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Religion in America: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – July 29, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Timothy Beal is the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University. Author of several books, including the critically acclaimed Roadside Religion (2005), he has published essays on religion and American culture for The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Washington Post. He has been featured on national radio shows including NPR's All Things Considered and The Bob Edwards Show.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195321073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195321074
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.4 x 4.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
“Religion in America” is a rapid survey of the place of religion in American life, past and present. It opens with a catalog of the dizzying array of religious organizations and impulses visible in the author’s immediate neighborhood, gives limited statistical information on organized churches in the US, and briefly discusses the phenomenon of new religious movements – all without giving much sense of any particular religion. The chapter on “Looking Back” examines three historical issues of religion in the American past that reverberate today: Native American dispossession, the struggle for religious freedom, and the cycle of revivals in American history. Finally, the author looks ahead to how increasing diversity and a growing consumer culture might affect the future of religion in America.

All of these topics are relevant to a study of religion in America ... but I question the space given to some topics, and the neglect of others, in a “very short introduction.” That is, page after page is devoted to a description of the author’s commute, noting the variety of religions represented in the physical landscape. It’s a remarkable landscape, without doubt, but it is merely a listing, a catalog, emphasizing variety without giving the reader any understanding of the activity or belief within those buildings. Likewise, his coverage of the religious aspects of the political, economic, and geographical dispossession of Native Americans seems too specialized, too monopolizing of scarce space in what purports to be a general introduction to the broad role of religion in American life.
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Format: Paperback
Timothy Beal's book, "Religion in America" (2008) takes as its theme a motto on the Great Seal of the United States: "e pluribus unum", "from many, one". His book describes the ways in which the motto was and remains important to an understanding of religion in America. Beal is the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western University, Ohio and the author of many books about American religion and about Biblical interpretation. The book is part of Oxford University Press' "Very Short Introductions" series, which has the goal of presenting many important subjects in brief, scholarly treatments for busy people.

The subject of the book, religion in America, has aspects which are both local and personal and extremely broad. In addition, the subject lends itself to a variety of treatments, including historical, sociological, philosophical and more. As Beal recognizes, treatment of the subject in a book of under 100 pages necessarily only skims the surface. Yet, Beal offers a readable, informed account with its own perspective that encourages thought about its subject.

In his brief account, Beal takes a variety of approaches with the aim of explaining the American paradox of unity in diversity. He takes the reader on a tour of the many (over 50) different religious sites and places of worship in the short drive from his home to his university. From this local point of view, Beal shifts to statistics which show the breadth of religious commitments in the United States with its many religious denominations, Christian and non-Christian. He talks as well about "outsider religion" practiced by some individuals with no particular denomination. In its early years, the United States was predominantly but not exclusively Protestant.
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Format: Paperback
Beal understands that religion begins in the streets, that to understand the way religion functions we have to look at the places we pass on an everyday basis. The book works as a great primer for religion in the US since it gets at the diversity of perspectives found all around us (no matter who "us" is). I'll use it next semester for my course for sure.
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In this short, but sweeping survey of religion in America--both past and present, Timothy Beal provides an interesting analysis of the recent history of religious conservativism. Yet, Beal practically ignores another landmark of religion in the twentieth century, the civil rights movement. I finished the book informed, but wondering why.
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