American Religion

American Religion: Contemporary Trends

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    American Religion
    Book Description:

    Most Americans say they believe in God, and more than a third say they attend religious services every week. Yet studies show that people do not really go to church as often as they claim, and it is not always clear what they mean when they tell pollsters they believe in God or pray.American Religionpresents the best and most up-to-date information about religious trends in the United States, in a succinct and accessible manner. This sourcebook provides essential information about key developments in American religion since 1972, and is the first major resource of its kind to appear in more than two decades.

    Mark Chaves looks at trends in diversity, belief, involvement, congregational life, leadership, liberal Protestant decline, and polarization. He draws on two important surveys: the General Social Survey, an ongoing survey of Americans' changing attitudes and behaviors, begun in 1972; and the National Congregations Study, a survey of American religious congregations across the religious spectrum. Chaves finds that American religious life has seen much continuity in recent decades, but also much change. He challenges the popular notion that religion is witnessing a resurgence in the United States--in fact, traditional belief and practice is either stable or declining. Chaves examines why the decline in liberal Protestant denominations has been accompanied by the spread of liberal Protestant attitudes about religious and social tolerance, how confidence in religious institutions has declined more than confidence in secular institutions, and a host of other crucial trends.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3995-7
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    By world standards, the United States is a highly religious country. Almost all Americans say they believe in God, a majority say they pray, and more than a third say they attend religious services every week. Some skepticism is appropriate here. It is not always clear what people mean when they say they believe in God or pray, and many people believe in a God that is quite untraditional. Moreover, people do not really go to church as often as they tell pollsters that they go. But even when we take all this into account, Americans still are more pious...

  6. 2 Diversity
    (pp. 16-32)

    The United States is more religiously diverse now than it was in 1972—a trend that began long ago. In one sense, the United States has been religiously diverse from its beginnings, when various kinds of Protestants settled different parts of the eastern seaboard and interacted regularly with American Indians, who of course had their own religious traditions. In another sense, though, the increasing religious diversity we see since 1972 continues the long-term trend away from an overwhelmingly Protestant population. This trend began in earnest with the influx of large numbers of Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth century, stalled when...

  7. 3 Belief
    (pp. 33-41)

    Many traditional religious beliefs are just as common among Americans today as they were in the 1970s. As many Americans believe in heaven (86 percent) and hell (73 percent) now as did several decades ago. As many say today as did several decades ago that God is personally concerned about human beings (73 percent), and that life is meaningful only because God exists (46 percent). And even after a decline since the 1950s, almost everyone (93 percent) still states a belief in God or a higher power. At the same time, unmistakable trends emerge in two key areas: the decline...

  8. 4 Involvement
    (pp. 42-54)

    There is more to religious involvement than participation in organized religion, and media reports sometimes make it appear that new and unconventional forms of religiosity are swamping more traditional practice. However, religious involvement in the United States still mainly means attending weekend worship services. Only 1 percent of people who say they attended some kind of religious service in the last week went only to something other than a conventional weekly worship service. More people say that they pray than attend services, but when Americans practice religion with others outside their own home it almost always means they attend a...

  9. 5 Congregations
    (pp. 55-68)

    There are more than 300,000 religious congregations—churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples—in the United States. More than 60 percent of American adults have attended a service at a religious congregation within the past year, and about one-quarter attend services in any given week. There is more to religious involvement than participation in organized religion, but when Americans practice religion with others outside their own home it almost always means they attend a religious service at a local church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. Congregations remain the most significant social form of American religion.¹

    In this chapter I document six trends...

  10. 6 Leaders
    (pp. 69-80)

    It is more difficult to track change among religious leaders than among the population at large because we do not have an ongoing survey of American clergy. Nevertheless, I can document several important changes, including the declining attractiveness of religious leadership as a career choice, alterations in the social characteristics of clergy, and the public’s declining confidence in religious leaders. All things considered, it seems that religious leaders have lost ground on several fronts.

    There are clear signs that a career in religious leadership is less attractive than it used to be, especially among young people. Figure 6.1 shows the...

  11. 7 Liberal Protestant Decline
    (pp. 81-93)

    The decline of liberal Protestant denominations is one of the best known religious trends of the last several decades, but it often is misunderstood. Contrary to what many believe, this decline has not occurred because people have been leaving more liberal denominations in droves to join more conservative religious groups. Nor does the decline of liberal denominations mean that liberal religious ideas are waning. Indeed, as a set of ideas, religious liberalism steadily has gained ground in the United States, whatever the fate of the denominations most closely associated with it.

    When thinking about religious differences in the United States,...

  12. 8 Polarization
    (pp. 94-109)

    Actively religious Americans are more politically and socially conservative than less religious Americans. Active churchgoers support more restrictions on legal abortion, endorse more traditional gender roles, and vote Republican more often than less religious people. These differences have existed since the 1970s, but some of them have increased since then, creating a tighter link between religiosity and some kinds of political and social conservatism. This development has changed religion’s place in American culture and politics, but not to an extent that amounts to true polarization or culture war—yet.

    Figure 8.1 shows the trend in the correlation between religious service...

  13. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 110-114)

    The religious trends I have documented point to a straightforward general conclusion:no indicator of traditional religious belief or practice is going up. There is much continuity and some decline. There is more religious diversity, there are shifting fortunes for liberal and conservative Protestant denominations, and there are troubling signs about the state of religious leadership. Changes are occurring inside congregations, and there is a tighter connection between religious service attendance and political, social, and religious conservatism. There is more diffuse spirituality, but this diffuse spirituality should not be mistaken for an increase in traditional religiosity. If there is a...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 115-136)
  15. Index
    (pp. 137-139)