There are many rooms in the Father's mansion, we're told, and this collection of American religious autobiographies is beautiful proof of that truth. Arranged chronologically, the collection takes us from the 17th-century captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson to another kind of captivity in the contemporary story of Barbara Harrison, who lived with and ultimately left the Jehovah's Witnesses. Along the way we get glimpses of familiar faces (Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, Billy Graham), and some that are likely to be less familiar: Orestes Brownson, Mary Antin, Virginia Sorenson. Mostly Christian, but including a few representatives of other faith traditions (Isaac Wise, Alan Watts, Paramahansa Yogananda, Black Elk), the editor has selected and edited well, providing useful single-page introductions to each selection. Handsomely packaged, the book makes a fine gift--a true remembrance of the spirit in its rainbow of forms. --Doug Thorpe
From Publishers Weekly
GaustadAemeritus professor of history and religion at UC Riverside and author of several sweeping narratives, an atlas and other primary-source readers on American religious historyAstrikes gold again with this diverse collection of 26 spiritual autobiographies. There are of course the classic texts, such as Jonathan Edwards's sin-sick "Personal Narrative." (Readers may chuckle at Edwards's own contention that his conviction of sin was "exceeding small, and faint.") Other pieces reveal watershed events in the writers' spiritual lives, such as Billy Graham's memories of the 1949 Los Angeles revival that propelled him to celebrity status, or Richard Allen's account of the 1787 exodus of African-Americans in Philadelphia from a white Methodist church to form what was the start of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. Some of the 20th-century selections are refreshingly unconventional. Readers may be surprised by what Gaustad has chosen to emphasize about each pilgrim; the passage from Dorothy Day's The Long Loneliness, for example, highlights her pacifism, not her famous conversion to Catholicism. Gaustad's use of such unpredictable selections demonstrates that American spirituality transcends religious institutions to encompass politics, economics and other arenas of "secular" America. Moreover, the inclusivity of his choices (Parahamsa Yogananda, Black Elk and Richard Rodriguez share space with William F. Buckley, Thomas Merton and Isaac Mayer Wise) should make this a popular text for survey courses in American religion. Full-page photographs complement Gaustad's witty introductions to each author. (Oct.)
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