A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality.

SHIPSHEWANA: An Indiana Amish Community
Dorothy O. Pratt. Indiana, $29.95 (209p) ISBN 0-253-34518-9

In this careful community study, Pratt (a professor and assistant dean at Notre Dame) analyzes the tension between assimilation and cultural distinctiveness among the northern Indiana Amish in the 19th and 20th centuries. A focal point of Pratt’s discussion of Amish boundary-setting is World War I, when being a German-speaking pacifist was not exactly an asset. Pratt shows that even beyond their young men’s refusal to fight, all Amish were suspect because they wouldn’t buy war bonds or support the Red Cross. She also examines the 1921 state law that required all children to attend school until the age of 16--a law that many Amish strenuously defied. The book contains some digressions, such as a history of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana and a dry detour into Amish farming techniques, but in general this is a worthy case study of resistance to change. (Dec.)

GETTING THE GOSPELS: Understanding the New Testament’s Accounts of Jesus’ Life
Steven L. Bridge. Hendrickson, $14.95 paper (176p) ISBN 1-56563-943-X

With its short but packed chapters, accessible writing style and allusions to pop culture, this introduction to the four gospels contains enough meat for scholars, presented in a way that will be palatable for the general reader. Bridge argues that much of the gospels’ original context has been lost, and helps readers understand that crucial context. For example, some of Jesus’ sayings have been misunderstood, he writes, because modern readers don’t realize things his first-century Jewish audience would have recognized instantly--such as when he was quoting from the Hebrew scriptures. Bridge carefully separates the unique strands of the gospels and shows readers the different ways they present Jesus’ birth, ministry and passion. With contagious enthusiasm and a fine attention to detail that never loses sight of the big picture, this little book is a gem of accessible biblical scholarship. (Nov.)

Edited by Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith. Univ. of Illinois, $34.95 (176p) ISBN 0-252-02947-X

In 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reversed a longstanding ban by granting the lay priesthood to all worthy men, regardless of race. In this book, eight scholars weigh in on the history of the ban, the present role of African-Americans in Mormon life and the residue of earlier racism. The editors claim that despite the 1978 revelation, the Church has done little to distance itself from damaging folk doctrines of the past, and "needs to forthrightly confront its past history of racial exclusion and discrimination." The book’s best essays are Alma Allred’s fascinating analysis of racial themes in LDS scripture; Armand Mauss’s summary of post-1978 developments; and Ken Driggs’s on-the-ground report of a successful, racially mixed Mormon congregation in Atlanta. Like other scholarly anthologies on narrow topics, this collection contains some repetition of ideas, case reports and anecdotes, but it is one of the most far-reaching studies of black Mormons to date. (Nov.)

THE MARTYRS OF KARBALA: Shi‘i Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran
Kamran Scot Aghaie. Univ. of Washington, $60 (248p) ISBN 0-295-98448-1; $24.95 paper ISBN 0-295-98455-4

In 680 CE, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hoseyn and 70 associates were slaughtered by troops of the rival Umayyad caliphate. This massacre, known as the Battle of Karbala, was a decisive event in the schism between Sunni and Shi‘i Muslims, and as such is remembered by Shi‘ites in story, song, drama and ritual procession. In this book, Islamic historian Aghaie traces the political uses of Karbala symbolism in 19th- and 20th-century Iran, arguing that it has been a "very flexible" narrative for Iranian rulers. Some, like the Qajar regime (1796—1925), enthusiastically sponsored the story in drama and song, and found that their use of Karbala symbolism helped legitimate their rule. Others, like the more secular and Westernized Pahlavi regime (1925—1979), ignored or suppressed the story’s retelling—at their peril. Although the prose is dry and formal, Aghaie is sensitive to the way that Karbala symbolism serves as a valuable lens for examining change in modern Iranian society. (Nov.)

ALIENS ADORED: Raël’s UFO Religion

Susan J. Palmer. Rutgers, $60 (224p) ISBN 0-8135-3475-5; $17.95 paper ISBN 0-8135-3476-3

Palmer, a professor of religious studies at Dawson College in Montreal, offers a rare full-length analysis of the Raelian movement, which made headlines in 2002 when leaders claimed to have successfully cloned a human being. Palmer is a scholar of new religious movements, and the book undertakes some serious academic questions (including a thoughtful discussion of the Raelians as a test case for Weber’s thesis on the routinization of charisma), but it is also downright fun, even dishy. Palmer has spent more than 15 years observing the Raelians and their controversial leader firsthand, and she shares her own experiences and impressions within a balanced portrait of the history, organization and theology of the group. Drawing on interviews, participant-observer accounts of Raelian meetings and analyses of the movement’s increasingly sophisticated public relations outreach, Palmer profiles a fascinating new religion still struggling to define itself. Her tone is sometimes admiring, sometimes critical, and always intrigued. (Nov.)

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