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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


American Religion

Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest by Adam Elenbaas (Jeremy P. Tarcher)

In the tradition of memoirs like Daniel Pinchbeck's 2012 and Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries, Adam Elenbaas's Fishers of Men chronicles his journey from intense self-destruction and crippling depression to self-acceptance, inner awareness, and spiritual understanding, through participation in mind-expanding and healing ayahuasca ceremonies in South America and beyond.
From his troubled and rebellious youth as a Methodist minister's son in Minnesota, to his embracing Christian fundamentalism, to his sex and substance abuse-fueled downward spiral in Chicago and New York, culminating in a depressive breakdown, Elenbaas is plagued by a feeling of emptiness and a desperate search for meaning for most of his young life. After hitting rock bottom at his grandfather's house in rural Michigan, a chance experience with psychedelic mushrooms convinces him that he must change his ways to achieve the sense of peace that he has always desired. As told in Fishers of Men, several subsequent psychedelic experiences inspire him to embark on a quest to South America and take part in a shamanic ceremony, where he consumes ayahuasca, a jungle vine revered for its spiritual properties.
Over the course of nearly forty ayahuasca ceremonies during four years, Elenbaas discovers the truth about his own life and past, and begins to mend himself from the inside out.

Call it a spiritual memoir, a psychedelic memoir or just an eloquent read, Fishers of Men weaves together two threads. The first tracks Elenbaas's harrowing coming of age. The second thread casts light on a vibrant cultural movement a growing renaissance of spiritual seekers who are looking to connect with a worldwide revival of shamanic practices, including the use of entheogenic, or psychedelic, plant substances for religious insight.

Originally from the Twin Cities of Minnesota, Elenbaas currently lives in New York City where he teaches holistic nutrition, yoga and meditation, is the Co-Director of OmWellness, a holistic nutrition counselor training program, and is one of the founding writers/contributing editors of RealtySandwich.com.

[A]n extremely engaging and original take on the traditional coming-of-age memoir, melding Bible-Belt fundamentalism with psychedelic revelation. Daniel Pinchbeck, bestselling author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl

Adam Elenbaas has given us a beautifully written and powerfully honest narrative of an ayahuasca pilgrimage, a vision quest through his tangled and painful family history, his addictions and failures, and his ultimate arrival at something very much like redemption.... There is a growing literature documenting the gradual absorption of ayahuasca shamanism into North American culture; this profoundly personal book is sure to be one of its classics. Stephan V. Beyer, author of Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon

In this memoir of his relationship with ayahuasca, Adam Elenbaas manages to balance his way along a spiritual tightrope between Christianity and shamanic tradition, flesh and soul, holding on and letting go, hallucination and reality, his family and the universe, mind and heart, catharsis and illumination exploring his own inner space with considerable honesty and insight. Paul Krasner, editor of Magic Mushrooms and Other Highs

It is rare when a book leaves us knowing we have entered the true territory of mystery and that is exactly what Fishers of Men does. The book is at once a quest and an honest look at the relationship between a son and a father. It leaves us knowing we have experienced mysterium tremendum, at the same time that we have glimpsed the simpler mystery of human love and compassion. Karen McElmurray, author of The Motel of the Stars

Author Elenbaas, a New York writer and therapist who grew up in Minnesota nice until he rebelled into a sex-and-drugs period, writes of his discovery of the curative and transformative power of the psychedelic experience. Elenbaas participated in ayahuasca healing in Peru; ayahuasca is a jungle vine brewed to make a highly purgative, hallucinogenic drink. The healing experiences allow Elenbaas to come to terms with himself and a family history of men who can't figure out what to do with themselves. At the heart of the book is the relationship between Elenbaas and his father, a well-intentioned progressive Midwestern Methodist minister who cares more for his job than for his family. The tension in their relationship is heartbreakingly poignant, and the book's best writing comes when Elenbaas writes with an observer's eye about his family and his experiences. The conclusions he draws are less than profound, but the journey he writes about should not be missed. Less about drugs and more about family, this is a book for fathers and their sons; it beats the swagger of war stories. Publishers Weekly, starred review

The best memoirs not only immerse us in the life of another; they reflect a moment in time and in our culture. Elenbaas accomplishes both in his engrossing, no-holds-barred memoir, Fishers of Men. This harrowing, poignant, and deeply memorable true story of a minister's son escaping his anguished youth in the American heartland, to gain spiritual awareness through the uses of mind-expanding native plants and shamanic rituals in South America. Elenbaas's writing is compulsively readable, and his tale is full of surprising spiritual insights. A talented and singular new voice.

Religion in America, Seventh Edition by John S. Corrigan, Winthrop S. Hudson (Prentice Hall) This is a story about religion in America . But it is not the only story about religion in America. At certain points in the telling, it corresponds with other stories about people, places, and religious things. Sometimes, on the other hand, this story takes turns that distance it from these other stories. Like all other stories of a nation's past, it is an intertwining of many threads of narrative. Here and there those threads are woven into a relatively sturdy, even fabric. In other places, the warp and woof are uneven, ragged, or fragile. History is complex, to some extent indeterminate, and is subject to constant revision. This history of the development of American religious life is, accordingly, a work in progress.

A story changes with each telling, and this story is no different. In preparing Religion in America for a seventh edition, I have added several new sections, and have enlarged and detailed others. In this edition I note the important Reformation and Catholic Reformation backgrounds to Christian missionizing in North America, and especially the way in which the struggles between Protestants and Catholics in Europe translated in certain ways to the vigorous Jesuit and Franciscan and Sulpician ventures on this side of the Atlantic. The legacy of the Spanish presence in colonial North America-in the form of a distinctive Hispanic Catholicism-is also the subject of a more detailed discussion. This treatment is particularly appropriate in view of the recent dramatic growth of that part of the population whose background is Hispanic.

The careful work undertaken by historians in recent years to enlarge our understanding of African American religious history has made possible a broader and deeper picture of that aspect of the story. Drawing on

this ongoing research, I have added material on the emergence of the African American denominations, on the role of religion in African American social movements (from mutual aid societies to the Convention Movement), on the formation of black women's religious societies, and on the growing popularity of Islam and Islamic movements among African Americans.

Historical scholarship continues to confirm the primary roles of women in sustaining religious institutions in America. In a new section on the "female majority," I describe some of the roles played by women, as well as the resistance that they encountered, as they sought to expand the scope of their religious activities in ante-bellum America. In discussing this period, I also address in greater detail the ways in which Catholics and Jews organized their religious life and the ways in which that life changed as those communities grew and diversified. There likewise is a fuller discussion of the most important of nineteenth-century national revivals, the Businessmen's Revival (or, Union Revival) of 1858, which served at one level to accentuate ethnic, gender, class, and age differences in religious groups at the same time that it fostered unity on another level.

Pentecostalism has proven to be one of the most vital and fast-growing branches of Christianity, both in America and in many other parts of the world. The story in this edition takes more time with the beginnings of Pentecostalism in America, noting the ways in which Pentecostalism, over the course of the twentieth century, has moved from the periphery of American religious life into the mainstream of popular culture. By the same token, Islam has developed from its status as a religion practiced solely by first- and second-generation immigrants to a faith embraced by a broad base of Americans, and especially as a religion that appeals to African Americans. I address this development in greater detail, noting the differences in styles of Islam in America and the ways in which it has been connected or disconnected with Islam as it is practiced elsewhere. I likewise note how the events of September 11, 2001, have affected the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in America.

The essential pattern of this history, for all of these additions, remains the same. Three overlapping contexts frame the story. First, religion is pictured in its relations with other aspects of American life. Religious traditions and communities exercise a profound influence on the formation of culture in America. Religion, in turn, is constantly being shaped by forces outside the church, synagogue, mosque, and meetinghouse. Religion in America addresses religious life as a whole as it arises in the context of this reciprocal relationship.

Second, the transatlantic dimension forms a key part of the story. Although religions in America exhibit distinctive features, most religionists engage in practice that bears the mark of a predominantly European background. After the initial migration of Europeans to America, the European influence was sustained in various ways and most conspicuously through waves of immigration. It is true as well that in the course of being translated to an American context, religion that originated in Europe was modified. In some cases the change was minimal, and in other cases the process of adaptation resulted in dramatic recastings of religious belief and practice. In the twentieth century, the migration of persons from Asia and from Latin America-added to communities of various sizes already established within the national borders of the United States-enlarged this other dimension of influence. But even in these cases, the religious background of immigrants was often substantially shaped by European religions. The majority of Asian immigrants, for example, are Christian. The most significant case of religious influence of a non-European stripe is the other transatlantic pathway, the African diaspora, which brought persons to the Americas as slaves. After the European influence, the African influence has been most significant. As greater numbers of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and others settle in the United States and establish centers of religious practice, they have further complicated the religious pluralism of the nation. We ought to expect that as these communities grow and participate more fully in the give and take of public life, they will help to shape the religious landscape in new ways. Just what those shapes will be, however, we do not yet know.

Third, the story of religion in America emerges out of the interaction of many religious groups. At times that interaction was manifest in cooperative projects of missionizing, education, and reform. On other occasions, conflicts in the form of nativism, heresy accusations, and regional differences, alongside an assortment of race, class, and gender issues, broke the surface of denominational life. In early America, patterns of interaction were relatively simple because the religious spectrum was narrow. With the full-scale development of the institution of slavery, and as religious and ethnic diversity increased during the nineteenth century, relations between religious groups invariably became more complex. In the early twenty-first century, complexity born of a broad pluralism appeared as an exclamation point to the story. The durability of that pluralism was tested by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For some, such as Florida pastor and Southern Baptist Convention leader Rev. Jerry Vines, the attacks illustrated the principle that Islam was a demonic religion and that the nation's problems were caused precisely by religious pluralism.' For others, the vigorous and ongoing public discussion of religion in the wake of the attacks led to a more hospitable and understanding view of nonChristian and minority religions in America. One poll indicated that a much greater percentage of Americans viewed Islam positively after the attacks than before them.

Finally, it is important to recognize that much religion in America began as popular religion, as "religion of the people" (populous). Religious groups such as Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, and many others began as popular religious movements. And individuals who have located their religious life largely within the confines of well-established denominations have, nevertheless, sometimes also embraced popular religious ideas and participated in religious rituals of a popular sort. American interest in religious entrepreneurialism and the "customizing" of` religious life-through innovation, borrowing, and adaptation-is a leading theme of the nation's religious history.

My work on this book has required that I constantly attempt to see the, material as would a person just beginning the study of religion in America.; I am grateful to those colleagues who, from their positions in the class-' room trenches, communicated to me their suggestions on enriching and clarifying the story.


Spiritual, but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America by Robert C. Fuller (Oxford University Press) In this readable work, illustrative of the distinctively synergetic style of American spirituality, Fullers assessment of the persistent of magical thinking and practice as core to unchurched American faith makes a great initial read for those not previously conversant with the field of alternative styles of spirituality. Fuller emphasizes the mystical aspect of this history providing a lively thematic survey of the history and development of alternative spirituality in America by focusing on mystical spiritualities, such as theosophy, alternative healing, channeling, 12-step programs, and Asian meditative practices

Over the past 30 years, sociologists of religion have coined the phrase "spiritual seeker" to describe those who are unaffiliated with organized religion but who are nonetheless looking for ways to enhance their understanding of religious questions. Fuller (Alternative Medicine in American Religious Life) observes that these seekers differentiate between spirituality and religion, connecting the former with a privately expressed faith and the latter with the creeds and rituals publicly expressed in religious institutions. These "spiritual but not religious" individuals, Fuller writes, pick and choose elements from a variety of beliefs and practices as they construct an individualized spirituality. While many scholars regard this as a recent phenomenon, Fuller provides a historical survey of America's "nonecclesial religious history" to demonstrate that the impulse toward creating a uniquely personal spirituality has pervaded American religion since colonial times. He ranges over divination, astrology, witchcraft, angelology, Swedenborgianism, Emersonian transcendentalism, mesmerism, Elizabeth Clare Prophet's I AM movement, New Thought and New Age in order to show the historical roots of the fascination with the spiritual apart from the religious. Finally, he contends that the spirituality of the "unchurched" is slowly reshaping the faith of many members of mainstream religious organizations. While there are interesting moments here, notably his lively historical overviews, Fuller's thesis is old news, and he fails to address the growing number of seekers who are returning to religious organizations in search of tradition-oriented faith. Since Fuller's book describes an outdated religious scene, his main point is almost obsolete.

Making important distinctions between religion and spirituality and between religious thinking and biblical theology, Fuller quotes Paul Tillich, who also found that most of what happens in church isn't distinctively spiritual. Thus, spiritual Americans have always been those who seek "to find a language suitable for describing their encounters with the sacred." Offering a primer on alternative American religious history,. He finds some to be superficial and some to contain a more polished cultural vision, but nearly all speak to a single truth: American churches and religious institutions hold less and less authority in a time when so many avenues for personal spiritual renewal are available to everyday folk. In this readable text, which guides the reader to further research, Fuller views American religiosity as a "seeker spirituality," an argument borne out by our country's history of eclectic spiritual journeying. Recommended for American history and religion collections.

Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia by Edward L. Bond (Mercer) In this exhaustively researched and well-writtten study, historian Edward L. Bond provides an inside view of religion in America's first colony. Focusing on religion as the various expressions of individual and corporate relationship with the divine, the author gives the reader an insightful picture of religion and society in colonial Virginia. In the process, he clarifies our understandings of Virginia's established Anglican Church, discusses the theology and devotional practices of the colonists, and explains the role of religion in colonial polity. Such an approach allows the reader to see clearly both the conservative and progressive elements in the way the earliest colonists in Virginia defined their individual and corporate relationship with God.

In particular, Bond argues that concerns about England's role as an empire and its national self-image formed much of the background of the colonization of Virginia. Virginia was not merely a mercantile venture, or a religious mission to spread the Gospel, or an outpost to rival the Spaniards, or even all of these together. The first permanent colony offered proponents of expansion tangible evidence of empire and thus became a vivid assertion of the nation's imperial identity.

Throughout Bond's fascinating analysis, he shows that by the end of the seventeenth century Virginians, though viewing themselves as Anglicans, nonetheless gradually discovered that they were defending an ecclesiastical institution much different from the one they left behind in England.  

The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics by Geoffrey C. Layman (Power, Conflict, and Democracy: American Politics into the 21st Century) How did the Christian Right come to predominate in the Republican Party? Why, on the other hand, do secular and religiously liberal beliefs largely prevail in the Democratic Party? Our understanding of the rift between the Democratic and Republican parties - a rift in many ways fueled by religious beliefs - requires an analysis of the entire spectrum of religious and nonreligious players in the American political process and how their influence has evolved over a long period of time. Employing a sizeable collection of data on party members, activists, and elites, Geoffrey Layman examines the role of religion in the Democratic and Republican parties, and the ways in which religion has influenced the political process from the early 1960s through the late 1990s. Using a wide variety of sources, including the American National Election Studies - the major academic survey of the American electorate - Layman reveals a vast and subtly differentiated landscape of political life and a more vivid basis upon which to analyze the ever-widening chasm between the parties. Layman investigates a broad spectrum of religious variety, citing differences between African American Protestants, white evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, nonreligious or seculars, and smaller religious groups, as well as political cleavages within these faith traditions. With his broad-based and thorough analysis, he counters the often-narrow focus and incendiary rhetoric of many of the "culture war" debates. As we have seen in the recent national election (2000), America is split in two: the secular, liberal coasts and urban centers and the religious, conservative "flyover" country and rural areas. Dr. Layman's book ably explains the origins and causes of this split in religious and cultural terms and its effects on the American politics of today and the future. If you want to understand the significant forces that have sliced the nation into two distinctive religious cultures this book offers some seminal insights and possible prospects.

From Season to Season: Sports As American Religion by Joseph L. Price (Mercer) nine scholars of religion and theology explore the relationship between religion and sports in American popular culture and the role of sports as religion, best exemplified by noting the contents: Introduction: Fervent Faith: Sports as Religion in America by Joseph L. Price
Part I: Sports and Religion in America Chapter 1: From Sabbath Proscriptions to Super Sunday Celebrations: Sports and Religion in America by Joseph L. Price Chapter 2: God and Games in Modern Culture by Lonnie D. Kliever Chapter 3: From Season to Season: The Rhythmic and Religious Significance of American Sports Seasons by Joseph L. Price
Part II: Baseball Chapter 4: The Pitcher's Mound as Cosmic Mountain: The Religious Significance of Baseball by Joseph L. Price Chapter 5: The Fetish and McGwire's Balls by Paul C. Johnson Chapter 6: Every Religion Needs a Martyr: The Role of Matty, Gehrig, and Clemente in the National Faith by Peter Williams
Part III: Football Chapter 7: Through the Eyes of Mircea Eliade: United States Football as a Religious Rite of Passage by Bonnie Miller-McLemore Chapter 8: The Super Bowl as Religious Festival by Joseph L. Price
Chapter 9: American Sport as Folk Religion: Examining a Test of Its Strength by James A. Mathisen
Part IV: Basketball Chapter 10: Basketball's Abbott: Bob Knight and the Drive for Perfection by Lois Daly
Chapter 11: The Final Four as Final Judgement: The Religious and Cultural Significance of the NCAA Basketball Championship by Joseph L. Price
Part V: Hockey and Wrestling Chapter 12: A Puckish Reflection on Religion in Canada by Tom Faulkner
Chapter 13: Myth and Ritual in Professional Wrestling by Charles S. Adams
Conclusion: An American Apotheosis: Sports as Popular Religion by Joseph L. Price

Serving Two Masters: Moravian Brethren in Germany and North Carolina, 1727-1801by Elisabeth W. Sommer (University Press of Kentucky) is a comparative study of religion and culture. The idea for the study that became Serving Two Masters grew outof my own experience as the child growing up in North Carolina with a southern mother and a German father. As a result of the European side of my heritage, I was fascinated by the world represented in the restored Moravian town of Old Salem. As a graduate student in history many years later, this early interest became the catalyst for a study of the Moravians of Salem, North Carolina and those who remained in the Moravian settlements in Germany. The eighteenth century was a time of significant change in the perception of marriage and family relations, the emphasis of reason over revelation, and the spread of political consciousness. The Unity of the Brethren (or Moravian Brethren in England and America), experienced the resulting tensions firsthand as they organized their protective religious settlements in Germany and America. While the group's leadership usually associated the Enlightenment with rebellion and religious skepticism (therefore a bad thing), the younger Brethren were drawn to its message of individual autonomy and creative expression. Serving Two Masters looks at the impact of this generational and cultural change among Moravians on both sides of the Atlantic and examines the resulting debate over the definition of freedom and faith.

The Next Religious Establishment by Eldon Eisenach (Rowman & Littlefield) (paperback) America cannot survive without a common faith according to Eisenach. History has taught that national identity and political order require voluntary religious and civic organizations. Following the social, political, and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, Americans are now engaged in a struggle to determine the future of our nation's character and destiny. So argues prominent political theorist Eisenach in this brilliant and controversial new book. Contentious debates over multiculturalism, church-state relations, and immigration illustrate America's current identity crisis. Creating a common vision for America is no easy task but Eisenach describes how the moral and spiritual foundations of a new, coherent, American identity and faith are already emerging. As in the past, the next religious establishment's primary expression will be a political and cultural order that mediates and integrates personal, ethnic, religious, and civic identities. The Next Religious Establishment alerts readers to the changing landscape of America's identity and invites us to participate in its redefinition. This book may profoundly alter the way political theorists, intellectual historians, and theologians conceptualize America's past, present, and future.

SHOPPING FOR FAITH: American Religion in the New
Millennium by Richard P. Cimino, Don Lattin ($25.00, hardcover, 224 pages, Jossey-Bass Publishers; ISBN: 0787941700) PICTURE

The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world and has been for a long time. What has changed is the environment in which we hold and practice our faith. American religion flourishes in a consumer culture and presents us with a bewildering array of choices as we navigate the shopping mall of faith.

In SHOPPING FOR FAITH, Cimino and Lattin identify dozens of trends that will shape American religion in the next century. They bring together the latest research with intimate portraits of Americans describing their beliefs, their religious heritage and their spiritual search. From this account emerges a fascinating landscape of religious life encompassing individual spirituality. the institutions of religious life, and the interaction between religion and society.

With warmth and style the authors document how consumerism shapes religious practice from conservative evangelical worship to the most esoteric New Age workshop. They show how spiritual experience is replacing religious doctrine as the driving force in the free market of faith, how Baby Boomers and GenXers are rediscovering traditional faith, and how megachurches and small groups are providing new homes for spiritual seeking.

Cimino and Lattin explore how secular spirit spirituality is changing the way Americans work, play, and express their sexuality. They examine how science. medicine, and the media are finding religion; how religious groups are playing a greater role in social movements; and how new religious movements and apocalyptic groups will flourish in the new millennium. SHOPPING FOR FAITH is full of useful information for anyone interested in what influences modern American religious practices.

SHOPPING FOR FAITH is more than report about recent developments, it is also an open line to what's new in religion. Its companion CD-ROM enables readers to monitor religious trends via the Internet. Containing the book's entire text, fully searchable and keyword hotlinked the SHOPPING FOR FAITH for Faith CD-ROM connect. readers from key terms in the book to resources on the World Wide Web. These web resources links to related sites and current news stories are researched and maintained by TheLinkLibrary.com. This innovative feature is sure to keep you apprised of the latest offerings in America's spiritual supermarket into the next century. See guide to cults.


RICHARD CIMINO is editor and publisher of the much quoted newsletter, Religion Watch (www.religionwatch.com), which monitors trends and research in contemporary religion. He has worked extensively as a researcher and freelance writer for various publications, including Christian Century and Religion News Service. He is the author of Against the Stream: The Adoption of Traditional Christian Faiths by Young Adults

DON LATTIN is the award-winning religion writer for the San Francisco Chronicle (www.sfgate.com/chronicle/lattin). Over the past twenty years he has interviewed thousands of Americans about their religious heritage and spiritual search. He was a fellow at the Program in Religious Studies for Journalists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has also taught religion reporting at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

RETELLING U.S. RELIGIOUS HISTORY: edited by Thomas A. Tweed ($13.95, paper, 302 pages, notes index, University of California Press

0-520-20570-7 )


Tweed has assembled an extraordinary group of scholars to offer alternative versions and perspectives of American religious histories. The sum of the work is that the old narrative certainties of denomional histories fall far short of portraying the real social and cultural history of Americans and their religions.

RETELLING U.S. RELIGIOUS HISTORY makes us rethink our assumptions about religious history and shows us how to look at religion and hear different stories. The attempt is revolutionary for it proposes nothing reshaping of the way that American religious history is understood and recounted.. The range of these essays is extraordinary. They encompass, race, colonization, gender, and interreligious exchange, as well as a number of geographical sites, including the Deep South, Far West, and the Canadian border. And they discuss a wide range of groups, from Pueblo Indians and Russian Orthodox to Japanese Buddhists, and Southern Baptists. Together, the essays provide new angles to America’s rich complex religions. This work offers alternative margins and perspectives to any general history of American religion.

Thomas A. Tweed is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has also written the hidly regarded study: The American Encounter With Buddhism, 1844-1912 : Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent.

THE CRISIS IN THE CHURCHES: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe by Robert Wuthnow ($30.00, hardcover, 291 pages, notes, bibliography, index,  Oxford University Press, ISBN: 0-19-511020-X )

America’s churches are in serious financial difficulty. Clergy salaries are lagging. Staff are being laid off. New programs are being postponed. Plans for renovations are being scaled back, and the desperate needs in the community- are going unmet. These problems have gone largely unnoticed by outsiders and by the people in the pews. But they signal a severe crisis for the future of American religion unless they are understood and addressed. Robert Wuthnow, a leading social commentator on religious life in America, asserts that the steady drop in donations, volunteering, and personal involvement is a direct result of a spiritual crisis — a crisis caused in large part by the clergy ‘s failure to address the close relationships between faith and money, work, investment, and economic justice.

Wuthnow offers a searching, study of this financial crisis and the spiritual vacuum that has silently grown worse offer the past decade. Wuthnow lets the churches speak for themselves. Quoting extensively--from interviews with clergy and laity in 60 Protestant and Catholic congregations throughout the America, and drawing from the texts of over 200 sermons, from church financial records, and a national surveys. What emerges is that parishioners often feel the church does not care about what happen from Monday to Friday, offers no guidance in their most pressing day-to-day concerns, yet always seems to be asking for more money.

Clergy for their part say they hesitate to talk about finances because they know "the money question’’ makes people uncomfortable. But failure to raise the subject often makes it necessary to cut the very programs and services — like questions about social justice and the needs of the poor--that middle-class parishioners desire and would support! Wuthnow argues that to survive, churches must find ways to administer to the economic concerns of their middle-class parishioners. Indeed, of every $1,000 received by churches, $900 comes from people who work in middle-class occupations. Clearly, anything that motivates middle-class members to become more involved will strengthen a church’s financial well-being and capacity to serve its people.

Although the situation is critical, Wuthnow finds much cause for hope. He suggests specific ways in which these problems can be addressed, and points to ideas and programs that some churches have enacted to challenge their members to think differently about work and money and giving. Parishioners sometimes respond positively when clergy speak boldly and concretely about matters about faith and finance, and some churches have formed small groups whose members meet regularly to discuss issues of spirituality, work, personal finances, and stewardship.

A serious and sympathetic examination of the crisis behind the stained glass, THE CRISIS IN THE CHURCHES is a thought-provoking volume that will be highly valuable both practically and as moral support to clergy, parishioners.

REDEEMING CULTURE: American Religion in an Age of Science by James Gilbert ($28.95, cloth, 407 pages, notes, index, University of Chicago Press, ISBN: 0-226-29320-3 )

Beginning in 1925 with the infamous Scopes trial, Gilbert traces nearly forty years of competing religious and scientific loyalties. Gilbert explores the many ways religious belief has suffused the ‘secular’ and ‘scientific’ culture of twentieth-century America. From William Jennings Bryan to the 1962 Seattle Exposition, Gilbert’s examples are fresh, original, and invariably well-chosen to illuminate his inquiry. Redeeming Culture is a perceptive and rewarding work by a keen observer of the cultural and intellectual currents that have shaped modern America.

In the opening pages of this fascinating history, we see William Jennings Bryan ponying up $5 to join the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was inspired by the spirit of populism to believe that science should belong to everyone. As beneficiaries of so many unprecedented scientific achievements throughout this century, one might think that Americans would have replaced religion with science as both popular icon and dominant process of inquiry. But religion has persisted, stubbornly and belligerently, remaining a powerful and influential cultural force. In this well written book James Gilbert examines the ongoing confrontation between science and religion within modern American culture.

During the twentieth century scientific and technological achievement has advanced. Its benefits to quality of life in this century has revolutionized American life and culture. In such an age, one might expect science to supplant traditional religion as both a process of inquiry and a popular icon. But religion has persisted, stubbornly and belligerently, remaining a powerful and influential cultural force. In this intriguing study, Gilbert examines the historical confrontation between modern science and religion as these disparate, sometimes hostile modes of thought have clashed in the arena of American culture. His evidence shows that Americans have deeply divided loyalties as well as divided minds about the value of both.

AMERICAN CATHOLIC: The Saints and Sinner who Built America’s Most Powerful Church by Charles R. Morris ($27.50, hardcover, 511 pages, notes, index, Times Books ISBN: 08129-2049-X )

The rise of Catholicism from an insignificant sect in the early nineteenth century to America’s largest and most influential Church is a story filled with a cast of immensely colorful characters. Some were great and imposing. Others were comic, a few even shocking and sinister. Charles Morris recounts the rich story of the rise of the Catholic Church in America with an acute eye for the telling detail and the crucial turning points. Some of the key characters include:

  • JOHN HUGHES, the archbishop of New York from 1838 to 1864, who threatened to burn the city down if nativists attacked his churches. He was a hero to the masses fleeing Ireland. His militant, unapologetic brand of Catholicism set the tone for the American Church for well over a hundred years.
  • CARDINAL WILLIAM O. CONNEEE, a kind of Gilded Age buccaneer of churchmen, who ran the Church in Boston like a Cornelius Vanderbilt or a Jay Gould.
  • DOROTHY DAY, the political radical who may have been "the most significant, interesting, and influential person in the history of American Catholicism."
  • DENNIS DOUGHERTY, God’s bricklayer, a cardinal who ruled his Philadelphia diocese like "a grizzly in a cave."
  • HONORA REMES, a nun who serves as the pastor of the cathedral parish in Saginaw, Michigan, and whose "warmth, energy, and empathy light up her church."

AMERICAN CATHOLIC is not only about the saints and sinners who built the Church, but also the story of how it became the country’s dominant cultural force. By the 1950s, no other institution could match its impact on unions, movies, or even popular kitsch. Protestant leaders feared the Church would "Catholicize" the entire nation. But Catholicism was always as much a culture as a religion, and the Church visibly floundered when the big-city-based Catholic culture suddenly broke down, just about the time John Kennedy became the country’s first Catholic president.

The last section of the book explores the Church’s continuing struggle to come to terms with secular, pluralist America and the theological, sexual, doctrinal authority, and gender issues that keep tearing it apart. But, surprisingly enough, Morris’s grassroots tour—from ultraconservative Lincoln, Nebraska, to more open, experimental dioceses in Saginaw and Seattle—finds Catholicism alive and well, even flourishing, at the parish level.

AMERICAN CATHOLIC is a tour de force, as important for Catholics who want a better understanding of their roots as for non-Catholics interested in the powerful forces that have shaped American society. The work is well written and uncommonly humorous.

THE SMOKE OF SATAN: Conservative and Traditionalist Dissent in Contemporary American Catholicism by Michael W. Cuneo ($27.50, hardcover, 315 pages, notes, index, Oxford UniversityPress, ISBBN: 0-19-511350-0

At the site of the Vatican Pavilion at the old World’s Fair grounds in Queens, New York, where the late Veronica Lueken for years came to receive messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary, her followers still gather with apocalyptic expectancy before a portable statue of the Virgin. They are convinced that virtually the entire world, including the great majority of Catholics, will soon perish in a horrible chastisement, and that they alone will be saved. In the theological underground of American Catholicism, mostly hidden from public view, the followers of Veronica are just a few among the many who regard both the broader society and the broader church as irredeemably corrupt. Now, Michael Cuneo’s THE SMOKE OF SATAN brings these groups vividly to life, shedding valuable light on the current state of Catholicism in North America—and, more generally, on religion in our society.

Images on television and in the popular media have made the Christian right a household concept—but what that usually means is the Protestant Christian right. Cuneo’s insightful, provocative study highlights the equally vigorous though less well-known Catholic counterparts, ranging from the Marianists, such as the followers of "Blessed Veronica" of Bayside, to picketers at abortion clinics across the United States and Canada (militant lay Catholics who believe that "public witness" is a vocational enterprise of the highest order, one which the vast majority of bishops, priests, and nuns are too lacking in faith and nerve to perform themselves); from separatists who believe that even Rome itself has fallen and that true Catholics should withdraw and form alternate communities, to Latin Mass advocates who believe the reforms of Vatican II are the work of Satan himself. These American Catholics are united by a common conviction: in the space of just three decades, the mainstream Catholic church in the United States and elsewhere has fallen into alarming decline, and the task of preserving authentic Catholicism (and thus Christianity itself) from outright extinction has fallen to small bands of the truly faithful. As Cuneo draws striking portraits of these faithful few, he also provides some fascinating asides on contemporary issues, including an innovative analysis of the ideological relationship of right-wing Catholic groups with the militia movement and a provocative assessment of militant Catholic prolife activism.

In 1972, speaking in the aftermath of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI said "the smoke of Satan has entered by some crack into the temple of God." In this first full-scale account of Roman Catholic fundamentalism, Cuneo details what these dissenters believe the "smoke of Satan" to be, and what they plan to do to halt its spread. Cuneo’s profiles of these right-wing groups and the various strategies they have adopted in attempting to carry out this task make for one of the most fascinating stories in contemporary American religion.

Professor Goodall, head of the Department of Communication at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, offers us a refined look at the everyday practices that create community and meaning in our actions. His theoretical position shows rich appreciation of culture as acts of communication.

DIVINE SIGNS: Connecting Spirit to Community by H. L. Goodall, Jr. ($19.95, paper, 292 pages, appendixes, references, index, Southern Illinois University Press, P.O. Box 3697, Carbondale, Illinois 62902-3697, ISBN 0-8093-2025-8)

DIVINE SIGNS is the concluding volume of the ethnographic trilogy about the communicative tensions in everyday American cultural life that H. L. Goodall, Jr. began with CASING A PROMISED LAND The Autobiography of an Organizational Detective as Cultural Ethnographer, EXPANDED EDITION (Paper, ISBN 0-8093-1942-X) and continued with LIVING IN THE ROCK N ROLL MYSTERY Reading Context, Self, and Others as Clues (Cloth, ISBN 0-8093-1610-2).

In this concluding work, the conditions for grasping these tensions are predicated in a historical and mythological drama. The major theoretical innovations delineated in the appendixes show how power is the personification of the modern as rational and dominant. The other is the personification of the postmodernism as contra-rational and subversive, And spirit is the unifying power that is capable of integrating our disparate selves from perilously splintered publics into cooperative communities.
In this study, the locality for the explorations of communication patterns in community is the area around Pickens and Oconee Counties, South Carolina. Here Goodall notes the contents of public messages. Everyday street signs, business advertisements on billboards, signs that announce church themes, Internet postings, and other forms of public communication that invite private meanings are noted. They are tabulated and read as rhetorical invitations to participate in the myths and mysteries of community.
Using these themes discoverable in such public forms of communication, Goodall deconstructs a variety of communal experiences. From annual community celebrations to weekly therapy sessions in the local beauty salons to the fall audience rituals of Clemson University football games, Goodall teases out the hidden messages of community to gain a deeper appreciation of the unifying symbolic orders that frame our meaning universes. These activities enrich the interpretive possibilities of our lives and serve as telling signs of our deeply spiritual connections to each other and to the planet. This communications ethnography offers a closer look at how we actually construct meaning in the everyday that more global considerations often overlook to their own ultimate failure to see the tree because of the forest. George Barna’s THE INDEX OF LEADING SPIRITUAL INDICATORS often speaks in this global fashion that is more myth-making rather than, as he claims, explaining the social facts.
In the last sections of DIVINE SIGNS, Goodall open out his dramatic personifications to larger community questions. The interplay between power, the other, and spirit are read into and against a wide variety of everyday events and communicative acts. Rush Limbaugh and talk radio is examined as the stabilizing force it is by creating a status quo through polarization. Perhaps as long as things remain polarized they will not change. Narratives about angels are seen as ways of sacralizing the need to communicate. Stories about the transformative powers of spiritual practices in organizations is another sign of making what we value a means of reconnecting us to something greater than ourselves. Eventually Goodall concludes by asking the broad question: Where are the themes of this mythological drama leading us? In a near visionary conclusion, Goodall entertains a series of communicative, cultural, and spiritual challenges for us all. He does not offer a ready solution but he holds out hope that there is one that need not be doomsday. Unlike many academic studies, Goodall’s form of address is familiar and witty, at times confessional and usually engaging and entertaining as well as thought provoking and informative. Such varied style makes reading it a joy.

THE INDEX OF LEADING SPIRITUAL INDICATORS: A Statistical Report on the State of Religion in America by George Barna ($10.99, paper, 140 pages, appendixes, Word Publishing ISBN: 0-8499-3603-9)

The spiritual environment in America is changing radically according to well known religious pollster George Barna. The old structured, doctrinaire, authority-based Christianity has become a thing of the past. In its place has emerged a customized, postmodernized form of faith devised to meet primary personal needs and to limit the certainties of rules, absolutes, and biblical authority.
Barna provides a survey of the trends and conditions that show these developments in America of beliefs, institutional connections, donations, corporate religious activity, and private spirituality. The measurements were taken from several nationwide surveys of thousands of respondents. They show changes in conventional customs and applied theology influenced by the current cultural norms that emphasize tolerance, individual autonomy, and a large unchurched and growing non-Christian population.
The data showing these trends are offered with clear and concise commentaries about the major variables on these conditions.
Each section features graphics and indices that show long-term increase or decrease of specific religious perspectives and participation. Among the many findings from Barna’s data are that

  • Only 31 percent of Americans read the Bible regularly.
  • Americans no longer understand religious terms
  • 84 percent don’t know the meaning of The Great Commission
  • Only 37 percent know the meaning of The Gospel.
  • Only three out of ten believe in a literal hell.
  • 40 percent believe in Satan.
  • 44 percent believe that Jesus sinned.

No other book on the market today provides such a compact, yet comprehensive exposition of facts and trends that religious people should know about the state of our culture.
Quick and easy to read, this work should serve as a handy reference for people who want a sense of the state of the nation’s conscience as we approach the end-times.

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