Unlike other American surveys which hardly deviate from mainline Protestant histories, Gaustad presents a more cosmopolitan overview, and to that extent, a more accurate overview of the many, many religions pervading this continent long before and long after Puritan immigration. American myths about who discovered what first are questioned and discredited. Needless to say, Columbus figures as a minor, almost negligible, participant in the founding of the New World, not least because "New" grossly misidentifies what it is he claimed. Gaustad looks at the multitudes of French, Spanish, Dutch, and English colonizers as one standing on the long-inhabited shores of the Americas, uneasy about what he sees advancing on the horizon. From these wide-ranging entry points, Gaustad tracks the establishment of dissenting religions, ethnicities, and anxieties. Ultimately, this book's view of America's religious history denounces and redefines any nativist sentiment we might harbor given our unjustified tradition of a distinctly Protestant-based education that has only recently, historically-speaking, begun to authenticate its radically diverse and pluralistic roots.
Task #2 for Gaustad is to emphasize the tremendous influence of religious reform on America's social structure. Every single denomination and dissenting voice within the manifold body of America's religious public has shaped, in some way, the current image of America. This might not seem like any revelation to those who see how passionately fundamentalists politicize their beliefs in public forums and media. But Gaustad's survey includes more nuanced studies of little-known activists or ignored minorities who instigated many of the more radical changes for social justice. And for those interested, each chapter ends with a wonderful bibliography for further reading.
Great book overall. Excellent for students of religion or armchair enthusiasts alike.
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