Many Americans wish to believe that the United States, founded in religious tolerance, has gradually and naturally established a secular public sphere that is equally tolerant of all religions--or none. Culture and Redemption suggests otherwise. Tracy Fessenden contends that the uneven separation of church and state in America, far from safeguarding an arena for democratic flourishing, has functioned instead to promote particular forms of religious possibility while containing, suppressing, or excluding others. At a moment when questions about the appropriate role of religion in public life have become trenchant as never before, Culture and Redemption radically challenges conventional depictions--celebratory or damning--of America's "secular" public sphere.
Examining American legal cases, children's books, sermons, and polemics together with popular and classic works of literature from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, Culture and Redemption shows how the vaunted secularization of American culture proceeds not as an inevitable by-product of modernity, but instead through concerted attempts to render dominant forms of Protestant identity continuous with democratic, civil identity. Fessenden shows this process to be thoroughly implicated, moreover, in practices of often-violent exclusion that go to the making of national culture: Indian removals, forced acculturations of religious and other minorities, internal and external colonizations, and exacting constructions of sex and gender. Her new readings of Emerson, Whitman, Melville, Stowe, Twain, Gilman, Fitzgerald, and others who address themselves to these dynamics in intricate and often unexpected ways advance a major reinterpretation of American writing.
Tracy Fessenden is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Women's and Gender Studies at Arizona State University. She is the coeditor of The Puritan Origins of American Sex: Religion, Sexuality, and National Identity in American Literature.
"Interdisciplinary in its methods and broad in its reach, Culture and Redemption focuses on literary and non-literary texts drawn from three centuries of American history in order to follow the evolving fates of Protestantism in the national conversation."--James Emmett Ryan, Journal of American History
"Tracy Fessenden has written a provocative, learned, and timely study, one which is daring in its scope and complexity. It questions many of our most common assumptions about the relations between the secular and the religious in American life, and in so doing, helps us understand why we don't think twice when the band strikes up 'Glory, Glory, Hallelujah,' but probably should."--Tara Fitzpatrick, Journal of Law and Religion
"If by the end [of this book] you have not learned to read again (to think again) about such lofty suspects as democratization, feminization, and, yes, even that old warthog, secularization, then you have missed an opportunity to read, to read intensely, something that truly earns such reading. Fessenden's aesthetic agility offers literary enticement and intellectual transparency. . . . [The book] instructs through its readable prose and critical assimilations, allowing the reader to review the author's interpretations alongside their posited evidence. It is this textual transparence that makes Culture and Redemption not merely provocative, but also prescriptive."--Kathryn Lofton, Journal of the American Academy of Religion
"Fessenden's readings of religion challenge much critical complacency about race, gender, class, and ethnicity but at the same time never reduce religion to an epiphenomenon of these other categories. This is a book that absolutely must be read and contended with by all serious scholars of American culture."--Michael Kaufmann, American Literature
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