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Religion and American Culture Paperback – 17 Jul 2000

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Paperback, 17 Jul 2000
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1. Christendom and American Origins. 2. The Age of Democratic Revivals. 3. Protestant and Progressive America: 1860-1917. 4. Pluralistic America: 1860-1917. 5. Traditional Religion and Twentieth-Century. 6. Return to Faith and Quest for Consensus: 1941-1963. 7. Fragmented America--A Nation in Search of a Soul: 1960s-1980s. Notes to the Text. Suggestions for Further Reading. Acknowledgments and Credits. Index.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Overview and Strong Thesis 4 May 2001
By Matthew Cook - Published on
Format: Paperback
George Marsden's Religion and American Culture is a strong contribution in the field of American cultural history. In this brief work, Marsden sets out to examine the complex relationship between religion and American culture and what each tells us about the other.

Marsden's thesis is that America's identity as a religious nation has always co-existed with a strong inclination towards the secular. Sometimes this mix of the sacred and secular has been peaceful. Other times this mix has created great tensions. Often times, however, the mixture of the religious and the secular has gone unnoticed as the secularization is driven by groups or individuals with religious motivations. Marsden describes how this uniquely American process leads to the irony of a highly secular culture made up of (self-described) highly religious individuals. Following the dominant stream of American Protestantism from its origins in the English Reformation and the accompanying political context, Marsden sets out to explore how the relationship of the religious and the secular has progressed from the pragmatism of the founding fathers, to the cultural declension of the present day.

Marsden's method is quite strong. For the most part, Marsden allows the content of history to guide his framework as opposed to forcing his framework on the historical data he examines. For example, Marsden divides the book into historical periods but within each section he subdivides by topics. Sometimes this arrangement follows a chronological pattern, at other times it does not. The arrangement of the book allows the reader to examine each period of American history in light of Marsden's thesis about the complex relationship between the religious and the secular. Marsden tells the story of American history but he does it based upon the development of religion and culture not based upon events.

Marsden also shows his strength as a historian in another way. Marsden laments the fact that "most historians have dwelt almost solely upon the secular" developments and motivations within American history. According to Marsden, this is not only philosophically unfair but also epistemologically risky. As an unapologetic evangelical teaching at strongly Catholic university, the reader should not be surprised that Marsden brings his confessional identity to the fore from the very first page. Marsden argues that the religious self-understandings of the groups and individuals that make up American culture can be a highly useful tool in interpreting the whole of American history. In a sense, then, Marsden provides the reader a brief cultural history of the United States. The reader comes away not only knowing more about religion in America, but about the history of the United States as a whole.

The strongest part of the book, however, is that Marsden is content not to relax the inherent tension in the interplay between religion and culture. From the very first pages, Marsden confronts the reader with irony, paradox, division, and dissent. For example, Marsden details how the influx of massive numbers of foreign-born Catholics influenced American culture in the 19th century. Many of these Catholics left nations where the Catholic Church was the established church, but they entered an American culture where Protestantism was the dominant religious culture. The tension that developed between the dominant Protestants, still fearful of the power and influence of the Catholic church, and the immigrant Catholics had a profound impact on American poltical culture and Marsden helps display such ironies and tensions effectively throughout his book.

In summary, Marsden helps the reader to better grasp the tremendous complexity of the relationship between religion, politics, and culture in American history. Furthermore, Marsden does so while striking a wonderful balance between his own unapologetic endorsement of the value of religion in the development of American cultural life and the neccesity of providing a well-researched and documented history for the reader.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Primer on Christianity & American Culture 10 Jun. 2005
By rodboomboom - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is just an exceptional work by the noted Christian historian Marsden, whose previous works on Fundamentalism and American University history meld well with this intro to the topic of Christianity and American Culture.

Today this is vital topic of great discussion and interest in the church of Christ: how does the culture affect the church and how does Bible speak about this, if at all.

Marsden provides much of the answer here by his brief but penetrating summary glance at the founding of our country to this day, moving from pre-Colony days to Revolution to Civil War to two WW's, to modern times of ecumenism and relativism, et al.

This is great in its scope and insights that Marsden provides. But what is so wonderful about this textbook is its exposure that the reader will be given to a wide ranging yet vital topic for today. The bibliography is substantial and well done broken up as it is by topic and historical timeframe.

Highly recommended for anyone searching for one work intro to this fascinating issue.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Excellent survey 20 Nov. 2005
By Freeborn John - Published on
Format: Paperback
Marston's book is an excellent historical survey of the interplay of religion and its surrounding culture. Throughout Marston shows how two themes have consistently been held in tension in American religious life; these being the continuing impact of the Puritan ideal of "Christian Society" and the existence of pluralism in thje midst of prevailing ideas. What is particularly interesting is how Marston shows that this puritan ethos along with the elevation of the ideal of liberty as the `American Way' has been adopted by the non-WASP demographic.

As a general history of the role of religion in american society I struggle to see how it could be much improved. Excellent.
Great book! 13 Jun. 2013
By David K Denzer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well written, concise review of the subject. Marsden is always scholarly and he writes very well. Its good to see the truth about this subject that isn't influenced by current political correctness. I recommend it!
One Star 22 July 2014
By AliciaJones - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Hated it. Boring, rushed. Not a great read.
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