Friday, July 4, 2008

America: Religions and Religion

by Catherine albanese

This is an overview of history of religion in the US, written specifically for undergrads. It is divided into 2 parts: the first is your standard histories of the major religions, the second it about the "religion" (singular) of the US. I will comment on each part separately

First of all, Albanese lets the reader know she is basing her overview on the idea (by Charles H. Long) that there are 2 kinds of religion, ordinary (which deals with day to day live, it is essentially culture) and extraordinary (which deals specifically with higher power). It is a good way to show how some parts of religions are able to be picked up and adapted by others and how some are not. Religion is such a complex issue that this is a very helpful tool for making sense of a lot of small details. I also appreciate that she used a very broad definition (berger influenced) of religion, that it is a system of symbols that give people meaning. she says rel happens anywhere there are ppl. imo this is the best way academics can look at religion (given the historical biases that have plagued the discipline in the past), but it might now be easily accepted by undergrads who have not been exposed to this kind of thought. i can imagine that undergrads from conservative backgrounds would be very opposed to this book

Part I deals with the highlights of the various religions in the US. she gives a lot of the major details, especially on protestantism, and includes sections on native american rels, african american rels, jews in US, catholics, and eastern trads. most importantly, tho, she has two chapters that deal with the 18th and 19th ces "metaphysical" religions and new age religions, parts of religious history that i think are often neglected tho they should not be because they provide valuable insight into aspects of religion today and for her next section on americas one rel. she does not give every detail possible, of course, but she gives enough to present a solid understanding for undergrads. the only problem i have is here attributions for why people did relus things. These attributions are based on theories, so even those which are well accepted, they should be annotated to say that they are the "likely" reasons--and not state them as plain fact. This is my major problem with most history books, tho.

The second part on the one rel of america is broken up into 3 parts: protestantism as the dominant rel, civil rel, and cultural rel. The first part is interesting. it presents a theory that som protestant values were taken up by greater culture, tho it doesn't really say why those and not others, necessarily. However, the first part is necessary to understand the next two parts. civil rel, since it is such a well known idea, seemed very clear. but the cultural religion part, tho it makes sense, i don't think is argued well enough. it doesn't explain WHY cultural rel appeared the way it did and not other ways

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