Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Top 10 Books on Religion and the Founding

One of the keys to having a successful and enjoyable blog is to gain the participation of as many people as possible, in as many different ways imaginable. Fortunately for us at American Creation, we have benefited from a plethora of excellent blog posts over the past few years. In addition, we have also been blessed with a very lively and diverse comments forum (a special thanks to all who make that a success. You know who you are). But these are far from the only way to garner support.

I've been thinking over the past few weeks of how we might get more participation from our readers and contributors. Of course, blogging is a voluntary hobby that is meant to be enjoyed so any "forceful" effort on my part to boost participation is likely to end in failure, which leads me to the following proposal:

I would like to suggest that readers and contributors list their favorite books on the topic of religion and the American founding. If you would, please just take a moment to list your favorite books in the comments section of this post, along with your reason for the selection. I will then select the top 5 or 6 vote-getters and list them in a voting poll on the right-hand side of this blog where readers will be able to cast their vote.

In the end, I am hoping that we can help to introduce blog polls to this site as an additional way to promote participation. In addition to your favorite books, please also feel free to suggest future poll questions.

Anyway, here's hoping that this will catch on. Let the voting begin!


Tim Polack said...

I'll bite the bullet since I like the idea. Here are six entries in order.

America's God - Mark Noll - This gives a grounding to religion (theology) in this country before, during and after the founding, which I think would be particularly helpful in our discussion here at A.C.

Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction - John Fea

The Myth of American Religious Freedom - David Sehat

Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty - Steven Waldman

The Search for Christian America - Noll and Marsden - Good for relating many religion and founding issues to today's cultural situation.

Articles of Faith, Articles of Peace: The Religious Liberty Clauses and the American Public Philosophy - by James Davison Hunter and Os Guinness - this is a bit conservative, but gives some decent ideas for what some positive change might look like if our country is to continue to honor the first amendment to it's fullest meaning.

Naum said...

Head and Heart by Gary Wills

American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon by Stephen Prothero

The Myth of American Religious Freedom by David Sehat

Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to "The Passion of the Christ" by Stephen J. Nichols

The Old Religion in a New World: The History of North American Christianity by Mark Noll

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch

/* American History, but not necessarily America founding focused (at least 1-n chapters devoted to, like listed above) */

God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right by Daniel Williams

Jesus and The Disinherited by Howard Thurman

/* Other books on church history */

Covenant Economics: A Biblical Vision of Justice for All by Richard Horsley

The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (emersion: Emergent Village resources for communities of faith) by Phyllis Tickle

Turning Points by Mark Noll

Re-thinking Christianity by Keith Ward

Phil Johnson said...

I don't think I have any favorite books regarding America's Founding from a religious or historical point of view.
I need a large variety of inputs in order to gain any understanding--to get some depth from as many angles as possible. I find that here.
Some books of interest which bear on the subjects to me:
American Puritaqnism-Faith and Practice by Darrett B. Rutman; J. B. Lippencott & Company--About the religious beginnings.
Freethinkers-A history of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby; a Metropolitan/Owl Book. A secularist's approach to America's religiosity.
Liberty and Freedom-A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas by David Hackett Fischer; Oxford University Press. A good primer, I think.
And a dozen more--some that may seem to be off topic; but, which I think are relative.

James Stripes said...

The Federalist Papers Start with the primaries.

I suspect that when I get around to reading John Fea's book latest book, it will top the list. For the present, however, I rely on some old standards that have the advantage that they've been on my shelf more than two decades, and I have read them:

Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation explicitly addresses religion.

Other texts leave religious issues subordinate to the ideas that were central to to the thinking of the Founders.

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
Henry May, The Enlightenment in America
Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic
Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum

Jonathan Rowe said...

Many of the books mentioned are on my list. I would add James H. Hutson's, A Book of Quotations.

Jonathan Rowe said...

And of course, even though it isn't a book (but I hear soon will be) Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis on The Political Theology of the American Founding.

Brian Franklin said...

Waldman - Founding Faith

Kidd - God of Liberty

McLoughlin - New England Dissent, 1630-1833: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State

Fea - Was American Founded as a Christian Nation?

Noll, Marsden, Hatch - The Search for Christian America

jimmiraybob said...

The Myth of American Religious Freedom by David Sehat

After finishing this book this afternoon, I'd have to put this at the top of the list. It fills in a gap in my understanding of America's religious and political history in a very thought provoking way. One quibble though, i think that the thesis is wrong. American religious freedom is not a myth. At least not yet. American religious freedom is as real as the republic we were given. As Franklin might have put it, "We've given you freedom of conscience, if you can keep it."

Head and Heart by Gary

Most excellent and on the re-read shelf.

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

While not explicitly about religion (as some of the books below) it does give a broad perspective on the colonial political state of mind. See also, American Patriots, American Insurgents by T.H. Breen and

Why We're all Romans; The Roman Contribution to the Western World and Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts; How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers by Carl J. Richard.

Cicero: On Duties by Griffin and Atkins (also versions available online).

From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 by Pauline Maier.

The Godless Constitution; A Moral defense of the Secular State by Kramnick and Moore.

Books that only frame the founding in terms of religion, while important, only present a slice of what the revolution and founding actually represented. It was as much an economic event as anything and often fueled by the zeal for adventure and retribution as for more noble reasons. In my opinion, to understand the influence of religion on the founding you have to also study the non-religious aspects.

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. I bought this book a few months ago, started from the beginning, realized that life was short and am now hopping and skipping about happily (good section of the Peasant's (Farmer's War of 1524–1525 that I've in the past brought into discussion of Luther/resistance theory with KOI). Good reference along with the Romans and Greeks books mentioned above.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Myth of American Religious Freedom by David Sehat

After finishing this book this afternoon, I'd have to put this at the top of the list. It fills in a gap in my understanding of America's religious and political history in a very thought provoking way. One quibble though, i think that the thesis is wrong. American religious freedom is not a myth.

From what I've read of the feedback on Sehat's book, JRB, the biggest objection was that the title didn't match the content of the book.

But there is no question that when the Catholics [Ireland] started hitting our Protestant shores in the mid-1800s, there was bigtime trouble. What I noticed in [secret] deist Tom Paine's Common Sense was the argument that God had established America for "true religion," in other words, Protestantism vs. Catholicism.

I found what I read of Sehat's thesis through his interviews kind of foggy and bland, but I think he was onto something in there somewheres. This was a Protestant nation in some real sense, and I say this based on research, since I have no dog in the fight, not being a Protestant meself.

jimmiraybob said...

The problem that I have with Sehat's thesis - that American religious freedom is a myth - is that it isolates the foundational principle of freedom of conscience from the de facto early hijacking of the American legal system and state coercive powers to promote, protect and preserve a limited Protestant religious perspective. Thus disenfranchising Catholics, Jews, Freethinkers and all others not willing to be coerced.

Of course, the system has been correcting now for quite some time, starting at least in the mid-19th century.

The legacy of the founding is the bedrock principle of the founding; the right to believe according to one's conscience as long as it promotes virtue and preserves the republic. Even if every founder and framer and ratifier was secretly thinking, "for me but not for thee," which is demonstrably untrue, that does not negate or harm the clear goal set forth for a new nation. This single principle may well have been the only thing to hold the Union together in the beginning and ever since.

As I said, Franklin might have intoned that We The People had been given a national government dedicated to preserve and defend the individual's freedom of conscience, if we can keep it.

That there are Americans then and today that are dead set against this principle still does not make it a myth. Maybe he should have titled the book The Goal of American Religious Freedom. Which I think is a better frame for the case he makes.

Phil Johnson said...

Well, JRB, that is one of the most straight forward and easy to understand comments on this subject that I have read at this site. You are right on--even though you never used the word, secular.


jimmiraybob said...

Thanks Phil. I'm still sorting through what I think of the book. Part of his argument is that both liberal and conservative courts have upheld a fiction of unfettered American freedom of religion when in fact there was a decided Protestant hegemony after ratification. In that sense, I'd agree with the title. However, in the broader sense, I think that what I wrote above is correct.

It's funny that you bring up the S word. I was doing some online browsing last night regarding Cicero's influence on the Medieval Humanists (ca. 1400 to 1650) - not to be mixed up with the modern humanists. In that context one of the authors referred to the period/educational movement, with its emphasis on the promise and potential of humanity, as the beginning of modern secularism.

And everybody blames it on the moderns. Take that Richard Dawkins.

Brian Tubbs said...

As a previous poster said, one needs to start with the primary sources when it comes to understanding the role/impact/influence of religion in America's founding. A sampling of must-read original documents are....

*William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England
*Locke's Second Treatise
*The Mayflower Compact
*Various royal charters for the colonies
*The Declaration of Independence
*The various state constitutions and bills of rights
*The U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights
*The Federalist Papers
*Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
*Washington's First Inaugural
*Washington's Farewell Address name just a few