The Best Books in American Religious History That I Read This Year

The Best Books in American Religious History That I Read This Year December 5, 2012

In the wake of Thomas Kidd’s post on his five most compelling religious biographies, I thought I would offer an end-of-the year reading list of my own.  Here are some of the best books (in no particular order) I read this year in the field of American religious history:

John Smolenski, Friends and Strangers: The Making of a Creole Culture in Colonial Pennsylvania. This is now the definitive work on the Quaker founding of Pennsylvania.  It is a fine piece of scholarship that rewards the persistent reader.

Amanda Porterfield, Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation Read it and teach it alongside Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity.  Porterfield offers an alternative narrative to Hatch that focuses on unbelief and doubt.

Susan Matt, Homesickness: An American HistoryThis book does not fall comfortably within the “American Religious History” genre, but it does have some good things to say about religious belief as an antidote to nostalgia.

Ned Landsman, Crossroads of Empire: The Middle Colonies in British North-America. An overview of the middle colonies that takes religion seriously.

Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael, ed., Revolutionary Founders; Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation I found the Jon Butler’s essay on Virginia Baptists, Richard Newman’s essay on Richard Allen, and Wythe Holt’s essay on Herman Husband to be especially good.

Jacques Berlinerblau, How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom. This book is must reading for evangelicals, even though some will chafe at Berlinerblau’s conclusions.  Not your (fundamentalist) grandfather’s “secularism.”

T.H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the PeopleBreen is not immune to the role evangelical Christianity played in ushering in the “revolution of the people.”


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  • Jonathan DH

    In a review of Porterfield I made the same recommendation you did–read Porterfield and Hatch side by side and let their arguments generate debate.

  • John Fea

    I am reviewing Porterfield for the Journal of Southern History, if I ever get around to writing the review!!