Here’s my latest edition of New and Notable Books. As a reminder, these suggestions focus on fairly recent books in American history and religious history. These books certainly may interest fellow historians, but I also try to suggest ones that are accessible and (somewhat) affordable to students and general readers.
Beth Barton Schweiger, A Literate South: Reading before Emancipation (Yale). This obviously is as much a history of learning and culture as it is of religion, but much of antebellum South learned through religious sources. From the publisher: “Drawing on the writings of four young women who lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Schweiger shows how free and enslaved people learned to read, and that they wrote and spoke poems, songs, stories, and religious doctrines that were circulated by speech and in print. The assumption that slavery and reading are incompatible—which has its origins in the eighteenth century—has obscured the rich literate tradition at the heart of Southern and American culture.” We recently had Schweiger to Baylor for a lecture, and it was exceedingly well received.
Andrew Delbanco, The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War (Penguin). I recently listened to this on Audible, on Alan Jacobs’s recommendation, and it is outstanding. One of the best history books I have read in the past couple years.
Kate Bowler, The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities (Princeton). Coming from the author of the best book on the prosperity gospel, this book promises to examine some of the tensions inherent in the public roles of female Bible teachers. A timely topic! Bowler spoke on her research for this book a couple years ago at Baylor, and it was fascinating.
Mark David Hall, Did America Have a Christian Founding?: Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth (Thomas Nelson). Hall is an outstanding historian of religion and the Founding, and here he is wading into the ever-controversial topic of whether (and in what sense) America was founded as a Christian nation. See Justin Taylor’s recent post on the book.
Note that I also have a new book out: America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation (Zondervan). If you are looking for an up-to-date overview of American religious history, or if you teach any sort of class on American religion, I hope you will check it out!
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