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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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.
In the year 2000--and beyond--what will the church be like? What challenges will it face? Will the church be able to provide a strong sense of community? Will it be an ethical force in the lives of Americans? And what role will religion play in politics and in the marketplace? In Christianity in the 21st Century Robert Wuthnow reflects on these provocative questions as he seeks to identify changes that are taking place now in American society that churches must address if they are to remain vital in the future. He foresees five critical areas--institutional, ethical, doctrinal, political, and cultural--in which major challenges will arise, then meets the thorny issues head-on. How will churches' resource bases, their very identity, and their capacity to carry on their spiritual traditions be altered? till they continue to function as sources of caring in a needy world? What impact will the resurgence of fundamentalism have, and how will moderate and liberal congregations react? How will the political activities of churches influence their capacity to be heard in the public arena, and what will the impact be of pluralism and the prevailing materialism of our society? Drawing on a wide range of first-hand observations and research, Wuthnow demontrates that in each of these five areas people of faith have strong reasons to enter the next century with confidence in their religious institutions. But he also highlights worrisome signs, and points to specific areas that need to be addressed to ensure the continuing vitality for Christianity in America--not least among these are the rampant individualism that erodes spiritual communities and the religious infighting that diminishes the Christian sense of unity. The onset of a new millennium affords a historic opportunity to take stock of the present situation and to plan for the future--in the years ahead, much reflection is likely to occur about all our major institutions. Christianity in the 21st Century aims to contribute to those reflections by offering a sobering, realistic, and ultimately hopeful assessment of where the church is now, and where the church is headed.
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