America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity

Princeton University Press
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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.

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About the author

Robert Wuthnow is the Gerhard R. Andlinger '52 Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. His previous books include After the Baby Boomers, Saving America? Faith-Based Services and the Future of Civil Society (both Princeton); Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist; and Loose Connections: Joining Together in America's Fragmented Communities.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 1, 2011
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Pages
416
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ISBN
9781400837243
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / Comparative Religion
Social Science / Minority Studies
Social Science / Sociology of Religion
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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
Much has been written about the profound impact the post-World War II baby boomers had on American religion. But the lifestyles and beliefs of the generation that has followed--and the influence these younger Americans in their twenties and thirties are having on the face of religion--are not so well understood. It is this next wave of post-boomers that Robert Wuthnow examines in this illuminating book.

What are their churchgoing habits and spiritual interests and needs? How does their faith affect their families, their communities, and their politics? Interpreting new evidence from scores of in-depth interviews and surveys, Wuthnow reveals a generation of younger adults who, unlike the baby boomers that preceded them, are taking their time establishing themselves in careers, getting married, starting families of their own, and settling down--resulting in an estimated six million fewer regular churchgoers. He shows how the recent growth in evangelicalism is tapering off, and traces how biblical literalism, while still popular, is becoming less dogmatic and more preoccupied with practical guidance. At the same time, Wuthnow explains how conflicts between religious liberals and conservatives continue--including among new immigrant groups such as Hispanics and Asians--and how in the absence of institutional support many post-boomers have taken a more individualistic, improvised approach to spirituality. Wuthnow's fascinating analysis also explores the impacts of the Internet and so-called virtual churches, and the appeal of megachurches.

After the Baby Boomers offers us a tantalizing look at the future of American religion for decades to come.

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.
Robert Wuthnow
No state has voted Republican more consistently or widely or for longer than Kansas. To understand red state politics, Kansas is the place. It is also the place to understand red state religion. The Kansas Board of Education has repeatedly challenged the teaching of evolution, Kansas voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the state is a hotbed of antiabortion protest--and churches have been involved in all of these efforts. Yet in 1867 suffragist Lucy Stone could plausibly proclaim that, in the cause of universal suffrage, "Kansas leads the world!" How did Kansas go from being a progressive state to one of the most conservative?

In Red State Religion, Robert Wuthnow tells the story of religiously motivated political activism in Kansas from territorial days to the present. He examines how faith mixed with politics as both ordinary Kansans and leaders such as John Brown, Carrie Nation, William Allen White, and Dwight Eisenhower struggled over the pivotal issues of their times, from slavery and Prohibition to populism and anti-communism. Beyond providing surprising new explanations of why Kansas became a conservative stronghold, the book sheds new light on the role of religion in red states across the Midwest and the United States. Contrary to recent influential accounts, Wuthnow argues that Kansas conservatism is largely pragmatic, not ideological, and that religion in the state has less to do with politics and contentious moral activism than with relationships between neighbors, friends, and fellow churchgoers.

This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the role of religion in American political conservatism.

Robert Wuthnow
Robert Wuthnow shows how music and art are revitalizing churches and religious life across the nation in this first-ever consideration of the relationship between religion and the arts. All in Sync draws on more than four hundred in-depth interviews with church members, clergy, and directors of leading arts organizations and a new national survey to document a strong positive relationship between participation in the arts and interest in spiritual growth. Wuthnow argues that contemporary spirituality is increasingly encouraged by the arts because of its emphasis on transcendent experience and personal reflection. This kind of spirituality, contrary to what many observers have imagined, is compatible with active involvement in churches and serious devotion to Christian practices.

The absorbing narrative relates the story of a woman who overcame a severe personal crisis and went on to head a spiritual direction center where participants use the arts to gain clarity about their own spiritual journeys. Readers visit contemporary worship services in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston and listen to leaders and participants explain how music and art have contributed to the success of these services. All in Sync also illustrates how music and art are integral parts of some Episcopal, African American, and Orthodox worship services, and how people of faith are using their artistic talents to serve others.

Besides examining the role of the arts in personal spirituality and in congregational life, Wuthnow discusses how clergy and lay leaders are rethinking the role of the imagination, especially in connection with traditional theological virtues. He also shows how churches and arts organizations sometimes find themselves at odds over controversial moral questions and competing claims about spirituality. Accessible, relevant, and innovative, this book is essential for anyone searching for a better understanding of the dynamic relationships among religion, spirituality, and American culture.
Robert Wuthnow
America was built on stories: tales of grateful immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, Horatio Alger-style transformations, self-made men, and the Protestant work ethic. In this new book, renowned sociologist Robert Wuthnow examines these most American of stories--narratives about individualism, immigration, success, religion, and ethnicity--through the eyes of recent immigrants. In doing so, he demonstrates how the "American mythos" has both legitimized American society and prevented it from fully realizing its ideals.

This magisterial work is a reflection and meditation on the national consciousness. It details how Americans have traditionally relied on narratives to address what it means to be strong, morally responsible individuals and to explain why some people are more successful than others--in short, to help us make sense of our lives. But it argues that these narratives have done little to help us confront new challenges. We pass laws to end racial discrimination, yet lack the resolve to create a more equitable society. We welcome the idea of pluralism in religion and values, yet we are shaken by the difficulties immigration presents. We champion prosperity for all, but live in a country where families are still homeless.

American Mythos aptly documents this disconnect between the stories we tell and the reality we face. Examining how cultural narratives may not, and often do not, reflect the reality of today's society, it challenges readers to become more reflective about what it means to live up to the American ideal.

Robert Wuthnow
In a provocative book that explores the fascinating link between the creative and the sacred, Robert Wuthnow claims that artists have become the spiritual vanguard of our time. Drawing on in-depth interviews with painters, sculptors, writers, singers, dancers, and actors, Wuthnow includes the spiritual insights of accomplished artists who have gained prominence as Broadway performers, gospel singers, jazz musicians, poets, Native American painters, weavers, dancers, and installation artists. He profiles such national figures as novelist Madeleine L'Engle, playwright Tony Kushner, photographer Andres Serrano, sculptor Greg Wyatt, dancer Carla DeSola, and woodcarver David Ellsworth.

Situating these artists' reflections in the context of wider cultural ferment, Wuthnow argues that spirituality is coming increasingly to focus on the inherently ineffable character of the sacred—what artists refer to as divine mystery. As growing numbers of Americans doubt the adequacy of religious creeds in defining the sacred, they are turning to artists who seek a more intuitive sense of the sacred through symbols and imagery.

These artists provide rich insights into the social and cultural problems of our time. Many have been shaped by the growing ethnic, racial, and religious diversity of the United States. Many are at the cutting edge of new thinking about body, mind, and spirit, and many are seeking ways to integrate their understandings of spirituality with interests in nature and preserving the environment. For readers interested in exploring contemporary spirituality or engaged in spiritual pursuits of their own, this engaging, elegantly written, and erudite book will answer many questions about the changing moral and spiritual role of creativity and the arts.
Robert Wuthnow
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