By the Vision of Another World: Worship in American History

A new book from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship takes a look at the history of worship in America via a series of fascinating case studies, each examined by a prominent North American historian.

"By the Vision of Another World: Worship in American History" is the 23rd book in the CICW's Liturgical Studies Series with Eerdmans Publishing, a series designed to promote reflection on the history, theology and practice of Christian worship and to stimulate worship renewal in Christian congregations.

The book is edited by Calvin College history professor James D. Bratt, an expert in U.S. religious history. In its 221 pages are a wide variety of authors—many of whom, Bratt noted, often are not read together because of the different areas in which they typically work. 

Worship, work and worldview

The 10 case studies and commentaries examine such seemingly disparate groups as 16th century Puritans in England, Methodists in the upper south, Tejano Catholics in Texas, African American Baptists in post-reconstruction Georgia and Dutch Calvinists in the midwest.

What unifies those essays and commentaries, Bratt said, is a critical question each piece has as its central tenet: How did worship, work and worldview interact among the group they studied?

"The question forced the authors into the familiar pursuit of tracking how Sunday or feast-day carried over into the workweek," Bratt writes in the book's introduction, "but also to follow traffic in the other direction: to see how the workweek shaped the worship."

Santayana on religion

The book's title comes from a quote, circa 1906, by Harvard philosopher George Santayana who said of religion: "The vistas it opens and the mysteries it propounds are another world to live in."

Santayana's contemporaries thought that otherworldliness was exactly the problem with religion in the industrializing, scientific order of their times. But, said Bratt, the case studies in "By the Vision of Another World" show that Santayana was right: a vision of some "other world" can and does exert powerful influence on the more immediate domain of everyday experience.

Christian worship as key mechanism

"Christian worship," he said, "serves as the key mechanism by which that other world comes to be 'lived in'—that is, comes to be communicated to, inhabited by and thus to shed its influence abroad through the lives of its believers."

The art of examining history, and the abilities of the book's essayists—scholars such as Dorothy C. Bass, Ruth Alden Doan, Paul Harvey, George M. Marsden, Timothy Matovina, Harry S. Stout, Leslie Woodcock Tentler, Michael Woods and Joyce Ann Zimmerman—to bring the resonances of the past to bear on the present, Bratt added, gives the book a currency one might not expect from a volume of past case studies.

"Micro-histories such as these," he said, "excel in capturing fine detail and complexity, at best provoking in present-day observers the shock of recognition, at least providing analogues to current situations."

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