Professor Mark A. Smith has won the prestigious Morris D. Forkosch Book Award from the Council for Secular Humanism for his book, Secular Faith: Why Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics. The American Historical Association offers the prize annually in recognition of the best book in English in the field of British, British imperial, or British Commonwealth history since 1485. Previous winners include Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, Susan Jacoby, and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
ABOUT THE BOOK: Scholars typically assume that religion influences how people think and act politically. Both pundits and political scientists write about “values voters”—people who vote based on the values they derive from their religion. In Secular Faith, Smith takes a contrary view and argues that, in the long run, religion is best understood as a reactive force responding to politics rather than a proactive force driving politics. By exploring the history in America of five controversial issues—slavery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and women’s rights—he documents a clear evolution of cultural values and practices, religious beliefs and doctrines, and political activism and public policy. He shows that diverse groups of Christians have openly or tacitly accepted many modern ideas by either changing their long-standing positions or by refraining from political action. Their political stances often resonate with contemporary opinions, values, and behaviors but clash with the moral commitments and biblical understandings that Christians held in earlier generations.