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American Heretics

American Heretics

Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the History of Religious Intolerance

Peter Gottschalk; Foreword by Martin E. Marty

St. Martin's Press


In the middle of the nineteenth century a group of political activists in New York City joined together to challenge a religious group they believed were hostile to the American values of liberty and freedom. Called the Know Nothings, they started riots during elections, tarred and feathered their political enemies, and barred men from employment based on their religion. The group that caused this uproar?: Irish and German Catholics—then known as the most villainous religious group in America, and widely believed to be loyal only to the Pope. It would take another hundred years before Catholics threw off these xenophobic accusations and joined the American mainstream. The idea that the United States is a stronghold of religious freedom is central to our identity as a nation—and utterly at odds with the historical record. In American Heretics, historian Peter Gottschalk traces the arc of American religious discrimination and shows that, far from the dominant protestant religions being kept in check by the separation between church and state, religious groups from Quakers to Judaism have been subjected to similar patterns of persecution. Today, many of these same religious groups that were once regarded as anti-thetical to American values are embraced as evidence of our strong religious heritage—giving hope to today's Muslims, Sikhs, and other religious groups now under fire.

Praise for American Heretics

“This book is a fascinating historical journey for anyone with an interest in history, religion and community.” —Press Association

“Eclectic examples from the ample album of bigotry in American democracy.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A must read in a 21st century when religious pluralism and religious intolerance are a global challenge. Peter Gottschalk's American Heretics is a unique and powerful study and critique, a corrective to many American's amnesia about our past history of religious intolerance and, in his last chapter, a wakeup call to 'The Sum of All Fears: Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment.'” —John L. Esposito, author of The Future of Islam and Islamophobia and the Challenge of Pluralism.

“American Heretics is a heartfelt plea to Americans to take responsibility for their xenophobia and racism. Gottschalk is relentless in presenting the grimy shame of U.S. nativism, giving new detail to both past and current events we thought we knew, all the while insisting that all Americans share in this shame.” —Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University Bloomington


Reviews from Goodreads

Peter Gottschalk; Foreword by Martin E. Marty

Peter Gottschalk is the chair of the Religion department at Wesleyan University. He is the co-author of the scholarly text Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, which examines the depiction of Muslims in political cartoons. It was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, and he was interviewed on CNN, NPR, Air America, and Voice of America,and was featured in USA Today, and The Washington Post's "On Faith" website. He lives in Middletown, CT.

Peter Gottschalk

Peter Gottschalk at Wesleyan

St. Martin's Press

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