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Essential weekend reading: LDS in the USA

January 27th, 2012 by admin

With Mitt Romney doing well in the Republican race, many have begun asking, "Is America ready for a Mormon President?" The fact that this question is being asked is one of the many reasons Lee Trepanier and Lynita Newswander wrote their new book LDS in the USA: Mormonism and the Making of American Culture (February 1).

In anticipation of the book's release next week, here is a short excerpt from the introduction, titled "For Another Thousand Years."

The role of Mormonism in America has been simultaneously both exaggerated and undervalued. On the one hand, Mormons are seen with suspicion as part of a secret organization that seeks domination over the United States; on the other hand, they are marginalized and often excluded from national conversations about religion, culture, and politics in America. The fact is that neither account is accurate: Mormons have played a substantial role in the shaping of the social, cultural, political, and religious makeup of the United States, a role that is neither conspiratorial nor marginal and that has not been properly acknowledged in the academy or by the general public. This book is intended to remedy this deficiency. In it, we will explore the contributions Mormonism has made to American civilization and to the values that civilization claims to espouse.

When we speak of American civilization, we are attesting to those qualities that make the United States unique as a social, cultural, religious, and political entity. For example, the sociologist Claude Fischer argues that community (family, church, job, and nation), abundance (material wealth, improved health, social opportunities, political freedoms, and self-mastery), and volunteerism (civic engagement) are at the core of the American character. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. contends that the right to revolution, federalism, the consent of the governed, equality of women, the melting pot, freedom of worship, public education, voluntary giving, technology, and evolutionary progress are the characteristics of American civilization; while Harvard President Charles Eliot points to peacekeeping, religious tolerance, universal suffrage, the practice of political freedom, the welcoming of newcomers, and the diffusion of material abundance as the cornerstones of the American experience.1

The role of Mormonism in American civilization has been shaped by, as well as exposed the limits of, some of the values that Americans continue to espouse: religious tolerance, social pluralism, federalism, separation of church and state, the definition and importance of marriage, and Christianity. Mormons have been instrumental in representing and challenging these values in the realms of popular culture, the family, politics, and religion in the United States. As we will see, Mormons have not been completely accepted in mainstream American society. To a certain extent, the pattern of suspicion, accommodation, and eventual acceptance they have experienced is familiar to immigrant groups arriving in the United States, but what makes the Mormon experience unique is that they began within the United States and became outsiders within their own country. That is, the Mormons were forced to flee the United States—to become emigrants—before they became accommodated and accepted.


1 Charles William Eliot, "Five American Contributions to Civilization," in The Oxford Book of American Essays, ed. Brander Matthews (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1914), 208–307; Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., "Our Ten Contributions to Civilization," Atlantic, March 1959, 65–69; Claude Fischer, Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). Other works to consult about American civilization are Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); David Hollinger, The American Intellectual Tradition, 4th ed., 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001–5).

For a PDF version of the full introduction, click here to download.

If you would like to request a copy of LDS in the USA for review or inquire about an interview with the authors, please contact Billy Collins at Billy_Collins@baylor.edu.

New books this month: Nihilism, ethics, foreign affairs, and Christian Heritage

January 6th, 2012 by admin

In one of our happiest Januarys yet, four brand new books are hitting the stores this month. And, for those professors out there, all of them are prime reading for your future classes.

And, here they are.

Shows about Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture

Thomas S. Hibbs

Probing deep into the canon of all things screen, Thomas Hibbs uncovers the disturbing truths about the contemporary media landscape. Beneath the shallow facade of evil lies the Nietzschean framework of nihilism—a nothingness that undermines notions of right and wrong while destroying any sense of meaning or purpose. Yet what makes this nihilism even more profound is Nietzsche’s warning that liberal democracies are especially susceptible to such nothingness. In his examples, Hibbs shows how the popular story lines and characters of our time often rule out any possibility of making a "right" decision. Ultimately, Shows about Nothing toes the line between something and nothing to suggest how popular culture can move beyond nihilism.

"Hibbs knows Hollywood—from its self-indulgent nihilism to its capacity of art that nourishes the soul. Shows about Nothing offers both a perceptive analysis of the artistic merits of a wide range of film and TV shows and a diagnosis of their cultural significance."
—William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist and, most recently, Dimiter

An Introduction to Christian Ethics: History, Movements, People

Harry J. Huebner

In this pedagogically astute introduction, Harry Huebner approaches Christian ethics as theology embodied in the lives of real people. And he maintains that matters of justice, poverty, power, and violence too often go without the appropriate Christian response—of the "Word becoming Flesh." In this comprehensive volume, Huebner skillfully addresses the ethical challenges raised by social philosophers as well as Latin American, African American, Aboriginal, feminist, and peace theologians. An Introduction to Christian Ethics spans the centuries—from Athens to contemporary America and beyond—and collects some of the most influential voices in Christian ethics on both classical theories and contemporary moral issues. Huebner's careful presentation allows each of these voices—and their distinctive cultural settings—to ring through history and across social boundaries. Huebner provides teachers and students with a solid foundation upon which to build a faithful approach to ethical thought and practice.

"By placing the great figures of Christian tradition historically and biographically, Huebner illumines both their unique particularity and the ways in which they are models for today. Readers will be rewarded with new insights into 'thinkers' who come alive as 'believers' and 'practitioners.'"
—Lisa Sowle Cahill, Monan Professor of Theology, Boston College

"Huebner's introduction presents an accurate, reliable, and comprehensive historical argument. Truly impressive in scope, it offers a recovery of Jesus in Christian ethics that is ecclesiologically engaged. I can only celebrate this huge accomplishment!"
—Glen Stassen, Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics, Fuller Theological Seminary

Religion and Foreign Affairs: Essential Readings

Dennis R. Hoover & Douglas M. Johnston

Dennis Hoover and Douglas Johnston here present the writings of leading scholars, revealing distinctive approaches to religion and global politics. Religion and Foreign Affairs offers readers a broad selection of essays, ranging across cultures and worldviews. From the ethics of force and peacemaking to globalization and American foreign policy, this compendium provides a solid introduction to the field of religion and foreign affairs that will stimulate discussion and encourage intelligent practice.

"An impressive, timely compilation of some of the best writings on religion and foreign affairs. Hoover and Johnston provide a critical overview and a helpful division of the articles into key issues areas, including secularization, democracy, conflict, development, human rights, globalization and peacemaking. Students and teachers of religion and global politics will find the volume immensely valuable as a unified source for grappling with the complexities of this topic."
—Monica Duffy Toft, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Director, Initiative on Religion in International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Exploring Christian Heritage: A Reader in History and Theology 

C. Douglas Weaver, Rady Roldán-Figueroa & Brandon Frick

Exploring Christian Heritage provides students and teachers with a rich and substantial introduction to the texts that have shaped the Christian faith. Including significant works penned by Augustine, Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin, and Karl Barth, among others, this collection also highlights essential movements—from the second to the twentieth centuries—often glossed over in primary sources readers. From Pentecostalism and the Baptists to feminism and religious liberty movements, Exploring Christian Heritage succinctly integrates the most influential voices throughout Christian history and theology into one invaluable and accessible resource.

"Exploring Christian Heritage meets a vital need for those who teach and study church history and theology. I highly recommend this book."
—W. Glenn Jonas, Charles B. Howard Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of Religion, Campbell University

"The long and varied history of the church presents a dilemma for professors and students alike; the former wish to display the riches of the Christian tradition while the latter want to get to the point. Exploring Christian Heritage ably accomplishes both tasks by presenting the key ideas in primary documents from a broad representation of leading thinkers. Outside of the classroom, this book provides pastors with a wealth of sermon illustrations and laypersons with a greater sense of belonging to the larger family of God."
—Anthony Chute, Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Church History, California Baptist University, Riverside, California

Monsters in America is now available

October 14th, 2011 by admin

The wait is finally over! This weekend, a haunting has come to your bookstore. Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting by W. Scott Poole is now available in time for a fun Halloween read. 

Beginning next week, Scott will also be traveling to bookstores and other awesome venues, including the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, signing books and talking about monsters. Track his progress and find out when he'll be visiting a city near you at monstersinamerica.com

Do you have a book club or group that would like to read Monsters in America? Check out our group and classroom guides at monstersinamerica.com as well, and find out how you can schedule Scott to speak with your group. 

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