America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity

Princeton University Press
Free sample

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.
The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.

Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question. In alternating narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.

BONUS: This edition contains a new afterword and a The Other Wes Moore discussion guide.

Praise for The Other Wes Moore

“Moving and inspiring, The Other Wes Moore is a story for our times.”—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here
 
“A tense, compelling story and an inspirational guide for all who care about helping young people.”—Juan Williams, author of Enough
 
“This should be required reading for anyone who is trying to understand what is happening to young men in our inner cities.”—Geoffrey Canada, author of Fist Stick Knife Gun
 
“The Other Wes Moore gets to the heart of the matter on faith, education, respect, the hard facts of incarceration, and the choices and challenges we all face. It’s educational and inspiring.”—Ben Carson, M.D., author of Gifted Hands
 
“Wes Moore is destined to become one of the most powerful and influential leaders of this century. You need only read this book to understand why.”—William S. Cohen, former U.S. senator and secretary of defense

“This intriguing narrative is enlightening, encouraging, and empowering. Read these words, absorb their meanings, and create your own plan to act and leave a legacy.”—Tavis Smiley, from the Afterword
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.
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