PREFACE Just exactly what is “religion and American cultures”? What kind of encyclopedic knowledge is possible about religious life in this nation—and equally important in this regard, what counts as “data” in such an intellectual exercise? These impossible questions have driven this project from its enthusiastic incep- tion to its sobering conclusion. The resulting four-volume reference work, Religion and American Cultures: Tradition, Diversity, and Popular Expression, Second Edition, offers but one possible set of categories, questions, and meanings with which to map the religious terrain of American life. These collected essays do not represent a definitive cartography, nor do they represent a singular perspective. Our editorial strategy was simply to ask people whom we had identified as experts to write on a particular theme, and to work with them on their topics. Our goal was to invite interesting people who could speak to the issues in a fresh and meaningful way. We believed from the beginning that religious phenomena in American cul- ture are uncontainable and cannot be summed up and neatly organized into a set of volumes that provide readers with direct access to this dimension of American experience. Cognizant that we could never have the last word on the topic, we at- tempted instead to mark a moment in scholarly thought from which new ques- tions and research may follow. Herein we propose a perspective, or rather, a set of perspectives, that treats culture and religion as two inextricably bound determi- nants of American life that, both historically and, paradoxically, still today, exist in the midst of celebrated secularity. The essays contained in this volume tell familiar stories in unfamiliar ways, and unfamiliar stories in ways that are familiar—of the same family. Even while the essays sometimes challenge and contradict our own scholarly opinions, we support the rigor, passion, and integrity with which each essay was written. The contributors have deftly produced intense pieces that dis- rupt accepted wisdom and conventional understandings of religion in America. Although they represent many different disciplines, all were committed to disturb- ing readers’ easy familiarity with religion and opening up new avenues of vision on the topic. As we asked in the first edition of Religion and American Cultures: An Encyclo- pedia of Traditions, Diversity, and Popular Expressions, what exactly is “religion and American cultures”? When we first published the first edition in 2003, the most significant memory on the mind of Americans was the events of 9/11 and the aftermath of that tragedy. In a very dramatic way, Islam came to the fore in American consciousness as never before, and the role of religion in the wake of the death and destruction played a more prominent part in American political discourse and ritual. Scholars asked
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