At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

I'm not sure about this one; the topic is up our alley, but if some of these reviews are correct then the book would be too pamphleteering for an academic library.


Morone, James A. Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History. Yale.

Choice: “Fascinating. This refreshing treatment of religion as politics deserves to be read by social and cultural historians, political scientists, sociologists, and theologians.” Library Journal: “Recommended.” Booklist: “Readers trying to peer into the nation’s post-9/11 moral future will thank Morone for clarifying the path along which righteous fervor has already impelled us.” History: Review of New Books: “Lengthy but otherwise accessible.” Review of Politics: “Almost overwhelming in its breadth and demonstrates a remarkable familiarity with diverse periods in American political history. The author succeeds in delivering his argument in language that is accessible, witty, and often a pleasure to read. Yet the book has many weaknesses. His conceptual tools for understanding cultural politics are weak. Furthermore, Morone’s disdain for ‘Puritans’ is not even thinly veiled.” Christian Century: “Morone is a political science professor, not a historian, and his knowledge of American cultural history seems to have come largely from reading secondary sources. He gets some of the details of that history wrong, and he sometimes seems to be out of touch with recent developments in historiography. Morone displays a surprising lack of interest in all aspects of history that do not have to do either with the Puritans or with people who can be seen as heirs of the Puritan tradition. Moreover, his attempt to analyze America’s various religio-moral discourses lacks nuance. But his aim seems to be to meditate on the long history of Christian-based political movements. He wants to encourage people to rethink the possibilities and limitations of the American tendency to conflate religion and politics. He has succeeded in meeting these worthwhile goals, and he has done so through a set of engrossing narratives. Hellfire Nation is actually fun to read.” Journal of Church and State: “Polemical and impressive. Morone is at his best when providing rich illustrations of the provocative, startling, amusing, and sometimes frightening similarities among the events he analyzes. But what of his interpretive theory? First, Morone’s second form of Puritanism (i.e. community) is required to carry much more weight than it can bear. Second, how well would his general interpretive theory fare in discussing other public policy issues such as the space program, transportation policy, the environment, the budget, taxes, and foreign aid? Finally, we need to ask whether America is as ‘exceptional’ in employing the tools of demonization as may be assumed.” Virginia Quarterly Review: “Remarkably intelligent and ambitious. While this book has some real reflectiveness, it is more a chronicle whose provocations emerge from its recounting of history.” American Historical Review: “Throughout the work, Morone fails to grasp a crucial element of Reformed theology: the central role of original sin. This is a book with enormous strengths and insights, but in some instances, its flaws parallel and almost match its strengths.” First Things: “Frequently sensationalistic. Tendentious and overheated.” New Republic: “Morone has unfashionably humane political instincts, but in the end Hellfire Nation disappoints. Its abundant typographical errors and misspellings of proper names would be tedious to enumerate. It omits some of the most significant moral crusades, and it pays minimal attention to the enormously important subject of foreign policy. Morone does not seem to understand the distinction between belief and morality, between yearnings for salvation in heaven and for a righteous community on earth. Morone is determined to understand sin in sociological categories—specifically the race, class, and gender mantra that dominates contemporary scholarship in social and cultural history.” Nation: “There’s an obvious pitfall awaiting any liberal secularist who tells such stories. A glib condescension can slip into one’s prose, leaving the impression that the God infested zealots shouldn’t be taken too seriously. On occasion, Morone gives in to the temptation himself. As with many a contemporary scholar of American studies, Morone’s own moral tale turns primarily on matters of race and gender. He’s too quick to reduce what he calls ‘moral panics’ to their political meaning. He also neglects abundant evidence that public piety has repeatedly crossed the color line.”


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