American grace How religion divides and unites us

Robert D. Putnam

Book - 2010

Examines the impact of religion on American life and how that impact has changed in the last half-century.

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Subjects
Published
New York : Simon & Schuster 2010.
Edition
1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed
Language
English
Physical Description
673 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (p. 571-647) and index.
ISBN
9781416566717
1416566716
Main Author
Robert D. Putnam (-)
Other Authors
David E. Campbell, 1971- (-), Shaylyn Romney Garrett
Review by Booklist Reviews

*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.

Review by Choice Reviews

In the follow-up to Bowling Alone (CH, Dec'00, 38-2454), Putnam and Notre Dame political scientist Campbell offer a rich empirical study of the role of religion in the US. They use the Faith Matters survey and other national data to explore why a highly religious nation is not divided by religious conflict. They conclude that most Americans have people of other faiths in their close social networks--"Aunt Sally" and "my pal Al"--which makes religious diversity seem positive and not scary. Indeed, people embedded in religious communities are the most civic minded and civic acting--the people, that is, most likely to build up US society. There are intolerant tails of the distribution of faith--5 percent who reject all religion and 10 percent who reject other religions. Most Americans, though, accept other religions and think religious diversity is good for the US. Putnam and Campbell conclude, "Praying together seems to be better than either bowling together or praying alone." A substantial contribution to the sociology of religion in the US that advances the conversation about social capital. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. Copyright 2011 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Harvard professor and author of the esteemed Bowling Alone, Putnam studies two major surveys, plus numerous individual congregations, to bring us this overview of religion in America. Findings that intrigued me: the truly politicized churches tend to be liberal, and faith matters less to most Americans than their communities of faith. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Religious life in America has gone through remarkable changes in the last half century, and Putnam (public policy, Harvard; Bowling Alone) and Campbell (political science, Univ. of Notre Dame; Why We Vote) bring together a mound of sociological survey data to sift out the nature of those changes: the rise of the megachurch, the growth and plateauing of evangelicalism, the decline in mainline Protestantism and Anglo-Catholicism, and the 21st-century surge in the ranks of those claiming no religious affiliation. Putnam and Campbell trace these changes to the great liberalizing shock of the 1960s and subsequent pendulum swings first to the right, now to the left, through which "libertines and prudes have successively provoked one another." Religious communities have become increasingly identified with political conservatism, even as individual religious identity has become more fluid. Nonetheless, Americans have become more religiously plural and tolerant in recent decades, and this, state the authors, is America's grace. VERDICTAmerican Grace does for this decade what Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart did for the 1980s and Wade Clark Roof's Spiritual Marketplace did for the late 1990s. A monumental and insightful sociological analysis of the current religious climate and how it developed. Highly recommended.—Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL [Page 78]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

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) [Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

In a book that takes it's findings from two high-profile national surveys on religion, as well as research conducted by congregations across the United States, the authors examine the profound impact that religion has had on American life and how religious attitudes have changed in recent decades. Co-written by the author of Bowling Alone. 150,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"In a book that takes it's findings from two high-profile national surveys on religion, as well as research conducted by congregations across the United States, the authors examine the profound impact that religion has had on American life and how religious attitudes have changed in recent decades. Co-written by the author of Bowling Alone. 150,000 first printing. "

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Draws on two national surveys on religion, as well as research conducted by congregations across the United States, to examine the profound impact that religion has had on American life and how religious attitudes have changed in recent decades.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

American Grace is a major achievement, a groundbreaking examination of religion in America. Unique among nations, America is deeply religious, religiously diverse, and remarkably tolerant. But in recent decades the nation’s religious landscape has been reshaped. America has experienced three seismic shocks, say Robert Putnam and David Campbell. In the 1960s, religious observance plummeted. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, a conservative reaction produced the rise of evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Since the 1990s, however, young people, turned off by that linkage between faith and conservative politics, have abandoned organized religion. The result has been a growing polarization—the ranks of religious conservatives and secular liberals have swelled, leaving a dwindling group of religious moderates in between. At the same time, personal interfaith ties are strengthening. Interfaith marriage has increased while religious identities have become more fluid. Putnam and Campbell show how this denser web of personal ties brings surprising interfaith tolerance, notwithstanding the so-called culture wars. American Grace is based on two of the most comprehensive surveys ever conducted on religion and public life in America. It includes a dozen in-depth profiles of diverse congregations across the country, which illuminate how the trends described by Putnam and Campbell affect the lives of real Americans. Nearly every chapter of American Grace contains a surprise about American religious life. Among them: • Between one-third and one-half of all American marriages are interfaith; • Roughly one-third of Americans have switched religions at some point in their lives; • Young people are more opposed to abortion than their parents but more accepting of gay marriage; • Even fervently religious Americans believe that people of other faiths can go to heaven; • Religious Americans are better neighbors than secular Americans: more generous with their time and treasure even for secular causes—but the explanation has less to do with faith than with their communities of faith; • Jews are the most broadly popular religious group in America today. American Grace promises to be the most important book in decades about American religious life and an essential book for understanding our nation today.