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Sacred Matters : Celebrity Worship, Sexual Ecstasies, the Living Dead, and Other Signs of Religious Life in the United States
"It is commonplace to say that the United States is a religious country: references to God are as normal as proclaiming love of country, support for the military, or security for the nation's children. And a full 92 percent of Americans prefer to believe in God or a universal spirit. But in Sacred Matters, Gary Laderman casts his eye over our deeply hidden spiritual landscape, questioning whether our conventional views even begin to capture the rich and strange diversity of religious life in America." "Sacred Matters shows that genuinely religious practices and experiences can be found in the unlikeliest of places - in science laboratories and movie theaters, at the Super Bowl and Star Trek conventions, and in Americans' obsessions with prescription drugs and pornography. When devoted fans make a pilgrimage to Graceland because of their love for Elvis, Laderman argues, their behavior doesn't just seem religious, it is religious - enacting a well-known ritual pattern toward saints in the history of Christianity." In a dramatic reframing of what is holy and what is secular, Sacred Matters makes a powerful and illuminating case that religion is everywhere - and that we have barely begun to reckon with its hold on our cultural life.
Alone among high-tech societies, America has a vibrant religious life. In separate chapters exploring religious thinking in our culture, Laderman (American religious history, Emory Univ.; The Sacred Remains) discusses not only sports but film, music, celebrity, science, medicine, violence, sexuality, and death as areas where religious ideas are prominent. He provides many examples and some depth of discussion. This is an interesting and worthwhile topic, with lots of material for thought and conversation, so it's curious that he doesn't discuss American civic religion-for religion permeates our government. Moreover, Laderman doesn't explore the widespread American notion that it is better to believe in any sort of religion than none. Too, it can be hard to decide what is religious and what is not. Laderman does not ask or answer such questions as "When does the use of a religious metaphor rise to the level of actual religion?" Verdict Although readers may be left dissatisfied, the book is worth reading. Recommended for students of American cultural or religious history.-James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
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The New Press
May 10, 2009
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