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COLLECTIONBook reviews
TITLEReligious Myths and Visions of America, by Christopher Buck: Review
AUTHOR 1Iren E. Annus
TITLE_PARENTNova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions
PUB_THISUniversity of California Press
TAGSInterfaith dialogue; United States (documents)
CONTENT Religious Myths and Visions of America: How Minority Faiths Redefined America's World Role
Author: Christopher Buck
Published by Praeger Publishers, Westport CT, 2009
Review by Irén E. Annus
Review published in Nova Religio, February 2012, pp. 139-141

Christopher Buck investigates the meaning of America as conceptualized by ten faiths that are present in the American religious scene. The study develops out of Buck's firm conviction that America is a nation as well as a notion. In fact, he argues that America's global role as a nation is shaped by and interpreted through its various understandings of it as a notion, both for Americans and members of other nations. As a result, he argues, an investigation into the ways America as a notion is imagined and mystified in religious terms may assist us in grasping what views and expectations shape anticipations and interpretations of American actions in the world as well as possible responses to them.

Buck accounts for the connection between religious beliefs and actions through the link between myths and visions. Religious myths, he argues in Chapter 1, complement religious visions insofar as visions add prescriptives and action-centered dimensions to the descriptive and intellectual aspects of myths. The religious views of America as a notion, thus, provide a basis for comprehending the American nation and American action, both domestically and internationally. This book, therefore, is not simply an analysis of ten different myths and visions of America but also provides an ideological map that accounts for faith-based understandings and actions in relation to the American presence globally. In this sense, this volume may be of interest to readers involved not only in Religious Studies, but also in Political Science, History, Intellectual History, American Studies, and Cultural Studies.

The beliefs Buck discusses are part of the Native American, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Christian Identity, Black Muslim, Islamic, Buddhist, and Bahá'í religions. Some are world religions, others minority faiths, but they are all present within and outside the United States. Their vision of America varies quite significantly: some, such as Protestantism, Judaism, and Mormonism assign a great destiny and prominence to America, while others, for example Muslims, have created myths and visions that regard America as a whole in unfavorable terms. In the course of the detailed and well-documented analysis of individual religions, Buck reveals a highly elaborate and in-depth picture of the various beliefs, which is indeed impressive.

In some sense, it is quite surprising that America appears in the religious imagination not only of faiths that have been historically influential and/or indigenous to the United States, such as Protestantism or Mormonism, but also those that tend to be associated with other cultures, such as Buddhism and Islam. Buck not only researches all of these, but is adept in presenting the various perceptions of America as dynamically changing even within the singular faiths, reflecting an ever-shifting complexity of realities that frame the context within which America's exceptional positions and possible aspirations may be conceptualized. This implied dimension of religions being regarded as dynamic constructions is equally apparent in Buck's discussion of the racial and ethnic character embedded in images of America — along with the faiths themselves that have endeavored to mystify it. Buck demonstrates how racial/ethnic prejudice is accompanied by religious prejudice in the faiths under examination, which add further aspects that may be associated with efforts at colonization and the rejection of these; therefore, these myths capture a broad range of possible expectations of America and of the roles and goals it is to meet.

Buck also explains the reasons behind this heightened religious interest in the notion of America. He argues that the original myth and vision of America as a nation was captured by the Protestant notion of manifest destiny. This has been challenged by the other faiths he examines "as responses to the challenges with pluralism and race, in which minority faiths — America's alternative religions — implicitly seek to transcend the legacy of Puritanism in shaping America's self-image" (221–22). It is these alternative understandings, he reasons, that have transformed the idea of manifest destiny into America's common destiny, an idea which, however appealing it may sound, is not entirely convincing. Nevertheless, the book is overall a fresh and stimulating cultural reading of some of America's religions and the complex ways in which their followers make sense of and act in the world.

Irén E. Annus (Department of American Studies, Institute for English and American Studies), University of Szeged, Hungary

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