American Heretics: Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the History of Religious Intolerance

Overview

In the middle of the nineteenth century a group of political activists in New York City joined together to challenge a religious group they believed were hostile to the American values of liberty and freedom. Called the Know Nothings, they started riots during elections, tarred and feathered their political enemies, and barred men from employment based on their religion. The group that caused this uproar?: Irish and German Catholics—then known as the most villainous religious group in America, and widely believed...

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American Heretics: Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the History of Religious Intolerance

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Overview

In the middle of the nineteenth century a group of political activists in New York City joined together to challenge a religious group they believed were hostile to the American values of liberty and freedom. Called the Know Nothings, they started riots during elections, tarred and feathered their political enemies, and barred men from employment based on their religion. The group that caused this uproar?: Irish and German Catholics—then known as the most villainous religious group in America, and widely believed to be loyal only to the Pope. It would take another hundred years before Catholics threw off these xenophobic accusations and joined the American mainstream. The idea that the United States is a stronghold of religious freedom is central to our identity as a nation—and utterly at odds with the historical record. In American Heretics, historian Peter Gottschalk traces the arc of American religious discrimination and shows that, far from the dominant protestant religions being kept in check by the separation between church and state, religious groups from Quakers to Judaism have been subjected to similar patterns of persecution. Today, many of these same religious groups that were once regarded as anti-thetical to American values are embraced as evidence of our strong religious heritage—giving hope to today's Muslims, Sikhs, and other religious groups now under fire.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This book is a fascinating historical journey for anyone with an interest in history, religion and community.” —Press Association

“Eclectic examples from the ample album of bigotry in American democracy.” —Kirkus Reviews

A must read in a 21st century when religious pluralism and religious intolerance are a global challenge. Peter Gottschalk’s American Heretics is a unique and powerful study and critique, a corrective to many American’s amnesia about our past history of religious intolerance and, in his last chapter, a wakeup call to “The Sum of All Fears: Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment.” —John L. Esposito, author of The Future of Islam and Islamophobia and the Challenge of Pluralism.

“American Heretics is a heartfelt plea to Americans to take responsibility for their xenophobia and racism. Gottschalk is relentless in presenting the grimy shame of U.S. nativism, giving new detail to both past and current events we thought we knew, all the while insisting that all Americans share in this shame." —Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University Bloomington

From the Publisher
A must read in a 21st century when religious pluralism and religious intolerance are a global challenge. Peter Gottschalk’s American Heretics is a unique and powerful study and critique, a corrective to many American’s amnesia about our past history of religious intolerance and, in his last chapter, a wakeup call to “The Sum of All Fears: Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment.”

 

—John L. Esposito, author of The Future of Islam and Islamophobia and the Challenge of Pluralism.

“American Heretics is a heartfelt plea to Americans to take responsibility for their xenophobia and racism. Gottschalk is relentless in presenting the grimy shame of U.S. nativism, giving new detail to both past and current events we thought we knew, all the while insisting that all Americans share in this shame.”

 

— Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University Bloomington

Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-20
A short, discriminating story of melting-pot religion depicting some of the deadly perils of nonconformist faith in the land of the free. Our Puritan fathers, who sought religious freedom in the New World, were eager to hang professed Quakers as schismatic cultists who entertained Satan. And so it went, as Gottschalk (Religion/Wesleyan Univ.; Religion, Science, and Empire: Classifying Hinduism and Islam in British India, 2012, etc.) reminds us. Catholics (especially the Irish) were seen as fostering world domination by obeisance to the pope; in 1834, a convent was burned down in Charlestown. Not much later, members of the Sioux tribe, regular victims of broken treaties, were forbidden to perform their ghost dance. Following their own homegrown faith, Mormons were branded dangerous heretics. In the 20th century, true American Henry Ford excoriated Jews with his own malevolent writings as well as wide dissemination of the notorious hoax The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Throughout American history, Muslims both foreign and domestic have been and continue to be objects of distrust and scorn. Mistaken for followers of Islam, Hindus and Sikhs are often abused. Gottschalk demonstrates the national penchant for prejudice with representative examples over the centuries, when religious differences could be capital offences. That was the case 20 years ago in the apocalyptic massacre of the Branch Davidians. The group was called a cult, as, it seems, nascent religions might be termed. Just what a cult may be is not easy to explain; perhaps the age of the movement is pertinent. (In regard to cults as religions, Gottschalk has little to report about Christian Science or Dianetics.) Against tenacious prejudice, the author makes a scholarly case for tolerance, a virtue we purport to celebrate. "Celebrating the idea of secularism proves far easier," he writes, "than establishing a society based on it." If it helps, he offers a bit of instructive history. Eclectic examples from the ample album of bigotry in American democracy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781137278296
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 11/12/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 252,578
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Gottschalk is the chair of the Religion department at Wesleyan University. He is the co-author of the scholarly text Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, which examines the depiction of Muslims in political cartoons. It was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, and he was interviewed on CNN, NPR, Air America, and Voice of America,and was featured in USA Today, and The Washington Post’s "On Faith" website. He lives in Middletown, CT.

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