Religion and Politics in the Contemporary United States

Originally a special issue of American Quarterly (2007), the collection aimed to bring religious studies scholarship into American Studies at a time when it was still marginal to the field. In a detailed introductory chapter, Griffith and I explored the many ways that American religion had embraced “politics,” with attention to the broad diversity of US religious life. The issue was released as a book by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2008.

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The collection explores the complex and sometimes contradictory ways that religion matters in contemporary public life, offering a cross-disciplinary conversation between scholars in American studies and religious studies. The contributors explore numerous modes through which religious faith has mobilized political action. They utilize a variety of definitions of politics, ranging from lobbying by religious leaders to the political impact of popular culture. Their work includes the political activities of a very diverse group of religious believers: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others. In addition, the book explores the meanings of religion for people who might contest the term—those who are spiritual but not religious, for example, as well as activists who engage symbols of faith and community but who may not necessarily consider themselves members of a specific religion. Several essays also examine the meanings of secular identity, humanist politics, and the complex evocations of civil religion in American life.

The book includes a broad diversity of religions, ethnicities, and topics that this one does—from Mormon political mobilization to attempts at Americanizing Muslims in the post-9/11 United States, from César Chávez to James Dobson, from interreligious cooperation and conflict over Darfur to the global politics surrounding the category of Hindus and South Asians in the United States.