THE RESTRUCTURING OF AMERICAN RELIGION: Society and Faith Since Worm War II by Robert Wuthnow


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A sociological study of the last four decades of American religion, by Wuthnow (Sociology/Princeton), author of Meaning and Moral Order (1987), etc. Here, Wuthnow is concerned with the changes in religion in America since WW II, which he symbolizes by comparing the 1946 Sunday School Union Parade in Brooklyn, in which over 90,000 youngsters participated (even the public schools closed down), with our current situation in which such pomp would be eerily out of place. What might have been strictly a pessimistic book, though, outlining the secularization of America, is, in Wuthnow's hands, turned into something different. He argues that religions have not stood idly by, but have developed their resources to the point where they hold a very strong hand. ""The capacity to adapt has, in fact, been one of the impressive features of American religion."" One of the forces behind religious restructuring has been the increasing role of government in American life. Thus, the boundary between church and state becomes increasingly problematic, and issues that previously were internal church matters are fought in public courtrooms and in the media. Some of the restructuring centers around the declining significance of denominationalism, as the split between church liberals and conservatives has resulted in the growth of hundreds of more narrowly defined special purpose groups. Adding fuel to the fire have been the tensions between liberals and conservatives over issues such as pornography, homosexuality, abortion, school prayer, and the role of women in the clergy. The author describes how churches, adapting to our affluent society, have adopted ""legitimating myths"" oriented around the values of individual freedom and material success. Overall, Wuthnow concludes that the American political milieu has been much more dominant in forcing internal changes upon our churches than vice-versa. Well-considered history, with sometimes surprising conclusions, that takes on added interest in the light of the recent Bakker/Swaggart debacles.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1988
Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press