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Book description
In American Sacred Space, edited by David Chidester and Edward T. Lintel, several scholars combine their efforts “to theorize the concept of American sacred space and to examine the production and presence of sacred space in a series of important American case studies.” It is important to note (which may have been accomplished with a subtitle to the book) that the authors are more concerned with American civil religion—more patriotic than religious—as opposed to a strictly religious look at various denominations and American belief systems. In reaction to the theory that American sacred space has generally been pluralistic yet harmonious, this work consistently finds American space to be more conflictual. The editors write: Sacred places are arenas in which power relations can be reinforced, in which relations between insiders and outsiders, rulers and subjects, elders and juniors, males and females, and so on, can be adjudicated. But those power relations are always resisted.Space is contested for many reasons—economics, politics, etc.—but when issues of religion and reverence for deceased persons enters the equation, the contest for space reaches the most serious of undertakings for Americans. By looking at sites in which Americans seek to preserve the memories and cultures that constitute a collective history—including Native American sacred sites, the national monument at Pearl Harbor, the idealized Christian home, and the US Holocaust Museum—this book seeks to identify and explore the cultural battles for space, memory, and history that are eventually read into the American landscape. The stories nearly all emphasize the role of the courtroom as the scope of American civil exclusion has expanded. In this sense, sacred space seems to exist because of and in spite of contestation among various groups of Americans.� This book is a collection of diverse essays that fit loosely together under the broad concept of contested “sacred space” within an American (though with some transnational considerations) framework. Robert S. Michaelson explores the meanings and results of Supreme Court rulings against disputed Indian Land claims; essentially the court sees the economic repercussions for the federal government as too great to yield its “ownership” of sacred Indian lands back to Native Americans. However, Michaelson teases out the growing minority of dissenters who are beginning to demand that the government recognize the spiritual dimension of its land. Bron Taylor’s “Resacrlizing the Earth: Pagan Environmentalism and Turtle Island” considers the Earth First! movement and its associations with Native American religious beliefs as well as those of eastern religions. Despite the movements foundational belief that all of the earth is sacred, it takes a practical approach to prioritizing places most in danger of further capitalistic exploitation and ecological damage, which are essentially battles of ideology and land rights. Matthew Glass’ Mount Rushmore article furthers the discussion on contested meanings of sacred places by comparing American patriotism and veneration of white presidents with the sacred respect for the Black Hills by Native Americans. This article most explicitly makes the case for considering American civil religion—patriotism and historical memory—as a truly religious force. Colleen McDannell’s “Creating the Christian Home” makes the interesting and convincing case that homeschooling is a religious (rather than an educational) American phenomena carried over from the nineteenth century desire to make the home a Christian haven. Edward T. Linenthal’s consideration of the Holocaust Memorial Museum similarly deals with interpretations of space, memory, and religious freedom, and David Chidester’s “America as �Sacred Space in South Africa” considers diverse, transnational dimensions of American sacred space. Rowland A. Sherrill “American Sacred Space and the Conquest of History” concludes the set of essays with the idea that “homogenization” of the American landscape (the fact that the superhighway and strip malls consistently look more similar than dissimilar throughout the United States’ built environment) has resulted in a “placelessness” for many Americans. This has exacerbated the contest for American sacred spaces to be commemorated as physical markers of historical (even if partially imagined) pasts. Overall, these essays were diverse, interesting, and fairly convincing, but as noted earlier, a clarifying subtitle could have more explicitly set forth the book’s focus on American civil religion rather than institutional religion.
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