This introductory chapter discusses how religion shapes a community or a nation. Using the state of Texas as the backdrop of this book, the chapter argues American religion cannot be understood apart from considering its reciprocal relationship with race. The familiar observation that white and black churches evolved as, and largely continue to be, separate institutions does not go far enough. It also mattered that this institutional separation bred misunderstanding and indeed fear as well as inequality. American religion was profoundly shaped as well by the frontier experience, the westward movement grounded in the nation's sense of manifest destiny, and the dangers involved. National encounters and immigration have repeatedly altered the contours of American religion. These are the local and regional influences that require closer scrutiny.
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