Religious freedom is so often presented as a timeless American
ideal and an inalienable right, appearing fully formed at the
founding of the United States. That is simply not so, Tisa Wenger
contends in this sweeping and brilliantly argued book. Instead,
American ideas about religious freedom were continually reinvented
through a vibrant national discourse--Wenger calls it "religious
freedom talk--that cannot possibly be separated from the evolving
politics of race and empire.
More often than not, Wenger demonstrates, religious freedom talk
worked to privilege the dominant white Christian population. At the
same time, a diverse array of minority groups at home and colonized
people abroad invoked and reinterpreted this ideal to defend
themselves and their ways of life. In so doing they posed sharp
challenges to the racial and religious exclusions of American life.
People of almost every religious stripe have argued, debated,
negotiated, and brought into being an ideal called American
religious freedom, subtly transforming their own identities and
traditions in the process. In a post-9/11 world, Wenger reflects,
public attention to religious freedom and its implications is as
consequential as it has ever been.