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Posted October 12, 2006

Book: Religion and Politics in the United States
Authors: Kenneth D. Wald and Allison Calhoun-Brown
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Lanham, Maryland. 2006. Pp. 445

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Religion and Politics in the United States, Fifth Edition, offers a comprehensive account of the role of religious ideas, institutions, and communities in American public life. It first explores the nature and persistence of the religion in the United States, its contribution to the founding and the continuing debate over the role of religion in government and law. The book then discusses religious factors as a source of political action; the political attitudes and behavior of American religious traditions; and minority religious communities defined by ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation. This new edition greatly expands coverage of various religious minorities and how religion influences the politics of local communities.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The relationship between church and state represents two sets of problems for democratic governments. On the most fundamental level, governments must decide what legal status to grant to religious forces. Should government take account of religious sentiments, treat churches as just another type of institution, or try to regulate and control religious activity? The problem is particularly severe when, as in the United States, many types of churches compete for the loyalty of the citizens. In such a situation, “taking account” of the public’s religious sentiment may inflame members of religious minorities and persons who are not religious. Yet by ignoring religion or limiting its public role in the interest of preserving harmony, the government runs the risk of alienating citizens for whom religion is an important source of personal identity.

The second type of church-state problem stems from possible conflicts between religious motivation and behavior in the secular realm. Religions provide guidance about how people should live in their lives. In some cases, religious beliefs may counsel individuals to undertake actions that violate the duly established laws of the state. Government may demand behavior that a church forbids or may prohibit actions that the church requires. In either case, the citizen is forced to choose between loyalty to the public law and loyalty to religious faith. What should be done when church and state provide conflicting guidance about appropriate or permissible behavior?

Table of Contents:

1. A secular society

The puzzle of religious vitality

The persistence of religion

Stability or change?

Possible explanations

Why the United States?

2. Religion in the American context

Understanding religion

Patterns of religious affiliation

Basic political tendencies

3. Religion and American political culture

The Puritan imprint on Colonial thought

Covenant theology and the right to revolt

Puritanism and Democracy: a qualification

“Total depravity” and institutional restraint

One nation under God: A civil religion

Civil religion as a double-edged sword

One of many influences

4. Religion and the State

The genesis of Church-State conflict

Overview of Church-State relations

5. Mobilizing religious interests

6. Religion and political action

7. Religion and public opinion

8. The political mobilization of evangelical Protestants

9. Continuity and change in the religious center: Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and Jews

10. Religion and politics of ethnic and religious minorities

11. The other minorities: women and gay people

12. Religion and American political life