University of Georgia Press

George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History

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George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History

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The Creation-Evolution Debate

Historical Perspectives

Edward J. Larson Foreword by Mitchell Reddish

Few issues besides evolution have so strained Americans' professed tradition of tolerance. Few historians besides Pulitzer Prize winner Edward J. Larson have so perceptively chronicled evolution's divisive presence on the American scene. This slim volume reviews the key aspects, current and historical, of the creation-evolution debate in the United States.

Larson discusses such topics as the transatlantic response to Darwinism, the American controversy over teaching evolution in public schools, and the religious views of American scientists. He recalls the theological qualms about evolution held by some leading scientists of Darwin's time. He looks at the 2006 Dover, Pennsylvania, court decision on teaching Intelligent Design and other cases leading back to the landmark 1925 Scopes trial. Drawing on surveys that Larson conducted, he discusses attitudes of American scientists toward the existence of God and the afterlife.

By looking at the changing motivations and backgrounds of the stakeholders in the creation-evolution debate—clergy, scientists, lawmakers, educators, and others—Larson promotes a more nuanced view of the question than most of us have. This is no incidental benefit for Larson's readers; it is one of the book's driving purposes. If we cede the debate to those who would frame it simplistically rather than embrace its complexity, warns Larson, we will not advance beyond the naive regard of organized religion as the enemy of intellectual freedom or the equally myopic myth of the scientist as courageous loner willing to die for the truth.

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The Faiths of the Postwar Presidents

From Truman to Obama

David L. Holmes

The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, an acclaimed look at the spiritual beliefs of such iconic Americans as Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson, established David L. Holmes as a measured voice in the heated debate over the new nation's religious underpinnings. With the same judicious approach, Holmes now looks at the role of faith in the lives of the twelve presidents who have served since the end of World War II.

Holmes examines not only the beliefs professed by each president but also the variety of possible influences on their religious faith, such as their upbringing, education, and the faith of their spouse. In each profile close observers such as clergy, family members, friends, and advisors recall churchgoing habits, notable displays of faith (or lack of it), and the influence of their faiths on policies concerning abortion, the death penalty, Israel, and other controversial issues.

Whether discussing John F. Kennedy's philandering and secularity or Richard Nixon's betrayal of Billy Graham's naïve trust during Watergate, Holmes includes telling and often colorful details not widely known or long forgotten. We are reminded, for instance, how Dwight Eisenhower tried to conceal the background of his parents in the Jehovah's Witnesses and how the Reverend Cotesworth Lewis's sermonizing to Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War was actually not a left- but a right-wing critique.

National interest in the faiths of our presidents is as strong as ever, as shown by the media frenzy engendered by George W. Bush's claim that Jesus was his favorite political philosopher or Barack Obama's parting with his minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Holmes's work adds depth, insight, and color to this important national topic.

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Protestant Voice in American Pluralism

Martin E. Marty

For 350 years, Protestantism was the dominant religion in America--and its influence spilled over in many directions into the wider culture. Religious historian Martin E. Marty looks at the factors behind both the long period of Protestant ascendancy in America and the comparatively recent diffusion and diminution of its authority. Marty ranges across time, covering such things as the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in 1607, the 1955 publication of Will Herberg's landmark book Protestant-Catholic-Jew, and the current period of American ethnic and religious pluralism.

For centuries, American Protestantism dominated in three main ways, says Marty: in the sheer numbers of its committed practitioners (spread across some two hundred denominations), in the Protestant leanings of nonadherents, and in the influence of the Protestant ethic in activities as diverse as business and art. To discover what is particularly “American” about Protestantism in this country, Marty looks at Protestant creencias, or beliefs, that complement or supplement pure doctrine. These include the notion of God as an agent of America’s destiny and the impact of the biblical credos of mission, stewardship, and vocation on innumerable nonreligious matters of daily life. Marty also discusses the vigencias, or binding (though unwritten) customs, of Protestantism. They include the tendencies to interpret matters of faith in market terms and to conflate biblical and enlightenment ideology into “civic faith.”

Challenges to Protestant hegemony came and went over the centuries, says Marty, but never in such force and to such effect as in the twentieth century. Among other factors contributing to the rise of pluralism and to schisms between mainstreamers and Fundamentalists, Marty lists changes in immigration laws, U.S. Supreme Court decisions on school prayer, the women's movement, and Vatican II.

Today, our Protean spirituality is the topic of everything from sermons to bumper stickers. All in all, this is good, reassures Marty, for to debate our spirituality is to sustain the life of a functioning, thinking, believing republic. Those who pine for some golden age of Protestantism are misled by nostalgia or resentment. The real work to be done by Protestants now is to serve, partner, and cooperate where they once managed, controlled, and directed.

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Religion Enters the Academy

The Origins of the Scholarly Study of Religion in America

James Turner

Religious studies—also known as comparative religion or history of religions—emerged as a field of study in colleges and universities on both sides of the Atlantic during the late nineteenth century. In Europe, as previous historians have demonstrated, the discipline grew from long-established traditions of university-based philological scholarship. But in the United States, James Turner argues, religious studies developed outside the academy.

Until about 1820, Turner contends, even learned Americans showed little interest in non-European religions—a subject that had fascinated their counterparts in Europe since the end of the seventeenth century. Growing concerns about the status of Christianity generated American interest in comparing it to other great religions, and the resulting writings eventually produced the academic discipline of religious studies in U.S. universities. Fostered especially by learned Protestant ministers, this new discipline focused on canonical texts—the “bibles”—of other great world religions. This rather narrow approach provoked the philosopher and psychologist William James to challenge academic religious studies in 1902 with his celebrated and groundbreaking Varieties of Religious Experience.

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Urban Origins of American Judaism

Deborah Dash Moore

The urban origins of American Judaism began with daily experiences of Jews, their responses to opportunities for social and physical mobility as well as constraints of discrimination and prejudice. Deborah Dash Moore explores Jewish participation in American cities and considers the implications of urban living for American Jews across three centuries. Looking at synagogues, streets, and snapshots, she contends that key features of American Judaism can be understood as an imaginative product grounded in urban potentials.

Jews signaled their collective urban presence through synagogue construction, which represented Judaism on the civic stage. Synagogues housed Judaism in action, its rituals, liturgies, and community, while simultaneously demonstrating how Jews Judaized other aspects of their collective life, including study, education, recreation, sociability, and politics. Synagogues expressed aesthetic aspirations and translated Jewish spiritual desires into brick and mortar. Their changing architecture reflects shifting values among American Jews.

Concentrations of Jews in cities also allowed for development of public religious practices that ranged from weekly shopping for the Sabbath to exuberant dancing in the streets with Torah scrolls on the holiday of Simhat Torah. Jewish engagement with city streets also reflected Jewish responses to Catholic religious practices that temporarily transformed streets into sacred spaces. This activity amplified an urban Jewish presence and provided vital contexts for synagogue life, as seen in the captivating photographs Moore analyzes.

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