Gods in America: Religious Pluralism in the United States

With the constant barrage of updates on our respective fields of interest by way of Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, or listservs – not to mention good old-fashioned paper catalogs from publishers – it’s always a pleasant surprise to come across a new book that you haven’t seen mentioned anywhere. A few WorldCat search queries recently led me to just such a surprise by pointing to the recently published Gods in America: Religious Pluralism in the United States(Oxford, 2013), an anthology edited by Charles L. Cohen and Ronald L. Numbers. Although I have not yet had a chance to read each and every essay, I thought I would share a few impressions on the volume here.

Gods in America boasts a stunning list of notable contributors: Amanda Porterfield, Thomas Tweed, R. Marie Griffith, Deborah Dash Moore, and many others have essays included in the volume. As is to be expected, the diversity of their interests is reflected in the subjects of the book’s essays. Porterfield offers the first essay of the collection, a historiographical review of the concept of religious pluralism and its historical relationship to the academic study of religion entitled “Religious Pluralism in Religious Studies.” She traces two currents of scholarly attitudes toward religious pluralism as both an object of inquiry and an American ideology or practice: one that has sanctioned an idea of religious pluralism as a positive guiding principle for understanding American religion (including scholars such as Catherine Albanese, Diane Eck, and William Hutchison), and another stream that has been more critical of the concept and of the role the academy may play in bolstering its cultural clout (D.G. Hart, Russell McCutcheon, Timothy Fitzgerald, and others are included in this second group). Porterfield’s thoughtful review of these scholars will be of interest to anyone who wrestles with the knotty concept of religious pluralism in their own work.

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