Serving the Word

Literalism in America from the Pulpit to the Bench

The leading anthropologist’s “accessible, timely, and significant” (Kirkus Reviews) exploration of America’s search for certainty

Brilliantly observed and persuasively argued, Serving the Word, now in paperback, is an unprecedented look at the prevalence of literalism and the unexpected forms it takes in modern America’s religious and secular life.

Hailed as “thoughtful [and] suggestive” (The New York Review of Books), Serving the Word treats literalism as a modern belief system, analyzing its place in two seemingly contrasting fields: Christianity and the law. Moving from wealthy Angelenos who embrace starkly literal readings of the Bible to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s insisting on the narrowest interpretation of legal texts, leading anthropologist Vincent Crapanzano makes a persuasive claim that the attraction to literal certainty that we associate with fringe fanaticism is in fact deeply embedded in American culture.

This “disturbing but important” book (The Washington Post Book World) examines our society’s very conception of the truth, and poses basic questions about the state of America’s mind and soul.



“A rich and illuminating work, and arresting moral and cultural rumination.”
—Daniel J. Kevles, Koepfli Professor of the Humanities, California Institute of Technology
“Crapanzano takes the Fundamentalists as he finds them and expounds the manifestations of their literalism without condescension or contradiction.”
The New York Review of Books
“A provocative study of a timely subject. . . . Persuasively and cogently argues that literalism, rather than being a relative newcomer on the scene, is deeply rooted in American life and culture.”

Goodreads Reviews