cover image One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America

One Nation Under God: The History of Prayer in America

James P. Moore, Jr.. Doubleday, $29.95 (519pp) ISBN 978-0-385-50403-4

The simple contention of this fascinating study is that prayer has always been intertwined with America's cultural life. Moore, who teaches at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, casts a broad net, beginning with Native American prayers before European colonization and culminating with the prayers of Americans after 9/11. He attends not only to prayers said around tables and in houses of worship but also to the way that the arts contribute to prayer: in the 19th century, artists like Thomas Cole penned prayers in art journals, and 20th-century Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein wrote a symphony that meditated on the Jewish kaddish. Indeed, Moore has really written a history of religion in America told through the lens of prayer; for example, his discussion of Shaker prayer is embedded in a discussion of Shakers' place in America's 19th-century religious landscape. Moore also addresses American policy about prayer, charting Supreme Court decisions about prayer in school. There are moments when the author, who has also written a biography of President Ford, allows his own political and cultural predilections to show through; his enthusiasm for President Bush can be distracting. However, this is a minor flaw in an otherwise terrifically engaging book. (Nov.)