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)
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 is a frustrating book. On the one hand, it contains a good bit of useful information on Native American rituals, much of it based on first-hand o...moreThis is a frustrating book. On the one hand, it contains a good bit of useful information on Native American rituals, much of it based on first-hand observation/participation by Prof. Paper. The discussions of the peyote religion of the Native American Church and of the Sacred Pipe and its significance are especially helpful.
The book is also tantalizing for the questions it raises about scholarly distance versus direct participation by religious studies researchers. Much of what Paper writes is based on his own acknowledgement of the reality of the sacred powers he has studied, and that brings up a whole range of fascinating theoretical issues.
On the other hand, you'll need to ignore large chunks of the book in which Paper contrasts Native American and Western religious traditions, especially Christianity, because his versions of the former are seldom better than caricature. For a York University Emeritus in Religious Studies, Paper seems to know surprisingly little about Western religions and to understand less. So we are told that unlike "virtually every human culture," the monotheistic traditions set the masculine Sky God/Creator as the opponent of feminine Earth, which Paper identifies as Hell and "the locus of evil" (p. 8) One could be forgiven for wondering if Paper has ever read the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, or the Qur'an, as his version of Jewish/Christian/Islamic mythology is not even close to anything adherents of the Biblical and Qur'anic traditions would recognize. Again, we are apprised of the fact that unlike Native American traditions, Christianity is completely theological/propositional and non-experiential, with the exception of Pentecostal churches (p. 12). This ignores the sacramental life of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions as well as the conversion experience of the Evangelical and Pietist traditions. Things become really bizarre when Paper discusses environmental activists' attempts to thwart the revival of the whale hunt ritual among Northwest Coast tribes. He characterizes these activists' opposition as being fueled by conservative Christianity, a nearly ludicrous proposition.
It seems pointless to mention additional examples, though there are many (Paper must have a serious axe to grind).
None of this is that important, I suppose, in a book about Native American religions, except that Paper wants to use these oppositions to further understanding of his primary subject matter. (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)
The best single book about Mormonism for the general reader and for the nonspecialist. Shipps, though not a Mormon herself, is regarded both within an...moreThe best single book about Mormonism for the general reader and for the nonspecialist. Shipps, though not a Mormon herself, is regarded both within and without the LDS Church as one of the foremost experts on Mormonism. This work presents a sympathetic outsider's perspective on the Church, while also attempting to "locate" Mormonism on the spectrum of American religiosity. Shipps's conclusion is that while the question of whether Mormonism is Christian is a convoluted one, it is possible to see in the Church an institution that is both an outgrowth of Christianity and different enough from traditional Christianity to be seen as a "new religion."(less)
Seminal study of an important complex of Mormon folk tales. The book is over sixty years old now, and some of Lee's conclusions have to be taken criti...moreSeminal study of an important complex of Mormon folk tales. The book is over sixty years old now, and some of Lee's conclusions have to be taken critically (his claim that stories of the Three Nephites were dying out has not proven true, for instance), but this is still a classic of Mormon studies scholarship. Out of print, but well worth hunting for.(less)