From Publishers Weekly
Disturbed by what he perceives as the growing prevalence of literalism in American culture, Crapanzano (a professor of anthropology and comparative literature at the Graduate Faculty of CUNY and author of Waiting: The Whites of South Africa) undertakes to study what he sees as two of its most egregious manifestations, in religion and in the law. In his examination of this belief that "meaning is timeless," Crapanzano is careful not to denigrate those he studies--whether among the religious right or among jurists seeking the "original intent" of a legal text--as he says others have, as "repugnant cultural others" or "know-nothings." Instead, he finds most of those he interviews friendly and articulate, if aggressive, unwilling to compromise and, mainly, long-winded (after one four-hour conversation, he says, "Finally I just fled"). Crapanzano's main beef with these champions of literalism, be they ministers or judges, is that they have no concept of "an openness to the position of the other," which he sees as essential to democracy. Instead, they emerge in his view, at least among religious literalists, as un-Christian Christians, more interested in separatism, individual rebirth and the end of time than in Christianity's message of love. They are also, he notes, overwhelmingly male; he sees a connection between "literalism and the denigration of women," since the literal is a hallmark of "the pragmatic, tough-minded realism that Americans attach to the male persona," while "poetic language, indecision, and confused thinking" are associated stereotypically with women. In saying that no generation should be hampered by the strictures of a previous one, Thomas Jefferson argued that we must not ask a grown man to wear the jacket that fitted him as boy, but in Crapanzano's view, the literalists are trying to cripple democracy by cramming the present into the straitjacket of the past. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Crapanzano, an anthropologist, examines the concept of literalism in Christian fundamentalism and the legal profession, and he discusses the nature of language and its relationship to the outside world. He persuasively and cogently argues that literalism, rather than being a relative newcomer on the scene, is deeply rooted in American life and culture. Accordingly, he explores literalism's origins in the urban North and concludes that fundamentalists of all classes and stripes are scattered throughout the land. Indeed, the pervasiveness of literalism is attested by its presence in conservative interpretations of the law, in popular approaches to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, and in so-called identity politics. Furthermore, Crapanzano scrutinizes the history and theology of fundamentalism, the application of biblical truths to everyday life, the history of the Constitution, and various approaches to the law, from the original intent interpretation of Robert Bork to the conservative philosophy of Antonin Scalia. Defying stereotypes, Crapanzano offers a provocative study of a timely subject. June Sawyers