One of his five best books on religion and politics, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
A Stone of HopeRead about another book on the list.
by David L. Chappell (2004)
When it came to ending Jim Crow, why did black activists succeed and white liberals fail? In a word, religion (or a lack thereof). Other historians have analyzed the civil-rights movement in social and political terms, but David Chappell reads it as "a religious event" in which the fiery rhetoric of the Hebrew prophets inspired civil-rights activists to stand up to police dogs and fire hoses. "A Stone of Hope" is exhaustively researched and brilliantly argued, but what really stands out is Chappell's slashing style, which seeks out on almost every page a new scholar to attack. To take just one provocation, Chappell chastises other civil-rights historians for implying, about Martin Luther King Jr., "that everything King needed to know he learned in kindergarten—his spiritual kindergarten, 'the' black church." King's key intellectual influence was a white man, the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, Chappell writes. "What makes King a world-historical figure is his Niebuhrian pessimism about human institutions and his Niebuhrian insistence that coercion is tragically necessary to achieve justice."