The Bible in American Life

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Philip Goff, Arthur Emery Farnsley, II, Peter Johannes Thuesen
  • Oxford, U.K.: 
    Oxford University Press
    , April
     456 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Terry L. Nugent forthcoming.


There is a paradox in American Christianity. According to Gallup, nearly eight in ten Americans regard the Bible as either the literal word of God or the inspired by God. At the same time, surveys have revealed gaps in these same Americans' biblical literacy. These discrepancies reveal the complex relationship between American Christians and Holy Writ, a subject that is widely acknowledged but rarely investigated.

The Bible in American Life is a sustained, collaborative reflection on the ways Americans use the Bible in their personal lives. It also considers how other influences, including religious communities and the internet, shape individuals' comprehension of scripture. Employing both quantitative methods (the General Social Survey and the National Congregations Study) and qualitative research (historical studies for context), The Bible in American Life provides an unprecedented perspective on the Bible's role outside of worship, in the lived religion of a broad cross-section of Americans both now and in the past.

The Bible has been central to Christian practice, and has functioned as a cultural touchstone, throughout American history, but too little is known about how people engage it every day. How do people read the Bible for themselves outside of worship? How have denominational and parachurch publications influenced the interpretation and application of scripture? How have clergy and congregations influenced individual understandings of scripture? These questions are especially pressing in a time when denominations are losing much of their traditional cultural authority, technology is changing reading and cognitive habits, and subjective experience is continuing to eclipse textual authority as the mark of true religion. 

From the broadest scale imaginable, national survey data about all Americans, down to the smallest details, such as the portrayal of Noah and his ark in children's Bibles, this book offers insight and illumination from scholars across the intellectual spectrum. It will be useful and informative for scholars seeking to understand changes in American Christianity as well as clergy seeking more effective ways to preach and teach about scripture in a changing environment.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Philip Goff is the Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture and Chancellor's Professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, and History at IUPUI. Since 2000, he has been co-editor of Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation. His current research is focused on the history of religious radio in the United States.

Arthur E Farnsley, II is director of the Indiana University Center for Civic Literacy and Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at IUPUI. His books have been about the politics of the Southern Baptist Convention, the role of congregations in faith-based welfare reform, and the ways religious culture shapes and is shaped by urban growth and development. His popular writing has appeared in Christianity TodayChristian Century, and in newspapers across the country, as well as in his most recent book, Flea Market Jesus.

Peter J. Thuesen is Professor of Religious Studies at IUPUI and Co-Editor of Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation. His publications include Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine (OUP) and In Discordance with the Scriptures: American Protestant Battles over Translating the Bible (OUP).

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