Religion and Politics in America: An Encyclopedia of Church and State in American Life. Edited by Frank J. Smith. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2016. 2 vols. Acid free $189 (ISBN 978-1-59884-435-1). E-book available (978-1-59884-436-8), call for pricing.

Religion and Politics in America: An Encyclopedia of Church and State in American Life provides an overview of the relationship between politics and religion in the United States. Smith, president of Tyndale International University, history instructor at Georgia Gwinnett College, and Presbyterian minister, with his collaborators, has created a resource that spans the history of the United States from the colonial era to the present day. The 360 entries in the encyclopedia are arranged alphabetically by topic and are signed by the contributor, and each article includes references for further reading. Cross-references, a chronological time line, and a comprehensive index help to identify particular topics and to facilitate further reading.

Dr. Smith in the introduction states that this work “deal[s] with the religious diversity in the United States . . . and at the same time does not lose sight of the still predominantly Christian orientation of the nation” (xix). The articles bear this position out, as much of the diversity of religious experience in the United States has happened within the last century or so. Topics which span the history of America, as in the essay “Race in America,” for example, generally include at least a mention of Islam and Judaism. Other topics, many historical in nature, such as the entries for the “Great Awakenings” in American Christianity, are more obviously Christian in viewpoint. That being said, there are some topics that are lacking. There is no mention of the Treaty of Tripoli, from 1797, in which it was affirmed that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The Christian eschatological idea of the rapture is covered in the Millennialism entry, but the index term for “rapture,” which is probably more well known by most readers, does not reference Millennialism but rather the entry for the Left Behind book series. And while the section on Islam in America is fairly long, the section on Jews is America is much shorter and does not adequately describe the different denominations of Judaism or explain their tenets. Other religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have entries but rarely find their way into other essays dealing with broader topics such as race, immigration, or political participation. This in undoubtedly a consequence, in part, of the encyclopedia format, which emphasizes breadth of information over depth. The ample further-reading section after each entry and the more comprehensive bibliography at the end of volume 2 should, however, point readers to more in-depth resources should they be required.

The writers do an admirable job of maintaining a neutral and balanced tone. Smith, in the preface, emphasizes that “the encyclopedia takes seriously the religious motivations for political action. That is, religion is not regarded simply or primarily as a sociological or psychological expression, but in terms of sincerely held religious beliefs” (xix). This phenomenological approach allows the reader to understand the religious and political topics presented from an insider’s viewpoint, and the discussion remains sympathetic and respectful. The writing is also clear and easy to follow, without jargon, and should be accessible to most readers.

There are a wide range of resources that cover politics and religion in the United States. This work, however, is unique in its scope and its format, presenting basic information on a broad variety of topics in one place. It is very accessible for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students, as well as general readers, who need basic information on the intersection of religion and politics in the United States. Recommended.—Amanda Sprochi, Health Sciences Cataloger, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, Missouri


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