American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Without knowing it, American worshipers have moved away from Christianity and now embrace pre-Christian Gnosticism, asserts Bloom ( The Book of J ). In his most controversial book to date, the Yale professor defines ``the American Religion'' as a Gnostic creed stressing knowledge of an inner self that leads to freedom from nature, time, history and other selves. Every American, he writes, assumes that God loves her or him in a personal, intimate way, and this trait is the bedrock of our national religion, a debased Gnosticism often tinged with selfishness. The core of this odd, ponderous book focuses on Pentecostals, Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and especially Mormons and Southern Baptists--the two denominations Bloom believes will dominate future American religious life. He argues that mainline Protestants, Jews, Roman Catholics and secularists are also much more Gnostic than they realize. He identifies African-American religion, mystical and emotionally immediate, as a key element in the birth of our home-grown Gnosticism around 1800. Bloom is not likely to win many converts to his viewpoint. First serial to Yale Reviewok ; BOMC and QPB alternates. (May)
Library Journal
Claiming to have read everything of importance on American religion, Bloom engages in ``religious criticism'' in order to elucidate what is distinctive about our national faith. He concludes that the great revival at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801 and the momentous writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James are key moments in the creation of America's central religious doctrine. Bloom claims that American religion is more gnostic than Christian. He sees this American Gnosis expressed most powerfully in early Mormonism and in the moderate Southern Baptist tradition, though it thrives in virtually every denomination and cult. By turns brilliant and wrong-headed, provocative and repetitious, this work belongs in most libraries less for what it achieves than what it attempts.-- Steve Gowler, Wofford Coll. Lib., Spartanburg, S.C.
Michiko Kakutani
"The American Religion" is a highly eccentric, occasionally brilliant, sometimes irresponsible and often maddeningly convoluted book....Many of his insights are useful not only for evaluating this country's spiritual Zeitgeist, but also for reassessing its literary and political history....All in all, it makes for an uneven, prickly book, a book that is bound to be highly controversial, if actually little read. -- New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Bloom wanders a bit, away from Yale into "the Evening Land" of America and its churches—and reconstructs a remarkable diagram of the religious imagination. As a literary critic, Bloom has shown an increasing fascination of late with scriptural texts and religious imagery (The Book of J, 1990; Ruin the Sacred Truths, 1988). Here, he attempts to go one step further and provide an exegesis of the religions themselves, concentrating on those sects—Mormons, Shakers, Southern Baptists, etc.—whose origins are particularly rooted in American history and American patterns of thought. "No American," according to Bloom, "feels free if he is not alone, and no American ultimately concedes that he is part of nature." The resulting solitude of American life has given rise, as Bloom recounts, to a phenomenal array of "enthusiastic" cults, all of which purport to give the individual direct access to divine truth without the mediation of church or priest. Bloom is clearsighted enough to understand the ramifications of this, remarking quite rightly that in religious terms it amounts to a re-making of God in man's image—a process that turns every traditional Christian theology inside out. As a self-styled "Jewish Gnostic," Bloom celebrates this Promethean refashioning, but as a religious critic he is equally sensitive to the contradictions it engenders—particularly in the case of the Baptist fundamentalists. The political lessons that he extrapolates (mainly on the basis of the theistic rhetoric of the Republican Party) are not so clearly argued, however, and become annoying after a while. A great bolt of originality: Bloom manages to wade into a hopelessly overexploredterritory and point out precisely those landmarks that everyone else has missed. Remarkable ideas remarkably set forth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671867379
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 2/29/2000
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom
One of our most popular, respected, and controversial literary critics, Yale University professor Harold Bloom’s books – about, variously, Shakespeare, the Bible, and the classic literature – are as erudite as they are accessible.

Biography

"Authentic literature doesn't divide us," the scholar and literary critic Harold Bloom once said. "It addresses itself to the solitary individual or consciousness." Revered and sometimes reviled as a champion of the Western canon, Bloom insists on the importance of reading authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer -- not because they transmit certain approved cultural values, but because they transcend the limits of culture, and thus enlarge rather than constrict our sense of what it means to be human. As Bloom explained in an interview, "Shakespeare is the true multicultural author. He exists in all languages. He is put on the stage everywhere. Everyone feels that they are represented by him on the stage."

Bloom began his career by tackling the formidable legacy of T.S. Eliot, who had dismissed the English Romantic poets as undisciplined nature-worshippers. Bloom construed the Romantic poets' visions of immortality as rebellions against nature, and argued that an essentially Romantic imagination was still at work in the best modernist poets.

Having restored the Romantics to critical respectability, Bloom advanced a more general theory of poetry. His now-famous The Anxiety of Influence argued that any strong poem is a creative "misreading" of the poet's predecessor. The book raised, as the poet John Hollander wrote, "profound questions about... how the prior visions of other poems are, for a true poet, as powerful as his own dreams and as formative as his domestic childhood." In addition to developing this theory, Bloom wrote several books on sacred texts. In The Book of J, he suggested that some of the oldest parts of the Bible were written by a woman.

The Book of J was a bestseller, but it was the 1994 publication of The Western Canon that made the critic-scholar a household name. In it, Bloom decried what he called the "School of Resentment" and the use of political correctness as a basis for judging works of literature. His defense of the threatened canon formed, according to The New York Times, a "passionate demonstration of why some writers have triumphantly escaped the oblivion in which time buries almost all human effort."

Bloom placed Shakespeare along with Dante at the center of the Western canon, and he made another defense of Shakespeare's centrality with Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, an illuminating study of Shakespeare's plays. How to Read and Why (2000) revisited Shakespeare and other writers in the Bloom pantheon, and described the act of reading as both a spiritual exercise and an aesthetic pleasure.

Recently, Bloom took up another controversial stance when he attacked Harry Potter in an essay for The Wall Street Journal. His 2001 book Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages advanced an alternative to contemporary children's lit, with a collection of classic works of literature "worthy of rereading" by people of all ages.

The poet and editor David Lehman said that "while there are some critics who are known for a certain subtlety and a certain judiciousness, there are other critics... who radiate ferocious passion." Harold Bloom is a ferociously passionate reader for whom literary criticism is, as he puts it, "the art of making what is implicit in the text as finely explicit as possible."

Good To Know

Bloom earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1955 and was hired as a Yale faculty member that same year. In 1965, at the age of 35, he became one of the youngest scholars in Yale history to be appointed full professor in the department of English. He is now Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale and Berg Visiting Professor of English at New York University.

Though some conservative commentators embraced Bloom's canon as a return to traditional moral values, Bloom, who once styled himself "a Truman Democrat," dismisses attempts by both left- and right-wingers to politicize literature. "To read in the service of any ideology is not, in my judgment, to read at all," he told a New York Times interviewer.

His great affinity for Shakespeare has put Bloom in the unlikely position of stage actor on occasion; he has played his "literary hero," port-loving raconteur Sir John Falstaff, in three productions.

Bloom is married to Jeanne, a retired school psychologist whom he met while a junior faculty member at Yale in the 1950s. They have two sons.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Harold Irving Bloom (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York and New Haven, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 11, 1930
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Cornell University, 1951; Ph.D., Yale University, 1955

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