Sunday, January 4, 2009

Five Favorites from 2008

--Hanna Rosin's reporting for The Atlantic
GetReligion's Terry Mattingly: "Rosin is a liberal’s liberal, when it comes to issues of science, religion and culture, but she is a brutally candid reporter and writer." Rosin's 2007 book God's Harvard was a critical, nuanced account of student experience at the fundamentalist Patrick Henry University in Virginia. Her two stories for The Atlantic this year were November's "A Boy's Life," which Mattingly discusses in the link above, and "American Murder Mystery" from the July/August issue. Both are fantastic pieces, challenging the ideological assumptions and conventional wisdom of both conservatives and liberals while providing first-rate analysis.

--Mark Silk's blog Spiritual Politics
Spiritual Politics first appeared in October 2007 as an election blog that would seemingly have multiple contributors. But Trinity College professor of religion Mark Silk has provided virtually all of the blog's posts since its inception, and that's been a good thing; his takes on religion and politics during the recent election season were consistently sound and insightful. Even better is that Spiritual Politics will have a post-election presence, as Silk continues to write regular updates.

--Constantine's Sword (documentary)
I have yet to read James Carroll's book Constantine's Sword, and can only imagine how much cutting and editing was necessary to create a documentary based on the seven hundred and fifty-plus page bestseller. Still the documentary makes for compelling viewing, especially as Carroll works through his own Catholic experience in an effort to understand the presence of militarism and anti-Semitism in Christian history. It's far from perfect--the issues Carroll raises require a lot more than ninety minutes of film--but certainly thought-provoking.

--Rightward Bound (eds. Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer) and The Family (by Jeff Sharlet)
Most of the books I read in the past twelve months weren't from 2008, but these two are notable exceptions; I reviewed both for PopMatters (see here and here). Rightward Bound convincingly argues that several factors from the 1970s help explain how conservatism began dominating American politics (and also why it has begun to fail in recent years). In The Family, Sharlet urges readers to reconsider fundamentalism, how religion influences politics, and the basic nature of American political power--a tall order, but one that he acomplishes with strong evidence and prose.

--The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday
There plenty of music I could list here, but the Hold Steady's most recent album is as good of a choice as any, combining several different rock influences into something creative, catchy, and worthy of many, many repeat listens.

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