ROADSIDE RELIGION: In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith

Timothy K. Beal, Author . Beacon $24.95 (216p) ISBN 978-0-8070-1062-4

Beal, a religion scholar who took his family on a summer RV tour of some of America's oddest religious sites, explores the varieties of religious experience while daring to be vulnerable and personal about his own faith. Whether he's tackling the popularity of biblical mini-golf courses or Precious Moments figurines, Beal (Religion and Its Monsters ) uncovers serious questions about religion and its sometimes highly singular practitioners. It's clear that the sites he finds most compelling are those whose creator has stepped out of the mainstream to carry out a quixotic personal vision, like the Maryland man who is building a gigantic replica of Noah's Ark to the size specified in the Book of Genesis; or the quiet Alabama Catholic who discovered his life's calling in transforming throwaway items (lipstick tubes, broken china) into sacred grottoes and replicas of biblical and historic sites. (Beal doesn't have as much patience with the slick Orlando theme park Holy Land Experience, which he calls "a fundamentalist Magic Kingdom.") The book is full of gentle humor and clever observations, such as when Beal notes that the World's Largest Ten Commandments site, in rural North Carolina, makes "a graven image of the prohibition against graven images." Although he can be critical, Beal is never cynical or snide, guiding readers to an informed understanding rather than simply proffering these sites as case studies in a religious freak show. (May 15)

Reviewed on: 03/28/2005
Release date: 05/01/2005
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Paperback - 216 pages - 978-0-8070-1063-1
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