H-AMSTDY Reviews

KELLY BAKER, H-Amstdy and American Religions (or read the reviews from my h-net network)

As a book review editor for H-Amstdy, I thought it might be nice to post snippets of recent reviews in the realm of Religion in American History. This is also a way for me to shamelessly promote our network and highlight our reviewers.

LEADING OFF: Amanda Porterfield on David Holmes, The Faith of the Founders

Porterfield examines Holmes’s attempt to discredit scholarship that suggests the founders were Christian. To do this, Holmes tracks church attendance and membership as indicators of religiosity. While some might find fault with this method, Porterfield strives to understand what this means in this contentious battle over the founding. She writes:

Responding to recent claims about the deep commitment to Christianity among America's Founding Fathers, David L. Holmes sets the record straight in this comprehensive examination of the Founders' religious beliefs and behaviors. The men who conducted the American Revolution, ratified the U.S. Constitution, and served as president during the nation's early years espoused a variety of different beliefs, grouped by Holmes into three main types--non-Christian Deism, Christian Deism, and Christian orthodoxy. Holmes shows that only Samuel Adams, Elias Boudinot, and John Jay anticipated salvation through Christ, embraced the Trinity of the Godhead, and engaged regularly in prayer and Bible devotion. Most of America's early leaders were Deists of one form or the other whose religious beliefs and practices do not match the claims about them advanced by Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other evangelical myth-makers.

NEXT UP: Tracy Neal Leavelle on Todd Kerstetter, God's Country, Uncle Sam's Land: Faith and Conflict in the American West.

Leavelle explores Kerstetter’s work, which relies on three case studies: Mormons, Lakota Ghost Dance, and Branch Davidians. Leavelle aptly renders Kerstetter’s denial of religious tolerance in the West. He writes:

The U.S. government was the primary sponsor of Western settlement and development, but its experiments in the region helped create and reinforce the power of the government through the extension of federal authority and bureaucracy. As for religion in the West, a subject of considerable and unfortunate neglect, Kerstetter contends that tolerance remained a dominant feature of interreligious engagement with a few notable exceptions. A surprisingly brief review of American religious history leads him to conclude that the emergence of a Protestant-dominated "religious mainstream" in the East set limits on Western religious groups like the Mormons and American Indians. The federal government expressed these mainstream religious values in its battle against Mormon polygamy and the Ghost Dance movement in the nineteenth century. Kerstetter asserts that the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound a century later "shows that remarkably little had changed since the 1890s when it came to attitudes about religion" (p. 32). The West may not have been the region of tolerance and openness that has attracted so much support and commentary in American mythology.

And last, but not least, the clean-up hitter: Sylvester Johnson on David Howard-Pitney, The African American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America.

Johnson deftly analyzes Howard-Pitney’s understanding of the function of jeremiad by African American leaders to call for racial as well as gender equality. The work also highlights contemporary usage of jeremiad by Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes to demonstrate that this rhetorical form is still alive and well in American culture. Johnson writes:

David Howard-Pitney contributes finely to understanding the cultural history of African American protest and accommodation in his African American Jeremiad. The role of propaganda in strategies of moral suasion is plainly visible in this study of the jeremiad as performed by African Americans. The term "jeremiad," of course, derives from the laments of Jeremiah in early Judaism, urging Judeans to view their God as one who punishes sin and rewards righteousness. Sacvan Bercovitch firmly established the jeremiad as a key category in interpretations of Euro-American religious history in The American Jeremiad (1978). Wilson Moses Jeremiah, in Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms (1982), also developed a rich assessment of this phenomenon among African Americans. Both works inform Howard-Pitney's volume. Howard-Pitney includes in his study the works of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida Barnett-Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. This second edition of Howard-Pitney's text expands upon the first by featuring a concluding chapter that examines the rhetorical styles and representational strategies of Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes. Keyes, particularly, has garnered considerable acclaim for his renowned conservatism on social and public policy issues, which is viewed as atypical for African Americans.


DEG said…
Thanks for the posts. I'm using Kerstetter and Holmes's books for my Am Rel course, so we'll see how they work in the classroom...
Anonymous said…
I've always thought is a shame that Howard-Pitney's book does not get discussed as much as it should. It is a fabulous work of African American religious history, and I like the way he integrates what are often thought of as "white" religious/civil traditions with African American approaches.

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