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Religion in American Life: A Short History

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  70 ratings  ·  11 reviews
Perhaps surprising in a country without a national church, religion has played a powerful role in American life. Now, in the new paperback edition of Religion in American Life, three of the country's most eminent historians of religion offer a superb overview that spans four centuries, illuminating the rich spiritual heritage central to nearly every event in our nation's h ...more
Paperback, updated, 496 pages
Published December 1st 2007 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published February 13th 2002)
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Miles
If you've ever wondered what the differences might be between Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and all the other American Christianities, this book provides a useful historical survey of their origins and general beliefs.

I'm still looking for a book that is very specific about the fine points of doctrinal difference among the many Protestant groups, and Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and that takes an explicitly taxonomic approach. Somewhere there must be a point-by-point anal
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Samuel
In Religion in American Life: A Short History, three historians divide the religious history of America into three sections in an attempt to demonstrate how in spite of a society lacking uniform beliefs, “religion—beliefs in supernatural powers, forces, and beings—powerfully shaped the peoples and society” of the United States. Jon Butler focuses on religion in colonial America, Grant Wacker on the nineteenth century, and Randall Balmer on the twentieth century. The three authors make an intenti ...more
Heather Zalapa
I read this for a class, and was sincerely intrigued at the viewpoint this book had to offer - how religion shaped and was shaped by American history. But boy oh boy, was this frustrating to read. It was sort of like a million dates and facts written on little pieces of paper and thrown into a hat, then plucked one by one and that's how they determined sentence structure. It flip-flops, jumps from one century to the next in one paragraph then back again in the next. It's hard to keep track of. I ...more
Dan
I chose to use this book as the main text for a survey course on Religion in the United States. Having read the book more closely throughout the semester, I believe it was a good decision, especially for some of my students who had never taken a course on American religion. The book is deep enough to intrigue, yet wide in its topics and written in a very readable style.
The book was, in a previous iteration, three works by three different authors, so each part is different. I found Balmer's desc
...more
Julie
The book works well as a teaching tool. It doesn't appear to be designed for the general reader, who might wish to read it cover to cover. That would be a bit overwhelming and not particularly satisfying, I think.

The book is also a little spotty. The Butler and Wacker portions are strong. The final section, written by Randall Balmer, grows tendentious, especially in the final chapter. I can see students with a conservative political outlook chafing at Balmer's tone and often hastily-made claims
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Bill
Great introductory book. Provides a general overview/survey of American religious life spanning Native American religious views to the formation of the Moral Majority, and everything in between. They had to cram so much information in the book that they would devote several paragraphs to one group or religion, and then jump to another one without any warning (no time to write transitions, I guess). But very readable and accessible, though mostly on a superficial level. But given the purpose and ...more
Bill
This is a well-written history, with many fascinating stories.
Chaffee Viets
Exceptionally well done. Very insightful look into how Christian faith in American developed. Strong correlation to the PBS miniseries, _God In America_, but more in depth and analytical. A must read for all Christians and Reform Jews in particular, since many of my friends in these two groups are unaware of their denominational beginnings and differences.
Christopher Smith
A pretty good undergrad-level textbook by some of the best historians in the field. Not much here that's new, however, so seasoned historians of American religion won't benefit much from the book.
Kassie
Really quite informative and written simplistically enough that it's easy to not get bogged down in the details.
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