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Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith [Hardcover]

By Timothy Beal (Author)
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Item description for Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith by Timothy Beal...

In the summer of 2002, Timothy K. Beal loaded his family into a twenty-nine-foot-long motor home and hit the rural highways of America in search of roadside religious attractions—sites like the World's Largest Ten Commandments, Golgotha Fun Park, and Precious Moments Chapel. Why, he wanted to know, would someone use miniature golf to tell the story of the Creation? Or build a life-size replica of Noah's ark in Maryland?

As a scholar, Beal hoped to come to understand the meaning of these places as expressions of religious imagination and experience. But as someone who had grown up in an evangelical Christian church in which he no longer rested comfortably, Beal found himself driven by a desire to venture beyond the borders of his cynicism to encounter faith in all its awesome absurdity. And so he found himself deep in conversation with people like Bill Rice, whose Cross Garden features thousands of makeshift crosses and old air conditioners bearing the message NO ICE WATER IN HELL! FIRE HOT!

Part travel narrative, part religious study, and part search for the divine madness that is faith, Roadside Religion takes the reader on a tour of the strange and often wondrous ways people have tried to give outward form to their inner religious experiences. Religion is most interesting—and most revealing—Beal shows us, where it's least expected.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Beacon Press
Pages   216
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9" Width: 6.3" Height: 1.1"
Weight:   0.95 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   May 31, 2005
Publisher   Beacon Press
ISBN  0807010626  
ISBN13  9780807010624  

Availability  0 units.

More About Timothy Beal

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Timothy Beal is the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University. Author of several books, including the critically acclaimed Roadside Religion (2005), he has published essays on religion and American culture for The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Washington Post. He has been featured on national radio shows including NPR's All Things Considered and The Bob Edwards Show.

Timothy Beal has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Library Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
  2. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
  3. Very Short Introductions

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > Faith
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Comparative Religion

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Reviews - What do customers think about Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith?

Best Religion Book of the Year  Mar 26, 2006
A witty, charming, and eye-opening jaunt on the offbeat side of
religion. A great book to pack along on your next trip along the blue highways of America. Move over William Least-Heat Moon.
Great idea, less-than-great results  Jul 15, 2005

After hearing Dr. Beal in an interview and reading a few reviews of ROADSIDE RELIGION I was eager to read the book. What I liked best was the idea itself -- the family vacation spent visiting religious Americana in a motor home -- and Beal's curious and respectful approach to his subject matter. As he explains throughout, this was as much a trip as it was a journey of faith and rediscovery.

Although the Introduction and some of the chapters are a rambling mess, the Conclusion was insightful and inspiring. In four pages, Beal describes his rediscovery of faith as something more/other than mere belief alone: "Faith is a leap of hospitality, an opening of oneself to the other... an opening toward an unknown as vulnerability, risking relationship." Especially in a world that's divided by power and fear, this was sheer heaven to read.

My disppointments with the book are few, and mostly about the structure and omissions.

For subject matter that is as visual as it is spiritual, photos seem lacking and of poor quality: 25 in all, small scale, black and white only. Also, there are times when a simple diagram or even a primitive hand-drawn sketch whould have been far better than the dull prose trying to describe the same thing (such as the layout of Paradise Gardens). While this is not a guidebook, a simple map of the route taken to the visted sites seems like a given, but it's not. Finally, the lack of an INDEX, NOTES, or even FOR FURTHER READING represents a missed opportunity to improve the quality of the book and inspire futher exploration of the subject matter.

In the end, hearing Dr. Beal describe his journey is far more engaging than the way he wrote about it. Nonetheless, it's worth the read, and the sites themselves, worth the visit.
Roadside Sermons  Jun 23, 2005
Four years ago, Timothy K. Beal and his family were driving through the Appalachian Highlands of Maryland when they saw a steel girder framework for an upcoming building, incongruously set in a grassy field. A large sign said "NOAH'S ARK BEING REBUILT HERE!" They drove on by, but Beal, a professor of religion, started keeping a list of roadside religious attractions all around the country, and in the summer of 2002, the family rented a mobile home and hit the highways of the Bible Belt to get to see the Ark in progress and many other religious sites constructed out of piety, inspiration, or enterprise. In _Roadside Religion: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith_ (Beacon Press), Beal gives a report on what he saw, and what he thought, and especially how he felt. Skeptics like myself probably would be happier with a book that conveyed amusement and incredulity at the sights, and Beal's book does have such a tone in many places. Indeed, Beal started out with a plan of a book of "witty and wry observation," but although it is funny in many places, it is altogether more respectful, sympathetic, and understanding of these very odd shrines than he originally expected.

Near Mammoth Cave in Kentucky are plenty of roadside attractions, but on Beal's list is Golgotha Fun Park, a miniature golf course which is described in a chapter wittily titled "Stations of the Course". Bizarrely, the name comes from the Aramaic for "the skull" and is the name of the place where the gospels say the crucifixion happened. Some fun. There are some ceramic skulls on the sixteenth hole: "Although they don't pose much of a putting challenge, they _are_ rather creepy and distracting." The eighteen holes tell the story from creation to Resurrection. At hole four, Moses parts the Red Sea to let your ball pass, and on the back nine, representing the New Testament, Mary and Martha kneel prayerfully on either side of the putting green assigned to them. The eighteenth hole has a statue of the risen Christ, encouragingly looking on as golfers take their final shot, and it is the easiest hole on the course. "It's not easy to venture a theological interpretation of Golgotha Fun Park," Beal assures us, but he is compelled to try anyway, interpreting the obstacles (any good miniature golf course needs obstacles) as not only athletic, but theological - believers conquer smaller ones on the way to the big one, the belief in the risen God. Beal is content to be instructed by these roadside visions, but he is not uncritical. At the Fields of the Wood near Murphy, North Carolina, is the world's largest Ten Commandments, concrete letters five feet high on a hillside. The intent here, Beal says, is to inspire religious awe "in the face of a sacred law that is overwhelmingly, _ineffably huge_ in a most literal way." It's not what the words say, but how big they are. This is, Beal concludes, "the Word of God as image, and I dare say idol." The commandments, including the proscription against graven images has been turned into the "World's Largest" graven image.

There are plenty of others; the worldly Beal is surprisingly affected by the cutesy Precious Moments Inspiration Park in Missouri, or dismayed by the End Times ideology of The Holy Land Experience in Florida, where there is a daily crucifixion, weather permitting. Anyone who has driven America's highways has seen billboards for this sort of attraction, and many will be amused by the descriptions of what Beal has found; he has actually paid his money and gone so that the rest of us don't have to. More importantly, this is a personal book, a religious book by an intelligent thinker who has picked some seemingly unpromising subjects to describe and learn from. As he openly shares his learning and self-reflections with us, it's just the sort of generosity he admires in the makers of these strange visions.

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