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American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us Hardcover – October 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This massive book eschews the narrow, monographic approach to sociological study in favor of an older, more useful model: the sweeping chronicle of national change over time. Harvard professor Putnam (Bowling Alone) and his University of Notre Dame coauthor Campbell (Why We Vote) argue two apparently contradictory theses persuasively: first, that a "new religious fault line" exists in America, a deep political polarization that has transcended denominationalism as the greatest chasm in religious life; and second, that the culture (especially its younger generation) is becoming so much more accepting of diversity that thesis #1 will not tear America apart. The bulk of the book explores in detail cultural developments--the boom of evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s, largely concluded in the early 1990s; the rise of feminism in the pews; the liberalization of attitudes about premarital sex and homosexuality, especially among the youngest generations; and what may prove to be the most seismic shift of all: the dramatic increase of "nones," or people claiming no institutional religious affiliation. Putnam and Campbell (with their researcher, Garrett) have done the public a great service in not only producing their own mammoth survey of American religion but also drawing from many prior statistical studies, enabling readers to track mostly gradual change over time. (Oct. 5) (c)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* In recent controversy over the national motto, In God we trust, Putnam and Campbell see a symptom of profound change in the national character. Using data drawn from two large surveys, the authors plumb these changes. The data show that the tempestuous sixties shook faith in religion and that the seventies and eighties incubated a strong resurgence of devotion. But the two most recent decades add another twist, as young Americans have abandoned the pews in record numbers. Still, despite recent erosion of religious commitment, Americans remain a distinctively devout people. And devotion affects life far from the sanctuary: Putnam and Campbell parse numbers that identify religious Americans as more generous, more civically engaged, and more neighborly than their secularly minded peers. But the analysis most likely to stir debate illuminates how religion has increasingly separated Republicans from Democrats, conservatives from progressives. Readers may blame the Christian Right for this new cultural fissure, but survey statistics mark liberal congregations as the most politicized. But whether looking at politics or piety, the authors complement their statistical analysis with colorful vignettes, humanizing their numbers with episodes from the lives of individual Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Mormons. An essential resource for anyone trying to understand twenty-first-century America. --Bryce Christensen

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1St Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416566716
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416566717
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert D. Putnam is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and founder of the Saguaro Seminar, a program dedicated to fostering civic engagement in America. He is the author or coauthor of ten previous books and is former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

177 of 184 people found the following review helpful By Richard of Connecticut VINE VOICE on October 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I for one was blown away by the contents of this book. Once I started reading, I found it difficult to put down and fascinating. I am now convinced that we are all walking around with presuppositions about religion and religious beliefs in America that are just plain wrong. Think about it. You're a smart, educated, well-read adult. You try to keep an open mind throughout your life, and then along comes this 550 page book and smacks you, and your belief systems right in the face. Everything I thought about our country's religious status is now subject to re-interpretation. Here's why:

The authors did very substantial research, over a period of years. It was painstaking, and brutally honest. They approach this project the way you would do a massive pharmaceutical drug research study. They did not inflict their own belief systems on what they found. There has been no study like this, anywhere approaching this effort in more than 50 years. At the same time, they made the book highly readable which for a research study is more than surprising.

If I had to compare this study to anything comparable, it would be the Master's and Johnson study on sexual practices in America published many decades ago. That study revolutionized our thinking about sexual mores in this country, and this study will do the same thing for religion. You do not have to follow this book in sequence. Go into the table of contents, find a chapter that interests you and you will be able to go into whatever depth you like. Read a few pages or read the whole chapter, just be prepared to realize that what we think is not necessarily what the rest of us are thinking, and believing.

Here are a few concepts straight out of the book that should pique your interest in reading more.
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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Wolf Roder on October 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover
With 550 page of text and another 123 pages of appendices, notes, and index this is an extensive assessment of the role of religion in American society. The information is strictly factual, measured from two major surveys led by the authors. In addition they draw on many standard sources, Gallup, the General Social Survey, the Pew Religious Landscape Survey, and others. The authors present the data,- the cross classifications, the correlations, the trend lines - in half page, black and white graphs. Emphasis is on four major religious traditions, Catholics, main line Protestants, evangelical Protestants, and the not religious, i.e. those answering "none" when asked their denomination. The authors make it clear that most of the "nones" do in fact believe in God; only a tiny number of Americans label themselves as atheists or agnostics. These four groups account for 90 percent of Americans. The Authors can classify individuals by the extent of their "religiosity" on the basis of how often they attend church and other variables.

The authors examine the role of religion by ethnicity, gender, denomination, and race. They ask how the womens revolution has impacted religion. They examine religion and social class. Most of all they devote a chapter to "Religion in American Politics" to bring out how the current period seems to have divided Republicans from Democrats. Yet over the long run, that is since the fifties, religious adherence has varied greatly.

The authors also examine religion and civic virtues. Interestingly they find, - and of course document, - that religious Americans are more generous, more civically active, more trusting and trustworthy, in short, better neighbors.
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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful By dave branch on October 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is a treasure trove of observations about multi-denominational attitudes and behaviors and its intersection with political and social issues. But what I found most surprising and hopeful were the findings of integration across religious belief systems (e.g., the high rate of inter-faith marriages, friendships and shifts from one's parents' faith to another or no affiliation at all, etc.). As the subtitle suggests, faith does not only divide us, but in unexpected ways also unites us. A much needed message in today's volatile climate. The authors attribute this to a high level of religious tolerance. Unfortunately, they stopped short of distinguishing between religious tolerance and religious acceptance (tolerance involves "putting up with" people you disapprove of; acceptance involves refusing to pass judgment on people who are different from you). This would have been an important distinction as tolerance, with its condescending tone, is far less hopeful than acceptance. You can and must legislate tolerance while acceptance must come from the heart. And I believe that much of what they discovered was indeed religious acceptance. You'd have to go elsewhere for more on this distinction, such as another new book - Tolerant Oppression: Why promoting tolerance undermines our quest for equality and what we should do instead Keeping that in mind, the authors' application of religious distinctions and affiliations to a range of political issues including premarital sex, homosexuality, abortion, etc. spawned interesting observations. An important book.
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