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The Body of Faith

A Biological History of Religion in America

The postmodern view that human experience is constructed by language and culture has informed historical narratives for decades. Yet newly emerging information about the biological body now makes it possible to supplement traditional scholarly models with insights about the bodily sources of human thought and experience.

The Body of Faith is the first account of American religious history to highlight the biological body. Robert C. Fuller brings a crucial new perspective to the study of American religion, showing that knowledge about the biological body deeply enriches how we explain dramatic episodes in American religious life. Fuller shows that the body’s genetically evolved systems—pain responses, sexual passion, and emotions like shame and fear—have persistently shaped the ways that Americans forge relationships with nature, to society, and to God.

The first new work to appear in the Chicago History of American Religion series in decades, The Body of Faith offers a truly interdisciplinary framework for explaining the richness, diversity, and endless creativity of American religious life.


“What would a history of American religion look like if it were grounded in a shared human biology, in the genetics, hormones, sexual organs, bilateral structures, and sensorium of the human body? That is precisely what Robert C. Fuller gives us in The Body of Faith. I was deeply inspired and moved by it.”

Jeffrey J. Kripal | author of Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred

“In contrast to traditional historians of religion and especially to those now arguing for the return of supernaturalism as an acceptable explanation of religious behavior, Robert Fuller provocatively pushes for greater naturalism, emphasizing the importance of the body—especially the brain and nervous system—as ‘a critical historical category’ in studying various manifestations of religion in America. Nimbly avoiding the pitfalls of biological determinism, Fuller makes a persuasive case for adding biological and psychological mechanisms to our analytical toolbox. Believers and postmodernists, however, should beware: this book will challenge their spiritual and intellectual convictions.”

Ronald L. Numbers | author of The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design

“Blending analysis of religion’s biological functions with acknowledgment of its cultural construction, this lucid volume offers persuasive accounts of apocalypticism, fundamentalism, spiritual seeking, and other salient characteristics of American religion. Fuller’s even-handed treatment of scientific explanation complements his mastery of historical sources in a forceful testament to religion’s importance in American life.”

Amanda Porterfield | author of Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation

"[A] readable and highly recommended text."

The Catholic Historical Review

"A wonderfully ambitious and wide-ranging effort designed to bring the biological body into the history of religion in America and by extension into the study of religion more generally."

Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Table of Contents


Chapter One: History’s Body
Chapter Two: Incorporating a Civill Body Politick
Chapter Three: Sectarian Sensibilities
Chapter Four: The Varieties of Emotional Experience
Chapter Five: Pain and the Creative Imagination
Chapter Six: Passion, Devotion, and Religious Transformation
Chapter Seven: Denominational Bodies, Individual Postures
Chapter Eight: The Body of Twenty-First-Century Faith

Afterword: Historiography in the Twenty-First Century


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