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Book review: 'American Heretics: Catholics, Jews, Muslims and the History of Religious Intolerance' by Peter Gottschalk

For a country that prides itself on freedom of religion, citizens of the United States at times have had difficulty recognizing that religious freedom especially extends to people who do not share their own beliefs.
by Glen Seeber Published: February 16, 2014

“American Heretics: Catholics, Jews, Muslims and the History of Religious Intolerance” by Peter Gottschalk (Palgrave MacMillan, 242 pages, in stores)

Many schools tend to gloss over the uglier aspects of American history — at least, mine did. Sure, just about everyone has heard about the Salem witch trials, thanks largely to popular culture, but does anyone remember the Puritans hanging Quakers because they practiced their religion differently?

In spring 1660, in Boston Common, Mary Dyer was led to the gallows. Drummers pounded loudly to make certain her voice could not be heard by onlookers, for fear she might infect others with her beliefs.

Peter Gottschalk tells her story and the stories of others in his book, “American Heretics: Catholics, Jews, Muslims and the History of Religious Intolerance.”

“A community cannot progress toward greater tolerance as long as it does not grapple realistically with the dynamics of bias and constructively engage individuals struggling with the presence of bigotry in their own thoughts,” he writes. Understanding why people behave the way they do, he stresses, does not mean finding justification for their acts.

Quakers, Irish Catholics, Sioux warriors who participated in the Ghost Dance, Jews, Mormons, Branch Davidians and Muslims all find a place in Gottschalk's book, among others.

“Certain Anglo Americans saw their nation as essentially defined by an English and Protestant heritage among those natively born in the United States. This helped make the narrative of the (English Protestant) ‘Pilgrim fathers' crossing the Atlantic and settling so important, even though Spaniards established settlements long before the founding of Plymouth, and Native Americans millennia before then,” Gottschalk writes.

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by Glen Seeber
Copy Editor
Glen Seeber was born in Kansas, but his earliest memories are of residing in Ardmore, followed by attending kindergarten and first grade in Tripoli, Libya, where his father worked as a geologist. The rest of Glen's education was obtained in El...
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