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American Religion: Contemporary Trends [Kindle Edition]

Mark Chaves
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Most Americans say they believe in God, and more than a third say they attend religious services every week. Yet studies show that people do not really go to church as often as they claim, and it is not always clear what they mean when they tell pollsters they believe in God or pray. American Religion presents the best and most up-to-date information about religious trends in the United States, in a succinct and accessible manner. This sourcebook provides essential information about key developments in American religion since 1972, and is the first major resource of its kind to appear in more than two decades.

Mark Chaves looks at trends in diversity, belief, involvement, congregational life, leadership, liberal Protestant decline, and polarization. He draws on two important surveys: the General Social Survey, an ongoing survey of Americans' changing attitudes and behaviors, begun in 1972; and the National Congregations Study, a survey of American religious congregations across the religious spectrum. Chaves finds that American religious life has seen much continuity in recent decades, but also much change. He challenges the popular notion that religion is witnessing a resurgence in the United States--in fact, traditional belief and practice is either stable or declining. Chaves examines why the decline in liberal Protestant denominations has been accompanied by the spread of liberal Protestant attitudes about religious and social tolerance, how confidence in religious institutions has declined more than confidence in secular institutions, and a host of other crucial trends.

Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2012 Book Award in Christianity and Culture, Christianity Today

"Chaves has provided new scholars, nonspecialists in the sociology of religion, and the general public with an accessible and accurate text that gathers a wide range of information into one place, and does so in barely more than 100 pages. Chaves's American Religion will serve as an important introduction to the topic and a reference for scholars, religious leaders, and the general public for years to come."--Paul J. Olson, Sociology of Religion

"In this brief book sociologist Chaves traces changes occurring in religion in the U.S. between 1972 and 2008. . . . Chaves demonstrates that the overall picture of religion in the U.S. is one of continuity and stability rather than dramatic change. Nevertheless subtle changes are occurring, and this book does an excellent job of sifting through the data."--Choice

"American Religion, for such a thin book, packs a punch, providing helpful insights and myth-busting perspectives on almost every page. This really is a book that every pastor should take the time to read. It will be a quick but powerful dose of the state of American religion."--Andrew Root, Word & World

"Chaves' study offers a rich, textured, and well-researched account of American religiosity. The book will serve to advance undergraduate and graduate learning concerning the complex and oftentimes complicated nexus between U.S. religion and politics. It will also interest scholars, policymakers, and the general public who care about how religion currently features in American public life and what future directions it may take."--Catherine E. Wilson, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

"Unsettling though it may be, American Religion is essential reading for pastors and lay leaders alike who want to understand the larger social context in which the mainline church both struggles and endures."--Rebekah Peeples Massengill, Interpretation

"Chaves's book raises more questions than it answers. Maybe that should be expected from a descriptive piece: the variety of data selected and presented naturally begs interpretation. For this reason, I think that Chaves's volume would also make a useful foil with graduate students in social science."--Penny Long Marler, Social Forces

From the Inside Flap

?An invaluable contribution to clarifying the facts about religious change in America."--Robert Putnam, coauthor of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

"American Religion promises to become the book of record for people interested in religious trends in American society. The U.S. Census does not include questions on religion. So while many other aspects of American economy and society get decennial descriptives, religion is left to advocates, activists, and scholars. Chaves fills the gap with numbers, and context enough for the general reader to digest."--Michael Hout, coauthor of Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years

"This book provides key facts so that those who wish to discuss or debate American religion can do so knowledgeably. It covers a rich amount of material, showing the many ways religion in the United States is remarkably unchanged over the past forty years, and the important ways it has changed. Mark Chaves is one of the very top scholars of American religion."--Michael O. Emerson, coauthor of People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States

Product Details

  • File Size: 1632 KB
  • Print Length: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (August 8, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0058E3K9G
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,919 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Little Good News for America's Religious Leaders October 22, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
American Religion by Mark Chaves contains little good news for America's religious leaders. Subtitled Contemporary Trends, the book examines continuity and discontinuity in American religious belief and practice over the last 40 years. While there are significant points of continuity in this time period--of belief in God and weekly attendance at religious services, for example--overall, the trend is toward discontinuity. "The religious trends I have documented point to a straightforward general conclusion," Chaves writes: "no indicator of traditional religious belief or practice is going up" (emphasis in the original).

Chaves' primary data sets are the General Social Survey (GSS) and the National Congregations Study (NCS), which he directed. Both surveys were conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. GSS has been conducted annually since 1972 and NCS in 1998 and 2006-7. Chaves is professor of sociology, religion, and divinity at Duke University, and his book is published by Princeton University Press. The book is brief (160 pages), but its data, author, and publisher make it an authoritative text whose conclusions religious leaders must wrestle with.

Here are some of those conclusions:

* America is increasingly a religious diverse nation, with a rising number of religiously unaffiliated persons--the so-called "nones" (chapter 2).
* Americans' religious beliefs show remarkable continuity, except in the area of biblical inerrancy, which is declining (chapter 3).
* American religious involvement, measured by weekly attendance at a religious service is stable but softening (chapter 4).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Those who say that American religiosity is experiencing a dramatic resurgence and those who say that it has declined dramatically are both wrong, according to Mark Chaves in this book. There has, however, been a steady increase in the number of people with no religious affiliation, and there has been a matching steady decline in those claiming affiliation with liberal Protestant denominations.

The author's observations are based primarily on the General Social Survey, which has data dating back to 1972, and the National Congregations Study, which has data from 1998 and 2006-7. One of the more remarkable features of the data is the high level of continuity with regard to religious attitudes, practices and beliefs. For example, the numbers of Americans who believe in God or a higher power, pray at least several times a week, and read the Bible at least once per week all remain essentially unchanged.

Americans have, however, become more accepting of religious diversity. The proportion of people claiming affiliation with a religion other than Christian or Jewish has risen from 1% in the 1970s to 3% today, largely as a result of immigration, although this proportion remains surprisingly small. White churches have become slightly more multi-ethnic, but the trend towards multi-ethnicity is very small and very slow. One remarkable change is that the number of Jewish people who say they believe in life after death has increased from 20% in 1970 to 63% in 2008. 60% of those with no religious affiliation also say they believe in life after death.

There is a limit to how interesting books about surveys can be, and the author recognises this and keeps the book mercifully short.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
American Religion: Contemporary Trends is a must read for anyone interested in gaining a richer understanding of how American religion has changed since 1972. The book is both so well crafted and so timely that I am naming it as the first book to find its way onto what will become my Top 10 Books of 2011 (the 2010 list can be found here).
The book relies on data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the National Congregations Study (NCS). The GSS is considered to be the starting point for any research on societal trends, since it has been conducted at least every other year since 1972. The NCS, which Chaves directed, was a national survey of "religious congregations across the religious spectrum" conducted in 1998 and again in 2006-7 (p.5). The data from this research suggests that religious trends in America over the last four decades can be summarized as follows: "there is much continuity, and there is some decline, but no traditional religious belief or practice has increased in recent decades" (p.14).

Seven topical chapters provide incredible insight into American religion. A quote of interest from each is included below.

*Diversity - "Americans have become more accepting of religious diversity and more appreciative of religions other than their own" (p.26).

*Belief - "When it comes to Americans' religiosity, the only thing that may be increasing slightly is what we might call diffuse spirituality" (p.37-8).

*Involvement - ". . . the basic story about religious service attendance is that it declined in the several decades leading up to 1990 but probably has been essentially stable thereafter" (p. 49).

*Congregations - " . . .
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