Cities on a hill, churches on the move

The prolific Puritan minister Cotton Mather had no doubt what brought the faithful to America: "God of heaven served as it were a summons upon the spirits of his people in the English nation; stirring up the spirits of thousands which never saw the faces of each other, with a most unanimous inclination to leave all the pleasant accommodations of their native country, and go over a terrible ocean, into a more terrible desert, for the pure enjoyment of all his ordinances."

Mather's take is still the widely accepted notion of what motivated the founding of the American Colonies: religious refuge. But he also suggests that while the tenets, texts, and traditions are ancient, religion is always on the move; as its adherents travel, their belief systems move and evolve.

The story of the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth, Mass., is well known, but America has served as the setting for dynamic religious developments from pre-Columbian times to the present.

Bret Carroll's "Historical Atlas of Religion in America" illustrates the fact that faiths have not always moved from traditionally acknowledged East to West. Their movements tend to be multidirectional.

This makes for a fascinating, though relatively new means to study the religious diaspora in the United States. But how to portray the regionalism of religion and the spread of spirituality, with its coexistence of diverse faiths and its uniquely American religions?

Carroll has done this well in the latest installment of a series of atlases on American history from Routledge. His book is arranged chronologically and is remarkably inclusive for its brevity. He begins with indigenous religions among mainland and Hawaiian native people and continues with interesting and little-known detail on 18th-century Russian Orthodoxy in Alaska and California.

Reasoned and thorough explanations are provided as the book progresses through the Protestant expansion of the 18th century.

The 19th-century research is arguably the strongest part of the book, as documentation and data were more readily available. Also, this era was the setting for another recent title by Carroll called "Spiritualism in Antebellum America" (Indiana University Press, 1997).

His exploration of transitions among the major religions such as communitarian societies, metaphysical movements, and urban African-American churches are given significant attention.

The book progresses through America's increasing pluralism, with the proliferation of world religions such as Eastern Orthodoxy, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Islam.

Students and lay readers alike will find much visual appeal in more than a hundred color maps depicting the landmarks and progression of various religious sects, and numerous charts with a statistical legend through 1990.

This atlas is an excellent reference book on America's rich religious history and for its price and length, an attractive and informative text for general reading.

Leigh Montgomery is the Monitor's librarian,

The Routledge Historical Atlas of RELIGION IN AMERICA

By Bret Carroll Routledge 144 pp. $17.95

God's triptik: One of the most striking aspects of this new atlas is its color-coded, annotated maps detailing America's vibrant religious history.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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