Political religion, sanctified politics

It's odd the way this volume deals with Barack Obama. It's a shame it has to deal with David Barton at all.

I suspect that the one of the few tasks more difficult than reviewing a book of essays by disparate scholars is assembling such a collection in the first place. In the case of this volume, that challenge was compounded by the fact that its organizing principle was not so much a conference (although one took place) as the shared affiliation of most of the contributors with the Young Scholars in American Religion Program at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. This remarkable program has groomed promising scholars in the field, and some of their work is on display here—although I confess that, as a historian, I’m always a tad chary about books with “future” in the title.

If such a volume is to succeed, it must be anchored by strong essays by established scholars, the academic equivalent of ringers. The editors, Darren Dochuk and Matthew Avery Sutton, more than amply fill that role, complemented by such luminaries as Edward J. Blum and Jennifer Graber—all historians, by the way. Some of the contributions are reworkings of previous scholarship (Sutton’s study of apocalypticism, for instance), and others provide a glimpse into work in progress (such as Dochuk’s examination of the relationship between religion and the oil industry).

One of the names invoked in several essays is David Barton, the faux historian who has fashioned a career out of manufacturing and propagating quotations from the nation’s founders that “prove” that the United States is and always was a Christian nation. It’s unfortunate that responsible scholars have to expend any energy whatsoever to refute such nonsense, but the cult of Christian nationalism is one of the many historical fantasies that the religious right has unleashed on the American public.