AMERICAN SPIRITUAL CULTURE And the Invention of Jazz, Football and the Movies by William Dean
Americans are perhaps the most openly and energetically religious of all the peoples among the developed nations. Americans are religious in all the obvious ways, belonging to churches, synagogues, and mosques as well as nurturing private spiritualities. But they are religious also in public ways, aiming to find a standard large enough to frame their common life and to judge them and their country.
In this book, William Dean describes the spiritual culture that is grounded in the emerging American story. He also explores the concept of God (or the "Ultimate") that is central to that story--a concept that is reflected in contemporary American culture, including popular culture.
The first part of the book argues that Americans are a pragmatic, culturally displaced, immigrant people and teases out the meaning of this description for a concept of God that is theologically and religious adequate--pragmatic yet attentive to both tradition and mystery.
In the second half of the book, the author verifies his analysis by examining three quintessential American popular cultural forms, which he would argue are forms of religious expression. They are jazz (improvisation), football (violence), and the movies (fantasy). The American Spiritual Culture is a work of constructive theology that is wide-ranging in scope, combining cultural commentary, rich historical illustrations, and theo-philosophical insights.
Praise for The American Spiritual Culture:
"William Dean’s splendid meditation on the spiritual character of American society is a distinctive and important contribution to the theology of culture. Like Sidney Mead and Robert Bellah, he believes that American society is replete with spiritual meaning, but Dean writes as a theologian. Like Paul Tillich, he believes that religion is crucially constitutive in culture, but Dean is a pragmatic historicist who rejects Tillich’s transcendental idea of God. Perceptive and engaging."
--Gary Dorrien, Parfet Distinguished Professor at Kalamazoo College and author of The Making of American Liberal Theology
"Who is God and what has God to do with Americans? Hard questions. But William Dean has explored them with insight and originality, opening up ways of thinking that had seemed closed and looking for light in places most scholars of religion would never look: jazz, football, and the movies. This is an intensely readable book that should reach a large audience of scholars and lay people alike."
--Robert Bellah, Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley and coauthor of Habits of the Heart and The Good Society
"The reader should not assume that this book will be light reading because its title speaks of jazz, football, and the movies: it is instead a serious study of American culture from a spiritual or theological point of view. Dean (Iliff School of Theology, The Religious Critic in American Culture) aruges that culture of Ameica is religious not just because so many Americans belong to churches, synagogues, temples, or mosques but also because Americans look for some standard greater than themselves by which to love adn to judge their nation. In the second part, he discusses three creations of American culture-jazz, football, the movies-and how it took a culture like America's to give birth to these phenomena. America is a new country lacking old traditions, so Americans had to improvise; a hallmark of jazz is improvisation. Americans violently took over a wilderness; football is very much organzied violence. Without Old World traditions, Americans found new ones in the movies, cowboys, war heroes, gangsters, and more. There is much depth in this engaging, well-written book. Highly recommended."
“Dean contributes some valuable insights and new material to the discussion [of the nation’s character]”
William Dean is Professor of Constructive Theology at Illiff School of Theology. He is the author of 5 books and coeditor of another. His previous book, The Religious Critic in American Culture, won an AAR Award for Excellency in the Study of Religion in 1995.
Table of Contents
Part I: God the Opaque
Part II: America the Invisible
Conclusion: The Irony of Atheism
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