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American Grace: How Religion Divides and…
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American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (original 2010; udgave 2012)

af Robert D. Putnam (Forfatter)

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404947,010 (3.9)14
Examines the impact of religion on American life and how that impact has changed in the last half-century.
Medlem:DennettDulleLib
Titel:American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us
Forfattere:Robert D. Putnam (Forfatter)
Info:Simon & Schuster (2012), 720 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek
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American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us af Robert D. Putnam (2010)

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This is a highly detailed analysis of religion in America. The book is basically an analysis of a faith survey conducted over multiple years. The accuracy of the book is almost entirely dependent on the quality of the survey. The book takes each element of the survey and discusses the data obtained. The analysis is fairly scientific but is tedious and the authors allow interpretation outside the statistics. I weakly recommend this book. ( )
  GlennBell | Oct 18, 2017 |
American Grace is a fantastic treatise on the state of religion in America in the first few years after the turn of the century. I suspect some findings may have changed slightly since, but religious feeling is so profoundly cultural and stable that I expect the findings are still true.

Some of my favorite findings:
  • Younger Americans are less supportive of abortion than their parents -- though they are not more religious. This can be traced back to seeing abortion rights as given (the current debate is about restrictions on abortion, not about whether it should be legal at all), to easy access to contraception that allows moral judgments against unplanned pregnancy, and to widespread and high-quality ultrasound photos that are never passed around as "my fetus".
  • The number of white Catholics and mainline Protestants is dropping -- and quickly. However, because of the influx of Latino immigrants, the overall number of Catholics has stayed essentially constant (though with huge cultural challenges), whereas the number of mainline Protestants has actually dropped. Why are the traditional mainline Protestants and Catholics leaving and becoming non-religionists? I have to wonder whether it is the rise of evangelicalism and the fact that evangelicals are claiming the term "Christian" for themselves, linguistically eliminating a space to be Christian and non-evangelical -- and given lack of cultural familiarity with anything but Christianity and non-religiosity, folks opt for non-religiosity. This, to my mind, has problematic implications.
  • The evangelical rise of the 1970s and 1980s was a tiny absolute change (adding about 1 in 20 Americans to the ranks of evangelicals) -- it was massive only through comparison to the simultaneous decline in the number of mainline Protestants. The number of evangelicals has been dropping again for the past 20-30 years.
  • In 2006, about 30% of the population was evangelical, about 8% was Black Protestant, about 14% was mainline Protestant. About 23% was Catholic, about 2% was Jewish, and about 2% was Mormon. About 17% professed no religion (this means more non-religious folks than the mainline Protestant traditional heart of America!), and about 4% professed other faiths. To me, this is many fewer "other faiths", "non-religious", Jews, and Mormons than I expected -- presumably a reflection of my privileged citified life.
  • Religious Americans are nicer (more generous, more civic-minded, more trusting and trustworthy, more empathetic, more altruistic). This effect does not depend on denomination. However, these changes are due to church-going social networks -- not due to conservative politics, due to religious beliefs, or due to demographics. In fact, religious beliefs alone make adherents less tolerant, less civic-minded, and less nice; when this negative effect is not attenuated by the positive effect of churchgoing, the negative effect of religious beliefs without religious community becomes more apparent.
  • Religious people are happier. Religiosity is one of the closest correlates of life satisfaction, at least as strong as income. The difference in happiness between a non-churchgoer and a weekly churchgoer is slightly larger than the difference between someone who earns $10k a year and someone who earns $100k a year.
  • People don't like Buddhists. This blows my citified mind. They are second-least liked, followed by Muslims. Almost every religious groups feels coldly toward Muslims and Buddhists -- with the exception of Jews, who are warm to Buddhists and cool toward Muslims. I am dismayed and intrigued by this finding, and I'd love to see more on it.

The authors do an excellent job at filling the book with findings rather than filler (no filler to be seen in this long piece of non-fiction, in fact), graphics that illustrate, and detailed and straightforward discussions of methodology in an appendix and footnotes for those of us who prefer to judge ourselves the quality of findings in the social sciences. Altogether, it's extremely well written for a lay audience without sacrificing any rigorousness -- a hard line to walk, and one that I applaud the authors for.

I also found myself reflecting on the final chapter, which lauds how American culture is able to be devout and diverse and not have religious wars. Putnam and Campbell attribute this stability to the history of interreligious interactions and marriage. We are bound together, they argue, because we know people who believe differently than we ourselves do, and we resolve the cognitive dissonance of personally knowing good people of other faiths with the theology that they are going to hell by changing the theology away from orthodox, rather than by changing our friendships. They find American religious pluralism to be the saving grace of a country that is highly religious, high diverse, and highly charged.

For me, interpersonal argument for the lack of religious-based war goes a long way to explaining the increasing tension regarding Muslim immigrants, like that of St. Cloud described brilliantly in Act I of a This American Life episode -- we're at a moment in history where Muslims are demonized and feared in the mainstream because of lack of personal contact as well as media portrayals, and this lack of contact is only exacerbated by the immigrant status of the most visible Muslims in the USA today. The call to action, then, is to keep forging personal relationships, to keep holding interreligious fastathons for charity during Ramadan, to keep talking and discussing and assimilating. Assimilation is, indeed, just what the old guard is asking for. What's missing -- and important -- however, is that assimilation changes both groups. ( )
  pammab | Jan 4, 2017 |
Summary: A sociological study of the landscape of American religion, the connections between religious and political attitudes, and changes between 2006 and 2011, when the newest edition of this work was published.

If my Facebook newsfeed is any indication, we do not heed, at least on social media, the old social dictum of refraining from discussions of religion and politics in social situations. What I think this reveals is the vibrant and diverse religious and political landscape in the United States, a landscape explored at great nuance in the sociological study represented in this book.

The book combines vignettes of congregations and detailed results (with tables and bar graphs) from the Faith Matters survey results. The authors begin with a survey of religious history, particularly twentieth century religious history, particularly the post-World War 2 boom in religiosity, the first decline in the Sixties, a later boomlet in the Eighties, and more recent declines. Then, mixing vignettes with survey results, they explore the shifting religious scene: old fashion and newer congregations, traditionalism and change around gender and ethnicity, and the role of politics in religious congregations.

Broadly speaking, the authors see an increase in what they call a tolerance, a friendliness with those who are different that includes everything from greater acceptance that people of other religions will also go to heaven to acceptance of same sex relationships. They attribute this at least in part that many have an "Aunt Susan" or "pal Al" who are one of these "differents." It is this that the authors consider "American grace"--an increasing acceptance of the differences of religious expression and moral behavior in our communities. At the same time, the authors find that there is still a deep divide politically and that this maps along lines of religiosity, even though most churches do not make politics an overt aspect of worship and congregational life with any frequency, and even less so between 2006 and 2011.

One of the more sobering passages for religious teachers is one where the authors were presenting results around theological belief of denominational participants to a group of conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran leaders. It was very clear that on many matters, congregants were for more liberal, and indeed had departed from orthodox belief. This is a broader finding for many of the respondents from Christian backgrounds, whether Catholic, mainline, or evangelical. What it appears is that there is a cultural religion that is gaining ascendancy that reflects a religious consensus on faith and morals quite different from the theological stance of our church bodies.

This brings me to a terminology difference with the authors. They speak of seeing an increasing "tolerance" toward the religiously different, and toward moral stances once deemed unacceptable. I do not disagree with the fact that such tolerance is a good thing but with how they are using the word tolerance. They are using the word tolerance for what is really a growing cultural consensus, or common cultural religion, where people are saying that formal differences between faiths or around certain questions of morality don't really matter in our practiced belief and behavior.

Tolerance historically had to do with where we have disagreements and how we act toward those with whom we substantively differ on matters of belief and/or behavior. That can be how someone who is liberal in political or religious beliefs acts toward someone who is conservative, or vice versa. Tolerance has nothing to do with what one believes or, within certain boundaries, how one behaves (I hope we would agree that there are some behaviors that must not be tolerated such as murder or rape or theft, for example), but rather whether we respond graciously or censoriously toward those who differ. I am troubled with the way these authors use the term tolerance, because it assumes that sincere believers who do not believe that others may share one's heaven while holding different beliefs, or that fail to approve some culturally accepted behaviors are intolerant, no matter how they act toward those who differ. Likewise, a person may be thought tolerant even while acting censorious toward a person whose beliefs they deem "intolerant." This seems to me a decided and concerning shift of language.

The epilogue of this book summarizes a follow-up study in 2011 that included part of the 2006 cohort as well as younger respondents who were not of age for the first cohort. This survey showed that on the whole, religious beliefs were marked stable, while detailing a growing trend toward those who would not identify with any belief, introducing the idea of "nones" into a conversation about religion in America, as a decidedly growing category. They document a decided movement on the part of the youngest generation away from religious faith, as well as continued growth in the trends around respondents views on questions of belief and behavior toward the new cultural consensus noted above. It also revealed that both political parties as well as the "Tea Party" are disliked more than any religious group.

Coming off the 2016 election, there are some important implications I draw from this book. One is that it explains the almost universal revulsion I've found among young people, religious or not, for white evangelicalism's overwhelming (81 percent) support of the Republican candidate, and why young people are leaving this movement in droves. It also presents a challenge to those of us who seek to teach and pass along the faith. Peter Drucker was known for saying that "culture eats strategy for breakfast." I would contend that culture is also eating belief for breakfast and that this has come through the redefinition of the language of tolerance (and intolerance) discussed above where tolerance must define not only our behavior, but in fact our beliefs. My sense is that religious communities must figure out ways to compellingly embody what they believe, or they will come to the place where they throw up their hands and say, "we got nothing."

What troubles me most is that the "American grace" being described in this book is nothing like the "Amazing Grace" of which John Newton writes. Amazing grace is the marvel that what was "wretched" and "lost" and "blind" can be saved. "American grace" I fear, would just say these are intolerant labels, that you are fine the way you are, and offer no hope that life should be any different. Sure, avoiding intolerance is better than the alternative, but it doesn't offer much if you are looking for a reason for hope. As a sociological study, there is much that deserves our attention. But as a prescription, and not only a description, of American cultural religion, American Grace is wanting. ( )
  BobonBooks | Dec 11, 2016 |
This work offers a viewpoint on American Religion. There is plenty of material in here to think about! ( )
  aevaughn | Apr 22, 2014 |
A careful review of statistics on American religion, including the authors' own Faith Matters study. Their study, done in 2006 and again with the same people in 2007, looks at a cross section of Americans on their religious beliefs. The most interesting thing I found in their study was the changes many people underwent in a single year.

Their thesis is that much of the common wisdom about the demography of American religion is not subtle enough. They attempt to remedy this with extensive correlation studies and studies over time. They come up with an interesting picture of American religion as persistent but prone to seismic changes which tend to affect a particular age cohort. This makes for slow changes in the overall demographic picture as one age cohort dies out and successive generations succeed it.

There are many small details of the study and the vignettes of individual congregations to quarrel with, but even I, an inveterate doubter of statistics, had to admit that the flaws only affected a very small percentage of the data and wouldn't have affected the overall conclusions of the study.

I would like someday for someone to ask people who say they have no religion but say they believe in God and pray daily to explain what they mean by God and prayer. I suspect that it might turn out to be a very different thing than what Christians mean when they say they believe in God and pray daily. While the authors, probably correctly, see whatever you call prayer as a form of religiosity, I think that tracking down what people do might show more shifts in the way we're religious than these pollsters where tracking. ( )
  aulsmith | Apr 7, 2014 |
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Examines the impact of religion on American life and how that impact has changed in the last half-century.

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