Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression. 2nd ed. Edited by Gary Laderman and Luis Leon. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015. 4 vols. Acid free $399 (ISBN: 978-1-91069-109-3). E-book Available (978-1-61069-110-9), call for pricing.

The second edition of this work has been expanded to four volumes and has increased its coverage greatly. Although the editors state clearly that the work is not meant to be comprehensive, it does provide an excellent, and general, overview of religion within American culture. Each volume, in many ways, can stand alone, but together they provide a wonderful introduction to the state of religion in the United States and its influence on American culture.

Volume 1 focuses on ethnicity, institutions, and communities. The broad topics include African American religions, Asian American religious communities, Buddhism in America, Catholicism in America, Hinduism in America, Islam in America, Judaism in America, Latina/Latino religious communities, Native American religions and politics, New Age, new religious traditions, Orthodox Christianity, and Protestantism in America. Under each major topic are from four to six related articles. For example, under the section on Asian American religious communities are separate entries for Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Pacific Islander, and South Asian religious communities in America. Under New Age are shorter articles on channeling, goddess spirituality, New Age bestsellers, Raëlian Movement, Whiteshamanism, and Wicca. Thus, the full range of organized religion is covered with the exception of groups such as Unitarian-Universalists, atheists, and humanists. Many of the topics from this work, especially on specific religions, are covered in a variety of other resources such as the Encyclopedia of Religion in America (CQ Press, 2010) which provide greater historical depth. The strengths of the articles in the current set are their currency and their specificity, especially as related to popular expression of religion in the United States.

Volume 2 covers broad, general topics that are not covered in other encyclopedias of religion in the United States. These topics include the body, death, generations, material culture, popular culture, popular theodicies, public theologies and political culture, ritual and performance, sacred space, sacred time, science, sexuality, and violence. These general articles and the more specific entries associated with them are among the more interesting readings within the work. The entries are as varied as Asian body practices (such as T’ai Chi), piercing, autopsies, generation X, religion in the news, evil in the twentieth century, feminisms, tourism, shopping malls, the fourth of July—called “the most hallowed of days” in the “calendar of American civil religion,” (708)—evolution, masturbation, and lynching. While providing interesting reading, there are also idiosyncrasies, such as the exclusion of yoga and Reiki from Asian body practices.

Volume 3 is the most difficult to characterize since it represents a hodgepodge of information that, while interesting, seem supplementary. It includes sections on tradition, diversity, and popular expression each of which includes articles of substantial length. Tradition includes articles such as “Religion after 9/11: An Ambiguous Legacy” and “The Sex Abuse Scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.” Under Diversity are articles such as “Latina and Latino Muslim Religious Cultures,” “Interfaith Marriage from Colonial Times to the Present,” and “The New Atheism.” In the section on Popular Expressions can be found articles on “Paranormal America,” “Religion in Prison,” and “Travel and Religion.”

The final volume provides more than eighty primary documents from throughout American history. The first document is “Privileges and Prerogatives Granted by Their Catholic Majesties to Christopher Columbus (1492)” and the most recent is President Obama’s first inaugural address. In between are a wide variety of documents from the Maryland Toleration Act to an excerpt from McGuffey’s Reader, from the notice of Georgia’s secession from the union to Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech. This volume also provides a compiled bibliography of works cited in all the entries and a comprehensive index.

Comprised of the work of over 170 contributors, this set displays a remarkable consistency of tone and style and provides a marvelous and very interesting discourse on the place and role of religion in American life and culture. It covers historically relevant overviews while also delving into specific subject areas. Thus, it will be an excellent addition to most libraries but especially for academic collections that support courses in American history, religion, and popular culture.—Gregory A. Crawford, Interim Director, School of Humanities, Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown, Pennsylvania


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