Roadside Religion – great new book from Tim Beal

My friend Tim Beal just published a new book called Roadside Religion : In Search of the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith (Beacon Press) . I have read some of the press copies and it is a great summer read. Not your typical ‘religion’ book – it is very reader friendly – filled with ‘truth stranger than fiction’ accounts of life in the American South. He was just highlighted on “All Things Considered” on NPR – you can read the review and interview here. Here is how Tim viewed the project:

“I started keeping a list of roadside religious attractions throughout the country. Soon that list had become an itinerary for a new research project, a roadside approach to discovering religion in America. Six months later, in the summer of 2002, I loaded my family into a rented motor home and hit the rural highways of the Bible Belt on an initial voyage that included visits to places like Golgotha Fun Park, the World’s Largest Ten Commandments, Paradise Gardens, Ave Maria Grotto, Holy Land USA and, yes, Cross Garden. Over the next year, I made pilgrimages to many other roadside religious attractions throughout the United States, from the World’s Largest Rosary Collection in Skamania County, Washington, to Precious Moments Inspiration Park in Carthage, Missouri, to The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida. I took notes, took pictures, took video, talked with the creators, talked with visitors, talked with Clover and the kids. In the course of these travels in the novel, often strange, sometimes disturbing worlds of roadside religion, I not only discovered new dimensions of the American religious landscape, but I also discovered new religious dimensions of my family and myself. Indeed, what began as a research agenda, albeit a novel one, has become a much more personal, dare I say religious project, as much about my own complex, often ambivalent, relationship to the life of faith as it is about the places and people visited…

I suggest we think of these roadside religious spectacles as works of “outsider religion.” Just as the highly individual works of outsider art can often powerfully reveal the breadth and depth of human creativity and imagination in very local, particular forms, so the places explored in this book can reveal the breadth and depth of human religious experience and expression. Paradoxically, it is precisely in their marginality that they open avenues for exploring themes and issues that are central to American religious life, such as pilgrimage, the nostalgia for lost origins, the desire to recreate sacred time and space, creativity as religious devotion, apocalypticism, spectacle, exile, and the relation between religious vision and social marginality. So “outsider religion” becomes a way of illuminating “insider religion.”

You can order the book through Amazon.com here – and yes, just a shameless plug for a former college buddy 🙂

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