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John Wilson, Managing Editor


Stranger in a Strange Land

Imagine that as you are flipping through the pages of today's New York Times, you come across a story about the town in which you live. Your first reaction is a mixture of surprise, delight, and curiosity, but as you begin to read, other emotions take over: deep puzzlement mingled with mounting irritation. For while the writer of the article has clearly visited your town, and while some of the details of his report are factually accurate, the overall story utterly misrepresents both the history and the current reality of the place you know so well. Indeed, so radical is the discrepancy that by the time you finish the article you're not merely puzzled and irritated but also deeply unsettled. You may even decide to take a walk around town, just to reassure yourself of its familiar reality, warts and all.

Such were my reactions when I read the Spring 1997 issue of Partisan Review, a special issue on "Breaking Traditions: Fin de Siecle 1896 and 1996," based on a symposium held in November 1996. The strong lineup of contributors includes a number of PR regulars writing on predictable topics (Edith Kurzweil, for instance, on psychoanalysis, and Robert Wistrich with "A Comparison of the Situation of the Jewish World As It Was a Hundred Years Ago and Today"). But also present is a figure I wouldn't have expected to see in this context: James Davison Hunter, director of the Post-Modernity Project at the University of Virginia and author of several influential books that no doubt can be found on the shelves of many B&C readers. Hunter's talk, "The Changing Locus of Religions" (pp. 186-97), turned out to focus on American evangelicalism. And so with considerable anticipation I began to follow Professor Hunter's account of the community I know best--an account that promised to be all the more interesting for being delivered to an audience for whom evangelicalism is largely terra incognita.

Space does not permit a detailed summary of Hunter's talk, and I urge you to read it in ...

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