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Heaven in the American Imagination Hardcover – June 1, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (June 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199738955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199738953
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,314,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"What you have in this book is an interesting and complicated story, a growing and expanding imagination of the nature of heaven throughout the American experience and the consistency of the underlying theological positions on how to get there. The book explores beliefs about heaven from diverse perspectives--Catholic to Protestant, evangelical to New Age, Mormon, Jewish and others, all within the context of the historical narrative. . . . Smith's contribution is a worthy addition to adynamic historical investigation, long overdue and currently relevant. In his conclusion, he points out 'tensions' and 'paradoxes' within the variant theological positions, something I found intriguing. If you want to know more about these and along the way have an adventure into the mind and thought of American culture and history, I encourage you to get your own copy. Mine is all marked up."--William Paul Young (author of The Shack), The Washington Times"In this broad-ranging work, Smith describes the extraordinary variety of views that the faithful--Puritans, Evangelicals, Liberals, Catholics, Jews, New Agers, and many others--have held about heaven. How to get there, and how to avoid the 'Other Place, ' figure largely too. With deft strokes, Smith shows that notions of heaven never strayed far from the social structures and cultural assumptions of each era and each group. The book combines the careful research of the serious scholar with the winsome prose of a seasoned journalist."--Grant Wacker, author of Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals andAmerican Culture"Mark Twain once said that 'a man's got to be in his own heaven to be happy.' In Gary Scott Smith's new book, Heaven in the American Imagination, we see how much American Christians' visions of the land of the blessed reflect their changing views of what it means to be perfectly happy and fulfilled. This thorough study adds heavenly perspective to each era of American religious history."--Joel Carpenter, au

About the Author

Gary Scott Smith is Professor of History at Grove City College, in Pennsylvania. He is the author, most recently, of Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Rios on January 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Gary Scott Smith in his book, "Heaven in the American Imagination" (Oxford, 2011) has written a detailed, in-depth, and far-reaching study of the history of Heaven in American thought. Beginning with the Puritans, Smith highlights in each chapter a different era (Victorian, Pre-war, Civil War, etc.), documents that era's historical distinctives (wars, death rates, major events), spotlights its notable theologians (ranging from Jonathan Edwards, to D.L. Moody, to Billy Graham, to Mitch Albom), and then discusses how the people of that era, given their history and influences, formulated the doctrine of Heaven. In this way, Smith seeks, through alternating survey and analysis, to document the changing perception of the afterlife that has followed the progression of the American experiment. On the whole, Smith's book contained many historical gems as well as some interesting theological observations. Unfortunately, these insights were often rendered opaque by Smith's oversaturation of data. The result was a book with good information--if you have the patience to mine it out, that is.

Historical study, then, is perhaps the best term to describe what Scott has done, and while Smith's history is often interesting, this is also a weakness of the book. For example, Smith's chapter-by-chapter structure is fairly rigid. Each chapter has a survey of history, a survey of theologians, a section discussing perceptions of afterlife, one on perceptions of hell, and a conclusion. When Smith discusses the work of theologians in the given time period, he fills his paragraphs with quotations--often of only one or two words at a time--to such a degree that one finds the theologians blurring together. Quotes, in other words, were not used either economically or very efficiently.
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