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Serving the Word: Literalism in America from the Pulpit to the Bench Hardcover – January 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 406 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The (January 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565844122
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565844124
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,296,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dubious Law Prof on March 27, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author shows a real understanding of an interpretation of Scripture that he clearly doesn't subscribe to. Frankly, many of the fundamentalists/literalists he interviewed in Part I of the book sound more than a little scary. And in Part II, even though he's not an attorney, he provides a sophisticated analysis of their beliefs as applied to American law. The writing may be a little dense and the subject matter clearly won't appeal to a wide readership, but it's a valuable contribution.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An indictment! How the worship of the Bible of one's own choice, which is translated rather literally and avidly interpreted literally has led to a petrified religion, legalistic and ritualistic.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By dmusichahn on July 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
Crapanzando writes a fascinating look into Evangelicalism from an etic perspective. This perspective focuses primarily on what he feels is at the heart of Evangelicalism and begins with his take on the history of the movement. It is interesting to read his positivistic notions regarding meaning and value within Evangelicalism. While castigating Evangelical leaders for holding their staunch positions, he fails to indicate his own subjective reality in holding his views, his position, his philosophy, and his Gods-eye-view evaluation. This is a valuable treatise in providing a look at how one of the predominant anthropologists in the academy viewed Evangelicalism from one temporal standpoint. Perhaps the element missing from Crapanzando's standpoint is the view from the metaphysical perspective. While the author is gracious in not reverting to invective when referring to Evangelical leaders, the vantage point of Evangelicals is a focus on God rather than on faulty and very limited men as "there is none good but God." Showing the ineptitude of men, religious or otherwise simply points Evangelicals back to the eternal relevance of the Christocentric life.
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