A Bibliography of Urban American Religious History

Paul Putz

Back when I thought my dissertation would focus on religion in Omaha, I took a keen interest in American religious history books that had been framed to fit within the context of a specific city. With books like Robert Orsi's Madonna of 115th Street, Wallace Best's Passionately Human, No Less Divine, Margaret Bendroth's Fundamentalists in the City, Mary Lethert Wingerd's Claiming the City, and Matthew Bowman's The Urban Pulpit in the back of my mind, earlier this year one of the digitial mapping projects from Lincoln Mullen inspired me to think about the possibility of combining mapping with bibliography. The idea was to make a map of city-based studies of religion so that someone could click on a location -- say, "Chicago" -- and up would pop a list of books dealing with religion in that city.

Unfortunately, my CartoDB mapping skills were simply not up to the task. Fortunately, though, Lincoln offered to use his digital wizardry to make the bibliographic map a reality. Thanks to Lincoln's efforts, I'm proud to announce that our little project is now ready for public use. The end result is even better and more robust than I had imagined: easy to navigate, searchable, clean, and crisp. Although the difficult work is done, now we need your help. Our initial set of data includes only about 170 books. If you have time, browse over to the map and help us make it more complete by letting us know what books we have missed.

A couple quick notes about the data. First, we included books that focused broadly on religion or a religious tradition within one city,  as well as books that more narrowly analyzed one particular religious group, church, temple, neighborhood, etc. within a city. The books did not have to (but some did) use the local study make a broad claim about "American religion." Second, we included only academic books: that is, books reviewed by academic journals, published by a university press, and/or written by a trained scholar. This means no books published by a hyper-local history press and also no dissertations or articles (not even those in American Congregations). Our reasoning was partly pragmatic -- there is only so much time in the day. But it also serves a larger purpose. We'd like to show where historians and scholars of U.S. religion have focused their book-length attention, and also where they have had their attention legitimized by one of the gatekeepers of academic production in the humanities -- the book publisher (usually a university press).

There are, of course, plenty of other geographic contexts from which scholars can conduct studies. Our map does not account for them. Still, we hope that it will be a useful resource for anyone interested in the study of U.S. religious history. Perhaps it can also help us think about why some cities loom larger than others in U.S. religious historiography and what the implications for this might be. So, too, it might serve as an interesting contrast with a general bibliography of U.S. religious history, allowing for reflection on what is gained and what is lost in a city-based glimpse at academically-produced U.S. religious history.

Anyway, without further ado: A Bibliography of Urban American Religious History


Unknown said…
Could you speak a bit more about the d.h. tools to make this map? For instance, were there any difficulties attributing books to a location on a map, since books aren't concrete locations to be mapped?
Unknown said…
Daniel: I wrote the map using the shiny and leaflet packages for the R programming language. You can see the code on GitHub, if you're interested.

Each of the books is about a city. So to associate the books with the map, I geocoded the city names, which simply turns the name of a city into latitude and longitude coordinates. You can see the underlying spreadsheet (compiled by Paul) if you wish.
Christopher said…
This is really great, Lincoln and Paul. A couple of suggested additions:

Richard S. Newman, Freedom's Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers (NYU Press, 2008). In addition to being the go-to biography of Allen, Newman's book doubles as the most up-to-date account of black Methodism's early years in Philadelphia.

Susan Buhler Taber, Mormon Lives: A Year in the Elkton Ward(University of Illinois Press, 1993). Taber's study of a single Mormon congregation (in Elkton, Maryland) is still the single best work of Mormon lived religion to date. One caveat: it certainly pushes the boundaries of the qualifications you set out for "academic books." Taber was not a trained historian, but she was an academic and a university faculty member (in education). The book was published by a university press, and was reviewed in scholarly journals. And her project was overseen by two accomplished historians, Claudia and Richard Bushman (the latter of whom served as bishop of the Elkton ward at the time the book was written).
Paul Putz said…
Great suggestions Christopher, we'll get those added. In regards to Taber's book, it sounds like it definitely fits in with our criteria for "academic". Really, I was only looking to have one or two of the three criteria met to count it in the list. Taber hits nearly all the marks.

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