John Corrigan, ed., The Oxford Encyclopedia of Religion in America (New York: Oxford UP, 2018), 2104 pp.
For this extensive encyclopedia, John Corrigan, former editor of the renowned journal Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, has assembled more than one hundred articles from Apocalypticism to Zionism, written by distinguished scholars, publishers, and editors in the field. The entries are not arranged alphabetically but instead into five large sections entitled “Space,” “Religions Ideas,” “Race and Ethnicity,” “Public Life,” and “Empire,” thus encompassing a wide range of topics. These main sections are subdivided into smaller sections comprising one to five articles. Each article is further divided chronologically or thematically, and some are accompanied by illustrations. Each article concludes with a one-paragraph “Review of the Literature” and a section on “Further Reading” (directly hyperlinked to the relevant source in Google Preview and WorldCat in the electronic edition here under review). According to the publisher, the encyclopedia is not intended as an amalgam of articles on topics that have traditionally influenced thought about religion in America. Rather, its aim is to use the most recent categories of scholarly research to identify the crucial themes, events, people, places, and ideas that have come to define the field. In each section, a range of articles address the religious lives of Americans and the institutions, theologies, and social forces that have influenced those lives and given shape to a broad cultural landscape of religion in America.
Terminologically, a bird’s-eye view of the article titles is quite revealing: for one, the (albeit large) section on “religious ideas” emphasizes the study of religion rather than theology. In fact, there does not exist an “Encyclopedia of Theology in America” that focuses on theology rather than religious history. While this encyclopedia offers a much-needed updated survey of the religious history of the United States, it would have benefited from offering more thorough analysis of theological themes. It is striking that—given the significance of Catholicism in North America over the past two-hundred years as well as the rise of Hemispheric Studies—there is still no Encyclopedia of Religion in the Americas. Reflecting on these issues may be fruitful in guiding future research. While one may grant that some article titles simply reflect the current state of research, greater attention still needs to be paid to qualifying basic terminological choices in the articles themselves. Thus the entry on “Asian American Religions” in the “Race and Ethnicity” section could have considered the problematic character of the term “Asian American,” which represents an older research paradigm that has been rejected within American Studies in general and by prominent Americans of Asian origin in particular. This is partly due of course to the pioneering work necessitated by this field, which author Tony Carnes traces in great detail with respect to the different Asian countries and mostly based on statistical data from the Pew Research Center, rightly acknowledging that the “written history of Asian American religions has hardly begun” (36).
The publisher’s claim that the edition meets the highest standard of scholarly research by addressing the most important recent issues on religion in America, may come across as an overstatement. More correct would be to say that it introduces new themes that have shaped recent discourse in the field. For example, while a section on “Film and Religion in America” is certainly needed and welcome, there is no discussion of religion in contemporary television series and videogames, both of which are fields garnering increasing scholarly interest. In other words, the encyclopedia bears the imprint of the editor’s bias as a religious historian. In light of the rich field of religion in America, future encyclopedic work of this scale may consider placing greater weight on engaging editorial advisors to help develop an outline of article topics that are up-to-date with current research—though one may contend that, in light of the fact that finding authors to write such articles is not a simple matter, the present encyclopedia has actually achieved much in that direction. If the publisher made the content more easily available electronically in its Oxford Reference Library, and at a lower cost, this would help make this work available to the broader public and thus grant it the readership it deserves. It should be available in every academic library and be consulted by all those working in the history of religion in America in particular, and Religious Studies in (early) modernity in general.
Philipp Reisner (Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf)