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God and Race in American Politics: A Short History Hardcover – September 7, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2009 Award of Merit in History/Biography, Christianity Today

"Mark A. Noll is one of our leading historians of religion. . . . [God and Race in American Politics] tells us a lot about how we talk about God in politics, yesterday and today. As he does so often, Noll here writes serenely about volatile subjects."--Martin E. Marty, Chronicle of Higher Education

"[Noll] has produced yet another admirable synthesis of a huge body of American history and historiography. . . . [T]houghtful Christian readers will find this work indispensable in understanding the big picture of race, religion, and politics in American history."--Paul Harvey, Christianity Today

"Noll's incisive history offers a significant introduction to the tangled relationship of race, religion, and politics in America."--Henry L. Carrigan, Jr., Foreword

"[T]his work is just the sort of introduction that those unfamiliar with the contours of politics, race and religion need. . . . Concerning the struggle for civil rights, Noll makes a powerful argument. While acknowledging the importance of the courts and community organizing, he aptly points out that religion was the indispensable foundation of the civil rights movement. The conviction that God was on the side of the black freedom struggle was powerful."--Randall J. Stephens, Christian Century

"[Noll's] work will be a must read for scholars of U.S. religious and political history."--Choice

"With the self-assurance of a skilled painter, Noll applies a series of brushstrokes that define five political alignments, each influenced by the comparative strength of the state, the market, and religion. . . . Noll's is a tragic vision but one that nevertheless brings welcome clarity to the nation's primary moral dilemma."--Andrew Rojecki, Journal of Church History

"God and Race in American Politics offers an in-depth view of the way religion has influenced politics and discourse on race and social justice throughout U.S. history. Based on a series of lectures he gave at Princeton in 2006, Noll supports his thesis with a very large body of relevant work and deftly elucidates the notion that opposing appeals to Biblical truth have created complex and, in some cases, contradictory religious and moral ideas."--Peter Lamal, The Humanist

"In this important book, Mark Noll, one of the most influential historians of American religion writing today, traces the explosive political effects of the religious intermingling with race."--Spartacus Review

"God and Race in American Politics contributes an enlightening historical analysis. . . . It is written with forceful yet well-balanced argument fully achieving its main objective. . . . It serves as a generous, informative guide for a wide readership, finding an audience in the general public as well as culture and religion historians and political scientists."--Adriana Neagu, American, British and Canadian Studies

"Noll's book is . . . a useful and astutely informed reading of foundational issues and themes that are essential to understanding historic and contemporary race and politics in American religion."--Sylvester A. Johnson, Journal of American History

"Mark Noll's brief but incredibly insightful survey of God and Race in American Politics offers one of the most significant analyses of race and religion in American political history. . . . Knoll's analysis of these most complicated issues in American history reveals a narrative of often contradicting religious and moral complexities. He wrestles with his subject, not shying away from this difficult assignment, with moral dexterity, skillful analysis, and solid historic research. Knoll has provided much food for thought."--Trevor O'Reggio, Andrew's University Seminary Studies

"The book succeeds admirably as a study of the parallels between religious opinions, electoral strategies, and orientations to state power. Its successes invite further consideration of the messy, embodied modes by which religio-racial identities are enacted and destabilized, and of the role of churches as counterpublics. . . . To acknowledge this is not to overlook the book's power as historical narrative. Rather, that Noll's book gives rise to such questions is an indication of its suggestiveness."--Jason C. Bivins, Journal of Religion

From the Inside Flap

"God and Race in American Politics is a magisterial account of the interplay of race and religion in America from slavery to today. The account is balanced, neither an indictment nor an apologia. As Noll puts it himself, it is a story of 'spectacular liberation alongside spectacular oppression.'"--Peter L. Berger, author of The Sacred Canopy

"Noll writes well and tells an engaging story, challenging the reader to think about the connections he posits. This work will appeal to a broad array of readers interested in questions of race, religion, and politics in America's past and present. I know of no other books that address these issues in precisely this way."--Daniel W. Stowell, author of Rebuilding Zion

"This book eloquently speaks to what is surely one of the most bedeviling issues in American history: the tragic problem of race and its complicated entanglement with religion. With his usual sharp eye for historical detail and an unflinching focus on the unforeseen ironies and paradoxes of America's racial history, Noll tells a compelling story of sin and grace."--R. Marie Griffith, Princeton University

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691125368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691125367
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #362,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert W. Kellemen on November 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Author Mark Noll is one of the preeminent historians of religion in American history. That designation is sure to grow with his timely release of "God and Race in American Politics: A Short History."

Could there possibly be a better time for the release of this work than weeks before our nation elected its first African American President? Race, religion, and politics in American history have always alternated between great triumphs and shameful failure. Noll outlines this contradictory history and provides theological and cultural insights into the reasons.

As the sub-title suggests, Noll writes a short history (200 pages). That is not to be confused with an incomplete history. Noll moves through the issues of race, religion, and politics from the origins of American slavery, to the start of the Black Church Movement, to the Jim Crow years, through the Civil Rights years, and onto the present. In doing so, he provides a panoramic view of what he accurately describes as "spectacular liberation alongside spectacular oppression." And he does so not in a dry-as-dust historical style, but in an engaging, appealing, captivating narrative style. Surely this is one of the most important books on religion, race, and politics written to date.

Reviewer: Robert W. Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of [[ASIN:0801068061 Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction.
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Format: Paperback
During the tempestuous decades leading up to the Civil War, both plantation owners and abolitionists relied primarily on Christianity to rationalize their diametrically-opposed positions on slavery. As the debate intensified, you had firebrands like Nat Turner and John Brown using the Bible as inspiration for insurrections. Meanwhile, self-righteous slave owners forced their slaves to memorize passages from catechisms based on a perverted interpretation of the Good Book.

Given that religion served such different functions for the Founding Fathers and the slaves upon whose backs this nation was built, is it any wonder that it has continued to divide the country along color lines? Let's face it, blacks and whites in general have very different sets of Christian beliefs, which explains why Sunday morning at 11am continues to be the most segregated hour in the United States.

God and Race in American Politics is an eye-opening book which points out how again and again, from generation to generation, Christianity has been the most effective political tool employed by both the left and the right to appropriate the moral high ground. Which side is really right or who God would agree with is less the author's focus here than his argument that the dependency on religion to legitimate political positions is a peculiarly American phenomenon.

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Format: Hardcover
This book is an attempt to create a historical synthesis between religion and race in American history. Its a very ambitious work that tries to work its way from the religious battles over slavery to the civil rights movement to present-day politics. The author's notion of the American Civil War as a religious dispute is not new in the book. What is new is the author's attempt to expand the scope of that argument to cover a whole lot more historical ground in what amounts to a small number of pages.

I should also say that this book is in actuality less true book than a combined rehash of a lecture series Noll did a few years ago. I don't tend to like books of that format. They pretend on the surface to be serious studies of a topic but in end turn out to be far less. I would rather see a lecture series presented in book form as a lecture series as opposed to these sorts of books which display high asperations but turn out to be short and superficial. High on opinion and conclusions. Short on making a strong case.

The book's flaws are that its scope is too large, its conclusions are too broad, there is an accusatory attitude toward those he doesn't like and fawning praised heaped on those he does like. While there are some interesting ideas pursued, the author simply lacks the analytical judgement to produce a useful study. And he has a very big axe to grind that undermines everything he tries to do.

The book spends far too much time tracing the history of African-American Christianity after the civil war. While this is a worthy subject, its too much material for the size of the book. Noll makes the mistake of putting interesting material ahead of creating support for the points he wants to make.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I very much respect Mark Noll’s work as a historian. So after re-reading The Civil War as Theological Crisis I found God and Race in American Politics.

Noll is primarily known as a historian of North American Evangelicalism. But this is a natural followup to his Civil War as Theological Crisis. Instead of looking at the theological response to issues of race and slavery (as he did in Civil War), Noll expands his view to take a quick survey at how Race and Religion interacted over the history of the US until the 2004 Presidential Election.

As you might expect a good historian to say, the reality is much more complicated than the traditional story that is told in your 4th grade US history class. But Noll does a very good job surveying those complications in less than 200 pages.

His first chapter covers a lot of similar ground as the Civil War as theological crisis. Essentially, the common reading of the bible prior to the Civil War was that slavery was a biblical practice, and calling for the end of slavery as a theological statement for most people meant that they had to reject the common reading of scripture and be accused of rejecting orthodox Christianity. And many abolitionists did explicitly reject Christianity (or at least the more orthodox forms of Christianity). But here, Noll spends a good bit of time observing that it was not slavery, but racially based slavery that was the real issue. The widespread belief in white racial superiority meant that Christians were able to accept the plain reading of scripture that said that slavery was acceptable, but not the plain reading of scripture that said that Blacks were of one faith with Whites.

This became even more pronounced in the post-civil war era.
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