a Promised Land”

This month, the Oregon State University Press releases “Outsiders in a Promised Land: Religious Activists in Pacific Northwest History,” by Dale Soden (Whitworth University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Outsiders in a Promised Land explores the role that religious activists have played in shaping the culture of the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington and Oregon, from the middle of the 19th century onward. The region’s earliest settlers came to work in the mines and forests, and a culture of saloons, gambling halls, and brothels grew up to serve them. When migration to the region intensified, newcomers with families and religious traditions often saw themselves as outsiders in opposition to the prevailing frontier culture.

As communities grew in population, early activists found common ground in a desire to protect women and children, and make their towns more hospitable to religious values. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews worked together to transform communities. Together they introduced public and private schools, health care institutions, libraries and orphanages, and lobbied for the prohibition of alcohol.

Beginning in the 1930s, religious activism played a crucial role in the emerging culture wars between liberals and conservatives. Liberals rallied around the protection of civil rights and the building of social safety nets, while conservatives decried the rise of secularism, liberalism, and communism. Today, religious activists of many faiths are deeply engaged in matters related to women’s and gay rights, foreign policy, and environmental protection.

Outsiders in a Promised Land is a meticulously researched, comprehensive treatment of religion in Pacific Northwest public life. The first book of its kind, it is destined to be an essential reference for scholars, activists, and religious leaders of all faiths.

Venters, “No Jim Crow Church”

In October, the University Press of Florida released “No Jim Crow Church: The Origins of South Carolina’s Bahá’í Community,” by Louis Venters (Francis Marion University).  The publisher’s description follows:

In No Jim Crow Church, Louis Venters recounts the unlikely emergence of a cohesive interracial fellowship in South Carolina, tracing the history of the community from the end of the nineteenth century through the civil rights era. By joining the Bahá’í Faith, blacks and whites not only defied Jim Crow but also rejected their society’s religious and social restrictions.

The religion, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind, arrived in the United States from the Middle East via northern urban areas. As early as 1910, Bahá’í teachers began settling in South Carolina, where the Bahá’í Faith is currently the largest religious minority. Venters presents an organizational, social, and intellectual history of South Carolina’s early Bahá’í movement and relates developments within the community to changes in society at large, with particular attention to race relations and the civil rights struggle. He argues that the state’s Bahá’ís represent a significant, sustained, spiritually based challenge to the ideology and structures of white male Protestant supremacy. His research provides a fascinating study of an unlikely movement’s rise to prominence and the role of the South Carolina Bahá’í community in the cultural and structural evolution of a new world religion.

Su, “Exporting Freedom”

In January, the Harvard University Press will release “Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power,” by Anna Su (University of Toronto).  The publisher’s description follows:

Religious freedom is widely recognized today as a basic human right, guaranteed by nearly all national constitutions. Exporting Freedom charts the rise of religious freedom as an ideal firmly enshrined in international law and shows how America’s promotion of the cause of individuals worldwide to freely practice their faith advanced its ascent as a global power.

Anna Su traces America’s exportation of religious freedom in various laws and policies enacted over the course of the twentieth century, in diverse locations and under a variety of historical circumstances. Influenced by growing religious tolerance at home and inspired by a belief in the United States’ obligation to protect the persecuted beyond its borders, American officials drafted constitutions as part of military occupations—in the Philippines after the Spanish–American War, in Japan following World War II, and in Iraq after 2003. They also spearheaded efforts to reform the international legal order by pursuing Wilsonian principles in the League of Nations, drafting the United Nations Charter, and signing the Helsinki Accords during the Cold War. The fruits of these labors are evident in the religious freedom provisions in international legal instruments, regional human rights conventions, and national constitutions.

In examining the evolution of religious freedom from an expression of the civilizing impulse to the democratization of states and, finally, through the promotion of human rights, Su offers a new understanding of the significance of religion in international relations.

Thomas, “Scapegoating Islam: Intolerance, Security, and the American Muslim”

In September, Praeger released “Scapegoating Islam: Intolerance, Security, and the American Muslim” by Jeffrey L. Thomas. The publisher’s description follows:

Exploring the experience of Muslims in America following 9/11, this book assesses how anti-Muslim bias within the U.S. government and the larger society undermines American security and democracy.

In the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001, Muslims in America have experienced discrimination and intolerance from the U.S. government and American citizens alike. From religious and ethnic profiling to hate crimes, intolerance against Muslims is being reinforced on multiple levels, undercutting the Muslim community’s engagement in American society. This text is essential for understanding how the unjust treatment of American Muslims following September 11 has only served to alienate the Muslim community and further divide the United States.

Authored by an expert analyst of policy for 20 years, this book explores the prejudice against Muslims and how the actions of the U.S. government continue to perpetuate fear and stereotypes within U.S. citizens. The author posits that by respecting the civil rights of Muslims, the government will lead by example in the acceptance of American Muslims, improving homeland security along with the lives of Muslims living in the United States.

Greene, “No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta”

Next month, Oxford University Press will release “No Depression in Heaven: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Transformation of Religion in the Delta” by Alison Collis Greene (Mississippi State University). The publisher’s description follows:

In No Depression in Heaven, Alison Collis Greene demonstrates how the Great Depression and New Deal transformed the relationship between church and state. Grounded in Memphis and the Delta, this book traces the collapse of voluntarism, the link between southern religion and the New Deal, and the gradual alienation of conservative Christianity from the state.

At the start of the Great Depression, churches and voluntary societies provided the only significant source of aid for those in need in the South. Limited in scope, divided by race, and designed to control the needy as much as to support them, religious aid collapsed under the burden of need in the early 1930s. Hungry, homeless, and out-of-work Americans found that they had nowhere to turn at the most desolate moment of their lives.

Religious leaders joined a chorus of pleas for federal intervention in the crisis and a permanent social safety net. They celebrated the New Deal as a religious triumph. Yet some complained that Franklin Roosevelt cut the churches out of his programs and lamented their lost moral authority. Still others found new opportunities within the New Deal. By the late 1930s, the pattern was set for decades of religious and political realignment.

More than a study of religion and politics, No Depression in Heaven uncovers the stories of men and women who endured the Depression and sought in their religious worlds the spiritual resources to endure material deprivation. Its characters are rich and poor, black and white, mobile sharecroppers and wealthy reformers, enamored of the federal government and appalled by it. Woven into this story of political and social transformation are stories of southern men and women who faced the greatest economic disaster of the twentieth century and tried to build a better world than the one they inhabited.

Price, “At the Cross”

In July, the Oxford University Press released “At the Cross: Race, Religion, and Citizenship in the Politics of the Death Penalty” by Melynda J. Price (University of Kentucky College of Law).  The publisher’s description follows:

Curing systemic inequalities in the criminal justice system is the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement. No part of that system highlights this truth more than the current implementation of the death penalty. At the Cross tells a story of the relationship between the death penalty and race in American politics that complicates the common belief that individual African Americans, especially poor African Americans, are more subject to the death penalty in criminal cases. The current death penalty regime operates quite differently than it did in the past. The findings of this research demonstrate the the racial inequity in the meting out of death sentences has legal and political externalities that move beyond individual defendants to larger numbers of African Americans.

At the Cross looks at the meaning of the death penalty to and for African Americans by using various sites of analysis. Using various sites of analysis, Price shows the connection between criminal justice policies like the death penalty and the political and legal rights of African Americans who are tangentially connected to the criminal justice system through familial and social networks. Drawing on black politics, legal and political theory and narrative analysis, Price utilizes a mixed-method approach that incorporates analysis of media reports, capital jury selection and survey data, as well as original focus group data. As the rates of incarceration trend upward, Black politics scholars have focused on the impact of incarceration on the voting strength of the black community. Local, and even regional, narratives of African American politics and the death penalty expose the fractures in American democracy that foment perceptions of exclusion among blacks.

Gutterman and Murphy, “Political Religion and Religious Politics”

In November, Routledge will release “Political Religion and Religious Politics: Navigating Identities in the United States,” by David S. Gutterman (Rutgers University, New Brunswick) and Andrew R. Murphy (Willamette University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Profound demographic and cultural changes in American society over the last half century have unsettled conventional understandings of the relationship between religious and political identity. The “Protestant mainline” continues to shrink in numbers, as well as in cultural and political influence. The growing population of American Muslims seek both acceptance and a firmer footing within the nation’s cultural and political imagination. Debates over contraception, same-sex relationships, and “prosperity” preaching continue to roil the waters of American cultural politics. Perhaps most remarkably, the fastest-rising religious demographic in most public opinion surveys is “none,” giving rise to a new demographic that Gutterman and Murphy name “Religious Independents.” Even the evangelical movement, which powerfully re-entered American politics during the 1970s and 1980s and retains a strong foothold in the Republican Party, has undergone generational turnover and no longer represents a monolithic political bloc.

Political Religion and Religious Politics: Navigating Identities in the United States explores the multifaceted implications of these developments by examining a series of contentious issues in contemporary American politics. Gutterman and Murphy take up the controversy over the “Ground Zero Mosque,” the political and legal battles over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act and the ensuing Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, the national response to the Great Recession and the rise in economic inequality, and battles over the public school curricula, seizing on these divisive challenges as opportunities to illuminate the changing role of religion in American public life.

Placing the current moment into historical perspective, and reflecting on the possible future of religion, politics, and cultural conflict in the United States, Gutterman and Murphy explore the cultural and political dynamics of evolving notions of national and religious identity. They argue that questions of religion are questions of identity — personal, social, and political identity — and that they function in many of the same ways as race, sex, gender, and ethnicity in the construction of personal meaning, the fostering of solidarity with others, and the conflict they can occasion in the political arena.