America’s Religious Wars: The Embattled Heart of Our Public Life

Yale Univ. Jun. 2019. 352p. notes. index. ISBN 9780300213867. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780300245370. REL
How might people and groups holding significant differences in their understanding of religion and other issues communicate more effectively and constructively with one another? This is a key question Sands (American studies, Univ. of Hawai’i at Manoa) addresses in her new book. The author notes that religion is a complicated subject, entailing not only beliefs and practices but also personal identity and background, convictions, and concerns. Also, religion in individual and public life has been understood in two different and often conflicting ways: as a wall, where religion is private, and as a foundation, where religion serves a public role. Thus, religion-talk is not just about religion, and discussions focusing on it can result in polarization. Yet, meaningful disagreements about issues are important when living in a democracy. Sands addresses this topic by focusing on specific narratives from American history, such as George Washington’s conflicts with Quakers, Mormon and Catholic struggles for equality, Theodore Roosevelt and the Lakota’s conflicting understanding of land, and the debates over creation and evolution.
VERDICT Those interested in American religious and political history and religious and cultural wars will find this book to be highly informative.

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