Saturday, June 23, 2012

Five best books on religion and politics

Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books, including God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter, the New York Times bestseller Religious Literacy: What Americans Need to Know, and, most recently The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.

One of his five best books on religion and politics, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Politics of American Religious Identity
by Kathleen Flake (2003)

Between 1904 and 1907, the U.S. Senate held hearings on whether to oust Reed Smoot, a newly elected senator from Utah and a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But Mormonism and its practice of polygamy were the real defendants. Kathleen Flake, a civil-rights attorney turned church historian, tells this story in clear, persuasive prose. The book's real virtue, however, is its close historical examination of a perennial challenge for all religious organizations (and political candidates): how to change while remaining true to yourself. In this high-stakes game of political poker, at the end of which Smoot was narrowly allowed to keep his seat, Mormons took home some hard-earned respectability. Prompted by Smoot's ordeal, they gave up in deed the sacrament—polygamy—that they had previously abandoned in words only. They also exchanged communalism for capitalism and theocracy for republicanism, and learned in the process to locate their distinctiveness in more self-evidently "religious" arenas, such as their founder's early revelations. "Gentiles" (as Mormons used to call the rest of us) did some compromising too, expanding the scope of religious liberty to include a faith then widely considered to be beyond the pale.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue