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After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion Paperback – March 14, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In a volume sure to change how pundits and clergy think about religion in the contemporary U.S., prolific Princeton sociologist Wuthnow (American Mythos) assembles and analyzes a vast amount of data about the religious lives of Americans aged 21 to 45. His interests include the extent to which younger adults participate in organized worship, as well as how they think about spirituality, the relationship between religion and politics, and theology. Wuthnow insists that in some ways, todays younger adults are similar to their boomer parentsthe vitality of small groups, for example, is nothing new. But there are key differences, chief among them the tendency of todays younger adults to remain single longer than ever before. Married people are significantly more likely to participate in religious communities; at the same time, participation in at least some religious groups may make marriage more likely. Wuthnow argues that our society provides lots of structural support for children and teens, but leaves younger adults to fend for themselves during the decades when theyre making crucial decisions about family and work. Though long passages of dense statistics make for a sometimes clunky read, this book is terrifically important. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Robert Wuthnow of Princeton has just published a tremendously valuable book, After the Baby Boomers that looks at young adulthood through the prism of religious practice."--David Brooks, New York Times
"In a volume sure to change how pundits and clergy think about religion in the contemporary U.S., prolific Princeton sociologist Wuthnow assembles and analyzes a vast amount of data about the religious lives of Americans aged 21 to 45... Wuthnow argues that our society provides lots of structural support for children and teens, but leaves younger adults to fend for themselves during the decades when they're making crucial decisions about family and work. Though long passages of dense statistics make for a sometimes clunky read, this book is terrifically important."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Robert Wuthnow, [a] distinguished sociologist of religion...focuses on...a group that is not just the harbinger of the future but that already constitutes about half the country's adult population. Wuthnow has a great deal to say about marriage, weddings, marital happiness and parenting [and] describes modest changes in worship services and programs that might help congregations engage young adults, especially unmarried ones."--Peter Steinfels, New York Times
"Wuthnow has analyzed an impressive array of data and provided a thought provoking argument about the future, and the present, of American religion."--Matthew T. Loveland, Catholic Books Review
"[This book provides] a challenge to think more broadly about the future of the church, assisted by a leading sociologist's analysis of current trends."--Brian D. McLaren, Christian Century
"As generations pass and distance grows, so do the values which issues from the body of believers gathered in...the church...Robert Wuthnow's important new book After the Baby Boomers...is a potential wake-up signal, an alarm blast."--Martin Marty, Sightings
"Christian leaders who are ready for change will not find a prescription or program in After the Baby Boomers. What they will find is a challenge to think more broadly about the future of the church, assisted by a leading sociologist's analysis of current trends. And they will find something else: a sympathetic voice speaking on behalf of young adults who are highly interested in God, highly in need of guidance and support, highly networked and networkable, highly available to be equipped for vital mission, and largely uninspired by what churches are currently doing...I find myself even more eager to be part of the solution to the problems raised by Wuthnow. Much is at stake."--Brian McLaren, Christian Century
"Wuthnow shares the concerns of religious and spiritual leaders because...he understands the great benefits religion provides society...[A] precise study...After the Baby Boomers is a work of social science [that paints] a detailed picture of the lives of young adults today."--Patton Dodd, Shambhala Sun
"Princeton University's Robert Wuthnow, the most distinguished sociologist of religion in America today, has presented a timely and important text for pastors and those who are concerned about the future of religious communities in America. After the Baby Boomers offers pastors and church leaders an important text to ponder. Wuthnow places his finger on many issues that the church must confront."--Andrew Root, Word & World
"Open any page of Robert Wuthnow's latest book, After the Baby Boomers, and you are sure to find a nugget of data that will add nuance to some of the well-worn assumptions about he religious lives of the so-called Generation X."--Michelle Dillon, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
"Wuthnow's text is a refreshing read. . . . [He] does an excellent job of addressing the cultural shifts that explain why it is the case the young adults are less involved in religious institutions. As a macrolevel study, he astutely ties personal level practices to larger social forces, and tacitly employs the sociological imagination--a skill that non-academic readers could find informative."--Katrina C. Hoop, International Review of Modern Sociology
"After the Baby Boomers is a dense but fascinating read; I had trouble deciding which chapters not to assign to my classes. . . . Every chapter of this book contains questions churches and religious leaders must face--and soon."--Kenda Creasy Dean, Theology Today
"Robert Wuthnow has analyzed an impressive array of data and provided a thought provoking argument about the future, and the present, of American religion."--Matthew T. Loveland, Catholic Books Review
"This is an interesting book. . . . The object lesson in the skillful analysis of survey data is instructive, and the call to focus more analysis on young adults (especially this generation of young adults) is timely and thoughtful."--Anthony J. Filipovitch, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
"Wuthnow's book stands out as a timely, comprehensive, and thoughtful effort. Mixing a tremendous amount of empirical survey evidence with detailed qualitative interviews, the book covers a lot of ground, including emerging issues pertaining to immigration and new technology. Posing a number of smart questions that are ripe for political science answers, it is a sophisticated and yet accessible commentary on the future of American religion that is more than deserving of a place on bookshelves."--Anand Edward Sokhey, Cambridge Journals
"The strength of this book lies . . . in its careful analysis of a very wide range of largely quantitative data. Wuthnow is bitingly critical of sociologists of religion--particularly rational choice theorists--whose work is long on theory and short on evidence. This volume exemplifies the opposite--long on evidence, shorter on theory and explanation."--Linda Woodhead, Religion Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
It is an easy read, but complex in his thought.
In chapter 10, the author speaks to the issues of the information age on the internet superhighway as opposed to the television age which dominated the baby boomer generation. Today, we hear about virtual churches which offer virtual communion, prayers, and other orders of the faith via such things as streaming video, twitter, and social networks, which I suspect is different than the virtual church imagined by the author. Having published this book in 2007, I would be interested in his take on the rise of such ventures which serve only to further individualize the religious experience and degrade the community. It is interesting to note, then, the change between 2007 and today in which blogs, Facebook, and Twitter have entered into the daily use of young adults. Now, ministers are being encouraged to use such tools to reach more for the Kingdom, Gospel, or local congregation. Further, the use of internet to `church shop' (p114-117), to cross boundaries (p126) of religion, and to engage politics and other cultural issues as a way of negotiating (p124) these new communities is growing as evidenced by the inclusion of the phrase `google it' into our daily conversations. When I started to look for a new church, I `googled it' and finding what I wanted, I made my first visit. To be frank, the church website was nice, but in my opinion, could have used some work; however, in comparisons to congregations with no web presence, even a mediocre website draws my attention more than a Whitepages.com listing. I believe that even in 2007, and quoting from a survey completed in 2001, the author is presenting the case for the `new form of information technology' (p209) as a means for many to reach out or to seek religious experiences. I would imagine, however, that if the same survey was made today, the numbers would be vastly different, and that Wuthnow would draw a different conclusion than he has (p212 third paragraph from the top).
What he doesn't do is to remove himself from the pitfalls of too little information. Wuthnow's assumption that Evangelicalism's dogmas are easily known and recognized left me wondering about his classification system. Further, his reliance upon the simplistic idea espoused by many regarding biblical literalism leaves a lot of people unclassified. While his first few chapters seem to deal with both Evangelicals and Biblical Literalism, the author simply doesn't go into the mechanics of why evangelicals are holding their own and only generally mentions that the decline of Mainline denominations may be more geographically centered than doctrinally considered. I believe that he hints at the fact that as Evangelicals continue to become more educated, the uncertainty of growth becomes ever present, especially given what modern Evangelicalism is based upon. Further, I don't think he gives Putman's theory its due (p38) and only skirts the idea that as we become more individualist, Mainline denominations which see salvation as a more corporate event will decline.
Wuthnow's work provides some serious implications for those who are considering ministry of any sort, whether starting in the ministry or one who is long in ministry, facing a decline in the congregation, and looking for a renewal. He is correct, that survival of the American church is not a set in stone decision, but based on the traditional ethic of work (p230). Will ministers `roll up their sleeves,' taking the information present in such avenues as this book to heart and start to look for a way not around the statistics, but through the statistics? While the message should not change, the delivery and the targeting must. What is prevalent is the idea that the nature of American religion is changing because the nature of American society is changing. Information is becoming democratized, and as such, people need something more in depth, more lasting, and maybe even something with questions, or at least room for doubt. There needs to be room for diversity, especially theological diversity, which is something that I've held over from Daniels' book Seven Deadly Spirits as well as a real address to the issue of a continuing individualization of the Christian faith. Further, ministers must not forget their demographics. From the slowing of life decisions to the polarization in society, if ministers forget to whom they are called to serve, and instead relax into the myth of a golden age which once was and which is yet to come, they will be blind to the needs of the present community.
Compared with the prior generation, the current young adults are less likely to participate in religious services. Despite these changes, young adults account for approximately two-fifths of the members of the major faith traditions. The current generation is more likely to be in their thirties and forties than their twenties than was the previous generation. Given the increasing percentage of young adults who spend many years after high school before settling down and starting a family and in consideration of the limited ways other social institutions provide substantive help to those in that stage of young adulthood, Wuthnow believes congregations need to "focus more intentionally" on ministries to this demographic (p.216).