Heaven in the American Imagination

Oxford Univ. Jun. 2011. c.368p. index. ISBN 9780195399073. $29.95. REL
Smith (history, Grove City Coll.; Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush) here focuses on how Americans have portrayed heaven from the time of the Puritans through the first decade of the 21st century. So far, regarding what it has been believed that heaven will offer, certain themes have continued with varying prominence, e.g., communion with and the worship of God, a more perfect life with family members than one had on Earth, social/leisure life, the service of others, and deeper experiences of God; but each cultural period proclaimed its own themes as well. Only as life became more leisured after the Civil War was there fear of boredom in heaven; late 20th-century thought attended increasingly to the earthly and eternal advantages of focusing on heaven; and the 21st century's religious and spiritual diversity is undercutting the prominence of previously consistent themes.
VERDICT This book involves research from a wide variety of sources: the visual and literary arts, the social sciences, religious and devotional sources, and popular culture. Suitable for clergy, scholars, and the general reader, it is highly recommended for those interested in sociology as well as in religion.
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