What Would Jesus Read?

Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America

By Erin A. Smith

410 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2132-6
    Published: April 2015
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2133-3
    Published: April 2015

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Since the late nineteenth century, religiously themed books in America have been commercially popular yet scorned by critics. Working at the intersection of literary history, lived religion, and consumer culture, Erin A. Smith considers the largely unexplored world of popular religious books, examining the apparent tension between economic and religious imperatives for authors, publishers, and readers. Smith argues that this literature served as a form of extra-ecclesiastical ministry and credits the popularity and longevity of religious books to their day-to-day usefulness rather than their theological correctness or aesthetic quality.

Drawing on publishers' records, letters by readers to authors, promotional materials, and interviews with contemporary religious-reading groups, Smith offers a comprehensive study that finds surprising overlap across the religious spectrum--Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, liberal and conservative. Smith tells the story of how authors, publishers, and readers reconciled these books' dual function as best-selling consumer goods and spiritually edifying literature. What Would Jesus Read? will be of interest to literary and cultural historians, students in the field of print culture, and scholars of religious studies.

About the Author

Erin A. Smith is associate professor of American studies and literature at the University of Texas at Dallas.
For more information about Erin A. Smith, visit the Author Page.


“A lively, fascinating account of how popular religious books reflect and reinforce their social milieu.”--Choice

“An authoritative history of a century’s worth of religious books that shows how American readers have found in popular religious books help for living mindfully and meaningfully.”--Journal of Media and Religion

“Provocative, and its wealth of data should spark lively scholarly responses.”--American Literary History

“Smith combines critical and reader-sensitive reading to great effect.”--American Historical Review

“Smith’s scholarship is capacious, thoughtful and in many ways groundbreaking. It shows the seasoning of many years of engagement with a particular topic of study, and it will be a must-read for anyone interested in popular culture studies centered on the history of religious books in America and lived religion.”--SHARP News

“Illustrate[s] how reading itself represents a highly charged religious act.”--- American Literature