Divided We Stand: A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement is the only book-length work of any use to students or scholars interested in the hist...moreDivided We Stand: A History of the Continuing Anglican Movement is the only book-length work of any use to students or scholars interested in the history of Continuing Anglicanism in the United States. As such, despite its flaws, it will probably be a necessary stop for anyone investigating this segment of American Christianity. The book really could have used an editor--grating errors of usage ("principle" for "principal" in several places, and "irregardless" in at least one) aside, the middle chapters are just too long and get bogged down in seemingly endless lists of names. An Amazon reviewer correctly notes the lack of an index, which greatly reduces its utility for research (though the Kindle edition is, of course, searchable). The opening chapters, which detail the transformation of the Episcopal Church during the 1950s and 60s that led to the formation of Continuing Anglicanism, are probably the best part of the book. The closing chapter is now dated, as the Anglican Mission in America is no longer the new kid on the block here (that role is now being taken by the Anglican Church in North America). It's not clear what the author's credentials are (he mentions being a doctoral student in the Introduction); Divided We Stand is not a scholarly source per se, but Bess has definitely done his homework, and his is the best available until other scholars are willing to put in the effort to create a truly academic and scholarly history of this colorful movement.(less)
Project Future provides a concise, readable introduction to the legal and entrepreneurial history behind the creation of the Walt Disney World Resort....moreProject Future provides a concise, readable introduction to the legal and entrepreneurial history behind the creation of the Walt Disney World Resort. The book is a breezy 178 pages in length, and the author acknowledges the deliberately limited scope of such a volume: "My goal," he writes, "was to create an interesting book that would, whether relaxing on the beach, flying in a plane to Disney World, or anywhere else, provide the reader with a look at how the magic of the Walt Disney World Resort came to be" (location 257 in the Kindle edition). The result is a book that is probably all (or more than) the average reader will want to know about the machinations that went on in 1960s Florida and that led to the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but researchers and enthusiasts will certainly need more depth to satisfy their curiosities. The most interesting chapter is actually the penultimate one, "The Impact of Project Future," which looks at several studies, some quite recent, of Disney's impact on Central Florida. Emerson's take is very positive; balance might be sought by reading some of the more critical studies of the Disney-Florida relationship, such as Foglesong's Married to the Mouse or Hiaasen's Team Rodent. Unfortunately, the bibliography is virtually useless; not only do these alternative views not make a showing, but indeed very few avenues for further reading of any kind open up.
On the whole, Emerson's book is not a bad primer, but is very limited in scope. I'd recommend Koenig's Realityland as a more thorough, more balanced treatment of the period covered by Emerson and beyond.(less)
Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 provides a mostly solid, current, but very opinionated history of...moreDaniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 provides a mostly solid, current, but very opinionated history of the antebellum United States. Between the twin upheavals of the American Revolution and the Civil War, the people of the new United States of America engaged and wrestled with powerful conflicts both within and without--conflicts that reflected unanswered questions about the Enlightenment project out of which republican revolution had been borne, about the nature and extent of the liberty and equality promised by their founding documents, and about the increasing perception of a "manifest destiny" to subdue and control the North American continent in the interests of Christianity and democracy. Howe's book provides a readable, sometimes overlong, but very engaging portrait of this era, one in which the author's anti-Jacksonian and pro-Whig sympathies are very much in evidence, along with his too-great readiness to regard his subjects as "in the wrong" in virtually every encounter with outside powers.
Howe clearly intended to write a survey of antebellum America that would be more than a political history, and What Hath God Wrought does not disappoint in this regard. Excursions into literary, communications, and particularly religious history are tantalizing if all-too-brief, their brevity an inevitable consequence of the scope of the book. There's much here that is suggestive for students new to these subjects, but readers more familiar may find themselves remarking on well-worn interpretations and unfortunate oversimplifications. Howe's discussion of the American Renaissance, for instance, hints at the important division between Transcendentalists and Anti-Transcendentalists in American literature of this period--it even alludes to Hawthorne's pro-Democrat symphathies, which would have set him at odds with the reform- and improvement-minded Emersonians--but ultimately, the discussion misses an opportunity to draw out literary resonances with the larger social and political conflict Howe portrays so admirably.
In his discussion of U.S. entanglements in international conflict, Howe has an unfortunate tendency to always see the Americans as being in the wrong. His lengthy survey of the Mexican-American War understandably plays up the fact that, even among Americans, this was an extremely controversial adventure; but elsewhere, Howe's treatment of American military action seems less than fair. Consider, for instance, his contrast between Pakenham and Jackson in the Prologue's discussion of the Battle of New Orleans: "Unhesitatingly courageous, Pakenham had been twice wounded in action. Andrew Jackson was forty-seven and in poor health but sustained by indomitable willpower. He told how, as a thirteen-year-old boy during the Revolution, a British officer had struck him in the face with his sword. For the rest of his life, Jackson bore the scars and a bitter hatred of the British" (p. 9). Clearly for Howe, the battle pitted a "courageous" commander against one whose "willpower" was motivated by "bitter hatred."
Even when comparing Americans to other peoples with whom they never came to blows, Howe can't resist negative judgments on the Americans, judgments which sometimes strain credulity. "In the nineteenth century," Howe writes, "two territorially contiguous empires expanded rapidly across vast continental distances: the United States and Russia. The tsarist empire was an absolute monarchy with an established church, yet in one respect surprisingly more tolerant that republican America. The Russians showed more willingness to accept and live with cultural diversity among their subject peoples" (p. 30). Really? This assessment would come as a surprise, I expect, to the Jewish people who lived in these two empires.
For all its weaknesses, Howe's book is certainly well worth reading by students of this period, and it closes with a helpful bibliographical essay that reveals the author's prodigious reading and suggests helpful avenues of further study. Having read the book as part of initial reading to support some fellowship research, I know that I will be following up with a number of sources mentioned in this bibliography.(less)
American Sacred Space presents a decidedly uneven collection of essays by (mostly) North American scholars, loosely gathered around the title topic--s...moreAmerican Sacred Space presents a decidedly uneven collection of essays by (mostly) North American scholars, loosely gathered around the title topic--so loosely gathered, in fact, as to make the whole volume unfocused and of limited usefulness.
In the Introduction, the editors helpfully survey the various scholarly positions on spatial sacrality, particularly in terms of the dichotomy between an Eliadean/substantive model and a Durkheimean/situational (or functional) model; this dichotomy is standard in the large scholarly literature on sacred space, and this introduction captures it well, while not adding any earthshaking insights.
The first three essays are made somewhat tedious by their proximity to one another in the volume, as all three involve the political tensions between the uses of spaces (both sacred and secular) by the United States government and the sacrality of the same spaces to Native Americans. While a volume on "American sacred space" could hardly do justice to its topic without approaching it from the standpoint of the first Americans and the ongoing dialectic of their relationship with later claimants to American space, three chapters in a row--nearly half the printed pages of the book--make for repetitive reading, particularly when other topics (as noted below) are left uncovered.
Colleen McDannell's essay on the role of Christian homeschooling in sacralizing the American home is promising, but much of what she says is unfortunately outdated (the book was published in 1995, and homeschooling has grown and changed enormously in the intervening 17 years). For instance, McDannell's study suggests that homeschoolers are overwhelmingly conservative or fundamentalist Protestants. This may have been the case in the early 1990s, but I think the situation is much more complex now, as homeschooling has grown in popularity among Catholics and Orthodox Christians, as well as among secular progressives who are dissatisfied (for very different reasons) with the public schools in America.
Chidester's contribution, on the perception of America as sacred space by South Africans, is the least satisfying contribution to the collection. This long-winded essay really doesn't seem to be about American sacred space at all--the essay is about an ideal rather than a spatial reality, and its subjects are not Americans but South Africans. At the least, this feels like an essay that would have been a happier fit in a different volume.
The two highlights of the collection are Linenthal's fascinating discussion of the difficulties faced during the planning and design of the United States Holocaust Memorial and Rowland Sherrill's concluding review essay looking at topics in American sacred space and history through the lens of three important recent (at that time) books on the topic.
What, critically, is missing from this book is any kind of engagement with more "conventional" expressions of spatial sacrality. Perhaps one of the three overly-similar essays mentioned above could have been replaced by one that examined American hierophanies (the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, or El Santuario de Chimayo mission, perhaps). Or an essay could have examined the role of sacred space in American town planning--Which denomination gets the church on the corner of the town square? Which ones are relegated to the bad neighborhoods? How do these dynamics of spatial sacrality reflect American economic, demographic, political, racial, or other social realities?(less)
Incredibly, this 2008 publication is the first scholarly biography of William Miller, the Deist-turned-Baptist farmer who touched off one of the major...moreIncredibly, this 2008 publication is the first scholarly biography of William Miller, the Deist-turned-Baptist farmer who touched off one of the major religious movements of the Second Great Awakening. David L. Rowe's book, therefore, fills a significant gap in the literature on this period of American history, and on American religion in general. It's good, then, that it also happens to be a work of quality, one that sympathetically portrays its subject without whitewashing his flaws, and one that at the end leaves the reader with the sense of having encountered a fully-rounded human being--of having "gotten to know" Miller. Though it builds on the work of earlier scholars, including Mark Noll, Whitney Cross, and George Knight, the work impresses particularly in its extensive primary research, which much of the narrative propelled by quotations from Miller's own letters and from contemporary sources both sympathetic to and critical of Miller.
At 235 pages, the text is relatively slim. One wonders if a bit more heft in the volume would have allowed Rowe to draw out further some of his interesting insights into Miller's development. As a student of the intellectual history of this period--and as a teacher constantly looking for new approaches to share with my students--I found particularly interesting Rowe's discussion of Miller's thought as representing the transition from the objective, orderly, and systematic worldview of the Enlightenment to the personalism and affective emphases of romanticism. For instance, Rowe quotes two different descriptions by Miller, written three years apart, of his own conversion; the first emphasizes the Bible as rule and light, while the second finds in Jesus a comfort and a friend. Unfortunately, this discussion is fairly brief. Granted that the book is a biography and not an intellectual history, I would still have relished a more thorough reflection on this aspect of Miller's development.
Rowe's treatment of the Great Disappointment of Oct. 22, 1844, at first struck me as too restrained. I had expected, I suppose, that this event would take up more space in a book like this than it actually does. In reality, though, Rowe gives us a very good (if rather brief) picture of both the Disappointment itself while also exploring the conflicts within Miller himself and within his movement in the aftermath. The picture of Miller that emerges here--a man whose diffidence and uncertainty helped to create much of the confusion and many of the divisions among his followers--is very compelling. Disciples like Joshua Himes, though sometimes frustrated by these qualities in Miller, remained faithful to the cause, and Rowe's portrayal of this relationship in particular is quite moving.
God's Strange Work is highly recommended for students of American religion and American history. Psychologists and philosophers of religious experience will also find it useful. It contains much that is of benefit to scholars, but it is clearly meant to be a book suitable for non-specialists as well. (less)
This year, Walt Disney World turns forty. It's a shame that this, the most recent, most thorough official history of the Vacation Kingdom, is itself f...moreThis year, Walt Disney World turns forty. It's a shame that this, the most recent, most thorough official history of the Vacation Kingdom, is itself fifteen years old. Jeff Kurtti has said in interviews that Disney has no plans to commission an updated edition of this book (though he would be interested in doing one), which is unfortunate as Since the World Began is one of the essential volumes for the Disney historian, professional or amateur.
Despite the fact that it is an official, authorized production, Since the World Began only occasionally bears the hallmark santized, sterilized quality that often marks such works. Instead, what one finds within the pages of the book are genuine insights into the history, design, and philosophy of Walt Disney World and how these mesh with the larger concerns of the Walt Disney Company. Kurtti's observations on this latter question are among the book's most interesting features.
Since the World Began is illustrated throughout with beautiful color photographs and concept artworks. Full-page sidebars cover the water parks, the resorts, and specific themes in Disney World history, including the parks' environmental commitments (the reading here is surprisingly undated for a fifteen-year-old study).
Kurtti doesn't provide much insight into the individual players in the creation of WDW; his Imagineering Legends is a better source if one's interest are in the personalities and gifts of individual imagineers. This is, nonetheless, an essential overview of the early history of the world's most popular tourist destination.(less)
This magisterial work is generally regarded as the most important academic study of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Bull and Lockhart create a compe...moreThis magisterial work is generally regarded as the most important academic study of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Bull and Lockhart create a compelling picture of the SDAs as one of America's least-understood, but most-successful, indigenous religious movements. This study brings together a history of the SDA Church and a study of its subcultures with an analysis of the Church's ambivalent relationship with the United States. This ambivalence is characterized by the authors as a function of the Adventist preoccupation with time: The Church's peculiar understanding of temporality (its emphasis on the seventh-day Sabbath and its focus on eschatology) is, according to Bull and Lockhart, the primary source of its identity. Sometimes they push this understanding too far. For example, at one point they interpret the disapproval of novels by Ellen White and the early Adventist leadership as a rejection of the secular understanding of time that would be encouraged by the novel as a literary form. A couple of pages later, though, the argues discuss the encouragement of specifically SDA novels by the same early leadership. If it had been the novel as a form per se that was problematic due to Adventist concerns about marking out sacred time, then the subject matter would have been irrelevant. If this approach is occasionally stretched to (or beyond) its breaking point, it nonetheless provides a fascinating interpretive lens through which to view Adventism in America.
The final third of Seeking a Sanctuary is devoted to a consideration of "Adventist Subculture," analyzing the interplay between race, gender, socio-economics, and professional life in the inner dynamics of Adventism. These chapters are uneven. The most fascinating is adiscussion of the influence of health reform and Adventist medicine on the overall direction of Adventist culture, polity, and theology. Bull and Lockhart argue that the classic denominalization thesis is not really applicable to the SDA church; this body, they say, has been not so much denominalized as medicalized. The tensions between the ordained ministry and administration of the church, on the one hand, and its medical practitioners and institutions on the other, emerges with compelling vividness in this discussion.
This book is absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in Adventism or sectarian movements in America.(less)