A Religious History of the American People

A Religious History of the American People


Book: A Religious History of the American People

Author: Sydney E. Ahlstrom

Publisher: Yale University Press, 2nd edition published in 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0300014754 (Hardcover)

ISBN-10: 0300014759 (Hardcover)

ISBN-13: 978-0300100129 (Paperback)

ISBN-10: 0300100124 (Paperback)

Language level: 1

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Reading level: Teens and adults

Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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     Ahlstrom, Sydney EA Religious History of the American People (published in 1972 by Yale University Press, New Haven, CT).  Right after I began preaching, I joined a “Christian” book club and purchased a couple of volumes on American religious history.  Through the years, whenever I have preached or taught classes on church history, I have always included one lesson or session on the history of religion in the United States.  One of the volumes was the second printing in 1973 of the first edition of this book, which was winner of the 1973 National Book Award in Philosophy and Religion and Christian Century‘s choice as the Religious Book of the Decade in 1979.  It is the first full-scale history of American religion in one volume, dealing not only with the major Western religions but also with Eastern religions, cultic phenomena, and secular religious movements.  Author Sydney E. Ahlstrom, who was professor of American history and modern church history at Yale University and spent ten years of wide-ranging research, places religious history within the context of the social, political, and intellectual development of America.

     The book is made up of 63 chapters, which, after an opening introductory chapter, are grouped together into nine parts: the “European Prologue,” how the churches came to the New World, the period of the first Great Awakening and the American Revolution, “The Golden Age of Democratic Evangelicalism” followed by “Countervailing Religion,” the period of the Civil War, “The Ordeals of Transition” with the development of liberal theology and the social gospel during the late nineteenth century, the early twentieth century including World Wars I and II, and finally “Toward Post-Puritan America.”  One would not expect something coming from Yale to approach the subject from a conservative standpoint, but I will have to say that Ahlstrom, whatever his religious beliefs may be, did a good job of being the neutral observer and just reporting the facts.  Though probably written for use as a college textbook, it is not difficult to read and has a lot of fascinating information.  Anyone interested in American religious history will find it extremely useful.  A second, updated edition with new information by David Hall was published in 2004.

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