Friday, November 4, 2016

Reviewing The Production of American Religious Freedom

By Finbarr Curtis

Some people have things to say about The Production of American Religious Freedom

Sarah E. Dees in Religion in American History
The case studies that he presents—nodes in a complex web that transcend time, space, points of view, and specific social concerns—are themselves impossible to neatly tie together. Yet the book does offer a compelling contribution to the conversation about religious freedom in America, a contribution that uniquely highlights economic structures and concerns, notions of personhood, aesthetic and affective works and workings, and ideas about private property and public good. Furthermore, The Production of American Religious Freedom—with its analysis of data at the micro and macro levels and its focus on how particular beliefs structure actors’ engagements with others—exemplifies the unique type of interdisciplinary research that is possible within the field of religious studies.
 Michael Graziano in Religion in American History
After thinking with this book for several weeks now, I have come to think of The Production of American Religious Freedom as a toolbox with which you can tune-up your own ideas about religious freedom, regardless of the time period or geography in which you’re working. Those of us thinking about a turn toward institutions, especially public ones, should pay attention. I found myself slowly taking apart how I’ve used religious freedom in my own work, and then putting it back together, to see what Curtis’s economy of religious freedom might do for me. Readers should investigate what it might do for you, too.
Andy McKee in Religion in American History
Into his assembled series of conflicts, Curtis wants to consider the “work that it takes to produce religious freedom” (2). It is this idea of work, of producing something, that is the true value of Curtis’s essays. Curtis, in short, relates the politics underlying the how, what, and why something is determined to hold value as either private or public within the framework of religious freedom. These connections, fractures, and fights, moreover, “examines how freedom can force people to make choices or allow them to avoid making choices.” Indeed, what does happen when someone elses freedom makes people uncomfortable and violent? What types of individualism are acceptable and accepted when the organizational and bureaucratic power of the state takes over you, and you, and you?
L. Benjamin Rolsky in Reading Religion
Curtis ... engages larger theoretical issues pertinent to the humanities and social sciences. His discussions of secularism, populism, and the privatization of public life alone are worth the price of admission. In addition, Curtis’s prose style elucidates even the finest descriptive points of complex writers such as Michel Foucault, Lauren Berlant, Cornel West, and Giorgio Agamben, just to name a few....

Curtis’s work—which could just as profitably be titled Genealogies of Secular Liberalism—should not only be widely read this coming school year, but for the foreseeable future.

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