Religion in America

A Political History

Denis Lacorne. Translated by George Holoch. Foreword by Tony Judt

Columbia University Press

Religion in America

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Pub Date: June 2014

ISBN: 9780231151016

264 Pages

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Pub Date: August 2011

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Religion in America

A Political History

Denis Lacorne. Translated by George Holoch. Foreword by Tony Judt

Columbia University Press

Denis Lacorne identifies two competing narratives defining the American identity. The first narrative, derived from the philosophy of the Enlightenment, is essentially secular. Associated with the Founding Fathers and reflected in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, this line of reasoning is predicated on separating religion from politics to preserve political freedom from an overpowering church. Prominent thinkers such as Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Jean-Nicolas Démeunier, who viewed the American project as a radical attempt to create a new regime free from religion and the weight of ancient history, embraced this American effort to establish a genuine "wall of separation" between church and state.

The second narrative is based on the premise that religion is a fundamental part of the American identity and emphasizes the importance of the original settlement of America by New England Puritans. This alternative vision was elaborated by Whig politicians and Romantic historians in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is still shared by modern political scientists such as Samuel Huntington. These thinkers insist America possesses a core, stable "Creed" mixing Protestant and republican values. Lacorne outlines the role of religion in the making of these narratives and examines, against this backdrop, how key historians, philosophers, novelists, and intellectuals situate religion in American politics.
Lacorne is an acute yet friendly observer of US politics and culture. The parts of the book that form a straightforward essay on religion in America are wise, sympathetic, and vividly written. But his weaving of this account into the story of France's long obsession with America is fascinating in its own right, and casts light on the larger theme. Sorting through the insights and misconceptions of his predecessors is unexpectedly revealing: quite often funny, too. Financial Times
Anyone interested in religion and politics in the U.S. stands to be deeply informed by Lacorne's lucid, intelligent book. Booklist
Forceful and intelligent. Kirkus Reviews
it surveys its subject with grace and insight, as well as a lot of information. Jim Cullen, Cutting Edge
It's an edifying read for someone seeking grounding in the subject as well as a user-friendly course adoption. Jim Cullen, History News Network
This book provides a much welcomed viewpoint from outside our ongoing religious squabbles in American politics. Lacorne admirably avoids oversimplification while remaining eminently readable. Library Journal
A fascinating and noteworthy study of American religion. Eldon J. Eisenach, Journal of American History
On a shelf groaning with books on politics and religion, Denis Lacorne's study will stand out for its distinct perspective and erudition. Thomas E. Buckley, American Historical Review
The book is quite thorough, considering the substantial historical period being covered. Examples—from legal cases to travel narratives, public school curricula changes to political pulpits—are expertly chosen, and the resulting exploration is as concerned with the specifics of the topics as it is a general commentary on broad overarching concepts. Saliha Chattoo, Studies in Religion
Suitable for college-level political history and religion holdings alike…a fine scholarly assessment and history, this is a recommendation for any college-level collection! Midwest Book Review
Foreword, by Tony Judt
Introduction
1. America, the Land of Religious Utopias
2. The Rehabilitation of the Puritans
3. Evangelical Awakenings
4. The Bible Wars
5. Religion
6. A Godless America
7. The Rise of the Religious Right
8. The Wall of Separation Between Church and State
Epilogue: Obama's Faith-Friendly Secularism
Postscript
Appendix: The Religious Composition of the United States
Notes
Bibliography

About the Author

Denis Lacorne (PhD, Political Science, Yale) is University Professor of History at l'Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris and Director of Research at CERI-Sciences-Po. He is the author of (translated into English) Religion in America: A Political History (Columbia, 2011) and The Rise and Fall of Anti-Americanism: A Century of French Perception (Palgrave, 1990), the editor of The Measure and Mismeasure of Populations: The Statistical Use of Ethnic and Racial Categories in Multicultural Societies (Palgrave, 2011), and the co-editor (with Tony Judt) of With Us or Against Us: Studies in Global Anti-Americanism (Palgrave, 2005) and (with Tony Judt) The Politics of Language: Identity Politics in a Multilingual Age (NYU, 2004).