Religion in Reviews

Jonathan den Hartog

Be on the look-out for the new Reviews in American History (June 2012, although not available through Project Muse yet). My copy arrived yesterday. It feels like a RiAH reunion and demonstrates how religious categories are shaping the current discourse of American history.

Chris Beneke and Christopher Grenda’s work The First Prejudice has gotten noticed on this blog previously, but the book finally makes it into Reviews. There, it’s coupled with Linda Gregerson and Susan Juster’s Empires of God: Religious Encounters in the Early Modern Atlantic. Both are important works that deserve attention, but I was singularly impressed with the consistently high level of the essays that Beneke and Grenda put together.

Next, Karim Tiro reviews Matthew Dennis’s Seneca Possessed. It looks like Dennis explores both the Handsome Lake renewal movement and the influence Quakers had on Seneca belief.

Later in the issue, Christopher Grenda has his own review, this time of David Sehat’s Myth of American Religious Freedom. Grenda notes the large amount of ground Sehat covers but tweaks him for his claim of being a non-partisan mediator in disputes over religious and cultural liberty. Grenda points out that Sehat ends up voicing support for a teleological story that culminates in “the post-New Deal social organization of regulatory economics and cultural libertarianism.” (310) So, for Grenda, Sehat’s claims to impartiality don’t hold to the end.

The very next page starts a review by RiAH’s Matthew Sutton of Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt. I appreciated Sutton’s note that Dochuk brought together stories of the elites and the grassroots: “Dochuk brilliantly and seamlessly weaves together the lives of the famous with men and women whose names will never again appear in a history book.” (317). Among all the other accomplishments of the book, that strikes me as a great contribution and a humane undertaking.

Finally, Daniel Williams reviews two more book about American conservatism. Williams, himself an expert on the Religious Right, is able to balance both the strengths of the books—he thinks David Farber’s Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism could be eminently teachable—with their weakness of too quickly predicting the movement’s decline.

In short, there’s a lot of exciting work going on, and thanks for this blog for keeping all of us ahead of the curve!


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