I doubt I'm going to read this book cover to cover, but the essays I've read from it thus far have been fascinating. The editor defines "alternative religion" as anything not mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Eastern Orthodoxy and devotes the first chapter to a discussion of how he delineates between mainstream and alternative religions and how the definition has shifted and will likely continue to shift over time. The essays about the alternative religions are factual, unbiased accounts that discuss each religion's historical origins, any divisions and evolutions over time, and the current status of the religion as a whole. I'm not going to name names, but let's just say that some of America's religions have pretty bizarre origins. Not a few of them were founded by people in colonial times who experienced what in modern times we'd probably call a nervous breakdown. How else would you describe a sudden feeling of certainty that the world was going to end in the next few months? Still the descriptions are very sympathetic and really make you think about the divide between the absurd origins of people's most deeply held beliefs in contrast to the stable, respected position these beliefs hold in people's daily lives.
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