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American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us Hardcover – October 5, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
This massive book eschews the narrow, monographic approach to sociological study in favor of an older, more useful model: the sweeping chronicle of national change over time. Harvard professor Putnam (Bowling Alone) and his University of Notre Dame coauthor Campbell (Why We Vote) argue two apparently contradictory theses persuasively: first, that a "new religious fault line" exists in America, a deep political polarization that has transcended denominationalism as the greatest chasm in religious life; and second, that the culture (especially its younger generation) is becoming so much more accepting of diversity that thesis #1 will not tear America apart. The bulk of the book explores in detail cultural developments--the boom of evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s, largely concluded in the early 1990s; the rise of feminism in the pews; the liberalization of attitudes about premarital sex and homosexuality, especially among the youngest generations; and what may prove to be the most seismic shift of all: the dramatic increase of "nones," or people claiming no institutional religious affiliation. Putnam and Campbell (with their researcher, Garrett) have done the public a great service in not only producing their own mammoth survey of American religion but also drawing from many prior statistical studies, enabling readers to track mostly gradual change over time. (Oct. 5) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* In recent controversy over the national motto, In God we trust, Putnam and Campbell see a symptom of profound change in the national character. Using data drawn from two large surveys, the authors plumb these changes. The data show that the tempestuous sixties shook faith in religion and that the seventies and eighties incubated a strong resurgence of devotion. But the two most recent decades add another twist, as young Americans have abandoned the pews in record numbers. Still, despite recent erosion of religious commitment, Americans remain a distinctively devout people. And devotion affects life far from the sanctuary: Putnam and Campbell parse numbers that identify religious Americans as more generous, more civically engaged, and more neighborly than their secularly minded peers. But the analysis most likely to stir debate illuminates how religion has increasingly separated Republicans from Democrats, conservatives from progressives. Readers may blame the Christian Right for this new cultural fissure, but survey statistics mark liberal congregations as the most politicized. But whether looking at politics or piety, the authors complement their statistical analysis with colorful vignettes, humanizing their numbers with episodes from the lives of individual Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Mormons. An essential resource for anyone trying to understand twenty-first-century America. --Bryce Christensen
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The book discusses a huge number of issues, trends, and cross-currents. One interesting topic concerns the recent growth in the portion of Americans with no religious affiliation (sometimes referred to as the "nones"); the authors analyze this phenomenon by explaining how the sexual revolution of the 60's led first to the rise of the religious right, and then more recently to a counter-reaction on the part of those turned off by this rise (especially younger people).
Another key conclusion regards the strength of Americans' religious tolerance in the face of our differences. The authors argue religious diversity among our extended family and friends leads to a high level of tolerance on the part of all but a small proportion of hard cases.
There's alot more here, and much that was new to me. Reading it even prompted me to take a dive into other survey data available on-line (Pew's US Religious Landscape Survey, and the American Religious Identification Survey) as I caught the bug of learning about the details of our unique American religious stew.
Very interesting topics and the vignettes were very helpful in bringing home the points or topics the chapters tried to make.
Not only did they help bring home a point they made it more meaningful and relevant. The authors feel that perhaps religion is not as divisive as are politics and racial and ethnic topics, but that remains to be seen.
Some interesting takeaways: At the end of WWII, American churchgoers occupying the pews of most churches were as likely to be Democrats as Republicans. The "religiosity" (religious fervor) of Americans today is higher than that of people in other industrialized nations - including Italy and Iran.
The authors use data from five respected surveys spanning many years to give a thorough look at the spectrum of U.S. religion and how it, and its relationship to social and political issues, has changed over the past half century. Whether the landscape that emerges offers reassurance or not depends on one's perspective.
Because it contains numerous graphs and tables, this book is better read on paper than as an e-book.