In After Heaven, Robert Wuthnow describes how American spirituality has changed from the '50s to the present. He shows that spirituality for many people has been affected by the unsettledness of our society during the past half century -- by changes in families, communities, education, and work that have weakened the ability of religious organizations to define the meaning of spirituality. Wuthnow suggests that the current fluidity in spiritual life can be understood in contrast to the more structured spirituality of dwelling that was the norm after World War II and throughout much of the '50s. He demonstrates how this spirituality began to erode and led to the sense of spiritual homelessness that many have experienced.
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
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 þgeography, 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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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).