Robert Wuthnow's new book Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland already is getting a lot of attention, and what could be a more American topic for July 4th? Below is a quick review of the book from Choice, and then below the fold links to a long and informative interview with Wuthnow at Religion and Politics. First the review:
. Red state religion: faith and politics in America's heartland. Princeton, 2012. 484p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780691150550, $35.00; ISBN 9781400839759 e-book, $35.00. Reviewed in 2012jul CHOICE.
political pundits and historians alike, Kansas state politics has long
been a mystery in that a largely working-class state is the most
consistently Republican and conservative state in the nation. Thomas
Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? (2004) blamed the unholy
alliance between religious conservatives and politicians as the core
issue. Sociologist Wuthnow (Univ. of Kansas) digs further into the
archival history of the state and argues that while religion and
politics influenced each other from the start, Kansas politics was never
monolithic. Kansas Democrats often achieved electoral success, and
conservative and Republican candidates were often divided over public
policy. Although Methodists and Catholics dominated the state, they
frequently splintered over abolition, Prohibition, the New Deal,
abortion, and education policy. Wuthnow argues that what most defines
Kansas politics is its belief that civic life is best governed by local
churches, families, schools, and community associations, rather than
federal government engineering. . . . Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic levels/libraries. -- M. S. Hill, Gordon College
After the break, an excerpt from an excellent conversation with Wuthnow from Religion and Politics:
From Wuthnow's interview at Religion and Politics:
R&P: On page 11, you write: “Religion was generally more
significant in private life than it ever was in the political sphere.”
What is it about religion and private life that is different from the
way religion and politics has traditionally been discussed?
RW: This was the reason why I tried throughout the book to bring in
the voices of women: the politics for so much of the period were
dominated, of course, by men. Not entirely, but pretty much. And yet the
women were the ones who were often dealing with the most difficult
circumstances. There was the prospect of dying in childbirth, of giving
birth to children who died, of dealing with being out in an isolated
part of the country with their husbands away.
The story I came across that grips me the most whenever I think or
read about it again is the story of Susie Crawford in 1924 [pp.
132-134]. She is a very devout woman who attends a rural Methodist
church (her grandfather was one of the Methodist preachers who came in
as a revivalist of sorts) and who raises a very devout Methodist family.
She gets up in the morning, starts to cook breakfast for her family,
and the gas stove explodes. She dies that evening, in her late 30s and
with 3 small children.
The entire community, of course, turns out for her funeral. It is
such a large gathering that they can’t have it at the rural church. My
grandparents probably attended that funeral. It’s just so moving to
think about what that meant for the community, but also about how much
faith was a part of her life and a part of the people who were related
to her and who mourned her death.
R&P: The church as an institution plays a significant
role in this book: from Lincoln’s address in the opening of the book to
pro-life mobilization in the final chapters. What is it about the church
in Kansas, as an institution in particular, that shaped religion,
politics, and civic life?
RW: In Kansas, the church is the place people go to be good, to know
how to do good, to be seen as being good. Let me offer another anecdote.
There’s a wonderful documentary film called Zenith by Kristen
Tretbar. In this film, which is filmed in the little town of Zenith,
Kansas, there’s a scene in a wheat-growing area. The farm woman is
standing on her porch looking out at this storm that comes up and starts
a terrible hail storm. She knows at that moment that the wheat crop is
gone. They have nothing left.
The film then flips over to the farmer’s coop where these guys in
their 20s and 30s are sitting around talking about their struggles with
drugs, marital issues, and so on. But they have been going to Promise
Keepers and have also started attending this woman’s Sunday school class
at the local Methodist church. So you can see the kind of moral climate
in the community. It’s very divided between images of light and dark,
images of good and bad, images of doing the right thing and the wrong
thing. Part of what it means to go to the Methodist church is that
you’re doing the right thing for yourself, for your family. It’s a place
where you can make a difference. You can’t stop the hail from ruining
your crop, but you can make a difference in these moral ways.