WOMEN IN AMERICAN RELIGION

A brisk, informative history of the myriad roles women have played in America’s religious history. Braude (Harvard Divinity School) has difficult tasks in this slim, generously illustrated volume: to survey hundreds of years of religious history; to maintain a disinterested tone—even when describing the fringes of organized religion—to employ language and explore ideas that will not exclude the lower strata of her target audience (12 and up). She begins by disputing the notion that “women have had little importance in US religious history,” and proceeds to establish her counterclaim with five brief chapters, each of which features a two-page insert focusing on an important woman or religion. Although her text revisits the familiar (e.g., New England witchcraft, the Shaker movement, Mormon polygamy, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union), it also spotlights numerous figures who have disappeared into the gloom of history, most notably Jarena Lee, an African-American woman who “heard the call from God” in the early 19th century and traveled throughout the South- and Northeast “giving hundreds of sermons each year.— In a volume of this sort, objectivity is a virtue, and Braude achieves it, although one wonders if younger readers, charmed by the impartial prose, will believe that Shaker founder Ann Lee did in fact experience a visit from Jesus, who “revealed [to her] that celibacy was the path to salvation.— In similar passages throughout her volume, Braude declines to add any salt of skepticism or pepper of irony. Her survey is inclusive—the popular religions appear alongside the unpopular (though there is no discussion of cults), religious beliefs of Native Americans and African-American slaves receive brief treatment—and her analysis of the long struggle of women to achieve official sanction and ordination is particularly effective. (She reveals the alarming news that only half of “American religious groups currently ordain women.—) Clear, fundamental, and comprehensive within its limited format. (Photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-19-510676-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1999

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An introduction to Islam as evocative as it is provocative.

NO GOD BUT GOD

THE ORIGINS, EVOLUTION, AND FUTURE OF ISLAM

A lively and accessible introduction to Islam.

If it accomplished nothing else, Aslan’s first book would be worthwhile for its clear expositions of the basics of Islamic history and Muslim thought. Aslan, a professor (Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies/Univ. of Iowa) and New York Times Middle East consultant, walks through the life of the Prophet, the redaction of the Qur’an, and the Five Pillars that are fundamental to Muslim life and practice. But these helpful expositions are just the starting point for making two arguments. First, Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations—the theory most pundits have gravitated toward since 9/11—is an inadequate description of the current world scene. What we really have, Aslan says, is a clash of monotheisms, competing particularistic, and often exclusive, claims about the nature of God, revelation, and prophecy. Second, there is real possibility for democracy in the Middle East. Aslan paints the Prophet’s teachings in a compelling light: not unlike Jesus (Aslan does make explicit comparisons between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity), Aslan’s Muhammad was fiercely concerned with the rights of the oppressed and marginalized; but many Muslim scholars who came after Muhammad were just as fiercely concerned to evade the egalitarian implications of the Prophet’s teaching. (Muhammad emerges here almost as a proto-feminist. It’s the centuries of men who came after him who seem bent on backlash.) Aslan argues that Islam can—indeed must—“be used to establish a genuinely liberal democracy in the Middle East.” But the democracy he envisions is not a colonial democracy, imported from Europe or America. It is an indigenous democracy, with a distinctly Islamic flavor. Readers will gravitate toward No God But God not only because of its stimulating arguments, but also because it’s so well put together as a literary work. Aslan isn’t just a mere scholar and reporter; he also attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and it shows.

An introduction to Islam as evocative as it is provocative.

Pub Date: March 22, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6213-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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