American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving / Edition 1

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Evangelicalism is one of the strongest religious traditions in America today; 20 million Americans identify themselves with the evangelical movement. Given the modern pluralistic world we live in, why is evangelicalism so popular?

Based on a national telephone survey and more than three hundred personal interviews with evangelicals and other churchgoing Protestants, this study provides a detailed analysis of the commitments, beliefs, concerns, and practices of this thriving group. Examining how evangelicals interact with and attempt to influence secular society, this book argues that traditional, orthodox evangelicalism endures not despite, but precisely because of, the challenges and structures of our modern pluralistic environment. This work also looks beyond evangelicalism to explore more broadly the problems of traditional religious belief and practice in the modern world.

With its impressive empirical evidence, innovative theory, and substantive conclusions, American Evangelicalism will provoke lively debate over the state of religious practice in contemporary America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Based on a three-year study of American evangelicals, Smith takes the pulse of contemporary evangelicalism and offers substantial evidence of a strong heartbeat. Detailed descriptions of methodology and sources are included as appendices, but the body of the book is a story woven from interviews. Smith contends that evangelicalism is a resurrection of the "engaged orthodoxy" associated with Protestant theologian and pastor Harold Ockenga in the 1940s. Smith argues that the present strength of evangelicalism can be explained by its adherence to beliefs, the salience and robustness of faith, group participation, commitment to mission and its retention and recruitment of members. Religious communities are strong, he suggests, when they avoid disappearing into the secular mainstream, as Smith believes liberal Protestantism has, or isolating themselves into sheltered communities, as he argues like Protestant fundamentalism has. Evangelicalism is thriving, says Smith, not by being countercultural or by retreating into isolation but by engaging culture at the same time that it constructs, maintains and markets its subcultural identity. Although Smith depends heavily on sociological theory, he makes his case in an accessible and persuasive style that will appeal to a broad audience. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Smith (sociology, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) has given us an excellent study of evangelicalism, "which enjoys a religious vitality--measured sociologically--that surpasses every other major Christian tradition in the country." He shows that this is so "whether gauged by belief, orthodoxy, salience of faith, robustness of belief, church attendance, participation in social and religious mission, or membership recruitment and retention." The work is filled with statistics from a carefully researched national survey and valuable quotes from follow-up interviews. Smith also develops a subcultural identity theory to show that "religions can survive and thrive in pluralistic, modern society." He contends that "evangelicalism flourishes on difference, engagement, tension, conflict and threat." Evangelicals will find the book helpful in understanding themselves, their differences, history, and expectations. Academicians, politicians, and others will find that it unravels confusing ideas current in the field. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries.--George Westerlund, Providence P.L.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226764191
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Sociology, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and director of the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables and Maps
1 Resurrecting Engaged Orthodoxy 1
2 Evangelicalism Thriving 20
3 Explaining Religious Vitality in America 67
4 Toward a "Subcultural Identity" Theory of Religious Strength 89
5 Evangelicalism Embattled 120
6 Excursus: Belief Plausibility in Modern America 154
7 Ironies of Subcultural Distinction - Strength and Ineffectiveness 178
Conclusion 218
App. A: Research Methods 221
App. B On Religious Identities 233
App. C: Interview Guides 248
App. D: Telephone Survey 258
References 291
Index 305
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