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Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson (Library of Religious Biography Series) [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   246
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.99" Width: 6" Height: 0.71"
Weight:   0.7 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 3, 1996
Publisher   Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
ISBN  0802801560  
EAN  9780802801562  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
In this new "religious biography of Thomas Jefferson," Gaustad reveals the founding father's great commitment to religious liberty as well as his passion to reform or purify Christianity. Superb debunking of contemporary religious right caricatures.

Publishers Description
This acclaimed biography explores the religious life of Thomas Jefferson and the contribution his strident commitment to religious liberty made to the formation of the nation. Renowned historian Edwin Gaustad chronicles Jefferson's intellectual growth, paying particular attention both to Jefferson's private struggle to come to grips with his own faith and to his public role as champion of religious liberty. This volume is must reading for anyone interested in the religious life of one of America's most significant figures.

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More About Edwin S. Gaustad

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Edwin S. Gaustad is emeritus Professor of History, University of California, Riverside.He is a noted church historian and the author of over a dozen books.

Randall Balmer is Mandel Family Professor of Arts & Sciences and Chair, Department of Religion, Dartmouth College. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books."

Edwin S. Gaustad currently resides in Riverside, in the state of California. Edwin S. Gaustad has an academic affiliation as follows - University of California, Riverside University of California, Riversid.

Edwin S. Gaustad has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Baptists

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Half a Religious biography, Half other  Oct 6, 2006
Gaustad, Edwin S. Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, United Kingdom: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996. 246 pages. Notes on the Sources, index.

Sworn on the Altar of God, is a religious biography (as the subtitle implies) by Edwin S. Gaustad, the critically acclaimed professor of history at the University of California, Riverside. He has written other historical books (also with good reviews I may add) such Documentary History of Religion of America, and in this book he scores again, only if it were a biography of Thomas Jefferson rather than a religious biography.

Gaustad uses many of Jefferson writings and includes it in this biography with citations and context of when it is being said. He does this in a way that makes this book appealing. Right from the start though I noticed a flaw, he states his opinion as fact which is also known as the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. He states "Thomas Jefferson was the most self consciously theological of all America's presidents" [Gaustad, preface XIII]. This is contested by many people today who argue that Abraham Lincoln (a well known deist who spoke on God often) and / or George W. Bush (though I don't agree nor do I wish to resort to argumentum ad populum fallacy) is / are the most self consciously theological of all presidents. While this book isn't supposed to be arguing for ones view, I can forgive this. I liked how in the beginning he pointed out the misconception that everyone has today about Separation of Church and State, in the fact that it is not in our constitution but rather it was just a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists [preface IX]. So he expected to catch the viewer's attention by pointing out that misconception (though I already knew that fact) and worked. The books title is based on the quote from Thomas Jefferson "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny of the mind of man" [189]. He goes on to explain Jefferson's life from child hood to death and how he was very Anglican in his birth but went astray from his roots when he got older during The Enlightenment. He explains that he did this because he read many of Joseph Priestley's and Thomas Paine's works and wrote back to them (in secrecy) with open theological discussions. He does a good job doing this due to his extensive work he put into going out and getting all of Jefferson's writings.

What my main quarrel is with this book, is the fact that only a portion of this book actually is actually a religious biography of Thomas Jefferson. The only chapters I found interesting and valuable (that actually pertained to the title) were chapters: 1, 2, 5, and 8. The other 4 chapters were a complete bore and filled with clutter that has nothing to do with religion and never built up to anything associated with religion. Let me give you a fine example, in chapter 6 "The Educator", all Gaustad talks about is James Madison and Thomas Jefferson building the University of Virginia and what his rules were, and to be more specific, one page is even devoted to his architecture from Monticello and how he applied it to the University of Virginia [174]. I noticed what he tried to do in this chapter, he opened up with a quote from Thomas Priestly about creation and man, then he stuck a bunch of clutter about the establishment of University of Virginia then at the end he puts "What sounded like freedom to Jefferson could sound like Unitarianism to others" [180] even though he hardly touched on that aspect in the chapter itself.

What I like about the 4 chapters that actually related to the title of the book was that it delves deep into his feelings and his theological thinking. Chapter 2 "Student of the Enlightenment", explains his reasoning behind accepting reasoning over scripture, for instance "But those facts in the Bible which contradict laws of nature which must be examined with more care" [33]. Chapter 5 "The Religious Reformer", completely goes through Thomas Jefferson's work The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth with a fine tooth comb explaining what verses he cut out and what he kept. His book is a rehash of the 4 gospels that cuts out all miracles and supernatural and leaves the morals for him to study on his own. This work has now been put together and published as The Jefferson Bible. Chapter 8 "A Religion for the People" focuses on Jefferson's feelings against other religions and explains how he ended up intensely disliking the Anglicans because of their doctrine and charging him as a heathen around election time. It also explains how he liked the Quakers because they possessed no doctrine (thus accepting reason over scripture) but were mainly peaceful.
Overall, this work by Gaustad does a good job portraying Jefferson's deism and his thoughts on prayer, but the few chapters that actually were related to the title could have been made into a pamphlet or an online article rather than a $14.00 book. It is very mainstream friendly, but I would recommend anyone JUST interested in Jefferson's religion to read the book The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson by Charles B. Sanford instead.
A Review  Dec 16, 2005
Sworn on the Altar of God is an extremely informative look at Thomas Jefferson's faith. As one of the Founding Fathers, politicians and people of faith have so often tried to understand Jefferson's faith. In truth, he was a deist and a rationalist. Understanding the implications of this faith have great ramifications in our current times, especially in relation to a government which seems so intent on glorifying evangelical fundamentalism at the expense of reason. I feel that Jefferson would have been appalled!
Narrative Account of Jefferson's Religious Ideas  Apr 5, 2002
This book is an excellent compliement to Charles Sanford's "The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson." Whereas Sanford does a scholarly review of the content of Jefferson's religious ideas, Gaustad in this book gives the narrative and context for how Jefferson applied his ideas concerning religion and religious freedom. Most interesting to me in the Gaustad book were the accounts of the political fights Jefferson and Madison waged for religious freedom during the early years of the Republic. Gaustad filled in the historical gaps and gave me context for understanding how momentous the struggle truly was. Also brought to life by Gaustad are the correspondences between the aged ex-presidents Jefferson and Adams about God and religion. I highly recommend this book to those interested in the history of ideas and freedom of thought.
Jefferson's Thinking Hovers  Mar 27, 2002
Thomas Jefferson's thinking hovers over many of today's debates regarding separation of church and state, school prayer, the place of public education, and the place of faith in our own lives.

This is an excellent exploration of the complexities of Jefferson's beliefs and the even more complex world of how his writings and thoughts continue to impact America today.

Public education is necessary to save democracy Chapter ^  Sep 7, 1997
Excellent book As a school board member this book is important to show the importance of saving public education to perserve the American EXperiment. Jefferson was always in favor of a public educational system as a means to perserve the wall of separation between church and state. I would recommend this book for anyone who is oppossed to vouchers and charters schools

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