Making a (Religious Book) List, Checking it Twice...

Image of Matthew Hedstrom
(crossed arms look like 1/2 my family
at our recent holiday dinner)
As various organizations and individuals have been presenting their "best books"of 2012, such as the New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, Christian Century, John Fea, and Thomas Kidd, I got to thinking about a book that was too late for consideration but should definitely be in the running for next year: Matthew S. Hedstrom's The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century. I read it on the plane back from the American Studies Association meeting in San Juan, and I had a delightful time wading into the "middlebrow" world of religious print.

Hedstrom's book has so much to offer historians and religious studies scholars.

  • Those interested in the complicated and shifting category of "religion" and "religious" will find when trade book publishers created separate "religion" categories.
  • Those interested in the mainline and religious liberalism will get another taste of how they may have lost the pew wars, but won the culture wars
  • Those who want to know more about the National Council of Christians and Jews (a group I had never even heard of five years ago, but that seem to be taking the scholarly world by storm) can find them here
  • Those who want to see another side of "spiritual but not religious" and ways mystical and psychological values inundated American religiosity will find some positive thinking here
  • For those who want to experiment (not in reality, but in imagination) with LSD, you can find it about midway through the book.
  • James K. Hosmer Special Collections
  • And for those who want to know more about books during wartime, there is a great analysis of "Books as Weapons" during WWII
One amazing reviewer at amazon had this to say: "I'm thrilled that I followed the "reading guidelines" of some of these liberal Protestants: I bought the book; I read it pen in hand; and it definitely changed how I think about America's historical character."

What I most enjoyed about Hedstrom's book is that he studied what we often take for granted: the process of book publishing. He exposes, for instance, the men (and they are almost all men) behind the fashioning of what books are published, marketed, and put on lists. There are stories and meanings within those lists - just as the end-of-the-year ones now rolling throughout the blogosphere.


John G. Turner said…

If only all reviewers at amazon were as amazing as you are.

Thanks for this. Moving Hedstrom's book to the top of my "to read" list.
Mark T. Edwards said…
Be on the lookout here for a two-part interview with Matt about his book, said a much, much less amazing Amazon reviewer

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