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)
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. VERDICT American 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
How do mutual fear, hostility and suspicion give way to amity, or at least tolerance? How do supposedly deep doctrinal chasms recede from view? The answers offered by Putnam and Campbell deserve the attention of everyone concerned about America's future cohesion. This is a big, multifaceted work, with scores of graphs, as well as narrative vignettes that put flesh on the book's analytical skeleton.
The New York Times
Most of its findings have already appeared elsewhere, but American Grace is still perhaps the most sweeping look yet at contemporary American religion. It lays out the broad trends of the past 50 years, assesses their sociological causes and then does a bit of fortune-telling.
The Washington Post
[A] finely-grained and judicious study, sure to become a classic work of social analysis. . . . Riveting and sometimes disconcerting insights into the ways religion shapes and is shaped by the political and social currents of American life.”
Impressive study of American religious diversity.
Putnam (Public Policy/Harvard Univ.; Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, 2001, etc.) and Campbell (Political Science/Univ. of Notre Dame; Why We Vote: How Schools and Communities Shape Our Civic Life, 2006, etc.) begin with the obvious assertion that America is and has always been a religiously diverse nation, and seek to learn in what ways this is true today, and also why this diversity is not particularly problematic in modern America. The authors draw much of their data from the recent, comprehensive Faith Matters surveys, along with previous statistical surveys on faith in America. They punctuate the narrative with in-depth vignettes of particular congregations, ranging from a conservative Lutheran megachurch in Houston to a Reform synagogue near Chicago. The authors are interested in the entire religious history of America, but they focus primarily on the last half-century, using statistical research and anecdotal information to explain the decline of mainline Protestantism, the rise and leveling off of Evangelical Christianity, the demographic transformation of Catholicism and the recent rise of innovative movements such as the Emerging Church. Putnam and Campbell also examine religion in politics (and vice versa), the changing role of women in America's faith landscape and religious activity as an indicator of civic involvement. The text is highly readable, and the authors are not afraid to come to clear conclusions. In describing the rarity with which partisan political views are actually trumpeted from the pulpit, the authors state bluntly, "Most people come to church to hear about God, not Caesar. Too much talk of Caesar risks driving them away." The authors' conclusion describes why, despite America's religious diversity, "America is graced with the peaceful coexistence of both religious diversity and devotion." Since Americans are intimately acquainted with others of diverse backgrounds more today than ever before, these relationships lead to acceptance of individuals as well as of groups of people.
A valuable contribution to the conversation surrounding faith in America.