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After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s Paperback – 1998

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In The Restructuring of American Religion, Robert Wuthnow examined the changing patterns of institutional religion in contemporary America. In After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s, he makes a similar analysis of personal spirituality. His basic argument is that professional and social mobility makes it hard for Americans to sustain spiritual life because they don't feel rooted in one place; therefore, they embark on spiritual searches "characterized more often by dabbling than by depth." In contrast to these "dwelling-oriented" and "seeking-oriented" spiritualities, Wuthnow observes that increasing numbers of religious people are turning to "practice-oriented" spirituality--"making a deliberate attempt to relate to the sacred" through disciplines such as reading, prayer, and service. Wuthnow is passionately interested in the question of how an individual's search for spiritual identity affects our society, so he explains that although practice-oriented spirituality may initially seem to weaken the authority of religious institutions, spiritual practices "ultimately sustain these institutions by giving individuals the moral fortitude to participate in them without expecting too much from them." Wuthnow's prose is clean and clear, and his argumentation is thoroughly humane: every idea is conveyed through stories taken from interviews with hundreds of people of varying ages, races, religions, and classes. After Heaven stands with Wuthnow's previous work, and Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart as a landmark in the sociology of religion. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Analyzing the development of spirituality in the last half-century, Wuthnow (God and Mammon in America, LJ 9/1/94) uses in-depth interviews and opinion surveys?and a firm grasp of existing scholarly material on the subject?to effectively draw connections between individual experiences and wider cultural developments. Showing how the meaning of spirituality has grown and changed over the past 50 years, Wuthnow contrasts the more stable but comforting "dwelling-oriented" spirituality with the more dynamic but less secure "seeker-oriented" spirituality. After tracing the relationship between these two approaches from the early 1950s to the late 1990s, he then suggests what he calls "practice-oriented" spirituality as a way to give both "roots and wings" to spirituality in the future. Anyone interested in the field will definitely want to read this work, a scholarly and readable examination with some creative insights. Recommended for academic and public libraries.?C. Robert Nixon, M.L.S., Lafayette, IN
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 286 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Revised ed. edition (1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520222288
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520222281
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,157,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Robert Wuthnow is the most prolific and most interesting contemporary sociologist of religion, delving again into the ambiguous heart of American spirituality. This study is certainly the most accessible, popular analysis of religious trends since the 1950s, with a startlingly convincing interpretation of how attitudes about religion and spirituality have changed in the post-modern era. Read this and await his next study. Wuthnow's done a great service to our understanding of what sometimes seems to be a most perplexing trend from domestic religion to a kind of amorphous, inauthentic spirituality of seeking.
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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.

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.
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