American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice

Albert J. Raboteau. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-691-16430-4
Brief studies of 20th-century Americans whose deep faith led them to challenge injustice are offered by Raboteau (Slave Religion), a scholar of African-American religious history and professor emeritus of religion at Princeton University. Beginning with the work of Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel, who described a prophet as “one who is impelled to speak because he feels the divine pathos like a ‘fire in the bones,’ ” Raboteau then explores the prophetic lives of six Christian activists, some famous (Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Merton) and others perhaps less well known to the general reader (Fannie Lou Hamer, A. J. Muste, Howard Thurman). His concise, skillful analyses show how each of these individuals, drawing inspiration from biblical sources as well as modern exemplars like Mahatma Gandhi, addressed poverty, racism, and militarism. Raboteau draws connections throughout between these “religious radicals,” who addressed common causes during 20th-century America’s tumultuous history. In his afterword, remembering the nine African-American churchgoers murdered in Charleston in 2015, Raboteau asks—and leaves for the reader to answer—whether last century’s prophets for social justice can provide models for future action. This scholarly yet accessible primer to the role of faith in the lives of American activists challenges contemporary notions of the role of religion in politics and argues that empathy is a critical first step in addressing the suffering of others. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/08/2016
Release date: 09/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 248 pages - 978-1-4008-7440-8
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