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"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Review of A Documentary History of Religion in America

A Documentary History of Religion in America
Fourth Edition
Edwin S. Gaustad, Mark A. Noll & Heath W. Carter (eds)
Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7358-3

The first edition of this mammoth book was published in 1982 and edited by Edwin Gaustad (1923-2011). His aim was in part ‘to enable the “amateur” to reconstruct the religious history of America with the building blocks provided here’. The first three editions of the book comprised two volumes. This fourth edition is a condensed one-volume edition and takes us from the sixteenth century up to the Trump presidency. Inevitably this has meant a reduction in the number of documents form the first editions but also the inclusion of newer documents.

Heath Carter has taken up the reins from Gaustad and Mark Noll, who co-edited the third (2003) edition. The format here is similar to the previous incarnations. But Carter has taken the opportunity to update ‘some of the contents and approaches in order to reflect the latest scholarship in the field’ (xvii). He also puts the focus on public rather than private aspects of religion.
What is presented here is an impressive display of primary sources and illustrations.  Each of the chapters has an introduction as well as an impressive number of primary sources and end with an annotated list of suggested readings.

Typical of the chapters is the final chapter 8: ‘Into the new millennium’. It begins with a brief 4-page overview and then under the headings of Pluralism and politics, Trauma and transition, Religion and national upheaval has selections from diverse a range of writers and social commentators as Billy Graham, George W. Bush, Albert Mohler, Jr., Jim Wallis, and interviews with Arsalan Iftikhar and Eric Metaxas reading the Trump presidency. The chapter concludes with a two-page essay on suggested reading. 

This book will invaluable for anyone interested in the wide range of religion in America. It lives up to the aim of its original editor in that any amateur will find plenty of building blocks here to understand the religious history of America.

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