Religion, Government, and Law in the Contemporary United States

Religion, Government, and Law in the Contemporary United States



Professor Conkle's contribution, chapter 31 in Volume 3, is titled "Religion, Government, and Law in the Contemporary United States."



Publication Date



Cambridge University Press


New York, NY


United States-Religion, Religion in America, History of religions in America, Religions in America


First Amendment | Law | Religion


Stein, Stephen J., ed. The Cambridge History of Religions in America. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

The three volumes of The Cambridge History of Religions in America trace the historical development of religious traditions in America, following both their transplantation from other parts of the world and the inauguration of new religious movements on the continent of North America. This story involves complex relationships among these religious communities as well as the growth of distinctive theological ideas and religious practices. The net result of this historical development in North America is a rich religious culture that includes representatives of most of the world's religions.

Volume 1 extends chronologically from prehistoric times until 1790, a date linked to the formation of the United States as a nation. The first volume provides background information on representative Native American traditions as well as on religions imported from Europe and Africa. Diverse religious traditions in the areas of European settlement, both Christian and non-Christian, became more numerous and more complex with the passage of time and with the accelerating present. Tension and conflict were also evident in this colonial period among religious groups, triggered sometimes by philosophical and social differences, other times by distinctive religious beliefs and practices. The complex world of the eighteenth century, including international tensions and conflicts, was a shaping force on religious communities in North America, including those on the continent both north and south of what became the United States.

Volume 2 focuses on the time period from 1790 until 1945, a date that marks the end of the Second World War. One result of the religious freedom mandated by the Constitution was the dramatic expansion of the religious diversity in the new nation, and with it controversy and conflict over theological and social issues increased among denominations. Religion, for example, played a role in the Civil War. The closing decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the rising prominence of Roman Catholicism and Judaism in the United States as well as the growth of a variety of new religious movements, some that were products of the national situation and others that were imported from distant parts of the globe. Modern science and philosophy challenged many traditional religious assumptions and beliefs during this century and a half, leading to a vigorous debate and considerable controversy. By the middle of the twentieth century, religion on the North American continent was patterned quite differently in each of the three nations – the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Volume 3 examines the religious situation in the United States from the end of the Second World War to the second decade of the twenty-first century, contextualized in the larger North American continental context. Among the forces shaping the national religious situation were suburbanization and secularization. Conflicts over race, gender, sex, and civil rights were widespread among religious communities. During these decades, religious organizations in the United States formulated policies and practices in response to such international issues as the relationship with the state of Israel, the controversy surrounding Islam in the Middle East, and the expanding presence of Asian religious traditions in North America, most notably Buddhism and Hinduism. Religious controversy also accompanied the rise of diverse new religious movements often dismissed as “cults,” the growth of mega-churches and their influence via modern technologies, and the emergence of a series of ethical disputes involving gay marriage and abortion. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the national and international religious contexts were often indistinguishable.

This collection documents the full range of religious diversity in American history and tells a religious story that includes both hostility and amicable relationships among the religious communities in America.

Full bibliographic details available here.

Copy available in the Jerome Hall Law Library, Reference BL 2525 .C354 2012 v.1-3

Religion, Government, and Law in the Contemporary United States