An entertaining and insightful tour of America's astonishing army of religious institutions, by British journalist Ruthven (now visiting professor of religious studies at Dartmouth). Ruthven's fascination with American religious fervor began in 1985, shortly after he published Islam in the World (not reviewed). Prodded by curiosity as to why 81% of adult Americans describe themselves as Christians, 38% claim to have been ""born again,"" and 45% attend church regularly (according to a 1986 Gallup poll), as opposed to Britain's apathetic 14% of churchgoers, the professor outfitted a rattletrap recreational vehicle and set off across America. He traveled from the Puritans' landing site at Plymouth Rock to Mormon Salt Lake City, Utah, then on to the Church of Jesus Christ Christian-Aryan Nations in Idaho; Baghwan Shree Rashneesh's semi-deserted ashram in Oregon; the New Age cults of California; Jim and Tammy Bakker's Heritage, USA; a backwoods snake church in Poor Valley, Virg, and Thomas Merton's former monastery--subjecting each religious order (and, usually, its founder) to a surprisingly perceptive critical and historical analysis while fending off earnest Americans' inquiries as to his own born-again status. Comparing Protestant evangelism to Islam in its role as a socializing power independent from the state, he concludes that America's fascination with religion provides it with an outlet for its passion that might otherwise--as in Germany, China, and Iran--be used for less savory ends. A perceptive look at America's panoply of religious products--as well as the astonishing characters who create them.