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American Angels: Useful Spirits in the Material World
     

American Angels: Useful Spirits in the Material World

by Peter Gardella
 

From figurines to bumper stickers, Broadway to prime-time TV, angels have taken over America. Our fascination with angels has become big business but, as Peter Gardella shows, this phenomenon has extended well beyond the commercial world to attract and inspire people from all walks of life for a diverse array of reasons.

Gardella's engaging study is the first to

Overview

From figurines to bumper stickers, Broadway to prime-time TV, angels have taken over America. Our fascination with angels has become big business but, as Peter Gardella shows, this phenomenon has extended well beyond the commercial world to attract and inspire people from all walks of life for a diverse array of reasons.

Gardella's engaging study is the first to look objectively at the place of angels in American culture. He explores in particular the emergence of a domestic religion of "useful angels"—especially outside mainstream churches-that has created a uniquely American faith, one that addresses everything from the sexuality of angels to how angels and demons literally figure in the War on Terror.

Gardella explores the history of angels in America from Spanish colonialism and Puritan sermons to the modern angel craze that overtook the nation in the 1990s in the wake of Sophy Burnham's bestselling A Book of Angels. He argues that our collective fascination with angels seems especially linked to their perceived utility as helpmates and describes how they have been incorporated into everything from healing practices and child rearing to warding off evil and evoking love. But, Gardella argues, these angels are often perceived as servants of man rather than agents of God, and this very servitude has helped codify our sense of national uniqueness and righteousness.

Angel enthusiasm may be centered in America's heartland—home of the Hallmark empire and Precious Moments chapel—but it extends everywhere, including our music, popular literature, advertising, television shows, and Hollywood movies like It's a Wonderful Life, Michael, and City of Angels. And, as Gardella shows, whether New Age or evangelical, these angels are becoming more multicultural, more physical, and more intimately engaged with us all the time.

Beautifully and sympathetically written, but with a scholar's eye for pattern and detail, American Angels mixes theology, psychology, sociology of religion, gender theory, and even film criticism to create an unusually well-rounded survey of a uniquely American phenomenon. It shows us how the utility of angels speaks to the very core of religion and will enlighten skeptics and believers alike.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Gardella’s brave and ambitious book offers a courageous interpretation of our times. . . . Illuminating and authoritative.”—Sophy Burnham, author of A Book of Angels “Sprightly writing, with an eye to pop culture. . . . Gardella presents a goldmine of evidence for the eclectic, pragmatic, and material nature of American religious history.”—Colleen McDannell, coauthor of Heaven: A History “A readable and engaging study that shows very clearly that angels pervade the American imagination and perform important cultural work.”—David Morgan, author of The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice
Library Journal

Gardella (world religions, Manhattanville Coll.) has written one of 2007's most provocative and original books on spirituality. Angels, once the impersonal bearers of God's will, have mutated steadily into clichéd and honey-sweet decorative accessories in every American home. This wide-ranging book both surveys the immense range of angelic and pseudoangelic images and places them in a thoughtful historical and national context. Gardella suggests, with good reason, that angels have transformed into a symbol of a future of fulfilled dreams and are perhaps even the most potent metaphor for American culture. Highly recommended.
—Graham Christian

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780700615377
Publisher:
University Press of Kansas
Publication date:
09/18/2007
Series:
CultureAmerica Series
Pages:
296
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Gardella is professor of world religions at Manhattanville College and author of Innocent Ecstasy: How Christianity Gave America an Ethic of Sexual Pleasure and Domestic Religion: Work, Food, Sex and Other Commitments.

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