Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
This new series, written by leading scholars for students and general readers, portrays the diversity and complexity of religious life in America, focusing on the influence of Western society as a major challenge that religious groups will face in the 21st century. Both works contain profiles of noteworthy individuals, suggestions for further reading, glossaries, chronologies, and a list of web sites. Gillis (theology and Catholic studies, Georgetown Univ.) provides an excellent survey. In the chapter "Who Are the American Catholics?" for example, he breaks down types of Catholics by geography, ethnic background, and income; charts and informative statistics supplement the text without becoming tedious. This title includes a detailed synopsis of the history of Catholicism, with special emphasis on Vatican II and the tensions between Rome and AmericaÄpartially due to issues such as women's ordination, birth control, and abortion rights. Smith (Islamic studies, Hartford Seminary) writes a general introduction to Islam as practiced by American Muslims. Islam in America outlines the influences of a secular and materialistic Western culture, the keenly felt prejudices on the part of non-Muslims, and the misunderstandings between Muslims that often arise when they try to balance cultural expectations with the value system of the conservative Middle East. Of special interest is the chapter on African American Muslims and other smaller groups. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. [For more on Islam, see "Bridging the Gap: Islam in America," LJ 10/1/98, p. 59-63.ÄEd.]ÄMichael W. Ellis, Ellenville P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Here we have two important and incisive books on the general theme of American Roman Catholicism by well-respected academics in the sociology of religion. Gillis (theology and Catholic studies, Georgetown Univ.) writes as an authentic insider, focussing on American Catholic identity and community and addressing an audience that specifically includes non-Catholics who are searching for what it is that distinguishes Catholics from their American culture. Zoller (political sociology and director of the Center of American Studies, Bayreuth Univ.) is a judicious outsider who follows in the spirit of 1830s French literary journeyman Alexis de Tocqueville: he comes to America and "brown bags" it as his own way of testing his developing views on the relationship between Catholicism and the American setting. Gillis initiates Columbia's new "Contemporary American Religion Series" and maintains that there is simply no singular experience of American Catholicism, that "for all its traditions, this is a changing church." Zoller, previously a visiting professor at Notre Dame, concedes that American Catholicism is a "cultural improbability," that American Catholics gravitate to the center and remain "fundamentally loyal and opposed to all extreme positions." Both writers flesh out a concise and sympathetic portrait of the history of American Catholicism to the present day, with special emphasis on the post-Vatican II era. Gillis singles out "selective Catholics"--sometimes panned as "cafeteria Catholics"--who simply "take what they like and leave the rest go." Zoller counters with his newly educated class of "church mice" Catholics who are on the cutting edge of social activism and ecumenical pioneering. Both books are welcome additions for undergraduates and faculty. If one has to make the unfortunate and difficult choice of one over both, this reviewer would opt for Gillis because of his "insider's approach." With his appendixes of "Select Prominent American Catholics" and a helpful time line, Gillis provides an added dimension on contemporary Catholic social issues that include poverty, the role of women, sexual ethics, and abortion. D. W. Ferm Colby College