Since colonial times, religion has been engaged with American history in a special way not to be found in the European antecedents of either. American aspirations have their origins in the sacred--the religious; and American history records many campaigns to introduce into common life the yearning to turn holy hopes into earthly realizations. What the author finds remarkable in this development is not its failure but its success. As an unintended but still salutary outcome, America has become a ""profane""--""outside the temple""--nation. Six functions of religion in shaping American society are identified: the sense of the novelty of American history; the right and duty of persons to participate in causes; education as an important means for increasing piety and for personal improvement; a prudential morality; a sense of nationality unlike preceding nationalism; and a pluralistic culture. In developing these points the author, on the faculty of Stanford University, writes studiously, in a lively vein, and with freshness of insight. Instructive reading for all students of American cultural history.