Election 101 — Religion and Politics

Introduction

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The 2012 presidential election campaign is in full gear, and as always in American politics it seems that matters of religious faith will play a key role. Princeton University Press has published a crop of thoughtful books on religion and politics in America that will allow voters to make sense of all the religion on the campaign trail.

Voters of all stripes will want to bone up on Mormonism if – as expected – Mitt Romney becomes the first Mormon nominated by a major political party for the presidency. There’s no better way to begin than with The Book of Mormon: A Biography, by Paul Gutjahr. Gutjahr tells the story of how one book – born in the oddest of circumstances in an impoverished region of upstate New York in the 1820s – launched one of the fastest growing religions on the planet.

Those wanting some historical background to the American Catholic bishops’ forceful incursion into the political campaign would do well to consult Emile Perreau-Saussine’s Catholicism and Democracy, a history of Catholic political thinking from the French Revolution to the present day.

For a succinct explanation of religious attitudes in the United States today, Mark Chaves’s American Religion: Contemporary Trends is a must. Chaves, drawing on the most up-to-date survey data, shows what remains unchanged and what has changed in over the past forty years. Chaves challenges in particular the popular notion that Americans hold their religious leaders in higher esteem than their politicians.

Many assume that evangelical Christianity – and even religion as a whole – have always been & remains an enemy of liberalism and progressive politics. Not so, say two recent Princeton authors. Washington Post columnist EJ Dionne Jr.’s book Souled Out explains why the Religious Right’s stranglehold over the discussion of faith and politics in America is at an end. And in Red State Religion, a history of religiously-motivated political activism in Kansas, sociologist Robert Wuthnow reveals that even in this reddest of states, the mixture of faith with politics has led more often to pragmatic accommodation than to ideological confrontation.

Finally, voters interested in how today’s debates over faith in the public square have played out over the course of American history can turn to two superb short volumes by leading historians of American religion: Frank Lambert’s Religion in American Politics: A History, and Mark Noll’s God and Race in American Politics: A Short History.

Any or all of these Princeton books will prove faithful and trustworthy companions on the campaign trail.

Enjoy your reading!

–Fred Appel, senior editor in religion

 

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Click here to download an article on Religion and Politics since 1945

Excerpted from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History.

 

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Religion in American Politics
A Short History
Frank Lambert

 

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The Reading List

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American Religion

Contemporary Trends
Mark Chaves
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Souled Out

Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right
E. J. Dionne Jr.
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The Book of Mormon

A Biography
Paul C. Gutjahr
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Religion in American Politics

A Short History
Frank Lambert
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Latino Catholicism

Transformation in America’s Largest Church
Timothy Matovina
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God and Race in American Politics

A Short History
Mark A. Noll
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Catholicism and Democracy

An Essay in the History of Political Thought
Emile Perreau-Saussine, Translated by Richard Rex
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Religion and Democracy in the United States

Danger or Opportunity?
Edited by Alan Wolfe & Ira Katznelson
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Red State Religion

Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland
Robert Wuthnow
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Christian Political Ethics

Edited by John A. Coleman, S.J.
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Democratic Faith

Patrick Deneen
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The Book of Jerry Falwell

Fundamentalist Language and Politics
Susan Friend Harding
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The Founders on Religion

A Book of Quotations
Edited and Introduced by James H. Hutson
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The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America

Frank Lambert
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The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right

Jon A. Shields
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Democracy and Tradition

Jeffrey Stout
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The Last Freedom

Religion from the Public School to the Public Square
Joseph P. Viteritti
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Confessions of an Interest Group

The Catholic Church and Political Parties in Europe
Carolyn M. Warner
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After the Baby Boomers

How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion
Robert Wuthnow
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Red State Religion

Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland
Robert Wuthnow

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