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The Wuthnow Project
In 2003, Sufjan Stevens released an album titled Greetings From Michigan, the Great Lake State, a 15-track aural history of the 26th state. Stevens billed it as the first installment of a planned 50 albums, one for each of the 50 states. He followed it up in 2005 with Come On Feel the Illinoise, which included tracks such as "The Seer's Tower," "One Last 'Woo-Hoo!' For the Pullman," and "Let's Hear the String Part Again, Because I Don't Think They Heard It All the Way Out in Bushnell." Since then, though, the ambitious project has stalled. Stevens has produced a number of other albums, including what he calls a "programmatic tone poem" for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but the other 48 states still await their turn as muse.
Such grandiose silliness has little to do with the work of Robert Wuthnow, the Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Social Sciences at Princeton University, save in one respect: if anyone writing today could pull off a similarly epic mission—a book for every state—it would be Wuthnow, who at last count had authored some 34 books and 15 edited collections over a nearly four-decade career as one of the leading scholars of religion and society in the United States. In 2012, for example, he published Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland, a study of conservative religious culture in his native Kansas. With his latest book, Rough Country: How Texas Became America's Most Powerful Bible-Belt State, Wuthnow has done more than merely pull even with Stevens in the race to 50. When we add to the list yet another of Wuthnow's recent titles, Small-Town America: Finding Community, Shaping the Future, it's clear that he has completed a trilogy on religious and political conservatism in modern America.
Hardly any development in modern America has been in greater need of scholarly explanation than the resurgence of religious and political ...