Have you ever wondered why America, unlike virtually any other industrial nation, continues to show so much religious vitality? Or why are the varieties of religion found in the United States are so numerous and diverse? In this vigorous series of 24 lectures, Professor Allitt argues that the best way to look for explanations of this truly remarkable vitality and diversity is to study the nation's religious history.
That's a task, though, that involves more than simply examining religion from the directions you might expect, including its formal beliefs, its ideas, its communal or institutional loyalties, and its styles of worship. It also requires looking at religion's influence on life "beyond the pews" - investigating the subtle but important links that have long brought religion into close contact with the intellectual, social, economic, and political concerns of Americans, such as Martin Luther King Jr. using a mixture of biblical references and appeals to patriotism to press the case for civil rights.
The lectures also address American religion as a sensory experience - a phenomenon whose deep spiritual and social meanings can in part be seen in the design of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples; heard in the sounds of hymns, prayers, and chants; smelled in Catholic or Buddhist incense, or even tasted, as you discover when you learn why the casserole may be the most "Protestant" of all dishes!
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What a surprise. I loved it!
I never would have sought out this course, but I picked it up on a whim, based entirely upon the reviews on The Great Courses website. I must say thank you to all the reviewers, because I found this to be one of the most delightful and captivating of the 30+ Great Courses I've listened to.
Professor Allitt is completely engaging, and packs each lecture with great portraits of historical significance, entertaining anecdotes, and recommendations for continued reading.
His enthusiasm for the subject is evident throughout, and his ability to help one view the U.S. through an outsider's perspective (he's British) makes him a modern day de Tocqueville.
If I had any complaint, it might be that non-western religions get very little attention. However, that very well may be the proper proportion given the dominance of judeo-christian religions in U.S. history.
Do not hesitate to listen to this course. It's a guaranteed winner.
- Andy from FL