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Religion in American PoliticsReligion in American Politics

A Short History

Frank Lambert

Narrated by Don Hagen

Available from Audible

Book published by Princeton University Press

The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention blocked the establishment of Christianity as a national religion. But they could not keep religion out of American politics. From the election of 1800, when Federalist clergymen charged that deist Thomas Jefferson was unfit to lead a "Christian nation," to today, when some Democrats want to embrace the so-called Religious Left in order to compete with the Republicans and the Religious Right, religion has always been part of American politics. In Religion in American Politics, Frank Lambert tells the fascinating story of the uneasy relations between religion and politics from the founding to the twenty-first century.

Lambert examines how antebellum Protestant unity was challenged by sectionalism as both North and South invoked religious justification; how Andrew Carnegie's "Gospel of Wealth" competed with the anticapitalist "Social Gospel" during postwar industrialization; how the civil rights movement was perhaps the most effective religious intervention in politics in American history; and how the alliance between the Republican Party and the Religious Right has, in many ways, realized the founders' fears of religious-political electoral coalitions. In these and other cases, Lambert shows that religion became sectarian and partisan whenever it entered the political fray, and that religious agendas have always mixed with nonreligious ones.

Religion in American Politics brings rare historical perspective and insight to a subject that was just as important—and controversial—in 1776 as it is today.

Frank Lambert is professor of history at Purdue University. His books include The Barbary Wars, a New York Times Editors' Choice; The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America; and Inventing the "Great Awakening."

Don Hagen (narrator) is three-time winner of the Peer Award for Voiceover.


“Of the writing of books about the rise and rumored fall of the religious right there is no end. But most of these tend toward the genre of the rant, which is why Lambert's new book is important. It gives a history of the intertwining of evangelical faith and political engagement in America that displays no obvious agenda other than to illuminate.... The whole book will be useful as a handy, clear and fair treatment of this most contentious subject.”

Publishers Weekly

Religion in American Politics ... traces the interplay between pulpits and the public square through nearly two centuries of U.S. history. Some things, [Lambert] writes, never change.”

—Daniel Burke, Washington Post

“For students of U.S. religion and religious history, this is a useful and very interesting book. Despite many attempts to understand the relations between religion and politics, there have been few efforts to trace these interrelationships throughout U.S. history. Lambert takes on such a task enthusiastically and successfully, in a 'short' survey of 250 pages.”

—J. F. Findlay, Choice

“It's hard to have a conversation or argument about religion and politics in America without dragging history into it. At the very least, many of us feel compelled to invoke the Founders on behalf of a vision of America either as some sort of 'Christian nation' or as the first and most successful secular republic. In his brief but generally judicious Religion in American Politics, Purdue historian Frank Lambert demonstrates that this is nothing new: Proponents of both visions have been arguing back and forth since the time of the founding. Since his is a 'short history,' Lambert doesn't exhaustively document every intersection of religion and politics. Rather, he picks his moments, showing how they reveal particular versions of our hardy perennial debate.”

—Joseph Knippenberg, Weekly Standard

“Lambert's clear and well-conceived analysis is framed within his understanding of religious culture as a competitive marketplace.... Students and scholars interested in church-state issues in the United States will not regret reaching [this] book. Lambert's judicious treatment of sources and his attention to context give his work an authority that quotation warriors usually lack. Religion in American Politics may not be edgy, but it is wise.”

—Chris Beneke, Journal of Southern History

“Lambert's short history is long on insights into the fraught relationship between religion and politics in American life. Judicious in its balance, the book provides a compendious overview of the current conflicts that divide Right from Left, and it deepens our understanding of those struggles by grounding them in the repeated contests between Christian and secular visions of the republic.”

—Leigh E. Schmidt, Princeton University

Religion in American Politics is one of those rare scholarly books that actually manage to deliver more than it promises. In charting the relationship between politics and religion in American life, Lambert manages to provide an elegant, even-handed, and comprehensive account of the role religious faith has played in shaping the nation's destiny.”

—Shawn Francis Peters, Journal of Church and State

“Excellent. A sensitively told, compelling, and important narrative. Frank Lambert treats the various religious players throughout American history fairly and insightfully, showing how even religious groups that compete furiously (and sometimes viciously) nevertheless contribute to a vital and pluralistic religious culture that enriches the competing groups.”

—Christopher J. Eberle, author of Religious Conviction in Liberal Politics



1: Providential and Secular America: Founding the Republic

2: Elusive Protestant Unity: Sunday Mails, Catholic Immigration, and Sectional Division

3: The "Gospel of Wealth" and the "Social Gospel": Industrialization and the Rise of Corporate America

4: Faith and Science: The Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy

5: Religious and Political Liberalism: The Rise of Big Government from the New Deal to the Cold War

6: Civil Rights as a Religious Movement: Politics in the Streets

7: The Rise of the "Religious Right": The Reagan Revolution and the "Moral Majority"

8: Reemergence of the "Religious Left"? America's Culture War in the Early Twenty-first Century

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks