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Head and Heart: American Christianities Hardcover – October 4, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wills offers his insights into the ties between the history of the United States and Christianity, beginning with the founding fathers all the way to the current regime. The story is enlightening and a fascinating glimpse into a relatively unexamined past. However, Mel Foster's reading is wholly uninspired and all too familiar, offering only a straightforward narration that will surely lose most listeners with its mind-numbing approach. Foster has turned himself down a notch, reading at a sluggish pace as if the audience may not be able to follow along without extreme clarity. As thought-provoking as the material is, Foster's insipid narration makes listening a chore. A Penguin Press hardcover. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The history of Christianity in the U.S. is a dialectic of the intellect and the emotions, Wills maintains in this big new book, which ought to be the one volume everyone interested in the subject reads--it is lucid and grandly informative--and reacts to, thus keeping the conversation alive. Although intransigently theocratic, the Puritans brought both heart (passion) and head (reason) to their religious practice, passionately persecuting dissidents unto death, reasonably fostering broad tolerance and social justice in the words and deeds of Roger Williams and repentant witch-trial judge and abolitionist pioneer Samuel Sewall. Eighteenth-century Quakers merged head and heart to spread antislavery sentiment. The deist Founding Fathers observed the head-heart conflicts and with the First Amendment opted the new federal government out of them by forbidding a national church. That "disestablishment" has been a godsend because, ever since, head and heart have seesawed in influence. Although the Puritans and disestablishment occupy the best pages in the book, Wills' traversal of nineteenth- and twentieth-century developments is full of what will be not only revelations to most Americans but also, they may decide, things they really ought to know. If it is disappointing that Wills ends in contention, arguing that the Bush II administration poses the greatest threat ever to disestablishment, it is also true that his case for seeing abortion as a nonreligious issue is as cogent as it is refreshing. Olson, Ray

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (October 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201463
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201462
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,588,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Garry Wills is one of my favorite writers on religion. He is himself a practicing Catholic, but he has not shrunk from criticizing the church when he feels it has gone over the edge, as in the abuse scandals of recent times. He has a certain fair-mindedness that is lacking in much religious writing. It was thus with some anticipation that I read through his recent book "Head and Heart: American Christianities." This is a very important document which follows the history of the two main streams of Christian religious thought in America - the Enlightened Religion (that of the Founders of our country) and Evangelical Religion (the mainly emotional appeal of being "saved"). Indeed, Wills thinks that we need both and that their avowed antagonism is to some extent overblown, but perhaps necessary to maintain some sort of balance.

For full disclosure I must note that I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) who considers himself agnostic on religion. I am, however, sympathetic to Buddhism, as well as the more compassionate streams of thought in all religions. I have had some contact as a representative of my Meeting with a number of other religious groups. Finally I am also a professional biological scientist. My background does in no way give me special insight to review this book, but it does warn the reader of my own possible biases.

It is, in fact, hard to review this over 600 page book with its many notes and do justice to its depth. Wills has researched his subject thoroughly and gives us the whole panoply of religious thought from the Puritans to the recent ascendancy of the televangelists and talk show ministers.
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Format: Hardcover
I am currently reading RENEGERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE: THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE AMERICA FRONTIER 1600-1860, the first volume of Richard Slotkin's monumental three-volume. In the earliest pages of this work Slotkin writes of the dilemma that America was founded by secular deists who envisioned a future America that embraced the principles of Jeffersonian democracy, but that we instead within a few decades had become a nation that rejected Jefferson's rationalism to embrace a distinctly emotional form of religion epitomized by Jacksonian democracy. I've yet to work through Slotkin's depiction of the shift, but there are obvious parallels with Wills's subject matter. As Wills points out, American religious history has consisted largely of a tension between religious traditions that are rational and those that are far more emotional. Our national religious history is that of the struggle between the head and heart.

There is a wealth of information in this book and although I've read fairly extensively on American religious history in the past I learned a great deal. Wills illumines nearly every religious epoch that he discusses, from the Puritans to the Enlightenment Deists who founded the country to the crucial figures of the Second Great Awakening to the Transcendentalists to the Civil War to the beginnings of the evangelical movement to the Social Gospel to today's religious right. My own position to all this is complex.
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Format: Hardcover
Without question one of the most important books published this year, "Head and Heart: American Christianities" is an important, often insightful, history on the importance of religion to American life. Garry Wills has written a mesmerizing account of that history, and one that deserves as wide a readership as possible. For some it may be infuriating, simply because he reminds us - at a time in which we need such reminding - that the United States of America was founded, not as a Christian nation, but instead, as a democratic republic by Enlightenment Deists such as Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Washington, who, while recognizing the importance of religion in American life, also realized the importance of a strict separation between church and state; a realization borne out of decades-old religious intolerance and persecution here, in the New World, itself. Indeed, Wills argues persuasively that this strict separation fostered the growth of devout religious belief in the United States during the first half of the 19th Century, by allowing religious liberty to thrive unfettered in a "free market" atmosphere of ideas. He also contends that American religious life has been dominated by two "poles", by "head and heart", or rather, by reason and emotion, throughout its history, and has seen its greatest success when it has used both to their fullest possible extent (For example, in the case of the Abolitionist crusade against slavery, which combined both Fundamentalist Protestant Christian religious fervor with a more rational religious outlook from the likes of Unitarians and Quakers.).

Wills demonstrates that the rise of religious tolerance in colonial America was not a foregone conclusion that we can gleam from our history textbooks.
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