Books surveying modern American religious/christian experience?
July 14, 2017 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I am not American and have little familiarity with Christianity. I'm looking for books which survey the American religious experience for outsiders-- think "Souls of China", but for the United States.

What I hope to find is a book that presents 'here is a snapshot into an interesting (sub)culture you might not know much about'. I'm very familiar with American institutions and pop culture, so it is fine if the book assumes I broadly understand the American urban context.

I'm happy to get suggestions which might be interesting but don't exactly follow these guidelines.

If no good general surveys exist, I'm happy with narrower books on any religious subgroup but especially American Catholics or religion in the rural Pacific Northwest. French language suggestions are appreciated also.
posted by sidek to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For a nice overview of how America is not so Christian, Diana Eck is excellent.

For Evangelicalism in America, Randall Balmer is your man.

For an exhaustive and excellent history of all Christian movements in the US, Theology In America is an excellent but academic book.

Upon This Rock i
s an excellent essay by national treasure John Jeremiah Sullivan about a Christian Rock Festival.

For an interesting look into Hasidism in America, I really enjoyed Holy Days.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:52 AM on July 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Not general surveys, but here are a couple of books that might possibly be of interest.
A few years ago, Kevin Roose went "undercover" and attended Evangelical Christian college Liberty University. He wrote a book about it which may be worth a read: The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University.
Also consider A.J. Jacobs's book The Year of Living Biblically.
posted by gudrun at 8:13 AM on July 14, 2017

The Dutch Reformed are a fairly small but highly intellectual and politically & theologically influential group (Hi, Betsy DeVos!). The go-to survey of the subculture is James Bratt's Dutch Calvinism in Modern America.
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:05 AM on July 14, 2017

For a lesser known sub-culture read the Wiki on the Cursillo movement and this book: The Cursillo movement in America
posted by SyraCarol at 4:42 PM on July 14, 2017

American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America's Most Powerful Church by Charles Morris is a little outdated (1998) but still IMO the best general survey of American Catholicism's history and development. (It's too early to touch on the clergy pedophilia scandals, so that's a huge gap -- although Spotlight (the movie, and the underlying book too) is excellent to fill that in.) Also very good is the Jesuit-published magazine America (they landed Pope Francis's first English-language interview), which is widely read by Catholic clergy, smart laity, and theologians, and has a lot of think pieces on the contemporary state of American Catholicism-qua-American Catholicism -- history, sociology, theology, etc. That could bridge you forward from "American Catholic" to the present.

I'm terrifically fond of a very tiny book called God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World which is basically a dude's anthropology PhD thesis. It's from 1994 so, again, outdated, but I have never elsewhere seen the impulse to creationism and all its "logical" outgrowths explained and explored so clearly. It really helped me come to terms with where modern fundamentalist evangelical Christianity in the US came from and why it works the way it works.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:58 PM on July 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

You may be fond of 'ethnography' and 'religious studies' as search terms.

Religion in the Kitchen about syncretic African-American practices.

About the intersection of death, religion, and government, The Impossibility of Religion Freedom will introduce you to both individual practices (custom-made graveside shrines) and how mainstream America conceives of religion.

Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life. A little theoretical, but also nitty-gritty. This is how this person has set up their prayer area, etc.

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.

Race and Religion Among the Chosen People of Crown Heights

Hitting the Prayer Bones, on Southern Pentecostal faith and healing. For a very different group who practice Christian faith healing, try Spirits of Protestantism.

Between Sundays, for spirituality in the Black women's experience

On the Hasidic (Jewish) experience, Between Two Worlds.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 1:46 PM on August 4, 2017

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