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The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith Paperback – April 1, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0226905181 ISBN-10: 0226905187

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (April 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226905187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226905181
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

We have come to the end of American religion as we once knew it, proclaims sociologist Wolfe. Drawing on interviews with practicing Protestants, Catholics and Jews, Wolfe examines the ways that American religion has been so transformed over the past five decades that it is no longer recognizable. He explores every facet of American religion-worship, fellowship, doctrine, tradition, morality, sin, witness and identity-as he investigates the fading of practices or beliefs that once dominated. For example, he observes that discussion of doctrine has almost disappeared from churches as they have focused more and more on emotional response to worship or belief and less on intellectual investigations of a church's history or creed. Wolfe also points out that the increasing religious pluralism in America has altered not only the faiths traditionally practiced in America but also those of immigrants who bring their religions with them from their native countries. Over the past 40 years, Wolfe argues, American religion has become "more personalized and individualistic, less doctrinal and devotional, more practical and purposeful." Although Wolfe's study offers some lively reporting and clear prose, it provides little new information about the decline of American religion and the newly altered religious landscape.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The egalitarian individualism that sociologist Wolfe has previously taken as his interpretive key for understanding American morality (Moral Freedom, 2001) now guides him in an exploration of contemporary American religion. In a wide-ranging survey, Wolfe finds that an indulgent individualism is radically redefining religion, undermining churches' ecclesiastical integrity. Though American pews are full, many of the worshipers now pray to a deity placidly tolerant of personal preference and lifestyle convenience. Though most advanced among liberal Protestants, this astonishing erosion of traditional orthodoxy increasingly manifests itself among Catholics and Evangelicals. (Even Old Order Amish are losing their grip on inherited beliefs.) Wolfe acknowledges and scrutinizes strategies for resistance among Orthodox Jews, southern Baptists, and Mormons, but he doubts that such strategies will prevent the eventual disappearance of religion as a cultural force. Skeptics may complain that in treating all of America's diverse religions, Wolfe oversimplifies the trend he analyzes. But in his concluding call for renewed dialogue about the role of religion in democracy, Wolfe gives readers good reason to appreciate his perspective on our still-evolving national worship. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I strongly recommend this book to any person studying religion or theology, or to any intellectually-minded believer in Christianity or Judaism.
ra2sky
My only negative about this work is that the author overlooks those bastions of serious orthodox study and practice of Judaism, Catholic and Reformed theology.
A. Calabrese
Many fundamentalists may likewise nod in rueful agreement with Wolfe that although they may be "doctrinaire...interested in doctrine they are not."
Anson Cassel Mills

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By ra2sky on May 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must-read for any person who wants to take an intellectual look at modern American religions. I happen to be a "believer" in one of the analyzed faiths (Protestantism--both mainline and evangelical, Catholicism, and Judiasm) and I found his analysis to be insightful, occasionallly disturbing, amd very thought-provoking. Although Wolfe calls himself an agnostic, of sorts, he is respectful to the people and views he analyzes and uses an even handed tone to both praise and critique the current state of religious belief in the US.
As a person interested in theology I found his discussion of modern doctrine, sin, and worship to be completely fascinating. This book does not set out to change anyone's core beliefs about God, but it very well may change your view about how the church approaches God, worship, and evangelism.
Although I am a lay reader, I have read quite a bit of theology and was comfortable with some terms that Wolfe takes a bit for granted. A person who has trouble distinguishing between the terms "evangelical" and "mainline", or thinks that a church using rock music might be called "liberal" could have difficulty with the text. Wolfe could have included a short glossary at the end of his book; this may have made this important text more accessible to lay readers.
I strongly recommend this book to any person studying religion or theology, or to any intellectually-minded believer in Christianity or Judaism.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on July 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
Scholars debate the number of "Christian" sects scattered across the planet. Wolfe doesn't attempt a count for the United States. Rightly so, the situation in that country is far too dynamic to pin down securely. If his chronicle is any indication, there may be more sub-forms of "Christianity" within those borders than can be found around the entire globe. Wolfe's travels and interviews are assembled here in a lively and descriptive account of why "Christianity" in the US precludes either definition or classification. It is, in many ways a ground-breaking and interesting book. It's certainly a stimulating read. Just keeping track of the breakaways and schisms, local or regional, is a mind-bending exercise.

If the US prides itself on anything, it is the theme of "individuality". As a politically democratic heritage has demonstrated, ideals and beliefs there are too fluid for dogmas to take root effectively. In religious matters, although these are rarely studied in detail, the passion for individual decision-making is intense. Wolfe, who visited and interviewed countless ministers and adherents of various faiths, demonstrates that personal choice has both been expressed and addressed in highly varied ways. His account is as detached as possible, since value judgements on his part would be meaningless. A circumstance, he grants, that is partly due to his Jewish Hungarian background. Whatever his method was - and only one group demanded that he declare himself - it shows here as impersonal and highly effective. Given the broad sweep he had to make, gathering in Protestants of many stripes, Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims, he's produced both a detailed and comprehensive account.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. Calabrese on January 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith by Alan Wolfe is a fascinating study of how the faith of Americans has changed and is practiced in this 21st century. It is an objective sociological study by a self-professed agnostic and non-practicing Jew. Wolfe is not hostile to religion and admits admiring those with a strong belief.

It is always a plus to come across a readable academic study. Professor Wolfe shows how faithful Americans, in the Judeo-Christian sense, have gone from a God focused practice of faith to a faith were the focus is on self and God is a tool for a kind of sentimental self-defined morality.

The writer also covers the faith experience of new immigrants to the United States and does reflect on Islam and new religions like Mormonism. He observes the struggle for orthodox Islam against "Americanization" of that faith.

What comes across in this study is that how people label themselves is not necessarily the faith they practice. This is probably not news to the keen observer of the "churched" but the book does one a service in verifying what one observes in scientific terms.

My only negative about this work is that the author overlooks those bastions of serious orthodox study and practice of Judaism, Catholic and Reformed theology. Dr. Wolfe tends to think orthodox belief will be all but gone in a few years. I disagree, and believe this is where the future of Judaism and Christianity can be found. Overall I recommend this work for any serious student of religion in America.
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Format: Paperback
Doctrine isn't the most important component in religion today, tolerance is. This point is nailed home by Wolfe, who details how people today live their faiths as well as preach about them. God is a friend to many and not an authority figure.
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