Item description for Head and Heart: American Christianities by Garry Wills...
A landmark examination of Christianity's place in American life across the broad sweep of this country's history, from the Puritans to the presidential administration of George W. Bush.
The struggle within American Christianity, Garry Wills argues, now and throughout our country's history, is between the head and the heart: between reason and emotion, Enlightenment and Evangelism. Why has this been so? How has the tension between the two poles played out, and with what consequences, over the past 400 years? How "Christian" is America, after all? Garry Wills brings a lifetime's worth of thought about these questions to bear on a magnificent historical reckoning that offers much needed perspective on some of the most contentious issues of our time.
A religious revolution occurred in America in the 18th century, one that saw the emergence of an Enlightenment religious culture whose hallmarks were tolerance for other faiths and a belief that religion was a matter best divorced from political institutions-the proverbial "separation of church and state." Wills shows us just how incredibly radical a departure this separation was: there was simply no precedent for it. To put this leap in perspective, Wills provides a grounding in the pre-Enlightenment religion that preceded it, beginning with the early Puritans. He then provides a thrillingly clear unpacking of the steps, particularly Madison's and Jefferson's, by which church-state separation was enshrined in the Constitution, and reveals the great irony of the efforts of today's Religious Right to blur the lines between the two. In fact, it is precisely that separation that has allowed religion in America to flourish since the disestablishment of religion created a free market, as it were, and competition for souls led to the profusion of denominations across the length and breadth of the land.
As Wills examines the key movements and personalities that have transformed America's religious landscape, we see again and again the same pattern emerge: a cooling of popular religious fervor followed by a grassroots explosion in evangelical activity, generally at a time of great social transformation and anxiety. But such forces inevitably go too far, provoking a backlash as is happening right now with the forces of Creationism and the anti-abortion fundamentalists.
Garry Wills closes with a penetrating dissection of the Religious Right's current machinations and the threat they pose to the enlightened religion that has proved to be such a fertile and enduring force throughout American history. But in the end, Wills's abiding message is to be vigilant against the triumph of emotions over reason, but to know that the tension between the two is in fact necessary, inevitable, and unending.
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Studio: Penguin Press HC, The
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.3" Width: 6.1" Height: 1.5" Weight: 2.05 lbs.
Release Date Oct 31, 2007
Publisher Penguin Press HC, The
ISBN 1594201463 ISBN13 9781594201462
Availability 0 units.
More About Garry Wills
Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine s Childhood, Saint Augustine s Memory, and Saint Augustine s Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize."
Garry Wills was born in 1934 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Northwestern University.
Garry Wills has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about Head and Heart: American Christianities?
intelligent, balanced, and repectful Oct 17, 2008
I look up to Garry Wills when it comes to understanding and practicing religion in the most sensible way possible in our time of extremism. He is so good at contextualizing religion, and he does it in a very factual and respectful way. This book is very dense and provides enormous amount of information, but it is worth reading particularly because of the current American politics of religions that are potentially very deangerous and can bring rather seriously harmful outcome to all of us.
Varieties of Christian Experience in America! Jul 21, 2008
Christianity in America is as varied as it is fervent, as diverse as it is constant. In Head and Heart, Gary Wills gives us a rich, thorough, and at many (not all) points celebratory history of Christian pluralism in America. Throughout his historical survey, Wills points out that American Christianities can be divided into two basic groups: "head" religions, which look towards the rational side of things, and "heart" religion, which focuses on the emotional side of religious experience. American Christian history, Wills intimates, may be best viewed as the interplay between these two "styles."
The first group we encounter, colonial Puritanism is a "heart" religion, focusing more on religious emotion and supernaturalism than rationalism. We then turn to the American founding, where "head" religions like deism were at a high. Emphasis was on "natural theology" - human attempt to experience God through reason rather than revelation. Wills then takes us through the first and second "great awakenings," the advent of Fundamentalism and Dispensationalism, ("heart" religions all), through post-war Progressivism ("head" religion), up to the very present resurgence of Fudanmentalism. All the while, Wills is a master story teller: as thorough as he is engaging.
While Wills is respectful to all of his subjects (with the exception of the current Rove-driven "religious right"), he will score few points with right-leaning readers. Section 2 ("Enlightened Religion") makes much of the idea that while many founders were religious, their primary reliigion was a deism that was unitarian and tended to reject much of the Bible, making it hard to see ours as a nation founded on fervent Christianity. As already mentioned, the final section of the book ("Religious Nation") takes a lamenting tone when talking about current state of religious influence in American politics and the Bush Adminstration.
Through all, though, Wills stresses the necessity of a constant push-and-pull between "head" and "heart" religions. "The point, for purposes of this book, is that the populist pole of religiosity needs interaction with the elitist pole" (from the chapter "Evangelicals Brough Low," p. 422). The former group, tending towards the "heart" side, keeps religion alive and vibrant, while the latter, "head" oriented group keeps religion within rational bounds. Leave the one unchecked, and you either strip religion of its heart or mind. The picture Wills paints serves to remind us that religion functions best when there is a delicate balance between "head and heart."
A Very Garry Wills Version of Religion in America. Jun 5, 2008
This book is not a history of religion in America--it is Garry Wills' commentary on both the history of American religion, the various historical studies of American religion and the current situation. So for those who are looking for a straightforward and balanced history of religion in American, look elsewhere. That said, I must say that I enjoyed reading it Wills is a very engaging writer and his basic argument--when religion and politics gets too close, religion is the loser--makes sense. His comments on the current situation are very instructive. It would be interesting to see what he has to say about the position of other non-Judeo-Christian religions in America such as Islam and Buddhism. I think the 21st century is going to see a remaking of the map of religion in America
misrepresentation of protestant evangelicals May 31, 2008
Wills overgeneralizes and exaggerates the evangelical position, lumping them all into the "emotion-driven" camp. In reality, evangelicals of different denominations, and even of different congregations within each denomination, fall on both sides of the head-heart divide. In general, Baptists tend to err to the orthodoxy (head faith) extreme, neglecting orthopraxy (heart faith - faith in action). This is the position which Wills himself leans toward. The Reformed, however, almost universally err to the orthopraxy (heart faith) extreme, completely missing the mark on doctrine (orthodoxy). This is the same error that the Catholic Church has traditionally made. To say that all evangelicals fall into the same camp here is a gross misrepresentation, and a careless analysis indicating a severe lack of scholarly objectivism.
Head and Heart: American Christianites May 10, 2008
An insightful and excellent read. A must read for those interested in religion and theology.