Acts of Compassion: Caring for Others and Helping Ourselves

Princeton University Press
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Robert Wuthnow finds that those who are most involved in acts of compassion are no less individualistic than anyone else--and that those who are the most intensely individualistic are no less involved in caring for others.
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About the author

Robert Wuthnow is Professor of Sociology at Princeton University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 23, 2012
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Pages
364
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ISBN
9781400820573
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Robert Wuthnow
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.
J. D. Vance
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"A riveting book."—The Wall Street Journal

"Essential reading."—David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.

Robert Wuthnow
Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of other non-Western religions have become a significant presence in the United States in recent years. Yet many Americans continue to regard the United States as a Christian society. How are we adapting to the new diversity? Do we casually announce that we "respect" the faiths of non-Christians without understanding much about those faiths? Are we willing to do the hard work required to achieve genuine religious pluralism?

Award-winning author Robert Wuthnow tackles these and other difficult questions surrounding religious diversity and does so with his characteristic rigor and style. America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity looks not only at how we have adapted to diversity in the past, but at the ways rank-and-file Americans, clergy, and other community leaders are responding today. Drawing from a new national survey and hundreds of in-depth qualitative interviews, this book is the first systematic effort to assess how well the nation is meeting the current challenges of religious and cultural diversity.

The results, Wuthnow argues, are both encouraging and sobering--encouraging because most Americans do recognize the right of diverse groups to worship freely, but sobering because few Americans have bothered to learn much about religions other than their own or to engage in constructive interreligious dialogue. Wuthnow contends that responses to religious diversity are fundamentally deeper than polite discussions about civil liberties and tolerance would suggest. Rather, he writes, religious diversity strikes us at the very core of our personal and national theologies. Only by understanding this important dimension of our culture will we be able to move toward a more reflective approach to religious pluralism.

Robert Wuthnow
How American respectability has been built by maligning those who don't make the grade

How did Americans come to think of themselves as respectable members of the middle class? Was it just by earning a decent living? Or did it require something more? And if it did, what can we learn that may still apply?

The quest for middle-class respectability in nineteenth-century America is usually described as a process of inculcating positive values such as honesty, hard work, independence, and cultural refinement. But clergy, educators, and community leaders also defined respectability negatively, by maligning individuals and groups—“misfits”—who deviated from accepted norms.

Robert Wuthnow argues that respectability is constructed by “othering” people who do not fit into easily recognizable, socially approved categories. He demonstrates this through an in-depth examination of a wide variety of individuals and groups that became objects of derision. We meet a disabled Civil War veteran who worked as a huckster on the edges of the frontier, the wife of a lunatic who raised her family while her husband was institutionalized, an immigrant religious community accused of sedition, and a wealthy scion charged with profiteering.

Unlike respected Americans who marched confidently toward worldly and heavenly success, such misfits were usually ignored in paeans about the nation. But they played an important part in the cultural work that made America, and their story is essential for understanding the “othering” that remains so much a part of American culture and politics today.

Robert Wuthnow
How a fraying social fabric is fueling the outrage of rural Americans

What is fueling rural America's outrage toward the federal government? Why did rural Americans vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump? And, beyond economic and demographic decline, is there a more nuanced explanation for the growing rural-urban divide? Drawing on more than a decade of research and hundreds of interviews, Robert Wuthnow brings us into America's small towns, farms, and rural communities to paint a rich portrait of the moral order--the interactions, loyalties, obligations, and identities—underpinning this critical segment of the nation. Wuthnow demonstrates that to truly understand rural Americans' anger, their culture must be explored more fully.

We hear from farmers who want government out of their business, factory workers who believe in working hard to support their families, town managers who find the federal government unresponsive to their communities' needs, and clergy who say the moral climate is being undermined. Wuthnow argues that rural America's fury stems less from specific economic concerns than from the perception that Washington is distant from and yet threatening to the social fabric of small towns. Rural dwellers are especially troubled by Washington's seeming lack of empathy for such small-town norms as personal responsibility, frugality, cooperation, and common sense. Wuthnow also shows that while these communities may not be as discriminatory as critics claim, racism and misogyny remain embedded in rural patterns of life.

Moving beyond simplistic depictions of the residents of America's heartland, The Left Behind offers a clearer picture of how this important population will influence the nation's political future.

Robert Wuthnow
Today, a billion-dollar-a-year polling industry floods the media with information. Pollsters tell us not only which political candidates will win, but how we are practicing our faith. How many Americans went to church last week? Have they been born again? Is Jesus as popular as Harry Potter? Polls tell us that 40 percent of Americans attend religious services each week. They show that African Americans are no more religious than white Americans, and that Jews are abandoning their religion in record numbers. According to leading sociologist Robert Wuthnow, none of that is correct. Pollsters say that attendance at religious services has been constant for decades. But during that time response rates in polls have plummeted, robotic "push poll" calls have proliferated, and sampling has become more difficult. The accuracy of political polling can be known because elections actually happen. But there are no election results to show if the proportion of people who say they pray every day or attend services every week is correct. A large majority of the public doubts that polls can be trusted, and yet night after night on TV, polls experts sum up the nation's habits to an eager audience of millions. Inventing American Religion offers a provocative new argument about the influence of polls in contemporary American society. Wuthnow contends that polls and surveys have shaped-and distorted-how religion is understood and portrayed in the media and also by religious leaders, practitioners, and scholars. He calls for a robust public discussion about American religion that extends well beyond the information provided by polls and surveys, and suggests practical steps to facilitate such a discussion, including changes in how the results of polls and surveys are presented.
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