- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (April 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226905187
- ISBN-13: 978-0226905181
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 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: #1,015,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith Reprint Edition
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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.
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
"Transformation" covers more broad ground than doctrine, however - the book handles several aspects of religion in turn. This leads to some repetitiveness, given the shared source of many of the changes, but each aspect has its own details. I worried a bit about Wolfe hitting every nail of the changes with his individualism hammer, but he picks out the different strains on occasion and the sourcing never really strains. Still, the book can actually get more interesting when it switches to a sub-topic, like smaller groups (Mormons, Buddhists) and immigrants where the central theme has more complicated results.
Said theme being that churches - to stay alive and attract people - increasingly draw from individualism and pop culture, from the surge of some conservative denominations (such as Pentecostalism), to the weakening of doctrine and denominational differences even in more formal churches, to the very modernistic mega-churches, to a number of other issues. Wolfe leans very heavily on interviews and ethnographers, but while I would have liked more statistical grounding, there's enough here to stop it from falling apart.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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... Read morePublished on July 4, 2009 by Barbara LeMaster
The nineteenth-century Scots divine Horatius Bonar sighed, "I looked for the world and found it in the church. I looked for the church and found it in the world. Read morePublished on December 27, 2008 by Anson Cassel Mills