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Amid the strife of the Culture Wars and the heated partisan divides between Red and Blue states, one thing seems to bring together a great many Americans across both sides of the nation's secular/sacred divide: a deep, abiding sense of amusement and incredulity—if not outright contempt—for purveyors and supporters of the so-called "Prosperity Gospel".

Fodder for comedy club monologues and weighty theological pronouncements alike, the "health and wealth," "name it and claim it," "confess it and possess it" TV preachers and their blessing-seeking, hap-hap-happy followers come about as close to being a national whipping boy as any one constituency within our culture. By turns dismissed and disavowed, the Prosperity movement has often been treated as a gold-plated curiosity that evokes questions about how "they" (the preachers) get away with "it," or why "they" (the believers) buy into "it."

Kate Bowler's book Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (Oxford University Press) moves beyond conventional wisdom to tell a more complex story about the movement. Part history, part theological analysis, part sociology, part ethnographic study, Blessed explores how this movement came to be, analyzes its central teachings, traces its networks, and notes its appeal.

Ultimately Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, takes these people—and their beliefs and practices—seriously. By doing so, she moves beyond a simplistic framework of snake oil salesmen and gullible dupes, toward a re-casting of the movement as one that "offers a comprehensive approach to the human condition" and sees humanity as ...

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August 2013

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