Marsden (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Notre Dame; Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 2003, etc.) employs historical analysis to suggest why the United States is so badly split between secular-oriented intellectuals and religiously doctrinaire church leaders, a split that seems to have harmed the nation's moral character, forged during World War II.
The author conducts his narrative in a somewhat abstract manner, emphasizing quotations from a variety of thinkers over anecdotes and case studies. As a result, the book is filled with generalizations that contain the ring of truth but also bring to mind numerous counterarguments. Marsden criticizes the secularists who received attention in the 1950s for failing to recognize the sincerity and depth of religion-based intellectuals, but he also criticizes the religionists for failing to advocate for inclusive pluralism in favor of hoping for the primacy of their particular church doctrines. In the introduction, the author explains that he will try to make his case through three major themes, which he sometimes refers to as motifs. The first motif is a recounting of how American culture appeared to high-profile culture analysts during the crucial decades immediately following World War II, while the United States was considering its new position of authority on the world stage. In the second motif, Marsden explains his notion that the consensus of the warring intellectuals should be viewed as efforts to preserve traditional American ideals while blowing up the traditional foundations on which those ideals rested. The third motif derives from the author’s desire that religion play a significant, but not necessarily dominant, role in American public discourse. “Much of [the book] is about understanding a fascinating moment of the American experience,” writes the author, “but that account leads to critical analysis and reflection on the question of the place that religion should have in that culture.”
An important discourse that is not always easy to follow due to its abstract nature—will be most useful for an academic audience.