After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s First Edition
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"A beautifully written, sensitive interpretation of contemporary American culture and its religious dimensions. This book will surely stir considerable interest, discussion, and debate. It is not only a penetrating analysis, but a very stimulating and challenging one as well."Father Andrew Greeley, University of Chicago
"After Heaven occupies a rare and necessary place between sympathetic understanding and critical assessment. . . . Wuthnow has done a superb job examining the current state of religious practice in America."Jacob Needleman, author of The New Religion
"For those of us who are both excited and bewildered by highly visible recent trends in spirituality, this is a must-read book. Robert Wuthnow has a firm grasp on the traditions of spiritual life, but he also probes with great sensitivity the popular quests of recent decades. His study combines solid research into the social realities with genuine spiritual insight."Richard J. Mouw, President, Fuller Theological Seminary
"Robert Wuthnow, one of the foremost interpreters of American society and its religious cultures, excels at describing and analyzing America's complex negotiation with a world of expanding but fragmentary knowledge, distracting materialism, and fleeting moments of grace. After Heaven, in its range and depth of analysis of spiritual trends since the 1950s, is a worthy and welcomed companion to the author's classic study of ideological change in postwar religious institutions, The Restructuring of American Religion."R. Scott Appleby, Associate Professor of History, Director, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism
- Paperback : 286 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780520222281
- ISBN-13 : 978-0520222281
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Product Dimensions : 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Publisher : University of California Press; First Edition (January 1, 1998)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0520222288
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,333,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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To understand Christian spirituality in the latter half of the twentieth century, Robert Wuthnow summarized his research primarily by describing those who relate spirituality to dwellings, describing those who are constantly seeking spirituality, and providing his alternative to these two paths. I find his research to be truthful; however, he seems to have a bias against and to be more critical of the notion which he describes as spiritual seeking. Following are my thoughts regarding his descriptions of dwelling versus seeking and his proposed alternative of practice.
"DWELLING VERSUS SEEKING SPIRITUALITY"
To view trends in American spirituality against a backdrop of our social patterns is insightful and one that I find quite helpful as I aspire to understand how and why Americans approach Christian spirituality. A more staid approach to spirituality makes sense in the 1950s as does an exploratory approach in the 1960s.
Wuthnow's work prompts some questions for me as a scholar and as a Christian. I want to hear more about how institutionalized religion has moved most Americans to the perspective that their spirituality must develop outside of these traditional places. Also, by reading the characteristics of seekers, I am coming to identify myself as one and I never would have characterized myself as such. I believed a seeker to be one who is not quite settled on her/his way of faith, belief, and practices. I am firmly a Christian who finds value in tradition, but prefers contemporary expressions of my faith. Yet, Wuthnow's description resonates, ". . ., growing numbers of Americans piece together their faith like a patchwork quilt." Officially I am a United Methodist, yet a huge part of my relationship with God is founded upon my Roman Catholic influences. Additionally, I find worth in non-Christian mystical traditions that I incorporate into my faith practice as long as they do not conflict with my foundational Christian tenets. I do not believe I have to give up any for the others. Besides I find a unique beauty in such a "quilt."
Unsettling is the faint hint of bias I find in Wuthnow's writing of seeking spirituality. His word choices seem to indicate that dwelling spirituality has more credence. To allow one's spiritual experience to be fluid does not mean that these experiences are fleeting or without social support. Wuthnow's inability to recognize wider possibilities indicates a bend toward dwelling spirituality.
While Wuthnow may find dwelling spirituality more acceptable, he recognizes it is a reality that has passed given current social trends in America. Therefore, he presents an alternative to both dwelling and seeking spirituality. However, his alternative is not an alternative at all.
To present practice spirituality as an alternative to dwelling and seeking spirituality, I find problematic. This presentation presumes that seekers do not practice rituals or disciplines. One can practice seeking spirituality. That is, a Christian can believe that spirituality is bigger than the building one inhabits for prescribed times of ritual. This belief alone does not necessarily mean that the person does not practice her/his spirituality.
Wuthnow purports that the element of practice adds a necessary aspect to seeking spirituality, one of stability, continuity. In essence, practice adds to seeking what it lacks in comparison to dwelling. Again, such a view is not necessarily true for seekers. One can seek and still have an "orderly, disciplined, and focused approach to the sacred." Wuthnow's conclusions are tinted - as mine probably are at this moment.
Despite the bias Wuthnow appears to have toward dwelling spirituality and the shallowness of his alternative - practice spirituality - I find his work to be helpful and insightful regarding trends in American spirituality in the latter twentieth century. I also find his work helpful as I begin to write more on spirituality. When presenting research objectively (as much as possible) I need to be conscious of my language and the tone of my writing so that my work is balanced. However, given my passion for the subject, I may choose to openly write as an advocate for non-traditional approaches to Christian spirituality.
Reviewer: Candi Dugas, M.Div., is a D.Min. candidate at Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA) and the author of Bootlicked to Balanced: Healing the Mind, Freeing the Spirit . Her D.Min. thesis is Who Told You that You Were Naked? Creating Space for Black Women to Reclaim their Goodness as Sexual and Spiritual Beings.