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In the Course of a Lifetime

In the Course of a Lifetime: Tracing Religious Belief, Practice, and Change

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 295
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  • Book Info
    In the Course of a Lifetime
    Book Description:

    In the Course of a Lifetimeprovides an unprecedented portrait of the dynamic role religion plays in the everyday experiences of Americans over the course of their lives. The book draws from a unique sixty-year-long study of close to two hundred mostly Protestant and Catholic men and women who were born in the 1920s and interviewed in adolescence, and again in the 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, and late 1990s. Woven throughout with rich, intimate life stories, the book presents and analyzes a wide range of data from this study on the participants' religious and spiritual journeys. A testament to the vibrancy of religion in the United States,In the Course of a Lifetimeprovides an illuminating and sometimes surprising perspective on how individual lives have intersected with cultural change throughout the decades of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94003-1
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 The Vibrancy of American Religion
    (pp. 1-21)

    “If I had had the sense then that I have now, I’d refuse to live in Texas.” So declared Barbara Shaw when interviewed in 1958, at age thirty, five years after she had left Berkeley, California, with her young husband, an engineer who was returning to west Texas to work in his father’s prosperous ranching business.¹ Becoming part of a well-established Texas family with a beautiful home might have struck those who knew Barbara as a perfect match for what researchers described as her “flamboyant and exuberant” personality. In adolescence, Barbara was socially ambitious and self-confident, a disposition encouraged by...

  6. 2 Meet the Parents: The Family Context Shaping Religious Socialization in the 1930s and 1940s
    (pp. 22-39)

    The recency of California’s White settlement is such that “in 1850 , the West ‘Coast’ was not along the shores of the Pacific . . . [but] was lapped by the waters of the Mississippi” (Finke and Stark 1992:66). In their extensive historical mapping of religious adherents in America, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark note that the “Far West,” including Mormon Utah, was essentially unsettled in 1850, and that across the Mississippi the only states “having any substantial population” were Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, and Texas (66). As a result of the gold rush, California’s population increased from 93,000 people in...

  7. 3 Adolescent Religion in the 1930s and 1940s
    (pp. 40-59)

    From this opening quote, we might well presume that Mrs. White was summarizing the social activities of a teenager in today’s era of the overscheduled child. But she was referring to the recreational activities of her fifteen-year-old daughter, Melissa, in Berkeley in the early 1940s. Not all families had the economic resources and social ambitions of Melissa’s upper-class parents. But many of our participants as adolescent boys and girls kept hectic schedules—studying several subjects in school; taking piano, guitar, and public-speaking lessons; participating in high school social and service clubs; and undertaking various sports and hobbies. It was evident...

  8. 4 The Imprint of Individual Autonomy on Everyday Religion in the 1950s
    (pp. 60-79)

    Religious freedom is a staple of American culture, most visibly evident in the many religious denominations present in America, the free expression clause of the Constitution, and the formal separation of church and state(cf. Ahlstrom1972; Warner 1993). The freedom of individuals to define their religious identity and to exercise their own authority in regard to religion became especially pronounced in the 1960 s (see, e.g., Greeley 1985; Roof 1993; Wuthnow 1998). The 1960s, as is well documented, was a time of cultural upheaval and was characterized in particular by the assertion of individual freedom. It was a time, in short,...

  9. 5 The Ebb and Flow of Religiousness across the Life Course
    (pp. 80-99)

    Does religious involvement change over the life course? This is a simple question, but it eludes simple answers because it requires access to long-term longitudinal data spanning many decades of the life course. Longitudinal studies require researchers to have not only the foresight to predict at the inception of a study what questions will be relevant to future scientists but also the patience to plant a seed whose fruit will be harvested only by later generations of researchers. It is not surprising, therefore, that only a few studies in the world include data necessary to trace changes in religiousness from...

  10. 6 Individual Transformation in Religious Commitment and Meaning
    (pp. 100-118)

    We know from the findings presented in the previous chapter that the study participants as a group showed relatively little change in their level of religiousness across adulthood, despite the dip in their religiousness around midlife evident in the 1970 interviews. But this information does not tell us whether individual members of our study who were more religious than others in early adulthood tended to remain comparatively so in middle or late adulthood. And conversely, it does not tell us whether individuals who were not religious in their thirties or forties tended to remain so in old age. After all,...

  11. 7 Spiritual Seeking
    (pp. 119-136)

    Recent years have witnessed a significant increase in the proportion of Americans who are unchurched believers, who distance themselves from church and organized religion while still believing in God or a Higher Power (Hout and Fischer 2002; Roof 1999) and adhering to a personal religion that is uncoupled from conventional forms of religiousness (Smith 2002). Although the interest in seeking sacred meaning independent of church participation was accentuated by the cultural changes of the 1960s, spiritual seeking has long been present in American culture, and present even longer in Christianity. The early Gnostics challenged the religious authority of the church...

  12. 8 The Activities, Personality, and Social Attitudes of Religious and Spiritual Individuals in Late Adulthood
    (pp. 137-157)

    The aging of the populous baby boom generation has increased public interest in identifying the nature of positive functioning in older adulthood.¹ According to a traditional assumption, late adulthood is a time in the life course when individuals experience a decline in personal meaning and purpose as a result of their diminished social roles and physical and cognitive impairment, but a spate of more recent studies suggest otherwise (see, e.g., James and Wink 2007; Rowe and Kahn 1998; Vaillant 2002). Nonetheless, surprisingly little is known about the everyday functioning of the “young-old,” those in the postretirement interval extending from around...

  13. 9 Spiritual Seeking, Therapeutic Culture, and Concern for Others
    (pp. 158-179)

    Much has been written in recent years about the threat posed to the communal web of American society by the increasing displacement of church-based religion in favor of an individualized, personal religion. Most notably, “Sheilaism,” the personal religion embodied by Sheila Larson in the sociology best-sellerHabits of the Heart,crystallized for Robert Bellah and his coauthors (1985) how a diffuse and therapeutic spirituality is both narcissistic and detrimental to social and community commitment. Sheila Larson was a nurse who spent many years in therapy; she described her “faith” as “Sheilaism”—“I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic....

  14. 10 The Buffering Role of Religion in Late Adulthood
    (pp. 180-204)

    When we interviewed David Allen at his sun-drenched home on the shore of Lake Tahoe in the summer of 1997, he was as articulate, insightful, optimistic, and energetic at age seventy-six as he had been during earlier interviews in his thirties, forties, and fifties. Retired from an economically successful career in which he combined high school teaching and a mountain resort business, David continued to work part-time restoring and managing rental property. He was highly involved in local community politics, and as a committed member of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, David was at the vanguard of a struggle...

  15. 11 American Lived Religion
    (pp. 205-218)

    In America, “the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom . . . are intimately united and . . . reign in common,” as Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early nineteenth century (1835 /1946: 308). We strongly concur with Tocqueville’s perceptive assessment of American religion, and we argue that it applies equally well now as in the mid-1800s. One would be hard pressed to find in Europe, the ancestral home of almost all our study participants, anyplace, before or after the 1960s, that would have offered its residents the range of churches available to the families of our...

  16. Methodological Appendix: Measuring Religiousness and Spiritual Seeking in the IHD Longitudinal Study
    (pp. 219-230)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 231-258)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-274)
  19. Index
    (pp. 275-282)