The book: Although Dr. James Dobson was famous for crusading for the the Christian right, his area of expertise was actually in childrearing. In 1970, he published the bestselling book Dare to Discipline and shortly after founded the Christian foundation Focus on the Family. In Practicing What the Doctor Preached: At Home With Focus on the Family (Oxford University Press), Ridgely explores Dobson’s theories and principles for raising children through interviews with families that put them into practice. She comes to the conclusion that Dobson’s stringent plans were used in surprisingly flexible ways.

The author: Susan Ridgely ’96 graduated from Princeton with a B.A. in religion and received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a visiting associate professor of American religions at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Ridgely’s research focuses on the importance of age in analyzing religion and she published her first book When I was a Child: Children’s Interpretation of First Communion (University of North Carolina Press) in 2005.

Opening lines: “‘All over this country little children are reaching for fathers who are not there.’ That was Dr. James Dobson’s diagnosis of America’s ills. He offered it in a 1981 television special called ‘Where’s Dad?,’ which was intended to be his introduction the American mainstream. Among certain segments of the population, however, he was already a household name.”

Reviews: Kathryn Lofton, a Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Yale University, says, “Through her thoughtful engagement with a range of informants, Ridgely decodes evangelical extremism and finds within it more flexibility and virtuosity than previously understood. After reading Practicing What the Doctor Preached, there can be no doubt: parenting is the lived religion of political life.”