Well-presented and engaging essays, by some of the foremost religious scholars working today, examining the histories of 12 diverse religious institutions. An outgrowth of the University of Chicago Divinity School's Congregational History Project, the lengthy first volume looks at what the editors view as the basic unit of religious association: the congregation. Though this term is often thought of as having distinctly Jewish or Christian connotations, it is used here more broadly to encompass any religious community that gathers together on a regular basis in a specific place to carry out its principle function, worship. Having opened up the definition in this manner, the volume is free to look at a variety of religious expressions. Though some of the communities examined are Jewish (Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati) or Christian (St. Peter's Parish, a Roman Catholic church in San Francisco; Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago; and others), the authors also examine Lac La Biche Muslim Community in Alberta, Canada; Swaminarayan, a Hindu temple in Chicago; and Sugar House, a Mormon ``ward'' in Utah. In their essay on Center Church (founded in 1638) in New Haven, Conn., Harry Stout (American Christianity/Yale Univ.) and Catherine Brekus (History of Christianity/Univ. of Chicago) describe an aging mainstream denomination experiencing such typical difficulties as declining attendance and preoccupation with the institution's past more than its present. One of the most interesting essays, by Lawrence Mamiya (Religion and Africana Studies/Vassar), covers Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, one of the black neo- Pentecostal churches that emphasize progressive politics and community outreach. All congregations raise the same issues, the editors maintain: changing American religious attitudes, generational transition, race, ethnicity. Essays in the short second volume, by the same editors ($22.50; ISBN 0-226-90188-2), address these themes, building on the data gathered in the first. A fascinating and important social history of religion.