After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s / Edition 1

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Overview

The evolution of American spirituality over the past fifty years is the subject of Robert Wuthnow's engrossing new book. Wuthnow uses in-depth interviews and a broad range of resource materials to show how Americans, from teenagers to senior citizens, define their spiritual journeys. His findings are a telling reflection of the changes in beliefs and lifestyles that have occurred throughout the United States in recent decades.

Wuthnow reconstructs the social and cultural reasons for an emphasis on a spirituality of dwelling (houses of worship, denominations, neighborhoods) during the 1950s. Then in the 1960s a spirituality of seeking began to emerge, leading individuals to go beyond established religious institutions.
In subsequent chapters Wuthnow examines attempts to reassert spiritual discipline, encounters with the sacred (such as angels and near-death experiences), and the development of the "inner self." His final chapter discusses a spirituality of practice, an alternative for people who are uncomfortable within a single religious community and who want more than a spirituality of endless seeking.

The diversity of contemporary American spirituality comes through in the voices of the interviewees. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and Native Americans are included, as are followers of occult practices, New Age religions, and other eclectic groups. Wuthnow also notes how politicized spirituality, evangelical movements, and resources such as Twelve-Step programs and mental health therapy influence definitions of religious life today.

Wuthnow's landmark book, The Restructuring of American Religion (1988), documented the changes in institutional religion in the United States; now After Heaven explains the changes in personal spirituality that have come to shape our religious life. Moreover, it is a compelling and insightful guide to understanding American culture at century's end.

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Editorial Reviews

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
Kirkus Reviews
A stirring, eloquent commentary on contemporary Americans' spiritual condition. Why do millions of Americans claim they are spiritual but not religious? This contemplative interpretation by leading sociologist of religion Wuthnow postulates that while the '50s and earlier eras promoted a spirituality of dwelling (tied to a particular place of worship and to the family), the post-'60s era has emphasized one of seeking. The religious journey has become somehow more important than actually arriving (or staying) in any one place. It's not just that Americans no longer opt for longtime commitment to religious institutions; it's a fundamental paradigm shift proclaiming that the individual spiritual quest is more meaningful than religious community, and that Americans now understand the sacred to abide in themselves, not in traditional establishments. If all this smacks of the '60s, it's with good reason: one of the most cogent arguments of this book is that the legacy of the '60s has profoundly affected not only the immediate participants in the upheavals of that decade, but all Americans. In the '90s, for example, we see the ephemeral seeker of spirituality of the '60s come to a logical conclusion in our cultural obsession with angels: when angels visit, they don't demand that we go to church, make lasting spiritual commitments, or change our behavior in any way. Such encounters are brief, subjective, and almost always therapeutic, like '90s spirituality. Wuthnow shows that, as God has become less immediately a part of our cultural Ć¾geography, we rely more heavily on friendly intermediaries. Angels thus demonstrate the anxieties many Americans have about God, not an upsurge innew religious sentiment. Occasionally preachy (especially about why Reagan was the perfect symbol of the shallow spirituality of the '80s), but always subtly perceptive, this is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand non-institutional religion in America.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520222281
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 6/20/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 286
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Wuthnow is Professor of Sociology, Princeton University. He is the author of many works, including The Crisis in the Churches: Spiritual Malaise, Fiscal Woe (1997), Poor Richard's Principle: Recovering the American Dream through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business, and Money (1996), and Meaning and Moral Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis (California, 1987).

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