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Bounds of Their Habitation

Race and Religion in American History

Paul Harvey

There is an “American Way” to religion and race unlike anyplace else in the world, and the rise of religious pluralism in contemporary American (together with the continuing legacy of the racism of the past and misapprehensions in the present) render its understanding crucial. Paul Harvey’s Bounds of Their Habitation, the latest installment in the acclaimed American Ways Series, concisely surveys the evolution and interconnection of race and religion throughout American history. Harvey pierces through the often overly academic treatments afforded these essential topics to accessibly delineate a narrative between our nation’s revolutionary racial and religious beginnings, and our increasingly contested and pluralistic future. Anyone interested in the paths America’s racial and religious histories have traveled, where they’ve most profoundly intersected, and where they will go from here, will thoroughly enjoy this book and find its perspectives and purpose essential for any deeper understanding of the soul of the American nation. « less more »
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 264Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4422-3618-9 • Hardback • November 2016 • $38.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-3619-6 • eBook • November 2016 • $36.00 • (£24.95)
Paul Harvey is professor of history at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, and the author of Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity (R&L 2011).
Introduction: Religion and Race in American History
Chapter 1. Red, White, and Black in Colonial American Religion
Chapter 2. Religious Freedom and Religious Intolerance in the Early United States
Chapter 3. Religious Ways of Knowing Race in Antebellum America
Chapter 4. Religion, Race, and the Reconstruction of Citizenship
Chapter 5. Religion, Race, and Immigration
Chapter 6. Religion and Civil Rights: The Color of Power
Chapter 7. Liberation Theologies in a Conservative Age
A Note on Sources
Harvey’s contribution to the American Ways series is a compact overview of his scholarly specialty, race and religion in America, from the English colonial period to the present. The operating assumption is that race and religion are 'categories invented in the modern world' and used to shape 'social hierarchies, cultural expressions, and political power.' They were earliest applied to deal with the Native Americans of New England and Virginia and, soon after, the black Africans forcibly impressed into slavery and, in time, other non-white and non-northern-European migrants, including Chinese and Japanese, South Asians, and Latinos. Among the products of this application were Christian apologies for slavery; Jim Crow; the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; legalized segregation; Know-Nothingism; the Ku Klux Klan and its anti-black, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic spawn; and denial of First Amendment protection to Native American religion. The reactions included slave uprisings, the NAACP and minority-rights advocacy, the 1950s and ’60s civil rights movement, liberation theologies, the American Indian Movement (AIM), and Black Lives Matter. A magisterial précis.

Harvey surveys the evolution and interconnection of race and religion in US history. The premise is that both race and religion are categories invented in the modern world, and that once invented they shaped social hierarchies, cultural expressions, and political power. The modern origins of those categories notwithstanding, Harvey argues that religious diversity, in relative terms, existed as early as the 18th century, and that Americans heralded that diversity as a ‘crowning glory’ of life in America, even though religious freedom was yet to be fully realized. Harvey also argues that although the Bible played a significant role in creating Americans’ understanding of race, in time it also provided ‘more universal visions’ that undermined, though they did not totally eliminate, those same images of race. The author concludes that although religion is no longer racialized as it was in the past, ‘racial constructions remain a central ordering fact of religious life’ in the US.

Summing Up: Recommended. All general and academic libraries.


The prolific Paul Harvey has given us yet another book that is both a joy to read and breathtaking in its sweep. Bounds of Their Habitation is a masterful synthesis of the growing literature on race and religion in US history. This book seamlessly weaves together stories of white Christian racial theologies, African American religious resistance, Native American traditional and prophetic religious movements, Latino/a Catholicism and Pentecostalism, and many more.... Rowman and Littlefield’s 'American Ways Series' aims to provide 'concise, accessible treatments of central topics in the American experience' for general audiences and undergraduate classrooms. This book elegantly fulfills that mission.
Reading Religion

"An incredibly timely and accessible work, Bounds of Their Habitation narrates American history in a manner that is concise and expansive. This is a helpful and approachable text not only for scholars and their students, but also for any reader interested in the dynamic power of religion and race in American culture. Prompting readers to consider the implications of history for the present day, Bounds of Their Habitation is an important book for both the public sphere and classrooms."
Emily Suzanne Clark, Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Gonzaga University

"This sweeping and sensitive survey examines the entanglement of race and religion from the earliest native encounters with missionaries to the rising prominence of the "nones" in the 21st century. Harvey elegantly unfolds one of history's great paradoxes: how religious ideas and institutions have both nurtured and challenged racism and oppression. This is an essential text for teachers and students of American religion."

Molly Worthen, author of Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism

"Paul Harvey’s Bounds of Their Habitation is an amazing contribution and distillation concerning two central themes of U.S. history: race and religion. It is a book that will be referred to frequently in thinking and rethinking how race and religion are woven together in the country’s political and cultural histories. This book is superbly written and should be read by all kinds of readers—young and old, graduates and undergraduates, and even wizened professors who think they have read it all."
Randal Maurice Jelks, author of Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography

"Paul Harvey’s mastery of the historical record and accessible writing style makes Bounds of Their Habitation the first book that people should read about the history of religion and race in North America. It’s ideal for anyone who wants to understand how the convergence of religious ideas and racial categories shaped American society from the colonial period to the present. It’s also a perfect compliment to any American history class, high school or college, because of its careful attention to people from many ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds."
Michael Pasquier, Louisiana State University